Is Jesus Coming Again?
Is Jesus coming again? What does the Second Coming mean?
These are questions a number of you in our community have been asking. It is a great Advent question as this is the season when we celebrate Christ coming into the world.
This is also a complicated topic. Today, I’m going to share the traditional view of Christ coming again, the mystic interpretation, and see what all this means to us in our own lives.
What does the traditional church understand as the second coming of Christ?
The writing in parts of the Bible conjures up graphic images, such as wars, antic-Christs, lions with wings, fiery pits, and Christ descending from the sky. These images are prophetic symbols, but many churches take this literally and expect all of these dramatic events to happen in their lifetime.
The Apostles and Nicene Creed used by many mainline Christian churches have a line about Jesus, “He will come again to judge the quick and the dead.” Most of these churches taught that when you die you into a deep sleep. On the day of judgment, all the dead are raised, and the world is judged by Jesus who sits on a throne and reviews your book of life.
Over the past century, a more developed view often referred to as the Rapture of the second coming has emerged that describes it in graphic detail. In the church I grew up in, a Baptist Church, in the ’70s there was a lot of talk about Jesus’ Second Coming. Our pastors couldn’t say when, but they knew that the dramatic images in Revelations were coming true in our own time. Current events were manifestations from Revelations. The creation of Israel meant the time would be forty years after that so, 2008 at the that latest. The bear in Revelations represented the Soviet Union whom we would be at war.
We read Jesus’ prophecy of his second coming and other verses: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so, we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. “(I Thessalonians 4:13-18)
In our youth group, we sang songs with lines like, “I can’t wait to see Jesus in his glory as he comes from the skies. I can’t wait to be in his arms and see the glimmer in his eyes.” Not only was he coming but he’d engage each of us.
Another song was more ominous, “ and lead to a Christian movie we saw that showed what was about happen.
Here’s a clip:
In reading the reviews of this film, I found this review that pretty much sums up how many adults I know felt about this view of the second coming.
elipooh1 August 2006
Perhaps because I was so young, innocent and BRAINWASHED when I saw it, this movie was the cause of many sleepless nights for me. I haven’t seen it since I was in seventh grade at a Presbyterian school, so I am not sure what effect it would have on me now. However, I will say that it left an impression on me… and most of my friends. It did serve its purpose, at least until we were old enough and knowledgeable enough to analyze and create our own opinions. I was particularly terrified of what the newly-converted post-rapture Christians had to endure when not receiving the mark of the beast. I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it so I will not mention details of the scenes, but I can still picture them in my head… and it’s been 19 years.
I don’t think traumatizing kids is a way to teach them the love of God in their life.
The Left Behind book series which sold 80 M copies told the story of a man battling the anti-Christ who works at the UN. The images of songs and movies in modern times have given credibility to this vision of the second coming.
In that view of the second coming, they expect that there will a time of turbulence on earth. One day Jesus will rapture everyone who is Christian by literally lifting them out of their clothes and pulling them to heaven. Those left behind will suffer under a period of wars where some will be given a second chance to accept Christ and the ant-Christ will reign. This view of the second coming is so clear and powerful among certain Christians that they support Israel because that speeds the time of Christ return.
Getting this prophecy wrong is an age-old problem. As we see in the readings today, Jesus implied that they would experience his return in their lifetime. The Apostle Paul believed Jesus would return physically in his lifetime. This is why Paul oddly discourages getting married. Why get married if Jesus is returning soon. Later when Jesus hadn’t come again, the interpretation evolved, and they ascribed Jesus saying that they’d see things in their life meant the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Humans who see earthly power as the greatest thing they can have, tend to project onto the prophecies the things they want.
Most people of Jesus’ time missed Jesus because they wanted a powerful military leader who would overthrow those who held them in Babylon in captivity. Later that interpretation would shift to overthrowing Roman captivity. One of the reasons it is thought Judas betrayed Jesus was because he was looking for a revolutionary with a military force from God and, instead, got someone who healed Roman’s slave and said love your enemy. Only the Zoroastrian magi recognized Jesus coming into the world.
Jesus did not come the way they wanted him to, and they missed him.
Christian mystic tradition sees things differently. They see the imagery as archetype language describing something spiritual coming into the world.
Swedenborg wrote entire books explaining in detail what the imagery symbolizes which he describes as global spiritual evolution. This evolved spiritual life on earth is part of God’s plan. Unlike the traditional view of the Second Coming, Swedenborg describes evolution as making a more perfect world, not a destroyed world. That’s probably the biggest difference.
Swedenborg is one of the mystics who see this world evolving in a positive direction. He sees five big spiritual chapters in the history of the world: Most Ancient, Ancient, Jewish, Christian, and New. These periods of spiritual evolution mirror the evolution of spiritual development in the life of a person. We go through childhood, adolescence into adulthood, and old age. The next coming of Jesus in this worldview is a breakthrough in spiritual evolution leading us closer each time to heaven on earth.
The traditional Christian church of his time, he wrote, had lost its way. Many Christians were simply going through the motions of faith without really living into it. Really living in the Christian faith means really loving your neighbor and enemy. It has nothing to do with articulating the right theology, it must be lived. His spiritual insights are a key part of this new spiritual second coming of Christ.
In this view, mystics see the second coming of Jesus as a higher evolution of spiritual development within us and the world as Jesus described in Luke when he was asked when will the kingdom of God come? He answered, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (NKJV)
Swedenborg claimed we are living in this time of great transition right now. He predicted before his death in the last 1770s, the Christian Church would lose members and power in the culture. At the same time, science and democracy would transform the world for the better. The message of Jesus would be understood at a deeper level by true believers, while secular culture would rise up.
He described this new period in the phrase The New Jerusalem meaning a time of increasing chaos as old institutions collapse, including the old church, and a new, deeper way of operating spiritually would take over.
Most explanation of Swedenborgians claims it is a church started by Swedenborg. That’s not true. Swedenborg never started a church. He suggested that what was going to come into being would happen through evolution in the world, with or without churches being the key mover.
This denomination grew up after his death by those who believed he was correct, and we’d entered into a new spiritual evolution. They called the denomination the Church of the New Jerusalem or New Church. Our church is named for the Holy City in revelation and the official business name remains The Washington Society of the New Jerusalem. Today, many Swedenborgians focus so much on Swedenborg 200 years ago that they are missing the prophetic role the church could play in seeing what’s next and playing an active role in world events to make it happen.
Swedenborg’s view is no longer unique. That’s why I included Father Richard Rohr’s words in the readings. Though Roman Catholic he describes Jesus coming from within our hearts. What’s funny is Sheri asked me a question about this and that same day she got Rohr’s message in her mailbox. I’ll also add that though I think anyone waiting for a physical experience with Jesus again on earth will die disappointed, I do believe can experience Christ in our lives now and engage personally after death. At this time, we are asked to be Christ of one another.
Philosophers and psychologists over the past fifty years seem to also be getting this message that the world is evolving both in cultures and spiritually. You may know I’m a fan of integral theory that divides history up into periods from the magic, mythic, warrior, traditional, modern, and post-modern. This theory claims that we are coming into an integral period, much like Swedenborg’s New Jerusalem. Psychologist, like Maslow, also speak of a period of personal evolution from safety, security to personal self-actualization. The Jesuit, Teilhard Chardin Jesuit also described the world in terms of spiritual evolution leading us to the Omega Point or Christ consciousness.
“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
If you want to get a deep understanding of the deeper spiritual evolution of our times, you won’t likely find insights in most churches.
What all of these world views have in common is that the world is evolving, culture is evolving, each of us is evolving. We see this evolution into a new period as the next coming of Christ into the world. Our role is to be open to playing our part at this historic moment by being open to the unfolding taking place and playing a leadership role in the spiritual evolution of others.
What does this have to do with us today?
A worldview that Revelations predict the end of life on earth after a severe punishment of nonbelievers drives the believer to get their act together for fear of divine punishment does not promote Jesus’ message of love.
Today, much of the second coming teaching is based on fear, manipulation, and desire to see those outside my tribe punished. This again misses the message that our role on earth is to play our active part to help bring more love and compassion and justice into the world. When we do we are co-creating a new world based on love.
Lutheran scholar, Rev Barbara R. Rossing, speaks to the dangers of second coming theology here:
“The Rapture is a racket. Whether prescribing a violent script for Israel or survivalism in the United States, this theology distorts God’s vision for the world. In place of healing, the Rapture proclaims escape…glorifies violence and war…Rapture theology is disastrous for the Middle East and it is even more dangerous for planet earth.”2
Former President Jimmy Carter in his book “Faith: A Journey for All,” speaks to the political dangers of many second coming theologies:
“One of the most bizarre admixtures of religion and government is the strong influence of some Christian fundamentalists on US policy in the Middle East…Their religious premise is…[w]hen the Messiah returns, true believers will be lifted into heaven, where, with God, they will observe the torture of most other humans who are left behind…It is the injection of these beliefs into America’s governmental policies that is a cause for concern. These believers are convinced that they have a personal responsibility to hasten this coming of the “rapture” in order to fulfill biblical prophecy. Their agenda calls for a war in the Middle East against Islam (Iraq?) and the taking of the entire Hold Land by Jews (occupation of the West Bank?), with the total expulsion of all Christians and other gentiles…At this time of the rapture, all Jews will either be converted to Christianity or be burned.”
On the other hand, a world view that the world is spiritually evolving requires that we get our act together to be co-creators in bringing heaven to earth.
If the world is spiritually moving into a new era, the burden is on us to help play our part in creating a more loving and just world.
The world missed Christ’s entry into the world on the first Christmas. The people of his day missed Jesus because he wasn’t what they expected. Today, we must keep an open heart and mind to how Jesus is trying to enter into our own lives.
We live today in a great unfolding of Christ’s consciousness entering into our world. What good does it call you to do? What part of yourself do you need to leave behind? What understanding of Jesus do you need to let go of?
This Advent lets us open our hearts and minds to what that means to you as you prepare your heart for Jesus to enter again.