Revelation Revealed

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, April 30, 2000


Daniel 7:13, 14 Daniel's vision of a son of man

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and people of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Revelation 1:9-20 John's vision of the Son of man

I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, "Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."

Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in its full power.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Apocalypse Revealed, Preface The Book of Revelation explained

Many people have sweated over the explanation of the Book of Revelation. But since the spiritual meaning of the Bible has been unknown up to now, they could not see the secrets that lie hidden within it. For only the spiritual sense reveals these. Because of this, expositors have made various conjectures, most of which have applied the things in the Book of Revelation to the stages of various empires, mixing in various ecclesiastical affairs.

But in its spiritual sense, the Book of Revelation, like the whole Bible, does not say the slightest thing about worldly affairs. Instead, it speaks of heavenly things. So it does not speak about empires and kingdoms, but about heaven and the church. Let it be known that after the Last Judgment, which took place in the spiritual world in the year 1757, . . . a new heaven was formed from Christians--but it was formed only from those who could receive the Lord as the God of heaven and earth (according to his words in Matthew 28:18), and who had also repented of their evil actions while they lived in the world. From this heaven a new church on earth, which is the New Jerusalem, is descending and will descend. . . .

Everyone can see that the Book of Revelation cannot possibly be explained unless it is done by the Lord. For every word in it contains secrets that we could never know without special enlightenment--which means revelation. Therefore it has pleased the Lord to open my spiritual sight and teach me. Do not believe, then, that I have taken anything in it from myself or from any angel, because it is from the Lord alone. The Lord also said to John through the angel:

Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book. (Revelation 22:10)

This means that these things will be explained.


I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, "Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches." (Revelation 1:9-11)

Today's sermon is an unabashed advertisement for our new Wednesday evening adult Bible study and discussion group, which begins this Wednesday from 7:30 to 9:00. In this class, we will study the Book of Revelation in much greater detail and depth than we have time for this morning, and we will discuss how this powerfully enigmatic book relates to our times and to our own individual lives.

For now, I would like to begin opening up the Book of Revelation with the help of Emanuel Swedenborg's unveiling of its deeper, spiritual meaning, as shown to him by the Lord. Along the way, we'll find that this book which looks so strange on the surface carries not only cosmic insights, but personal meaning for our own spiritual lives.

First, it will help to know the origin of the Book of Revelation, with its twenty-two image-rich chapters. As our text tells us, this book was written by the Apostle John--the same one who wrote the Gospel of John. John's Gospel is the one that focuses especially on the Lord's great love for us, and on the deeper, spiritual wisdom he offers to us.

John wrote his Gospel in order to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and to invite people to become followers of the Lord. The Book of Revelation, however, was written to people who were already Christians. And we know from John's introduction that it was written at a time when Christians were being persecuted. John himself, we are told, had been exiled (by the Roman government) to a small island called Patmos, located off the coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) because of his testimony to Jesus.

Before his exile, John had been the leader of the fledgling Christian church in Ephesus, one of the seven churches in Asia Minor to which letters are directed in the second and third chapters of Revelation. John outlived all of the rest of the original twelve Apostles. At the time he wrote Revelation, around 95 AD, John was about ninety years old, and the only one of the original Apostles still living. The Romans had destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, dispersing both Jews and Christians to other lands. So it was that the early Christian Church was developing in Asia Minor rather than in the Holy Land.

At this time, just as John himself was suffering persecution, the seven Christian churches in Asia Minor were suffering persecution as well. The Book of Revelation--the last book in the New Testament to be written--was intended to give hope and encouragement to Christians everywhere who were being persecuted because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Its overall message is that although the worldly events of nations and empires may seem vast and overpowering, above it all the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ--the same one John had known while he was here on earth--was firmly in control, and would bring about justice upon all oppressors, while giving salvation to those who remained faithful.

Even at this rather literal level, the Book of Revelation can still give us encouragement today. Which one of us has never looked around at the world today, at the great flow of national and international events, and felt that all these happenings that affect our livelihoods, our families, and our communities are entirely out of our control? Which one of us has not felt, at times, that in comparison to these great events, we are like little ants that will be crushed under the vast forces of our times? When we are having these kinds of thoughts, the Book of Revelation is a good antidote. In it, all the great powers, nations, and empires of the world are seen to be no match for the infinitely greater power of the Lord.

Yet there is so much more in the Book of Revelation. So much more that speaks, not merely of worldly powers and of the affairs of governments and other human organizations, but of the great spiritual stages of humankind and of our own individual lives.

And it all starts, as it should, with a vision of the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel accounts, which described the Lord's life on earth, there was still room for question and doubt as to who this Jesus was. This is due partly to the fact that people weren't ready to accept him not merely as a great man and a prophet, but as God himself come to earth. It is also partly due to the fact that while Jesus was living on earth, he himself went through various spiritual stages--through ups and downs of the spirit that went far beyond anything that any one of us will ever experience. There were times when his spirit was cast down to the depths, and he felt distant from God. In these times, he referred to God as a separate being--as his Father in heaven. And there were times when he felt very close to God, as to a being who was not separate from him, but was his own inner soul. At these times he stated that he and his Father were one.

When he appears in the first chapter of the Book of Revelation, all of the questions and doubts about his true nature have been removed. With the resurrection, which we celebrated last week on Easter Sunday, Jesus the Son had become fully united with God the Father, forming a single Divine Humanity who is the one God of heaven and earth. This is why the "Son of man" whom John encountered at the beginning of his vision could say to him, "I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever" (Revelation 1:17, 18).

There can be only one being who is the first and the last. That being is the God of the universe, who is at once Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we listen to John's words and take them to heart, this glorious vision of the Son of man can remove all doubt from our minds that the one God whom we worship, and who holds both our lives and the fate of the world in his hands, is none other than our personal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lived among us on earth, was crucified, and rose again. This is the God of the universe, who has made himself known to us both personally and through the written Word of God.

Everything else in the Book of Revelation--and in the entire Bible--follows from this. The same is true of our own lives as Christians. Wherever we may have come from, wherever we may be now, and wherever we may be going, the only true and reliable beginning and focus that we can have for our lives is the Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. Everything in the universe comes from him. Everything in our lives does, too. And when we recognize this source of all being, and put our faith and hope in him, then he can give us the wisdom and strength to face all the trials of our lives--just as he gave wisdom and strength to those early Christians to face persecutions greater than any of us are likely to suffer.

Yet we still face inner persecutions--persecutions of the soul--that can be every bit as great as the more literal and physical persecutions suffered by the early Christians. We struggle within ourselves against the spiritual enemies that seek to drag us down and destroy our lives. The Book of Revelation, in its spiritual meaning, is all about these inner struggles--these great wars of the spirit--that every one of us faces if we are spiritually alive and growing. It is all about how we can prevail over those deeper enemies with the Lord's help.

We do not have time this morning to go into the details of who and what these enemies are, how the Lord fights against them for us, and how we will prevail over them through his power if we remain steady in our faith and devotion to him to the end of our lives. If you want to go more deeply into these fascinating and life-changing issues, I invite you to join us this Wednesday evening for the first of our Bible studies. Meanwhile, we can get an overall sense of the great spiritual issues involved in the Book of Revelation.

Though there is a confusing welter of figures that come and go throughout this strange and wonderful book, two figures stand out as the major opponents of Christ: the great red dragon, identified as the Devil and Satan (in chapter 12), and the woman sitting on a scarlet beast, who is identified with Babylon (in chapter 17). Swedenborg explains these two figures as images of the two major ways that we human beings can go wrong: we can go wrong in the head, and we can go wrong in the heart.

When we go wrong in the head, we think that because of what we know, we are better than other people. In terms of church doctrine, this comes out as the fallacy that faith alone saves, as represented in traditional Protestant and Evangelical doctrine. It is the idea that if we just know the right things, believe the right things, we will be saved--regardless of whether we actually live by them. Because of our church's wonderfully deep and satisfying teachings, I believe we are especially prone to this error. It is easy to think that simply because we have been given greater understanding of the mysteries of faith, we are somehow the special, chosen ones of the Lord.

However, nothing that we merely know, without putting it into practice, will make any difference in the end. For as Paul said, "It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God's sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified" (Romans 2:13). Our personal battle with the great red dragon is against our intellectual pride and our complacent notion that since (as we imagine) we are more enlightened than others, we can rest on our laurels and avoid the real work of living out our beliefs. Our teachings are clear: it is only what we put into practice that becomes a real, eternal part of our lives and our souls.

Going wrong in the head is bad; but it is not as bad as going wrong in the heart. The greatest destructiveness of which we humans are capable comes not so much from intellectual pride as from the self-centered notion that everyone and everything around us should bow down to our wishes and serve us. This is the woman on the scarlet beast. In the history of the Christian Church, Swedenborg identifies this figure with the corrupted Roman Catholic Church during the centuries when it focused more on establishing its worldly power over nations and individuals, and on building up its wealth, than on providing spiritual sustenance and enlightenment to people in spiritual need.

In our lives, the woman on the scarlet beast that we must struggle against is our inborn tendency to put ourselves before everyone else, and to judge everyone around us by how well they serve our own needs. When we are in the grip of this Babylon of the soul, we love only those who love us, and feel coldness, disrespect, anger, and even hatred toward those who oppose us or get in our way. Though we do not like to admit that we have these feelings within us, our struggles against the selfish feeling that we ourselves should rule over everything and everyone around us are the deepest battles we face in our journey toward spiritual life.

As with our struggles against pride and complacency, we can prevail against our ego and selfishness only if our strength comes from a living relationship with the Lord. By ourselves, we have no strength or power at all. On our own, we would be crushed by these huge spiritual enemies. The comforting message of the Book of Revelation is that if we will put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and remain constant in our efforts to live by that faith, then whatever struggles and difficulties we may face here on earth, in the end the Lord will prevail in our lives. In the end, all of the terrifying and disheartening foes we face within our own souls will be crushed before the infinitely greater power of the Lord's love. They will fade into oblivion as the infinitely greater light of the Lord's truth shines into our souls, banishing all of our darkness. Amen






© Danny Hahlbohm
Painting entitled Trinity

Music: Prism: Color of Love
©Bruce DeBoer