For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.”
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.
…Everyone who has been regenerated … becomes a member of the Church, that is, becomes the Church. When he or she has been created anew his internal man is called ‘a new heaven’ and his external ‘a new earth.’
Today we begin a series in which we look at the vision John had of the New Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, found in the book of Revelation. The spiritual meaning of this vision is expanded on in the Heavenly Doctrines in some detail, in the opening chapter of The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine and in The Apocalypse Revealed. So if you want to get a fuller sense of the background I would encourage you to read what is there.
The whole book of Revelation is a fascinating read. Of the books that make up the New Testament this one stands out as being very different in its style and content. It is what is termed apocalyptic literature and is more in keeping with some of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. While it is now well and truly accepted as part of the Divine Revelation that constitutes the New Testament, this has not always been the case. The very nature of the content of Revelation has meant that down through the Christian age it has been at the centre of many disagreements about its meaning and place within the Church.
From the perspective of Spiritual Christianity and the New Church however, the difficulties are resolved through an emphasis on its spiritual meaning. Many of the difficulties other faiths have with this book are due to the tendency to read the text naturally or in terms of literal events to happen some time in the future. If you are familiar with Revelation you will know that it is rich in symbols that include fantastic creatures all involved in a battle of good and evil. These were never intended to be taken literally. It’s all symbolic and until we seek this the book remains closed to us. Thankfully the teachings of Spiritual Christianity are able to serve as a guide to bring its interpretation to us. When this is combined with a reflective life practice, what can be a murky world of symbols gives way to vivid descriptions of the spiritual processes involved in people’s regeneration.
The book describes the battle that takes place between the natural and the spiritual man in us. In its opening verse we are told that what follows is the revelation of Jesus Christ. This should not be read to mean a revelation belonging to Jesus Christ but rather the unfolding of Jesus Christ as the Word within the human mind. This is what the book describes in all its symbolic details, and so, when we have the key to understanding it, we find that it is a detailed map that can lead and guide those who are consciously engaged in a spiritual practice based on the Word and the Heavenly Doctrines.
We are beginning at the end of the book. Beginning with the end is useful because it enables us to see what the Lord is seeking to achieve, the outcomes connected with all that has gone before. So here near the end of the book we read in verse 1 of chapter 21 John saying “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no more sea.”
We read of a change from one state to another. The processes that are involved in our regeneration are designed to move our sense of self from out of what is lower or our proprium or ego into what is of the Lord so that we can be found planted in what is of a higher heavenly or spiritual quality. Every one of us from a spiritual perspective can be viewed as a heaven and an earth, where ‘heaven’ represents a more internal level of being and ‘earth’ a more external level of being.
Prior to being regenerated our personal heaven and earth is found in what is opposed to living a genuine spiritual life; in fact the Heavenly Doctrines sate that we are virtually unable to make a distinction between what is internal and external due to the fact that our sense of ourselves is so immersed in that which is external we pretty much live our lives oblivious to internal realities. This state of life where external things dominate people’s lives is called hell, and here in this verse it is referred to as the first heaven and earth which has passed away.
Something we need to grasp to understand this is that the states of life we experience and identify with as our inner life or how we feel is nothing more than the effects of the beliefs and desires that make up our minds. This is a very practical concrete idea that can be very liberating if we can truly get a hold of it. It means that when we give serious attention to spiritual teachings, ideas and concepts and use them of our own free will to reflect on and adjust our thinking and life, we open ourselves up to experiencing life differently. Change in your beliefs will lead to changes in the way you feel, or the states of life that you experience.
What or how you feel in yourself at any given time can be regarded as a reflection of the underlying beliefs, expectations and values that your sense of self has identified with as being you. When we see this we can then see that we are in fact responsible for how we feel. There is a reluctance which flows from our natural man to accept this, but the spiritual man is well aware that this is the case. It is too easy for us to just run with how we are feeling and remain unconscious of the negative influences that are active in our mental states. If we only made a little effort each day to be more aware of the fact that how we feel is supported by certain beliefs or thought structures that work together and ground themselves in what we experience as our general mood. It is useful to reflect on this: how would I rate my general moods or states of life – are they negative or positive from a spiritual point of view?
Our mood is the effect or manifestation of deeper seated thoughts and affections and so mulch up the ground in which these deeper things rest. This ground is called ‘earth’ in the symbolic language of Scripture. The first heaven and earth refers to our first sense of self that develops prior to being regenerated through engaging in spiritual work. This first sense of self has its roots in the loves of self and the world and this is what must pass away if we are to find a closer connection to spiritual realities. The spiritual life involves having our sense of life shifted from out of bodily and sensual pleasure with their delights and into states of life that take delight in spiritual things.
To delight in spiritual things involves things like reading the Word, seeking the Lord within it, being open to receiving insight in what we need to be working on in our life, and disciplining ourselves to act on what is required of us. We should be looking to do this on a daily basis if we want to have an increased sense of the Lord’s presence in our life.
Whatever else the book of Revelation may show us, it certainly shows us that this transition or transformation in our sense of ourselves cannot occur without tremendous upheavals and turmoil being manifest in our lives. Prior to the truths of the Word being established in us we pretty much live off our lower emotions and are quite unstable in many many ways, although for the most part we remain unconscious of this fact. This emotional instability is captured in Scripture in the symbol of the sea.
The analogy is that just as the sea can, in a moment, take on a violent change of mood so too can we. If we have no solid spiritual teachings grounded in our life from a practice of bringing higher things into consciousness in daily life, we find ourselves at the mercy of an underlying sea of negative emotions that we experience as constant shifts in our state of life that we desperately seek to keep a lid on if we can. And indeed some are better at presenting a calm exterior to the world than others, but regardless of how things appear on the surface, where there is no grounding in spiritual truths all states of exterior calm are merely a surface veneer that covers over the seething mass of negative emotions found in the proprium beneath.
Through truths we can be led, if we are willing, through a process where the first heaven and earth are able to pass away so that a new heaven and earth can come into being. This new heaven is a new internal man that is born from the truths of the Word that have been worked into our life. And because it is the Word worked into our life that makes heaven within us it is also the carrier of the Lord’s presence. The new earth is made up of that which is also of the Word but it is the literal sense that forms the new external man, only here it is the literal sense of the Word seen in a new way due to the revelation of the spiritual meaning within it found in the Heavenly Doctrine.
This new understanding of the literal sense of the Word forms a firm foundation for life. This new earth is able to ground within us a taste of what is heavenly – states within us which the Lord is able to be present with us as a sense of peace, joy and love. It is said that the sea is no more because when our life becomes grounded in the Word the hellish emotions that make up that sea are no longer able to affect our life. If we truly want heavenly states of life to rule in us then we must be prepared to work to have what obstructs them removed. This work is what every one of us is called to. The Lord has given us everything we need in order to see a new heaven and earth founded in us; the challenge for us is whether we will lay aside the things of external life and make seeking the kingdom of God our highest priority.
Rev. David Millar