Louis Synnestvedt, Pastor | August 28, 2022
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people and God Himself will be with them and be their God (Revelation 21:1-3).
And there was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and making merry splendedly every day. And there was a certain poor man named Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores and longing to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the poor man died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in hell, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And calling out, he said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.
Then he said, I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment. Abraham said to him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent. But he said to him, If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.
Heaven and Hell 1
The arcana now revealed in the following pages treat of heaven and hell, and at the same time of man’s life after death. The man of the Church at this day knows scarcely anything about heaven and hell or about his life after death, although they are all set forth and described in the Word. Indeed, many people born within the Church even deny them, saying in their hearts, “Who has come from that world and told us?” Lest, therefore, such a negative attitude, which prevails especially with those who have much worldly wisdom, should also infect and corrupt the simple in heart and the simple in faith, it has been granted to me to associate with angels and to talk with them as man with man, also to see the things in the heavens as well as in the hells, and this for thirteen years. Now, therefore, from what I have seen and heard I am permitted to describe these things, in the hope that thus, ignorance may be enlightened and unbelief dispelled. Such immediate revelation is now made because that is what is meant by the Coming of the Lord.
In My Father’s house are many mansions. If it were
not so, I would have told you (John 14:2).
I know a man in Christ, who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable words, which a man is not permitted to speak (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).
We begin with these verses to affirm the teaching of Scripture that we are born, indeed destined, to continue our life beyond the grave. Here is a fundamental teaching of Christianity and a cornerstone of the New Church:
The Lord’s Divine Providence Has as its End A Heaven from the Human Race (heading, Divine Providence 27).
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, shares his personal spiritual experience in the third person. He says, “I know a man,” referring to himself as is generally acknowledged. This man was caught up to see and witness things in the third heaven which are unutterable, indescribable, beyond human words.
If you have observed a delicate butterfly fluttering from flower to flower, you would have a sense of the capabilities of our Creator God. Add to that the knowledge that certain species are observed to migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles to live, to breed, to create a kind of paradise for themselves and for the blessing of humans with an eye to appreciate them.
Jesus teaches us:
Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:26).
Indeed, ineffable things await the patient soul who in time will join loved ones who have gone before.
But let us consider more closely what this heaven is all about. We look at the Scripture for clues. We are guided also in the teachings of the New Church which contain arcana, that is, hidden truths, which have been hitherto unknown in this world.
The Lord said,
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak (John 16:12-13).
This is referring to the revelation of the Lord through Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg was not the Spirit of Truth; he was just the instrument, the pen. This is the unfolding of truth from the Lord Himself who has come to wipe away the tears of doubts and fear that would separate us from our Creator and disrupt our destiny as children of God.
Our interest today is to speak of the nature of heaven, its structure, and how we might fit into those many mansions that are said to be there.
Yet we wish to address one specific objection discerning people may have about this revelation for the New Church. It is said that no one is to add anything to the Word of God lest God Himself add unto them the plagues such as are described in the closing chapter of the book of Revelation. We will read those words penned by John while on Patmos:
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book (Revelation 22:18).
These words appear at the very end of our Bibles and contain an important warning not to add man-made teachings or human interpretations of what God Himself reveals. We read similar words in the Old Testament, in the final book of what we refer to as the “Books of Moses,” that is, Deuteronomy:
You must not add to or subtract from what I command you, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I am giving you (4:2).
See that you do everything I command you; do not add to it or subtract from it (12:32).
We observe the obvious that much has been added to the Word of God following Deuteronomy and the Books of Moses – for example – the Psalms and the Prophets and, of course, the Gospels and the Book of Revelation.
It should be obvious that the Lord Himself can add to His Word. The teachings about His second coming are an indication that He will so add to that body of divine revelation. Of course, the challenge is to have a discerning heart that can sort out the chaff and to determine what teachings are of God and which are not.
So we encounter the teachings of the New Church with an eye to see if they are in accord with what the Lord Himself has previously shown us through His Word. If there is truth, it will be self-evident. If there is truth, it will draw us closer to the Lord Himself and not away from Him to other gods. If there is truth, it will encourage us along a path of repentance. If there is truth, it will give guidance in living a Christian life of faith and charity.
But now on with a focus on that eternal world of which we speak, for God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, as the Lord reminds us.
As Paul surmises, he was given a rare insight into the third or highest of the heavens. Swedenborg writes extensively about this heaven. Do we wonder that some angels are in a higher position than others? Are we surprised by the idea that in the afterlife there may be those of us who are less wise and charitable and others of us who are more wise and more charitable?
It is certainly human to judge and to compare, especially with the thought that we wish to be better off than the next guy. But to the extent that that is how we look at others, we might have clue that we may not make it to the higher heavens, if we get to heaven at all.
The point here is really simply to suggest that people will respond to the blessings of God, each in their own way, some more fully and some less. And yes, it is quite all right to picture a heaven for those who most fully receive the love of God and who embrace others from such love. This, evidently, is what Paul glimpsed and said was ineffable.
We think back to those curious teachings of Jesus like this one about a Sower. In His parable, the Lord taught that the seed is His Word that bears fruit:
He who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the Word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matthew 13:23).
It seems perhaps obvious, in the light of Paul’s experience, that there are three levels or degrees of response to the wisdom and life sown into human hearts.
The teachings of the New Church make the following point about the angels of that highest heaven:
Such are the angels of the third heaven because they are in love to the Lord, and that love opens the interiors of the mind to the third degree, and is a receptacle of all things of wisdom. It must be understood also that angels of the inmost heaven are still being continually perfected in wisdom, and this differently from the angels of the outermost heaven. The angels of the inmost heaven do not store up Divine Truths in the memory and thus make out of them a kind of science; but as soon as they hear them they perceive them and apply them to life (Heaven and Hell 271).
Those of the third heaven are those who are able to discern truth without the need for reasoning that others may require. Such an approach may seem nearly impossible to most of us, or at best unrealistic. Yet this is exactly who the Lord was referring to in this challenging statement:
Let your speech be Yea, yea, Nay, nay; what is more than these is from evil (Matthew 5:37).
Jesus said this in His sermon on the mount. Probably many of us will need to do a lot more arguing and thinking about what the Word teaches before we get to this stage of acceptance and peace with our Heavenly Father. Let us trust that the Lord will be sensitive to the child within us which seeks a loving and prompt response to hearing what the Lord has to tell us. We get the idea that even the lower angels have this inner child, for without it no one could enter the kingdom of God. Yet it seems reasonable to imagine that those angels in the first or second heaven will be able to say Yea, yea and Nay, nay, but after some processing and encouragement.
One of the ways of characterizing the three heavens is that the third heaven, called the celestial heaven, is where angels are in the good of love to the Lord. They are in a close relationship with the source of all life and love.
Those in the second heaven, called the spiritual heaven, are those in the good of love to the neighbor. Their focus is somewhat less on the source of all love and more on their object, namely charity. These angles are wise in the live of charity towards others.
Finally those in the first heaven are in the good of faith. These are the ones who are keen on living the life of doing good. Their focus is more on the duty and upon the deed. These are what give them their joys. Their approach to religion makes a strong foundation and what is sorely needed as the basis of a functioning society.
The work, Heaven and Hell by Swedenborg describes how heaven is distinguished into three degrees as well as in two kingdoms, and finally into numerous societies or communities. Heaven is likened to the human body, not merely as metaphor but as a living correspondence and intimate connection. The body has three degrees, for there is a head, a torso and then there are the limbs. There are also two kingdoms, as there is life that enters the whole from the beating of the heart (corresponding to the celestial kingdom) and the spirit-breathing of the lungs (corresponding to the spiritual kingdom). There are also numerous organs and members of the body that relate to the many societies of heaven.
While we may have a physical picture in our minds of higher and lower planes of life or of the various elements of the human body. But spiritually speaking what distinguish these things are the inner functions, the way people are useful to others in the realms of spirit, mind and the natural body.
Ultimately it is all about the infinite variety of heavenly loves and wisdom.
This is why we have been given a Word which is written in such a way that it may serve both the wisest of angels and at the same time the simplest of men.
One not need to be a reader of the Bible for very long to see that there is a power in the many special numbers of Scripture, such as One, Two, Three, Four, Seven, Ten, Twelve, Forty, etc.
We are talking today about three heavens. They are really three levels of potential within each of us. We may be duty focussed, other focused or God focussed. Indeed there is inevitably a progress from the one to the next. Now the number three has another application which we will see applies to the overall plan of the spiritual realm.
We turn to that story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. Lazarus, clearly was in heaven, for he was received into Abraham’s bosom. The rich man ended up in hell, for that was the result of his life choices and which came to match his inner character. The other realm is in the middle, called in the parable “a great gulf.” This makes for the three regions of the other world. The middle realm is where all people first go upon their death. It is a place of sorting out. What may have been hidden within the human heart, gradually emerges for all to see. One’s book of life is read, as it were, and those who are heaven bound walk a path of preparation to their final home in the mansions of heaven. Those whose hearts have been closed because of a life of evil and selfishness, are removed to their place like that of the rich man in the parable.
We have taken these many minutes to review what is taught about eternity that we may appreciate the larger context in which we live.
Here we are, human beings, born into this world of time and space. Is that all there is? Indeed, the answer is no. The Lord came into this world to give us hope that the kingdom of God is real and that it is near. He comes again in His own Word which is now opened up with great details and clarity in what we may expect and in how we must prepare.
Remember, remember: God is love. His love is eternal. God is not the God of the dead but of the living.
Fear not, little flock;
for it is your Father’s good pleasure
to give you the kingdom.