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The book of Revelation is filled with strange imagery and ideas, but what if it’s much simpler than it appears? According to eighteenth-century scientist and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, it’s an invitation to the spiritual future of the human race.
In this episode, host Curtis Childs and featured guests explore Swedenborg’s writings about the seven churches discussed in the book of Revelation. What do they represent in the afterlife and on earth for all of us who are working on some kind of spiritual life?
What Swedenborg calls the New Church is a radically positive change in the future of humanity. For Swedenborg, the entire book of Revelation is a description of how this new spiritual age will come about, but for this episode we’re focusing on the second and third chapters, which take the form of letters to seven churches from the early Christian church. Those letters are an invitation to the New Church.
Looking at the Christian church of his time, Swedenborg saw people surrounded by layers of spiritual “pollution”—their beliefs were drifting farther and farther away from the reality of the spiritual world, making it hard for good people to connect with God.
This pollution was caused by “the dragon”—yes, the same dragon mentioned later on in the book of Revelation. Swedenborg says the dragon represents the idea that love and religion can be separate. To counter this, people needed to change, and that change is represented by the letters to the seven churches.
The seven churches do not mean seven churches, but the church in its entirety, which in itself is one, but varied in accordance with people’s reception. . . . The letter was written to the angel of that church, because the angel means the angelic society corresponding to a church consisting of such people. (Apocalypse Revealed §73)
To help illustrate the meaning of each church, we’re using a series of seven Tiffany stained-glass windows, each one depicting the angel of that church. Rev. Susannah Currie, a Swedenborgian minister, shares the history and meaning of these seven stained-glass windows.
You’ve Got Mail
The invitation in Revelation comes with a warning—the more a cause matters, the more it is pushed against by evil. That means there’s work ahead of us, fighting against the negative emotions within us and the influences that try to keep us down. But God is on our side. When the letters say “I know your works,” it means that our thoughts and actions are plain to God, and he can help us see what’s keeping us from heaven.
The New Church, which is the New Jerusalem, is formed of those who repent of their evil works. (Apocalypse Revealed §72)
The biblical text of these seven letters can be hard to understand. Luckily, Curtis has Swedenborg’s Apocalypse Revealed Code Breaker Machine!
For each of the angels of the seven churches, we learn what their church signified, what obstacles they faced, what they could do next, and what the reward could be.
Ephesus: people who focus intently on doctrinal truths and ideas
- Obstacles: neglect of charity and goodwill
- Instructions: turn back to good actions or lose enlightenment
- Reward: ability to take in goodness of love from God, the center of wisdom
Smyrna: people engaged in good efforts but with false ideas and little trust in God
- Obstacles: good actions that aren’t genuinely good because false ideas are tainting them
- Instructions: trust God as you endure spiritual trials that purify good actions
- Reward: eternal life and efforts that can’t be corrupted by hell
Pergamum: people who think religion is all about good deeds and aren’t worried about what’s true
- Obstacles: no doctrinal truth to guide goodness; potential for hypocrisy or pride
- Instructions: learn how to examine motives and ensure good deeds are genuine
- Reward: eternal heavenly goodness supported by truth
Thyatira: people whose lives are guided by religious beliefs
- Obstacles: it’s dangerous to divorce faith from charity (or goodwill)
- Instructions: avoid any notion of faith that is not united with charity
- Reward: intelligence and wisdom that give you power over your lower self
Sardis: people who act pious but don’t learn truth or live with goodwill
- Obstacles:outer religious practices are lifeless without learning truth and applying it to life
- Instructions:apply the truths learned in worship to daily life
- Reward:become spiritual people who live in heaven
Philadelphia: people guided by truths springing from the Lord’s goodness
- Obstacles: needing to stay alert and stick to a life that unites truth and goodness
- Instructions: remain steadfast
- Reward: build and sustain the New Church mindset in heaven
Laodiceans: people who sometimes base their truth on their own thought and sometimes on the Word
- Obstacles: thinking they don’t need to learn or develop any more
- Instructions: go through trials and temptations to learn heavenly truth
- Reward: join the Lord in heavenly life and consciousness
The Personal Application
There is hope to cut through the spiritual pollution between us and the Lord. We are all capable of being redeemed, each of us in our own way.
Everyone needs their own path to God, and that’s why the letters describe many different spiritual situations and the individual obstacles and solutions for each one. Rev. Susannah Currie sees parallels between the seven letters in Revelation and the seven days of creation, which in Swedenborg’s writings correspond to the path of spiritual growth. While the seven days of creation represent our potential at the beginning, the seven churches described in Revelation represent how we lived up to that potential.
Day 1: Light. Receiving spiritual knowledge.
Ephesus: Knowing truth
Question: Have we done anything with that knowledge?
Day 2: Separating the waters above from the waters below. Realizing that we have an inner self and an outer self.
Smyrna: Living as a spiritual being in a material existence.
Question: Are we willing to acknowledge that it all comes from the Lord?
Day 3: Soil seeded with plants. Making our own independent efforts to live a good life.
Pergamum: Doing good deeds.
Question: Are we willing to keep learning more truth, to be able to spot hypocrisy in ourselves and others?
Day 4: Sun, moon, and stars. Opening our hearts and minds to God.
Thyatira: Having religious faith.
Question: Are we separating faith from goodwill?
Day 5: Birds and fish. A growing understanding, and a willingness to speak the truth.
Sardis: Living an outwardly religious lifestyle, and speaking our beliefs.
Question: Are we applying truth to life, and are we living with goodwill in our hearts?
Day 6: Animals and humans. Living in love and faith in community.
Philadelphia: The culmination of spiritual growth—using the Lord’s truth to live with integrity and love toward others.
Question: Can we stay committed and remain strong in that way of life?
Day 7: God rested. Resting in the knowledge and the feeling and the experience that we are in God’s care.
Laodicea: Feeling confident in our beliefs in God and the Word.
Question: Does that make us complacent, thinking we’ve learned enough? Are we willing to go through spiritual trials so that we continue to learn and be purified?
We are all being invited, through our own path, to what Swedenborg promises will be an amazing age of spiritual consciousness. If any of the ideas above resonate with you, you can take a minute to meditate on the images of the angels and what they represent.
- Do we form our own symbolism and customize our own correspondences?
- If God is one . . . why did Jesus pray several times and even in private? Why did he call out to the Father on the cross?
- Can you believe in Swedenborg if you don’t really believe so much in the Bible?
- What happens if you go to heaven, but someone you love deeply and are attached to goes to a very different community or to hell? Do you still get to see them after you die?
In Company with Angels is the nonprofit organization dedicated to caring for the Tiffany stained-glass windows, managing their tour through the United States and providing educational materials about them. Their website features a number of resources, including an album of musical meditations from Ken Turley on the windows.
You can also learn more about the windows and the Swedenborgian interpretation of the seven letters in Tiffany’s Swedenborgian Angels: Stained Glass Windows Representing the Seven Churches from the Book of Revelation, which is available from our bookstore.
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About Swedenborg and Life
In a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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