1. In the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, we find the Lord talking to his disciples about the close of the age, the last time of the church. 1 At the end of his prophecies concerning the sequence of states of its love and faith 2 he says:
Immediately after the suffering of those days, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Human-born One will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will lament. And they will see the Human-born One coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a trumpet and a loud voice, and they will gather his chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of the heavens all the way to the other end. (Matthew 24:29-31)
When people understand these words according to their literal meaning, they can only believe that all these things are going to happen just as this meaning describes them, at that end of time called the Last Judgment. This does not mean only that the sun and moon will be darkened and that the stars will fall from heaven, that the sign of the Lord will appear in heaven, and that he will be seen in the clouds with angels blowing trumpets. It also includes matters prophesied elsewhere, statements that the whole visible world is going to be destroyed and that afterward a new heaven and a new earth will come into being.
Many people in the church these days are of this opinion. However, people who believe such things are not aware of the hidden depths that lie within the details of the Word. There is in fact spiritual meaning in these details, for they intend not only the outward and earthly events that we find on the literal level but spiritual and heavenly events as well. This holds true not just for the meaning of phrases but even for each word. 3
The Word is in fact written in pure correspondences 4 so that there may be deeper meaning in the details. Questions about the nature of this meaning can be resolved by all the things I have set forth about it in Secrets of Heaven. A selection of these may be found also in my explanation of the white horse in the Book of Revelation. It is in this deeper sense that we are to understand what the Lord said in the passage just cited about coming in the clouds of heaven. The sun that will be darkened means the Lord in respect to love, 5 the moon means the Lord in respect to faith. 6 The stars mean insights into what is good and true, or into love and faith. 7 The sign of the Human-born One in heaven means the appearing of divine truth. The wailing tribes of earth mean all the elements of what is true and good, or of faith and love. 8 The Lord's coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory means his presence in the Word, and revelation. 9 The clouds refer to the literal meaning of the Word 10 and the glory to the Word's inner meaning. 11 The angels with a trumpet and a loud voice mean heaven, which is where divine truth comes from. 12
This enables us to see what these words of the Lord mean. They mean that at the end of the church, when there is no longer any love and therefore no longer any faith, the Lord will open the Word by disclosing its deeper meaning and will reveal the heavenly contents hidden within it. The particular hidden contents to be disclosed in the pages that follow have to do with heaven and hell and with our own life after death.
Church people these days know practically nothing about heaven and hell or their life after death, even though there are descriptions of everything available to them in the Word. In fact, many who have been born in the church deny all this. In their hearts they are asking who has ever come back to tell us about it.
To prevent this negative attitude - especially prevalent among people who have acquired a great deal of worldly wisdom - from infecting and corrupting people of simple heart and simple faith, it has been granted me to be with angels and to talk with them person to person. I have also been enabled to see what is in heaven and in hell, a process that has been going on for thirteen years. Now I am being allowed therefore to describe what I have heard and seen, in the hopes of shedding light where there is ignorance, and of dispelling skepticism.
The reason this kind of direct revelation is taking place today is that this is what the Coming of the Lord means.
2. [Swedenborg's footnote] For explanations of what the Lord said in Matthew 24:25 about the close of the age, his coming, and thus the gradual destruction of the church and the Last Judgment, see the material prefaced to chapters 5-24 [ 26-40] of Genesis. In particular, see 3353-3356, 3486-3489, 3650-3655, 3751-3759 [3751-3757], 3897-3901, 4056-4060, 4129-4231 [4229-4231], 4332-4335, 4422-4424, 4535, 4635-4638, 4661-4664, 4807-4810, 4954-4959, 5063-5071.