Jesus Leaves the Temple
1. And Jesus coming out, went from the temple; and His disciples came to [Him] to show Him the buildings of the temple.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem amidst the cheers of the multitude, the people cried out, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (21:9). Immediately thereafter Jesus went into the temple, threw out the moneychangers, and denounced the hypocritical practices of the religious leaders. No matter what Jesus said or did, the religious leaders remained intractable, refusing to hear His message, or be moved by His miracles. Jesus’ words and actions had no impact on their hardened hearts. Even the list of woes — the last direct message that He gives to them — has no effect. They could not be taught because their minds were already set.
Like the stubborn religious leaders, there are places in us that refuse to acknowledge the Lord. These are the places where we refuse to repent; these are the stubborn habits and behavior patterns that are so deeply entrenched in our lives that it seems that we can never be rid of them. And even when we decide to change our lives, change our ways, and get rid of old habits, we believe that we can do it by ourselves. This takes the form of believing that if we just had enough “will power” we could overcome anything — whether it be a compulsive addiction, an impatient attitude, or an inability to control outbursts of anger. This is tantamount to saying, “I don’t need the Lord, His truth, or His power. I can do it by myself.”
Whenever we succumb to this kind of thinking, our lower nature is still in control. If the Lord’s truth is not in our mind, the chances of success are bleak because, apart from His Word, the Lord cannot lead and guide us. As Jesus said earlier, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (8:20). 1
The situation is similar as Jesus looks around the temple and sees that there is no reception for what He has to say. There was no place for the Lord’s teachings to dwell. Therefore, the next episode begins with the words, “Jesus went out and departed from the temple” (24:1).
The Destruction of the Temple
2. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Amen I say to you, There shall not be left here a stone on a stone, which shall not be undone.”
3. And sitting on the Mount of Olives, His disciples came to Him by themselves, saying, “Tell us, when shall these things be? And what [shall be] the sign of Thine advent, and of the consummation of the age?”
4. And Jesus answering said to them, “Look, [so that] no one lead you astray.
5. For many shall come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and shall deceive many.
6. And you are about to hear of wars and rumors of wars; see [that] you be not alarmed; for all [these things] must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
7. For nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in [various] places.
8. And all these [are] the beginning of griefs.
9. Then shall they deliver you up to affliction, and shall kill you; and you shall be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.
10. And then shall many be caused to stumble, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
11. And many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many.
12. And on account of the iniquity being multiplied, the love of many shall become cold.
13. But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
14. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all the nations; and then shall the end come.”
Jesus’ disciples, in contrast to the religious leaders, sincerely want to learn from Him. Calling Jesus’ attention to the temple that Jesus just departed from, perhaps for the last time, they seem to asking, “What is going to happen to the temple?” Jesus responds, telling them that the temple is going to be destroyed. “Assuredly I say to you,” Jesus says, “not one stone shall be left here upon another that shall not be thrown down” (24:2).
The disciples are curious; they want to know more. So they come to Him and say, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (24:3). Jesus sits down on the Mount of Olives, calls His disciples together, and speaks to them in deeply symbolic language. His words are filled with strong warnings and cataclysmic prophecies. He warns them of the many “false christs” who will come in His name. The disciples must not believe them. He speaks of “wars and rumors of war.” The disciples are not to be troubled by these things. He says that “nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.” The disciples should not worry. There will be “famines, pestilences, and earthquakes,” He says. “They will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you” (24:4-9). Still, they are to remain undaunted.
These would indeed be the worst of times. Jesus tells them that people will “betray one another and hate one another” (24:10). “Lawlessness will abound,” He says, “and the love of many will grow cold” (24:12). These are all deeply symbolic expressions, each containing a wealth of meaning. But it all begins with Jesus’ words about the temple, “not one stone shall be left here upon another that shall not be thrown down” (24:2).
At this point, some historical background in necessary. The first temple was built by King Solomon about a thousand years before Jesus’ birth. Employing thirty thousand workers, the temple was built in thirteen years. As it is written, when Solomon finishing building the temple, “He prepared the inner sanctuary inside the temple to set the ark of the covenant of the Lord there” (1 Kings 6:19). This inner sanctuary was called the “Most Holy Place” because “there was nothing in the ark, only the two tablets of stone which Moses put there at Horeb when the Lord made a covenant with the children of Israel” (1 Kings 8:9).
On the day of celebration, when the priests brought the ark containing the Ten Commandments into the temple, a thick, dark cloud filled the house of the Lord. Solomon then proclaimed that this was a miraculous sign from the Lord who had promised that He would dwell in a dark cloud. Therefore, the dark cloud that filled the temple was proof that the temple would be a place to experience the presence of God. As Solomon put it, it would be “a place for the Lord to dwell forever” (1Kings 8:13).
Sadly, during the sixth century before the birth of Christ, the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, took people away as prisoners, and burnt the temple to the ground. Seventy years later, when Persia, conquered Babylon, the captives could return to Jerusalem where they took nine years to rebuild the temple. It is this second temple — originally intended to be a dwelling place for the Lord — which Jesus says will be so utterly destroyed that not one stone will lay upon another stone..
It is important to keep in mind that the highest purpose of the temple was to serve as a resting place for the Ten Commandments which were considered to be the “Holy of Holies.” The very stones of the temple, therefore, represent the many truths that support and protect the commandments so that they can be forever available to everyone who wants to live by them. The religious leaders who served in the temple would be especially responsible to preserve these commandments and teach them to the people.
Jesus’ prediction, then, that the temple would be so destroyed that “not one stone will remain on top of another stone,” represents the utter destruction of truth at that time — especially the destruction of that single truth that is the chief cornerstone of the temple — belief in the presence of the Lord. 2
The denial of God’s presence and the consequent rejection of divine truth leads to the utter ruin of humanity. As Jesus puts it, people will “betray one another and hate one another” (24:10). Without the guidance of divine truth, “lawlessness will abound.” People will do whatever they please. And without the presence of divine love, “the love of many will grow cold” (24:12). Nevertheless, even though these times will be extremely difficult, there is still hope. Jesus says, “He who endures to the end shall be saved.” And then Jesus adds this encouraging word of assurance: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations” (24:14).
The Abomination of Desolation
15. “When, therefore, you shall see the abomination of desolation declared by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (he that reads, let him consider),”
Despite this glimmer of hope, the prophecy is a dark one. In fact, Jesus refers to it as the “abomination of desolation” (24:15) spoken of by Daniel the prophet. This is a reference to Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria, who plundered the temple in 168 BC and set up a statue of the pagan god Zeus in the holy place. As it is written, “And from that time, daily sacrifice is taken away and the abomination of desolation is set up” (Daniel 12:11).
It was a customary practice for invading nations to symbolize their conquest by setting up their own idols in place of the sacred images of the conquered people. To the conquered Jewish people, however, this was more than a mere symbol of conquest. In the words of Daniel, the desecration of their holy place was considered the “abomination of desolation.” Similarly, when the Lord’s love and wisdom are rejected, abominable things can flow in. This is because the absence of His love and wisdom turns the human mind into a desolate place that can only be filled with abominable things. This is the abomination that comes from desolation. This is the very desolation that Jesus was referring to at the end of the previous chapter. Jesus said to the religious leaders who rejected Him, “See! Your house is left to you desolate” (23:38). And now, in this chapter, Jesus describes, in detail, the abominations that follow such desolation. 3
While these abominations apply literally to the corrupt religious establishment of Jesus’ day, they also apply to each of us. Whenever we focus so much on ourselves that we lose all sense of what truth really is, all concern for the needs of our neighbor, and all awareness of God’s presence in our life, we come into a state of desolation.
It is at this point that our lives become empty of anything genuinely spiritual. Just as Antiochus Epiphanes plundered the temple in Jerusalem, banished all sacrifices to the true God, and established idol worship, there are times when we also choose to worship other gods, especially the gods of self-interest, greed, resentment, and fear. Troubled about the past, and anxious about the future, we do not trust in God’s perfect leading. We therefore make our own rules, and live by our own laws, even while pretending to be dutiful in our religious practices, and compliant with civil law. The fact is, though, that in these states of mind there is no love in our hearts for God or for our neighbor. Even as the holy temple at Jerusalem, under the rule of the religious leaders, was desolate, so too is the human heart when turned away from God and towards self. Whenever the Lord is absent, the human mind becomes a desolate place devoid of anything that is truly spiritual — a place into which can flow abominable thoughts and feelings.
Antiochus Epiphanes may have replaced the daily sacrifice with a statue of Zeus in the temple at Jerusalem; the Pharisees may have corrupted worship through their self-serving traditions; but all this should serve to remind us that if we do not fill our minds and hearts with God’s qualities, we too will think and do abominable things. More than any physical desecration of the temple, or pharisaical practice, this is truly the “abomination of desolation.”
16. “Then let those that are in Judea flee to the mountains;
17. Let him that is on the housetop not step down to take anything out of his dwelling;
18. And he that is in the field, let him not turn back to take his garments.
19. And woe unto those that have in the womb, and to those that nurse, in those days!
20. But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on a Sabbath,”
Whenever we find ourselves experiencing the abomination of desolation — a true low point in our life — our only hope is to flee: “Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (24:16). There will be no time to waste. The flight must be immediate, without hesitation: “Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house, and let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes” (24:17-18). While this imagery suggests great urgency, there is also a much deeper significance.
The three types of flight which are here described mention successively lower points of elevation: the mountains, a housetop, and a field. These relate to the three degrees of the human mind: the highest degree is compared to a person on a mountaintop; the next highest degree is compared to a person on a housetop; and the lowest degree is compared to a person in a field. Wherever we are spiritually, whether on a mountaintop, on a housetop, or in a field, the general message is always the same: flee from evil. 4
However, depending upon where we are in our spiritual development, there are important distinctions to be observed. There are times when we are at the highest point of spiritual consciousness. This is compared to a “mountaintop.” In this state, we have an intuitive, perceptive sense of God’s will. We keep the commandments out of love to the Lord, and have no need to reason about them. At such times, the Lord’s will is written on our hearts. In order to protect this state in ourselves, and not be brought down from it, we are told to escape from Judea and flee to the mountains. Because Judea is the area surrounding Jerusalem (the seat of the corrupted temple) “fleeing from Judea” represents fleeing from all that is evil and false in ourselves. Therefore, we read, “Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (24:16). 5
The next plane of the mind is compared to a “housetop.” In the “housetop” state, our focus is less on loving the Lord, and more on serving the neighbor. This is the spiritual degree of the mind. Because we understand the truth of the Lord’s Word, we want to live according to what the Word teaches. While the Lord’s will is not yet written in our hearts (as in the highest state), it is in our minds. And while a “housetop” is not as high as a “mountaintop,” it is still a good place to be. It’s far above those lower states of consciousness where we relied on our own selfish reasoning (returning to their own house). Therefore, we read, “Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his dwelling” (24:17). 6
Finally, we come to the third level in this series — the level of the field. While it is much lower than a mountain, and lower than the housetop, it is also a good place to be especially in the beginning of spiritual development. When we are “in the field,” we do the right thing simply because the Lord says so. In this state, we are not acting from love (the mountain) or from understanding (the housetop); rather, we are acting from obedience (the field). When we are “in the field,” we have an uncomplicated, obedient faith in God. We are warned against allowing ourselves to be misled by any teachings that would turn us away from living a good, obedient life, or reverting to former states of doubt. Therefore, we read, “Let him who is in the field, not return to take back his garments” (24:18). 7
Jesus adds more cautions: “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath” (24:19-20). Jesus is speaking about the tremendous upheavals that take place in the human spirit when an old belief system is crumbling, and a new belief system is being born. When new ideas about how to love God and serve the neighbor are conceived in us, it is as though we are pregnant with a new conception. And in the tender, early stages of those new ideas, it is as though we are nursing them into fuller development. We are, in other words, becoming new people, in the process of spiritual rebirth.
This can be a difficult process, especially if we are trying to flee from our old ways. When we are feeling cold towards others, untouched by love or innocence, we are
“traveling in winter”— not a good climate for spiritual growth. Nor can we be touched by love or innocence when we are feeling the extreme heat of self-love. When Jesus warns against “fleeing on the Sabbath,” it sounds like He might be warning about the dangers of doing anything except worshipping on the Sabbath. More interiorly, however, He is speaking about how difficult it is to grow spiritually when we are in hypocritical states of outward piety and self-righteousness. All growth begins, like the growth of a child, in states of love and innocence. The extremes of cold and heat destroy new life. 8
Like a Night without Stars
21. “For then shall be great affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall be.
22. And except those days should be shortened, all flesh would not have been saved; but for the sake of the chosen those days shall be shortened.
23. Then if anyone shall say to you, ‘Behold, here [is] the Christ, or there,’ believe not.
24. For there shall arise false christs and false prophets, and shall give great signs and miracles, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
25. Behold, I have told you before.
26. If then they shall say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the wilderness!’ Go not forth; ‘Behold, [he is] in the bedrooms!’ Believe ye not.
27. For just as the lightning comes forth from the east, and appears to the west, so shall also the advent of the Son of Man be.
28. For wherever the corpse is, thither will the eagles be gathered.
29. And straightway after the affliction of those days the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from the heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.”
Throughout these images of flight, Jesus is referring to the terrible afflictions suffered by people who long to do good but cannot because of hostile external and internal forces. The false teachings of religious leaders, the inherited tendencies to evils of every kind, and the widespread infestation of hellish influences everywhere, make it virtually impossible for anyone to do what is right. Such was the situation when Jesus was born on earth.
The violent outward occurrences that Jesus describes — the nations that rise against nations, the famines, the earthquakes — all are representative of the inner upheavals and combats going on in the invisible realms of the human spirit. At the very center of Jesus’ mission was a battle with these unseen, hostile forces, so that people could once again be free to learn the truth and live according to it. It was imperative, therefore, that Jesus enter the battle and take on the hells. In this way, He could free humanity from bondage to hellish influences. Without Jesus’ momentous and triumphant struggle, no soul could have been saved. All this is contained in the words, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been seen since the beginning of the world … and unless those days were shortened, no flesh could be saved” (24:21-22). 9
The overwhelming spiritual infestation at that time required that God personally come in the flesh, in order to take on and subdue the evils that were literally destroying humanity. The last vestiges of love and charity, the last vestiges of faith in God and kindness towards the neighbor, and the last vestiges of understanding of God’s will were at the edge of extinction. The Word of God, given to illuminate the human understanding was darkened and its meaning perverted by a self-serving religious establishment, and an unsuspecting laity.
Jesus therefore counsels His disciples to beware of false prophets and false christs (24:24). He teaches them that the truth will not be found “in the desert” (the desolate state of the religious establishment), nor will it be found in “the inner rooms” (personal opinion). In other words, people are not to be deceived by false teachers in the world (the “desert”), or in their own minds (“inner rooms”). Rather, they are to trust in the coming of the Son of Man: “If they say to you ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man ” (24:26-27).
Religious teaching and practice had become a wasteland devoid of all truth — a dry and barren desert. It had nothing living within it, and therefore nothing to offer. The fresh water of living truth that should have served for the spiritual refreshment of humanity had ceased. The only thing left in that desert was a dead carcass — rotten food for a decaying world. As Jesus puts it, “For wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will be gathered together” (24:28).
It was indeed the darkest of times, and Jesus describes it in deeply symbolic language: “The sun will be darkened,” says Jesus, meaning that everything of love and charity will be rejected. “The moon will not give its light,” meaning that all faith will perish. And finally, “The stars will fall from heaven,” meaning that people will not even have a faint glimmer of what is true any longer (24:29). There will no longer be any acknowledgment of the Lord, nor any love to Him, nor any charity toward the neighbor. Evil and ignorance would totally encompass the land like a world without sunlight, like a night without stars. 10
The Clouds of Heaven
30. “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth wail, and shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory.
31. And He shall send His angels with a great voice of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His chosen from the four winds, from the end of [the] heavens till the end of them.”
And yet, in spite of the darkness that would cover the land, a new and glorious hope would arise. Jesus would come again! Referring to Himself as the “Son of Man,” Jesus says, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days . . . they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (24:29-30).
Jesus clearly says that He will come again “in the clouds of heaven.” But how are we to imagine this? Commentators have disagreed. Some see this event as a very literal coming in the clouds. Jesus will appear in the sky in a dramatic scene that will somehow reveal His power and glory. Others say that whereas His first coming was to teach truth, His second coming will be to reorganize society according to God’s plan and purpose. While the first coming established a spiritual kingdom, the second coming will establish a temporal kingdom.
The idea of an initial spiritual deliverance, followed by a subsequent political deliverance, is intriguing, but not consistent with the eternal principles that Jesus taught. To think otherwise would be to fall into the same mindset that Jesus came to deliver His people from — the mindset that happiness consists in temporal prosperity. It is necessary, therefore, to take a closer look at what is meant by “seeing the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
Jesus has consistently demonstrated that the term “Son of Man” refers to the divine truth which He came to give to the world but has “nowhere to lay its head.” Nevertheless, although Jesus has left the temple, He has not given up on humanity. The” Son of Man,” He says, will come again, next time in “the clouds of heaven.” In order to understand this symbolic phrase, we need to remember that the clouds of earth are made up of water. Throughout the Word of God, “water” signifies “truth.” Therefore. the term “clouds of heaven” is scriptural imagery which speaks of heavenly water — that is, spiritual truth. Therefore, it could be said that the Word of God, in the language of sacred scripture, is “heavenly water.” Or, in other words, the literal truths of the Word are “the clouds of heaven.”
Just as the clouds of earth shield us from direct contact with the power and glory of the sun, the clouds of heaven — the literal truths of sacred scripture — shield us from direct contact with the power and glory of the more interior truths that they conceal. This concealment of truth is for our protection. It would tear us apart spiritually if we were exposed to a way of living that we could not sustain, and to truths that surpass our ability to follow. Therefore, God mercifully conceals more interior truth from us in the literal clouds of sacred scripture; and yet, He also reveals them to us when we are ready to live according to them. Indeed, He comes to us through the clouds of heaven. 11
This, then, is the promised “second coming of the Lord.” He came to humanity once in the flesh, as Jesus Christ, and He will come again, in spirit through the revelation of the inner meaning of His Word. He will come as divine truth — the Infinite divine truth accommodated to human understanding. This is the Son of Man who comes to us through the literal truths of the Word — the “clouds of heaven.”
This is what is rightly called “the second coming of the Lord.” It is a coming in glory, for the Lord comes to open to us the shining glory and splendor of His Word. It is also a coming in power; it is the power the Lord gives us to live according to His truth. 12
Finally, as Jesus concludes this great promise, He adds that the Son of Man will “send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, and from one end of heaven to the other” (24:31). These words contain the beautiful promise that the truth revealed at the time of the Lord’s second coming will unite all those who are willing to hear it — in the same way that the sound of a trumpet summons people together. As the Lord said to Moses, “Make two silver trumpets…. You shall use them for calling the assembly…. When they blow them, all the assembly shall gather at the door of the tabernacle of meeting” (Numbers 1:1-8).
“The great sound of the trumpet,” then, is the voice of divine truth, especially the revelation of the inner meaning of the Word at the time of the Lord’s second coming. Its beautiful sound stirs the heart and calls all to worship the Lord at an internal tabernacle of love and wisdom. The trumpet call of divine truth goes out far and wide, to every people and every nation. And those who are willing to hear that call will respond with their total being, which is meant by the words, “from one end of heaven to the other.” 13
The Budding of the Fig Tree
32. “But learn the parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that the summer [is] near.
33. So also you, when you shall see all these things, know ye that it is near, at the doors.
34. Amen I say to you, This generation shall not pass away, until all these things come to pass.
35. The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.
36. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not the angels of the heavens, but My Father alone.
37. But just as the days of Noah, so shall be also the advent of the Son of Man.
38. For just as they were in the days before the flood, eating and drinking, being wed and giving to be wed, until the day that Noah entered into the ark,
39. And knew not until the flood came, and took [them] all; so shall be also the advent of the Son of Man.
40. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the one shall be left.
41. Two [women] shall be grinding [grain] in the mill; one shall be taken, and one shall be left.
42. Watch therefore, because you know not at what hour your Lord comes.
43. But know ye this, that if the householder had known in what watch the thief comes, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be dug through.
44. On this account be you also prepared, because in the hour you think not, the Son of Man comes.
45. Who therefore is the faithful and prudent servant, whom his Lord has appointed over His household, to give them food in time?
46. Blessed [is] that servant, whom his Lord, when He comes, shall find so doing.
47. Amen I say to you, that He will appoint him over all His belongings.
48. But if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My Lord delays to come;
49. And shall begin to strike the fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
50. The Lord of that servant shall come in a day that he does not expect, and in an hour that he does not know;
51. And shall divide him in two, and put his portion with the hypocrites, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Jesus has been talking about the great tribulation that is about to take place, the end of the age, and the coming of the Son of Man. The disciples have already asked about these occurrences: “When will these things be?” they said, “and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (24:3). Jesus now answers by telling them the parable of the fig tree: “Now learn this parable from the fig tree,” He says. “When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near, at the very doors” (24:32).
The budding of the fig tree, with its softness and tenderness, is compared to the quality of human goodness at the beginning of our lives, and at the beginning of a new religious era. Jesus is suggesting, through the imagery of the fig tree, that even though the old religious establishment is ending, a new one is about to begin. In fact, it is already in its earliest stages, just beginning to put forth leaves.
Though Jesus has not initiated His disciples very deeply into the complexities of religious doctrine, they already have been given a glimpse of what is essential: they know that in some way He is the Son of God; they know that keeping the commandments is essential for salvation; and they know that religious life consists in a life of useful service without thinking of reward. Though this is a relatively general understanding, it is a vital and tender beginning. In the language of sacred scripture, “the branch has already become tender and put forth leaves … summer is near … at the very doors” (24:32-33).
The image of summer being near — even at the very doors is powerful. In the closing episode of this chapter, we find ourselves inside the doors of a house, identified with servants who ought to be busy ordering all things in the house. A “house,” as we have mentioned, is our mind, and the Lord ought to be the Master of our house. That being the case, we should be constantly in the effort to keep things in order, for we never know exactly when the Master will appear at the door. As Jesus say, “Watch, therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (24:42). 14
Traditionally, this passage is interpreted to mean the Last Judgment — the time of our death, when we shall be judged for everything we thought, said, and did while in the world. It is said that no one knows the day or the hour when this will take place, and that it will come unexpectedly. This is because Jesus said, “Be ready, for the Son on Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him” (24:44).
As Jesus continues the parable, He talks about the “evil servants” whose job it is to take care of the master’s household, provide appropriate food for the family, and keep watch so that thieves do not break in. In this parable, the “household” is the human mind;
appropriate food is the Word of God; and “preventing thieves from breaking in” is guarding against evil desires and false thoughts that want to break in and destroy us. However, because these evil servants believed that the master had “delayed His coming,” they neglected their household responsibilities. Instead “they beat the other servants, ate, drank, and got drunk with other drunkards” (24:49).
For people like this, a sudden and unexpected “Last Judgment” is a frightening possibility. If God — the master of the house — showed up suddenly to see what was being done, they would be in serious trouble. As Jesus puts it, “the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect Him and at an hour he is not aware of. And he will cut him to pieces and assign him to a place with the hypocrites where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (24:510.
Admittedly, this sounds very scary — especially for anyone raised with the idea that an angry God is coming to judge humanity and cast everyone into hell — unless we immediately repent and reform. But that’s an old idea of an angry God. In the new idea of God, and the new religion that Jesus came to establish, the coming of the Lord is a blessed event. In this new religion, which is about to dawn like a fig tree about to bud, God comes to bless us and lead us into every happiness. He comes to offer truth that reveals to us not only the way we should go, but also the many obstacles in the way — greed which shuts out generosity, anxiety which shuts out faith, and hate which shuts out love. If a person winds up in hell, or in a hellish state, it is not because an angry God put that person there. It’s because that person chose to be there. 15
All this is meant by the “coming of the Son of Man, first on earth as God in human form, and then again, in “the clouds of heaven” through the revelation of the inner meaning of His Word. The second coming of the Lord, then, is a glorious prophecy of how a new understanding of religion will arise in each of us. Just as Jesus says, it will come to us unexpectedly: “No man knows the day or the hour.” But surely, it will come, in a way that we have not imagined. Our job is only to be ready — to continue to worship God, to read the Word, and to keep the commandments as we understand them.
In the process, we will be given wonderful glimpses of spiritual truth. Our eyes will be open to see and understand things that we have never understood before. And these insights will come to us as a great blessing. Therefore, we read: “Blessed is that servant whom his Master, when He comes, will find him so doing…The master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of” (24:44, 46, 50).
For the faithful, the coming of the Son of Man, then, is not something to be feared; rather, it is to be anticipated with great joy. In that day, the eyes of the faithful will be opened to a new and deeper understanding of the Word. The cold, dark and barren states of winter will be over; and the fig tree of useful service will begin to bud. In that day, we will know that summer is near, and the Master is at the door.
1. Arcana Coelestia 9338:5: “The Lord dwells with angels, and similarly with people, only in that which is the Lord’s own with the angels or with people; for the Divine must dwell in what is of God, not in what is of the self with anyone.”
2. Apocalypse Explained 391: “A stone not being left upon a stone, which shall not be thrown down, signifies that the Lord would be altogether denied amongst them, wherefore also the temple was destroyed.”
3. Arcana Coelestia 3652: “The abomination of desolation occurs when the Lord is acknowledged no longer, and therefore when there is no love of Him nor any belief in Him. This also occurs when there is no longer any charity towards the neighbor nor consequently any belief in what is good and true. When these conditions exist in the thoughts of the heart … it is a case of desolation.”
4. Divine Love and Wisdom 237: “These three degrees of height are called natural, spiritual and celestial. When people are born, they first come into the natural degree and this increases with them by continuity according to their knowledge and the understanding acquired thereby even to the highest point of the understanding which is called the rational. Yet the second degree which is called the spiritual is not opened by this means. It is opened by a love of uses in conformity with the things acquired by the understanding, but a spiritual love of uses which is love towards the neighbor. This degree can grow in like manner by continuous degrees even to its highest point, and it increases by cognitions of truth and good, that is, by means of spiritual truths. Yet not even by these is the third degree, which is called celestial, opened. But it is opened by the celestial love of uses, which is love to the Lord. And love to the Lord is nothing else than committing to life the precepts of the Word, which in all, are to shun evils because they are hellish and devilish, and to do good because it is heavenly and Divine. These three degrees are thus successively opened in a person.”
5. Arcana Coelestia 795: “’Mountains’ signify the Lord and His holy celestial things. And it was for this reason that the Lord promulgated the Law from Mount Sinai…. In the words, ‘Let them that are in Judea flee into the mountains, the term ‘Judea’ denotes the vastated church.” See also Arcana Coelestia 303: “In the Word to be ‘vastated’ or ‘laid waste’ means to no longer have any faith.”
6. Arcana Coelestia 9933:2 “In the inmost heaven is the good of celestial love, which is the good of love to the Lord; in the second or middle heaven is the good of spiritual love, which is the good of charity toward the neighbor; in the first or most external heaven is the good of natural love, from spiritual and from celestial love, which is the good of faith and obedience.”
7. Arcana Coelestia 3653: “There are three kinds of people within the church; namely, those who are in love to the Lord; those who are in charity toward the neighbor; and those who are in the affection of truth…. Those in the third class, who are in the affection of truth, are specifically signified in the words, ‘And let him that is in the field not return back to take his garment.’” See also Arcana Coelestia 5428:2: “The garments that Joseph put off, were the garments of the pit or prison, and by these are signified things fallacious and false, which in a state of temptations are excited by evil genii and spirits.”
8. Arcana Coelestia 3755: “The phrase ‘flight in the winter’ signifies removal from a state of love and innocence. This is because ‘cold’ is when there is aversion to love and innocence, which is induced by the loves of self. The phrase, ‘flight on the Sabbath’ is removal from love and innocence in a state of too much heat. ‘Heat’ is external sanctity, while within are the love of self and the love of the world.”
9. True Christian Religion 182: “The phrase, ‘to shorten those days’ means to bring that church to an end and establish a new one. Who does not know that unless the Lord had come into the world and wrought redemption no flesh could have been saved?” Swedenborg teaches that this refers to both the religious establishment in Jesus’ day and to the Christian church which would eventually depart from genuine Christianity.”
10. Arcana Coelestia 2441: “To those who are in the evils of the love of self and of the world, that is, to those who are in hatreds against all things of love to the Lord and of charity toward the neighbor, the light of heaven actually appears as thick darkness; on which account it is said in the Word that to such the ‘sun was blackened.’ This signifies that they rejected everything of love and charity . . . By the ‘sun’ is signified love and charity; by the ‘moon,’ the faith thence derived; and by the ‘stars,’ all knowledge of good and truth; which are said to be ‘obscured,’ to ‘lose their light,’ and to ‘fall from heaven,’ when there is no longer any acknowledgment of the Lord, nor any love to Him, nor any charity toward the neighbor.”
11. New Jerusalem Its Heavenly Doctrine 172: “The lot of profaners in the other life is the worst of all, because the good and truth which they have acknowledged remain, and also the evil and falsity; and because they cohere, a tearing asunder of the life takes place. The greatest care is therefore taken by the Lord, to prevent profanation. Therefore, a person is withheld from acknowledgment and faith, if the person cannot remain therein to the end of life. On this account also a person is rather kept in ignorance, and in external worship.” This is the reason for the seeming obscurity of the Word. A person is only exposed to as much truth as that person can live by. In this way, people are protected from profanation.
12. True Christian Religion 776: “We read in many passages that the Lord will come ‘in the clouds of heaven,’ but no one up to the present has known what the clouds of heaven mean. They have thought that He would appear in them in person. It has so far been unknown that the clouds of heaven mean the Word in its literal sense, and that glory and power, with which He is to come at that time mean the spiritual sense of the Word…. The phrase ‘clouds of heaven’ means the Word in its natural sense, ‘glory’ the Word in its spiritual sense, and ‘power’ means the Lord's strength through the Word.”
13. Arcana Coelestia 8915: “People who do not know that all the Lord's words also have heavenly and Divine things stored within them, that is, that they hold in them an internal sense, will suppose that when the last judgment is at hand, angels are going to appear and announce it, and also that they will gather the elect with ‘the voice of a trumpet.’ But ‘the voice of a trumpet’ is not used there to mean the sound of a trumpet but God’s truth in its inward form spreading through heaven, and the proclaiming of it.”
14. Divine Love and Wisdom 333: “A person is only as a servant and house-steward appointed over the goods of one’s Lord.”
15. Arcana Coelestia 4663: “The Lord judges no one to eternal fire. People judge themselves, that is, they cast themselves into eternal fire.” See also Heaven and Hell 545: “An opinion has prevailed with some that God turns away His face from people, casts people away from Himself, and casts people into hell, and is angry with people on account of their evil; and some believe also that God punishes people and does evil to them…. [But] the spiritual sense of the Word, teaches otherwise, namely, that God never turns away His face from anyone, and never casts anyone away from Himself, that He casts no one into hell and is angry with no one.”