Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Spiritual Meaning of Daniel's Prophecy of the Statue of Nebuchadnezzar



The book of Daniel, which means "God is Judge" - concerns the final end state of the church, when its good and truth have been corrupted by evils and falsities.  In it, there are a series of prophecies, which unknown to most, predict the present decline and fall of the Christian Church, before the birth of a new one.  The prophecies also contain time periods, which shows that the last judgment of the Second Coming should have taken place in the 18th century (e.g., analysis of Dan. 7:25 and other passages, discussed in previous blog posts).  In the New Church, it was revealed that the Second Coming was fulfilled in the revelation of the internal spiritual sense of the Word.  And just as the prophecies of Daniel predicted, this was all fulfilled in the 18th century when the Lord decided to reveal everything that had been kept hidden from the Jews and even Christians concerning the hidden spiritual sense contained in the Word.

But a new revelation means one must reject the old.  And by old, I mean the false doctrines of the Catholic and Protestant churches.  It was foreseen in the prophecies of scripture that the Christian church would decline, until nothing of good or truth remained in it. This decline and corruption of the Christian church is foretold in the prophecies of Daniel, but as those born in the church cannot see their own falsehoods, there is a tendency to demonize other groups, to propose a future Antichrist, or propose that these prophecies are "always future."  This is known as the Futurist view, and just like the Jews, they continually place prophecies in the future and do not see them fulfilled in the current state of religion as we have it today.

THE SPIRITUAL SYMBOLISM OF BABYLON

The book of Daniel begins with the following historical account of Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem in the 6th century  B.C. -
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.  And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god. (Dan. 1:1-2)
One thing that the revelations given to Swedenborg reveal, is that every word of scripture is Divinely inspired.  To see it, one must abstract the meaning from particular historical events, or any particular time or place.  Jerusalem, in the spiritual sense, represents the doctrine of truth of the Christian Church.  The vessels and treasures in the temple represent the knowledges of good and truth.  Nebuchadnezzar was a king of Babylon, and Babylon represents those who wish to rule others through means of religion.  For Babylon to plunder Jerusalem signifies that those who wish to rule others by means of religion, through a priesthood, will plunder the knowledge of the Christian Church and use it for evil ends, thus profaning it.  In scripture, Babylon is thus a symbolic representation of those within the Catholic Church who abused the Christian revelation in order to gain power.  This siege of Jerusalem of the 6th century B.C. was a type for things to come: in the literal sense, Jerusalem was plundered by the Romans in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.  When the Roman Empire collapsed, the power center of Christianity shifted to Rome, and Rome made use of the knowledge of scripture in order to create a religious rule that lasted for centuries.

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts

In scripture, one can show that this is the spiritual meaning of Babylon, and it was foreseen that a "New Babylon" would be re-established in the future (see Zech. 5:5-11).  This was known to the early Protestants, and the revelations of Swedenborg confirm it.  There are other interpretations out there that are caught up in the literal sense and do not understand the spiritual meaning of Babylon.  Popular misinterpretations include those that think the future Babylon points to some future political empire in the Middle East.  Another is the western financial system.  But neither of these interpretations are correct, for the Bible is concerned about one's spiritual development and destiny, not in temporal earthly matters.  Babylon refers to any system of religion, where spiritual knowledge is abused for the sake of gaining power and control over others, and over their way of thinking, due to one's selfish pride and ego.  This is the overall subject of the book of Daniel as it was written in ancient Babylon, with a special focus on the Catholic Church, and later the Protestant Church that grew from it.

Many within the Catholic and Protestant churches who read the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation do not see this, as they put on certain "blinders" based on what they have been told by others, and false assumptions. For everyone reads scripture through the eyeglasses of their own doctrine, and if not, believe what religious leaders tell them.  Thus what they do, in order to maintain their mental blind, is to propose a "gap" theory in the prophecies, where the current Christian dispensation is excluded in the prophecies.

THE DREAM VISION OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR

The book of Daniel contains a series of dream visions, concerning the progression of the Christian church to its ultimate decline.  The first one appears in chapter 2, where King Nebuchadnezzar sees a statue with a head of gold, arms and breast of silver, thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of part iron and part clay.  This statue is destroyed and toppled by a huge stone that crushes it, which then becomes a mountain. Nebuchadnezzar is so troubled by the dream, he ask his Chaldean astrologers to explain the dream without even telling them the dream.  Ultimately, the dream and its interpretation is revealed to Daniel in a dream shown to him.  His explanation is as follows:
"You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold.
Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth.
And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these.
And as you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom, but some of the firmness of iron shall be in it, just as you saw iron mixed with the soft clay.
And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle.
As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage,  but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay.
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure."
(Dan. 2:37-45)

THE LITERAL INTERPRETATION OF THE DREAM VISION OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR

Nebuchadnezzar himself took the interpretation of the dream quite literally, and thought it referred completely to himself.  Perhaps thinking he could make his kingdom last forever, he next made a statue of gold and attempted to force everyone to bow down and worship it (see Dan. 3).  This is the most literal or base interpretation, one based on the selfish ego, and it thus the most limited.  The next level of interpretation is based on historical political kingdoms that arose in the Middle East, culminating in the Roman Empire.  This traditional interpretation is supported from statements in the other dream visions of Daniel, and is one that was also followed by the Jews as well.  Thus the dream vision can be represented by the following successive political kingdoms:

Head of Gold = Kingdom of Babylon, ca. 607 - 537 B.C.


Arms & Breast of Silver = Kingdom of Medo-Persia, ca. 537 - 332 B.C.


Thighs of Bronze = Grecian Empire, ca. 332-31 B.C.


Legs of Iron = Roman Empire, ca. 31 B.C. - 476 A.D.


Feet of Iron and Clay = Kingdoms of Europe


Beyond the Roman Empire is where disagreements begin.  There are two main views: the Historical view and Futurist view.  In the Historical view, the feet of iron & clay represent represent the various kingdoms of Europe begining with the collapse of the Roman Empire.  This is followed by the Seventh Day Adventists, but it actually dates back much earlier, and it was the view adopted by Isaac Newton in his commentary on Daniel.  In the Futurist view, there is a "gap" of time after the Fall of the Roman Empire, and it is proposed that it refers to some future empire that arises in Europe.  One favorite of modern interpreters of late was the European Union.  Another interesting proposal is NATO, which of course includes both the U.S. and Europe.  Either one has to admit that the last and final kingdom built in opposition to God are the different kingdoms of Europe under the rule of the Papacy.  The other option is to state that the final world Empire is that of the United States and NATO.  This would indicate that the strongest opposition to the future kingdom of God would come not from the Middle East, but ironically, from the United States and/or Europe. Historically, we are seeing the U.S. degenerate from a republic to an Empire, just as what happened with the ancient Roman Republic which was transformed into the Roman Empire.

THE FINAL EMPIRE - THE NEW WORLD ORDER?


THE SPIRITUAL INTEPRETATION OF THE DREAM VISION OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR

All dreams have several levels of interpretation, and they correspond with each other. At the lowest level, it refers to Nebuchadnezzar's own personal ego.  Next level up is that it concerns historical political kingdoms.  However at the highest level, scripture is concerned with eternal spiritual truths, and earthly matters are but temporal representations of these eternal truths.  Each of these levels are different, but they don't exactly disagree with each other - instead, they correspond with each other, each providing a higher level or more universal meaning.  In the visions of Emanuel Swedenborg, he shown an interesting interpretation: the dream-vision of the statue of Nebuchadnezzar represent four world ages or dispensations, as follows:

The Age of Gold = from Adam to the flood of Noah, also known as the "Most Ancient Church."

The Age of Silver = from flood of Noah to Moses, also known as the "Ancient Church."

The Age of Bronze = from Moses to the time of Jesus Christ, the Mosaic or Jewish dispensation.

The Age of Iron = the Christian dispensation

The Age of Iron/Clay = the corrupted Christian church

Here is a graphic that is an approximate representation of the different dispensations that are recognized in the New Church.  Most scholars recognize these ages, but call them by different names:

These "ages of the world" were actually well known in ancient times; one can find evidence of that in Greek myths as well as Zoroastrianism.  Recognizing that there are different dispensations or world ages leads to interesting observations.  One is, each dispensation begins with a Divine revelation.  During an age, the Divine revelation declines and become corrupted.  Then another revelation is given.  One age dies, another one is born anew, similar to the life cycle of a Phoenix.  This cycle of decline is broken with a new dispensation, the "kingdom of God," which does not go through a period of decline.

If we compare this spiritual interpretation with the literal interpretation, we can see a level of correspondence.  First, note that right after the flood of Noah, there is the story of the fall of the tower of Babel, ancient Babylon, which corresponds with the fall of Babylon to the Medo-Persian empire in 537 B.C.  Second, note that the Age of Iron corresponds to the Christian dispensation in both interpretations.  Thus the lower level literal interpretations are "compressed" views of a higher level view.  Sort of like a hologram, where the part contains the whole.  This is not unique - these multiple levels of interpretation can be found throughout all of scripture, which Swedenborg discusses at length for certain passages (e.g., the 10 commandments, as explained in Heavenly Arcana and True Christian Religion).  Another interesting observation: the loins of the statue corresponds with the beginning of the Christian dispensation, which began with the incarnation through the virgin birth.

Now, as said above, each world age or dispensation begins with a Divine revelation.  Each successive revelation is inferior to the one that preceded it.  The Age of Gold begins with direct heavenly contact in the Garden of Eden.  The Age of Silver begins with God's covenant with Noah, and represents ancient religions of the Middle East that preceded Moses.  The Age of Bronze begins with the Mosaic dispensation, the revelation of God's law on Mt. Sinai.  The Age of Iron begins with the revelation of the Divine incarnation in Jesus Christ.

The final revelation of the Christian church, leading to a new dispensation of Christianity, is the revelations given to Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century.  This is known as the "New Church."  It is small, as it is strongly opposed by the churches that preceded it due to false doctrines.

THE CELESTIAL OR UNIVERSAL INTERPRETATION OF THE DREAM VISION

Above the literal sense is the spiritual sense, and above the spiritual sense is the celestial or universal sense.  Swedenborg, in his interpretation of scripture, concentrates for the most part on the highest universal meaning of scripture.  In heaven, there are universal truths, and these are manifested in different ways in the temporal realm according to one's understanding.  In heaven, these symbols are eternal and universal, and manifest in dreams.  So in the highest spiritual sense, the dream vision of Nebuchadnezzar signifies how the love of self corrupts the good and truth of the church, until in the end there is nothing but evil and falsity within it.  For the love of self seeks to rule over others through pride, and when spiritual knowledge is used for evil ends, it becomes perverted and profaned.

Gold, in the spiritual sense, signifies the good of love.  Silver signifies truth, or those who are in good from truth.  Bronze or brass represents those who are in an external form of good, in a form of obedience, but without a spiritual affection for truth.  Iron represents knowledge of spiritual truth.  Clay represents falsified and profane knowledge derived from the self.  The dispensational ages in scripture correspond to these higher spiritual states.  One can apply these universal truths in many different ways; it has multiple applications because these higher level truths are universal.  Here is one passage from Swedenborg on this particular dream vision of the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, where it is applied to the ultimate decline and last judgment upon the Christian church:
"The successive states of this church even to the last are depicted by the head, breast, arms, belly, thighs, legs, and feet of that statue; likewise by the gold, silver, brass, iron and clay, of which the statue consisted from top to bottom. All this makes clear that this church in its beginning was full of wisdom from the good of love to the Lord. For its "head," which is the highest part, signifies wisdom, and "gold" signifies the good of love to the Lord. That the toes of its feet were "part of iron and part of clay" signifies that the last state of that church would be without any good of love and without any wisdom; for this is thus interpreted by Daniel:
Whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of man; but they shall not cohere one with the other, even as iron doth not mingle with clay (Dan. 2:43). "The seed of man" signifies the Divine truth, thus the truth of the Word; and by this no coherence is effected, because at the end of the church it is falsified by application to the worship of men. The destruction of this church is described by "the stone brake in pieces all parts of the statue." "Stone" signifies the Divine truth; and the "rock" which the stone became signifies the Lord as to the Divine truth. Its destruction is the Last Judgment." (Apocalypse Explained, n. 1029.5)
The state of iron and clay, which do not intermix with each other, also signifies a state of life where one's spiritual beliefs (iron) does not mix with how one lives (clay).  Thus in the present age, religion is a matter of belief alone, without regard to how one lives their life.  The stone, made without hands, which falls from heaven and destroys the statue, represents the Divine truths that were revealed from heaven in the 18th century to Emanuel Swedenborg.  For it to become a mountain, signifies that love and charity will become the first and primary doctrine, instead of faith or belief alone.  For the stone to be made without hands, indicates that these truths are purely Divine, without human influence, or corruption from doctrines of men.  But to see this, one must be willing to recognize the falsehoods of the past, the falsehoods taught by one's own religion, and reject them in favour of what is true.  Then the truth can appear in greater light.


2 comments:

  1. This is an important post in my opinion. There is an interesting thing I read in revelation 18:2 about "7 kings" and "5 are fallen" and the 7th "staying a short time". From a non-Swedenborgian, Catholic perspective this means that the Vatican 2 (the last 5 kings) is fallen and the 7th pope did in fact resign in February 11th 2013. The "1st king", Pope Pius XI, accessed the throne on February 11th 1939. Is it a coincidence that it is February 11th nearly 100 years apart? The Catholics would say this is rejecting the "new" Vatican 2 going back to the old ways before the 3rd king. Swedenborgians like yourself in this article say that something new will happen, not revert back to Vatican 1 or something.

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    1. In the spiritual explanation of the Apocalypse, it is revealed that chapters 17-18 are focused on the corruption and fall of the Roman Catholic Church. The majority of the Apocalypse concerns judgement rendered on Protestant churches who had separated faith from charity. The enmity and division between Protestants and Catholics is actually foretold in Rev. 17:16.

      About the seven kings, of which five are fallen, that is actually in Rev. 17:10 and has a different meaning in the spiritual sense: in the spiritual sense, at the highest level a king signifies not a literal personal king, but truth, and seven is a general way of saying "all". Remainders or remnants of truth is often described by the number 5. In other words, the numbers in themselves have meaning, and this is true throughout all of scripture.

      What it means is that among all the truths of the church (the seven kings), much of the truth has been falsified (the five that are fallen.) The one king that is is the truth that there is only one God which Christianity still holds onto. The seventh king, which shall come, and remain only a short time, is the truth of the Divine Human, that Jesus has one nature: the Divine. This will be revealed for a short time before it is rejected by the established churches.

      So remember, the spiritual sense is abstracted from specific people, places or times. It is a higher level of spiritual thought based on good and truth and their states. I remember reading that section of the Apocalypse and it often puzzled me until I read Swedenborg's explanation, which was explained in visions.

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