If the Second Coming has Already Happened, When do Things Start Getting Better?

Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Stan:

I hear you say that the second coming or apocalypse has already happened? My question is, when will the world start getting better? I live in South Africa, and we have 55 murders per day. Crime here is unexplainable, and people fear for their lives every day. Surely this cannot continue till the day that we all pass away?

Thanks for your important question, Stan.

It is difficult to feel hope for ourselves, our families, communities, careers, and the future when we are living during a difficult time in a challenging locale. In this response I will offer you some practical and spiritual insights. As it turns out, you have asked a question about a subject that is very personal for Annette and me.

Murder rates around the world

South Africa is indeed suffering a high murder rate. According to South Africa’s Annual Crime Statistics published by the South Africa Police Service in September, 2018 (see: “South Africa’s Murder Rate Climbs as Police ‘Drop the Ball’”), your country’s murder rate has risen to its highest level in 9 years: 56 murders a day, or 35.2 per 100,000 people. This murder rate moves South Africa to 9th in the world for intentional homicides. Countries with higher homicide rates per 100,000 people are:

  1. El Salvador: 82.84
  2. Honduras: 56.52
  3. Venezuela: 56.33
  4. US Virgin Islands: 49.26
  5. Jamaica: 47.1
  6. Lesotho: 41.25
  7. Belize: 37.6
  8. Saint Vincent and The Grenadines: 36.46

(See: “List of countries by intentional homicide rate” on Wikipedia.)

When it comes to metropolitan homicide rates, however, only three of South Africa’s cities—Cape Town, Durban, and Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth)—place in the top 50 of cities worldwide. (See: “List of cities by murder rate” on Wikipedia.)

While the murder rate in South Africa has risen over the last few years, it is actually down from the rate of 67.9 per 100,000 people in 1995. Progress is never a straight line. For reasons we set forth below, we anticipate that with time South Africa’s murder rate will decline. Annette and I share great hope for the future of your country and for the quality of life of its citizens. We are convinced that your country’s best days are ahead of it.

And for our readers living in Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and other troubled areas of the world, please keep reading for some thoughts on the current social situation throughout the world.

But first, let’s discuss why Annette and I are excited about South Africa’s future.

Our experience of South Africa

In the past six months we have visited South Africa twice, and we’ve just bought plane tickets to visit again. Through the wonders of the Internet, we watch SABC News, read South African newspapers, and listen to Talk Radio 702 on a weekly basis. We have also read numerous fiction and nonfiction books by South African authors. Annette is studying Sesotho with the goal of becoming fluent in the language. Thereafter she intends to learn Zulu.

While South Africa is known for the beauty of its landscape, wildlife, and weather, we believe South Africa’s greatest beauty lies in the thoughtful nature of its people, such as you. In the last year we’ve been privileged to get to know many South Africans and to engage in deep conversations about life in South Africa, its difficult history, and its complicated present in which legal apartheid has ended but economic apartheid continues. We’ve learned a lot about the country, the culture, human nature, and in the process, about ourselves.

At the headquarters of the New Church of Southern Africa, 6504 Mooki St., Orlando East, Soweto, JohannesburgMost of our time in South Africa has been spent in Soweto, where the home church of The New Church of Southern Africa, and its seminary, Mooki Memorial College, are located. We have also visited some of its churches in the Pretoria area, including several days spent in Soshanguve. And we’ve visited church dignitaries in Potchefstroom.

Prior to our first visit last December, we knew of South Africa’s reputation for being dangerous. However, when we travel we prefer to immerse ourselves in the culture of the country we are visiting. Staying in a distant, walled-off hotel was never an option for us. Since the New Church community—our community—has centers in Soweto and Soshanguve, that is where we booked our accommodations. At the airport we rented a car and off we went, not knowing what to expect.

Contrary to the rhetoric on social media, we never found ourselves in any sort of danger, despite being out alone, sometimes at night. We’ve driven back and forth in Soweto and Soshanguve, including Annette driving alone in Soweto, and to and from the Pretoria area, to run various errands while I was engaged in tasks at the seminary and church in Orlando East, Soweto. Our experience isn’t to say that we could never find ourselves being victimized, but rather that sometimes fear itself can overpower the actual reality of the threat level.

We were at a Shoprite in Soweto when a young man wryly asked Annette if she was concerned about being in a dangerous township. (He was clearly being ironic.) She replied in halting Sotho that she was happy to be there, and enjoying Soweto. He responded by high-fiving her and welcoming her to the community. I stood in line at a gas station ATM in Soweto and chatted with one of the locals, who ribbed me about obviously being a tourist because I was buying bottled water. Meanwhile, the people of our church welcomed us with open arms and overflowing warmth.

That’s how it has been. The totality of our experience in Soweto and Soshanguve is one of welcoming and enjoyment. We aren’t so naïve as to think we could never be victimized. But based on our experience so far, it is clear to us that as long as one exercises caution and situational awareness, as one would in any large urban area, one will most likely be fine. The homicide rate in South Africa is real. But also real is the tragic fact that the victims are overwhelmingly black Africans. And it is our prayer for South Africa that these murders—and all murders—will subside as South Africa continues its forward progress.

Despite the issues of Eskom and load shedding, the shrinking value of the South African Rand, traffic congestion, land ownership, and so on, we firmly believe that your country has a bright future. When all of the untapped human potential of South Africa is brought online, the country will enjoy an even more prominent role on the world stage. South Africans are some of the most industrious and creative entrepreneurs we’ve encountered in our travels. There is a reason why your country is being courted by other economic powers around the world.

Crime is a worldwide problem

In our own country, the United States, we also live with a high murder rate and the threat of crime. The United States incarcerates more people than anywhere else in the world. Our citizens pioneered the concept of carjacking during the drug wars of the 1980s, and we shamefully lead the way in mass shootings of workers at jobsites and of children in their schools.

The U. S. murder rate of 5.35 per 100,000 appears to pale in comparison to South Africa. But the reality is that many of our metropolitan areas suffer much higher rates. In St. Louis, Missouri, a beautiful city and one of my childhood homes, the murder rate was 66.1 per 100,000 in 2017. Baltimore, Maryland follows with a rate of 55.77. Thereafter, we’ve got Detroit, New Orleans, Kansas City, and so on, that suffer high murder rates. Despite the stressful crime statistics, these cities are communities of good people who will get through this difficult time in their history, and move on to a brighter and more peaceful future.

The same goes for many other cities and countries around the world that are currently plagued with high rates of murder and other crime.

Addressing high crime rates

Murder rates tend to be higher in areas where we humans abuse our power and fail to recognize the humanity of our neighbors, treating them badly and oppressing them instead of loving, respecting, and serving them. And failure to recognize another person’s humanity isn’t limited to race relations. Even within the same race, people often separate themselves by economic status, language and culture, and political and religious beliefs.

One way to reduce the murder rate is to engage with our fellow human beings, acknowledge their humanity, and get to know them. (Indeed, the primary ingredient for increasing murder and atrocity is dehumanizing one’s enemies.)

When we get to know the people who live in areas plagued by high crime rates, and learn about their culture and their situation, it not only eases tensions in and of itself, but also makes it possible to take constructive action to address the underlying causes of all that crime.

The most obvious underlying cause of the high crime rates in South Africa is the country’s high unemployment and poverty rates. We have made much progress against poverty in recent decades. Worldwide, poverty rates are at all-time lows.  Unfortunately, due largely to its recent history, sub-Saharan Africa as a whole has lagged far behind other parts of the world in overcoming poverty. (See: “Decline of Global Extreme Poverty Continues but Has Slowed: World Bank.”)

It is an unavoidable reality that where there is a high rate of poverty and unemployment, some people are going to resort to crime in their desperation for the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, and so on. In such areas, the wonder is not the high crime rate, but the fact that so many good people refuse to succumb to the temptation of easy money through criminal activity. Even in poverty-stricken areas, most people continue to live good and honest, if often desperate, lives.

However, it only takes a small percentage of the population engaging in crime to make crime rates zoom. There will always be criminals, even in wealthy areas. But the best way to reduce the overall crime rate is to make it possible for people to support themselves through honest work. This means improving the economic situation in poverty-stricken areas so that the large numbers of unemployed people can find work to support themselves and their families. This takes away the primary motivation for otherwise decent people to turn to crime.

How to improve the economic situation in poverty-stricken areas is a social, economic, and political question rather than a spiritual one. This blog is not the place to discuss the best ways to improve the economy of South Africa and other parts of the world that struggle with high poverty and crime rates. But it is the place to say that when we care about our fellow human beings who are suffering, that is when we will apply our head, heart, and hands to overcoming the causes of their suffering.

Many other countries around the world have lifted themselves out of poverty and into prosperity. Over time, South Africa will do the same—even if it is taking much longer than the bulk of its citizens thought when they first threw off the oppressive yoke of apartheid a quarter century ago.

So please don’t despair about South Africa’s murder rate. Yes, it is a problem to be acknowledged. But it will subside as your country makes forward social and economic progress from a very difficult history.

Bridging the racial and cultural gap

When we were at the Johannesburg airport for our return flight to the U. S. on our most recent trip, we met a nice young South African man excited to travel to the United States for the first time. We were queued up at the boarding gate to go through yet another security checkpoint before getting onto the airplane. This check was more intrusive than the main security section of the airport as these agents actually required bags to be opened and searched and all liquids to be discarded. Making small talk, the young man in front of us scratched the back of his sandy-blonde hair and said, with agitation in his voice, “I’m sorry about this. It is because of my country.”

“No,” we replied, “It’s because of our country. The U. S. requires additional security checks at the boarding gates for international flights to its ports of entry. This happens in many places in the world where the plane is departing directly for the U. S.,” we told him. As we spoke further, he shared his itinerary and we welcomed him to America, telling him that we hoped he’d enjoyed his stay.

He inquired about our stay in South Africa—and did a double-take when we said we’d spent most of our time in Soweto. “I’ve lived here my whole life, and have never gone there,” he said. We encouraged him to visit Soweto upon his return to South Africa. We guaranteed him that he would be pleasantly surprised.

I share this to say that the number one way that an individual person can aid in reducing their area’s murder rate is to visit communities of differing races and cultures, and recognize and acknowledge the humanity in their neighbors. Building these bridges leads to a healing of the nation. Without this healing on the human level, there will be no economic healing. A strong economy requires everyone to respect one another, and to work together across racial and cultural lines in order to address and overcome the common problems of the nation.

All countries experience tough times, and come through them. South Africa is a beautiful country that is on a journey toward prosperity not unlike other countries that have taken that journey before it.

The New Jerusalem is descending . . .

Now let’s take a broader and deeper look at the question of how things can still be so out of whack here on earth if, as we believe, the Second Coming has already happened. (About that, please see: “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?”)

The vision of the beautiful new era of humanity that will come into being at the time of the Lord’s promised Second Coming is found in the last two chapters of the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. As shown in the article linked just above, this is not a literal vision, but a metaphorical one. Let’s read the opening verses of that vision:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1–5)

Sounds pretty good! No more death or mourning or crying or pain!

. . . But it never says that it lands

But notice that the new Jerusalem is coming down out of heaven from God. It doesn’t say anything about it landing on earth! Traditional interpretations of this story in the book of Revelation assume that it will land. But the Bible never actually says that.

In other words, metaphorically speaking, the new Jerusalem, where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, will always be something we aspire to, something that is always moving closer, but not something that we ever fully achieve in this earthly life.

Over the centuries, many religious, social, and political leaders have put forth visions of utopias where there will be no more poverty, suffering, and pain. Some have even tried to achieve these utopias. But they have always failed to achieve the glorious vision with which they started. Indeed, many of these experiments in creating a perfect society have quickly become dystopias instead.

Ironically, the word “utopia” comes from two Greek words meaning “no place.” Because the reality is that there is no perfect human community. As the book of Job says, even the angels and heaven itself are not perfect (Job 4:18; 15:15). How, then, can we expect perfection here on earth?

Does this mean things will always be terrible?

No. It means that we humans will always have more work to do in making the beautiful vision and promise of the new Jerusalem a reality here on earth. It is something we will always be moving toward. It is something that will always be coming down out of heaven from God. The new Jerusalem described in the book of Revelation gives us an ideal that we can work for.

God will not magically fix humanity

And it is our job to do that work.

Many Christians look forward to a time when God will sweep away all of the evil in the world, and usher in a perfect society. But they are ignoring all the places where the Bible tells us that for anything like this to happen, we must do the work of repentance from our selfish and greedy ways, and engage in an active life of love and service to our fellow human beings.

For example, the book of Revelation itself says:

See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to each person’s work. . . . Blessed are those who do his commandments, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:12, 14, italics added)

God isn’t just going to magically give everyone a reward. That reward is going to be given according to the work that we do, and based upon whether we follow the Lord’s commandments.

The greatest of those commandments is that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28–31).

We must do the work of overcoming societal wrongs

Loving the Lord our God may seem easy enough. God is up there in heaven, where we can love God from afar.

But loving our neighbor as ourselves means loving all of those ordinary people that we may not care about or respect or even want anything to do with. It means crossing racial and cultural barriers, and loving people who don’t look like us. It means believing that their needs and their wellbeing are just as important as our own.

It means rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work of overcoming the ancient evils of greed and lust for power that are behind all of the oppression and destruction that we have perpetrated and continue to perpetrate upon one another.

It means doing the hard work of facing the underlying causes of poverty and its associated crime, and making the changes both in our own attitudes and in our social and political systems to overcome these evils not only around the world, but especially in our own country and our own neighborhood.

God will not do our work for us. What God will do, if we are willing, is give us the strength, motivation, and guidance to do that work ourselves.

We are the people who will make things better

You see, we are God’s messengers, and God’s hands, here on earth.

There is not some other group of people that God is going to send in to fix everything.

We are the people God has sent.

We are the people God has put here on earth to face and overcome the evil, pain, and suffering that we humans—not God!—have inflicted upon one another.

Yes, the Second Coming has happened, and is happening right now. And it happens as we look beyond our own comfort and welfare, and devote our lives to improving life for other people—both those who look like us and those who don’t.

When do things start getting better?

They start getting better when we start following the new commandment that the Lord has given us for our times:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35)

This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Current Events, Pain and Suffering
30 comments on “If the Second Coming has Already Happened, When do Things Start Getting Better?
  1. larryzb says:

    Methinks that things are going to get far worse before they get better, sorry to say. Christians need to focus their efforts on living authentic Christian lives, which is difficult to do in these terrible times. Too many who self-identify as Christians are merely talking the talk and not walking the walk. Actions are important.

    • Lee says:

      Hi larryzb,

      Thanks for your thoughts. Of course, I agree about Christians needing to focus on living a truly Christian life. That is one of the major points of this entire blog. Don’t just talk the talk. Walk the walk.

      However, things are getting better. It may not seem that way, because the news media naturally focuses on death and disaster, which sells stories. But behind all the death and disaster in the headlines there has been huge, if not always steady, improvement in many areas of human life, including poverty, racism, sexism, and so on.

      Using South Africa as an example, yes, there are still high rates of crime and poverty. But they are down from apartheid times. And the end of apartheid, though it did not bring instant utopia, did end the worst of the suffering of the bulk of South Africa’s population. At least now they are free, and don’t have to fear random crackdowns and incarceration by the police regardless of whether they have actually committed a crime.

      Worldwide, poverty levels are way down from a hundred or even fifty years ago. Many countries that used to be poverty-stricken are now developing their own educated middle class, which is joined by more and more people every year.

      Yes, there are still parts of the world where life is short and brutal. But there are fewer and fewer of them, whereas most areas of the world are making real economic and social progress. It doesn’t get reported much in the news because it doesn’t sell stories and advertisements. But that is the real, and more balanced, picture of what is happening in the world today.

      • larryzb says:

        2 points I would like to make, Lee. First, the media ignores and buries current events in South Africa as these do not fit their preferred narrative. White farmers are being murdered in truly terrible numbers there as the Marxist ANC encourages “land reform” and redistribution of farm land. Yes, the media is part of the problem as they give play to what they want people to see, and they hide what they do not want people to learn of.

        My second point is that all the improvements you cite above in your reply are wordlly or material improvements. Spiritually, one could argue that things are getting much worse. In all these formerly and allegedly Christian nations, we accept, promote and even celebrate terrible things, such as abortion on demand throughout all nine months of gestation, and now infanticide through willful neglect of severely handicapped newborns.

        We will have to agree to disagree here Lee. These are terrible times and I do not find grounds for optimism in mere material advances. Consider how man’s technological prowess is being used! It is often being abused today. The examples I could give here would take us too far away from your thesis above.

        • Lee says:

          Hi larryzb,

          Thanks for your reply.

          However, the facts on the ground simply don’t support the narrative of a “white genocide” going on in South Africa. Yes, there are white farmers getting murdered. But not in “truly terrible numbers” (though of course, all murders are truly terrible). The murder rate of whites in South Africa is far below that of blacks. The conservative news media gloms onto every story of a white getting murdered and emphasizes it all out of proportion to what is actually happening, painting a completely false picture of the situation in South Africa. Where are all the stories on Fox News of blacks getting murdered in South Africa at far higher rates than whites?

          This isn’t a political blog, so I won’t get into the politics of South Africa. However, the fact remains that the vast majority of the wealth and land in South Africa remains in the hands of the white minority a quarter century after apartheid ended. Whatever my personal political views may be, I do not blame the black majority for getting impatient that so many blacks are still stuck in poverty and unemployment. And even the proposed land expropriation without compensation is being hyped by the conservative media all out of proportion to what is actually taking place.

          All of this is emblematic of exactly what the above article talks about: There is still little understanding between the races, and much misinformation due to that misunderstanding. I’ve watched Tucker Carlson and others on Fox News spouting about the terrible plight of whites in South Africa. All it shows is how little Carlson and his ilk know about South Africa and its people. I’d like to see these so-called “reporters” actually go to South Africa, visit the poorer parts of the townships, and see the way much of the black population is still living. Then visit the white areas, and try to tell me that whites are the downtrodden people of South Africa. The whole idea is preposterous. It only shows an amazing ignorance, and I think willful avoidance, of reality on the part of these so-called “reporters.”

          Yes, there are still many bad things going on in the world. But having studied a bit of history, I personally would not want to live in any past age of humanity compared to what we have today.

        • Lee says:

          Hi larryzb,

          On your second point:

          Abortion and infanticide are also worldly and material issues, even if they are issues that affect people. No matter which side of the debate a person falls upon, these are not a separate “spiritual” category distinct from issues of wealth and poverty, murder and crime, business and industry, and so on.

          Spiritually, I believe we are in a transition period from the prior so-called “Christian” era—which had long since ceased to be Christian in anything but name—and a new spiritual era whose particular form is yet to be determined. It is true that the old “Christian” institutions are breaking down. People are abandoning the church in droves. The church has long since fallen from its position of ruling over Western culture that it occupied prior to the Age of Enlightenment.

          This confused and confusing time spiritually is, in my view, an inevitable result of the doctrinal corruption and corrupt practices that had consumed the various branches of “Christianity,” destroying them from within. I don’t view the breakdown of that “Christianity” as a spiritual backsliding or catastrophe, but as the judgment that God is bringing upon that old and corrupt “Christianity,” ending its reign.

          Here are a few articles that cover this in a little more detail:

  2. K says:

    Do you think it’s possible that God may allow the world to almost wipe themselves out in an apocalyptic event (WW3, climate change disaster, superplague, etc)?

    Would God allow humanity to go extinct? After all in the physical universe, nothing lasts forever.

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      I think God will do everything possible to steer us away from doing such a stupid thing as destroying our planet’s ability to support us and other forms of animal and plant life. However, God did give us the freedom to choose our own course and our own fate. If we stubbornly choose to use that freedom to destroy our planet, and our species along with it, God will not stop us from doing so. It’s up to us to make the choices not to do vastly destructive things, and to do constructive things instead.

  3. Griffin says:

    Very good article Lee! I especially like the emphasis on the need for us to work towards creating a better world. I think Christians can sometimes get complacent about that, assuming God will sort everything out. Although I think things will get better in the long-run, we shouldn’t take it for granted that they will do if we aren’t willing to make that happen ourselves.

  4. Claude says:

    Why is it that we have to wait until we die to be able to leave our bodies. My mother communicated with me in a non-verbal manner after she died but I cannot communicate with her. After a couple of years, she stopped communicating with me. Why is that?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Claude,

      A few people are able to make contact with the spiritual world while they’re still living in their physical body. But most people are not. Really, we’re meant to focus on our lives here on earth, and on the people who are around us here on earth. As long as we are living on earth, this is where we’re meant to be, and to grow into the person we will be in the afterlife.

      I can’t say for certain why your mother stopped communicating with you. But my speculation would be twofold: First, I suspect that during the time she did communicate with you, what needed to be accomplished was accomplished. It gave you the help you needed to move forward with your life. Second, it is possible that your mother has moved on to a new stage of her life in the spiritual world, in which she is no longer looking back to her past life on earth, but rather forward to her new life in the spiritual world, and ultimately to her eternal life in heaven.

      For more on the stages we go through after death, please see:
      What Happens To Us When We Die?

  5. Ben Copeland says:

    Was writing a quick reflection on the necessity of special revelation for salvation and thought of you, Lee, and first thing I pulled up on your site shows quite a departure from orthodox theology.


    “Summary: Full preterism is not an acceptable interpretation within evangelical eschatology. The Scriptures themselves do not teach such a position, and the Church has not consistently held to such a position. Finally, the nature and timing of both the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead do not allow such a position.”

    I know you don’t accept pasting large portions of others’ work in rebuttal, but I figure anyone reading this deserves the awareness of and quick access to a differing and well-substantiated position on eschatology.

    I agree with your sentiment that Love is ultimately God’s command and the vehicle to bringing about His Kingdom, but I continue to read and hear some very concerning heresies that are becoming more obvious (from the perspective of an orthodox protestant evangelical), and you continue to miss any appropriation of the unseen spiritual dimensions of reality. If Satan exists in your theology, Lee, how do you integrate demonic influences over aspects of existence now as they did in Jesus’ day?

    Does Satan, the prince of this world, truly blind the minds of unbelievers from being able to see and believe and receive the Gospel and have their hearts regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, the very Agent by which Love is able to reign (2 Cor 4:4, John 16:11, John 3:3, 1 John 4:7-21)? Injustice is more than just a moral wrong, it is a spiritual sickness (according to a more orthodox understanding of original sin) that can only truly be overcome by Jesus, not merely doing good deeds. Idols and other nations’ deities were an affront to Yahweh not only because they weren’t accurate representations of him and they commanded things that were sickening, but they were demonic spiritual strongholds that people were aligning themselves with (1 Cor 10:19). In light of 2 Cor 10:3-6, Lee, what demonic spiritual strongholds are you seeking to tear down?

    What I sense most in the writings I’ve read of yours is your desire to tear down the idea that salvation occurs without good works, and to encourage spiritually-minded people toward good deeds. As you’re aware that my stance on this is that it’s a false dichotomy, I don’t think that highlighting the necessity to ‘do good works’ ever changed anyone’s heart to do them more, at least out of a pure heart (vs. fear). However, I’ve read of many a person coming to a transformative faith in Jesus to go on and do wonderful things, but only ever in light of their personal relationship to Him. As always, much more can be said, but enough from me!


    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      I’m away from my office and computer, so just a quick response on your last point for now.

      The reason I emphasize good works is that Protestantism has rejected them as saving, and thus destroyed the clear and overwhelming teaching of the entire Bible, including Paul’s letters.

      However, to be clear, it is neither my belief nor my teaching that anyone can be saved by “mere good works.” Salvation by good works alone is just as unbiblical and false as salvation by faith alone.

      True Christianity teaches that in order to be saved, we must have love, faith, and good works together–all of which are pure gifts of the Lord, so that we can take no personal credit, and we gain no “merit,” from any of them.

      This is the teaching of the entire Bible, as is easily seen simply by reading it for those whose eyes have not been blinded by the doctrine that Martin Luther invented.

      • Ben Copeland says:

        There are pragmatic as well as emotionally-and-psychologically-sustaining benefits to having an eschatology that includes having a hope in more than humanity’s ability to make a heaven-on-earth.


        In Bart Barbur’s reflection on eschatology in light of national acts of violence, he recognizes a few more key points that I bring up earlier as well (aka, the unseen spiritual dynamics at work), but also more centrally, the point of having a proper view of eschatology is to orient one to the hope of an enduring relationship.

        For your reader, he is looking to you for a hope larger than humanity’s ability to right the wrongs, and is looking for a reason why God would allow the horrors he’s experiencing in his community. Exploring this with him, it may be helpful to lead him, in addition to inspiring a hunger for justice and shared mutual compassion for others, a yearning for something -more-, ultimately, a connection with the God who sees him (Gen 16:13), the God who is more powerful than all forces of darkness (Genesis 17:1), the God who is the Good Shepherd (Genesis 48:15, John 10:11), the God who always is and will be, the beginning and the last (Genesis 12:1, Revelation 22:13). The predicates of God, his attributes and nature, when looked at through the lens of Christ Jesus, are distinct from every other religion, and distinctly beautiful. Helping others see Who this God -is- is the goal of the teacher looking to help lead someone. It is about relationship, and who the relationship is with, and how that relationship can occur, is what’s important.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ben,

          All of these topics are covered here on this blog. There is no need for you to “help” my readers by pointing them to articles written by people who have a physical-minded view of Scripture. People who come here are looking for more than they can get in the literalistic articles that are ubiquitous on the Internet.

          If your purpose here is to “correct” what I am teaching on this blog, I will delete further comments in that vein as mere distractions to my readers. Please see points 8 & 9 in our comments policy.

          However, if you have sincere questions about the meaning of Scripture and about genuine Christianity, and your mind is open to a spiritual view rather than the fleshly view of traditional “Christian” teachers, then you are welcome to continue posting here.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      First and foremost, “orthodox theology” is thoroughly unbiblical and false. None of its key tenets, such as a trinity of persons in God, the satisfaction theory of atonement and its Protestant variant, penal substitution, and the Protestant fallacy of justification by faith alone, are taught anywhere in the Bible. These are human traditions that abandon the Word of God. I explicitly and happily depart from “orthodox theology” because my theology is based on the Bible, not on the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds nor on the writings of Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin. See:

      “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach

      About the linked article and full preterism:

      All of the traditional “Christian” interpretations of the end times are false, because they are physical-minded and materialistic—or in biblical terms, “of the flesh.” Traditional “Christians” expect Jesus’ prophecies to be literally fulfilled. But Jesus himself said, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

      Once we understand that Jesus was prophesying spiritual not physical, events, everything he says makes perfect sense, without all of the confusion and conflicting literalistic interpretations that evangelical and fundamentalist Christians engage in as they argue fruitlessly with one another and call each other heretics. In fact, spiritually, Jesus’ prophecies were fulfilled within the lives of the generation that was living when he made those prophecies, just as he said. But they also referred to a future judgment that took place at the time of the Second Coming as detailed in the above article, and in this article:

      Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?

      If you wish to give credence to the blind leaders of the blind that teach their fleshly misinterpretation of the Bible, that is your choice. I will trust that my regular readers are able to lift their minds above the physical level to which evangelicals and fundamentalists have limited themselves, and see the spiritual realities that Jesus taught and preached about.

      And yes, Satan is real, but is not some fallen angel ruling over the demons of hell. The Lord God Jesus Christ is ruler of all things, including hell and its demons. For more on who Satan really is, please see:

      Is there Really a Devil? Why??

      Yes, I could take up your points and questions one by one, and provide a proper answer to them. But that will not be helpful to you if you mind is stuck in fleshly and materialistic thought. I urge you to lift your mind above the literalism of evangelicals and fundamentalists. As Paul said, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

  6. rex415 says:

    Hi Lee,

    I’ve read several of your articles on Paul, interpreting the Bible, and the 2nd Coming. A couple of questions I have revolve around Paul and whether or not he thought the 2nd coming was imminent. I know there are several schools of thought on this topic.

    I was raised in Charismatic circles, so the default of any Pauline letter was that any interpretation had to be without error. By doing this, it seems like a lot of mental gymnastics would occur to get around reading I Corinthians 7 and the multiple references in Thessalonians.

    Preterists typically believe that references to the 2nd coming or end of the age occurred in 70 A.D. with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. I can see where there is a good bit of evidence to support this, but it still seems to have some holes in it. For example, how did the destruction of the Temple have any negative impact on the Corinthian church? If anything, life continued on and may have even improved in some ways.

    Historical records do show that there was a great famine during the time of the Corinthian letters, and the fledgling church was under persecution and disarray to some degree. This would explain the “times of distress” Paul mentions, but it doesn’t seem to address how “the time is near” or “the world in its present form is passing away”.

    Also, and this may seem like a stretch, but if we take Paul’s wish for everyone to remain like him and not marry in order to do the Lord’s work, then that would mean no more children. This isn’t a big deal if Christ as the first fruits had already resurrected, so the rest would soon follow.

    Like you, I believe the Bible is inspired and is God’s word to us, but I need help in explaining this to people who want to say that if Paul was off on this “spiritual” matter, then how can we trust anything that was written? This, of course, is different than discussion scientific or historical discrepancies.

    Paul himself states that we see in part and prophesy in part, and that one day we will all see clearly. If he was off on the matter of the eschaton, do we simply chalk it up as to him only seeing in part?

    Thank you again for all of your insights… this one in particular has been spinning in my head for quite some time!!


    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      It seems fairly clear that Paul thought Christ would be returning soon—within his own lifetime. Ironically, 1 Corintians 7 is precisely where Paul tells us that some of what he is saying is his own opinion, not something he received from the Lord. Paul himself did not think he was infallible. And no matter what inspiration a particular book may have, it still has to be filtered through a human mind, resulting in potential error on the human level (i.e., about earthly and temporal things), even if it may contain divine truth on a deeper level. We know, for example, that it is not possible for “the sun to stand still” as it is said to do in Joshua 10. But the spiritual meaning remains just as true even if the literal meaning contains scientific error.

      In Matthew 24, Jesus himself is actually much more explicit than Paul about the timing of the end of the age. There, having spoken of the events that will happen at the end of the age, he says, “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34). That’s pretty specific. And it has thrown literalists for a loop ever since there were literalists.

      However, if we think of it as referring to spiritual and therefore social events, then the events of 70 AD do fill the bill quite well. The destruction of the Temple by the Romans and the banishment of many Jews from Palestine spelled the end of the Jewish religion as it had existed up to that time. It could no longer be a Temple-centered religion whose primary rituals were animal sacrifices. In the ensuing confusion, Judaism had to reinvent itself. Rabbinic Judaism was the result. And it is a very different religion than ancient Temple-centered Judaism.

      As for how this would affect the nascent Christian church, keep in mind that Judaism was Christianity’s parent. Christianity came out of Judaism. And Christianity was also a rebellion against the legalism of Judaism. Yet even for the most rebellious of children, the disablement or death of the parent(s) is a major turning point. Once the Judaism from which Christianity arose had been smashed, in a sense, Christianity was on its own. It could no longer be reactive against Judaism. It had to chart its own course. This brought about a profound change in Christianity, which could no longer be seen as a sect of Judaism. It was its own religion now.

      It’s easy for us today to forget how intimately tied to Judaism the earliest Christians were. All of Jesus’ apostles were Jews, and Paul, also, was a Jew. The earliest Christian missionaries were all converted Jews. Even when Paul is writing to churches consisting mainly of converted Gentiles, he is continually talking about how being Christian (without actually using that term) is very different from being Jewish. For Paul, much of the identity of the fledgling Christian church lay in its being different from Judaism.

      Not understanding this has led to much of the misunderstanding of Paul in traditional Christianity. Without understanding that Paul was arguing that you don’t have to be an observant Jew to be a Christian, it is simply not possible to read his letters correctly. Hence the ridiculous notion in Protestantism that Paul taught justification by faith alone. That is a completely ahistorical and baseless reading of Paul.

      As for Paul’s views on marriage as expressed in 1 Corinthians 7, this was clearly influenced by his belief that Christ would return soon. His basic message was, “Just stay as you are, if you’re able, because it won’t be long until all of this doesn’t matter anymore.” He was wrong about that, but given his belief in the imminent return of Christ, his views on marriage do make some sense, even if I entirely disagree with his view that it is better to be single than to be married.

      About Paul’s letters in general from a Swedenborgian point of view, please see:
      Why Isn’t Paul in Swedenborg’s Canon?

      Of course, Jesus’ words about the end of the age refer not only to the end of the (ancient) Jewish age, but also to the future end of the (first) Christian age. See:
      Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?
      Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!

  7. Hi Lee,
    I just came back to tell you that you are right about the Revelation being symbolic. I guess you really have seen a lot! 🙂

    I don’t mind making mistakes and learning, though. I’m glad I kept an open mind, As I did some research, I saw that even the writers of the time would not have taken the Revelation literally. It was purely symbolic, and although the symbols could certainly relate to the present time, we have to take action if we want to make good changed in the world.

  8. Makena James says:

    So, does this rule out there being a second apocalypse, that could perhaps be just a little “more” literal than the first one?
    Is this earth supposed to last forever, and we all are then supposed to pass away and go to heaven (or Hell)? What about before the fall? Adam and Eve were supposed to live forever on the earth before they ate the forbidden fruit. What about the earth getting destroyed? The sun is eventually supposed to become a supergiant star and absorb earth, making all life extinct, even if this heavens and this earth did somehow last forever. Is the idea of a new physical AND spiritual heavens and earth supposed to be ruled out?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Makena,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions.

      The main thing to understand is that since the Bible is a spiritual book, intended to lead us toward spiritual and eternal life, its main point is spiritual, not physical. Yes, we are meant to take some things literally, such as “You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” And so on. But especially when it comes to prophetic books such as the book of Revelation, the primary meaning is spiritual, not literal.

      Yes, there will be calamities and upheavals here on earth. But there will not be a literal apocalypse matching the description in the book of Revelation. There will be no literal locusts with human faces, women’s hair, lions’ teeth, and the sting of a scorpion. That’s not going to happen. Not even a little. These are all symbolic descriptions of spiritual events.

      Yes, it’s possible we could launch a nuclear holocaust and wipe ourselves off the face of the earth, along with most other living beings. But that’s not anything like what is described in Revelation. And even then, there wouldn’t be a new earth. Just the old one all scorched, radioactive, and half dead. That’s not what the book of Revelation predicts.

      Rather, the earth will keep turning until it reaches the natural end of its life. As you say, that will come when the sun reaches the end of its main cycle of fusing hydrogen into helium. At that time it will swell up into a red giant, likely swallowing up and vaporizing the earth in the process, and at least making life on the surface of the earth impossible.

      As for Adam and Eve, the stories in the first few chapters of Genesis are also metaphorical, not literal. There never was an individual named Adam, and an individual woman named Eve whom God formed out of Adam’s rib, who together became the parents of all of humanity. Rather, there was an early culture of human beings that became personified as Adam and his wife Eve in the Bible. For a small taste of the meaning of these early stories in Genesis, please see:

      Which Tree is in the Middle of Your Garden?

      So no, Adam and Eve were never meant to live forever physically on this earth. Those statements in the story are about spiritual life, not physical life. Similarly, the death that God said would happen if they ate from the forbidden tree was also a spiritual death, not a physical one. This is obvious from the fact that they did not die physically on the day that they ate of it, as God said they would.

      I could say more, but that’s enough for now. Feel free to continue the conversation if you have further thoughts or questions.

  9. Radko says:

    Dear Lee,

    Though, in some aspect, I find it hard to be in full agreement with you, it is a very good and encouraging article! Thank you for it. The New Church is not a mere objective reality, it is a subject-objective reality. It comes to those who labour on its vineyard. Therefore don´t look for it in the world. Look for it in your active attitude towards the world in the spirit of the New Church. There it is.


    • Lee says:

      Hi Radko,

      Agreed. As Jesus said, the kingdom of God is not something to look around for, but to look within for (or in another possible translation, to look among us for).

      As for how things will unfold from here in earthly society, not even the angels know that. Only God knows. Certainly things could get worse before they get better. And I am leaning toward believing that there may never be a return to Eden. Just a bumpy road toward gradual improvement, with some setbacks along the way, toward a more moral and spiritual society.

      • dlc1519649358 says:

        In response: your looking for answers without learning yourself from what the Bible says. Read King James.

        There is only two kinds of humans on this planet. Got it, it’s that simple.

        There’s only two high powers on this planet, the LIGHT and the DARKNESS. Got it, it’s that simple.

        Regardless what language you speak or understand or color or race you are, regardless if your rich or poor, this is easy simple to understand, more importantly, the less educated you are, the better you understand it. Keep this simple, let more on.

        The human on this planet is owned by the light or by the dark. Therefore you now have the family of darkness and the family of light!
        Got it, it’s that simple.

        Which one of the powers have the authority to take, to steal, to destroy, to overcome?
        Answer: it’s simple LIGHT!!!!

        Stay tune I’ll be back!

        In the name of Jesus THANK YOU

        • Lee says:

          Hi dlc1519649358,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts.

          Yes, life can be as simple as we want it to be. It can also be as complex as we want it to be. Where we fall on that spectrum will depend upon our current mental, emotional, and spiritual state.

          Regardless of that, the most important things, as Jesus said, are to love God with everything we’ve got, and love our neighor as ourselves. If we do that, God will look past our conflicting beliefs and opinions to the good heart within.

  10. K says:

    Did Swedenborg say anything about the ultimate fate of the physical universe? Current science predicts that one way or another, the universe will end. In the most likely outcome as it looks now, the vast majority of the future of the universe will be a cold, dark, empty universe with nothing but black holes, followed by a void of photons starting around a googol years from now. Although there’s the possibilities of a later “refresh” via a new Big Bang.

    With the “multiverse” theory, even if this universe ends completely, there’s still others out there where life can go on.

    (hopefully there’s no “recurrence” where time resets and all repeats over and over)

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      Swedenborg, of course, did not have access to today’s cosmology. He knew that the universe was far bigger than the old Ptolemaic universe that was conceptually about the size of our solar system. He knew that each star was a sun in its own right, and believed that all stars had inhabited planets orbiting them. Other galaxies had been identified during his lifetime, but the idea that they were distinct “universes” of stars was still just one theory. Today’s idea of the expanding universe was far in the future.

      It was in this context that Swedenborg wrote, in a small book published in 1758:

      The Reproduction of Humankind on Earth Will Never Cease

      People who have adopted the belief that the Last Judgment will entail the destruction of everything in the heavens and on earth and that a new heaven and a new earth will come into being in their stead also believe, because it logically follows, that the reproduction and successive generations of humankind will come to an end after that. They think that all this will be over and humanity will then be in a different state than before. However, as explained in the preceding chapter [§§1-5], the day of the Last Judgment does not mean the destruction of the world; it follows, then, that humankind is in fact going to continue and its reproduction will not cease. (Last Judgment #6)

      For his full treatment of this topic, please read Last Judgment #6–13. There is some fascinating stuff in this chapter!

      The first thing to note is that as seen in this section introducing the chapter, Swedenborg is making this statement in rebuttal of the common Christian belief that there will be a future literal, physical Last Judgment that will end the current order of things on Earth. It’s not really a cosmological statement, but a theological statement that no, there will not be a literal Last Judgment that will involve the end of new generations of human beings born on Earth. On his main point, then, he is still on solid ground.

      However, if we attempt to push this statement, and some of the statements he makes in subsequent sections, too far, we do get into problems with current cosmology. For example, in #9 he presents a fairly long statement and argument that angels in heaven depend upon people on earth, and vice versa, such that the spiritual world and the material world cannot be parted from one another. In #10 he contemplates the possibility that one planet could cease to have a human population. I believe he says elsewhere that if this were to happen, the angels and spirits who had come from that planet would have their association transferred to another (inhabited) planet.

      However, if, as current cosmology holds, in the distant future the universe as a whole will become incapable of supporting life, this arrangement would break down. The multiverse could rescue the spiritual world from having its material foundation taken out from under it. However, multiverse theory is not well-accepted among scientists. Indeed, by many it is not considered to be a scientific theory at all because there is no way to gather any evidence for or against it.

      In short, this is an unsolved problem for Swedenborgians who are concerned about large-scale cosmological issues such as these.

      Personally, I figure that God has these things all worked out, even if it wasn’t possible to clue Swedenborg in because it would have required science beyond what he had access to. We know Swedenborg was mistaken about all planets being inhabited. There is no reason to think the rest of his material cosmology is a correct representation of how God has set things up. At the same time, cosmological science is still in its early stages. There is still considerable debate about the ultimate fate of the universe. So it’s best not to get too dogmatic about the expected end of the habitable universe, either.

      Again personally, I am comfortable knowing that there are some unanswered questions around the edges of Swedenborg’s theology and cosmology. On this particular issue, things can at least work the way he says they work for the next several hundred billion years. That’s long enough for me not to worry about it too much—and to think that Swedenborg was indeed right compared to the previous idea that life as we know it on Earth would come to an end some time in the next hundred or thousand years. Swedenborg’s writings do not represent the end of all new knowledge about the material universe and how it interacts with the spiritual universe and with God. We still have many more things to figure out, and always will.

      Meanwhile, in order to preserve free will there have to be arguments skeptics and atheists can use to deny the existence of God and spirit. If Swedenborg ever becomes widely known again such that atheists feel they have to refute him, I’m sure this will be one of their arguments. As with most of their arguments, it will focus on material things and literal readings, ignoring or denying all of the real evidence for God and spirit, which is spiritual, not material.

    • dlc1519649358 says:

      Your lost and confused. Some have it and some don’t

      The issue is simple

      Once born again, things are better, that mean you will not experience the sting of death because your already dead.

      like Paul have said, there’s some with no hope I hope you find Jesus Christ

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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