The Final Victory Over Hell

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper


Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. (Mark 16:6)

Jesus Christ, as we know Him from the New Testament, was a very pleasant person. He was seldom angry, He was loyal to His friends, He was patient, He knew all kinds of amazing things, and was very good at teaching them in dozens of different ways. He might even remind us of that teacher who seemed to take a special interest in our progress at school, who knew how to reach us, and who also knew how to inspire us to make that extra effort and produce work that was above our usual standard. As a man of the world, as an example to others, the Lord has had a profound effect on the lives of millions of people who have come to know of Him through their study of the Word.

It is because the Lord presented Himself in such a way during His life in the world that we approach Easter with such mixed feelings; feelings of joy for the risen Lord and the battle won, mixed with feelings of sadness that it had to be done in this way.

It is much the same as the way people feel when a World War is over:  The ecstatic delight that the horror is finally over, colored by the numbness and the sadness of all the needless tragedy that had gone before.

We have to face the fact that evil is a part of life in the natural world. We cannot wish it away. We have to face it squarely and deal with it according to the rules that the Lord has given us. There is only one way to savor the delight of victory, and that is to conquer in temptation.

We are gathered today to savor the delight of the Lord’s victory over hell, not only because He won the victory and we are on His “side,” but also because through His victory over hell He has brought an order into the spiritual world which means that forevermore, everyone’s battles against hell will be that much easier.

The battles that the Lord fought against hell during His time in the world could not be avoided, for it was His purpose and intent to face the hells in the natural world, the only arena where they could be permitted to approach closely enough to Him to actually have some effect. As we read in our lesson, it is a matter of the universal Christian faith that the Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah, came into the world to subjugate the hells and to glorify His Human; and without this no mortal could have been saved (Faith 34). In other words, it was the Lord’s Divine Purpose from the very beginning that this battle should be fought and won in the natural world, for only by so doing could the Lord bring the evils that men had introduced into the world under such bonds as to allow men to live in the world in spiritual freedom and eventually come to heaven.

In order to understand and appreciate this, we also have to have a correct understanding of who Jesus really was, and why it was necessary for Him to come into the world. The heavenly doctrines of the New Church give us five key thoughts to lead us into a true understanding of the real meaning of the miracle of Easter morning.

First, we are told that it is a universal of faith that God is one in Person and in Essence in whom there is a Trinity, and that the Lord is that God (Faith 35). This idea is basic to our whole understanding of the nature of God, for it is essential that we know that Jesus Christ, the Teacher who walked on earth and was crucified, was in fact the Jehovah God of the Old Testament. This is clearly what He Himself taught, and what was the faith of the Christian Church for over three hundred years, until the leaders of the Christian church invented the doctrine of the trinity of persons and voted to adopt it in order to end a long-standing doctrinal argument.

The second article of faith is that no mortal could have been saved unless the Lord had come into the world (Ibid.). Until the Lord revealed the spiritual history of the world through the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, no one could have known the full meaning of this statement, no one could have known the spiritual danger the human race faced.

The human race, originally created as celestial, pastoral people, had descended, through a series of cycles, to the point where, in spite of the fact that it had achieved the heights of thought and government established by the Greeks and Romans, it had in fact sunk to the very depths of spiritual deprivation. Men in those days could achieve great economic and political power, but they had turned entirely away from spiritual things. They had become so full of the natural world that they were no longer able to recognize spiritual truths when they arrived in the spiritual world after death. This meant that evil spirits were able to easily deceive them, and lead otherwise decent folks into a form of slavery in false heavens. This was only possible because those people entering the spiritual world from earth were so ignorant of spiritual things. It was getting so bad that unless the Lord had done something to inspire the world with some spiritual ideas and ideals, that the human race would have simply expired under the weight of its own love of the world because it would have no longer had any way of receiving spiritual life.

The third point is that as the Lord recognized this spiritual situation as it developed, He knew that He would eventually have to take on the natural degree which men loved so much, and present Himself to them before their natural eyes, and speak into their natural ears and so inspire them to think about and act from spiritual truths once again.

At the same time, by taking on the natural degree itself by taking on a physical body, the Lord deliberately put Himself in a position to receive the assaults of hell, and it is a universal of faith that He came into the world to remove hell from man; that He removed it by combats against it and by victories over it; and that He thus subjugated it, and reduced it to order and under obedience to Himself (Ibid.).

He removed hell from mankind by breaking its power over men. He broke its power by giving mankind another path to choose, by teaching them the way to heaven. He also broke their power by receiving one by one the temptation of each society of hell and resisting it, turning it away, and throwing it back into its proper place in hell. As a result of these battles, the so-called false heavens were destroyed, and those who had been held captive in them were set free to learn the truth (if they wished to) and to find their way to their eternal spiritual homes. The power of hell was broken, and the evil spirits no longer had the power to reach out and “possess” the mind of a man in the world or a new spirit in the spiritual world as they had once had. The power of hell was broken, it was now subject to the government of the Lord once again.

Perhaps it would be useful to mention that hell only got out of control in the first place because of the Lord’s intense desire that everything that we do be of our own free choice. Therefore, as long as it was still possible for those who wished to go to heaven to do so, the Lord allowed evil to grow and grow in the world because that was what the human race wanted for itself. It was only when the human race had brought itself to the point of total destruction that the Lord stepped in to restore spiritual order.

We can think of it in terms of an adult supervising a large group of children in a playground. A certain amount of quarreling is a normal part of the way that children interact with each other, and a wise adult allows a certain amount of disorder to go on so that the children can learn to deal with their own problems in their own ways. But if the quarreling becomes so extensive that the children cannot possibly control it, then it is necessary for the adult to step in, make some judgments, and restore order. The essential point of this illustration is that we understand that both letting the quarreling go on at first, and later stepping in, are actions representing the adult’s great love for the children, but that love is showing itself in different ways under different circumstances. And so the Lord’s great love for the human race shows itself to us in different ways under different circumstances.

The fourth doctrinal point is that the Lord came into the world to glorify His Human. This is very important because unless we remember this point we can get a very negative feeling about Easter, that all the Lord did was to come to repair the mistakes that we had made.

In fact, from the very beginning, the Lord had foreseen the need to have a Human through which He could communicate with the church on earth. Until He had His own human, when the Lord wished to speak to men on earth, He had to “borrow” the spiritual body of an angel. The angel would seem to himself to go to sleep, and the Lord would flow in and appear in the angel’s form. Then, when their spiritual eyes were opened, Jehovah God could present Himself to men in the world. This is the way that He spoke to Moses and the prophets.

But the Lord wished to have direct communication instead of through representatives, and so He waited until the human race had reached the natural degree, and then He took on that degree to present Himself before men in the world directly. Having taken on the natural plane, that is, a physical body, the Lord then proceeded to incorporate it into the Divine Itself in such a way that all that was evil or corrupt was put off and rejected, but that which could be purified was made Divine. The result was that He rose, unlike any other man, with that which with man rots in the grave. The Lord had acquired for Himself a spiritual body through which He could communicate with men. He no longer needed to have an intermediary angel to do this work for Him. Swedenborg was with some people who had known the Lord in the world when He appeared in the sun of heaven. They testified that the face that they saw there was that of man they had known in the world.

The fifth and final point is that all of this means nothing if we don’t use it in our daily lives, in our day-to-day dealings with others, for the universal of the Christian faith on man’s part is that he should believe on the Lord. For by believing on Him conjunction with Him is effected and this is the means of salvation. To believe on Him is to trust that He will save:  and because no one can have such trust but he who lives a good life, therefore, this also is meant by believing on Him (Ibid.). In the simplest possible terms, if we say we believe something, but we do not live according to it, then we don’t really believe it.

Of course, that is the real purpose of His resurrection; that by maintaining a state of spiritual order and equilibrium He creates a sphere in which each of us is free to do what we think is best. He has fought with the hells and brought them under control so that they cannot infest our minds unless we specifically invite them to. He has taught us by word and example what kind of life we ought to live. He has provided us with every tool and opportunity that we might need. And then He patiently waits, as a friend, to see what we will do. Let us resolve, then, to live according to His principles, to be kind towards one another, to think about other people’s feelings before we act or speak, to do everything we can to use the things which He has taken such great care to provide for us. AMEN.

 


1st Lesson:  Mark 15:25-47

Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. {26} And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS. {27} With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. {28} So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” {29} And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha !You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, {30} “save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” {31} Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. {32} “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him. {33} Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. {34} And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” {35} Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” {36} Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.” {37} And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. {38} Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. {39} So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” {40} There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, {41} who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem. {42} Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, {43} Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. {44} Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. {45} So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. {46} Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. {47} And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid. Amen.

2nd Lesson:  Mark 16:1-8

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. {2} Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. {3} And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” {4} But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away; for it was very large. {5} And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. {6} But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. {7} “But go, tell His disciples; and Peter; that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” {8} So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Amen.

3rd Lesson:  Doctrine of Faith 34

34. The Christian Faith in its universal idea or form is this: The Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah, came into the world to subdue the bells, and to glorify His Human; and without this no mortal could have been saved; and they are saved who believe in Him.

35. It is said “in the universal idea or form” because this is what is universal of the Faith, and what is universal of the Faith is that which must be in all things of it both in general and in particular. It is a Universal of the Faith that God is One in Person and in Essence, in whom is the Trinity, and that the Lord is that God. It is a Universal of the Faith that no mortal could have been saved unless the Lord had come into the world. It is a Universal of the Faith that He came into the world in order to remove hell from man, and He removed it combats against it and by victories over it; thus He subdued it, and reduced it into order and under obedience to Himself. It is also a Universal of the Faith that He came into the world in order to glorify the Human which He took upon Him in the world, that is, in order to unite it to the all-originating Divine (Divino a Quo); thus to eternity does He hold in order and under obedience to Himself hell subjugated by Himself. And inasmuch as neither of these mighty works could have been accomplished except by means of temptations even to the utter most of them, which was the passion of the cross, He therefore underwent this uttermost temptation. These are the Universals of the Christian Faith concerning the Lord. Amen.


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Page last modified September 27, 2009