The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric. Lecture 6.
Rudolf Steiner, Munich, Germany, March 15, 1910:
The day before yesterday we spoke of how at this point in time humanity is confronted by difficult events. We will be able to understand better why this is so if we consider our times retrospectively in terms of the whole of human evolution and thus bring ourselves up to date regarding many things known and unknown. You know that one of the most significant pronouncements made as the Christ event approached was “Change the disposition of your souls, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” These are words of the deepest meaning, because they indicate that something most significant took place in man's entire soul development at that time. When these words were spoken, more than 3,000 years had passed since the beginning of what we call Kali Yuga, or the Dark Age. What is the significance of this age? It was the era in which it was normal for man to depend solely upon what was accessible to his outer senses and also to the understanding that was bound up with the instrument of the brain. This was all that man could experience, know, and understand in the dark period of Kali Yuga.
This Dark Age was preceded by an age in which man was not dependent only upon his outer senses and intellect, but he still retained a memory, more or less, of the ancient dreamlike condition in which he was able to feel a connection with the spiritual world. It is of these ancient human times that we wish to create a picture. Not only could man see the mineral, plant, and animal realms, as well as himself within the physical, human realm, but he could also, in a condition between waking and sleeping, see a divine world. He saw himself as the lowest member of the lowest realm in the hierarchical order, above which were the angels, archangels, and so forth. He knew this through his own experience, so that it would have been absurd for him to deny the existence of this spiritual world, just as it would be absurd today to deny the existence of the mineral, plant, and animal realms. Not only did he possess a knowledge of what streamed toward him as wisdom from spiritual realms, but he had the capacity to become completely permeated with the forces of this domain. He was then in a state of ecstasy; his sense of I was submerged, but the spiritual world with its forms really flowed into him. He thus not only had a knowledge, an experience of the spiritual world, but he could, if he were ill, for instance, derive healing and refreshment by means of this ecstasy.
Oriental wisdom refers to those ages in which man still had a direct connection with the spiritual world as Krita Yuga, Treta Yuga, and Dvapara Yuga. In the last age, however, a direct glimpse into the spiritual world was no longer possible but only a remembering that took place in the same way that an old man might remember his youth. Then the doors to the spiritual world closed. Man could no longer frequent the spiritual world in his normal state of consciousness, and the time came when only on the basis of a long and rigorous preparation in the mystery schools could he turn again toward the spiritual world.
During Kali Yuga, however, something did occasionally penetrate into the physical world from spiritual realms. As a rule, it did not come from the good powers but was ordinarily of demoniacal nature. All the strange illnesses described in the Gospels in which people are described as possessed are attributable to demoniacal forces. In them we must recognize the influence of spiritual beings. This lesser Kali Yuga began in about the year 3000 BC and is characterized by the fact that the doors to the spiritual world have gradually been completely closed to man's normal consciousness, so that one must draw all knowledge from the world of the senses. If this process had continued unabated, all possible connection with the spiritual world would have been lost to man. Up until the time of Kali Yuga, man remembered some things that had been retained by way of tradition, but now even these connections have gradually faded. Even the teacher, the preserver of tradition, could not speak to him directly about spiritual worlds, because the receptivity no longer existed. The knowledge of humanity gradually extended only to the physical world.
It this development had continued, man would never again have been able to find a connection with the spiritual world, try though he might; this connection would have been lost had not something occurred from another direction, that is, the embodiment on the physical plane of that divine being to Whom we refer as the Christ.
Formerly, man had been able to raise himself up to the spiritual beings, but now they had to come close to him, to descend fully into his realm, through which he could recognize them with the essence of his I. This moment had been foretold by the prophets of ancient times. It was said that man would be able to find his relationship to God with and in his own I. When this time came, however, it had to be brought forcefully to man's attention that the promised moment had actually come. The one who did this most powerfully was John the Baptist. He announced that the times had changed, saying “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Later this was indicated in a similar way by Christ Jesus, but the most significant sign was given in advance through the many baptisms performed by John in the Jordan and through the teaching itself.
Still, by these means alone the change would not have been possible. A number of human beings would have had to have a much greater experience of the spiritual world through which the conviction could begin to live in them that a divine being would reveal himself. This was achieved by submerging them in water. When a person is about to drown, the connection of the etheric body to the physical body is loosened — the etheric body is even partly withdrawn — and he can then experience a sign of the new impulse in world evolution. From this comes the powerful admonition: “Change the disposition of your soul, for the kingdoms of heaven are near. The disposition of soul is come upon you through which you will enter a relationship to the descended Christ. The times have been fulfilled.”
Christ Jesus Himself expressed the fulfillment of the times in the most penetrating teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, as it is called. This was by no means a sermon for the masses. The Gospels read: “When Christ saw the multitudes of people, He withdrew from them and revealed Himself to His disciples.” To them He revealed that man, in ancient times, could become filled with God during ecstasy. While outside his I, he was blissful and had direct experience of the spiritual world from which he could draw spiritual and health-giving forces. Now, however — so said Christ Jesus to His disciples — a man can become filled with God by permeating himself with the God and Christ impulse and uniting himself as an I with this impulse. In the past, he alone could ascend to the spiritual world who was filled with streamings from the spiritual world. Only such a person, rich in the spirit, could be called blessed. Such a person was a clairvoyant in the old sense, and he was a rare personality. Most people had become beggars in the spirit. Now, however, those who sought the kingdom of heaven could find it through their own I's.
What occurs in such a significant epoch of humanity always affects all people. If only a single member of a man's being is touched, the others all respond. All the members of man's being — the physical and etheric bodies, the sentient, rational, and consciousness souls, the I, and even the higher members of the soul — receive new life through the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. These teachings are in complete accord with the great teachings of primeval wisdom.
To enter the spiritual world in earlier times, the etheric body had to be slightly separated from the physical body, which was thus formed in a special way. Christ Jesus therefore said this when alluding to the physical body, “Blessed are the beggars, the poor in spirit, for if they develop their I-ruled outer bodies in the right way, they will find the kingdom of heaven.” Of the etheric body He said, “Formerly, men could be healed of illnesses of the body and soul by ascending into the spiritual world in a state of ecstasy. Now those who suffer and are filled with the spirit of God can be healed and comforted, and they can find the source, the comfort, within themselves.” Of the astral body He said, “In former times those whose astral bodies were beset by wild and tempestuous passions and impulses could be subdued only when equanimity, peace, and purification streamed to them from divine-spiritual beings.” Now, however, human beings should find the strength within their own I's, under the influence of Christ, to purify their astral bodies. The place in which the astral body can be purified is now the earth. Thus the new influence in the astral body had to be presented by saying, “Blessed and filled in their astral bodies with God are those who foster calmness and equanimity within themselves; all comfort and well-being on earth shall be their reward.”
The fourth Beatitude refers to the sentient soul. He who thoroughly purifies himself in his sentient soul and undergoes a higher development will receive in his I a hint of the Christ. He will notice in his heart a thirst for righteousness; he will become pervaded with godliness, and his I will become sufficient unto itself. The next member is the rational or feeling soul (Verstandes-seele, or Gemuet-seele). In the sentient soul the I slumbers dully; it awakens only in the rational or feeling soul. If we slumber with our I in the sentient soul, we cannot find in another person what makes him a true human being, the I. Before a person has developed the I within himself, he must allow his sentient soul to grow into higher worlds in order to be able to perceive something there. When he has developed himself in his rational or feeling soul, however, he can perceive the person next to him. Where all those members previously referred to are concerned, we must bear in mind what was given them in earlier realms. It is only the rational or feeling soul that can fill itself with what streams from man to man. In the fifth Beatitude the sentence structure will have to take on a special form. The subject and the predicate must be alike, since it concerns what the I develops within itself. The fifth Beatitude says, “He who develops compassion and mercy shall find compassion in others.” This is a test of the cross (Kreuzprobe), an indication that we are here dealing with an occult document. Christ has promised everything, harmonized everything, in relation to the single members of human nature.
The next sentence of the Beatitudes refers to the consciousness soul. Through it the I comes into being as pure I and becomes capable of receiving God into itself. If man can therefore elevate himself to such a degree, he can perceive within himself that drop of the divine, his I; through his purified consciousness soul he can behold God. This sixth sentence of the Beatitudes must, therefore, refer to beholding God. The outer physical expression for the I and the consciousness soul is the physical blood, and where it brings itself most particularly to expression is in the human heart, as expression of the purified I. Christ said, therefore, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall behold God.” We are thus shown how in the most intimate sense the heart is the expression of the I, the divine in man.
Now let us advance to what is higher than the consciousness soul, to Manas, Buddhi, and Atman. Contemporary man may well cultivate the three members of the soul, but not until the distant future will he be able to develop these higher members: spirit self, life spirit, and spirit man. These cannot as yet live in themselves in man; for this to occur he must look up to higher beings. His spirit self is not yet in him; it will flow into him only later. Man is not yet sufficiently evolved to receive fully the spirit self into himself. In this respect he stands at the beginning of his development and is like a vessel that is gradually to receive it. This is indicated in the seventh sentence of the Beatitudes. At first, the spirit self can only weave into man and fill him with its warmth. Only through the deed of Christ is it brought down to earth as the power of love and harmony. Therefore, Christ says, “Blessed are those who draw the spirit self, the first spiritual member, down into themselves, for they shall become the children of God.” This points man upward to higher worlds.
Further on, mention is made of what will be brought about in the future, but it will encounter in ever-increasing measure the opposition of the present time and be fiercely rejected. This is indicated in the eighth sentence of the Beatitudes, “Filled with God or blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for they will be fulfilled in themselves with the kingdom of heaven, with life spirit or Buddhi.” In connection with this, we find references also to the special mission of Christ Himself, in the sentence that reads, “Christ's intimate disciples may consider themselves blessed if they must suffer persecution for His sake.” This is a faint allusion to spirit man or Atman, which will be imparted to us in the distant future.
In the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, the great message is proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. In the course of these events the mystery of human evolution was fulfilled in Palestine. Man had reached a degree of maturity in all the members of his being so that he was able with his purified physical forces to receive the Christ impulse directly into himself. So it came to pass that the God-man, Christ, merged with the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, and they permeated the earth for three years with their united forces. This had to happen so that man would not lose completely his connection with the spiritual world during Kali Yuga.
Kali Yuga, the Dark Age, however, continued until the year 1899. This was a particularly important year in human evolution, because it marked the end of the 5,000 year period of Kali Yuga and the beginning of a new stage in the evolution of humanity. In addition to the old faculties present during Kali Yuga, man would now develop new spiritual faculties. We thus approach a period in which new natural faculties and possibilities for looking into the divine-spiritual worlds will awaken. Before the first half of the twentieth century has passed, some people will, with full I-consciousness, experience the penetration of the divine-spiritual world into the physical, sensible world in the same way as Saul did during his transformation into Paul before Damascus. This will then become the normal condition for a number of people.
Christ will not incarnate again in a physical body as He did at that time in Jesus; nothing would be achieved by it now. It was necessary then because of profound laws of cosmic-earthly evolution; otherwise, people would not have been able to recognize Him. Now, however, human beings have evolved further and have become capable of penetrating into etheric vision through their soul forces. Christ will thus become visible to human beings in an etheric and not in a physical body. From the middle of the twentieth century on, and continuing for the next 2,500 years, this will happen more and more often. Enough people will by then have experienced the event at Damascus that it will be taken as a common occurrence on the earth.
We occupy ourselves with spiritual science so that these newly appearing faculties, which are at first barely perceptible, may not be overlooked and lost to humanity and that those blessed with this new power of vision may not be considered dreamers and fools but may instead have the support and understanding of a small group of people who in their common purpose may prevent these delicate soul seeds and soul qualities from being roughly trampled to death for lack of human understanding. Spiritual science shall indeed prepare the possibility for attaining this development. Recently, I explained that these new qualities give us an insight into the land of Shamballa, through which we may learn to know the significance and true nature of Christ, whose second coming indicates a maturing of humanity's cognition.
Generally speaking, the ages of history repeat themselves, but always in a new way. In spiritual science the beginning of Kali Yuga is seen as the closing of the portals of the spiritual world. After the first millennium of Kali Yuga had passed, there was the first compensation for the loss: in the individuality of Abraham, after his initiation by Melchizedek, it became possible for a human being to recognize God in the outer world through true insight and a proper evaluation of the outer world spread out, as it were, like a carpet before his senses. With Abraham, we see the first dawning of a knowledge of what an I-God is, a God related to man's I-nature. Abraham realized that behind the phenomena of the world of the senses was something that made it possible for the human I to conceive itself as a drop of the infinite, unfathomable world-I.
A second state of this revelation of God was experienced in the time of Moses, when God approached man through the elements. In the burning bush, in the thunder and lightning upon Sinai, He revealed Himself to man's senses and spoke to his innermost being. A third millennium followed in which a knowledge of God was penetrating man, the age of Solomon, in which God revealed Himself through the symbols of the Temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem. The divine revelation thus proceeded in stages. God first appeared to Abraham as the I-God, or the Jahve-God, then to Moses in fire in the burning bush, in thunder and lightning, and then to Solomon in the symbols of the Temple.
What is representative of a particular age repeats itself later in reverse order. The turning point is the appearance of Christ Jesus in Palestine. What immediately preceded that time is the first to reappear. Consequently, the first millennium after Christ is again a Solomon epoch; the spirit of Solomon works in the best human beings of that time so that the Mystery of Golgotha may penetrate. In those early centuries after Christ, Solomon's symbols could be interpreted most readily and inwardly by those who could experience the deed on Golgotha most deeply.
In the second millennium after Christ we can recognize a repetition of the age of Moses. What Moses experienced outwardly now appears in the mysticism of men such as Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, and so on. The mystics experienced in their inner beings what Moses experienced outwardly in the burning bush, in the thunder and lightning. They spoke of how the I-God revealed Himself to them when they withdrew into themselves. When they perceived within their souls the spark of their I's, then the I-God, the One God Jahve, revealed Himself to them. This was the case with Tauler, who was a great preacher and could make powerful revelations. To him came the layman who was called “The Friend of God, of the Mountain,” of whom it was thought that he wished to become Tauler's pupil. He soon became Tauler's teacher instead, however, after which Tauler was able to speak of God from his inner being with such force that a number of pupils and listeners were reported to have fallen prostrate, lying as if dead, as he preached. This is reminiscent of the events that occurred when Moses received the Laws on Sinai.
The centuries up to our present time have been filled by this spirit. Now, however, we are entering an era that recalls and revives the age of Abraham, but in the sense that human beings are being led away from the world accessible to our physical senses. The spirit of Abraham will influence our knowledge so that human beings will renounce the old mentality that only laid store in the sensible world. In contrast to Abraham, however, for whom the spirit of God was only to be found in the world of the senses, we shall now grow beyond the world of the senses and into the spiritual world.
Although human beings knew nothing of all this in the past, one can well say that it has not interfered with our evolution. In the era now approaching, however, we will be placed in circumstances that will require human beings to take their destiny consciously into their own hands. They must know how Christ will be perceptible in the future. The legend is true that after the event of Golgotha Christ descended to the dead in the spiritual world to bring them the Word of Salvation. The Christ event works today in the same way. It is therefore the same whether a person lives in the physical world here on earth or has already passed through death: if he has gained an understanding for the Christ event here on earth, he can still experience it in the spiritual world. This will show that man has not lived upon this earth without a reason. If, however, a person fails to acquire an understanding for the Christ even here on earth, the effects of the event of Golgotha will pass him by without a trace during the period between death and a new birth. He will then have to wait until his next return to the earth, until a new birth, in order to be able to prepare himself.
Man must not believe that Christ will reappear in the flesh, as some false teachings claim, for in that case it would be impossible for one to believe in the progressive evolution of human faculties, and we would have to say that events repeat themselves in the same way. This is not the case however; they do repeat themselves, but on ever higher levels.
In the next centuries it will often be proclaimed that Christ will return and again reveal Himself. False messiahs or Christs will appear. Those armed by the above explanations, however, with a true understanding of Christ's actual appearance, will reject such manifestations. The knowledgeable ones who can see the history of the last centuries in this light will be neither astonished nor exalted by the appearance of such messiahs. As examples, this happened just before the Crusades and also in the seventeenth century when a false messiah, Shabattai Tzevi, appeared in Smyrna. Pilgrims flocked to him even from France and Spain.
At that time such a deceptive belief did not do so much damage. Now, however, when one with more advanced faculties should be able to recognize that it is a mistake to believe in Christ's second coming in the flesh and that it is true that He will reappear in the etheric body — now it is necessary to distinguish such things plainly. A confusion will have serious consequences. An alleged Christ who reappears in the flesh is not to be believed but only a Christ Who appears in the etheric body. This appearance will take the form of a natural initiation, just as now the initiate experiences this event in a special way.
We are thus approaching an age in which man will feel himself surrounded not only by a physical, sensible world but also, according to the measure of his knowledge, by a spiritual kingdom. The leader in this new kingdom of the spirit will be the etheric Christ. No matter what religious community or faith to which people belong, once they have experienced these facts in themselves they will acknowledge and accept the Christ event. The Christians who actually have the experience of the etheric Christ are perhaps in a more difficult situation than adherents to other religions, yet they should endeavor to accept this Christ event in just as neutral a way as the others. It will, in fact, be man's task to develop, especially through Christianity, an understanding for the possibility of entering the spiritual world independently of any religious denomination but simply through the power of good will.
Anthroposophy above all should help us in this. It will lead us into that spiritual land, described in ancient Tibetan writings as a remote fairyland, which means the spiritual world, the land of Shamballa. Not in a trance but in full consciousness man should enter this land under the guidance of Christ. Even now the initiate can and must go often to the land of Shamballa in order to draw from there new forces. Later, other human beings, too, will enter the land of Shamballa. They will see its radiant light, as Paul saw above him the light that streamed from Christ. This light will stream toward them, also. The portals of this realm of light will open to them and through them they will enter the holy land of Shamballa.
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