Commentary

Why Did Jesus Come to Earth as a Baby?

By Curtis Childs

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Could there be reasons for the humble, vulnerable beginnings of Jesus’s life?

In this video from his Swedenborg and Life web series, host Curtis Childs and featured guests explore how the Divine design may have been at play from the very beginning of Christ's life.

(References: Apocalypse Explained 706 [12]; De Verbo 7; Luke 2:8-12; True Christianity 89, 90, 96, 766)

From Swedenborg's Works

De Verbo #7

De Verbo (Chadwick translation)

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7. VII

The spiritual sense of the Word; on correspondences.

Every single thing in nature has a correspondence with spiritual things. The same is true of every single part of the human body, as may be seen demonstrated in two chapters of my book on Heaven and Hell [87-115]. But today it is not known what correspondence is. However, in the most ancient times the knowledge of correspondences was the queen of sciences, and so universally known that the most ancient people wrote all their tablets and books by means of correspondences. The myths of the earliest peoples were the same, as were the hieroglyphs of the Egyptians. The Book of Job, which was a book of the ancient church, is full of correspondences.



(References: Genesis 5:21-24; Revelation 17:3, Revelation 19:17, Revelation 19:11)


[2] All ancient churches were intended to represent heavenly things; all their rituals, and also all the laws for the establishment of their worship, were composed entirely of correspondences. The same was true of the church of the sons of Jacob; the whole burnt offerings and the sacrifices in all their details were correspondences. The same was true of the tabernacle and everything in it; as also their festivals, such as the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of tabernacles and the feast of first-fruits; so also were their laws and judgments. Since they were correspondences, they are things of the kind which come into existence at the ultimate level of nature; and since everything in nature has a correspondence, and such things also have a meaning, it follows that the literal sense of the Word is composed entirely of correspondences. The Lord too, since he spoke from His Divinity, also spoke the Word; and it also follows that He spoke by means of correspondences. That which comes down from the Divinity and is in itself Divine at the ultimate level passes into such things as correspond to what is Divine, celestial and spiritual, that is, those which hold at their inmost level celestial and spiritual things, and have this meaning.

For a further demonstration of what correspondences are, see my Arcana Caelestia, in which the correspondences in Genesis and Exodus are explained, and in addition see what has been collected from that source on the subject in my Teaching of the New Jerusalem1 and Heaven and Hell. The spiritual or internal sense of the Word is nothing but the literal sense unfolded by means of correspondences, for it teaches the spiritual lesson which the angels in heaven perceive, when a person in the world thinks in a natural fashion about what he reads in the Word.



[3] I have heard and perceived from heaven that the people of the most ancient church, who are those meant in the spiritual sense in the first chapters of Genesis by Adam and Eve, were in such close contact with angels that they could speak with them by means of correspondences. Consequently their state of wisdom was such that whatever they saw on earth they perceived at the same time spiritually, that is, jointly with angels. I was told that Enoch, who is mentioned in Genesis [5:21-24], together with his companions made a collection of correspondences from the angels' lips, and transmitted the knowledge of them to their descendants. As a result the knowledge of correspondences was not only widespread, but prized in many kingdoms of Asia, especially in Egypt, Assyria and Babel, Syria, Mesopotamia, Arabia, and also Canaan. From there it spread to Greece, but there it was converted into myths.

This can be established merely by considering Olympus, Helicon and Pindus near Athens,2 and also from the winged horse named Pegasus using its hoof to make a spring burst forth, by which the nine maidens3 made their dwelling. For a mountain, such as Helicon, by correspondence means the higher heaven, the hill beneath the mountain of Pindus the heaven below that, the winged horse Pegasus means the intellect enlightened by the spiritual, a spring intelligence and learning, the nine maidens the knowledge of truth and sciences. The rest of the stories known as myths written by the earliest peoples in Greece are similar; these have been collected and described by Ovid in his Metamorphosis.4



(References: Genesis 5:21-24)


[4] But when with the passage of time the representative practices of the church became idolatrous, the Lord's Divine Providence ensured that this knowledge was progressively blotted out, and with the Israelite and Jewish race it was completely destroyed and became extinct. Certainly the worship of this people was entirely representative, but still there was no knowledge of what any representation meant. For they were utterly natural people, so that they were neither able nor willing to know anything about the spiritual man, and his faith and love, and so nothing about correspondence.



[5] The reason why the idolatrous practices of peoples of antiquity originated from their knowledge of correspondences was that everything to be seen upon the earth has a correspondence; so not only trees, but also cattle and birds of every kind, as well as fishes and other things. The ancients, possessing the knowledge of correspondences, made themselves images corresponding to spiritual ideas, and took pleasure in them, because they meant things to do with heaven and the church. Thus they placed such images not only in their temples but in their homes, not for them to be worshipped, but as a reminder of their heavenly meaning. So in Egypt there were erected calves, oxen, snakes, boys, old men, girls and many more things; because a calf meant the innocence of the natural man, oxen his affections, snakes the prudence of the sensual man,5 a boy innocence, old men wisdom, girls affections for truth, and so on. After the knowledge of correspondences had been blotted out, their descendants in ignorance of their meanings began to worship as holy and finally as deities the images and likenesses set up by the ancients, because they were placed in or near temples.

The hieroglyphs of the Egyptians are of the same origin.6 It was much the same with other peoples, as Dagon among the Philistines at Ashdod; he was above like a man, below like a fish,7 an image devised because a man means rational intelligence and a fish natural knowledge. This too is why the ancients worshipped in gardens and groves arranged according to the species of the trees; and also why their sacred rituals were held on mountains. For gardens and groves meant spiritual intelligence, and each kind of tree some detail of this. For instance, the olive-tree meant the good of love for it, the vine the truth of faith, the cedar its rational, and so on; and a mountain meant heaven. This is why the ancients worshipped on mountains.

The knowledge of correspondences lasted among many eastern peoples down to the Lord's coming, as may be proved from the wise men from the east who came to the Lord on His birth. So a star went before them, and they brought with them gold, frankincense and myrrh. And the shepherds were told, as a sign that they should know He was the Lord, that they would see Him in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, because there was no place at the inn. For the star which went before them meant knowledge coming from heaven, since stars in the Word mean pieces of knowledge. Gold meant celestial good, frankincense spiritual good, and myrrh natural good, all worship being from these three sources. The manger in which the baby Lord was found by the shepherds means spiritual nourishment, because horses which feed from a manger mean matters of the intellect. The inn, where there was no place, meant the Jewish church, where at that time there was no spiritual nourishment, because everything in the Word and thus every detail of their worship was adulterated and perverted. This is why it is said that this should be a sign for them that it was the Lord (Luke 2:12).

But there was no knowledge of correspondences at all among the Israelite and Jewish people, despite the fact that the whole of their worship and all the laws and judgments given to them, and everything in the Word, were nothing but correspondences. The reason was that that people was at heart idolatrous, and such that it did not even want to know that any detail of their worship had any celestial or spiritual meaning. For they wanted all these things to be holy in themselves, and to be concerned with outward matters as they were. If therefore spiritual and celestial matters had been revealed to them, they would not only have rejected but also profaned them. On this account heaven was so closed to them that they hardly knew they would live after death.

The truth of this is plain from their failure to acknowledge the Lord, although the whole of the Sacred Scripture contains prophecies and predictions about Him. The sole reason for their rejection of Him was that He taught them about a heavenly kingdom, not one on earth. For they wanted a Messiah to raise them above all peoples throughout the world, not a Messiah to look after their eternal salvation. They say, moreover, that the Word contains many secrets which they call mysteries; but they do not want to know them, because they concern the Lord and His kingdom. But they want to know, if they are told they concern gold and alchemy.



(References: Luke 2:7, 2:12)


[6] The reason why that knowledge was not revealed after that period was that the Christians of the primitive church were so exceedingly simple, that it could not be revealed to them. For if it had been, it would have been no use to them, nor would it have been grasped. Following this period the whole Christian world was plunged in darkness arising from the Popish religion, which eventually became Babylonia. Those from Babel, who had convinced themselves of its false beliefs, are mostly natural people who rely on their senses. These are neither able nor willing to grasp what is spiritual, that is, what is meant by the correspondence of natural with spiritual things.8

However, after the Reformation, because people began to make a distinction between faith and charity, and to worship the one God in three persons, so as to make three gods, whom they merely named as one, heavenly truths were hidden from them. This was to prevent people, if they had been revealed, falsifying them and applying them to the teaching of faith alone, and none of them to charity and love. If therefore the spiritual sense of the Word had then been revealed, they would also have closed heaven against themselves by falsifying these truths.



[7] For anyone is allowed to understand the literal sense of the Word simply, so long as he does not convince himself so firmly of the appearances of truth it contains as to destroy the real truth. For interpreting the Word in its spiritual sense from the falsities of teaching closes heaven, and cannot open it. But interpreting the spiritual sense from the truths of teaching opens heaven, because this is the sense which the angels possess. Therefore this sense enables a person to think together with angels, thus linking them to himself in his intellectual faculty. But if a person has been taught falsities, and wants to explore the spiritual sense from some knowledge of correspondences, he falsifies it. On the other hand, if a person first possesses real truths, that sense agrees with the truths and is made clear by them, because it is in the light of heaven. But it does not at all agree9 with falsities, and if anything of that truth were to become visible, the light of heaven would be replaced by thick darkness. For the angels turn away from him, and so close heaven to him.

The spiritual sense of the Word is to be understood by the Lord's tunic, which was all of a piece, and the soldiers were not allowed to divide it. However, the natural sense of the Word is meant by the clothes which the soldiers divided among themselves. Clothes in the Word mean truths, and the Lord's clothes Divine truths. That is why when the Lord was transfigured before Peter, James and John, his clothes were seen shining like light.



[8] The reason why the Lord has at the present time revealed the spiritual sense of the Word is that the teaching concerning real truth has now been revealed. This teaching is partly contained in my Teaching of the New Jerusalem, and now in the minor works which are being published.10 Since that teaching and no other is in agreement with the spiritual sense of the Word, that sense, together with a knowledge of correspondences, has now for the first time been disclosed. That sense is also meant by the Lord's appearing in the clouds of the sky with glory and power (Matt. 24:30, 31). This chapter deals with the ending of the age, by which is to be understood the last period of the church. A cloud of the sky there and elsewhere in the Word means the Word in its literal sense, which is like a cloud compared to the spiritual sense. Glory, however, there and also elsewhere in the Word means the Word in its spiritual sense, which is also Divine Truth in light; power means the power it possesses in the Word.

The revelation of the Word in its spiritual sense is also promised in the Book of Revelation. That sense is there to be understood by the white horse (Rev. 19:11-14), and by God's great banquet, to which He invited and assembled everyone (v. 17ff.) The fact that that sense would not be acknowledged for a long time (something that only happens to those who have received false teaching, especially about the Lord) is to be understood by the beast and the kings of the earth, who were going to make war on Him who sits on the white horse (v. 19). The beast is to be understood as the Roman Catholics, as in Chapter 17: 3, and the kings of the earth as the Reformed Christians, who have received false teaching.

The mysteries which some people look for in the Word are simply its spiritual and celestial senses.

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Footnotes:

1. i.e. The New Jerusalem and Heaven's Teaching for it.-Tr.

2. An exaggeration, since Helicon is some fifty miles from Athens and the other mountains are much further away -Tr.

3. i.e. the Muses. -Tr.

4. Properly Metamorphoses, a long poem by the Roman poet Ovid (1st century bc); significantly the Author does not refer to the original Greek sources -Tr.

5. i. e. one who is governed by his bodily senses. - Tr.

6. The hieroglyphic script is now known to be a largely phonetic system of writing; but its origin is still unknown. - Tr.

7. A reference to 1 Sam. 5:4, but this detail is not in the text as now accepted. -Tr.

8. Added in margin: For this would have convinced them that Peter' did not mean Peter, and also that the Word is Divine even up to its inmost level; and that the Pope's pronouncement is comparatively of no importance.'

9. Reading with B. Rogers at ne hilum concordat. -Tr.

10. i.e. The New Jerusalem and Heaven's Teaching for it and presumably some of the Four Doctrines published in 1763.

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(References: Luke 2:7; Matthew 24:30-31; Revelation 17:3, 19:11-14, Revelation 19:19, 19:17)

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