The Persecutions Begin
1. And it came to pass when Jesus had finished instructing His twelve disciples, He passed on thence to teach and to preach in their cities.
2. And John, hearing in the prison the works of the Christ [and] sending two of his disciples,
3. Says to Him, “Art Thou He that comest, or should we expect another?”
4. And Jesus answering said to them, “Go, report to John what you hear and see:
5. The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel announced to them.
6. And happy is [he], whoever shall not be offended in Me.”
7. And as they went, Jesus began to say to the crowds concerning John: “What did you come out into the wilderness to observe? A reed shaken by the wind?
8. But what did you come out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold, they that wear soft things are in kings’ houses.
9. But what did you come out to see? A prophet? yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.
10. For this is [he] about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, who shall make ready Thy way before Thee.’
11. Amen I say to you, There has not arisen among those that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist; but the least in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he.
12. And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of the heavens presses, and they who press seize upon it.
13. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John,
14. And if you will to accept [it], he is Elijah who was going to come.
15. He that has ears to hear, let him hear.
16. But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like little boys sitting in the markets, and summoning their fellows,
17. And saying, ‘We have piped to you, and you have not danced; we have lamented to you, and you have not wailed.’
18. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’
19. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a man, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!’ And wisdom has been justified by her children.”
20. Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His [works of] power were done, because they did not repent.
21. “Woe to thee, Chorazin! Woe to thee, Bethsaida! Because if the [works of] power had been done in Tyre and Sidon that were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
22. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you.
23. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted up to heaven, shalt be thrust down even to hell; for if the [works of] power which have been done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained even to this day.
24. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.”
In the previous episode the disciples were organized, instructed, and sent forth. Because each disciple represents a spiritual principle that is central to our spiritual life, it is necessary that the “disciples in us” (core spiritual principles) be well-organized. 1
This pictures the way our good affections and true thoughts — though initially scattered — are organized, put into shape, and readied for action. It is a spiritual law, however, that every forward step in our spiritual development will be met by an equal and opposing assault. In this way, the Lord maintains a continuous state of equilibrium, thereby protecting and preserving our spiritual freedom. 2
This is precisely what is represented in the next episode when we discover that John the Baptist has been imprisoned. The counter-attacks have begun. Because John the Baptist followed Jesus, and publicly proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, he was persecuted and put in prison.
This however, is merely the external story. More interiorly, the counter-attacks take place within each of us — in our minds. When we are persecuted, when we feel discouraged and upset, we begin to doubt whether following the Lord is the right thing to do. We doubt His divinity. We doubt the authority of His words. We doubt that the kingdom of heaven is really at hand.
Even John the Baptist, one of Jesus’ staunchest supporters, is beginning to have his doubts. Although he is confined in prison, John is able to send a message to Jesus saying, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (11:3). Jesus does not respond directly. Instead He tells John’s messengers to go back and report what has been happening: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (11:5). 3
It’s important to keep in mind that John the Baptist represents the literal teachings of the Word. 4
In John’s day, the Word of God had been twisted and profaned until it became useless for anything more than confirming whatever the religious establishment wanted the people to believe. The clear literal teachings were deemed less significant than the rigorous traditions taught and enforced by the reigning religious leaders. All this is represented by John’s being in prison, and this is what Jesus is referring to when He says, “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force” (11:12).
The human race was rapidly descending into the darkest night it would ever know, as indicated by the epidemic of demonic possession. Even though Jesus was doing mighty works, many still refused to believe. A Day of Judgment seemed to be drawing near. And so He warned them: “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted in heaven, will be brought down to hell; for if the mighty works that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day” (11:23). Jesus had indeed done mighty works such that even the evil people of Sodom might have repented and believed. God had come into the world through Jesus Christ, but some had grown so accustomed to the darkness that they rejected the light — even when it was in their very midst.
Jesus continues to warn them of the impending doom and destruction. “But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (11:24). Those who refuse to believe, and who reject the light, represent those parts of us that are unwilling to change, even when there is enough light to do so.
“My yoke is easy”
25. At that time Jesus answering said, “I profess Thee, Father, Lord of the heaven and of the earth, because Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and hast revealed them to infants.
26. Yes, Father; for so it was [for] good pleasure before Thee.
27. All things are delivered up to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; neither knows anyone the Father, except the Son, and [he] to whomever the Son intends to reveal [Him].
28. Come to Me, all [ye] who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
29. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.
30. For My yoke [is] easy, and My burden is light.”
In the midst of these dire warnings, Jesus continues to provide hope and comfort. As this episode closes, He speaks with the tenderness and compassion of the Father within Him: “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and he to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (11:27). In other words, all things come forth from Divine love (the Father). Because of the increasing darkness in the world, people are no longer aware that this kind of love even exists. But Jesus is now bringing it forth to view, and will manifest it to others — to those whom “the Son wills to reveal Him.”
Although it appears that only some will be chosen to receive this love, the invitation is given to everyone. No longer speaking in terms of a separation between Father and Son, Jesus now speaks most tenderly, like a loving father speaking to tired children. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden,” He says, “and I will give you rest” (11:28). It is to be noted that Jesus does not say, “The Father will give you rest.” Instead, He says, “I will give you rest.” This is a beautiful message of comfort, a promise that in Jesus we shall not only find physical rest, but, more importantly, spiritual rest — that is, rest for our souls: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (11:30).
As Jesus reveals His oneness with the divinity within Him, there is a growing softness and tenderness in His words. More and more, we see the Divine love of the Father manifested in the Divine wisdom of the Son, and we begin to sense that in some way they are One. In Jesus we do not see the stern, angry, punitive idea of a God who is to be feared. Instead, we see a God who can be loved, a compassionate, forgiving Father who says to each of us, “Come unto Me . . . and you will find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy and my burden light” (11:30).
1. Apocalypse Explained 411: “All the Lord’s disciples together represented the church; and each one of them some central principle of the church; ‘Peter’ represents the truth of the church [faith], ‘James’ it’s good, and ‘John’ good in act, that is, works; the rest of the disciples represent the truths and goods that are derived from these central principles.”
2. Apocalypse Explained 349:2: “A person is kept in the freedom of choosing, that is, of receiving good and truth from the Lord or of receiving evil and falsity from hell. This is done for the sake of a person’s reformation. Being kept between heaven and hell, and thence in spiritual equilibrium, is freedom.”
3. Arcana Coelestia 9209:4 “Those called ‘blind’ are in ignorance of truth ; ‘lame,’ those who are in good, but on account of their ignorance of truth, not in genuine good; ‘leprous,’ those who are unclean and yet long to be made clean; ‘deaf,’ those who are not in the faith of truth, because not in the perception of it; and ‘poor,’ those who have not the Word, and thus know nothing of the Lord, and yet long to be instructed. Consequently, it is said that ‘to these the gospel shall be preached.’”
4. See footnote at Matthew 3:1 which explains the representation of John the Baptist.