Explanation(s) or references from Swedenborg's works:
Bible Studies:The Nexus, Part 3: Internal Work
By Rev. William Woofenden
"Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 3:3
Additional readings: Isaiah 1:1-20
In the childhood of the human race, before men had departed from right ways of life, heaven was near to them. They could be led directly by the Lord, for their hearts and minds were open to him. Of this Golden Age of the human race it is written, "Man walked with God." But we have all read in the history of the human race as revealed in the Scripture the account of how many departed from the way of life and, following the devices of his own heart, closed his mind to the direct reception of goodness and truth from the Lord, until finally he reached a state in which all true knowledge of God and heaven was lost.
Then the Lord came to bring salvation to mankind, and preparation for His reception was made through John the Baptist, the messenger sent in fulfillment of a prophecy given centuries before. John’s message is our text: "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And when John was put to death, and the Lord began His active ministry in the world, the words of our text were also His first message. For He came to make clear the way of life, and wrong ideas held possession of the minds of men then, as they do of many minds today.
It is not by chance that this first message turns our thoughts to heaven. The purpose of our creation is that we may so live that we shall find our homes in heaven. Belief in heaven had been lost, along with the knowledge about it. And today belief in heaven is for the most part vague, and many think that eternal life does not mean personal existence in the spiritual world, but only the persistence of one’s influence in this world. Great men like Homer, Plato, Moses, Shakespeare, Gladstone, Lincoln, Pasteur, and many others perpetuate themselves in the influence they exert in the minds of living men. This, they say, is what is meant by immortality, by everlasting life. But we should realize that this type of everlasting life is open to the evil as well as to the good. A Diocletian may be remembered forever as well as the beloved Apostle. We need to know the truth that men and women, as individuals, live forever after death in the spiritual world.
But this is not the implication of the text which I have chosen for consideration this morning." The kingdom of heaven is at hand." We know that heaven is not in some remote part of the natural sky, that we cannot say, "Lo, here, or Lo, there" (Luke 17:21). But we are still apt to think of it as far away. We are also inclined to think of it as remote in time. We speak commonly of the "future" world. In the thought of some even, it lies at the indefinitely remote time, when they expect a general resurrection along with others; death is the gateway of heaven, but heaven still seems too distant to be of much practical and present interest.
But the truth is that heaven is far away neither in space nor in time. It is here, it is now, it is "at hand." We live in it now, or we may do so. It is a present reality, the most real and the most important element of the life we are now living. When we speak of heaven, and of living for heaven, we are not, as some charge, setting our hearts on something far away, and despising the real world in which we now are. If one lives for a far-off heaven — and no doubt some have lived so — he may be careless of this world’s joys and sorrows, of opportunities for usefulness, keeping his eyes fixed on some vision of the future. But we may live for heaven and still live thoroughly in the present. We ought to value heaven as the most real of present realities. The Gospel is true: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand."
We are taught in the New Church that heaven is essentially a state of human feeling, thought and life, a state in which love to the Lord and love to the neighbor are the ruling motives. We are taught that no outward paradise which could be made by human or by Divine skill would be a heaven if those affections were absent from the heart, that there is no real or lasting satisfaction except in the exercise of these affections. It follows that we can come into heaven in this world, and live in heaven while we live on earth, for we may learn here to love the Lord and one another, and to find our chief enjoyment in the exercise of these heavenly loves.
But this is an abstract way of speaking. Concretely, heaven is not merely a heavenly state in ourselves; it is the great world of human beings who are living in that state, those people in whose hearts are heavenly affections, whose minds are bright with spiritual light, and whose hands are busy with heavenly works. There are many such people in this world. There are countless more who have gone from the earth to the spiritual world, and are there living the same good life under freer and happier conditions. All these people are heaven.
When we have love to the Lord and the neighbor in ourselves, we are brought spiritually near to those in like affections, both of this world and of the spiritual world. It is not a figure of speech when we say that heaven is about us when we are in heavenly states. It is a literal and positive fact. Heaven is so really around us at such times that if it were granted to us, as it was to Elisha’s servant and to others in Bible days to have our spiritual eyes opened, we should see the angels who are our companions and the beautiful land in which they dwell. Among them we should see and recognize some who were dear to us on earth, who still love and help us, and there would be some whom we had not known before but who would from the first glance seem to us as old friends, because they have similar desires and thoughts. And we should recognize them as the source of our happiness.
The Lord created the world and all things in it. All things in the world were made for man to use and enjoy, from the very materials of the earth to all the myriad things of the vegetable and animal kingdoms, the beast of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea. For man’s needs of food, clothing, shelter, for gratification of his senses, and the improvement of his mind these things were made. All these were created and given to man for blessings. But they are subject to one important condition: man must indeed labor to make these things of service to himself, but he must also use them in the service of others. Only so can he have any security or peace. The world of nature and of human beings is not for one man, or a few men, or a nation to control or exploit. Indeed we cannot rightly claim sovereignty over ourselves. We need the guidance of the Lord. And whatever under the Divine Providence we have been able to acquire, whether of material wealth, or of skill, or of learning, we did not acquire it by our unaided efforts. Our daily knowledge of the happenings in the world, our libraries, our schools are made possible by the labor of mind and body of other men and women, great or humble, living or dead. We depend on others and they on us, and life and security today, as always, depend upon the honesty and good will of the community in which we live.
Yet we should also realize that behind the labors and sufferings and the honesty and good will of men stands the Lord. Through His power alone man achieves progress. It is a law of the Divine Providence that man must act in freedom according to reason. This applies to the life of nations as well as to the life of individuals. But the Lord is present and operative always.
For infinitely wise and good reasons, the Lord does not draw the veil aside for us and allow us to see the heavenly world. Some argue that if only they could see heaven, they would believe in it. But to see that world as an outward, objective reality would destroy our freedom. We should be lured by its outward attractiveness, and it would be less possible for us to come into its true spirit.
When we are living in selfish and evil affections, we are in hell. Not only is hell within us at such times but it is also about us, not by a figure of speech, but actually. We are breathing its poisoned atmosphere and, if our eyes were opened, we should see the forms and faces of those who find their life in evil and who exult in influencing others to evil. Why, at least then, does the Lord not draw the veil aside and show us the terribleness of evil? The sight might for the moment frighten us, but we should be less able to shun evil freely because it is evil, and our power to escape permanently from it would be greatly lessened.
If we are tempted to question the Lord’s Providence in not revealing to us more openly the conditions of the good and evil in the spiritual world, we do well to remember His words, "They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them….If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16:29-31).
The Lord said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). We should seek those good things which endure forever, and should not sacrifice them for the sake of money or health or life itself. To acquire love to the Lord and to the neighbor is the only thing worth living for. Our business dealings should have as their motive the love of use, of service to others. The most necessary thing in making a home is having in it the sunshine of heaven. The only absolute requirement for our happiness as we go to and fro in the ways of the world is that heaven shall go with us. This is to live for heaven, and yet to live must fully in the present. This is the practical meaning of living for heaven.
It may be stated still more simply. Heaven is not heaven from locality, neither is it heaven from anything which belongs to the angels as their own. It is heaven from what is received from the Lord into the lives and hearts of the angels. To be near the Lord, not in place merely, but in heart, to feel the protection and peace of His presence is heaven. Heaven is being near to the Lord and keeping near to Him. There is no other heaven for men or angels.
"The kingdom of heaven is at hand." When John first spoke this message, the kingdom of heaven was in a special sense at hand, because the Lord had come to live with men and to make Himself accessible to them. A power to heal and bless went forth from the Lord during His life on earth. Men obsessed felt his saving power and sat at His feet clothed and in their right mind.
At the Transfiguration Peter said, "Lord, it is good for us to be here" (Matthew 17:4, Mark 9:5, Luke 9:33). In following the Lord, in hearing His Word and in doing His work, they were tasting of heaven. But we need to note that the mere physical nearness of the Lord did not make heaven. Some cried out with fear at His approach. It was not heaven to them. It was not heaven to those who followed Him to accuse and to betray Him. His presence was a blessing only to those who in some measure drew near to Him in spirit.
Even in the Lord’s coming on earth the kingdom of heaven was not forced on me. It was made accessible to them; it was brought within their reach.
It is brought within our reach. Just as there is no royal road to knowledge, there is no royal road to heaven. We must cease to do evil before we can learn to do well. Repentance, the willingness to recognize and acknowledge our faults and weaknesses and to struggle to overcome them opens the door. Heavenly life comes into the soul when selfish desires are replaced by kindly thoughts and the desire to serve. The Lord tell us to seek these heavenly virtues now, not for the sake of honor for ourselves, but that we may be really kind and helpful to others, that our lives may have something of the Lord’s love in them. Then we shall find that life here makes one with heavenly life, and that our Heavenly Father is the Source of happiness in both alike.
395. (v. 11) And white robes were given unto every one. That this signifies Divine truth from the Lord with them, and protection, is plain from the signification of a white robe, as denoting Divine truth from the Lord; for a robe signifies truth in general, because it is the general covering; and white is said of truths from the Lord, for whiteness is characteristic of light, and the light proceeding from the Lord as a Sun is in its essence Divine truth. That by the white robes given to every one, is also signified protection, will be explained below. First, however, it shall be explained why a white robe signifies Divine truth from the Lord. All spirits and angels are clothed according to their intelligence, or according to the reception of truth in the life, for this is intelligence, and the light of their intelligence is formed into garments, which, when they are thence formed, not only appear as garments, but also are garments. For all things that exist in the spiritual world, and appear before their eyes, exist from the light and heat that proceed from the Lord as a Sun. From this origin not only are all things in the spiritual world created and formed, but also all things in the natural world; for the natural world exists and subsists from the Lord through the spiritual world. Hence it is evident that appearances in heaven before the angels, are altogether real; similarly also the garments. Because spirits and angels are clothed according to intelligence, and all intelligence belongs to truth, and angelic intelligence is from Divine truth, therefore they are clothed according to truths. On this account garments signify truths; garments that are next to the body, and thence interior, signify interior truths; and the garments that are around and enclose the former, signify exterior truths; whence a robe, a gown, and a cloak, which are general coverings, signify truths in general, and the white robe which they have from the Lord, the Divine truth in general. (But see what has been shown concerning the garments with which the angels are clothed, in the work concerning Heaven and Hell, n. 177-182; and what has been said above concerning the signification of garments, n. 64, 65, 195, 271.)
 The white robes given to those who were under the altar, also signify protection by the Lord, because the white robes given to them, represented the Lord's presence with the Divine truth around them; and the Lord by means of Divine truth protects His own, for He surrounds them with a sphere of light, from which they have white robes; and when they are thus encompassed, they can no longer be infested by evil spirits; for, as said above, they were infested by them, and, therefore, were hidden by the Lord. This also takes place with those who are raised by the Lord into heaven. They are then clothed with white robes, which is an indication that they are in Divine truth, and thus in safety. But concerning those who are clothed in white robes, more will be seen in the explanation of the chapter which follows, at verses 9, 13-17.
 That a robe, a gown, and a cloak, signify Divine truth in general is evident also from the following passages. In Zechariah:
"The prophets shall be ashamed every one on account of his vision, when he hath prophesied; neither shall they wear a mantle of hair to deceive" (xiii. 4).
By prophets are signified those who teach truths from the Word, and in an abstract sense, truths of doctrine from the Word, and because these things were signified by prophets, therefore, these were clothed with a mantle of hair; for by a mantle of hair was signified Divine truth in ultimates, which is Divine truth in general, for the ultimate contains all things interior, hair also signifies the ultimate. Hence it was, that Elijah from his mantle was also called a hairy man (2 Kings i. 7, 8); and that John the Baptist, who was like Elias, by reason of a similar representation, had a garment of camel's hair (Matt. iii. 4). From these things it is evident what is signified by the prophets not wearing a mantle of hair to deceive, namely, that they shall not declare truths to be falsities, and falsities to be truths, this being signified by deceiving.
 Because Elijah represented the Lord as to the Word, which is the very doctrine of truth, and Elisha continued the representation; and because a mantle signified Divine truth in general, which is the Word in ultimates, therefore, the mantle of Elijah passed to Elisha; and by Elijah's mantle also the waters of Jordan were divided, according, to these statements in the books of the Kings:
When Elijah found Elisha "he cast his mantle upon him" (1 Kings xix. 19).
"Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters" of Jordan, "which were divided hither and thither, and they two went over on dry ground."
Elisha seeing "when Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven," took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; and he took the mantle and smote the waters, which parted hither and thither; and he went over" (2 Kings ii. 8, 11-14).
That Elijah cast his mantle upon Elisha, signified that he transferred to Elisha the representation of the Lord as to the Word; and the mantle falling from Elijah, when he was taken away, and being taken up by Elisha, signified that that representation was transferred to Elisha, for Elijah and Elisha represented the Lord as to the Word, and were clothed according to what they represented; the mantle signifying the Word in ultimates, which is Divine truth in general, or Divine truth in its whole extent. The waters of Jordan being divided by Elijah's mantle, first by Elijah and afterwards by Elisha, signified the power of Divine truth in ultimates. The waters of Jordan also signified the first truths which introduce into the church, and these first [truths] are those in the ultimates of the Word. Hence also it is evident that a mantle and robe signify Divine Truth in general. (That Elijah represented the Lord as to the Word, and similarly Elisha, may be seen, n. 2762, 5247. That the ultimate contains the interior things, and thence signifies all things in general, n. 634, 6239, 6465, 9215, 9216, 9828; that hence strength and power are in ultimates, n. 9836; that Jordan signifies entrance into the church, and that hence the waters of Jordan signify the first truths by which there is entrance, n. 1585, 4255; and that waters denote truths, see above, n. 71.) The first truths are also ultimate truths, such as are those in the sense of the letter of the Word; for by these entrance is effected, for they are first learnt, and in them are all the interior things that constitute the internal sense of the Word.
 He who does not know what a robe or mantle signifies, does not know what a cloak signifies; for a cloak, the same as a mantle, was a general garment, because it encompassed the waistcoat, or inner garment, whence it has also the same signification; consequently, neither does he know what was signified by Saul's rending the skirt of Samuel's cloak; by David's cutting off the skirt of Saul's cloak; by Jonathan's giving David his cloak and garments; and by the daughters of a king, being arrayed in cloaks of divers colours, and many other cases in which cloaks are mentioned in the Word. Concerning Saul's rending the skirt of Samuel's cloak, we read thus:
"Samuel turned about to go away, but he laid hold upon the skirt of his cloak, and it rent. And Samuel said, Jehovah hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to thy companion, who is better than thou" (1 Sam. xv. 27, 28).
From the words of Samuel it is evident that the rending of the skirt of the cloak signified the rending of the kingdom from Saul, for he said, after it was done, "Jehovah hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day." For by a king and his kingdom is signified the Divine truth of the church; and by the skirt of his cloak is signified Divine truth in ultimates, or all [Divine truth] in general; for the kings over the sons of Israel represented the Lord as to Divine truth, and their kingdom signified the church as to this; therefore by that historical circumstance is signified that king Saul was become such that he could no longer represent the Lord, and that otherwise the representative of the church would perish. (That kings represented the Lord as to Divine truth, and that a kingdom thence signified the church as to that, may be seen above, n. 29, 31.)
 The same is signified by David's cutting off the skirt of Saul's cloak, concerning which we read thus:
David entered into the cave where Saul was, and cut off the skirt of Saul's cloak, and when thereafter he showed it to Saul, Saul said, "Now I know that thou shalt reign, and the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thy hand" (1 Sam. xxiv. 4, 6, 12, 21).
This was done by David of the Divine Providence, that the same thing might be represented as above, for by the skirt of the cloak, and by king Saul and his kingdom, similar things are signified.
 The same is also signified by Jonathan, the son of Saul, stripping himself of his cloak and his garments, and giving them to David, concerning which we read thus:
"Jonathan stripped himself of the cloak that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, and even to his sword and to his bow and to his girdle" (1 Sam. xviii. 4).
By this was signified, that Jonathan, the heir of the kingdom, transferred all his right to David; for all the things that Jonathan gave to David were representative of the kingdom, that is of the Divine truth of the church, which Saul represented; for, as said above, all the kings who reigned over the sons of Israel represented the Lord as to Divine truth, and their kingdom, the church as to that [truth].
 Because cloaks and mantles signified Divine truth in general, therefore:
"Virgins, the king's daughters, were apparelled with mantles of divers colours" (2 Sam. xiii. 18).
Virgins, the king's daughters, signified the affections of truth, and thence the church, as is evident from a thousand passages in the Word where a king's daughter, the daughter of Zion, and the daughter of Jerusalem, and also the virgin Zion, and the virgin Jerusalem, are mentioned; therefore the king's daughters also represented the truths of that affection by garments, and in general by mantles, which thence were variegated with divers colours. So also truths from good, or truths from affection, are represented by the garments of virgins in heaven; which truths are more fully described by the garments of the king's daughters, in David (Ps. xlv. 8, 9, 13, 14).
 Because mourning in the ancient churches signified spiritual mourning, which is on account of the deprivation of truth, therefore, this was then represented in mourning, by their rending their mantles or cloaks, as is clear in Job:
When Job had lost everything, "then he arose, rent his mantle, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return" (i. 20, 21).
And in another place:
Job's three friends, when they saw him, wept "and rent their cloaks" (ii. 12).
(That to rend the garments was representative of mourning on account of truth being injured or destroyed, may be seen, n. 4763.)
And again, in Ezekiel:
"All the princes of the sea shall come down from their thrones, and shall cast away their cloaks, and put off their embroidered garments; they shall be clothed with terrors; they shall sit upon the ground" (xxvi. 16).
These things are said of Tyre, by which is signified the church as to the knowledges (cognitions) of truth and good; in this passage the church where these are destroyed. That they have no longer any truths by which the church is formed, is signified by, all the princes of the sea shall come down from their thrones, the princes of the sea denoting primary scientific truths, to come down from the thrones, signifying that they were destroyed, and, consequently, that there is no intelligence. The same is signified by their casting away their cloaks, and putting off their embroidered garments, robes denoting truths in general, and embroidered garments the knowledges (cognitions) of truth. Condemnation thence is signified by, "they shall be clothed with terrors; they shall sit upon the ground."
 In Micah:
"My people have accounted every one as an enemy to them for the sake of a garment, ye draw off the mantle from them that pass securely, that are returning from the war" (ii. 8).
By these words is not signified that the sons of Israel have accounted any for an enemy for the sake of a garment, and that they drew off the mantle of those that passed by securely; but that they held as enemies those who spoke truths, and deprived of all truth those who lived well, and shook off falsities; garment denoting truth; robe denoting all truth, because denoting truth in general. To pass by securely, denotes to live well; men returning from war, denote those who have shaken off falsities, war denoting the combat of truth against falsity. Who cannot see that such is the spiritual meaning of the Word; and that the people of Israel did not account any one as an enemy for a garment, or draw off the mantle from those who passed by?
(References: Micah 2:8)
 In Matthew:
The scribes and Pharisees "do all their works that they may be seen of men; they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments" (xxiii. 5).
These things the scribes and Pharisees did, but still, thereby was represented and signified that they spoke many things from the ultimates of the Word, and applied them to life, and to their traditions, in order that they might appear holy and learned. By their phylacteries, which they make broad, are signified goods in the outward form, for the phylacteries were worn upon the hands, and by the hands are signified actions, because the hands are employed to act. By the borders of their garments which they enlarge, are signified external truths, external truths are those in the ultimate sense of the letter; mantles denoting truths in general, and borders their ultimates. (That the borders of the mantles signify such truths, may be seen in the Arcana Coelestia, n. 9917.)
 In Isaiah:
"I will greatly rejoice in Jehovah, my soul shall exult in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation; he hath covered me with a cloak of justice" (lxi. 10).
To rejoice in Jehovah, signifies to rejoice in Divine good; to exult in God, signifies, in the Divine truth; for the Lord is called Jehovah from Divine good, and God from Divine truth; and all spiritual joy is from them. To clothe with the garments of salvation, signifies to instruct and gift with truths; and to cover with a cloak of Justice, signifies to fill with every truth from good, a cloak denoting all truth because it denotes truth in general, justice being said of good.
(References: Isaiah 61:10)
 In the same:
"He put on the garments of vengeance, and clothed himself with zeal as a cloak" (lix. 17).
These things are said of the Lord, and of His combat with the hells; for when He was in the world He reduced all things in the hells and in the heavens to order, and this by Divine truth from the Divine love. The garments of vengeance signify the truths by which [He fought]; zeal, as a cloak, signifies the Divine love from which [He fought]; a cloak is mentioned, because it is signified by Divine truths from the Divine love. (But what the cloak of the ephod signifies, with which Aaron was wrapped around, and upon the borders of which were pomegranates and bells, of which [mention is made] in Exod. xxvii. 31-35; Lev. viii. 7, may be seen in the Arcana Coelestia, n. 9910-9928.)