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.
839. I looked out into the world of spirits and saw an army on fiery red and black horses. The riders looked like apes with their faces and chests facing backward toward the horses' haunches and tails, and the rear of their heads and their backs facing forward toward the horses' necks and heads; and the reins hung from the riders' necks. They kept crying, moreover, "Let us fight against riders on white horses!" But they kept pulling on the reins with both hands, so that they drew the horses back from battle. And this again and again.
Two angels then descended from heaven, and approaching me they said, "What do you see?"
So I told them that I was seeing the ludicrous display of the horsemen described, and I asked the angels what was going on and who the riders were.
 To that the angels replied, "They come from the place called in Revelation 16:16 Armageddon, where several thousand of them gathered to fight against people who belong to the Lord's New Church, which is called the New Jerusalem. They talked in that place about the church and religion, and yet they had nothing of the church among them, because they lacked any spiritual truth, neither did they have any element of religion, because they lacked any spiritual goodness. They spoke there with the mouth and lips about the church and religion, but only to gain mastery by means of them.
"They learned in their youth to affirm faith alone, a trinity in God, and a duality in Christ. But when they advanced to higher offices in the church, they retained what they had learned only for a time. Then, because they began to think no more about God and heaven, but about themselves and the world, thus not about eternal bliss and happiness, but about temporal status and wealth, they expelled the doctrines they had learned in their youth from their rational mind's interiors which communicate with heaven and so are in the light of heaven, and retained them only in their rational mind's exteriors which communicate with the world and so are only in the light of the world. And eventually they pushed them aside into the sensual level of their natural mind.
"As a consequence the church's doctrines with them have become ones of the mouth only, and no longer matters of thought in accord with reason, still less matters of their love's affection.
"Moreover, because they have made themselves such, they do not accept any of the church's genuine truths, nor any of religion's genuine goods. The interiors of their minds have become comparatively like jars filled with iron filings mixed with powdered sulfur, a mixture which becomes first hot if water is introduced into it, and then bursts into flame, breaking the jar. So it is with these people. When they hear something regarding living water, namely, the Word's genuine truth, and it enters their ears, they become exceedingly heated and inflamed, and reject it as something that will cause their heads to burst.
 "These are the people who looked to you like apes riding backward on fiery red and black horses with the reins around their necks, since people who do not like the church's truth and goodness from the Word also do not wish to look at a horse's foreparts, but at its hindparts. For a horse symbolizes an understanding of the Word - a fiery red horse an understanding of the Word extinguished as to goodness, and a black horse an understanding of the Word extinguished as to truth.
"They cried out for battle against riders on white horses because a white horse symbolizes an understanding of the Word as to its truth and goodness. They appeared to draw back their horses with their necks because they were afraid to fight, lest the Word's truth spread to many and so come to light.
"This is the explanation."
 The angels went on to say, "We come from a society in heaven called Michael, and have been commanded by the Lord to go down to the place called Armageddon, from which the company of horsemen you saw broke out.
"Armageddon to us in heaven symbolizes a state and disposition to fight on behalf of falsified truths, arising from a love of mastery and great status. And because we perceive in you a desire to know about the combat there, we will tell you something about it.
"After we descended from heaven, we went to the place called Armageddon and saw some several thousand people gathered there. However, we did not join their company, but there were two buildings on the place's southern side in which there were some boys with their teachers. We entered the buildings, and the boys and teachers received us kindly. We were delighted with their company. All were fair of face because of the life in their eyes and the zeal in their speech. The life in their eyes was due to their perception of truth, and the zeal in their speech to their affection for truth. Therefore they were also given caps from heaven, and they decorated the edges of them with gold braid interwoven with pearls. They were given garments, too, with varying patterns of white and blue.
"We asked them whether they had looked over at the place nearby called Armageddon. They said that they had seen it through a window up under the building's roof. They saw a gathering there, they said, but one of figures under various forms that appeared now and then as dignified men, and now and then as not human, but as statues and carved idols, surrounded by a crowd of people on bended knee. These people also appeared to us under various forms, sometimes as human, sometimes as leopards and sometimes as goats. As goats they appeared with their horns pointed downward, using them to dig up the ground.
"We interpreted these changes in appearance for them, saying what they represented and what they symbolized.
 "But in response to your question, when the people who were gathered there heard that we had gone into those buildings, they said to each other, 'What do they have to do with those boys? Let's send some of our company to throw them out.'
"So they sent some of them, and when they arrived they said to us, 'Why did you go into those buildings? Where are you from? By the authority invested in us we order you to go!'
"But we replied, 'You have no power or authority to tell us to go. In your own eyes, indeed, you are like Anakim, 1 and the people here like dwarfs, but still you have no power or right here, beyond that perhaps of the cunning arts emanating from the three lodging places you have here, arts which nevertheless will be of no avail. Report to your companions, therefore, that we have been sent here from heaven to find out whether you have among you any religion or not, and if not, you will be expelled from this place.
"'Put to your companions, then, this question, in which lies the most essential element of the church and so of religion: How do they understand these words in the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father, who are in heaven. Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, as in heaven, so upon the earth."'
"On hearing this, the people first said, 'What do you mean?' But then that they would put the question.
"So they went away and put it to their companions. And their companions replied, 'What kind of question is this?'
"However, they understood the hidden purpose, that the angels wanted to know whether the words support the path of their faith to God the Father. So they said, 'The words clearly say that we are to pray to God the Father, and because Christ is our Savior, that we are to pray to God the Father for the sake of the Son.'
"And presently, with some irritation, they decided they would come to us and tell us this with their own mouths, saying as well that they would tweak our ears.
"So they came from that place, and entered a grove near the two buildings where the boys were with their teachers. There was a raised level area there, a kind of arena. And holding each other by the hand, they entered that arena, where we were waiting for them.
"There were mounds of turf there, forming hillocks. They seated themselves on them, for they said to each other, 'Let us not stand in their presence, but sit.'
"And then one of them, who had the ability to disguise himself as an angel of light, 2 and who was told by the rest to speak with us, said, 'You have put to us that we disclose our thinking regarding the first words in the Lord's Prayer, as to how we interpret them. I accordingly say to you that we interpret them to mean that we are to pray to God the Father, and because Christ is our Savior and we are saved by His merit, that we are to pray to God the Father with faith in Christ's merit.'
 "But then we said to them, 'We come from a society in heaven called Michael, and we have been sent to look and see whether those of you gathered in this place have any religion or not. This we could not discover except by asking you about God. For the idea of God enters into every aspect of religion and makes possible a conjunction, and through conjunction salvation. In heaven we recite the Prayer daily, as people do on earth, and we think then not of God the Father, because He is invisible, but of God in His Divine humanity, because in this He can be seen. Moreover, you call Him in that humanity Christ, but we call Him the Lord, and thus for us the Lord is our Father in heaven.
"'The Lord also taught us that He and the Father are one; 3 that the Father is in Him, and He in the Father; 4 that whoever sees Him, sees the Father; 5 and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. 6 Moreover, He also said that it is the will of the Father that people believe in the Son, 7 and that whoever does not believe in the Son does not see life, 8 indeed that the wrath of God abides on him. 9 It is apparent from this that one goes to the Father through the Son and in Him. And because this is the case, He also taught that He had been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 10
"'It says in the Prayer, "Hallowed be Your name," and "Your kingdom come." And we showed from the Word that the Lord's Divine humanity is the name of the Father, and that the Father's kingdom exists when people go directly to the Lord, and not at all when they go directly to God the Father. Therefore the Lord also told His disciples to preach the kingdom of God. 11 This, then, is the kingdom of God.
(References: Luke 11:2)
 "We further instructed them from the Word," the angels said, "that the Lord came into the world to glorify His humanity, in order that angels in heaven and people in the church might by united to God the Father through Him and in Him. For He taught that people who believe in Him are in Him and He in them, meaning that, as the church teaches, they are in the body of Christ.
"Finally we informed them that the Lord is at this day establishing a new church, one meant by the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation, that the worship in it will be worship of the Lord alone, as is the case in heaven, and that everything contained in the Lord's Prayer from beginning to end will be thus fulfilled.
"Everything we have just said we confirmed from the Word in the Gospels and from the Word in the Prophets, so extensively that they tired of listening.
 "First, we confirmed that 'our Father in heaven' is the Lord Jesus Christ from the following passages:
...unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given... And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, ...God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
...You (Jehovah) are our Father...; our Redeemer from everlasting is Your name. (Isaiah 63:16)
(Jesus said,) "He who sees Me sees Him who sent Me." (John 12:45)
If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him. (John 14:7)
Philip said..., "Lord, show us the Father...." Jesus said to him, ."..He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how then can you say, 'Show us the Father'..." (John 14:8-9)
I and the Father are one. (John 10:30)
All things that the Father has are Mine. (John 16:15, cf. 17:10)
...the Father is in Me, and I in (the Father). (John 10:38, cf. 14:10-11, 14:20)
"And that no one has seen the Father but the Son alone, who is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18, cf. 5:37; 6:46).
"Consequently the Lord also says that no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6), and that one comes to the Father through Him, from Him, and in Him (John 6:56; 14:20; 15:4-6; 17:19, 23)."
(But for more on the unity of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - see the account in no. Arcana Coelestia 962.)
 "Second, that 'hallowed be Your name' means to go to the Lord and worship Him - this we confirmed from the following:
Who does not... glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. (Revelation 15:4)
"This in reference to the Lord.
(Jesus said,) "Father, glorify Your name." And a voice came from heaven, "I have both glorified it and will glorify it." (John 12:28)
"The Father's name that was glorified is His Divine humanity.
(Jesus said,) "I come in My Father's name...." (John 5:43)
(Jesus said,) "Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me." (Luke 9:48)
These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:31)
As many as received Him, to them He gave the power to be children of God, to those who believe in His name. (John 1:12)
Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13-14)
...he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:15-16, 18)
...where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:19-20)
"Jesus also told His disciples to preach in His name (Luke 24:47). And so on elsewhere, in places that mention the Lord's name, meaning Himself in respect to His humanity, as in Matthew 7:22; 10:22; 18:5; 19:29; 24:9; Mark 11:10; 13:13; 16:17; Luke 10:17; 19:38; 21:12, 17; John 2:23.
"It is apparent from this that the Father is hallowed in the Son, and by angels and people through the Son, and that this is the meaning of 'hallowed by Your name,' as is further evident in John 17:19, 21-23, 26.
(References: Matthew 24:9-10)
 "Third, that 'Your kingdom come' means let the Lord reign - this we confirmed by the following:
The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God is preached... (Luke 16:16)
Jesus..., preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, (said,) "The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand...." (Mark 1:14-15, cf. Matthew 3:2)
"Jesus Himself preached the gospel of the kingdom, and said that the kingdom of God was at hand (Matthew 4:17, 23; 9:35). He commanded the disciples to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God (Mark 16:15, Luke 8:1; 9:60). He spoke similarly to the seventy He sent out (Luke 10:9, 11). And so on elsewhere, as in Matthew 11:5; 16:27-28.
"The kingdom of God whose gospel they were to proclaim was the Lord's kingdom, and thus the Father's kingdom. The reality of this is apparent from the following:
The Father... has given all things into (the Son's) hand. (John 3:35)
(The Father gave the Son) authority over all flesh... (John 17:2)
All things have been delivered to Me by My Father. (Matthew 11:27)
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18)
And further from the following:
...Jehovah of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth He is called. (Isaiah 54:5)
I watched..., and behold, One like the Son of Man..., and to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, and all peoples (and) nations... will worship Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not perish. (Daniel 7:13-14)
(When) the seventh angel sounded..., there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Revelation 11:15, cf. 12:10)
(This kingdom of the Lord is the subject of the book of Revelation from beginning to end, and all those who will belong to the Lord's New Church, namely, the New Jerusalem, will come into it.)
 "Fourth, 'Your will be done, as in heaven, so upon the earth' - this we confirmed by the following:
(Jesus said,) "This is the will of My Father..., that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life. (John 6:40)
...God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:15-16)
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)
"And so on elsewhere. To believe in the Son is to turn to Him and have confidence that He saves, because He is the Savior of the world.
"Furthermore, it is known in the church that the Lord Jesus Christ reigns in heaven. He Himself also says that His kingdom exists there. Accordingly, when the Lord reigns likewise in the church, then the will of His Father is done, as in heaven, so upon the earth.
 "To this we will finally add the following," the angels said. "It is said throughout the whole Christian world that people who belong to the church constitute the body of Christ and are in His body. How then can a person in the church go to God the Father except through Him in whose body he is. Otherwise he must have to leave the body and go.
 "When the people from Armageddon heard these and many other things from the Word, they tried now and then to interrupt us and to cite the kinds of things the Lord addressed to His Father in a state of exinanition. 12
But their tongues then stuck to roofs of their mouths, since they were not permitted to contradict the Word.
"Eventually, however, the reins on their tongues were loosened and they cried out, 'You have spoken against the doctrine of our church, namely that we should turn to God the Father directly and believe in Him. Thus you have made yourselves guilty of violating our faith. Leave this place, therefore, and if you don't, we will throw you out.'
"Then, their passions fired up, they proceeded from threats to the attempt. But by a power then given us we struck them blind, so that not seeing us, they broke out into a level stretch of land, which was a desert. And of those that the boys saw from the window, some became as statues and idols, before whom the rest knelt, and they are the ones who appeared to you as apes on horses."
1. A legendary race of giants mentioned in the Old Testament. Goliath may have been one of their descendants.
2. Cf.2 Corinthians 11:14.
3. John 10:30; 17:11, 21.
4. John 10:38; 14:20; 17:21.
5. John 14:9.
6. John 14:6.
7. John 3:16, 18.
8. John 3:16, 18; 6:40.
9. John 3:36.
10. Matthew 28:18.
11. Luke 9:2, 60.
12. A term employed in 17th, 18th, and 19th century theology to mean the action or process of emptying out the self, used especially of the Christ, with reference toPhilippians 2:7, 8