The Bible

Matthew 3:1-12 : John the Baptist (Matthew)

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1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

4 And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,

6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

   Study the Inner Meaning
From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 794, 1017, 1861, 2371, 2708, 3301, 3540, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 315, 350, 378, 400, 553, 749, 839, ...

Doctrine of the Lord 15, 30, 51

Doctrine of Life 93, 104

Heaven and Hell 570

True Christian Religion 113, 144, 468, 483, 668, 677, 684, ...


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 109, 183, 374, 376, 395, 475, 504, ...

Marriage 113

Scriptural Confirmations 2, 4, 6, 13, 33, 67

Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Leviticus 11:22

1 Samuel 14:25

2 Kings 1:8

Isaiah 40:3, 56:1, 57:14, 59:5

Jeremiah 7:4

Daniel 2:44

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Commentary

The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

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.

From Swedenborg's Works

Arcana Coelestia #3301

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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3301. 'A hairy garment' means the truth of the natural. This is clear from the meaning of 'a tunic' as something that clothes another thing - that something being in this case truth because this serves to clothe good (for truth is like a garment, 1073, 2576, or what amounts almost to the same, truth is the recipient vessel for good, 1469, 1496, 1832, 1900, 2063, 2261, 2269); and also from the meaning of 'hairy' as the natural as regards truth. Hair, or the hair on the head, is mentioned several times in the Word, and in those places means that which is natural, the reason being that hairs are outgrowths on the most exterior parts of a person, as also is the natural in relation to its rational and to the interior parts of the rational. During his lifetime it seems to everyone as though the natural within him is all there is to him, but this is so far from being true, that the natural is rather an outgrowth from the internal parts of him, like hairs from the parts of the body. They also stem from internal parts in almost the same way. This also is why people who have been wholly natural during their lifetime are seen in the next life to have faces covered almost entirely with hair when a visual presentation is made of that state. What is more, man's natural is represented by 'the hair'. When it is an outgrowth from good it is represented by attractive and neatly arranged hair, but when it is not the outgrowth from good by unattractive and dishevelled hair.

[2] It is from this representation that in the Word 'hair', or 'the hair on the head' is used to mean the natural, especially as regards truth, as in Zechariah,

It will happen on that day, that the prophets will be ashamed, [every] man on account of his vision when he has prophesied. And he will not put on a hairy garment in order to deceive. Zechariah 13:4.

'The prophets' stands for people who teach truths, here for those who teach falsities, 2534. 'Vision' stands for truths, here for falsities, 'hairy garment' for the natural as regards truth. But because it was not truth but falsity the phrase 'in order to deceive' is used. Such clothing was worn by the prophets so that truth, being external, might be represented by them. This also was why, dressed in a similar way, Elijah the Tishbite is called a hairy man, 2 Kings 1:8, and why John, the last of the prophets, had a garment of camel hair, Matthew 3:4 - 'camels' being facts in the natural man, see 3048, 3071, 3143, 3145, and facts being the truths of the natural man, 3293.

[3] That 'the hair' meant the natural as regards truth is quite clear from the Nazirites who were commanded not to shave their heads with a razor all the days of their Nazirite vow, not until their days of abstinence to Jehovah had been completed. Then they were to let down the hair on their heads and at the door of the Tent of Meeting were to shave the head of their Naziriteship and put the hair on to the fire which was beneath the eucharistic sacrifice, Numbers 6:5, 18-19. They represented the Lord's Divine Human, and from this the person belonging to the celestial Church, who was a likeness of the Lord, 51 - representing that person's natural man by 'the hair'. When they were being sanctified therefore they were to lay aside their old or previous natural man into which they had been born and were to assume the new. This was meant by the requirement, when the days of abstinence to Jehovah had been completed, to let down the hair on their heads and to put it on to the fire beneath the sacrifice. For the state of the celestial man is a state in which good is present in him and from that good he has a knowledge of all truths. He never thinks and talks from truths about good, still less from facts about good, see 202, 337, 2715, 2718, 3246. Furthermore those who are celestial are of such a nature that before they lay aside that state into which they were born their natural has become so powerfully equipped with truth that they are capable of fighting with the hells; for it is truth, never good, that goes into battle. The hells cannot make even the remotest approach towards good. That truth is of such a nature, and good of such a nature, see 1950, 1951.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1950-1951; Numbers 6:18)


[4] From this it is evident how it was that Samson had strength from his hair, referred to as follows,

The angel of Jehovah appeared to Samson's mother, saying, Behold, you will conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come up over his head; the boy shall be a Nazirite of God from the womb. Judges 13:3, 5.

Later on he revealed to Delilah that if he were shaved his strength would leave him and he would be rendered powerless. And immediately he had been shaved, his strength did leave him and the Philistines seized him. And when subsequently the hair on his head started to grow again, where he had been shaved, his strength returned to him, enabling him to dislodge the pillars of the house, Judges 16:1-end. Who does not see that this description holds a heavenly arcanum within it, and that nobody knows what that arcanum is unless he has been taught regarding representatives, that is to say, that a Nazirite portrayed the celestial man, and as long as he had his hair he portrayed the natural part of that man, with whom, as has been stated, such strong and powerful truth was present? And Samson had such strength because at that period of time all representatives which the Lord had commanded had such force and effect. But he was not a consecrated Nazirite like those mentioned above, that is to say, someone who had put on a state of good instead of truth. The chief reason why the ultimate existence of his strength lay in his hair was so that he might represent the Lord who from the natural man as regards truth was to fight the hells and overcome them. This He did before putting on Divine Good and Truth even as regards the natural man.

(References: Judges 16)


[5] From this it is also evident why the high priest, on whose head the anointing oil had been poured and who had been consecrated 1 to wear the garments, was commanded not to shave his head or to rend his garments, Leviticus 21:10. And in a similar way where the new Temple is referred to the Levitical priests were commanded not to shave their head or to let their hair grow long, Ezekiel 44:20; that is to say, they represented the Lord's Divine Natural as regards truth that is derived from good and is called truth grounded in good. That 'hair' or the hair on the head means the natural as regards truth is clear also from the prophetical parts of the Word, as in Ezekiel,

I gave you to be like the seed of the field, from which you grew up and became tall to full beauty; your breasts were formed and your hair had grown. Ezekiel 16:7.

This refers to Jerusalem, which is the Ancient Church here and which in process of time became perverted. 'Breasts were formed' stands for natural good, 'hair which has grown' for natural truth.

[6] In Daniel,

I saw, until thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days was seated. His clothing was white as snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was a flame of fire. Daniel 7:9.

And in John,

In the midst of the seven lampstands one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and surrounded by a golden girdle around the breasts. His head however and hair were white, like white wool, like snow; but His eyes were like a flame of fire. Revelation 1:13-14.

'Hair white like pure wool' stands for the Divine Natural as regards truth. In the Word, and in the religious observances of the Jewish Church, truth itself was represented by 'white', and because truth is derived from good is called 'pure wool'. The reason why truth was represented by 'white' and good by 'red' was that truth is akin to light and good to fire, the source of the light.

[7] As with everything else in the Word 'the hair' also has a contrary sense and means the natural as regards truth when perverted, as in Isaiah,

On that day the Lord will shave by means of a razor hired at the crossing-places of the River - by means of the King of Asshur - the head and the hair of the feet; and it will consume the beard also. Isaiah 7:20.

In Ezekiel,

Son of man, take for yourself a sharp sword, use it as a barber's razor which you shall run over your head and over your beard. Then you are to take balances and you are to divide it. A third you are to burn with fire in the midst of the city; a third you are to strike with the sword round about it; and a third you are to scatter to the wind. You shall take from it a small number, and bind it in your skirts. Finally you are to take from these again and cast them into the midst of the fire, and burn them with fire, and from this, fire will come forth to the whole house of Israel. Ezekiel 5:1-4.

All this, by the use of representatives, describes how natural truth, interior and exterior, meant by 'the hair' and 'the beard', ceased to exist any longer. Its destruction by lusts is meant by its being burned with fire, by reasonings by its being struck with the sword round about the city, by false assumptions by its being scattered to the wind. These statements are similar in content to what the Lord teaches in Matthew about some seed, which is the truth, falling among thorns, some on stony ground, and some along the path, Matthew 13:1-9.

[8] That 'the heir' means the unclean truths and the falsities belonging to the natural man was also represented by the requirement that when a woman from among enemies who had been taken captive was to be married to [an Israelite], she was to be brought to his home, the hair on her head was to be shaved off, her nails were to be pared, and the garments of her captivity were to be removed, Deuteronomy 21:12-13. Also when Levites were consecrated, the water of expiation was to be sprinkled over them, they were to pass a razor over their entire flesh, and to wash their clothes, and so be pure, Numbers 8:7. Also, Nebuchadnezzar was driven from among men so that he ate grass like oxen, and his body was wet from the dew of heaven, till his hair grew to be like eagles' feathers and his nails like birds' claws, Daniel 4:33. In the case of leprosy they were required to note the colours of hair and beard, whether these were white, reddening, yellow, or black. They were to look for the same in garments. And the person who was cleansed from leprosy was required to shave all the hair on his head, his beard, and his eyebrows, Leviticus 13:1-59; 14:8-9. The latter meant the unclean falsities that result from unholiness, which is leprosy in the internal sense.

[9] 'Baldness' however meant the natural when no truth at all is present in it, as in Isaiah,

He is going up to Bayith, and to Dibon, the high places, to weep over Nebo; and Moab will howl over Medeba. On all their heads is baldness; every beard is shaved off. Isaiah 15:2.

In the same prophet, Instead of well-set hair there will be baldness, branding instead of beauty. Isaiah 3:24

The children who said to Elisha, Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead! and who were torn apart by the bears out of the forest, 2 Kings 2:23-24, represent people who blaspheme the Word as though it had no truth within it; for Elisha represented the Lord as regards the Word, 2762. From this it is also evident how prevalent representatives were at that period of time.

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Footnotes:

1. literally, whose hand had been filled

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(References: Genesis 25:25; Judges 16)

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From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 3526, 3527, 3652, 3812, 4007, 4677, 4779, 5113, 5144, 5247, 5319, 5433, 5569, 5954, 6380, 6432, 6437, 6524, 7643, 7918, 8521, 9166, 9372, 9407, 9814, 9828, 9836, 9873, 9960

The White Horse 1


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 66, 67, 146, 196, 401

Other New Christian Commentary

Hair 1

Breast 1

Hairy garment 1

Leprosy 1

Nazarites 1

Samson 1

Vision 1

Judges Series, Part 3: Samson 1


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