The Bible

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

Study the Inner Meaning

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

Commentary on this chapter:

Stories:

Explanation(s) or references from Swedenborg's works:

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 ...

Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works


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 #4314

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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4314. In the internal historical sense 'he was limping on his thigh' means that with those descendants goods and truths had been destroyed completely. This is clear from the representation of Jacob, to whom 'he' refers here, as his descendants, dealt with in Arcana Coelestia 4281, and from the meaning of 'limping on the thigh' as those who are without any good or consequently any truth, dealt with in Arcana Coelestia 4302. Here therefore 'he was limping on his thigh' means that with those descendants goods and truths had been destroyed completely.

[2] The nature of that nation is made very plain by many things which the Lord Himself spoke in parables and which in the internal historical sense were said of that nation, as in the following,

In the parable about a certain king who was settling the account with the servant who showed no mercy towards another. Matthew 18:23-end.

In the parable about the householder who let his vineyard out to vine-dressers and went abroad; and the vine-dressers seized the servants he sent, beating one with rods, killing another, and stoning another. At length he sent his son whom they cast out of the vineyard and killed. When the scribes and Pharisees heard this parable they realized that He was speaking about themselves. Matthew 21:33-45; Mark 12:1-9; Luke 20:9 and following verses.

In the parable about the man who gave talents to his servants and how the servant who received one talent went and hid it in the ground. Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27.

In the parable about those who came upon the man who had been wounded by the robbers. Luke 10:30-37.

In the parable about those who were invited to the great supper and all of whom made excuses, and of whom the master said, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my supper. Luke 14:16-24.

In the parable about the rich man and Lazarus. Luke 16:19-end.

In the parable about those who despised others compared with themselves.

Luke 18:10-14

In the parable about the two sons, one of whom said, I will go off into the vineyard, but did not go, and in which Jesus said, Truly I say to you, Tax collectors and prostitutes will go into the kingdom of heaven before you.

Matthew 21:28-32.

(References: Luke 16:19-31, 19:13-26, 19:13-16, 20:9-16, 20:9-19; Matthew 18:23-35)


[3] The Lord states plainly what that nation was like in Matthew 23:13 onwards, towards the end of which passage He says,

You witness against yourselves that you are the sons of those who slew the prophets; and you are filling up the measure of your fathers. Matthew 23:31-33.

In Mark,

Jesus said to them, Rightly did Isaiah prophesy concerning you, This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is very far away from Me. In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men, forsaking the commandment of God. Mark 7:6-13.

In John,

The Jews answered Jesus that they were the seed of Abraham. But Jesus said to them, You are from your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and did not take a stand on the truth because the truth is not in him. When he speaks a lie he speaks from the things that are his own, for he is the teller of a lie and the father of it. John 8:33, 44.

Because their nature was such they are also called 'a wicked and adulterous generation', Matthew 12:39, as well as 'a brood of vipers', Matthew 3:7; 23:33; Luke 3:7; and in Matthew,

O brood of vipers, how can you speak good things when you are evil? Matthew 12:34.

(References: Matthew 23:13-39, 23:13-33)


[4] The fact that with that nation not even any natural good was left is meant by the fig tree referred to in Matthew,

Jesus seeing a fig tree by the wayside went to it but found nothing on it but leaves only, therefore He said to it, Let no fruit from now on ever be born from you! Therefore the fig tree withered at once. Matthew 21:19.

'A fig tree' means natural good, see 217. From all these places it may be seen that with that nation goods and truths had been destroyed completely.

[5] Goods and truths are said to have been destroyed when none exist interiorly. Goods and truths which are visible externally derive their being and their life from those that are internal. The nature of internal goods and truths therefore determines that of external ones, however these present themselves to human eyes. There are some people whom I knew during their lifetime and who during that period were to outward appearance zealous for the Lord, for the Church, for their country and the common good, and for what was right and fair; and yet in the next life these same people are among those in hell. Indeed I have been astonished to find them among the most evil ones there. The reason why they were there was that interiorly they had been filthy and profane, and that they had pretended to be zealous for the sake of reputation, so as to gain important positions and also to acquire wealth. Thus they had been zealous for selfish reasons and not for the things which they professed with their lips. Consequently when those external things are laid aside, as happens when people die, internals are laid bare and one sees what those people have been like inwardly; for during their lifetime they had concealed their internals from the eyes of the world. These are the considerations that are meant by the statement that goods and truths have been destroyed completely.

(References: Genesis 32:32; Matthew 21:28-45)

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