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

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Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works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 #7643

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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7643. 'Behold, I am bringing locusts into your border' means that falsity will take possession of their outermost parts. This is clear from the meaning of 'locusts' as falsity in outermost parts, dealt with below; from the meaning of 'border' as outermost parts; and from the meaning of 'bringing', since it is used in connection with falsity, as taking possession of. It says that Jehovah will bring the locusts, but by this their being brought - brought by evil - is meant. This is similar to the attribution made to Jehovah, that is, to the Lord, where it says that 'He made Pharaoh's heart stubborn'; in actual fact it is made such by man, by the evil within him, see above in Arcana Coelestia 7632. Evil does not originate in the Lord but springs from man because man diverts towards himself the good that flows in from the Lord, and instead of regarding, in every single thing, the Lord and what is the Lord's regards himself. This self-regard gives rise to a craving to have dominion over all people and to possess all that others have; it gives rise to contempt for others, and hateful, vengeful, and cruel behaviour towards those who are not disposed to apply themselves to his interests; and also it gives rise to contempt for all things connected with faith and charity, for when these flow in from the Lord he focuses them onto himself and so away from the Lord.

[2] From all this one may see that man turns into evil the actual good that flows in from the Lord. It also goes to explain why in the next life the evil distance themselves from heaven as far away as they can get; for when heaven draws nearer to them, that is, when the inflow of goodness and truth becomes more forceful, they plunge with greater force into the opposite, that is, into evil and into falsity. Then to the extent that the evil and falsity increase, they drive truth out from themselves and bring about vastation within themselves. And to the same extent they also plunge into the evils brought by punishment; for in the next life evils and punishments are interconnected.

[3] The Lord is continually rearranging the heavens, and constantly adding new inhabitants of heaven whom He provides with dwellings and inheritances. When He does this heaven draws nearer, that is, flows in with greater force, as a consequence of which hellish spirits plunge with greater force into evils and falsities, and into the punishments that go with them; and since they plunge into evils and falsities, they bring about vastation within themselves, as has been stated. This process does not stop until they have brought about complete vastation and cast themselves deeply into the hells. From this it may be recognized that nothing but good emanates from the Lord, and that evil springs from those people themselves who are ruled by evil. From all this one may now see how to understand the statement that Jehovah, that is, the Lord, made Pharaoh's heart stubborn, and the statement here that He will bring locusts, by which falsity arising from evil in outermost parts is meant.

[4] In the Word, in those places in which the laying waste of evils is referred to, the locust and the bruchus 1 are mentioned several times; and in those places 'locust' is used to mean in the internal sense falsity that lays waste the outermost parts. For as has been shown before, the human natural is interior and exterior. The falsity that is present in the outermost parts of the natural is meant by 'locust', and the evil there by 'bruchus'. Because 'locust' is used to mean falsity present in the outermost parts of the natural it says that the locusts will be brought 'into the border, and they will cover the surface of the land', and later on in verses 14-15.

The locusts came up over the land of Egypt, and rested at all the border of Egypt, and covered the surface of the whole land.

'The border' and 'the surface' mean the outermost and lowest parts, on which the more internal ones rest, that is, by which they are bounded.

(References: Exodus 10:14)


[5] These things are what 'the locust' and 'the bruchus' are used to mean in David,

He sent among them swarms [of insects], which devoured them, and frogs which destroyed them; and He gave their crops to the bruchus, and their labour to the locust. Psalms 78:45-46.

And elsewhere,

He spoke so that the locust might come and the bruchus, so that it would be without number. Psalms 105:34.

These verses, which speak about Egypt, refer to 'the bruchus', but no mention is made of it in Moses, only of 'the locust'. The reason why 'the bruchus' also is referred to is that 'the bruchus' means evil and 'the locust' falsity, both of them in the outermost parts of the natural. But when 'the locust' alone is referred to it means both falsity and evil together, for 'the locust' is falsity arising from evil.

[6] In Nahum,

There the fire will devour you, the sword cut you off; it will devour you like the bruchus. Multiply yourself like the bruchus, multiply yourself like the locust; you have multiplied your merchants, more than the stars of the heavens. The bruchus has spread out, and flown away. Your monarchs are like the locust, your emperors like the locust of locusts. Nahum 3:15-17.

This refers to 'the city of blood', which means teachings that uphold falsity. And since falsity and evil are multiplied chiefly in the outermost parts of the natural (because of the presence there of the illusions of the senses arising from worldly and earthly objects, and of the sensory enjoyments resulting from various kinds of appetites), the multiplication of evil and falsity is for that reason described by 'the bruchus and locust', as it also is in Judges 6:5; 7:12; and in Jeremiah 46:23. With regard to the sensory level, which is the last and lowest of the natural, that it is utterly full of illusions and consequently of falsities, see Arcana Coelestia 5084, 5089, 5094, 6310, 6711, 6313, 6318, 6598, 6612, 6614, 6621, 6624.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 6310-6311, 6622, 6948-6949)


[7] In Joel,

What the caterpillar (eruca) left the locust has devoured, and what the locust left the beetle (melolontha) has devoured, and what the beetle left the bruchus has devoured. Awake, you drunkards, and weep; and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the new wine that has been cut off. For a nation will come up over My land, strong, and without number; and it will turn My vine into a waste, and My fig tree into froth. Joel 1:4-7.

In the same prophet,

The threshing floors are full of clear grain, and the presses overflow with new wine and oil. And I will recompense you for the years that the locust has consumed, the beetle (melolontha), the bruchus, and the caterpillar (eruca). Joel 2:24-25.

Here 'the locust' stands for falsity in the outermost parts which is laying waste truths and forms of good. In Moses,

You will carry much seed out into the field, but you will gather little, because the locust will consume it. You will plant vineyards, but you will not drink wine or gather [anything], for the worm will devour it. Deuteronomy 28:38-39.

Here 'the locust' stands for falsity arising from evil.

[8] In John,

Out of the smoke of the abyss that had been opened came locusts onto the earth, which were given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth, or any tree, but men (homo) only who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them, but to torment them for five months. The shapes of the locusts were like horses prepared for war, and on their heads there were so to speak crowns like gold, their faces being like the faces of men (homo). They had hair like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running to war. Finally, they had tails like scorpions, and the stings were in their tails, so that they could do harm to men (homo) for five months. They have a king over them, the angel of the abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon; but in Greek he has the name Apollyon. Revelation 9:3-11.

No one can see what all these things mean except from the internal sense. From each detail there viewed in accordance with the internal sense it is clear that 'locusts' means reasonings that are based on illusions and consequent falsities, and supported also by philosophical arguments. Thus in addition 'locusts' means the falsities which, being present in the outermost parts of the human mind and having a more earthly and bodily nature than all other falsities, can easily deceive and mislead people. For a person can embrace with ease ideas that agree with the senses, but with difficulty those that contradict them.

[9] To enable people to know that such things are meant by 'locusts', let the details of this passage be explained one by one. 'The abyss' out of which the locusts came is hell. 'The grass of the earth' which they were not to harm is factual knowledge, 'tree' recognition of what is good and true, and 'men' affections for what is good. Their being told to harm only men, not the grass of the earth or any tree, means that truth and good may come to be understood even when there is no living in accordance with them. 'Those who have the seal on their foreheads' are those who have been regenerated. Their being told to torment for five months those who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads means that they were to lay them waste. 'Locusts like horses prepared for war' are reasonings based on falsities that are used to fight against the Church's truths. 'On their heads crowns like gold' and 'faces like those of men' mean that the reasonings have a similar appearance to truth and in origin seem to be good. 'Hair like that of women' and 'teeth like the teeth of lions' are the external things of the natural or the level of the senses, that is, the illusions there which give the appearance of good. 'Breastplates of iron' are external things giving the appearance of truth. 'The sound of wings like that of chariots with many horses running to war' means the falsities of doctrinal teachings which they use to fight with and which they fight for. 'Tails like scorpions' and 'the stings in their tails' are the injuries such things can inflict. 'The king' of the abyss is hellish falsity, 'Abaddon' destruction, 'Apollyon' reasoning based on falsities that seems to be based on truth, especially if those deemed to be wise support those falsities with philosophical arguments completely misapplied; for blind admiration of their wisdom leads people to have faith in them.

[10] In the good sense 'locust' means fundamental and very general truth, and also the pleasure it gives. This was why John had locusts as his food, and wild honey, Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6. The reason why they were his food was that John represented the Word; and by his food as well as his clothing, which consisted of camel hair together with a skin girdle, he represented the Word in the external sense. For external pleasure is meant by 'locusts and wild honey', Arcana Coelestia 5620, and external truth by a garment made of camel hair and by a skin girdle, Arcana Coelestia 3301. This explains why John is understood to be the Elijah who is going to come and announce the Lord's Coming, 'Elijah' being the Word, see Preface to Chapter 18 of Genesis, and Arcana Coelestia 2762, 5247 (end). And Leviticus 11:22 states that locusts were among the small creatures which people were allowed to eat.

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Footnotes:

1. i.e. a (wingless) kind of locust, possibly the larva of a locust

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(References: Arcana Coelestia 2135; Exodus 10:4)

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