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Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works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

True Christian Religion #113

True Christian Religion (Chadwick translation)

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113. The fourth experience. 1

I looked out into the world of spirits and saw an army mounted on chestnut and black horses. Those who sat upon them looked like monkeys, their faces and chests turned towards the hind quarters and tails of the horses, the backs of their heads and bodies towards the horses' necks and heads; the reins hung loosely about the necks of the riders. They raised a shout against those who rode on white horses, and pulled on the reins with both hands to keep their horses away from the battle, and they kept on doing this.

Then two angels came down from heaven, and on approaching me said: 'What do you see?' I described this ridiculous cavalry and asked: 'What is this, and who are they?'

The angels replied: 'They come from the place called Armageddon (Revelation 16:16), where some thousands have gathered to do battle with the members of the Lord's new church, which is called the New Jerusalem. They were talking there about the church and religion; yet there was not a trace of the church in them, because they were without any spiritual truth, or any trace of religion, because they were without any spiritual good. There was much talk there on their lips about both subjects, but their motive was to exercise power by their means.

[2] 'As young men they had learned to believe in faith alone, and they knew a little about God. After being promoted to the higher offices of the church, they retained their beliefs for a while. But since they then began to think no more about God and heaven, and only about themselves and the world, and so abandoned blessedness and everlasting happiness for temporal distinction and wealth, they pushed the doctrines they had learned in youth out of the interiors of the rational mind, which are in contact with heaven and so illuminated by its light, and banished them to the exteriors of the rational mind, which are in contact with the world and are illuminated only by its faint beams. They ended by relegating those doctrines to the level of the natural senses. This made them treat the doctrines of the church merely as formulas to be repeated, and no longer thought about rationally, much less affectionately loved. By making themselves like this, they do not receive the Divine truth which the church provides, nor any real good which comes from religion. To use a simile, the interiors of their minds have become like leather bags filled with a mixture of iron filings and powdered sulphur; if then water is poured in, there is first heat generated, and then flame, which makes the bags burst. In like manner, when these people hear anything about living water, which is the real truth of the Word, and it penetrates through their ears, they become furiously heated and angry, and reject it as something which would burst their heads.

[3] 'These are the people who appeared to you like monkeys riding back to front on chestnut and black horses with the reins about their necks. This is because those who do not love the truth and good which the church has from the Word, are unwilling to look towards the front of a horse, but only its hinder parts. For 'horse' means the understanding of the Word, 'a chestnut horse' understanding of the Word bereft of good, 'a black horse' understanding of the Word bereft of truth. The reason why they yelled to do battle against the riders on white horses is that 'a white horse' means the understanding of the truth and good of the Word. They seemed to be holding their horses back by the neck because they were frightened of fighting, for fear the truth of the Word might reach many people and so come to light. That is the interpretation.'

[4] The angels went on to say: 'We are from the community in heaven named Michael, and we have been ordered by the Lord to go down to the place called Armageddon, from which the cavalry you saw had broken out. Armageddon for us in heaven means the state of wishing to fight with falsified truths, which arises from the love of controlling and surpassing all others. Since we perceive you have a desire to learn about that battle, we will tell you something about it. After coming down from heaven we approached the place called Armageddon and saw several thousands of people gathered there. However, we did not go into that assembly, but there were some houses on the south side where there were boys with their teachers; we went into these, where we were made welcome, and we enjoyed their company. They were all good-looking because of the liveliness of their eyes and the animation of their conversation. The liveliness in their eyes came from their perception of truth, the animation of their conversation from their affection for good. Because of this we presented them with hats, the brims of which were ornamented with bands of gold thread intertwined with pearls, and also with clothes of a white and dark blue pattern.

'We asked them whether they had looked towards the neighbouring place called Armageddon. They said they had done so through the window they had under the roof of their house. They said they had seen a great gathering of people there, who took on varying appearances. At one time they resembled tall 2 men, at another no longer people at all, but they looked like images and carved statues, and around them was a crowd kneeling. These too seemed to us to have varying appearances,- some looked like human beings, some like leopards, some like goats, and these had downward-pointing horns, which they used to dig up the ground. We were able to interpret their transformations, and know whom they represented and what they meant.

[5] 'But to return to the story; when the people assembled heard that we had gone into those houses, they said to one another: "What are they doing, going to see those boys? Let us send some of our number to turn them out." They did so, and when they came they said to us: "Why have you gone into those houses? Where do you come from? We have authority to tell you to go away."

'But we replied: "You have no authority to tell us that. In your own eyes you may be like the Anakim, and the people here like dwarfs, but still you have no power or right here, except through trickery, and that will not work. So go back and report to your people, that we have been sent here from heaven to investigate whether there is any religion among you or not; if not, you will be thrown out of the place you occupy. So set before them the following question, which touches the very essence of the church and religion, what is the meaning of these words from the Lord's Prayer: Our Father, who art in the heavens, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come."

'Their first reaction on hearing this was indignation, but then they agreed to put the question. So they went away and told their people what had happened, and they replied: "What does this question mean and what sort of a question is it?" But they understood the concealed point, that the questioners wished to know whether these words favoured the way their faith approaches God the Father. So they said: "These words clearly mean that we should pray to God the Father, and because Christ is our mediator, that we should pray to God the Father for the sake of His Son."

'Then in their indignation they resolved to approach us and to assert this face to face, saying too that they would tweak our ears. They actually left the place where they were, and went into the park adjacent to the houses where the boys were with their teachers. In the middle of the park there was a raised platform like an arena, and holding one another's hands they went into the arena where we stood waiting for them. There were small mounds of earth there covered with turf, and they sat on these, saying to one another: "In such company we will not remain standing, but sit down."

'Then one of them who had the trick of making himself look like an angel of light, and who had been appointed by the rest to act as their spokesman, said: "You have asked us to reveal our opinion on how we should understand the first words of the Lord's Prayer. So I beg to inform you that we understand them like this: we should pray to God the Father; and because Christ is our mediator, and our salvation depends upon His merit, we should pray to God the Father trusting in Christ's merit."

[6] 'Then we told them: "We are from the community in heaven known as Michael. We have been sent to visit you, and enquire whether you who are gathered here have any religion or not. For the idea of God enters into every part of religion, and it is this which establishes a link with God, and that link is the means of salvation. We in heaven recite that prayer every day, just as people on earth do; but then we do not think of God the Father, since He is invisible, but we think of Him in His Divine Human, since in this He is visible. In this you call Him Christ, we call Him the Lord; thus the Lord is our Father in the heavens. The Lord too taught that He and the Father are one, that the Father is in Him and He is in the Father; that he who sees Him, sees the Father; and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. He also taught that it is the Father's will that people should believe in the Son; that he who does not believe in the Son will not see life; rather the wrath of God remains upon him. From these passages it is clear that the Father is to be approached through the Son and in Him. For that reason too He also taught that all power in heaven and on earth was given to Him. The Prayer says, "Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come," and we have proved from the Word that the Father's name is His Divine Human, and that the Father's kingdom comes when the Lord is directly approached, and not at all when God the Father is directly approached. So too the Lord told His disciples to preach the kingdom of God, and this is what is meant by the kingdom of God."

[7] 'On hearing this our opponents said: "You quote many passages from the Word. We may have read such things there, but we do not remember them. So open the Word in our presence, and read us those passages from it, especially the ones which say that the Father's kingdom comes when the Lord's kingdom does." Then they told the boys to fetch the Word, and when they did so, we read to them from it the following passages:

John 3 preaching the Gospel of the kingdom said, The time has come, the kingdom of God is at hand, Mark 1:14-15; 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.

Jesus ordered His disciples to preach and proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God (Mark 16:15; Luke 8:1; 9:60); likewise the seventy whom He sent out (Luke 10:9, 11)

And many passages besides, such as Matthew 11:5; 16:27-28; Mark 8:35; 9:1, 47; 10:29-30; 11:10; Luke 1:19; 2:10-11; 4:43; 7:22; 17:20-21; 4 Luke 21:31; 22:18. The kingdom of God, the good news of which they were to proclaim, was the Lord's kingdom, and so the Father's kingdom. This is plain from the following passages: The Father gave all things into the Son's hand (John 3:35); The Father gave the Son power over all flesh (John 17:2).

All things are handed over to me by the Father, Matthew 11:27.

All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth, Matthew 28:18.

Further from the following:

Jehovah Zebaoth is His name and the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, He shall be called the God of the whole earth, Isaiah 54:5.

I saw and behold, one like the Son of Man, to whom was given dominion, glory and the kingdom; and all peoples and nations shall worship Him. His dominion is a dominion for ever, which will not pass away, and His kingdom one which will not perish, Daniel 7:13-14.

When the seventh angel sounded, mighty voices were heard in the heavens saying, The kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever, Revelation 11:15; 12:10.

[8] 'In addition we instructed them from the Word that the Lord came into the world not only to redeem angels and men, but also so that they might be united with God the Father through Him and in Him. For He taught that He is in those who believe in Him and they are in Him (John 6:56; 14:20; 15:4-5). On hearing this they asked: "How then can your Lord be called Father"? We said: "It follows from the passages we have read, and also from these:

A child is born for us, a son is given to us, whose name is God, Hero, the everlasting Father, Isaiah 9:6.

You are our Father, Abraham does not recognise us, neither does Israel acknowledge us; You, Jehovah, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name, Isaiah 63:16.

Did He not say to Philip, when he wanted to see the Father.

Philip, do you not know me? He who sees me sees the Father, John 14:9; 12:45.

What other Father then is there, than the one whom Philip saw with his own eyes?"

'To this we added the following. "It is said throughout the Christian world that the members of the church constitute the body of Christ, and that they are in His body. How then can any person in the church approach God the Father, except through Him in whose body he is? Otherwise he would inevitably leave the body to approach Him." Finally we informed them that at the present time a new church is being established by the Lord, which is meant by the New Jerusalem in Revelation. In this church worship will be directed to the Lord alone, as it is in heaven, and thus all will be accomplished which the Lord's Prayer contains from beginning to end.

'We proved everything from the Gospels and the Prophets in the Word, and from Revelation, which deals from beginning to end with that church, and went on at such length that they became tired of listening.

[9] 'The Armageddon party listened with indignation, and wanted repeatedly to interrupt our speech. Eventually they broke in and cried: "You have spoken against the doctrine of our church, which states that God the Father is to be approached directly, and is to be believed in. You have thus become guilty of violating our faith. So begone from here, or you will be thrown out." Their tempers were so roused they passed from threats to attempted action. But then by the powers we had been given we struck them blind, so that, being unable to see us, they broke out and ran blindly in all directions. Some fell into the abyss described in Revelation (Revelation 9:2), which is now in the southern quarter towards the east; this is where those are to be found who are convinced that justification is effected by faith alone. Those there who prove that doctrine by quoting the Word are cast out into a desert, where they are driven to the edge of the Christian world and mix with the pagans.'

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Footnotes:

1. The first part of this section is repeated fromApocalypse Revealed 839.
2. The Latin has 'leading men' (proceres), but the following reference to giants (Anakim) shows that this must be a misprint for 'tall men' (proceros).
3. Apparently a slip for 'Jesus'; John is mentioned earlier in the verse.
4. This reference was inserted in the author's copy.

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(References: Matthew 6:9-10)

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