The Bible

 

Luke 1:26-38 : The Annunciation to Mary

Study the Inner Meaning

        

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Luke 1: Build your Spiritual Mind      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

A frozen bubble shines with light.

Chapter One

[See this side by side with the text of Luke 1.]

From Mark to Luke

1. Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us,
2. even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,
3. it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus;
4. that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed.


Thinking above

As we have seen, the Gospel According to Mark begins with John the Baptist preaching repentance for the remission of sins. It is, in many ways, the major theme of Mark. But like any fine symphony, there are minor themes as well. One of those minor themes in Mark is the importance of belief. Therefore, in Mark the first words spoken by Jesus contain both themes—the major theme of repentance, and the minor theme of belief. As Jesus says in His opening comment in that gospel, “The kingdom of God has come near, Repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15).

In the original Greek, the word for repentance is μετάνοια (metanoia), which means, quite literally, “thinking above” (meta = above + noia = thinking). Repentance begins with the recognition and acknowledgement of sin in ourselves. As self-love and personal ambition are subordinated, higher ideals begin to predominate. We begin to focus on loving God and serving our neighbor. In other words, we begin to think above and beyond our usual modes of thought. We see that there is more to life than the satisfaction of our temporal desires. In the process, we come to believe in and be led by higher truth. That’s why the words “repent” and “believe” are tied so closely together. In the last chapter of Mark, Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16) 1 .

Focusing on belief

In Mark, as we have seen, there was a gradual transition from a focus on repentance to a focus on belief—a focus that continues as we begin the Gospel According to Luke. Consider, for example, the opening words of Luke: “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which are most surely believed among us . . .” (Luke 1:1).

These opening words are significant. Things are not merely “believed”; they are “most surely believed.” 2

Belief, like faith, is associated with our understanding. It is about the rational, intellectual side of the human mind. Belief, however, is not blind faith. Quite the opposite; we come to believe or to have true faith through the disciplined use of our understanding. It is an intellectual process involving a rational sight of truth—whether it be a natural truth about physics or a spiritual truth about the incarnation. For example, after thinking about a point someone has made, and seeing the truth contained in the person’s comments, we might say, “I believe you have a point there,” or “I see what you mean.” The opening words of Luke, then, with so many references to “belief” indicate that this gospel will focus on the opening of the intellect, and the deepening of the understanding. In fact, it is in Luke where we read the words, “He opened their understanding” (Luke 24:45). 3

The opening verses of Luke contain several words and phrases that suggest the intellect. As we have already pointed out, verse 1 speaks about those things that are “most surely believed.” In verse 2, the author of Luke speaks about “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:2). In the Word, terms that refers to the “eyes,” or “vision,” or “sight” represent inner vision, or the lack of it. In common speech, the expressions “Now I understand,” and “Now I see” are synonymous. We also say, “None are so blind as they who will not see,” “Look on the bright side,” and “That was a real ‘eye-opening’ experience.” In each case, we are using physical imagery to describe mental and spiritual conditions. That’s why the term “eye-witnesses” in this verse signifies some aspect of the understanding. Then, in verse 3 the author tells us that he “had perfect understanding” (Luke 1:3). 4

In our study of Matthew and Mark, we noted the importance of the first and last words of each gospel. We pointed out that the opening and closing words provide the key to the leading message in that gospel. Glancing ahead to the conclusion of Luke we find that the last words are, “And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53). Here the references to “Jerusalem” and “temple” indicate that we are dealing with the human intellect, the level of the mind that is involved in thoughts and reasons rather than emotions and feelings. This is because the correspondence of the word “Jerusalem” is with matters of learning, teaching, doctrine and instruction. The people went to Jerusalem to learn about the truths of faith. 5

Similarly, when we read that “they were continually in the temple,” we can know that this, too, treats of our thinking and reasoning faculty. The temple in Jerusalem was made of whole stones, and stones throughout the Word represent truths. So, this reference to being “continually in the temple” also refers to that side of the human mind which is concerned with matters of truth, faith, and belief. 6

The Gospel of Luke, then, begins with a brief introduction which is filled with references to faith, belief, instruction, and understanding. As the four-verse introduction ends, we are left with a very clear reference to the intellectual level of the mind: “That you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:4).

With so many references to belief, knowledge, and instruction in the opening verses, it is clear that this gospel will focus on matters that involve the intellect, and the deepening of our understanding. It will be an attempt “to set in order” an account of those things “which are most surely believed.” It will be about that “holy temple”—the place in our minds where we deeply contemplate truth, meditate on the Word, and turn to the Lord in prayer. All of this is what it means to be “in the temple.” 7

The Angel Gabriel Comes to Zacharias

5. There was in the days of Herod, king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah: and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
6. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were [now] well stricken in years.
8. Now it came to pass, while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
9. according to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to enter into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
10. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense.
11. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of altar of incense.
12. And Zacharias was troubled when he saw [him], and fear fell upon him.
13. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.
16. And many of the children of Israel shall be turn unto the Lord their God.
17. And he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient [to walk] in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared [for him].
18. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.


After the brief introduction, filled with words that suggest the intellect and the understanding, we read of Zacharias, a priest: “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest, named Zacharias” (Luke 1:5). It is important to note that the first episode in Luke tells the story of a priest who is employed in the temple. A priest working in the temple is a picture of the human understanding doing its proper work. 8

As the story continues, we learn that Zacharias is serving “in the days of Herod, the king of Judea” (Luke 1:5). Herod pictures the corrupt hereditary will. It is our lower nature, the part of us that is hell-bent on making itself king by declaring itself as all-powerful and all-knowing. It is the part of the human mind that sets itself up as sole arbiter of right and wrong. It will not tolerate any competitors—not even the King of Kings. This is the same Herod who murdered his wife, his three sons, his uncle, his mother-in-law. his brother-in-law, and commanded that all boys in Bethlehem, two years of age and younger, should be put to death. Suspicious of all threats to his power, he will not only refuse to acknowledge any truth that opposes his corrupt will, but he endeavors to destroy it at its birth. For Herod, the only power that exists is his own (see Matthew 2:16).

Zacharias, however, who represents our ability to understand higher truth, acknowledges that there is a power greater than himself and obediently submits to it. We read, therefore, that Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth “were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). Unlike Herod, Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, are both righteous before God. At this point in the story, however, they have no children “because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years” (Luke 1:7). 9

When we first encounter Zacharias, he is burning incense in the temple of the Lord. It is an image of the life of prayer. The gentle, sweet-smelling smoke of incense rising upwards in the temple, symbolizes the way prayers ascend heavenwards in our mind. Suddenly, while Zacharias is at prayer, the angel Gabriel appears to him, and says, “Do not fear Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13). 10

The son that will be born will be named “John.” He will grow up to become John the Baptist who will prepare the way for the Lord. What is it in our own lives that “prepares the way for the Lord?” It is our desire to understand truth, beginning with a genuine affection for the letter of the Word — those basic stories and literal truths that we first encounter. This is the first step in our spiritual development, and it is represented by the birth of John the Baptist in us. As the angel puts it, John’s coming into the world will bring “joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.” The angel goes on to promise that “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). In other words, John the Baptist (the literal sense of the Word) will also contain the internal sense—the very soul of the Word. He will be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Gradually, as our understanding deepens, the literal meaning of the Word seems to disappear while the spiritual meaning shines forth. Even as the body fades, the spirit continues to grow. 11

But this does not happen immediately. Even though Gabriel proclaims that Elizabeth will indeed bear a child, Zacharias remains doubtful. He wonders how this can happen: “How can this be?” he says. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years” (Luke 1:13). Zacharias’ question represents the human understanding in a state of doubt as to whether it can learn anything new. “I am old in age” says Zacharias. His question represents a state of doubt. At such time times, questions may arise. Is it too late to learn anything new? we might ask. Is it too late to change my mind? Have I become so ingrained in a certain way of thinking that I cannot conceive of anything else? The answer, which is contained in this episode, is “No. It is not too late. For those who trust in the Lord and walk in His ways, new truth can always be learned. For those who truly desire to be wise, it is never too late to learn. Our spiritual instruction and learning can continue forever. 12

Elizabeth Conceives

19. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings.
20. And behold, thou shalt be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall come to pass, because thou believedst not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
21. And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled while he tarried in the temple.
22. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: and he continued making signs unto them, and remained dumb.
23. And it came to pass, when the days of his ministration were fulfilled, he departed unto his house.
24. And after these days Elisabeth his wife conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying,
25. Thus hath the Lord done unto me in the days wherein he looked upon [me], to take away my reproach among men.


It is one thing to know what is true, and to offer prayers to God. like incense rising toward heaven. This is the part of the mind that Zacharias represents. But it is quite another to receive that truth in heart, to be deeply affected by it, and to bring it forth, as a woman brings forth a child—into life, into our daily actions. This is the part of the mind that Elizabeth is about to represent. But until she does so, she will be in a state of spiritual barrenness. Whatever the cause of that barrenness—whether it can be attributed to a doubtful understanding (Zacharias) or a hesitant will (Elizabeth) or both—spiritual barrenness has its origin in a lack of complete faith. It is the inability to totally believe the Word of the Lord. When belief is sure (“most surely believed”), there is no distinction between faith and action. An individual then bears spiritual fruit. But whenever there is doubt, uncertainty and hesitation, there will be barrenness.

In Zacharias, this state of uncertainty is represented by muteness—the inability to confess the Lord because of a faith that is not yet complete, an understanding that is not yet fully opened. This is why Gabriel tells Zacharias that he will be mute till these things actually happen. Glancing back to the end of Mark we notice that one of the signs which followed belief was that “they will speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:17).

But there is a positive side to Zacharias’ muteness. As he quiets the internal chatter—as each of us must—the questions, doubts and uncertainties begin to subside. He enters a deeper level of contemplation and prayer. This is Zacharias in the temple, praying — a beautiful picture of the understanding in a state of humility, willing to learn; it is receptive, and eager to be instructed. It is a time of patient waiting, searching the scriptures, meditating on them, and pondering the wonders of the Lord’s Word.

It is during these quiet times of introspection in the light of the Lord’s Word that spiritual vision arises; we come to see the truth about ourselves, and we get a clearer understanding of our relationship to God and to others. This is why quiet reflection is so important. It is a time to grow closer to God so that He might open our spiritual eyes. In the language of sacred scripture, this is contained in the following words: “And the people waited for Zacharias and marveled that he tarried so long in the temple. But when he came out … they perceived that he had seen a vision” (Luke 1:22)

It should be noted that it was necessary for Zacharias to come out of the temple, but not until his service was completed there. It was then that his wife was able to conceive. In every human being there is a Zacharias, a side which must perform the temple duties—the reading and meditating upon the Word of God. It is the part of us that tarries in the temple, leading a life of contemplation and prayer. Although this is essential, new life cannot be conceived in this state. We must leave the temple of study and prayer; we must go forth into life. Like Zacharias, we must first develop our understanding; we must tarry in the temple long enough to get the vision. And then we must allow the vision to lead us onwards to useful endeavor. And so we read, “Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived” (Luke 1:24).

It should also be noted that in the last chapter of this gospel, Jesus tells His disciples to “Tarry in Jerusalem until you receive power from on high” (Luke 24:49). So, this gospel—the gospel that focuses on the reformation of the understanding—begins and ends in the temple.

A Greater Miracle

26. Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27. to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
28. And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord [is] with thee.
29. But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be.
30. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God.
31. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33. and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34. And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God.
36. And behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren.
37. For no word from God shall be void of power.
38. And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.


The conception of John the Baptist is indeed a miracle, for he is born to an elderly couple that has never been able to bear children. But in the next episode we learn of an even greater miracle—Jesus is born to a virgin. We read, “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women’” (Luke 1:26-28).

While the birth of John represents an awakened understanding of the literal sense of the Word, it is still relatively external—something that takes the cooperation of our human understanding, even as it takes Zacharias’ cooperation to produce an offspring. But when it comes to the deeper matters of the spirit, the human understanding plays a limited role. Its primary function, represented by Joseph, is to humbly recognize and accept the birth of new insights and new affections, while acknowledging that we have contributed nothing from ourselves: these miraculous births have a Divine—not a human—origin. They are from God, not from man. 13

The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth (Good Meets Truth)

39. And Mary arose in these days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah;
40. and entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elisabeth.
41. And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit;
42. and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry, and said, Blessed [art] thou among women, and blessed [is] the fruit of thy womb.
43. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me?
44. For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45. And blessed [is] she that believed; for there shall be a fulfilment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord.
46. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48. For he hath looked upon the low estate of his handmaid: For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; And holy is his name.
50. And his mercy is unto generations and generations On them that fear him.
51. He hath showed strength with his arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.
52. He hath put down princes from [their] thrones, And hath exalted them of low degree.
53. The hungry he hath filled with good things; And the rich he hath sent empty away.
54. He hath given help to Israel his servant, That he might remember mercy
55. (As he spake unto our fathers) Toward Abraham and his seed for ever.
56. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned unto her house.
57. Now Elisabeth's time was fulfilled that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.
58. And her neighbors and her kinsfolk heard that the Lord had magnified his mercy towards her; and they rejoiced with her.


There is a certain level of excitement generated when people come into a new sight of the truth, and when their minds are raised into the light of some clearer understanding. And yet, there is a vast difference in degree between this sort of intellectual excitement, and the joy which can be experienced when that new level of understanding is combined with the birth of the desire to live according to it.

This moment of great joy, when goodness meets truth, is represented in these beautiful words of scripture: “Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:39-41).

Elizabeth is delighted and amazed by this wondrous experience. But she also wonders why it has been granted to her. This experience is available to each of us. It takes place whenever a good impulse arises in us. This “arising” is represented by Mary’s taking the initiative and visiting her cousin, Elizabeth who is pregnant with a son who will be called “John the Baptist.” As soon as Mary arrives Elizabeth’s son leaps in the womb. Spiritually seen, this is a picture of some truth in our lives (John the Baptist) springing to life when touched with goodness.

Elizabeth wonders why she has been granted such a privilege, saying: “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). Her question is an important one. What is it that gives life to the truth that we carry in the womb of our minds? The answer is given by Elizabeth herself, as she praises Mary: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

Blessed is she who believed.” This is a key statement, and it is fundamental to understanding the central message of this gospel. As we shall see, in episode after episode, those who believe will be blessed. Those who have faith will be saved. Again and again, people will hear Jesus saying to them, “Your faith has made you well.” Goodness will come to those who hold truth in their minds and long to put it into their lives.

True faith — the kind that can “make us well” — must be distinguished from blind faith. Genuine belief, is not a matter of believing something because others tell us it is true. Nor is it a matter of believing things that make no sense to us, even if learned authorities tell us that ‘these things must be taken on faith.” True faith is much deeper and more personal. It is the blessed acknowledgment that something is really so because it is really true. For example, God is good — all the time. God loves everyone — all the time. There are no exceptions. It is really so. In spite of any appearances to the contrary, we simply know that this is true, This is the gift of perception, the blessed ability to believe the truth because we perceive it to be true. This blessed assurance is given to all who trust in God and believe in God’s goodness: “Blessed is she who believed.” 14

Whenever we come into a state of belief, there comes with it a sense of something flowing into us from within; it is as though God is with us, reassuring us that “this is true.” It is an inner perception that something is true or not. And the central most universal truth of the Christian faith is belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is confidence that he saves. The more we strive to do His will, the more confident do we become that He will save us. This is true faith. This is what it means, most deeply, to believe. 15

The Naming of John

59. And it came to pass on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him Zacharias, after the name of the father.
60. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
61. And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.
62. And they made signs to his father, what he would have him called.
63. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all.
64. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue [loosed], and he spake, blessing God.
65. And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea.
66. And all that heard them laid them up in their heart, saying, What then shall this child be? For the hand of the Lord was with him.
67. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,
68. Blessed [be] the Lord, the God of Israel; For he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people,
69. And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of his servant David
70. (As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old),
71. Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72. To show mercy towards, our fathers, And To remember his holy covenant;
73. The oath which he spake unto Abraham our father,
74. To grant unto us that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies Should serve him without fear,
75. In holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76. Yea and thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways;
77. To give knowledge of salvation unto his people In the remission of their sins,
78. Because of the tender mercy of our God, Whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us,
79. To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; To guide our feet into the way of peace.
80. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel.


After Elizabeth gave birth to her son, the time came for the naming of the baby. Everyone thought that the baby would be named “Zacharias,” after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No, his name shall be John” (Luke 1:60). This was a surprise to everyone because none of the relatives had ever had that name. When it came time for Zacharias to speak, he asked for a writing tablet and wrote the simple words, “His name is John” (Luke 1:63). Immediately afterwards the muteness that had descended upon Zacharias departed, and he begins to speak words of praise for the Lord. “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,” he said, “for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David … that we should be saved from our enemies” (Luke 1:68-71).

Something wonderful has happened to Zacharias. His spirit-filled words are full of confidence in the saving power of God. As his prophecy continues, he speaks directly about the mission that his newly born son is to fulfill: “And you, child will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way, to give knowledge of salvation to His people … to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76, 77, 79).

Originally, we saw Zacharias as an old priest performing rituals in the temple. But now we see Zacharias as a transformed being, filled with the Holy Spirit. He is no longer the old priest who represented the faith of the former church—a faith that was based on obedience to rituals and traditions, however well-meaning or righteous. That was the “former church” in us—a state of mind where we may have indeed gone through the motions of prayer, but without a solid faith. In our former faith there may have been doubt as to whether God even heard our prayers. This is why the angel spoke to Zacharias, removing his doubt by saying, “Your prayer is heard.” The angel then added this promise: “Your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13).

This, of course, is what came to pass. The angel’s words were true, and a son was born. Zacharias now knows that God does indeed answer prayers. In the spiritual dimension of our lives, this is a significant lesson about the power of faith. Every anxiety, every worry, and every concern can be taken away if we have faith in God. While our pleas for riches and fame may not be satisfied, our prayers for patience, courage, love, and understanding will always be fulfilled. God answers our prayers, and responds to our needs, but we must first have faith that our prayers are heard, and that our needs are understood. This is to “believe in Him.” It is to have confidence that He gives us the light “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

As this episode draws to a conclusion, we read that John “grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the desert till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80). This pictures the way our understanding of the literal sense of the Word continues to grow and develop as we continue to meditate on it and dwell upon its significance in our lives. Though we may not see immediate results, or any specific connection between the stories in the Word and our daily activities, something is nevertheless taking place deeply within our spirit. The time will come when those literal words of scripture will take on new meaning for us. Just as Mary, the mother Jesus came to Elizabeth, the mother of John, we will begin to sense the Lord’s goodness touching the literal truth of the Word we hold in our minds, and new applications will spring to mind.

The message then is to remain rooted in sacred scripture. If we hold the Word of God in mind, even the most literal stories, God can work miracles within us at a deeper level. Although John the Baptist in us will remain “in the desert” for a while, as long as we remain faithful to the Word, and to Him who gave it to us, those literal truths will take on more and more power. They will grow “stronger in spirit” until they come forth as loving actions in our lives. In the words of sacred scripture, John the Baptist “grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the desert till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80)

Footnotes:

1. Arcana Coelestia 9032: “In the internal sense ‘being baptized’ means being regenerated, and being regenerated is being led into the good of love and charity by means of the truths of faith. From this it is clear that the truth as stated in the literal sense of the Word agrees with the truth as presented in religious teachings, provided that what is meant spiritually by ‘being baptized’ is understood. And the reason why it says that ‘one who does not believe will be condemned’ is that an unbeliever cannot be baptized, that is, be regenerated.”

2. It should be recalled that at the end of Mark, we pointed out that repentance comes first. Next in order is the reformation of the mind, or the establishment of a sound belief based on understanding. See True Christian Religion 571: “After repentance, next in order comes reformation…. Reformation is a state of thought from the understanding.”

3. Apocalypse Explained 1100:23: “There are people at the present day who wish the understanding to be kept under obedience to faith, holding even that a thing must be believed and not understood, and claiming that intellectual faith is not true faith.” See also Apocalypse Revealed 914: “Blind faith is faith separated from the understanding…. Hence it is, that they are: ‘Blind leaders of the blind. And when the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch’ (Matthew 15:14)…. Therefore, my friend, go to the Lord, and shun evils as sins, and reject faith alone, and then your understanding will be opened, and you will see wonderful things, and be affected by them.”

4. Arcana Coelestia 2148: “By ‘eyes’ in the Word is signified the interior sight, or the understanding.”

5. Apocalypse Explained 204:6: “The reason that Jerusalem is called the holy city is that it signifies the church where the doctrinal things of truth are taught.”

6. Arcana Coelestia 8988:5: “By ‘stones’ in general signify truths, and ‘precious stones’ [gemstones] signify truths which are [directly] from the Lord.” See also Arcana Coelestia 1298: “It was commanded that the altar [in the temple] should be built of whole stones, not hewn, and it was forbidden that any iron should be moved upon them (Deuteronomy 27:5-7; Joshua 8:31). This is because hewn stones, and stones on which iron has been used, signify what is artificial … and what is from a person’s own reasoning and imagining.”

7. Arcana Coelestia 2048: “The word ‘temple’ signifies the truth of faith in a person.” See also Arcana Coelestia 3700:2: “When a temple is mentioned there occurs to the angels the idea of truth.” This is because temples are built of stone, and stones, throughout the Word signify truth. In this regard we read the following in Arcana Coelestia 8941:6: “The temple at Jerusalem was built of whole stones…. For the ‘temple of the Lord’ represented the Divine Truth.”

8. Arcana Coelestia 10327: “A priest signifies a representative of the Lord’s spiritual kingdom . . . and the incense of spices signifies a representative of worship from truths.”

9. Apocalypse Explained 638:13: “In the internal sense, which is the sense of the spirit of the Word, by ‘wife’ is signified the affection for truth.”

10. Arcana Coelestia 9475: “Incense signifies the things of worship that are perceived with delight, such as acts of thanksgiving, adoration, prayer.”

11. Arcana Coelestia 5620:12: “John the Baptist represents the Lord as to the Word, which is the Divine Truth on earth….The ‘clothing of camel's hair’ signifies that the Word, such as is its literal sense as to truth (which sense is a clothing for the internal sense), is natural; for what is natural is signified by ‘hair,’ and also by ‘camels.’ His ‘food being of locusts and wild honey’ signifies the Word such as is its literal sense as to good; the delight of this is signified by ‘wild honey.’” See also Arcana Coelestia 4857:3: “The spiritual sense lives within the literal sense as a person's spirit lives within a person’s body. Like a person's spirit the spiritual sense continues live when the literal sense fades away. Therefore, the internal sense may be called the soul of the Word.”

12. Divine Providence 334: “Every angel is perfected in wisdom to eternity. But each is thus perfected in keeping with the degree of his affection for goodness and truth which he had when he departed from the world. It is this degree that is perfected to eternity.

13. Apocalypse Explained 475:20: “John only inaugurated them [the Jewish people] into knowledges from the Word respecting the Lord, and thus prepared them to receive Him, but the Lord Himself regenerates people by means of divine truth and divine good proceeding from Him.”

14. Faith 1-2: “At the present day the term ‘faith’ is taken to mean the mere thought that the thing is so because the church so teaches, and because it is not evident to the understanding. For we are told to believe and not to doubt, and if we say that we do not comprehend, we are told that this is just the reason for believing. So that the faith of the present day is a faith in the unknown and may be called blind faith…. This is not spiritual faith. Real faith is nothing else than an acknowledgment that the thing is so because it is true; for one who is in real faith thinks and says, ‘This is true, and therefore I believe it.’”

15. Faith 36: “The Universal of the Christian Faith is to believe in the Lord, for through believing in Him there is effected conjunction with Him, by which comes salvation. To believe in Him is to have confidence that He will save, and as no one can have this confidence except one who lives aright, therefore this also is meant by believing in Him.”

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 2798, 2921, 3305, 3421, 5313, 9229, 10248

Apocalypse Revealed 56, 173, 294, 373, 481, 504, 520, ...

A Brief Exposition of New Church Doctrine 44, 120

Conjugial Love 82

Doctrine of the Lord 19, 29, 40, 42

True Christian Religion 82, 88, 92, 93, 98, 111, 112, ...


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 253, 328, 376, 677, 815, 852, 1069, ...

On the Athanasian Creed 30, 38, 216

Canons of the New Church 17, 39, 40, 43

De Domino 38

Justification 10, 13

Spiritual Experiences 4332

Marriage 82, 88, 92, 93, 98, 111, 112

Scriptural Confirmations 2, 13

Related New Christian Commentary
Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Judges 5:24, 6:12, 16

Ruth 3:11

2 Samuel 7:12, 13, 16, 23:5

1 Chronicles 17:12

Psalms 2:7, 45:7, 132:11

Isaiah 7:14, 9:6, 49:1, 5

Jeremiah 23:5

Daniel 2:44, 7:14

Obadiah 1:21

Micah 4:7

Bible Word Meanings

sixth
Like most numbers in the Bible, "six" can have various meanings depending on context, but has a couple that are primary. When used in relation...

angel
"Angels" in the Bible represent qualities of the Lord himself, or a variety of things that come directly from the Lord. On a lower level...

Gabriel
Gabriel signifies an angelic society in heaven that is made up of people who teach from the Word, particularly about the Lord’s advent.

city
Cities of the mountain and cities of the plain (Jeremiah 33:13) signify doctrines of charity and faith.

galilee
when Galilee is mentioned in the Bible, it's referring to the "gentiles", to the spiritual states of people who were not in the Jewish church....

said
As with many common verbs, the meaning of “to say” in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Who is speaking? Who is hearing? What...

saw
The symbolic meaning of "seeing" is "understanding," which is obvious enough that it has become part of common language (think about it; you might see...

Fear not
Fear not, as in Revelation 1:17; Daniel 10:5, 12; Matthew 17:5, 7; 28:10, etc., signifies resuscitation to life, and at the same time adoration from...

name
It's easy to see that names are important in the Bible. Jehovah changed Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, changed Jacob to Israel and...

highest
'Highest' denotes the 'inmost,' because interior things, with person who is in space, appear as higher things, and exterior things as lower. But when the...

over
'Over' or 'upon' in the Word, signifies being within, because the highest part in successive order becomes inmost in simultaneous order. This is why the...

Jacob
Jacob is told twice that his name will now be Israel. The first time is when he wrestles with an angel on his journey to...

ever
“Age” is used in slightly different ways in natural language, and those differences are reflected in the word’s spiritual meanings. All the variations, though, reflect...

kingdom
In the most general sense, a kingdom in the Bible represents a church. In a more specific sense, a kingdom represents a church in regards...

seeing
The symbolic meaning of "seeing" is "understanding," which is obvious enough that it has become part of common language (think about it; you might see...

answered
To "answer" generally indicates a state of spiritual receptivity. Ultimately this means being receptive to the Lord, who is constantly trying to pour true ideas...

ghost
There are two aspects to the life of each person. We might call them "heart" and "mind," a part of us that wants and feels...

upon
'Over' or 'upon' in the Word, signifies being within, because the highest part in successive order becomes inmost in simultaneous order. This is why the...

son of god
Swedenborg offers different angles on the phrase "the Son of God," sometimes saying that it refers to the "divine human" and sometimes saying it refers...

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How to Understand the Trinity - Swedenborg and Life

“The Trinity is well known to the Christian world, yet in other ways it is unknown.” Swedenborg asserts the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one the way our soul, body, and actions are one.

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The Magnificat

Solomon Keal

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.


 Angel Appears to Joseph
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Angel Appears to Mary
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Angel Appears to Zacharias
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Angelic Appearances at the Time of the Advent
A sermon about the angel Gabriel's appearances to different people and how this pictures aspects of the preparation we must do for the Lord's birth in our own lives. 
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Angel with Mary
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Angel with Zacharias
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Annunciation
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Birth of the Lord
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 Blessings: Good Tidings of Great Joy
Blessings to say at mealtime.
Activity | Ages over 7

 Call His Name Jesus
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Christmas Joy and Happiness
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Elizabeth Greets Mary
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 His Name Is John
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 His Name Will Be Called: The Development of the Lord in Our Lives
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Jesus' Childhood
People are born without a set purpose and develop a purpose as they learn and choose a pathway. Jesus was born with an identity and a purpose; He had to discover His identity and become true to it.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 John the Baptist
Compare the birth of John the Baptist with the birth of Jesus Christ. What do the births of these men mean in our lives?
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Mary and Elizabeth
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Mary's Song of Praise
Mary's song of praise, often called the Magnificat, in a color border.
Picture | Ages over 15

 Mary Visits Elizabeth
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Naming John the Baptist
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Our Savior
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Picture of the Angel Gabriel
Project | Ages up to 10

 Prophecies of the Advent
Prophecies of Jesus' advent on earth often use the image of new light dawning in darkness to describe the spiritual impact His birth would have on the world.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Quotes: Good Tidings of Great Joy
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Quotes: Prophecies of the Advent
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Scroll of Angelic Appearances in Christmas Story
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 The Angel Appearing to Mary
Use oil pastels and watercolors to show the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 The Angel Appears to Mary
This lesson discusses a story from the Word and suggests projects and activities for young children.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 The Angel Appears to Mary
A lesson for younger children with discussion ideas and a project.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 The Angel Appears to Mary Mobile
Make a simple mobile to show the angel Gabriel coming to tell Mary that she would give birth to a Son and should name Him Jesus.
Project | Ages 3 - 8

 The Angel's Promise to Mary
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Annunciation
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Birth of John
Zacharias and Elizabeth were very good people who wanted a child very much. The Lord answered their prayers. John was born to help prepare people to learn from the Lord. Sample from the Jacob's Ladder Program, Introductory Level, for ages 5-6.
Religion Lesson | Ages 5 - 6

 The Birth of John the Baptist
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 The Birth of John the Baptist
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 The Magnificat
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Maidservant of the Lord
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 The Mother of the Lord
Imagine what it must have been like to suddenly see an angel and be told such great news.
Worship Talk | Ages 4 - 6

 The Name Mary
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 The Savior
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Spread of the Lord's Word
We can be like the shepherds and others who have spread the good news as we learn about the Lord and find ways to tell people. Maybe this Christmas you can share your enjoyment of the story of the Lord’s birth with a friend or neighbor. Sample from the Jacob’s Ladder Program, Level 5, for ages 10-11.
Religion Lesson | Ages 10 - 11

 Understanding the Virgin Birth
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Zacharias and the Angel
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Zacharias’s Dumbness
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Zacharias Sees Angel
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

Commentary

 

Luke 1: Build your Spiritual Mind

     

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

A frozen bubble shines with light.

Chapter One

[See this side by side with the text of Luke 1.]

From Mark to Luke

1. Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us,
2. even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,
3. it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus;
4. that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed.


Thinking above

As we have seen, the Gospel According to Mark begins with John the Baptist preaching repentance for the remission of sins. It is, in many ways, the major theme of Mark. But like any fine symphony, there are minor themes as well. One of those minor themes in Mark is the importance of belief. Therefore, in Mark the first words spoken by Jesus contain both themes—the major theme of repentance, and the minor theme of belief. As Jesus says in His opening comment in that gospel, “The kingdom of God has come near, Repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15).

In the original Greek, the word for repentance is μετάνοια (metanoia), which means, quite literally, “thinking above” (meta = above + noia = thinking). Repentance begins with the recognition and acknowledgement of sin in ourselves. As self-love and personal ambition are subordinated, higher ideals begin to predominate. We begin to focus on loving God and serving our neighbor. In other words, we begin to think above and beyond our usual modes of thought. We see that there is more to life than the satisfaction of our temporal desires. In the process, we come to believe in and be led by higher truth. That’s why the words “repent” and “believe” are tied so closely together. In the last chapter of Mark, Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16) 1 .

Focusing on belief

In Mark, as we have seen, there was a gradual transition from a focus on repentance to a focus on belief—a focus that continues as we begin the Gospel According to Luke. Consider, for example, the opening words of Luke: “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which are most surely believed among us . . .” (Luke 1:1).

These opening words are significant. Things are not merely “believed”; they are “most surely believed.” 2

Belief, like faith, is associated with our understanding. It is about the rational, intellectual side of the human mind. Belief, however, is not blind faith. Quite the opposite; we come to believe or to have true faith through the disciplined use of our understanding. It is an intellectual process involving a rational sight of truth—whether it be a natural truth about physics or a spiritual truth about the incarnation. For example, after thinking about a point someone has made, and seeing the truth contained in the person’s comments, we might say, “I believe you have a point there,” or “I see what you mean.” The opening words of Luke, then, with so many references to “belief” indicate that this gospel will focus on the opening of the intellect, and the deepening of the understanding. In fact, it is in Luke where we read the words, “He opened their understanding” (Luke 24:45). 3

The opening verses of Luke contain several words and phrases that suggest the intellect. As we have already pointed out, verse 1 speaks about those things that are “most surely believed.” In verse 2, the author of Luke speaks about “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:2). In the Word, terms that refers to the “eyes,” or “vision,” or “sight” represent inner vision, or the lack of it. In common speech, the expressions “Now I understand,” and “Now I see” are synonymous. We also say, “None are so blind as they who will not see,” “Look on the bright side,” and “That was a real ‘eye-opening’ experience.” In each case, we are using physical imagery to describe mental and spiritual conditions. That’s why the term “eye-witnesses” in this verse signifies some aspect of the understanding. Then, in verse 3 the author tells us that he “had perfect understanding” (Luke 1:3). 4

In our study of Matthew and Mark, we noted the importance of the first and last words of each gospel. We pointed out that the opening and closing words provide the key to the leading message in that gospel. Glancing ahead to the conclusion of Luke we find that the last words are, “And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53). Here the references to “Jerusalem” and “temple” indicate that we are dealing with the human intellect, the level of the mind that is involved in thoughts and reasons rather than emotions and feelings. This is because the correspondence of the word “Jerusalem” is with matters of learning, teaching, doctrine and instruction. The people went to Jerusalem to learn about the truths of faith. 5

Similarly, when we read that “they were continually in the temple,” we can know that this, too, treats of our thinking and reasoning faculty. The temple in Jerusalem was made of whole stones, and stones throughout the Word represent truths. So, this reference to being “continually in the temple” also refers to that side of the human mind which is concerned with matters of truth, faith, and belief. 6

The Gospel of Luke, then, begins with a brief introduction which is filled with references to faith, belief, instruction, and understanding. As the four-verse introduction ends, we are left with a very clear reference to the intellectual level of the mind: “That you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:4).

With so many references to belief, knowledge, and instruction in the opening verses, it is clear that this gospel will focus on matters that involve the intellect, and the deepening of our understanding. It will be an attempt “to set in order” an account of those things “which are most surely believed.” It will be about that “holy temple”—the place in our minds where we deeply contemplate truth, meditate on the Word, and turn to the Lord in prayer. All of this is what it means to be “in the temple.” 7

The Angel Gabriel Comes to Zacharias

5. There was in the days of Herod, king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah: and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
6. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were [now] well stricken in years.
8. Now it came to pass, while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
9. according to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to enter into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
10. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense.
11. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of altar of incense.
12. And Zacharias was troubled when he saw [him], and fear fell upon him.
13. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.
16. And many of the children of Israel shall be turn unto the Lord their God.
17. And he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient [to walk] in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared [for him].
18. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.


After the brief introduction, filled with words that suggest the intellect and the understanding, we read of Zacharias, a priest: “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest, named Zacharias” (Luke 1:5). It is important to note that the first episode in Luke tells the story of a priest who is employed in the temple. A priest working in the temple is a picture of the human understanding doing its proper work. 8

As the story continues, we learn that Zacharias is serving “in the days of Herod, the king of Judea” (Luke 1:5). Herod pictures the corrupt hereditary will. It is our lower nature, the part of us that is hell-bent on making itself king by declaring itself as all-powerful and all-knowing. It is the part of the human mind that sets itself up as sole arbiter of right and wrong. It will not tolerate any competitors—not even the King of Kings. This is the same Herod who murdered his wife, his three sons, his uncle, his mother-in-law. his brother-in-law, and commanded that all boys in Bethlehem, two years of age and younger, should be put to death. Suspicious of all threats to his power, he will not only refuse to acknowledge any truth that opposes his corrupt will, but he endeavors to destroy it at its birth. For Herod, the only power that exists is his own (see Matthew 2:16).

Zacharias, however, who represents our ability to understand higher truth, acknowledges that there is a power greater than himself and obediently submits to it. We read, therefore, that Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth “were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). Unlike Herod, Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, are both righteous before God. At this point in the story, however, they have no children “because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years” (Luke 1:7). 9

When we first encounter Zacharias, he is burning incense in the temple of the Lord. It is an image of the life of prayer. The gentle, sweet-smelling smoke of incense rising upwards in the temple, symbolizes the way prayers ascend heavenwards in our mind. Suddenly, while Zacharias is at prayer, the angel Gabriel appears to him, and says, “Do not fear Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13). 10

The son that will be born will be named “John.” He will grow up to become John the Baptist who will prepare the way for the Lord. What is it in our own lives that “prepares the way for the Lord?” It is our desire to understand truth, beginning with a genuine affection for the letter of the Word — those basic stories and literal truths that we first encounter. This is the first step in our spiritual development, and it is represented by the birth of John the Baptist in us. As the angel puts it, John’s coming into the world will bring “joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.” The angel goes on to promise that “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). In other words, John the Baptist (the literal sense of the Word) will also contain the internal sense—the very soul of the Word. He will be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Gradually, as our understanding deepens, the literal meaning of the Word seems to disappear while the spiritual meaning shines forth. Even as the body fades, the spirit continues to grow. 11

But this does not happen immediately. Even though Gabriel proclaims that Elizabeth will indeed bear a child, Zacharias remains doubtful. He wonders how this can happen: “How can this be?” he says. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years” (Luke 1:13). Zacharias’ question represents the human understanding in a state of doubt as to whether it can learn anything new. “I am old in age” says Zacharias. His question represents a state of doubt. At such time times, questions may arise. Is it too late to learn anything new? we might ask. Is it too late to change my mind? Have I become so ingrained in a certain way of thinking that I cannot conceive of anything else? The answer, which is contained in this episode, is “No. It is not too late. For those who trust in the Lord and walk in His ways, new truth can always be learned. For those who truly desire to be wise, it is never too late to learn. Our spiritual instruction and learning can continue forever. 12

Elizabeth Conceives

19. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings.
20. And behold, thou shalt be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall come to pass, because thou believedst not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
21. And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled while he tarried in the temple.
22. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: and he continued making signs unto them, and remained dumb.
23. And it came to pass, when the days of his ministration were fulfilled, he departed unto his house.
24. And after these days Elisabeth his wife conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying,
25. Thus hath the Lord done unto me in the days wherein he looked upon [me], to take away my reproach among men.


It is one thing to know what is true, and to offer prayers to God. like incense rising toward heaven. This is the part of the mind that Zacharias represents. But it is quite another to receive that truth in heart, to be deeply affected by it, and to bring it forth, as a woman brings forth a child—into life, into our daily actions. This is the part of the mind that Elizabeth is about to represent. But until she does so, she will be in a state of spiritual barrenness. Whatever the cause of that barrenness—whether it can be attributed to a doubtful understanding (Zacharias) or a hesitant will (Elizabeth) or both—spiritual barrenness has its origin in a lack of complete faith. It is the inability to totally believe the Word of the Lord. When belief is sure (“most surely believed”), there is no distinction between faith and action. An individual then bears spiritual fruit. But whenever there is doubt, uncertainty and hesitation, there will be barrenness.

In Zacharias, this state of uncertainty is represented by muteness—the inability to confess the Lord because of a faith that is not yet complete, an understanding that is not yet fully opened. This is why Gabriel tells Zacharias that he will be mute till these things actually happen. Glancing back to the end of Mark we notice that one of the signs which followed belief was that “they will speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:17).

But there is a positive side to Zacharias’ muteness. As he quiets the internal chatter—as each of us must—the questions, doubts and uncertainties begin to subside. He enters a deeper level of contemplation and prayer. This is Zacharias in the temple, praying — a beautiful picture of the understanding in a state of humility, willing to learn; it is receptive, and eager to be instructed. It is a time of patient waiting, searching the scriptures, meditating on them, and pondering the wonders of the Lord’s Word.

It is during these quiet times of introspection in the light of the Lord’s Word that spiritual vision arises; we come to see the truth about ourselves, and we get a clearer understanding of our relationship to God and to others. This is why quiet reflection is so important. It is a time to grow closer to God so that He might open our spiritual eyes. In the language of sacred scripture, this is contained in the following words: “And the people waited for Zacharias and marveled that he tarried so long in the temple. But when he came out … they perceived that he had seen a vision” (Luke 1:22)

It should be noted that it was necessary for Zacharias to come out of the temple, but not until his service was completed there. It was then that his wife was able to conceive. In every human being there is a Zacharias, a side which must perform the temple duties—the reading and meditating upon the Word of God. It is the part of us that tarries in the temple, leading a life of contemplation and prayer. Although this is essential, new life cannot be conceived in this state. We must leave the temple of study and prayer; we must go forth into life. Like Zacharias, we must first develop our understanding; we must tarry in the temple long enough to get the vision. And then we must allow the vision to lead us onwards to useful endeavor. And so we read, “Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived” (Luke 1:24).

It should also be noted that in the last chapter of this gospel, Jesus tells His disciples to “Tarry in Jerusalem until you receive power from on high” (Luke 24:49). So, this gospel—the gospel that focuses on the reformation of the understanding—begins and ends in the temple.

A Greater Miracle

26. Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27. to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
28. And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord [is] with thee.
29. But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be.
30. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God.
31. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33. and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34. And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God.
36. And behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren.
37. For no word from God shall be void of power.
38. And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.


The conception of John the Baptist is indeed a miracle, for he is born to an elderly couple that has never been able to bear children. But in the next episode we learn of an even greater miracle—Jesus is born to a virgin. We read, “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women’” (Luke 1:26-28).

While the birth of John represents an awakened understanding of the literal sense of the Word, it is still relatively external—something that takes the cooperation of our human understanding, even as it takes Zacharias’ cooperation to produce an offspring. But when it comes to the deeper matters of the spirit, the human understanding plays a limited role. Its primary function, represented by Joseph, is to humbly recognize and accept the birth of new insights and new affections, while acknowledging that we have contributed nothing from ourselves: these miraculous births have a Divine—not a human—origin. They are from God, not from man. 13

The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth (Good Meets Truth)

39. And Mary arose in these days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah;
40. and entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elisabeth.
41. And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit;
42. and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry, and said, Blessed [art] thou among women, and blessed [is] the fruit of thy womb.
43. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me?
44. For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45. And blessed [is] she that believed; for there shall be a fulfilment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord.
46. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48. For he hath looked upon the low estate of his handmaid: For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; And holy is his name.
50. And his mercy is unto generations and generations On them that fear him.
51. He hath showed strength with his arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.
52. He hath put down princes from [their] thrones, And hath exalted them of low degree.
53. The hungry he hath filled with good things; And the rich he hath sent empty away.
54. He hath given help to Israel his servant, That he might remember mercy
55. (As he spake unto our fathers) Toward Abraham and his seed for ever.
56. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned unto her house.
57. Now Elisabeth's time was fulfilled that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.
58. And her neighbors and her kinsfolk heard that the Lord had magnified his mercy towards her; and they rejoiced with her.


There is a certain level of excitement generated when people come into a new sight of the truth, and when their minds are raised into the light of some clearer understanding. And yet, there is a vast difference in degree between this sort of intellectual excitement, and the joy which can be experienced when that new level of understanding is combined with the birth of the desire to live according to it.

This moment of great joy, when goodness meets truth, is represented in these beautiful words of scripture: “Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:39-41).

Elizabeth is delighted and amazed by this wondrous experience. But she also wonders why it has been granted to her. This experience is available to each of us. It takes place whenever a good impulse arises in us. This “arising” is represented by Mary’s taking the initiative and visiting her cousin, Elizabeth who is pregnant with a son who will be called “John the Baptist.” As soon as Mary arrives Elizabeth’s son leaps in the womb. Spiritually seen, this is a picture of some truth in our lives (John the Baptist) springing to life when touched with goodness.

Elizabeth wonders why she has been granted such a privilege, saying: “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). Her question is an important one. What is it that gives life to the truth that we carry in the womb of our minds? The answer is given by Elizabeth herself, as she praises Mary: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

Blessed is she who believed.” This is a key statement, and it is fundamental to understanding the central message of this gospel. As we shall see, in episode after episode, those who believe will be blessed. Those who have faith will be saved. Again and again, people will hear Jesus saying to them, “Your faith has made you well.” Goodness will come to those who hold truth in their minds and long to put it into their lives.

True faith — the kind that can “make us well” — must be distinguished from blind faith. Genuine belief, is not a matter of believing something because others tell us it is true. Nor is it a matter of believing things that make no sense to us, even if learned authorities tell us that ‘these things must be taken on faith.” True faith is much deeper and more personal. It is the blessed acknowledgment that something is really so because it is really true. For example, God is good — all the time. God loves everyone — all the time. There are no exceptions. It is really so. In spite of any appearances to the contrary, we simply know that this is true, This is the gift of perception, the blessed ability to believe the truth because we perceive it to be true. This blessed assurance is given to all who trust in God and believe in God’s goodness: “Blessed is she who believed.” 14

Whenever we come into a state of belief, there comes with it a sense of something flowing into us from within; it is as though God is with us, reassuring us that “this is true.” It is an inner perception that something is true or not. And the central most universal truth of the Christian faith is belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is confidence that he saves. The more we strive to do His will, the more confident do we become that He will save us. This is true faith. This is what it means, most deeply, to believe. 15

The Naming of John

59. And it came to pass on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him Zacharias, after the name of the father.
60. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
61. And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.
62. And they made signs to his father, what he would have him called.
63. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all.
64. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue [loosed], and he spake, blessing God.
65. And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea.
66. And all that heard them laid them up in their heart, saying, What then shall this child be? For the hand of the Lord was with him.
67. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,
68. Blessed [be] the Lord, the God of Israel; For he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people,
69. And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of his servant David
70. (As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old),
71. Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72. To show mercy towards, our fathers, And To remember his holy covenant;
73. The oath which he spake unto Abraham our father,
74. To grant unto us that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies Should serve him without fear,
75. In holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76. Yea and thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways;
77. To give knowledge of salvation unto his people In the remission of their sins,
78. Because of the tender mercy of our God, Whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us,
79. To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; To guide our feet into the way of peace.
80. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel.


After Elizabeth gave birth to her son, the time came for the naming of the baby. Everyone thought that the baby would be named “Zacharias,” after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No, his name shall be John” (Luke 1:60). This was a surprise to everyone because none of the relatives had ever had that name. When it came time for Zacharias to speak, he asked for a writing tablet and wrote the simple words, “His name is John” (Luke 1:63). Immediately afterwards the muteness that had descended upon Zacharias departed, and he begins to speak words of praise for the Lord. “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,” he said, “for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David … that we should be saved from our enemies” (Luke 1:68-71).

Something wonderful has happened to Zacharias. His spirit-filled words are full of confidence in the saving power of God. As his prophecy continues, he speaks directly about the mission that his newly born son is to fulfill: “And you, child will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way, to give knowledge of salvation to His people … to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76, 77, 79).

Originally, we saw Zacharias as an old priest performing rituals in the temple. But now we see Zacharias as a transformed being, filled with the Holy Spirit. He is no longer the old priest who represented the faith of the former church—a faith that was based on obedience to rituals and traditions, however well-meaning or righteous. That was the “former church” in us—a state of mind where we may have indeed gone through the motions of prayer, but without a solid faith. In our former faith there may have been doubt as to whether God even heard our prayers. This is why the angel spoke to Zacharias, removing his doubt by saying, “Your prayer is heard.” The angel then added this promise: “Your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13).

This, of course, is what came to pass. The angel’s words were true, and a son was born. Zacharias now knows that God does indeed answer prayers. In the spiritual dimension of our lives, this is a significant lesson about the power of faith. Every anxiety, every worry, and every concern can be taken away if we have faith in God. While our pleas for riches and fame may not be satisfied, our prayers for patience, courage, love, and understanding will always be fulfilled. God answers our prayers, and responds to our needs, but we must first have faith that our prayers are heard, and that our needs are understood. This is to “believe in Him.” It is to have confidence that He gives us the light “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

As this episode draws to a conclusion, we read that John “grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the desert till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80). This pictures the way our understanding of the literal sense of the Word continues to grow and develop as we continue to meditate on it and dwell upon its significance in our lives. Though we may not see immediate results, or any specific connection between the stories in the Word and our daily activities, something is nevertheless taking place deeply within our spirit. The time will come when those literal words of scripture will take on new meaning for us. Just as Mary, the mother Jesus came to Elizabeth, the mother of John, we will begin to sense the Lord’s goodness touching the literal truth of the Word we hold in our minds, and new applications will spring to mind.

The message then is to remain rooted in sacred scripture. If we hold the Word of God in mind, even the most literal stories, God can work miracles within us at a deeper level. Although John the Baptist in us will remain “in the desert” for a while, as long as we remain faithful to the Word, and to Him who gave it to us, those literal truths will take on more and more power. They will grow “stronger in spirit” until they come forth as loving actions in our lives. In the words of sacred scripture, John the Baptist “grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the desert till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80)

Footnotes:

1Arcana Coelestia 9032: “In the internal sense ‘being baptized’ means being regenerated, and being regenerated is being led into the good of love and charity by means of the truths of faith. From this it is clear that the truth as stated in the literal sense of the Word agrees with the truth as presented in religious teachings, provided that what is meant spiritually by ‘being baptized’ is understood. And the reason why it says that ‘one who does not believe will be condemned’ is that an unbeliever cannot be baptized, that is, be regenerated.”

2. It should be recalled that at the end of Mark, we pointed out that repentance comes first. Next in order is the reformation of the mind, or the establishment of a sound belief based on understanding. See True Christian Religion 571: “After repentance, next in order comes reformation…. Reformation is a state of thought from the understanding.”

3Apocalypse Explained 1100:23: “There are people at the present day who wish the understanding to be kept under obedience to faith, holding even that a thing must be believed and not understood, and claiming that intellectual faith is not true faith.” See also Apocalypse Revealed 914: “Blind faith is faith separated from the understanding…. Hence it is, that they are: ‘Blind leaders of the blind. And when the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch’ (Matthew 15:14)…. Therefore, my friend, go to the Lord, and shun evils as sins, and reject faith alone, and then your understanding will be opened, and you will see wonderful things, and be affected by them.”

4Arcana Coelestia 2148: “By ‘eyes’ in the Word is signified the interior sight, or the understanding.”

5Apocalypse Explained 204:6: “The reason that Jerusalem is called the holy city is that it signifies the church where the doctrinal things of truth are taught.”

6Arcana Coelestia 8988:5: “By ‘stones’ in general signify truths, and ‘precious stones’ [gemstones] signify truths which are [directly] from the Lord.” See also Arcana Coelestia 1298: “It was commanded that the altar [in the temple] should be built of whole stones, not hewn, and it was forbidden that any iron should be moved upon them (Deuteronomy 27:5-7; Joshua 8:31). This is because hewn stones, and stones on which iron has been used, signify what is artificial … and what is from a person’s own reasoning and imagining.”

7Arcana Coelestia 2048: “The word ‘temple’ signifies the truth of faith in a person.” See also Arcana Coelestia 3700:2: “When a temple is mentioned there occurs to the angels the idea of truth.” This is because temples are built of stone, and stones, throughout the Word signify truth. In this regard we read the following in Arcana Coelestia 8941:6: “The temple at Jerusalem was built of whole stones…. For the ‘temple of the Lord’ represented the Divine Truth.”

8Arcana Coelestia 10327: “A priest signifies a representative of the Lord’s spiritual kingdom . . . and the incense of spices signifies a representative of worship from truths.”

9Apocalypse Explained 638:13: “In the internal sense, which is the sense of the spirit of the Word, by ‘wife’ is signified the affection for truth.”

10Arcana Coelestia 9475: “Incense signifies the things of worship that are perceived with delight, such as acts of thanksgiving, adoration, prayer.”

11Arcana Coelestia 5620:12: “John the Baptist represents the Lord as to the Word, which is the Divine Truth on earth….The ‘clothing of camel's hair’ signifies that the Word, such as is its literal sense as to truth (which sense is a clothing for the internal sense), is natural; for what is natural is signified by ‘hair,’ and also by ‘camels.’ His ‘food being of locusts and wild honey’ signifies the Word such as is its literal sense as to good; the delight of this is signified by ‘wild honey.’” See also Arcana Coelestia 4857:3: “The spiritual sense lives within the literal sense as a person's spirit lives within a person’s body. Like a person's spirit the spiritual sense continues live when the literal sense fades away. Therefore, the internal sense may be called the soul of the Word.”

12Divine Providence 334: “Every angel is perfected in wisdom to eternity. But each is thus perfected in keeping with the degree of his affection for goodness and truth which he had when he departed from the world. It is this degree that is perfected to eternity.

13Apocalypse Explained 475:20: “John only inaugurated them [the Jewish people] into knowledges from the Word respecting the Lord, and thus prepared them to receive Him, but the Lord Himself regenerates people by means of divine truth and divine good proceeding from Him.”

14Faith 1-2: “At the present day the term ‘faith’ is taken to mean the mere thought that the thing is so because the church so teaches, and because it is not evident to the understanding. For we are told to believe and not to doubt, and if we say that we do not comprehend, we are told that this is just the reason for believing. So that the faith of the present day is a faith in the unknown and may be called blind faith…. This is not spiritual faith. Real faith is nothing else than an acknowledgment that the thing is so because it is true; for one who is in real faith thinks and says, ‘This is true, and therefore I believe it.’”

15Faith 36: “The Universal of the Christian Faith is to believe in the Lord, for through believing in Him there is effected conjunction with Him, by which comes salvation. To believe in Him is to have confidence that He will save, and as no one can have this confidence except one who lives aright, therefore this also is meant by believing in Him.”

The Bible

 

Mark 16:17

Study the Inner Meaning

              

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Mark 16      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

Chapter Sixteen

Resurrection

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1. And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary [the mother] of James, and Salome, had bought spices, that when they came they might anoint Him.

2. And very [early] in the morning the first [day] of the week, they come to the sepulcher as the sun was rising.

3. And they said among themselves, “Who shall roll away for us the stone from the door of the sepulcher?”

4. And when they looked, they beheld that the stone was rolled away; for it was very great.

5. And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right, arrayed [in] a white robe; and they were astounded.

6. But he says to them, “Be not astounded. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; He is risen; He is not here; see, the place where they put Him.

7. But go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He goes before you into Galilee; there you shall see Him, as He said to you.”

8. And going out quickly, they fled from the sepulcher, with trembling and amazement; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
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The angel speaks to the women

When Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus in the tomb on Friday evening, it must have felt as though all hope was lost. Their beloved leader had been crucified, and now His body was in a tomb. The people had expected wonderful things. Their Messiah had come to usher in a new kingdom. A new era of prosperity was about to dawn. The crucifixion seemed to say that these hopes and aspirations were nailed to the cross. Hearts were broken, and dreams were shattered. It is not difficult to imagine that terrible doubts and tormenting questions may have arisen. “What if Jesus were not the promised Messiah?” they may have asked themselves. “What if He were an imposter who claimed to be the promised king? Questions like these may have arisen, along with what may have been the most difficult question of all: “What now?” It was, to be sure, a devastating time for those who loved Jesus.

As the next episode begins, it is very early on Sunday morning. The women who had watched the crucifixion from afar on Friday afternoon are on their way to Jesus’ tomb. They are expecting to anoint Jesus’ body in accordance with the rite of purification for the dead. As Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome approach the tomb where they expect to find Jesus’ body, they are concerned about the large stone that will block their entrance. “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?’ they wonder (Mark 16:2-3).

When they arrive at the tomb, they are surprised to discover that the stone has already been rolled away. As they enter the tomb, they see something much more surprising than the rolling away of the stone. They are greeted by a young man, clothed in a white robe, sitting on the right side of the tomb. Noticing that the women are amazed, the young man says to them, “Do not be astonished. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen” (Mark 16:6). Then, to
2.
emphasize this point, the young man brings their attention to the place where Jesus had been placed. “He is not here,” he says to the women. “Behold the place where they laid Him” (Mark 16:6). The young man is surely an angel.

Having made it clear to the women that the Lord is not in the tomb, the angel then gives them specific instructions. “Go and tell His disciples, and Peter, that He goes before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you” (Mark 16:7). In a previous episode, Peter had proudly asserted His loyalty to Jesus. “Even if I should die with You,” Peter said to Jesus at that time, “I will not betray You.” (Mark 14:31). But Jesus knew otherwise. “All of you shall fall away,” Jesus said, “for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’” (Zechariah 13:7). Jesus then added this promise, “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee” (Mark 14:28). This is why the angel instructs the women to tell the disciples that Jesus has risen and will meet them in Galilee, just as He promised.

Before continuing with the literal narrative, we need to take a closer look at the interior meaning of these events. First of all, the women were expecting to find Jesus’ lifeless body in the tomb. Instead, they encountered an angel with a powerful message. “He is risen,” said the angel. There are times when the Word seems to be a lifeless tomb, just words on paper. However, if we continue to read reverently, like the women who come to anoint the Lord’s body, we receive messages of hope. These messages are the voice of the angel in the tomb, who represents the inner meaning of the Word. These messages tell us that if we really hope to connect with the risen Lord, we will meet Him in Galilee. Spiritually speaking, Galilee symbolizes a life of useful service. Doctrinal teachings are necessary and wonderful, but they are meant to direct us to lives that are rich with purpose and meaning. As we follow the teachings of the Word, shunning evils as sins against God, we grow in our love to the Lord and love to the neighbor. This is what it means to “meet the Lord in Galilee.” We connect with the Lord’s loving presence in every act of loving service. 1

There will be times, however, when our faith will be tested. This is especially true of that place within us that is represented by Peter. We can feel sure about our commitment to keeping the commandments and living lives of useful service. We can say with Peter, “Even if I have to die doing so, I will never give up my devotion to the Lord.” But there will be times when our faith, represented by Peter, goes through trials, and we may experience failure. There may be times when we might feel disappointed with ourselves, times when we fail to live up to our faith. But failure is never the end, especially when we learn from it. In fact, faith can be strengthened during times of trial. Therefore, the message to go meet the risen Lord in Galilee is for all the disciples in us, but especially for Peter who has stumbled. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “Though they stumble, they shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholds them” (Psalms 37:24).

Through the words of the angel, and the promise of Jesus, we can remember that the Lord is always with us, even during those times when we experience what seems to be a failure of faith. These “dark nights of the soul” are inevitable on the path to a new day. It is for this reason that the angel tells the women to proclaim the good news to the disciples — and especially to Peter. 2
3.
When the women hear the message of the angel, they flee from the tomb, “trembling and amazed.” And while they are on their way to deliver the good news to the disciples, “they say nothing to anyone because they are afraid” (Mark 16:8). Their fear is understandable. So much has happened, so unexpectedly. The great stone that that blocked the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away. Inside, Jesus’ body was gone, and an angel told them that Jesus had risen. Now, as the angel sends them to the disciples to deliver the exciting news, they are trembling with holy fear. 3

Jesus Reveals Himself to Mary Magdalene

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9. And when He rose again in the morning on the first [day] of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.

10. She having gone forth reported [it] to those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept.

11. And they, when they had heard that He was alive and was observed by her, believed not.

12. And after these things He was manifested in another form, to two of them as they were walking, as they were going into the country.

13. And these, going away, reported [it] to the rest; neither did they believe them.
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The joy of meeting God

It has been an exciting morning. When the women came to the tomb, they discovered that the stone had been rolled away, and an angel was sitting in the tomb. The angel first assured the women that Jesus had risen and then the angel directed the women to tell the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. As that episode ends, the women are racing off to tell the disciples. Somewhere along the way, Mary Magdalene has an encounter with Jesus. As it is written, “And when He rose again, early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene” (Mark 16:9).

Many commentators believe that this verse is the beginning of an unnecessary “add on” written by a scribe who did not want the gospel to end at 16:8. According to this theory, a longer ending was made up and added on. But, as we shall see, an understanding of the internal sense demonstrates that verses 9-20 are not only essential to a complete understanding of this gospel but are also an indispensable part of the “seamless garment” that is the hallmark of God’s Word. 4

As we take a more interior look at this episode, it is especially significant that Jesus chose to appear first to Mary Magdalene. After all, she is a person “out of whom He had cast seven devils” (Mark 16:9). This is one of the most beautiful and significant moments in the gospel. A woman who had spent much of her life as a sinner, but was delivered from many demons, is the first to see the risen Lord. In the Word, “demons” represent the many forms of evil that attack and infest us. And the number “seven,” which often represents holiness, also represents the complete perversion of everything that is holy. Being delivered from “seven demons,” then, represents deliverance from a state of total perversion and profanation. 5

The story of Mary Magdalene’s deliverance brings to mind the story of the Gadarene man from whom Jesus cast out a legion of demons (Mark 5:14-15). Up until that point in the Gospel According to Mark, Jesus had expressly forbidden people to speak about the healings they had witnessed. In the case of the Gadarene man, however, who had a first-hand experience of deliverance, Jesus said, “Go and tell your friends what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (Mark 5:19).

Like the Gadarene man, Mary Magdalene has also experienced a great deliverance. In both cases, there was an experience of a deep, interior healing. The Gadarene man experienced what it was like to be in his right mind again after a legion of demons were cast out, and Mary Magdalene experienced what it was like to be freed from seven demons, a number which represents deliverance from a total and complete profanation of goodness and truth. Unlike those who had witnessed Jesus healing others, or those who were healed of physical afflictions, a complete internal healing represented by a total casting out of demons is altogether different. It represents much more than a physical recovery, or even a change in one’s understanding. It represents a change of heart — one that can only come about through a direct experience of Jesus’ love. And this can only come about through repentance — shunning evils as sins against God. 6

In brief, to repent is to cast out demons. This is what enables us to rise up with Jesus, filled with His goodness and led by His truth. Whenever we have this experience of freedom from inner demons, we feel uplifted and inspired. Nothing can stop us from the holy desire to proclaim the gospel. We can go forth fearless and unafraid. As it is written of Mary Magdalene, “She went forth and reported it to those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept” (Mark 16:10).

Mary Magdalene’s meeting with Jesus on that memorable morning is significant. She has not only heard the good news from the angel, but she has experienced the risen Lord for herself. It is similar for each of us. It is one thing to be inspired by the truth of the Lord’s Word. This is what it is like to meet the angel. But when we carry out the directive of the angel, living according to the holy teachings of the Word, we meet the Lord along the way.

This is the experience of everyone who lives according to the truth. At a certain point, the Lord “meets” that truth that we carry within us and fills it with goodness. In the end, we act not so much from truth we have believed but rather from the goodness that has infilled that truth. This is another way of explaining what it means to “meet the Lord.” The truth that we have received “meets” the goodness that flows into that truth. When this happens, the Lord adapts and uses that truth in numerous ways to bless the lives of others. 7

The disciples refuse to believe

When Mary Magdalene “met Jesus” along the way, it was a direct result of doing what the angel said. She was on her way to announce to the disciples that Jesus had risen. This was truly exciting news. Jesus had not only risen from the tomb, but He had risen in her heart as well. And so, “She went forth to report to those who had been with Him as they mourned and wept.” It was, to be sure, an exciting moment in the life of Mary Magdalene. Sadly, however, when she announced the news, “they did not believe it” (Mark 16:10-11).

The refusal to believe the news about Jesus’ resurrection now becomes a major theme in this next episode. Jesus has already revealed Himself to Mary. Now He reveals Himself to two of the disciples as they are walking in the country. When these two disciples take the news back to the others, none of them believe their words. As it is written, “When they reported it to the rest of the disciples, they did not believe them” (Mark 16:13). In both cases, whether it was Mary Magdalene reporting that she had seen Jesus, or the two disciples reporting the same news, they were met with unbelief.

Why did the disciples stubbornly refuse to believe? After all, Jesus had risen from the grave, just as He said He would. And He was coming back to meet with them, just as he promised. It must have been disappointing to be the bearer of such wonderful news and yet meet with such unbelief, especially from the disciples. Their unbelief, which seems incredible, contains a more interior message. We cannot transfer the joy of “meeting God” to others. This is because belief is dependent upon one’s readiness to receive. In order to receive the good news, “good ground” must be prepared, and this can only take place through the shunning of evils. That kind of goodness — the kind that makes people ready to receive — is not transferable. Everyone must prepare the ground for themselves. This is the meaning of repentance. 8

Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus had told them many times that He would rise again on the third day (8:31; 9:31; 10:34). At the Last Supper, Jesus told them He would no longer be drinking wine with them until “that day” when He would again drink it with them “in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). And He told them that after the crucifixion He would rise again and meet them in Galilee (Mark 14:28) None of these statements seem to have registered with the disciples. Instead, they continue to mourn. They do not believe.

Becoming an Apostle

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14. Afterwards He was manifested to the eleven as they sat, and reproached them for their unbelief and hard-heartedness, because they believed not those that had observed Him when He was risen.

15. And He said to them, “Going [forth] into all the world, preach the gospel to every creature.

16. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be condemned.

17. And these signs shall follow along with those that believe: in My name they shall cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues;

18. They shall take up serpents; though they drink anything deadly, it shall not harm them; they shall lay hands on those that were ailing, and they shall become well.”
---

The disciples had refused to believe the testimony of Mary Magdalene who had seen Jesus with her own eyes. They even refused to believe the testimony of their fellow disciples who had just seen Jesus for themselves. The next step is for Jesus to come to the disciples personally and reveal Himself in His post-resurrection body. This is exactly what He does. As it is written, “Afterwards, He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table” (Mark 16:14).

The imagery is reminiscent of the Last Supper when Jesus told His disciples that He would drink wine with them “anew” in the kingdom of God. As He presides once more at the table with them, He offers the “new wine,” but it’s not the kind of wine that they expect. Instead of drinking wine with Jesus in a joyous celebration of the new government, and in the triumphal expectation that they would soon “sit on thrones,” Jesus offers them the new wine of spiritual truth. This is the wine He promised to drink with them in His coming kingdom. 9

As Jesus shares this new wine with His disciples, the first lesson is about repentance. The disciples must first of all repent of their unbelief and their hardness of heart. In fact, this lesson has been a consistent one throughout the Gospel According to Mark. In the very first episode of this gospel, John the Baptist preaches about the “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). And in this final episode, Jesus continues with the theme of repentance. He tells His disciples that if they are going to preach about the kingdom of God, they will have to repent and believe that He is risen. As it is written, Jesus “rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen” (Mark 16:14). Similarly, when we give up our own unbelief and hardness of heart, we can experience the rising of the Lord’s truth and goodness within us. 10

Jesus then says to His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. But he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). When Jesus speaks about believing and being baptized, He is referring to the beginning of our spiritual development. The first stage, as we have seen in the Gospel According to Matthew, is to acknowledge the divinity of Jesus Christ who came to establish the kingdom of God on earth. “Believing,” however, must be followed by a sincere desire to live according to the truths that Jesus teaches. 11

Jesus also says, “He who does not believe shall be condemned.” This refers to the deliberate choice to turn away from the goodness and truth that flow in from God. Every time people willingly turn away from forgiveness, choosing instead to dwell in resentment, they condemn themselves to a life of misery. Every time people willingly turn away from the truth, choosing instead to remain in falsity, they condemn themselves to a life lived in darkness. This is what “condemns” a person. On the other hand, God, who is love itself and mercy itself, condemns no one. 12

The signs that follow belief

In a previous chapter, when the unbelieving religious leaders asked Jesus for a sign, Jesus said, “No sign will be given to this generation” (Mark 8:12). Jesus knows that external signs, which can momentarily compel belief, do not necessarily lead to internal change. True belief is based on the acknowledgement of God and a life according to His commandments. This is the kind of belief that produces quiet, lasting internal changes. These “internal signs” are changes in the way we think and in the way we feel. They are the true signs of spiritual development. In this regard, it is important to note that these signs follow belief; they do not precede it. Therefore, Jesus says to His disciples, “These are the signs which follow those who believe” (Mark 16:17). 13

The first sign that follows belief is, “In My name, they will cast out demons” (Mark 16:17). In the presence of the divine qualities, represented by the phrase “In My name,” negative emotions and destructive thoughts will be cast out. This is because hatred cannot bear the presence of love; resentment cannot bear the presence of forgiveness; greed cannot bear the presence of generosity, and falsity cannot bear the presence of truth. Whatever is evil and false cannot endure the presence of what is good and true. When God’s qualities lead the way in our lives, evil is cast out. 14

The next sign that follows belief is, “They will speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:17). As we go forth in the name of the Lord, our hearts will be touched by deeper, more tender affections, our minds will expand to receive heavenly truths, and our lips will be opened to share these new affections and perceptions in words that are wonderfully accommodated to those who are ready to receive them. Like the Gadarene man who was delivered from demons (Mark 5:19), we will be eager to “go home to our friends and tell them what great things the Lord has done for us. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise” (Psalms 51:15). 15

The third sign that follows belief is, “They will take up serpents” (Mark 16:18). In the Word, the term “serpents” refers to hypocrites, cheaters, and deceitful people who appear to be sincere and genuine on the surface but are poisonous serpents at heart. At a more interior level, these words apply to evil spirits who enjoy nothing more than insinuating false ideas that destroy our faith in the Lord and take away our desire to live according to His truths. In the Hebrew scriptures, they are described as having tongues like deadly snakes, and their words are like “the venom of vipers” (Psalms 140:3). However, as long as we are learning truth, living good lives, and are led by the Lord, we will be given the ability to see through the schemes of these deadly serpents and not be taken in by them. Their poisonous words and venomous feelings will not be able to reach us. 16

The fourth sign that follows belief is, “If they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them” (Mark 16:18). In the Word, water represents life-giving truth. A “deadly drink,” however, would be just the opposite. It would be any false teaching that might contaminate our understanding. For example, “Disease is a divine punishment” and “The day of God’s wrath is coming soon” are ideas that can be deadly. The only antidote is to learn the truth and make it our own by living according to it. Whenever we do this, our understanding cannot be polluted by these deadly doctrines. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “They have contaminated the sanctuary. They give perverse interpretations of the Law” (Zechariah 3:4). The Lord, however, offers protection. “I have healed this water,” says the Lord, “Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive” (2 Kings 2:21-22). 17

Finally, the last of the signs that follow belief is, “They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:18). This sign follows the previous four. Once we have been freed of demons, we will speak with new tongues, offering words of truth that can bring comfort and healing. Once we have been protected from the deceitful words of evil spirits and are uncontaminated by false teachings, we will be able to let the Lord’s truth and goodness work through us. Once we have recovered from the spiritual ailments that afflicted us, we will be able to “lay hands on the sick and they will recover.” This means that we must first do our part by acknowledging God and doing the work of repentance. Only then will we be able to help others turn to the Lord so that they may rise above their spiritual sicknesses. In place of their anxieties and uncertainties they will find peace in God and security in the truths that are revealed in His Word. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “I will bring health and healing; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and truth” (Jeremiah 33:6). 18

While these signs are clothed in natural imagery, they contain spiritual lessons. They remind us that the Lord is calling us to work first on the inside before going forth to spread the gospel. Our own demons must first be identified and cast out before we can speak with new tongues. When we are well-established in the truth through living it, we will not be deceived by inner serpents that can destroy our faith, or be led astray by false teachings that can contaminate our understanding. To the extent that we do this, we become spiritual disciples, apostles of the Lord who carry messages that will bless and heal the spiritual lives of others.

Sharing the Gospel

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19. Then indeed the Lord, after speaking to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat at the right hand of God.

20. And going out, they preached everywhere, the Lord working with [them] and confirming the Word through signs following after. Amen.
---

The description of the five signs that follow belief ended with the words, “They shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.” In the Word, “hands,” and especially the “right hand,” is a symbol of power. When referring to the Lord, it is a symbol of divine omnipotence. This is the kind of power that is being referred to as this gospel comes to its conclusion. As it is written, “Then indeed the Lord, after speaking to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19). In the language of sacred scripture, this refers to God’s omnipotent power as manifested in His life on earth as Jesus Christ. 19

As the disciples go forth to share the gospel, they will have the power to bring hope and healing to others. This, as we have said, is the power to “lay hands on the sick so that they recover.” However, they will need to remember that such power does not come from them but rather through them. If they remember that everything they do is “in the name of the Lord,” they will be able to do great wonders. As it is written in the final verse of this gospel, “And going forth, they preached everywhere, the Lord working through them, confirming what they said by miraculous signs” (Mark 16:20) 20

Looking Towards Luke and John

As we have tried to show in this study, Matthew focuses primarily on the gradual revelation of Jesus’ divinity, ending with Jesus’ declaration, “All power has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). As we turned the page from the last verse in Matthew to the first verse in Mark, we noted that Mark picks up where Matthew leaves off.

As it is written, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Jesus is no longer the “son of David, son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Mark begins with the bold assertion that Jesus is the “Son of God”.

Then, immediately, John the Baptist is on the scene preaching repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4). While every gospel regards repentance as an essential aspect of spiritual development, Mark is the only gospel that begins with repentance within the first few verses (Mark 1:2-10). The first time that Jesus sends out His disciples in this gospel it is written that “they went out and proclaimed that all should repent” (Mark 6:12). While Matthew and Luke also record the sending out of the apostles (Matthew 10:1-42; Luke 10:1-19), Mark is the only gospel that specifically connects the apostolic commission with repentance. 21

Therefore, in the closing episode of Mark, when Jesus rebukes His disciples for their unbelief and hardness of heart, He is reminding them, one last time, that repentance is key. Jesus wants them to repent from the hardness of heart that prevents belief. A hardened heart is like hard, stony ground that cannot receive good seed. Therefore, repentance is necessary. It is through repentance, through recognizing our sins and praying to be delivered from them, that the heart can be softened and made receptive. 22

It can be said, then, that spiritual development begins with a power greater than ourselves, and especially the acceptance of Jesus’ divinity. Once that acknowledgement is made, repentance, which is a main theme in Mark, is possible. Next comes the Gospel According to Luke where the focus will be on the reformation of the understanding. This is the part of us that relates to how we think and what we believe. As human beings, each of us is endowed with the gift of rationality. We can use this gift to either accept or deny the truths that are contained in sacred scripture. We can believe or not believe. The acceptance of these truths and subsequent refinement of our understanding is called reformation. In other words, it is about the “re-formation” of our mind.

The understanding, however, is only one aspect of our fundamental humanity. The other aspect of our humanity is our will. This is not about understanding and intellect, nor is it about faith and belief. It’s about what we love, what we desire, and what we want. Therefore, this aspect of our humanity is called our “will.” Although we cannot reform the will, a new will can be born in us. We can be given new loves, new aspirations, and new desires. This new birth is called regeneration. In the language of sacred scripture, regeneration is about the new birth in us which is also called “being born again” and acquiring “a new heart.”

As we shall see, when the Four Gospels are read and understood in their order and sequence, they reveal the seamless story of our spiritual development — from our earliest awareness of Jesus’ Divinity (Matthew), to our need for repentance (Mark), to the reformation of our understanding (Luke), and finally to the experience of regeneration through the birth and development of a new will (John). 23

The Gospel According to Mark begins with the words “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” As we shall see, this is only the beginning of the gospel, but not the end. There is more to come.

Footnotes:

1. Apocalypse Explained 447:5: “Galilee signifies … those who are in the good of life and therefore receive truths. They are in the conjunction of good and truth, and in combat against evils and falsities.” See also Apocalypse Explained 535:3: “The essential thing in heaven is the good of life, which is the same as the good of love to the Lord and the good of charity towards the neighbor. In heaven everyone has perception of truth, intelligence, and wisdom, in accordance with the good of life [that they are in].”

2. Apocalypse Explained 443:5: “Peter, signifies truth and faith, and in the contrary sense, falsity and the absence of faith.” See also Arcana Coelestia 6344:5: “The power which comes from the Lord through faith is meant by the Lord’s words to Peter, “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 16:18-19). These words were addressed to Peter because he represented faith. Also, wherever ‘rock’ occurs in the Word, as Peter is called here, faith is meant in the internal sense.”

3. Apocalypse Revealed 56: “A holy fear is sometimes combined with a reverent trembling of the interior parts of the mind, and sometimes with a standing on end of the hair. It comes over a person when life from the Lord enters in place of one’s own life.”

4. Arcana Coelestia 1468: “All the historical events recorded in the Word are representative and every word carries a spiritual meaning. No other historical details have been brought in, and in no other order, nor expressed in any other words than such as in the internal sense may express these secrets of heaven.” See also Arcana Coelestia 2953: “All things described in the Word are representative, and every single expression carries a spiritual meaning…. Spiritual and celestial things in the Word follow one after another in a perfectly ordered sequence, holding that which is holy within them.”

5. Arcana Coelestia 5268:2-3: “In the Word, the number ‘seven’ signifies both holy and profane things.” See also Apocalypse Revealed 10: “The seven spirits … symbolize all falsities that arise from evil, thus a complete extinguishing of goodness and truth…. This makes apparent that ‘seven,’ which can symbolize either holiness or profanation, also symbolizes completeness and fullness.”

6. Apocalypse Explained 586:1-2: “Demons’ are evil desires … and all spirits that are in the hells are nothing but evil desires.” See also Apocalypse Revealed 458: “The words, “they should not adore demons” refer to those who are in the evils of their own lusts and make one with their like in hell…. In hell, those are called ‘demons’ who are in these same desires. Therefore, ‘to adore demons’ is to make ‘offerings’ to these desires from the love of them…. It follows that anyone who does not search out evils in oneself and shun them as sins against God … becomes a demon after death.”

7. Invitation to the New Church 57: “When people are being regenerated, that is, when they are being conjoined with the Lord, they advance towards this conjunction by means of truth….The Lord then goes to meet these truths by means of good, that is, by means of charity, and adapts this goodness to fit the truths…. The more genuine the truths are, and the more they are multiplied, the more can good … manifest itself through them. Afterwards, the truths do not appear, except insofar as good shines through them.”

8. Brief Summary of New Church Doctrine 111: “The transference of the good of one person to another is impossible. This is because everyone is born in evil, then led into good through regeneration by the Lord. This is brought about by faith in the Lord, and by a life according to His commandments…. Those who conceive regeneration and renewal in any other way know nothing about the human condition. Nor do they know that evil and good are altogether opposite to each other, and that good cannot be implanted except in so far as evil is removed.”

9. True Christian Religion 708: “The fruit of the vine that people will drink anew in the heavenly kingdom signifies heavenly truths.” See also True Christian Religion 621:13: “Spiritual bread is the holiness of love, and spiritual wine is the holiness of faith. Both of these are from the Lord, and both are the Lord. Therefore [in the Holy Supper] there is a conjunction of the Lord with a person, and of a person with the Lord. This conjunction is not with the bread and wine, but with the love and faith in the individual who practices repentance.”

10. Arcana Coelestia 2405:7: “The Lord’s resurrection on the third day in the morning … represents His rising again in the minds of the regenerate every day, and even every moment.”

11. Arcana Coelestia 10392: “The phrase ‘one who believes’ refers to a person who acknowledges the Lord and receives divine truths from Him through the Word. The words ‘one who is baptized’ is a person who is being regenerated by the Lord by means of those truths.” See also Arcana Coelestia 9032:2: “In the internal sense ‘being baptized’ means being regenerated. This means being led into the good of love and charity by means of the truths of faith.”

12. Arcana Coelestia 2335:3: “The Lord is mercy itself and good itself. Mercy itself and good itself can never condemn anyone; but people condemn themselves when they reject goodness.” See also Arcana Coelestia 1032: “People of the church say that without faith and without knowledge of the Lord there is no salvation, and thus He condemns all who are out of the church…. But this is not the case at all…. The mercy of the Lord is infinite and cannot be limited to those few who are within the church. Rather, the Lord’s mercy extends itself to all in the whole world.”

13. Divine Providence 130: “No one is reformed by miracles and signs, because they compel.”

14. True Christian Religion 124: “There is so much power in the Lord’s truth that when demons from hell merely sense that it might be present, they run away, throw themselves down into deep places, and squeeze into underground shelters to hide.” See also Apocalypse Explained 706:14: “The name of the Lord understood spiritually means everything of doctrine out of the Word from the Lord, and ‘demons’ mean falsities of every kind, and these are thus cast out, that is, taken away, by the doctrine out of the Word from the Lord.”

15. Apocalypse Explained 455:22: “The apostles and others after the Lord’s resurrection spoke with new tongues, signifying the confession of the Lord and of the truths of the new church…. Speaking with ‘new tongues’ signifies confessions from the love of truth or zeal.”

16. Arcana Coelestia 9013: “Evils done with deceit are the worst, because deceit is like a poison which infects and destroys with infernal venom, for it goes through the whole mind even to its interior…. But they who are in the faith of truth and in the life of good from the Lord, cannot be injured by the poisons of such, for they are in light from the Lord, in which the deceitful appear like serpents, and their deceits like poisons.” See also Arcana Coelestia 903:5: “But those who are led by the Lord, believing what is true and leading a good life, cannot suffer injury from their poisons…. Their preservation by the Lord is meant by the Lords words to His disciples, ‘These signs will follow those who believe, they will take up serpents.’”

17. Apocalypse Explained 706:14: “The words, ‘they would not be hurt if they drank any deadly thing’ mean that they would not be contaminated by the malice of the hells.” See also Arcana Coelestia 5719: “There are spirits who despise and ridicule what appears in the letter of the Word, and more so what is contained in the spiritual sense there…. They are like toxins which pass into all the veins and arteries and contaminate the whole of the blood.”

18. Apocalypse Explained 706:14: “The words ‘the infirm will become well by the laying on of hands’ refer to the healing of spiritual diseases. These diseases, which are called iniquities are healed by communication and conjunction with heaven, thus with the Lord. The laying on of the hands of the disciples represents communication and conjunction with the Lord, or, in other words, the removal of iniquities by His divine power.” See also 9937:10: “The words “bearing iniquities” signify the removal of sins by the Lord from those who are in good, a removal that is continually being brought about by the Lord.”

19. Divine Providence 263: “The words ‘He sits at the right hand of God’ signify that He [Jesus] is Almighty…. God is one both in Person and in Essence, in whom is a Trinity, and that this God is the Lord [Jesus].” See also Arcana Coelestia 1607:2: “It is to be known that the Lord [Jesus] had power over all things in the heavens and on earth before He came into the world; for He was God from eternity and Jehovah.”

20. Heaven and Hell 230: “It must be known, however, that the angels have no power whatever of themselves, but that all their power is from the Lord; and that they are powers only so far as they acknowledge this. If any of the angels believe that they have power from themselves, they instantly become so weak they are unable to resist able to resist even a single evil spirit. Therefore, angels ascribe no merit whatever to themselves, and are averse to all praise and glory on account of anything they do, ascribing it all to the Lord.”

21. True Christian Religion 510: “The Lord Himself preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, teaching thereby that repentance is the first thing of the church, and that so far as people repent, their sins are put away…. Still further, the Lord commanded His twelve apostles, and the seventy whom He sent forth, to preach repentance. From all this it is clear that the first thing of the church is repentance.”

22. Spiritual Experiences 3667: “Sins are not remitted unless there is repentance from the heart.” See also True Christian Religion 510: “Acts of repentance are all such things as cause people not to will and consequently not to commit evils, which are sins against God…. Therefore, for repentance to be repentance, and to be effective in a person, it must be a repentance of the will and from that of the thought, and not of the thought only; therefore that it should be actual repentance, and not merely verbal.”

23. Apocalypse Revealed 224: “Everyone who believes in the Lord and practices repentance can be reformed and regenerated.” True Christian Religion 571: “After repentance, next in order comes reformation and regeneration…. Reformation is a state of thought from the understanding, and regeneration is a state of love from the will. When regeneration begins and is progressing, a change takes place in the mind. The mind undergoes a reversal; the love of the will flows into the understanding, acts upon it, and leads it to think in agreement with its love. Consequently, so far as the good of love becomes primary, and the truths of faith secondary, a person is spiritual and is a new creation.”

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 9013

Apocalypse Revealed 598, 618, 839


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 455, 706, 815

De Domino 68

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Bible Word Meanings

signs
The Bible often speaks of signs and miracles as things that convinced people of the Lord's leading. Swedenborg divides the two, identifying "signs" as things...

believe
The meaning of "believe" in the Bible is pretty straightforward, but runs deeper than what appears on the surface. When in the Old Testament people...

speak
Like "say," the word "speak" refers to thoughts and feelings moving from our more internal spiritual levels to our more external ones – and ultimately...

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.


 Angel at the Tomb
Use a small paper plate to illustrate an angel standing by the empty sepulcher on Easter morning.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Coming Early to the Sepulcher
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Compare the Easter Story in 4 Gospels
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Easter Morning at the Tomb
Project | Ages 4 - 10

 For Reflection: Joy Comes in the Morning
Activity | Ages over 15

 He Is Risen
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Mary Magdalene and the Risen Lord
This talk focuses on Mary Magdalene being the first person to see the Risen Lord in the garden on Easter morning. 
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Mary Magdalene Sees the Lord
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Mary Magdalene’s Vision
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Roll Away the Stone
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 The Easter Lesson
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 The Lord Is Our Heavenly Father
A lesson for younger children with discussion ideas and a project.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 The Lord’s Resurrection
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Number Seven in the Word Crossword Puzzle
Discover stories that include the number seven in the Word.
Activity | Ages 9 - 13

 There You Will See Him
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Signs of Easter
When the Lord appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, He told them to go forth into all the world to tell the glad news. He promised that if they really believed in Him with all their hearts, they would be able to do great things, things which would be signs of their belief.
Worship Talk | Ages 15 - 17

 When the Sabbath Was Past
Article | Ages 15 - 17


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