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.”

From Swedenborg's Works

 

Apocalypse Explained #1100

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1100. And a hold of every unclean and hateful bird, signifies where there are nothing but falsities from the falsified truths of the Word. This is evident from the signification of a "hold," as being where the falsifiers are, thus hell (as above); also from the signification of "every unclean and hateful bird," as being falsities from the falsified truths of the Word; for "birds" signify things rational and intellectual, thoughts, ideas, and reasonings, thus truths or falsities, and "unclean" means what flows forth from a filthy love, and especially from the love of having dominion, for this constitutes uncleanness in hell; and "hateful" signifies what flows forth from a false principle, thus from a religious principle confirmed by the sense of the letter of the Word falsified. It is from correspondence that "birds" signify such things as pertain to man's thought, both spiritual and infernal, thus both truths and falsities, for these pertain to thought. That this is from correspondence is evident from the birds seen in the spiritual world, where all things that appear before the eyes and the other senses are correspondences. All sorts of animals of the earth, also flying things of heaven, both beautiful and unbeautiful, are seen there, and they appear from the affections and thoughts of angels or of spirits, the animals from affections, and the flying things from thoughts. It is known to everyone there that these are correspondences; and they know also to what affections and thoughts they correspond. That they are correspondences of affections and thoughts is made to appear most clearly; since they are instantly dissipated when the spirit or the angel goes away or stops thinking about the matter. As birds are correspondences of thoughts both rational and not rational, thus of both verities and falsities, therefore they have this signification in the Word, for all things of the Word are correspondences.

(References: Revelation 18:2)


[2] That "birds" signify thoughts that are from truths, both rational and spiritual, can be seen from the following passages. In David:

Let them praise the name of Jehovah, the wild beast and every beast, creeping thing and winged bird (Psalms 148:5, 10).

That "the wild beast and beast" signify the affections of the natural man, both of truth and of good, and in the contrary sense the cupidities of falsity and evil, may be seen above (n. 522, 650, 781); therefore "winged bird" signifies thoughts. This is why it is said that they should praise Jehovah, for it is man who must praise from affections and thoughts, thus from goods and truths.

[3] In Hosea:

In that day will I make a covenant for them with the wild beast of the field, and with the bird of the heavens, and with the creeping thing of the earth; and I will break the bow and the sword and the war from the earth (Hosea 2:18).

This is said of the Lord's coming and of the state of heaven and the church from Him. "In that day" means the Lord's coming; "the covenant" that He will then make signifies conjunction with those who believe in Him; therefore, "the wild beast of the field and the bird of heaven" cannot mean wild beasts and birds, but must mean the things to which they correspond, which are the affections of good and truth and consequent thoughts. That there will then be no infestation from falsities and evils from hell is signified by "the bow, the sword, and the war, shall be broken in the earth."

[4] In David:

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands, Thou hast put all things under his feet, flocks and herds, yea, the beasts of the fields, the birds of heaven, and the fish of the sea (Psalms 8:6-8).

This treats of the Lord, of whom it is here said that "He shall have dominion over all the works of Jehovah's hands," which does not mean terrestrial things, such as flocks, herds, beasts, birds, and fishes. For what have these things to do with His dominion, which is in the heavens, and from the heavens over men on the earth, whom He will lead to life eternal? Therefore the spiritual things of the church are what are meant, "flock" signifying in general all things spiritual with man, "herd" all things natural with him that correspond to things spiritual, "beasts of the fields" affections of good in the natural man that pertain to the church (for "field" signifies the church), "birds of heaven" signify the thoughts of the rational man, and "fishes of the sea" knowledges.

[5] In Ezekiel:

I will take of the shoot of a high cedar, in the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it, that it may lift up the bough and bear fruit and become a magnificent cedar; that under it may dwell every bird of every wing, in the shades of its branches shall they dwell (Ezekiel 17:22-23).

This means the establishment of a new church by the Lord; its establishment anew or from its first rise is meant by "the shoot of a high cedar," "cedar" here as elsewhere in the Word signifies the spiritual rational church, such as was the church with the ancients after the flood. "To plant a shoot in the mountain of the height of Israel" signifies in spiritual good, which is the good of charity, "the mountain of the height of Israel" signifying that good; "to become a magnificent cedar" signifies the full establishment of that church; "that under it may dwell every bird of every wing" signifies that there will be rational truths of every kind in that church; "to dwell in the shade of its branches" signifies these terminated in natural truths, since these cover and guard rational truths that are from a spiritual origin.

[6] In the same:

Ashur a cedar in Lebanon, which has become high. In his branches have all the birds of the heavens built their nests, and under his branches all the beasts of the field have brought forth, and in his shade have dwelt all great nations (Ezekiel 31:3, 5-6).

Here, too, "cedar" signifies the spiritual rational church, since "Assyria" signifies the rational; and as "cedar" signifies the church, it follows that "the birds of the heavens that have built their nests in its branches," and "the beasts of the field that have brought forth under them," mean rational thoughts respecting the truths of the church, and the affections of them; and this being the meaning it is added, "In his shade have dwelt all great nations."

[7] In Daniel:

Nebuchadnezzar in a dream saw a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great; and it grew and became strong, and the height thereof reached even unto heaven, and the sight thereof unto the end of the earth; the leaf thereof was beautiful, and the flower thereof much; and in it was food for all. The beast of the field had shade under it, and the birds of the heavens dwelt in the branches of it, and all flesh was nourished by it. But a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven, crying out, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaf, and scatter his flower; let the beast flee away from under it, and the birds from his branches (Daniel 4:10-14, 20-21).

Here, too, "tree" signifies the church called Babylon in its beginning and progress, and here that church in the knowledges of truth and good. Its beginning and progress is described in the words, "it became great and strong, the leaf thereof was beautiful, and the flower thereof much, and in it was food for all;" its affections of good and thoughts of truth are signified by "the beast of the field that had shade under it, and the birds that dwelt in its branches." That it lifted up its dominion over the holy things of the church and of heaven, is meant by "a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven, and cried out, Hew down the tree and cut off his branches." That "beast and bird" here signify affections and thoughts is evident from its being said, when the tree was cut down, "let the beast flee away from under it, and the birds from his branches."

[8] "The birds of heaven" have a similar signification in the Gospels:

Jesus said, The kingdom of the heavens is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, and it becometh a tree, so that the winged things of heaven come and build nests in the branches thereof (Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:31-32; Luke 13:19).

"A tree from a grain of mustard seed" signifies a man of the church, and also a church beginning from a very little spiritual good by means of truth; for if only a very little spiritual good takes root with a man it grows like a seed in good ground. And as a "tree" thus signifies a man of the church, it follows that "the winged things of heaven" that made nests in its branches signify the knowledges of truth and thoughts therefrom. Anyone can see this is not a mere comparison, for if it were, what would be the need of such things in the Word and of like things in the Prophets?

(References: Luke 13:18-19)


[9] So again in David:

Jehovah sendeth forth fountains into the streams, they go between the mountains. They give drink to every wild beast of the fields; the wild asses quench their thirst; by them the bird of the heavens dwells, from among the boughs they utter their voices. The trees of Jehovah are satisfied, the cedars of Lebanon which He hath planted, where the birds make their nests; as to the stork her house is in the fir trees (Psalms 104:10-12, 16-17).

Such things as these also would not have been said in the Divine Word unless each particular of them had been a correspondence of things spiritual and celestial, and consequently holy. For otherwise why should it be said that "streams from fountains go between the mountains, and give drink to every wild beast of the field; that the wild asses quench their thirst, and by them the bird of the heavens dwells, and utters its voice among the boughs, and the stork in the fir trees"? But when by "fountains" truths of the Word are understood, by "rivers" intelligence therefrom, by "mountains" goods of love, by "wild beast of the fields" affections of truth, by "wild asses" the rational, and by "birds of the heavens" thoughts from Divine truths, then the Word is the holy Divine; otherwise it would be merely human.

[10] In Job:

Ask, I pray, the beasts, and they shall teach thee, or the birds of heaven, and they shall tell thee, and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who doth not know from all these that the hand of Jehovah doeth this? (Job 12:7-9).

Evidently "beasts, birds of heaven, and fishes of the sea," do not mean here beasts, birds, and fishes, for these cannot be asked, or teach, or tell, or declare "that the hand of Jehovah doeth this;" but these signify the things that pertain to man's intelligence, "beasts" meaning his affections, "birds of heaven" his thoughts, and "fishes of the sea" cognitions and knowledges [cognitiones et scientifica]. From these man can teach that the hand of Jehovah doeth it. Unless the things of man's intelligence were signified by "beasts, birds, and fishes," it could not be asked, "Who doth not know from all these?"

[11] In Ezekiel:

Son of man, Say to the bird of every wing, and to every wild beast of the field, Gather yourselves and come, gather yourselves from every side to a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel. And I will give My glory among the nations (Ezekiel 39:17, 21).

This describes the establishment of the church among the nations, and the invitation and calling to it, for it is said, "So will I give my glory among the nations;" therefore "the bird of every wing," and "every wild beast of the field," signify all who are in the affection of good and the understanding of truth.

[12] So in Revelation:

An angel standing in the sun cried out with a great voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and be gathered together to the supper of the great God (Revelation 19:17).

Here "birds flying in the midst of heaven" cannot mean birds, but men who are rational and spiritual; for they are invited to the supper of the great God.

[13] In Jeremiah:

I beheld the mountains, and lo they were moved, and all the hills were overturned; I beheld, when lo there was no man, and all the birds of heaven were flown away. I beheld when Carmel was a wilderness, and all its cities were desolated (Jeremiah 4:24-26).

This was said of the devastation of the church as to all its good and truth. "Mountains and valleys" signify celestial and spiritual loves; and "to be moved and overturned" signifies to perish. For in the spiritual world, when there no longer exists in spirits any celestial or spiritual love, the mountains are actually moved and the hills overthrown upon which they dwelt. "All the birds were flown away" signifies that there was no longer any knowledge and consequent thought of truth; "there was no man" signifies no understanding of truth; "Carmel was a wilderness" signifies a church destitute of good and truth; and "its cities desolated" signifies that there were no longer any doctrinals of truth.

[14] In the same:

The habitations are laid waste, so that no man passeth through, neither do they hear the voice of cattle; from the bird of the heavens even to the beast they have flown away, they have gone; for I will make Jerusalem heaps, a habitation of dragons (Jeremiah 9:10-11; 12:9).

Here, too, the devastation of the church is described. "The habitations that are laid waste, so that no man passeth through," signify the doctrinals of the church which were from the Word, in which now there is no good or truth; "the voice of cattle which they do not hear," signifies good of charity and truth of faith, of which there is none; "the birds of the heavens and even the beasts are flown away, they have gone" signifies that there is no longer any thought of truth from the knowledge of it, nor any affection of good. This evidently does not mean the flying away of the birds of heaven and the going away of the beasts of the earth, but the vastation of the church as to doctrine, for it is added, "I will make Jerusalem into heaps, a habitation of dragons," "Jerusalem" signifying the church as to doctrine, and "making it into heaps, and into a habitation of dragons," its devastation.

[15] In Hosea:

There is no truth and no mercy, and no knowledge of God in the land. Therefore the land shall mourn for the wild beast of the field, and for the bird of the heavens; yea, the fishes of the sea shall be gathered together (Hosea 4:1, 3).

Evidently "the wild beast of the field, the bird of the heavens, and the fishes of the sea," have the same signification here as above, for here, too, the devastation of the church is treated of, for it is said, "there is no truth, no mercy, and no knowledge of God in the land," and "the land" signifies the church.

[16] In Zephaniah:

I will consume man and beast, I will consume the bird of the heavens and the fishes of the sea, I will cut off man from the faces of the land (Zephaniah 1:3).

"To consume man and beast" signifies to destroy spiritual and natural affection; "to consume the birds of the heavens and the fishes of the sea" signifies to destroy the perceptions and knowledges of truth; and as these signify things pertaining to the church it is said, "I will cut off man from the faces of the land," "man" signifying everything of the church.

[17] In David:

God said, I know every bird of the mountains, and the wild beast of My fields is with Me (Psalms 50:11).

In Ezekiel:

There shall be a great earthquake upon the land of Israel, and the fishes of the sea, and the bird of the heavens, and the wild beast of the field, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man who is upon the faces of the earth shall tremble before Me (Ezekiel 38:19-20).

Here "the bird of the heavens and the wild beast of the field" have the same signification as above. "Earthquake" signifies a change of state of the church.

[18] In Isaiah:

Woe to the land shadowed with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Cush. The bird of the mountains and the beasts of the earth shall be left, but the bird shall loathe it, and every beast of the earth shall despise it (Isaiah 18:1, 6).

This treats of the establishment of the church with the nations and the devastation of the Jewish church; therefore "the bird and beast of the earth" signify the knowledges of truth and the affections of good.

[19] In the same:

I am God, and there is no God besides, and there is none like Me, calling a bird from the east, a man of counsel from a land far off (Isaiah 46:9, 11).

The "bird" called from the east signifies the truth of the Word, which is said to be "from the east" because it is from the good of love, "the east" being the good of love. Otherwise, what could be meant by "God shall call a bird from the east, and a man of counsel from a land far off"? "A man of counsel" means a man who is intelligent from truths that are from the good of love.

[20] In Hosea:

Ephraim, as a bird shall his glory fly away, from the birth and from the belly and from conception (Hosea 9:11).

In the same:

I will not return to destroy Ephraim. They shall go after Jehovah. With honor shall they come as a bird out of Egypt, and as a dove from the land of Assyria (Hosea 11:9-11).

"Ephraim" signifies the understanding of the truths of the church; and this is why he is compared to a bird, and it is said, "as a bird shall his glory fly away." Also in Hosea (Hosea 7:12) he is compared to a bird, for a "bird" signifies everything pertaining to the understanding, including the knowing, the thinking, and the reasoning faculties; while everything that is delightful and pleasurable, thus that pertains to the will and affection, is signified by "beast and wild beast." "The bird from Egypt" signifies the knowing faculty, which pertains to the natural man; and "the dove from Assyria" the rational faculty, since "Egypt" signifies the knowing faculty, and "Assyria" the rational faculty. Here a church to be established by the Lord is treated of.

[21] As most things of the Word have also a contrary sense, so have birds, and in that sense they signify fallacies from the sensual man, also reasonings from falsities against truths, and also falsities themselves, worse and more noxious according to the genera and the species of unclean birds; rapacious birds signifying especially the falsities that destroy truths. In many passages of the Word it is said that men "should be given for food to birds and wild beasts," which signifies that they would altogether perish by fallacies, falsities, consequent reasonings, cupidities of evil, and in general by evils and falsities from hell. This is signified by "being given for food to the birds of heaven and the beasts of the earth" in the following passages. In Jeremiah:

The carcass of this people shall be for food to the bird of the heavens, none shall frighten them away (Jeremiah 7:33).

In the same:

I will visit upon you in four kinds, with the sword to kill, and with dogs to drag about, and with the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the earth to devour and to destroy (Jeremiah 15:3).

In the same:

They shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, that their carcass may become food for the birds of the heavens and the beast of the earth (Jeremiah 16:4; 19:7; 34:20).

In Ezekiel:

Upon the faces of the field thou shalt fall, thou shalt not be brought together nor gathered; I have given thee for food to the wild beast of the earth and the bird of heaven (Jeremiah 29:5).

Upon the mountains of Israel thou shalt fall; I have given thee for food to the bird of the heavens of every wing and to the wild beast of the field (Jeremiah 39:4).

This is said of Gog. In David:

The nations have come into Thine inheritance, they have defiled the temple of Thy holiness; they have laid Jerusalem in heaps, the carcass of Thy servants have they given for food to the bird of the heavens, the flesh of Thy saints to the wild beast of the earth (Psalms 79:1-2).

(References: Ezekiel 29:5, 39:4)


[22] Because of this signification of "the birds of the heavens and the wild beasts of the earth," and because the nations of the land of Canaan signified the evils and the falsities of the church, it was customary for the Jewish nation to expose the carcasses of their enemies after their slaughter to the wild beasts and birds, by which they were devoured. This is why it was formerly regarded as horrible and profane, and is still so regarded, to leave dead men upon the face of the earth unburied, even after a battle. Also this is the signification in the Word of "not being buried," and of "bones drawn out of the graves and cast forth." Infernal falsities are signified also by:

The birds that came down upon the carcasses, that Abram drove away (Genesis 15:11).

Also by the birds in Revelation (Revelation 19:21);

Also by the birds that devoured that which was sown on the hard way (Matthew 13:3, 4; Mark 4:4; Luke 8:5).

In Daniel:

In the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the meal offering to cease. At last upon the bird of abominations shall be desolation, and even to the consummation and decision it shall drop upon the devastation (Daniel 9:27).

This is said of the total devastation of the Jewish church which was when the Lord was born. Its devastation by horrible falsities is signified by "the bird of abominations"; that falsity is here meant by "bird" is clearly evident. It is to be known that there are many kinds of falsities, and that each of them is signified by its own kind of bird; and these are enumerated in Moses (Leviticus 11:13; and Deuteronomy 14:11-20), and are mentioned in various parts of the Word, as the eagle, the kite, the woodpecker, the raven, the screech owl, the spoonbill, the heron, the owl, the horned owl, the dragon, and others.

(Continuation respecting the Athanasian Faith)

(References: Matthew 13:3-4)


[23] About God and about Divine things, which are called in heaven celestial and spiritual, and in the world ecclesiastical and theological, there is thought from light; there is also thought not from light about them. Those have thought not from light who know about these things but do not understand them. Such are all those 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. But these are such as are not interiorly in the genuine affection of truth, and consequently are in no enlightenment; and many of them are in the pride of self-intelligence, and in the love of ruling over the souls of men by means of the holy things of the church, not knowing that truth wishes to be in the light, since the light of heaven is the Divine truth, and that a truly human understanding is moved by that light and sees from it, and that when the understanding does not see from that light it is the memory that has faith and not the man; and such faith is blind, because without an idea from the light of truth; for the understanding is the man, and the memory introduces. If what is not understood must be believed a man might be taught like a parrot to speak and to remember, even that there is holiness in the bones of the dead and in sepulchers, that carcasses perform miracles, that man will be tormented in purgatory if he does not consecrate his wealth to idols or to monasteries, that men are gods because heaven and hell are in their power, with other like things which man must believe from a blind faith and from a closed understanding, and thus from the light of both extinguished. But be it known that all the truths of the Word, which are the truths of heaven and of the church, can be seen by the understanding, in heaven spiritually, in the world rationally; for a truly human understanding is the sight itself of these truths, for it is separated from what is material, and when separated it sees truths as clearly as the eye sees objects; it sees truths as it loves them, for as it loves them it is enlightened. The angels have wisdom in consequence of seeing truths; when, therefore, it is said to any angel that this or that must be believed although it is not understood, the angel answers, Do you think that I am insane, or that you are God whom I am to believe if I do not see? It may be falsity from hell.

(References: Revelation 18:2)

  
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Thanks to the Swedenborg Foundation for their permission to use this translation.


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