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...

Videos from the Swedenborg Foundation

The videos shown here are provided courtesy of our friends at the Swedenborg Foundation. You can find out more about them here: swedenborg.com.


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.

Related Music

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

 

You Shall Bear a Son

     

By Rev. Eric Carswell

The Annunciation, 1898, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
By Henry Ossawa Tanner - http://freechristimages.org/biblestories/annunciation.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4864374

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God." Luke 1:35

What amazing words these must have been to Mary, a young woman, when she first heard them. Just minutes before she had probably been engaged in some mundane task of daily life in her mother's home, perhaps grinding flour or baking bread, maybe weaving or spinning wool into yarn. If she was like most young women who are shortly to be married, her mind would have been turned to her future life with Joseph, what their home would be like, the children they would have and the life that they would lead together. Happy images of the future would have filled her thoughts. She would have had her hopes, dreams and expectations--images of how her life would be as the future wife of Joseph.

Suddenly with the appearance of the angel Gabriel, her visions of the future contained a new and dramatically different element. The angel told her that she was highly favored and blessed among women, that the Lord was with her and that she would soon conceive and bring forth a son whose name would be Jesus. This child would be given the throne of Mary's ancient forebear, King David, and reign forever.

Mary voiced the question of how this would take place. She knew the order of natural conception and knew that the angel's message did not fit into this order. In explanation the angel Gabriel told her of the greatest miracle of all time saying, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God."

We are called to believe that miracles do occur. Some people are troubled by the idea of miracles based on their picture of cause and effect in this world. They have accepted that the only causes are natural ones, the laws of physics and so on. For such a person the idea of Jesus being born without a natural father is fantastic beyond belief.

But we are called to believe that miracles have and do occur. There are forces that attack this belief. We have grown up in a culture that has a strong sense of natural order. Science today is capable of explaining so many events that previously were mysteries. It is capable of explaining them by means of fundamental laws of nature. For some this sense of natural law can become so strong that the Lord's active presence within creation vanishes. For some there is no Divine intervention within this system. All is fixed and moves along with changes taking place by mere random accident. But it could be noted that according to natural law most changes result in more chaos, not less chaos. Changes tend toward the break down of a higher order into a lower one.

Think of the example of a person quickly typing out a document on a computer. You would expect that errors would be introduced into the typing. What is the likelihood that the errors would improve the original document? It’s possible, but rather unexpected. But the argument for pure natural evolution is that given enough time and the forces of natural selection life as we now know it has developed. Asserting that human life came about purely by random accidents starting with the genetic code of the most primitive life millions of years ago seems akin to saying that given enough time and enough typed copies a simple child’s nursery rhyme could evolve into a Shakespearean play without any plan or higher thought being involved.

We are called to believe that miracles do occur. However, the Writings for the New Church have taught us that we are not to expect to see the miracles of the Old and New Testaments performed today in the same way they were performed in the time those books were written. We read:

The reason miracles are not done at this day, as before, is that miracles compel, and take away free will in spiritual things; and from being spiritual, they make a person natural. All in the Christian world . . . can become spiritual; and they become spiritual solely from the Lord through the Word; and the faculty for this would perish if they were brought to believe through miracles. (True Christian Religion 501)

Partially based on statements such as this, a person can come to a pattern of thinking that does not believe in the Lord’s ability to affect things for good in a miraculous way even today. A person could believe in God, but still tend to view the progression of his or her life as following laws of a machine-like system. Anything that does not fit into this fixed system is believed to be a miracle that would take away spiritual freedom--the very freedom that the Lord was born into the world to reestablish.

Perhaps, though, it is too easy for us to become too limited in our view. So limited that we block out a sight of the miracles that can occur within our own lives without taking away our spiritual freedom. Perhaps it is too easy for this limited point of view to block out a sense of the Lord's presence, a sense of the Holy Spirit's presence. How does the Lord reach out to touch our lives?

What of Mary's life? The events surrounding the first Christmas were a major intervention within her life. The same is true of her husband to be, Joseph. Both of them could have denied the possibility of a miraculous conception and this state of denial would have been far more damaging than that of Zacharias's. Could the Lord's birth ever have taken place if Mary was not willing to accept the angel's words? Her firstborn was to have a continuing effect throughout her whole life. His presence was not without many events that brought a sense of awe and wonder to both Mary and Joseph. We know of at least one event that showed that raising Jesus was not always easy. At age 12, they spent three anxious days searching for Him, only to find Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of teachers, listening and asking questions.

In addition to the way in which Jesus' birth and life intervened in Joseph and Mary's life, think of the way His presence affected the disciples. Many of them were happily going about their daily jobs when they were called to leave all behind and follow Him. While this intervention sometimes involved something of the miraculous, it also involved an element of free will. Just as Joseph and Mary could have resisted the words of the angel announcing that the Lord would be born, so also the disciples could have heard the Lord call them to follow and shook their heads and returned to their work. There were many, many others who were influenced in this same way. Many others who heard the Lord's words calling to them and had their lives profoundly influenced by what He said.

The Lord comes to each of us in our lives many times each day. While we may not have anything occur in our lives that an objective observer would call miraculous, it is not true that our lives will follow some pre-established route, set by our inborn nature and directed by compelling experience of the natural world. The Lord's first birth represents the way in which He comes in any age to anyone who will receive Him. Just as the words of the angel Gabriel would have been a dramatic intervention within the happy normalcy of the future that Mary would have envisioned, so also the Lord can come to us announcing the conception of a future for us that is far different from the one our natural mind would envision. The Lord comes to us offering and promising a far different set of reactions to daily events from the ones we presently have--a different perspective, a far greater patience in some areas and a stronger resolve and commitment in others. He comes to us bringing light to areas of thoughts that we had resigned ourselves to being in deep darkness and bringing warmth to much that we might otherwise have done from need or duty.

The angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin, whose name was Mary. Ancient prophecies had promised that the Messiah would be born as the child of a young woman. Several hundred years after this prophecy was given, a Greek version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, introduced a new element of the miraculous by using a word in this prophecy that was not the general one for a young woman, but rather the distinctive Greek term for "virgin." When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, the gospel of Matthew records that he quoted this prophecy according to the way it is presented in the Septuagint. The Writings for the New Church make it quite clear that this seemingly added idea is correct and even essential in our understanding of the Lord's advent.

There are two distinct reasons for the importance of a belief in the virgin birth. One reason has to do with the essential need for Jesus to be born with a natural mother but without a natural father if He was going to become our Savior and Redeemer. It was crucial for the work of Jesus that He not derive from His birth any of the internal evils that are passed on through the soul provided by the natural father in any natural conception. His soul and life came directly from the infinite God. His developing mind and life were the ever more perfect manifestation in human form of the Father and creator, our Lord and God. But it was important that He take on a natural mind at first empty of any experience and knowledge as you and I were born with. It was important that He take on the hereditary inclinations to evil that birth to a natural mother brought to His life.

The second reason for believing in the virgin birth exists because of the representation of the term virgin and what this says about how the Lord comes to us in our lives. We are told that a virgin represents someone who willing to have his or her life affected by truth. In this story, Mary represents a state of mind in each of our lives that is not controlled by self interest nor committed to a determined course of action. It is a state of mind that is open to new possibilities.

The Lord comes to us to each of us bringing the promise of a new conception of life just as the angel Gabriel came to the virgin Mary. He comes promising a rebirth or regeneration of life that is radically different from the one we come by naturally. It is not to the hustle and bustle of established life that He appears, but rather to those states of mind that, like the virgin Mary, look forward to something new and different and most importantly are willing to receive the conception of this new life. The life that comes to us naturally, apart from any presence of the Lord, is like a child conceived of a human father and mother. Without the Lord's presence, this life cannot have any other basis than self-interest and worldly concern. Experience may teach us to broaden this self-interest and to temper these concerns, but apart from the Lord's advent within our lives they will never rise above this level. The Lord is born within each of our lives within the states of mind that are willing to be affected by what the Word teaches--by the states of mind that are willing to rise above the prompting of our natural inclinations to be self-serving and natural in our interests, thoughts and actions. He is born within the states of mind that are willing to turn outward to recognize and serve the needs of those around us. He is born within the states of mind that are willing to recognize that natural things exist to serve the needs of mankind and creation as a whole and have their proper uses as well as their abuses.

Our preparation for the celebration of Christmas, more than any other event of the season, tends to turn people outward to others. It is a time that can help us to recognize the community of caring people that we live in. And it is a time that can remind us that many are in need--there are many people who can use our help. This help may be a matter of providing food, clothing and shelter for those have not been able to or have not yet come to be provident enough to provide them for themselves. It can be a matter of giving a hand to someone who could use some help with a job, sharing some burden with them. Christmas is a time when we give gifts that symbolize and love and friendship for others. The most lasting gifts are those that we give when we recognize the spiritual needs of others—when we recognize that, by our words and actions, we can help the Lord bring loving warmth to another person's life. We, by our words and actions, can bring the light of greater understanding to another person's life. We have the capability of helping others receive far greater blessings in life than they might otherwise. Our preparation for and celebration of Christmas can remind us of how a truly Christian life is one of wisely giving and of serving. The state of mind that receives this reminder is the one imaged by the virgin, Mary.

The Lord comes to each of us in our lives, just as the angel Gabriel came to Mary. He comes telling of events that can take place, if we are willing, which far exceed anything we might picture ourselves. He promises us a new life, born within our own, but not taking its source from us. He promises the presence of the Holy Spirit within this new life. He comes with a miraculous intervention in the natural course of events. The words of the angel Gabriel to Mary are also words to us with the promise of a new life that will profoundly affect what we care about, think and do each day throughout the year. These words are the promise of a new life for each of us.

After the close of this service you are invited to take the sacrament of the Holy Supper. This act of worship represents our desire to receive the Lord’s gifts of love and wisdom within our lives, represented by our eating of the bread and drinking of the wine. There is a powerful reminder of the words of the angel Gabriel in The True Christian Religion description of this sacrament

...the Holy Supper for those who approach it worthily is a kind of guarantee and seal put on their adoption as sons of God ... the Lord is then present and introduces into heaven those who are born of Him, that is, who are regenerated. (True Christian Religion 728)

As the angel Gabriel said to Mary, so the Lord would say to us, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God."

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1573 [1-8]; Isaiah 7:1-15; Luke 1:26-38)

The Bible

 

Matthew 28:18

Study the Inner Meaning

              

18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Matthew 28      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

Chapter 28.

A New Sabbath

---
1. And in the twilight of [the] Sabbaths, as it dawned toward the first [day] of the week, came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, to behold the tomb.
---

The meaning of “Sabbath”

This chapter begins with the words, “In the end of the Sabbath.” Traditionally, the Sabbath began at the end of the day on Friday and was completed at the end of the day on Saturday. Because the honoring of the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments, the religious authorities considered this twenty-four-hour period most holy. Therefore, the biblical injunction that no work of any kind was to be done on the Sabbath was strictly enforced. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “Work is to be done for six days, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death” (Exodus 31:15; emphasis added).

The word, “Sabbath,” in the Hebrew language is שַׁבּתָ (shabbat) which means “rest” or

“peace.” The religious leaders interpreted this to mean rest from any kind of physical labor. On one occasion, when a man was caught picking up sticks on the Sabbath, he was brought before Moses, Aaron, and all the people for a decision about what should happen to him. As it is written, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘The man must be put to death, and the whole assembly should stone him with stones outside the camp.’ So, as the Lord commanded Moses, they took him outside the camp and stoned him to death” (Numbers 15:35-36).

This is a glimpse at the state of the religious world that Jesus was born into, a world where the commandments were understood literally and enforced rigorously. We have already seen how offended the religious leaders were when Jesus’ disciples plucked corn on the Sabbath (12:1-4). Similarly, when Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, the religious leaders were so enraged that “they went out and took counsel against Him, how they might destroy Him” (12:14). In their eyes, Jesus was “working” on the Sabbath. He was flaunting a sacred tradition, the violation of which was punishable by death.

This view of the Sabbath is based on the idea that God is rigid, rule-oriented, and determined to destroy anyone who might violate the Sabbath, even if it is something as innocent as picking up sticks, or plucking corn, or healing the sick. People were not even allowed to carry anything that was heavy on the Sabbath. As the prophet Jeremiah puts it, “Thus says the Lord, ‘For the sake of your lives, do not carry a burden on the Sabbath…. But if you do not obey Me, I will destroy the palaces of Jerusalem with a fire that cannot be quenched” (Jeremiah 17:21; 27).

Statements like these, which imply that God is angry and vengeful, can be found throughout the Hebrew scriptures. It is evident that this is not an accurate picture of a loving God who is mercy itself; but it is an accurate picture of how people saw God at that time. Although the Hebrew scriptures contain infinite depths of wisdom when spiritually understood, the literal words, apart from their spiritual meaning, reveal more about the nature of the people who wrote them than they do about the true nature of God. 1

These were the kinds of false ideas that God had to correct. And so, God Himself had to come in person to show us His true nature and to deepen our understanding of the commandments. He taught that hatred is a form of murder, that lust is a form of adultery, and that the Sabbath is not just about doing physical work or carrying heavy burdens. That is why, when He deliberately spoke about burdens, He was not referring to physical objects. On a more interior level, He was speaking about the inner burdens of worry, anxiety, and fear that we carry; He was speaking about the resentments, anger, and hatreds we are unable to put down. These are the things that weigh heavily upon the soul. That is why He said, “Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy burdened … and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my burden light” (11:28-29).

We find “rest for our souls” whenever we rest in the Lord. This, then, is the more interior meaning of the Sabbath. It should also be noted that the Sabbath follows what is called in sacred scripture “six days of labor.” These “six days” are times of spiritual trial. During these times we have the opportunity to live according to the truth that we know and believe, even when it is difficult to do so. As we go through this process, we experience an increasingly profound sense of peace as our inner nature becomes more perfectly aligned with God’s will. Every victory along the way introduces us to a heavenly state of mind, which, in the language of sacred scripture, is called “the seventh day” and “the Sabbath.” 2

In the previous episode, when Jesus hung on the cross, He modeled this process for us. He suffered the most agonizing trials, but did not become bitter; He endured the most excruciating pain, but did not get angry; He underwent the darkest despair, but never lost sight of His mission — the salvation of the human race. In the process, Jesus conquered the hells and made His humanity Divine. This was the end of His temptations, and the beginning of a new, more exalted idea of the Sabbath. It is the Sabbath of peace that follows our efforts to align our will with God’s will. Whenever we allow God to work through us, and with us, we rest from our labors.

This episode, then, marks the end of our old ideas about the Sabbath, about God, and even about ourselves. As the evening ends and the darkness subsides, the light of a new understanding begins to arise in us. We read, therefore, that after the old Sabbath had ended, “the first day of the week began to dawn” (28:1). Sunday was coming.

Rolling Away the Stone

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2. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven [and] coming, rolled away the stone from the door, and sat on it.

3. And his countenance was as lightning, and his clothing white as snow;
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The opening words of this final chapter speak of both an ending and a beginning. It is the end of our old way of feeling and thinking about things; we are no longer driven by selfish concerns or ruled by the demands of our lower nature. As new ways of thinking about life arise in our consciousness, we begin to realize that the Lord is in charge of the least details of our life. Knowing this, we can allow ourselves to be governed by God, ready to do His will. We can drop the inner burdens while spiritually resting in the Lord. A new Sabbath is about to begin. 3

In this new “Sabbath state,” we find ourselves once again with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary in front of the Lord’s tomb. Two days ago, Jesus was crucified and laid in a tomb. Friday evening and Saturday have passed, and it seems as though nothing has happened. Jesus still remains in the tomb. This represents those times when the Word does not seem to be speaking to us; it seems to be lifeless and dead. Although we know that God is within His Word, we do not hear His voice, sense His presence, or feel His touch. It appears as though He is “dead and buried.” The truth, however, is just the opposite. Although God is always speaking to us through His Word, we do not always hear what He says.

In order to understand this more clearly, it must be remembered that Jesus was buried in a cave, and a stone was rolled across the mouth of the cave to seal it. Before we can properly hear the Word of God and sense Jesus’ presence within it, the stone must be rolled away. This “stone” represents whatever it is that stands between us and God. Whether it be selfishness, pre-occupation with worldly matters, or, simply, a lack of faith in God’s leading, this stone must be rolled away. Sometimes, it takes a great upheaval in our lives before we come to our spiritual senses and understand that there is a whole new way to live. It can be like an earthquake in our consciousness — the human equivalent of the Lord’s crucifixion. We read, therefore, that “there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, rolled away the stone from the door, and sat on it” (28:2).

The earthquake that shook the earth on the morning of the third day calls to mind the earthquake that occurred during Jesus’ crucifixion — the earthquake that caused the curtain of the temple to be torn in two and the dead to rise from their graves. It also calls to mind another time when an earthquake shook the foundations of the earth. As it is written, “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning … and the whole mountain shook violently” (Exodus 19:16-18). That earthquake occurred as the divine prelude to the Lord’s giving of the Ten Commandments. The voice of divine truth sometimes comes to us with earth-shaking power.

We, too, have our times of crucifixion, times of earth-shaking upheavals in our life. These spiritual shake-ups invite us to go within and summon up every ounce of courage and faith that we possess. Like Jesus, we can also go through our micro-crucifixions with the conviction that we have a mission to fulfill, not on the same level as Jesus, but nevertheless a God-given mission. Sustained by our faith in God, we can refuse to surrender to anger, self-pity, or despair. Instead, we can rest in the Lord, even while engaged in combat, relying on Him for strength and wisdom.

This is when an angel descends to roll away the stone.

In the literal story, the religious leaders had sealed the stone. The sealing of the stone by the religious leaders represents the way we seal ourselves off from any hope of connecting with the living God. So the angel rolling away the stone and sitting on it pictures how a truth from the Lord’s Word, descending into our minds from heaven, can push a false belief to the side so that a truer idea might prevail. This can be an earthquake moment in our lives. 4

This, then, is our task. It is to allow truth to roll away the stone of selfishness and greed that prevents us from loving others. It is to allow truth to roll away the stone of despair and self-pity that prevents us from experiencing the joy of life. It is to allow truth to roll away the stone of ignorance that prevents us from seeing and understanding who God truly is. In essence, our task is to allow truth from God’s Word — the angel that descends — to roll away every false and twisted belief that stands like an obstructing stone between us and God. 5

The countenance of the angel who rolls away the stone is described as being “like lightning” and his clothing “as white as snow” (28:3). The description of the angel suggests the brightness and purity of the divine truth that comes into our life with insights that flash across the inner sky of our minds like lightning, and shine within our consciousness with perceptions as pure as freshly fallen snow. In sacred scripture, these brilliant insights and clear perceptions that come to us from heaven are described as “angels descending.” They roll away the stone of falsity and reveal to us the light of truth. As mentioned earlier, when the Ten Commandments were given amidst an earthquake, there were flashes of lightning in the sky. It signifies divine truth coming into our life like lightning. 6

The Women Rejoice

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4. And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead.

5. And the angel answering said to the women, “Fear ye not; for I know that you seek Jesus, who was crucified.

6. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7. And going quickly, say to His disciples that He is risen from the dead; and behold, He goes before you into Galilee; there you shall see Him; behold, I have told you.”

8. And going out quickly from the sepulcher with fear and great joy, they ran to report [this] to His disciples.

9. And as they went to report to His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Hail.” And they coming, took hold of His feet, and worshiped Him.

10. Then says Jesus to them, “Fear not; go, report to My brothers, that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me.”
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Before the light of a new understanding can dawn, anxious thoughts must be quieted, inner turbulence must be calmed, and troubling fears must be quelled. This is when the new Sabbath begins. In the early dawn of each new state, the stone must be rolled away. To those who have been waiting patiently for the Lord, this represents the coming of a new understanding; it is the first light of a new awareness.

The two Marys, whose hearts were waiting and longing for Jesus, are ready for the stone to be rolled away. Unlike the guards, who “shook with fear and became like dead men” (28:4) when the angel rolled away the stone, the women are comforted by the angel’s words. “Do not be afraid,” the angel says to the women. “I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (28:5-6). As the women approach the tomb and look inside, they see that the angel’s words are true. Jesus is not there! “Go quickly,” says the angel, “and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; and there you will see Him” (28:7).

As the two women run to meet the disciples and tell them the wonderful news, Jesus meets them along the way. “Greetings,” He says. (28:9). Behind them is the empty tomb; before them the living God. This is a picture of the change that takes place in our lives when the angel rolls away the stone and proclaims the eternal truth, “He is not here; for He is risen.”

When the stone of doubt and disbelief is rolled away, we see that the living God is present everywhere, pervading the universe with His Divine life, flowing continuously into nature to produce vibrant colors and sweet fragrances, flowing continuously into human hearts and minds to produce noble thoughts and loving affections. No matter where we are in our life, God is always there, urging to be received. 7

When Jesus’ greets the two Marys, they respond with reverent awe. As it is written, “They took hold of His feet and worshipped Him” (28:10). The words, “They took hold of His feet and worshipped Him” suggest that this is much more than an ordinary reunion of good friends; rather, it is a spontaneous, heart-felt acknowledgment of Jesus’ divinity. There were moments throughout His earthly ministry when people were inspired to worship Jesus. When the wise men came to Bethlehem, “they worshipped Him” (2:11); when Jesus calmed the sea and walked on water, His disciples “worshipped Him” (14:33); and when the woman came to Jesus, begging Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter, “she worshipped Him” (15:25). Similarly, in this episode, the two Marys take hold of His feet and worship Him. 8

For the most part, every incident that led to the worship of the Lord was based on a miracle, whether it was His miracle birth in Bethlehem, His walking on water in Galilee, or His rising from the dead in Jerusalem. But worship based on miracles, while it can initiate worship, is not true worship. It is merely an external persuasion that can compel belief, but does not become a part of a person’s essential character. 9

Genuine worship of the Lord is not based on external miracles, no matter how convincing they might be. It is simply a matter of keeping the commandments — that is, doing God’s will, and not our own, even if it means that our egotistical tendencies and self-serving attitudes must go through agonies in Gethsemane and crucifixions at Calvary. Whenever we do this, the subsequent changes that take place in our spirit are the truest confirmation of God’s ability to bring about inner miracles. This alone is what leads us into true worship. 10

While the two Marys are still at His feet worshipping Him, Jesus repeats the comforting words of the angel. “Do not be afraid” He says. “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see Me” (28:10). Earlier in this gospel, Jesus promised His disciples that no matter what happened to Him, He would eventually meet them in Galilee. They were, therefore, not to be discouraged. “Even though the shepherd would be struck,” He told them at that time, He would rise again. “After I have been raised,” He said, “I will go before you into Galilee” (26:32). And now, in the closing words of this episode, Jesus repeats His promise. This time, however, He adds an important detail; He says, “There they will see Me.” To “see the Lord” is to understand His teachings and do His will. “Blessed are the pure in heart” He said during the Sermon on the Mount, “for they shall see God.”

As we shall see, this is what it means to be in a state called “Galilee.” 11

The Report of the Temple Guards

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11. And as they were going, behold, some of the guard, coming into the city, reported to the chief priests all things that were done.

12. And being gathered together with the elders, and taking counsel, they gave considerable silver to the soldiers,

13. Saying, “Say ye that His disciples, coming by night, stole Him while we slumbered.

14. And if this shall be heard by the governor, we will persuade him, and will make you safe.”

15. And they, receiving the silver, did as they were taught; and this word was made public among the Jews even to this day.
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Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the religious leaders are extremely troubled. The temple guards have just come to them and reported about the things they had witnessed (28:11) — the earthquake, the appearance of the angel, the rolling away of the stone, and the empty tomb. These are the same guards who “shook with fear” in the presence of the angel “and became like dead men.”

When the religious leaders hear this alarming news, they immediately gather together with the elders and come up with a plan to dispel belief in the possibility of an actual resurrection. They decide to offer the guards a large sum of money to say nothing about what actually happened. Instead, if anyone should ask what happened, the guards are to tell them, “His disciples came at night and stole Him while we were sleeping” (28:13). In addition, the religious leaders tell the guards that if Pilate should find out about their negligence (sleeping while on duty), they will take care of everything and keep the guards out of trouble (28:14). The guards accept the bribe. As it is written, “They took the silver and did as they were directed” (28:15).

The reality of the resurrection

It’s interesting to compare how the news of the resurrection is received by those who hate Jesus and those who love Him. For the women who love Jesus, the news of His resurrection is thrilling. Overjoyed, they race off to tell the disciples the good news. And when they meet Jesus along the way, they grasp His feet and worship Him” (28:9).

But for those who hate Jesus, the news brings no joy. Instead, the religious leaders are deeply concerned. All along, they have believed that if Jesus were destroyed, it would put an end to His growing influence; He would no longer be a threat to their power base. However, if word got out that Jesus had somehow survived the crucifixion, it would be disastrous to their efforts to prove that Jesus was a blasphemer. Therefore, they resort to bribery and lies, paying off the guards instructing them to spread a false report.

The stubborn disbelief of the religious leaders and their persistent refusal to admit that their assessment of Jesus might be wrong — even in face of the impartial testimony of the guards — represents a hardened-heart that will not change. For those who do not want to believe, no amount of evidence will ever be enough. Therefore, the religious leaders, representing our lower selves, remain hell-bent on destroying Jesus. Even if they cannot do this physically, they will endeavor to discredit Him and destroy His reputation among the people who believe in Him. 12

These are the inner voices that strive to convince us that the resurrection is not real. They insinuate the idea that the resurrection is far-fetched. When it is said that God came to earth as Jesus Christ, was crucified, and rose again, these voices raise doubts. They suggest that it is more plausible to believe that Jesus was a human being, like anyone else, and that after He was crucified, His followers stole the body from the tomb while the guards were sleeping — just as the religious leaders instructed the guards. According to the gospel account, the story that the guards reported was widely circulated among the people of that day (28:15).

Doubts about the reality of the resurrection are as old as the resurrection itself. It has been called a gigantic hoax, a pagan myth, and even a smoke and mirrors magic act. Some scholars have asserted that belief in the resurrection is a form of intellectual suicide — an outright denial of reason and logic. Clever explanations that explain away the resurrection are available for all who seek them. We are left in freedom to either accept or reject the resurrection. In the same way, we have the freedom to accept or reject the Word of God, and even God Himself.

We can also reject the idea that the earth is round; instead, we can believe that it is flat. We can reject the idea that the earth revolves around the sun; instead, we can believe that the sun revolves around the earth. To our physical eyes and natural senses, a belief in a flat earth and a rising sun certainly seems to be true. In the same way, it certainly seems to be true that we have life from ourselves and not from God. But revelation teaches, and reason confirms that there is a God and that all life is from Him alone. Although a spiritual reality like this is not observable to the naked eye, it can be rationally seen that it is true. 13

Similarly, we need not take the report about the reality of Jesus’ resurrection “on faith.” Not at all, for there is a rationally satisfying reason for the resurrection. It’s as simple as this. God cannot die. This is a reality that each of us can understand if we are willing to undergo inner crucifixions and inner resurrections. If we have been faithful in “taking up our cross and following Jesus” (16:24), we know what it means to go through the combats of temptation. We know the agony to be sure, but we also know the peace that comes to us on the other side of temptation combats. And we know that this is how we grow spiritually, through shunning evils, through calling upon God for help and strength, and through recognizing that it is the Lord alone who fights for us during times of trial. Every time we go through a combat of temptation, relying on the Lord’s truth and power, there is a resurrection in our lives. At such times, we come to know and understand, interiorly and experientially, that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is real — for it takes place in us over and over again. It is not just an historical fact, but an ongoing reality. We can experience His rising daily in us, and even in every moment. 14

A New Promised Land

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16. And the eleven disciples went into Galilee, into the mountain where Jesus had directed them.

17. And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; and [yet] they doubted.

18. And Jesus coming spoke to them, saying, “All authority is given to Me in heaven and on earth.

19. Going [forth], therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,

20. “Teaching them to keep all things whatever I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all the days, even to the consummation of the age. Amen.”
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The angel has given the two women a simple message: “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee” (28:7). As the women hurried off to tell the disciples, Jesus Himself met them, and gave them a further message to convey: “Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee,” said Jesus, “and there they will see Me” (28:10).

As we come to the final episode in this gospel, we discover that Jesus’ promise is true. We read, “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him” (28:16). Just a few verses earlier, the women took hold of Jesus’ feet and “worshipped Him” (28:9). And now, just seven verses later, the disciples do likewise. In both cases, the immediate response is one of reverence and awe. They worshipped Him. It should also be noted that there are “eleven” disciples, not twelve. On the literal level, this is because Judas is no longer with them. But as we pointed out in the parable about the workers in the vineyard, those who came at the “eleventh hour” represented the innocent, receptive states in us that are capable of responding to God and receiving what flows in from Him. 15

Galilee in us

All of this happens on a mountain in Galilee. But why Galilee? After all, it is at least seventy miles from Jerusalem to Galilee, a journey of two or three days. Why not meet somewhere in Jerusalem, or in Jericho? Why Galilee? The reasons are many. One of the more obvious reasons is that it would be safer to meet in Galilee, far away from the religious leaders who were still seeking to destroy Jesus. Another reason could be that Galilee is the original place where Jesus first gathered His disciples together. It would be a time of re-union, an opportunity to re-connect and to remember the joy and excitement of the early days when everything was fresh, new, and exciting.

Jesus does the same for us. After our struggles in Jerusalem (temptations), He takes us back, again and again, to our first love; He rekindles our initial passion for following Him. He summons us back to Galilee — back to a simple, uncomplicated faith and trust in Him. 16

Just as the number “eleven” represents the receptivity and innocence of childhood, Galilee represents a time of innocent, childlike trust in the Lord. The people of Galilee were not sophisticated intellectuals, nor were they theologically trained. For the most part, they were uncomplicated people who lived far from the intellectual and cultural center at Jerusalem. They were country folk, farmers and fishermen who had little learning, but receptive hearts. This is where Jesus began His ministry, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, opening blind eyes, and unstopping deaf ears. He made the lame to walk and the mute to speak. While He did some preaching, and spent some time instructing His disciples, He devoted most of His energies to meeting the physical needs of these innocent, receptive people — in preparation for the time when He would also meet their spiritual needs.

Galilee, then, represents that place of simple, uncomplicated faith in each of us — a faith that is easily received by all those who lead good lives. When our hearts are in the right place, we receive truth easily. This is because we are eager to learn what is true because we long to do what is good. It is fitting, therefore, that Jesus would call together His eleven disciples in Galilee — a place that represents an innocent faith, a willingness to learn the truth, and a desire to do good. 17

The Great Commission

Having brought His disciples to Galilee — spiritually and geographically — Jesus is about to give the disciples their great commission. We can imagine their excitement and enthusiasm. Jesus, who has defeated death, has now returned to them. But even then, “some doubted” (28:17). This is understandable. After all, the disciples are still learning. And that’s what the term “disciple” means in the original Greek — μαθητής (mathētḗs) — one who is learning. It has not been easy for them. In addition to many times of wonder and awe, there have been times of confusion, bewilderment, disappointment, and fear. There also have been times when they have had to come face to face with their own weakness and selfishness. They have come far, to be sure, but they have farther to go and more to learn.

Similarly, the Lord does not expect us to be perfect or to have perfect faith. He continues to protect our freedom so that we can doubt if we choose to. The Lord knows that doubts will arise along the journey of faith and that we will have times of weakness. But He also knows our strengths. When doubts assail us — and they will — Jesus comes near, speaking words of blessed assurance, just as He now speaks to His disciples in Galilee, saying “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth’” (28:18). With these words and this promise, He strengthens His disciples for their Great Commission: “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations,” He says, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (28:19).

The disciples are now to carry on, as if on their own, Jesus’ work. They are to “baptize all nations” — not just the people of Galilee, or the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but all people everywhere who have ears to hear and hearts to receive. Those who receive the water of baptism will know and understand that this represents a willingness to be instructed in the truths of genuine Christianity. This baptism will be in the name of “the Father” — the Divine love in the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the name of “the Son” — the Divine truth that comes from Jesus’ lips, and in the name of “the Holy Spirit” — the Divine Energy and Power proceeding from Jesus’ risen and glorified Humanity. All authority and all power is in Him and from Him — a Divine Trinity, not of three persons, but of three attributes in One Divine Person. 18

The closing scene

As this episode draws to a close, we are left with a beautiful picture of Jesus on the mountaintop with His disciples. We are reminded of Moses, who also stood on a mountaintop many years before, overlooking the Promised Land. Moses, however, was still mortal. It was there, on Mount Nebo that Moses died. The Lord then commissioned

Joshua to become the new leader of the people. “Moses, My servant, is dead,” the Lord said to Joshua. “Therefore, arise, go over this Jordan … every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you … Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid nor dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go’” (Joshua 1:2-3; 9).

Just as the Lord commissioned Joshua, Jesus similarly commissions His disciples to go forward — into a Promised Land of human hearts and minds. As they enter this new Promised Land, they are to seek only what is good and true in people. And they are to baptize all nations with the new and glorious truths that Jesus has taught them, preparing the way for a new religious era. They are not to be afraid, but rather they are to be strong and courageous. Just as the Lord told Joshua that He would be with him wherever he would go, Jesus says to His disciples, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (28:20).

The End of the Age

Jesus has spoken of the “end of the age,” several times in this gospel (13:39; 13:49; 24:3) and He ends by referring to it once again (28:20). What does it mean? When will it be? Jesus does not give a specific time, nor does He indicate a certain place. This is because the “end of the age” does not take place in time and space. 19

On one level, the “end of the age” refers to the end, the close, or the consummation of a corrupt religious dispensation. Taken literally, this refers to the end of the religious era that had so dominated the people before Jesus’ coming. At the same time, it also refers to the beginning of a new religious era based on Jesus’ literal teachings. On a more interior level, however, the end of a former age and the beginning of a new age pertains not so much to religious institutions but rather to our inner lives. In other words, “the end of the age” is much more than the end of a religious establishment headed by corrupt religious leaders and the beginning of a new religion whose leaders live in integrity. More deeply, the “end of the age” is about each of us as we come to the end of our self-absorption and begin to focus more on the needs of others. It is about each of us as we come to the end of our arrogant attitudes and begin to cultivate humility and the willingness to be instructed. 20

As we come to the end of the age of self-absorption and arrogance, we enter a new age, a new era, a new dimension of existence. When this happens within us, we experience a major shift in consciousness. The old age in us gradually comes to an end, and a new age begins to dawn. When this occurs, we know that the “generation of Jesus Christ” (1:1) has begun to take place in our souls, and we are becoming ready to proclaim His divinity. No longer do we see Him as “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1), but rather as the Son of God.

Therefore, we now turn to the next gospel in the continuous series, which begins with the words, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Footnotes:

1. Arcana Coelestia 3605:3-4: “People who are under the influence of evil … believe that Jehovah, like themselves, is capable of hatred, anger, wrath, and fury. Therefore, it is so expressed in the Word according to the appearance, for such as is a person’s quality, such the Lord appears to that person. See also BE 62: “God is not angry with people, but people, from the anger within themselves, are angry with God…. When evil-doers are punished by their own evil, it appears to them that the punishment is from God.”

2. Arcana Coelestia 8893: “Before a person is regenerated, or created anew, there is no serenity or rest because a person’s natural life then fights against one’s spiritual life and wishes to rule over it. Consequently, the Lord labors during this time, for He fights for a person against the hells which assault. But as soon as the good of love has been implanted [in a person], the combat ceases, and rest ensues, for the person is then introduced into heaven, and is led by the Lord according to the laws of order there, thus into a state of peace. These things are signified by ‘Jehovah rested on the seventh day.’” See also Arcana Coelestia 8494: “[A sabbath] rest signifies a state of peace when there is no temptation. This is evident from the signification of ‘a rest’ such as there was on the days of the Sabbath, as being a representative of a state of peace, in which is effected the conjunction of good and truth [in a person].”

3. Arcana Coelestia 8455: “Peace has in it confidence in the Lord, that He directs all things, and provides all things, and that He leads to a good end.”

4. True Christian Religion 71[2]: “It is a law of order that people from their micro-heaven or little spiritual world should control their microcosm or little natural world, just as God from His macro-heaven or spiritual world controls the macrocosm or natural world in all its parts.”

5. Apocalypse Explained 400:14: “The angel rolling away the stone from the mouth [of the cave] and sitting upon it, signifies that the Lord removed all the falsity that cut off approach to Him, and that He opened Divine truth…. The chief-priests and Pharisees sealed the stone with a watch, but an angel from heaven removed it, and sat upon it.” See also Apocalypse Explained 655:4: “The word ‘stone’ signifies truth, and, in the opposite sense, falsity.”

6. Apocalypse Explained 687:18: “The stone that was rolled away by the angel signifies Divine truth, thus the Word, which had been closed up…. [And now] was being opened by the Lord.” See also Arcana Coelestia 8914:2: “The Ten Commandments were declared from Mount Sinai amid thundering and lightning … the flashes of lightning were signs of the brilliant flashes that truths from good possess [or] Divine Truths emanating from the Lord’s Divine Good.”

7. True Christian Religion 49: “God is present everywhere.” See also True Christian Religion 341: “God is continuously present with everyone, giving life [along with] the ability to understand and the capacity to love” and Inv 23: “The Lord is perpetually present with every person, the evil as well as the good. Without His presence, no one can live; and the Lord constantly acts, urges and strives to be received.”

8. Apocalypse Explained 75: “The words ‘fell at His feet’ signify worship from humility of heart in the presence of the Divine.”

9. Divine Providence 130: “No one is reformed by miracles and signs, because they compel…. It cannot be denied that miracles induce a belief and a strong persuasion that what is said and taught by the one who performs the miracles is true. This, at first, so occupies the external of a person’s thought as to hold it spell-bound. When this happens, however, people are deprived of their two faculties called freedom and rationality, and therefore their ability to act from freedom and in accord with reason.”

10. Apocalypse Explained 815:4: “At that time, faith was based on miracles…. The Lord allowed Himself to be worshiped like this … because faith based on miracles must precede. It becomes saving faith, however, when a person learns truths from the Word, and lives according to them.” See also 10143:5: “In short, acting in accord with the Lord’s commandments constitutes true worship of Him…. There is nothing that a person who loves another and who believes in another would rather do than to will and do what that other wills and thinks. The person’s only desire, then, is to know the will and thought of the other person, and to do what is pleasing to that person.”

11. Arcana Coelestia 8767: “A person who leads a life in accordance with the commandments is joined to the Lord. For the commandments teach about life and also impart life, thereby opening the way to heaven and opening one's eyes to see the Lord.” See also Apocalypse Explained 447:5: “Galilee … signifies the establishment of the church with those who are in the good of life and receive truths.”

12. Apocalypse Explained 1014:2: “All who are in evils as to life, and in the falsities therefrom, are murderers; for they are enemies and haters of good and truth, since evil hates good and falsity hates truth. See also Apocalypse Explained 1012:4: “In the highest sense, the commandment, ‘You shall not murder," means that one shall not take away from anyone the faith and love of God, and thus a person’s spiritual life. This is murder itself.”

13. Arcana Coelestia 1378: “There are some who have believed nothing to be true that they did not see with their eyes . . . for example, the sailing of a ship around the globe. They who suffer themselves to be carried away by the fallacies of the senses, might believe that the ship and the sailors would fall off when they came to the opposite side, and that the people at the antipodes could never stand upon their feet. Such also is the case with many things in the other life that are contrary to the fallacies of the senses, and yet are true — as that a person has no life of himself, but from the Lord; and very many other things.”

14. Arcana Coelestia 2405: “The Lord’s resurrection on the third morning contains … the truth that He rises daily, indeed every single moment, in the minds of those who are regenerating.”

15. Apocalypse Explained 194: “The number ‘eleven’ signifies a state not yet full, but yet a state of reception, such as that of well-disposed children and infants.” (See the commentary at 20:9)

16. Arcana Coelestia 2094:2: “At the present day there are many who believe nothing unless they know from reason that it is so…. These persons cannot possibly receive any faith unless they first comprehend in some measure how it can be so, and this is why these things have been explained. However, they who believe the Word in simplicity have no need to know all these things, for they are already in the end to which the others just described cannot come except by a knowledge of such things.”

17. Apocalypse Explained 447: “The word ‘Galilee’ signifies the establishment of the church with those who are in the good of life.” See also Arcana Coelestia 2986: ““All those who are in the good of life receive truths easily.”

18. Divine Providence 262: “It is clear from the preceding and following verses that He said this to make known that in Himself now glorified there was the Divine Trinity. In the verse immediately preceding He says that to Him is given all power in heaven and on earth; and in the verse immediately following He says that He would be with them until the end of the age; thus, He speaks of Himself alone, and not of three.”

19. Arcana Coelestia 4535:5: “It is the end of the age in a church when there is no longer any charity and therefore no faith.”

20. Arcana Coelestia 2243:8: “The end of the age [or consummation of the age] in regard to a church is when evil has reached its peak. The case is similar with every person. See also Apocalypse Explained 870: “The end of the age refers to the end of the old church and the beginning of the new church…. The Lord’s coming in person is the revelation of Himself in the Word that He is Jehovah the Lord of heaven and earth, and that all who will be in His New Church which is meant by the New Jerusalem will adore Him alone. For this purpose, He has now opened the internal or spiritual sense of the Word.”

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 1607, 2026, 3704, 6197, 6970, 7086, 7209, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 176, 294, 464, 476, 517, 520, 553, ...

A Brief Exposition of New Church Doctrine 32, 44

Conjugial Love 8, 82, 336

Divine Providence 245, 330

Doctrine of the Lord 32, 46

Worlds in Space 91, 159

Heaven and Hell 5

True Christian Religion 98, 104, 111, 113, 133, 137, 175, ...

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 291


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 137, 200, 400, 448, 513, 639, 678, ...

On the Athanasian Creed 177

Canons of the New Church 44

Charity 170, 201

Spiritual Experiences 857

Marriage 98, 104, 111, 113

Scriptural Confirmations 2, 79

Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Isaiah 9:5

Daniel 7:14

Bible Word Meanings

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

power
Power,' as in Revelation 4, signifies salvation, because all divine power regards this as its final purpose. A person is reformed by divine power, and...

heaven
"Air" in the Bible represents thought, but in a very general way – more like our capacity to perceive ideas and the way we tend...

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.


 A Corn of Wheat
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Angels at the Sepulcher
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Baptizing a Baby
This illustrated talk gives children a lovely introduction to baptism. 
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Children in Heaven
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

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

 Discipleship at Easter
The final events in Jesus' life unfolded quickly. The disciples responded to the changes in different ways. The twelve disciples picture qualities in us that follow the Lord. How do we respond when our faith is challenged?
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Easter
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 Easter (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 Easter (6-8 years)
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 Easter (9-11 years)
Project | Ages 11 - 14

 Easter at the Tomb
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Easter Diorama
Color and assemble a diorama showing Mary looking into the tomb and seeing the two angels. 
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Easter: Matthew
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

 Easter Morning
The story of Easter morning teaches that the Lord Jesus, who came to earth and touched us with His great love and wisdom, is more than a man. He is our God.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Father and Son Perfectly United: The Nature of the Divinity of Jesus Christ
When the Lord rose from the empty tomb on Easter morning, the Son was fully united with the Father, becoming visible as the Lord God Jesus Christ. 
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Follow Me
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Food for Thought: Baptism - A Doorway to Eternal Life
Baptism creates an introductory link between a person and the Lord.
Activity | Ages over 15

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

 Go and Teach All Nations
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Go Therefore and Make Disciples
A disciple is anyone who follows the Lord, loves Him, and obeys His commandments. How can we follow this directive in our lives?
Activity | Ages over 15

 Lo, I Am with You Always: Ideas for Picturing the Lord
Project | Ages 11 - 17

 Memory Verse: I Am with You Always
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Memory Verse: Joy Comes in the Morning
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Memory Verse: The Lord's Final Temptation
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Our Lord God Jesus Christ
The Lord rose from the tomb with His whole body, leaving nothing behind as we do.
Article | Ages over 18

 Picture of the Lord's Ascension
Let your little ones make their own picture of the Lord ascending into heaven.
Project | Ages 4 - 14

 Prayers for Adults: Joy Comes in the Morning
Activity | Ages over 18

 Prayers for Teens: I Am With You Always
Activity | Ages 15 - 17

 Prayers for Teens: Joy Comes in the Morning
Activity | Ages 15 - 17

 Quotes: Disciples of the Lord
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Quotes: Joy Comes in the Morning
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Quotes: The Promise of Baptism
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Resurrection
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Resurrection
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 Seeing the Lord
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Disciples See the Lord
A line drawing of the disciples kneeling before the Lord after His resurrection.
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Happiness of Easter
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Lord Ascends to Heaven
Project | Ages 4 - 10

 The Lord Is Always with Us
Color picture of the Lord with His disciples as He ascends to heaven.
Picture | Ages up to 14

 The Lord's Continual Presence
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story or passage and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 The Lord’s Most Important Work
This article discusses the Lord's most important earthly work-called His glorification-and what it means for our lives today using clear illustrations from nature human experience.
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 The Resurrected Lord
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 What the Lord Accomplished
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10


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