The Bible

 

Matthew 27:50-54 : The veil was torn

Study the Inner Meaning

        

50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,

53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Matthew 27      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

Chapter 27.

When Morning Comes

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1. And when it was morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death;

2. And binding Him, they led [Him] away, and delivered Him up to Pontius Pilate the governor.

3. Then Judas, who betrayed Him, seeing that He was condemned, being remorseful, returned the thirty [pieces of] silver to the chief priests and the elders,

4. Saying, “I have sinned, in that I have delivered up innocent blood.” But they said, “What [is it] to us? Thou shalt see.”

5. And throwing down the [pieces of] silver in the temple, he departed, and going away hanged himself.
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The old will must die, but a new understanding can be raised up

The crowing of the rooster announces the end of the night; but it also heralds the dawning of a new day — a time of spiritual awakening. This is contained in the first words of the next episode: “When morning came….” (27:1).

In each of our lives, “morning” represents a state of clarity in which we “wake up” and see truth clearly — especially the truth about ourselves. At the end of the previous episode, Peter awoke to the reality of his unfaithfulness, and wept bitterly. In this next episode, something similar happens for Judas. When Jesus is captured, bound and carried away to Pilate, Judas awakens to the reality of what he has done. Conscience-stricken, he says, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (27:4). Deeply remorseful, but spiritually awakened, he tries to assuage his guilt by returning the thirty pieces of silver — the “blood-money” the religious leaders paid Judas for agreeing to deliver Jesus to them.

The religious leaders, however, reject Judas’ offer. “What is this?” they say (27:4). They have no interest in taking back the money in exchange for Jesus’ release. For them, the real issue is not the money, but rather their concern about Jesus’ rising influence with the people. This has to be stopped. They therefore reject Judas’ offer.

Fully aware of his betrayal, Judas is overcome with despair. While Peter weeps bitterly, Judas goes much further. Feeling utterly devastated, Judas casts the thirty pieces of silver on the floor of the temple, and goes off to hang himself (27:5). The contrast between Peter’s bitter weeping and Judas’ suicidal death represents the difference between the old understanding (the false beliefs that we held) and the old will (the evil desires that generate false beliefs). Also referred to as “the old man,” evil desires must be completely expelled; they cannot be converted into good desires. This is why Judas, who in this episode represents our inherited evil nature, must die. 1

Peter, on the other hand, represents an aspect of our intellect. Even though it may reason falsely, if it can be separated from the evil will, it can be reformed. Therefore, we read that although Peter “wept bitterly,” he did not end his life. This is because the intellect (represented by Peter in this case) can receive truth and be reformed. And a new will can be built in a new understanding. For each of us, the death of the old will (Judas) and the building of a new understanding (Peter) is the morning of a new day. 2

Hope for All

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6. And the chief priests taking the [pieces] of silver said, “It is not permitted to cast them into the offertory, since it is the price of blood.”

7. And taking counsel, they bought with them the field of the potter, for a sepulcher for sojourners.

8. Therefore that field was called Field of Blood to this day.

9. Then was fulfilled what was declared through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty [pieces] of silver, the price of Him who was honored, whom they of the sons of Israel honored;

10. And gave them for the field of the potter, as the Lord directed me.”
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Seen spiritually, Judas’ dark and terrible fate also has a bright side. Just as his rejection of the thirty pieces of silver represents the rejection of an inordinate love of worldly things, his suicide represents the rejection of an inordinate love of oneself: it is the rejection of arrogant pride, self-aggrandizing ambition, and the meritorious feeling that we are sufficient unto ourselves without the help of God. These two evils, called “the love of the world” and the “love of self,” include all other evils. However, when love of the world is properly subordinated, we receive a genuine love for the neighbor. And when the love of self is properly subordinated, we receive a genuine love for the Lord. 3

While we do not mean to imply that Judas’ tragic death is a good thing in itself, its representation of what must die in each of us teaches an important lesson. Despair teaches us how much we need God. Desperation leads us to the acknowledgment that we can do nothing without His power. Sorrow, guilt, and shame can be signs that we do indeed have something left of conscience and are therefore redeemable. True remorse opens the way for redemption and reformation.

Humility, then, is a blessed quality. As it is written in the psalms, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The Lord is forgiveness itself; and we know that His forgiveness is always available, flowing in immediately to the extent that we recognize evils in ourselves, turn from them, and strive to do good. We are fortunate to live in an age when such clear teachings about the Lord’s forgiveness — and how to receive it — are available.

But it was not so at the time of Jesus’ advent. Evil spirits were widespread and eager to take possession of whomever they could. They had already filled Judas with the spirit of betrayal. And although he comes into an awareness of what he has done, he does not realize he has been a mere agent through whom hell has worked its diabolical schemes. It is one thing to accept responsibility for what we have done. This is a sign of emotional and spiritual health. But it is something else to become so immersed in guilt feelings that we feel irredeemable, unforgivable, and beyond hope. 4

Therefore, it is essential to believe that whatever we have done, however much we have sinned, there is still hope. We may at times feel as though we are beyond redemption, but the truth is that we are loved by God, and born for a specific purpose. There is implanted in every human soul the capacity to believe in God and an ability to live according to His commandments — divine gifts which are always preserved and never taken away. We can, of course, keep these gifts deeply buried, and practically extinguish them, but they are always there like the embers of a dying fire awaiting the inspiring and life-giving breath of God.

Apparently, the religious leaders seem to have misgivings about accepting the thirty pieces of silver that Judas has thrown on the floor. “It is not lawful to put them in the treasury,” they say, “because they are the price of blood” (27:6). So instead of putting the silver in the temple treasury, they purchase a location called, the “Potter’s Field” to use as a burial place for strangers. Their decision to purchase the field is a direct fulfillment of the prophecy, “And they took thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced … and gave them for the potter’s field” (27:10; Jeremiah 32:6-9).

Is it possible that these religious leaders know and understand that the thirty pieces of silver is “blood money”? If so, it is an indication that even in the greediest and most selfish human beings there is something decent and humane, deeply hidden perhaps, but nevertheless there. There is a lesson in this for us as well. No matter how far we have strayed, we can always return. There is hope for all. 5

Utterly Alone

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11. And Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked Him, saying, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” And Jesus declared to him, “Thou sayest.”

12. And when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.

13. Then says Pilate to Him, “Hearest Thou not how many things they witness against Thee?”

14. And He did not answer him to one saying, so that the governor marveled greatly.

15. And at [the] festival the governor was accustomed to release one prisoner to the crowd, whom they willed.

16. And they had then a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.

17. When therefore they were gathered, Pilate said unto them, “Whom do you will [that] I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus that is called Christ?”

18. For he knew that for envy they had delivered Him up.

19. And when he was seated on the tribunal, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have thou nothing to do with that just [One], for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.”

20. But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds, that they should ask for Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.

21. And the governor answering said to them, “Which of the two do you will that I release to you?” And they said, “Barabbas.”

22. Pilate says to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus that is called Christ?” They all say to him, “Let Him be crucified.”

23. And the governor declared, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out exceedingly, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”

24. And Pilate, seeing that he profits nothing, but more of an uproar was made, taking water he washed off [his] hands opposite the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just [Man]; you shall see.”

25. And all the people answering said, “His blood [be] upon us, and upon our children.”

26. Then released he Barabbas to them, but delivered Jesus up, when he had whipped [Him], to be crucified.
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As this next episode begins, Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. The religious leaders have done all they can to make it appear that Jesus is guilty of blasphemy. But Roman law does not allow them to pronounce or carry out the death penalty. Therefore this will have to be a civil matter, to be decided by the civil government. In this case the crime cannot be for blasphemy — that is a religious offense; it must be for treason, which is a civil offense. The Roman government will be able to make this charge because Jesus has been called “King of the Jews,” thereby challenging Caesar’s supremacy.

Therefore, Pilate’s question, unlike Caiaphas’, is not, “Are You the Christ, the Son of God?” (26:63), but rather, “Are You the King of the Jews?” (27:11). In both cases, whether accused of blasphemy by the religious leaders or treason by political leaders, Jesus gives similar answers: “You said” (26:63) and “You say” (27:11). Modern translators, in order to make this response understandable have added the words “It is as” to Jesus’ response. So it is written, “It is as you said,” and “It is as you say.” But the original statement can be understood to mean “You have said it!” 6

The emphasis falls on the word “you.” However it is translated, Jesus’ answer challenges each of us as well. Who indeed is Jesus? Each of us must decide for ourselves. What do you say? Is He the Son of God? Is He the king and ruler of our inner lives? Pilate is not willing to make a decision about this. Instead, he urges Jesus to defend Himself. “Do you not hear how many things they testify against You?” he says to Jesus (27:13). But Jesus chooses to remain silent: He answers him “not one word” (27:14).

Afraid to have the blood of an innocent man on his hands, Pilate decides to let the multitude make the decision for him. He is able to do so because there is a Passover custom in which one prisoner is released each year, and the people can choose which prisoner they wish to set free. Pilate, therefore, presents both Jesus and Barabbas to the crowd, saying “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Christ?” (27:18).

Barabbas was a well-known criminal — a “notorious prisoner” — a robber and a murderer (27:16). It would seem, therefore, that Jesus would be the obvious choice of the crowd, the one to be released. After all, the two men are complete opposites: Barabbas is a murderer and Jesus is a life-giver. If the crowd decides to release Jesus, Pilate will have an easy way out of his dilemma. Therefore, Pilate is banking on the idea that the crowd will easily discern between good (Jesus) and evil (Barabbas) and set Jesus free. Ordinarily, this would be an easy choice for those who have eyes to see.

It should be remembered, however, that this is no ordinary crowd. These people have been strongly influenced by the religious leaders whom they respect and fear. These religious leaders represent the false teachings and selfish desires that make us unable to freely choose the good. It is these false teachings and selfish desires that persuade the multitudes [in us] to free Barabbas and “destroy Jesus” (27:20). This is precisely what happens. When Pilate asks, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” the multitudes cry out, “Barabbas!” (27:21).

This unexpected response puts Pilate in a difficult situation. His wife has already cautioned Him, regarding Jesus’ innocence: “Have nothing to do with that just Man,” she has told him, “for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him” (27:19). Pilate’s wife represents the remnant of conscience still remaining in each of us — conscience that still strives to get through, even in a dream. The question is, however, “Will Pilate listen?”

The difficult decision is now in Pilate’s hands. On one side is his wife’s warning; on the other is the cry of the crowd. Pilate must decide what he must do with Jesus. Even though his wife has strongly cautioned him, he is not yet ready to accept her advice, or make a strong decision for himself. Instead, he spinelessly turns to the crowd a second time and asks, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” (27:22). If he expects them to change their mind, he is quite wrong. Still under the powerful influence of the religious leaders, they shout out again, “Let Him be crucified” (27:22).

Pilate believes that he can do nothing more. The multitude has made its decision for him, and he weakly acquiesces. Wishing to absolve himself of any wrong-doing, he takes water, washes his hands before the multitude, and says, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it” (27:24). And the people answer, “Let His blood be on us and our children” (27:25).

What has turned the multitudes away from Jesus? He has loved them, healed them and worked miracles among them for three years. Why are they choosing to crucify Him now? Where are the lepers that He has made whole, the lame that He has made to walk, the deaf that He has made to hear, and the blind that He has made to see? Where are the sick people He has made well, the hungry people He has fed, and the demon-possessed that He has set free? Where are they now? And if they are among the multitude, why are they not speaking up?

The answer is clear. Even as Peter denied Him, Judas betrayed Him, and all the disciples forsook Him, the multitudes turn against Him. In the end, Jesus stands utterly, absolutely alone. No one defends Him; no one speaks for Him. In the closing words of His final parable, Jesus said, “I was in prison and you came to Me.” But no one came to be with Him. As it was written in Isaiah, prophesying this moment in Jesus’ life, “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me…. I looked but there was no one to help” (Isaiah 63:3, 5).

This may seem unbelievable to us today. But that was the hellish state of the world that Jesus was born into. And that is why it was necessary for God to come into the world at that time to redeem fallen humanity — even if it meant being beaten, scourged, and crucified. Pilate, it seemed, was initially reluctant to crucify Him, but he was too weak to stand against the crowd.

In this regard, Pilate represents each of us whenever we refuse to hear the still, small, voice of conscience. Instead, we find ourselves swayed by the angry crowd of inner accusers shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him.” Whenever the mob mentality in us overrules the inner voice of love and reason, Barabbas is set free and Jesus is crucified. And so, we read that Pilate “released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified” (27:26).

King of the Jews

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27. Then the soldiers of the governor, taking Jesus into the Praetorium, gathered against Him the whole band [of soldiers].

28. And stripping Him, they put around Him a scarlet mantle.

29. And braiding a crown of thorns, they put [it] on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and kneeling before Him, mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

30. And spitting upon Him, they took the reed, and struck [Him] on His head.

31. And when they had mocked Him, they took the mantle off Him, and put His own garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify [Him].

32. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to take His cross.

33. And when they were come to a place called Golgotha, which is called Place of a Skull,

34. They gave Him vinegar to drink, mingled with gall, and when He had tasted, He was not willing to drink.

35. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting a lot, that it might be fulfilled which was declared by the prophet, They divided My garments among them, and upon My vesture they cast a lot.

36. And sitting [down], they kept [watch over] Him there;

37. And set over His head His charge written, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”

38. Then were two robbers crucified with Him, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.

39. And they that went by blasphemed Him, moving their heads,

40. And saying, “[Thou] that undoest the temple, and in three days buildest [it], save Thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, step down from the cross.”

41. And likewise also the chief priests, mocking with the scribes and elders, said,

42. “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him step down now from the cross, and we will believe Him.

43. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, I am the Son of God.”

44. And for the same thing the robbers also, who were crucified with Him, reproached Him.
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Jesus’ alleged offense is labeled “treason” for it is claimed that He calls Himself the “King of the Jews.” If true, this would be a crime against the state whose king is the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus. It is a crime punishable by death. The Roman soldiers now proceed to beat and taunt Jesus, cruelly mocking Him by dressing Him up like a king, putting a scarlet robe on His body, and a crown of thorns on His head. They also place a reed (probably a stick) in His hand instead of a royal scepter.

Then, bowing down before Jesus, they say sarcastically, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (27:29). On top of their mockery, they add contempt and abuse, spitting on Him and striking Him on the head with the scepter they now use as a club. When they are finished with their cruel sport, “they put His own clothes back on Him, and lead Him away to be crucified” (27:31).

Jesus has undergone grueling, torturous suffering at the hands of the soldiers. He is now being led away to be crucified. While prisoners are ordinarily compelled to carry the upright beam of the cross upon their backs, Jesus has been so scourged and beaten that His frail body lacks the power to do so. Therefore a man named Simon, a stranger who just happens to be in town at that time, is compelled to carry Jesus’ cross (27:32). The theme of Jesus’ utter loneliness, with no one to help, continues. A stranger carries His cross.

Finally they come to the place where Jesus is to be crucified, “a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of the Skull” (27:33). The translated phrase speaks volumes to us as we imagine a world that has lost all sight of reason. The human mind, without reason or compassion, is no better than the lifeless skull that contains it. Today, the place called Golgotha still stands on the outskirts of Jerusalem, an imposing cliff of unyielding rock. And in the rock one can see with unmistakable and chilling accuracy the shape of a skull — two hollow eyes, a hole where there should be a nose, and a menacing mouth with no lips, or teeth or tongue. This is Golgotha: an ominous symbol of life without religion, and religion without God.

It is there, at Golgotha that they give Him “sour wine mingled with gall” — a fitting representative of a world gone sour. In place of the sweet wine of pure truth, there is the sour wine of falsified religion. Therefore, Jesus refuses to drink it (27:34). It is at this point that they crucify Jesus and put a sign over His head, writing down the mocking accusation, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (27:37).

The crucifixion, however, does not end the taunting and mockery. Even those who pass by say, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (27:40). And they add, derisively, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save” (27:42). “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him” (27:42-44).

Coming down from the cross was not Jesus’ purpose. Saving His body was not His goal. In the previous chapter, when one of His disciples tried to defend Him, Jesus told him to put down his sword. God did not come to earth to save Himself, or to fight physical enemies. Rather He came to fight the hosts of hell through a frail and finite human body — a body that could feel physical pain, and a mind that could be assaulted by evil. This is the plan all along, and He has accepted it. Therefore, He will not come down. Instead, with unflinching courage He chooses to suffer to the bitter end the agony and the humiliation of the cross. Even the robbers who are being crucified with Jesus insult and revile Him (27:44).

The invisible battle

Jesus is on the cross now, rejected by everyone and suffering alone. He has been rejected by the religious establishment, the civil government, the multitudes, the disciples, and even by the two robbers who hang beside Him on the cross. Indeed, “He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

But what about the angels? Surely, they would never reject, despise, or abandon the Lord. Angels, however, like all people, are still human, and still have their weaknesses. Although their capacity to understand truth and do good is vast, they are, after all, not divine. Therefore, as Jesus comes into the extremity of temptation, He is assaulted not only by the most wicked and infernal hells but is also challenged by the angels. These temptations are the inmost of all for they involve a most subtle attack on our deepest loves and desires. In Jesus’ case, it is His ardent love for the salvation of the human race, a love that will not compel anyone. Such is the nature of the divine love itself, and such is the nature of Jesus’ final temptation on the cross. 7

The word “temptation” is normally understood to mean an “allurement” or an “enticement,” the urge to say or do something wrong. But there is a much deeper form of temptation which involves not so much the temptation to say or do evil, but rather the temptation to doubt that the truth we think is really true, and the good we do really matters. As this deeper form of temptation continues, it leads to despair, and finally to the thought that our lives have been wasted, and that nothing we do has any significance. There is no particular “urge to do evil,” but rather a much more subtle urge to simply give up on everything and everyone, including our loved ones, our life’s purpose, and even ourselves. Life seems altogether bleak and hopeless, and all of our efforts seem meaningless.

If questions and doubts like this were being injected by the hells, they would have been much easier to overcome. But coming from friends, and especially from angels, who mean well, they would be much more difficult to combat. We saw something of this earlier, when Peter rebuked the Lord for even considering the possibility that He would have to go to Jerusalem and suffer and die. But Jesus told Peter that His suffering and death in Jerusalem could not be avoided, and that Peter should be mindful of the things of God, not the things of men (16:21-23). Now, as Jesus hangs on the cross, much to the great sorrow of the angels, they come into great despair about the future of the human race, wondering if humanity can ever be saved through the mere gift of freedom. “Oh, Lord,” they perhaps cried out, “Take unto Yourself Your great power and reign. You must do something! It can’t end like this. There is so much more work to be done. Please, don’t give up like this.” 8

This is one of the most difficult forms of temptation. It occurs when those closest to us suggest that we come down from our highest principles. As it is written in the psalms, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if an enemy were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, and my close friend” (Psalm 55:12-13).

The pressure is on now — even more than in Gethsemane — and it is coming from all sides. The disciples want Him to come down from the cross to set up an earthly kingdom. The people who pass by say that He should come down from the cross to demonstrate that He is truly the Son of God. The religious leaders taunt Him to come down from the cross, saying “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself.” And now, even the angels, urge Him to come down from the cross, and end the anguish.

What no one can see, not even the angels, is that Jesus is not giving up. He is fighting an invisible battle against the subtlest and most diabolical of all the hells. And it will be a fight to the finish. Throughout this mighty battle, it is important to remember that the nature Jesus took on is human, and therefore subject to temptation. None of us likes to suffer, and none of us would choose to endure the agony of crucifixion, especially if it appears to be a useless endeavor. Similarly, none of us would want to see our loved ones choosing lives that lead to misery and destruction. It is only natural to want to stop them, to use whatever power and control we have to direct them onto a different course. Now imagine this in Jesus’ case. He knows that the human understanding cannot be compelled to believe truth, nor can the human heart be compelled to love good. This is the way He designed the universe, knowing that our very humanity consists in being free to understand and love the things which proceed from God, without compulsion. 9

In this regard, we should also consider the onslaughts of the hells that are attacking Jesus, endeavoring with all their fury to stir up bitter thoughts and emotions. Like all of us, Jesus must have been tempted to vindicate Himself and prove His innocence. But He chooses to remain silent. Like all of us He must have been tempted to fight back, to retaliate, to punish those who were so cruelly abusing Him. But He does nothing of the sort. Instead He hangs there, silently, without a word of complaint, fighting inner combats more painful than the the pain caused by the iron spikes that are piercing His hands and feet. Regardless of the pain, both external and internal, Jesus remains steadfast in His mission. He will fight against hell, even as it unleashes its full fury against Him, until He has expelled every last evil from His inherited humanity. As a result, the fullness of God’s Divinity would be made manifest in Him. And He will not come down until that mission is accomplished. 10

Jesus’ Last Words on the Cross

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45. And from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.

46. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a great voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” That is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
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My God, My God

Although this chapter begins with the words, “When morning came,” it is perhaps the shortest morning in the history of time. For darkness comes quickly, and by noon “there is “darkness over all the earth” (27:45). This darkness continues for three more hours until Jesus cries out in a loud voice “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (27:46).

In His human nature, Jesus’ sense of being utterly alone, and without support of any kind, is now complete. Not only does He feel abandoned by the disciples, then by the multitudes, and even by the angels, but He now feels abandoned by God. The Hebrew scriptures capture this feeling exquisitely. As it is written, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me? Why are You so far from My groaning?” (Psalm 22:1). “I am like a man who has no strength, adrift among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, who are cut off from your care…. Why, O Lord, do You reject me and hide Your face from me? I am in despair … the darkness is my closest friend” (Psalm 88:4-5, 14, 18). 11

In His weakened human condition, Jesus’ sense of abandonment has reached its lowest point; the desire to give up is overwhelming. As never before, Jesus has to summon up everything that He has within Him in order to rise above the desperate thoughts and feelings that are inundating Him. In the midst of it all, He has to have confidence that humanity can be saved, and that this can be done without compulsion. He has to have confidence that He is not abandoned and that His inmost love for the salvation of the human race (which He calls “the Father”) is still present. He has to have comfidence that although He feels totally abandoned by God, this is not the case. In brief, Jesus’ desperate sense of hopelessness and abandonment will need to be overcome by an inmost sense that God would never abandon Him. This teaching, in fact, was at the heart of Jesus’ entire ministry. Now would be the chance to prove it — not through a miracle, but through faith in God’s goodness and the courage to remain unbroken in spirit, even till His last breath. 12

This is a lesson for each of us as well. There are times in each of our lives when we might feel alone, abandoned, and separated from God. At such times, thoughts like these might arise in our minds:

O God, I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me.

I have believed in You and I have lived according to your Word.

And now, here I am, going through this agonizing experience.

I feel myself sinking.

Where are You? Where are Your wonders?

Why have you abandoned me?

Jesus’ last words on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?” convey a powerful message about faith during times of utter despair. Although Jesus might feel that God has abandoned Him, Jesus has not abandoned God. Out of the depths of His distress, Jesus calls upon the Lord, crying out, “My God, My God.”

The reality of Jesus’ suffering

It has been suggested that Jesus was not in despair at all; instead, when He uttered that plaintive cry, He was merely quoting the opening words of the twenty-second psalm which begins with the words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” The psalm gives key details about Jesus’ excruciating suffering on the cross, but also goes on to describe the inspired outcome of His prayer. As it is written, “The Lord has not despised or rejected the afflicted…. When he cried out to Him, He heard” (Psalm 22:24). And the next psalm begins with the immortal words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

It may be that Jesus was indeed quoting the twenty-second psalm, but this does not mean that His suffering was not real. In fact, the intensity of His suffering is exactly the point. By taking on our fallen humanity, Jesus was able to meet and conquer every physical and spiritual torment that a human being might undergo, including the final, and most piercing torment of all — the feeling that one has been abandoned by God. As a finite human being, like all of us, Jesus had to go through this agony Himself to show us that it could be done. He had to feel utterly alone and abandoned, weak and powerless, entirely on His own so that He could demonstrate that no matter what happens, no matter how furiously we are assailed by the hells, God is still with us.

Like Jesus, we also experience times that may feel like crucifixion. These are the times when we must fight against evil desires and false thoughts as if we are fighting from ourselves while acknowledging that all the power to do so is from the Lord alone. Prayer, of course, is an essential part of this combat because it connects us to the power of God. But prayer alone, even the most fervent prayer, will not chase away the evil desires and false thoughts that arise within us. Therefore, we must do this as if from ourselves, summoning up every last bit of strength and courage. The more we are assailed, the deeper we must go, remaining faithful in times of doubt, resilient in the face of adversity, and determined when feeling despair. The more we do this, fighting as if from ourselves, while believing that the Lord is fighting for us, the more will goodness and truth flowing in from the Lord sustain us and become our own. No matter how often we stumble, no matter how often we fall, if we get up and keep going, in love and faith, we will gradually develop a new nature, a new character, a new will. We will become the people God intends us to be. 13

No matter what happens to us, no matter how strongly we are assailed by doubts and despairs, we must cling to the truth that there is a God who loves us and is supporting us throughout our every trial. This is a God who will never abandon us — a God who will suffer anything for us, even the agony of the cross, to show us how to live, even in the face of death. But we must do our part; we must fight with the strength of Samson who, with his last breath, tore down the pillars of the Philistines; we must fight even as Jesus fought, against all that is evil and false within us, so that we may be born again as children of God. We must never surrender. 14

When Jesus was in the wilderness, the devil tempted Him to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus refused. Again, the devil tempted Jesus to bow down and worship him. Again, Jesus refused. And now, as Jesus concludes His earthly ministry, He is again tempted to come down — this time from the cross. Again, He refused. No one — no living person, no devil of hell, and no angel of heaven — could convince Jesus to come down from the cross or abandon His all-important mission. He remained steadfast and unwavering in His firm resolve to fulfill the purpose for which He came: to subdue the hells and, thereby, make it possible for people to be saved. And because He was fighting for the salvation of the entire human race, and doing this from pure love, He was inmostly aware that He could not help but be victorious. 15

Glorification: The Other Side of Temptation

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47. And some standing there, hearing [it], said, “This [Man] calls for Elijah.”

48. And straightway one of them running, and taking a sponge, and filling [it] with vinegar, and placing [it] on a reed, gave Him to drink.

49. But the rest said, “Let be, let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”

50. And Jesus, again crying with a great voice, let [forth] the spirit.
---

This kind of faith is invincible, indestructible, and supreme. Jesus was indeed assaulted in His infirm humanity and brought into states of severe mental anguish. But He continually drew upon those more interior resources — especially that inmost confidence that whoever fights from pure love will prevail. The crueler and more ferocious the onslaughts, the deeper He went, continuously accessing the divine love within Him and drawing it into His finite humanity. In so doing, through combat after combat, He progressively glorified His humanity until He become one with His Divine Soul — the “Father” within Him. Jesus’ passion on the cross, the last of a long series of fearsome battles with hell, was the culmination of this process. As He defeated the last of the hells, and ended the combat, He “cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit” (27:50). 16

The combat was fierce; but the result was glorious. It is similar for each of us. To the extent that we call upon the Lord, use the truth that we know, access His love, and then fight valiantly — while giving all the glory and all the credit to God — we advance a little more on the spiritual journey, as humbler, wiser, and more loving human beings.

It is a process that continues throughout our lifetime in this world and into the next, for none of us can be perfected in a moment. It is through combats of temptation, in fact, that we develop our spirits. So, although temptations may seem like dreaded foes, and unwelcome experiences, the Lord arranges the circumstances of our life perfectly so that every temptation becomes an opportunity to take the next step on our spiritual path. Whenever we meet these temptations with faith and courage, we develop, we grow, and we become spiritually mature. Each time we turn aside from evil, good flows in and takes its place. Each time we refuse to think or say what is false, truth flows in and takes its place. Each time we oppose the urge to criticize, or blame, or find fault, heavenly thoughts and emotions flow in, and take their place. 17

This process was the same for Jesus, but on a much different level. As He fought against and subdued every form of evil His humanity gradually became fully aligned with His divinity. It was as though a substance (His divinity) was being poured into a vessel (His humanity), gradually molding that vessel into a form of perfection until both the vessel and the substance became one. To put it another way, Jesus filled His mind (the finite vessel) with sacred scripture until His humanity become a perfect vessel for the reception of the divine love. In the beginning, the Divine was made human; but in the end, the human was made Divine. 18

Through a lifetime of undergoing temptations, expelling evils, and drawing upon the Divine love within Him, Jesus Christ became much more than the incarnation of God in a weak and fragile human body that died upon the cross. Rather, He became the living God in a new and glorified Humanity — the Divine Human that we can know, approach, and love. 19

This process, through which Jesus gradually filled Himself with divinity, until every cell was fully Divine — including every thought and every emotion — is called “glorification.” It is because of the glorification process that God can now be with us in a Divine natural form. This means that we no longer have to worship an infinite, unknowable, invisible God. Instead, we can worship a visible God — Jesus in His glorified humanity. 20

Jesus’ struggles and victories, up to and including His glorification, have several benefits. While a complete enumeration of those benefits is beyond human understanding, two of them are especially significant. First, in combating and subduing the hells, Jesus has made it possible for each of us to learn the truth and thereby be regenerated. The hells can no longer overwhelm us as long as we turn to the Lord in His Word and live according to the truths therein. Secondly, in glorifying His Humanity, Jesus has made the invisible Creator of the universe visible. Because of this, humanity now and forever has a fuller and more accurate idea of God. Instead of a distant, unknowable, intangible Deity, He became a Divinely Human God — a God who fights for us and shows us how to conquer. Although infinitely loving and wise, and beyond human understanding, the Creator of the universe, could now be seen as a visible God — the Lord Jesus Christ — whom we can know, and love, and follow. 21

Acknowledging Jesus’ Divinity

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51. And behold, the veil of the temple was ripped in two, from the top to the bottom; and the earth was shaken; and the rocks were ripped [open];

52. And the sepulchers were opened, and many bodies of [the] holy [ones] that slumbered arose,

53. And coming out of the sepulchers after His resurrection, entered into the holy city, and appeared to many.

54. And the centurion, and they that were with him, keeping [watch over] Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and those things that were done, feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God.”

55. And many women were there, beholding from afar off, who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him,

56. Among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57. And when it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, whose name was Joseph, who also himself was a disciple of Jesus.

58. He coming to Pilate asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered the body to be given up.

59. And Joseph, taking the body, wrapped it in a clean cloth,

60. And put it in his new sepulcher, which he had hewn in the rock; and rolling a great stone onto the door of the sepulcher, he went away.

61. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.
---

At the peak of the crucifixion, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (27:51). The veil of the temple was a beautifully decorated curtain that separated the holy place from the “holy of holies” — the sacred room where the Ten Commandments were kept. The tearing in two of the veil, revealing the “holy of holies,” signifies that the Ten Commandments were once again visible. Even as God had now become visible in Jesus, the Ten Commandments, covered over for so long, now became visible for all to see. The parting of the veil, then, represents a new and clearer understanding of those sacred precepts.

We read also that “the earth quaked and the rocks were split” (27:51). This signifies a profound re-orientation in what we consider good (the earth quaking) and what we consider true (the rocks splitting). When this happens, and we discover a new way to live, we come up from our previous lives, and start a new life. Therefore, it is written that when the earth shook and the rocks split, “the graves were opened.” 22

This represents our resurrection from natural life (concerned primarily with one’s self) to spiritual life (concerned primarily with love for God and others). During this time, our buried affections and tender feelings begin to resurface; they are “raised,” as it were, out of their graves. As it is written, “And many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” As we emerge from our “graves” of selfishness and from our deep “sleep,” we become more sensitive to spiritual values, more aware of the needs of others, and eager to be of service. In other words, we are becoming alive and awake to spiritual reality. In this higher state of consciousness, we see the Ten Commandments as central to our lives — no longer concealed by a curtain. Jesus’ words from a previous episode take on new meaning: “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).

Finally, as we emerge from the graves of selfish concern, especially after having been asleep to spiritual values for many years, we “go into the holy city.” This represents our re-awakened desire to go to the Word (the “holy city”) and eagerly learn about the truths that lead to eternal life. When earth-shaking, rock-splitting miracles like these are taking place within us, we become like the witnesses at the foot of the cross who cry out, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (27:54). The answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” (16:15) becomes clear: He is God in human form.

The beginning of a new spirituality

The miracles that took place during Jesus’ crucifixion — darkness at noon, the earthquake, the splitting of the rocks, the tearing of the veil in the temple, people coming out of their graves — stunned the crowd. From this point onwards, no one blasphemed or taunted Jesus. His crucifixion was no longer a scornful, derisive, mockery. Rather, it became transformed into a scene of sacred awe. Something truly miraculous had happened; suddenly, the same crowd that wanted to see Him crucified now began to openly acknowledge His divinity. This is accompanied by a re-awakening of love among the multitudes — represented by the “many women” who are taking notice. As it is written, “And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were looking on from afar” (27:55).

Whenever we weather the storms of temptation, and make it through upheavals of life, we come into a fuller appreciation of Jesus’ divinity. We are like the witnesses who said, “This was the Son of God.” At the same time, our love for Jesus re-emerges — just as the women who had been holding their distance now reappear. At such times, we acknowledge that He alone has brought us through our troubles. This is represented by the presence of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons who have all returned to minister to Jesus (27:56). These women represent the re-awakened affections in us that are drawn to Jesus, acknowledging His divinity.

Along with these re-emerging affections, represented by the three women, comes the desire to live by the truth that Jesus teaches. This is represented in the next episode when “a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph” (27:57), comes forward. The phrase “a rich man” signifies one who knows many truths. The problem with the religious leaders who sought to destroy Jesus is not that they did not have truth. In fact, they were “rich” with truth. But they had perverted and destroyed the truth by using it in the service of their own self-interest. That religious establishment, therefore, had come to an end, and a new a new one was being raised up to take its place. The coming forward of the three women, and now Joseph of Arimathea, represents the beginning of this new spirituality.

Joseph goes directly to Pilate and asks for the body of Jesus. Pilate, though weak and fearful, is not without common decency, even though it is so deeply buried that he could not prevent Jesus’ crucifixion. But things are changing now; the crucifixion has changed many things. We read, therefore, that “Pilate commanded the body to be given to him” (27:58). In the tender scene that follows, Joseph wraps the body in a clean cloth and lays it in a new tomb, hewn out of a rock. Then, after rolling a large stone against the door of the tomb, he departs. We are left with a final picture of Jesus wrapped in linen, and laid in a new tomb, with a large stone blocking the entrance. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are sitting nearby, opposite the tomb (27:59-61).

A practical application

There are dark times in our lives when the Word does not seem to be speaking to us. We may read the literal words, but we do not hear the Lord’s voice or feel His presence. There is no light in our darkness. Nevertheless, if we wait patiently, like the two Marys, and if we respectfully regard the literal teachings of the Word, like Joseph of Arimathea, something might arise. All we need to do at such times is meditate on a passage of scripture with the uses of life in mind. If we do this prayerfully, guided by faith in the Lord’s goodness, something might arise out of that “new tomb.” The Lord may come to us through His Word. 23

Sealing the Tomb

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62. And on the morrow, which is [the day] after the Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees were gathered together to Pilate,

63. Saying, “Lord, we remember that the deceiver said, while He was yet living, After three days I will arise.

64. Order therefore that the tomb be secured until the third day, lest His disciples coming by night steal Him, and say to the people, He is risen from the dead; and the last error shall be worse than the first.”

65. And Pilate declared to them, “You have a guard; go, secure [it] as you know [how].”

66. And going they secured the tomb, sealing the stone, with the guard.
---

The previous episode ended with a description of the two Marys sitting opposite the tomb, watching and waiting. It suggests the way each of us can wait patiently for life to arise from the Lord’s Word. There is something in each of us, God-given, that seeks inspiration and guidance from the Lord’s Word, even when there seems to be no life there at the moment.

At the same time, however, there is another force that wants to keep the tomb well sealed so that nothing might arise. This force fears the light of truth and strives to keep things in darkness. It wants to silence the voice of God. This is represented in the next episode by the words of the religious leaders. Coming to Pilate, they say, “Sir, we remember while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore, order that the tomb be made secure until the third day lest His disciples come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from dead.’” (27:63-64).

Once again, we see a representation of the two opposing forces in us. On one side, there is the tender picture of Jesus being cared for by Joseph of Arimathea and watched over by the two Marys. This is a picture of our faith in the Word and our desire to be inspired by its teachings. On the other side, the religious leaders want to make sure that Jesus’ body remains entombed. For them, the worst possible thing that could happen is that Jesus’ disciples steal the body and spread a rumor that Jesus has risen. As they put it, “If His disciples tell the people, ‘He is risen from the dead,’ the last error shall be worse than the first” (27:64). This is the part of us that does not want to hear what the Word has to say, the part of us that prefers to remain in darkness, the part of us that is represented by the religious leaders who resent Jesus’ power and influence. Remembering Jesus’ promise that He would rise again in three days, they want to make sure it will not come to pass. Therefore, they ask Pilate to set a guard and secure the tomb. But Pilate is no longer willing to comply with their wishes. “You have a guard,” he says to the religious leaders. “Go your way and make it as secure as you know how” (27:65).

In response, the religious leaders “went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard” (27:66). There are places within the human spirit that are dead set against allowing Jesus to be a living influence in our lives. These are the places that “seal the stone and set the guard.”

The two Marys, on the other hand, represent those qualities within us that await Jesus’ promised return. It is the expectation of new life, even in the midst of what appears to be death. Whether we are speaking about the inner meaning of the Word rising up out of the letter, or Jesus rising up from the grave, it suggests that new life can arise within us. The religious authorities, however, want to keep Jesus out of sight — permanently. They want to make sure that the tomb is kept sealed.

A practical application

Jesus came to subdue the hells, not to destroy them. Through His victories in temptation He provided that the hells could no longer overpower and dominate people. But people can still choose to be led by their lower nature. In this way, the Lord preserves human freedom. In every moment we can choose to be led by our highest principles of goodness and truth or be led by base desires and self-centered thoughts. It is this very struggle between good and evil forces within each of us that is portrayed in this episode. Which side will prevail?

Footnotes:

1. Arcana Coelestia 18: “Before anyone can know what is true, and be affected with what is good … the old man [evil desires] must die.” See also Arcana Coelestia 2816: “The Lord admitted temptations into Himself in order that He might expel from Himself all that was merely human, and this until nothing but the Divine remained.”

2. Arcana Coelestia 5113: “After the truth is learned, the person is able to think it, and then to will it, and at last do it. This is how a new will is formed in a person in the intellectual part.” See also Arcana Coelestia 5072: “Those things which are subordinate to the intellectual part are represented by the butler of the king of Egypt, and those which are subordinate to the will part are represented by his baker; that the former [the intellectual part] are for a time retained, but the latter [the will part] cast out, is represented by the butler returning to his place, and the baker being hanged.”

3. Heaven and Hell 151: “Love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbor make heaven, while love of self and love of the world make hell, because the two are opposite.”

4. New Jerusalem Its Heavenly Doctrine 196: “Assaults [of evil spirits] take place . . . by a continual drawing forth, and bringing to remembrance, of the evils which one has committed, and of the falsities which one has thought, thus by inundation of such things; and at the same time by an apparent shutting up of the interiors of the mind, and, consequently, of communication with heaven, by which the capacity of thinking from one’s own faith, and of willing from one’s own love, are intercepted. These things are effected by the evil spirits who are present with a person; and when they take place, they appear under the form of interior anxieties and pains of conscience; for they affect and torment a person’s spiritual life, because the person supposes that they proceed, not from evil spirits, but from one’s own interiors.” 5. In the novel, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo writes: “Is there not in every human soul … a first spark, a divine element, incorruptible in this world, and immortal in the next, which good can fan, ignite, and make to glow with splendor, and which evil can never wholly extinguish?” (Chapter 21). While Swedenborg does not speak of a “divine spark” (because we do not have life from ourselves), he does say that the Lord implants “remains” within everyone. These are the tender affections of childhood that are with us throughout our life in the world. See Arcana Coelestia 530: “Remains are always preserved … otherwise there would be no conjunction of heaven with humanity.” Also, Arcana Coelestia 5128:5: “There are in every person goods and truths from the Lord stored up from infancy. In the Word, these goods and truths are called ‘remains.’”

6. The actual Greek is su legais (σὺ λέγεις). Other translators render this “Yes” (Living Bible); “So you say” (Good News Bible); “You say so” (New Revised Standard); “Yes, it is as you say” (New International Version), and “Thou sayest” (Kempton Version). 7. Arcana Coelestia 4295: “The angels are continually being perfected by the Lord, and yet can never to eternity be so far perfected that their wisdom and intelligence can be compared to the Divine wisdom and intelligence of the Lord.” See also Arcana Coelestia 4295. “In the end the Lord fought with the angels themselves, nay, with the whole angelic heaven . . . in order that the universal heaven might be brought into order. He admitted into Himself temptations from the angels who, insofar as they were in what is their own, were so far not in good and truth. These temptations are the inmost of all, for they act solely into the ends, and with such subtlety as cannot possibly be noticed.”

8. See Revelation 11:17: “We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty … because You have taken Your great power and reigned.”

9. Divine Providence 136[3]: “The internal is so averse to compulsion by the external that it turns itself away. This is because the internal wishes to be in freedom, and loves freedom, for freedom belongs to a person’s love or life. Therefore, when freedom feels itself to be compelled it withdraws as it were within itself and turns itself away, and looks upon compulsion as its enemy…. Furthermore, compelled worship shuts in evils, which evils then lie hidden like fire in wood under ashes, which is continually kindling and spreading till it breaks out in flames.”

10. Arcana Coelestia 1607:3: “His Human Essence [was] united to His Divine Essence when He had overcome the devil and hell, that is, when by His own power and His own might He had expelled all evil, which alone disunites.”

11. Arcana Coelestia 840: “As long as temptation lasts, a person assumes that the Lord is not present. This is because the person is being harassed by evil spirits of the worst kind, so harassed in fact that sometimes the person has so great a feeling of hopelessness as scarcely to believe that God exists at all.”

12. True Christian Religion 126: “In temptation it looks as if a person is left to oneself, but it is not so, since God is most intimately present at the inmost level, secretly giving support. Therefore, when anyone is victorious in temptation, that person is most inwardly linked with God, and in this case, the Lord was most inwardly united with God His Father.” See also Arcana Coelestia 840: “In times of temptation the Lord is more present than a person can possibly believe.”

13. Arcana Coelestia 8179:2: “They who are in temptations usually slack their hands and rely solely on prayers, which they then ardently pour forth, not knowing that prayers will not avail, but that they must also fight against the falsities and evils which are being injected by the hells…. When people fight [against evil and falsity] as if from their own strength and yet believe that they do so in the Lord’s strength, goodness and truth flow in from the Lord and become their own. This gives them a new proprium [sense of self] … which is a new will.”

14. Arcana Coelestia 10182:6: “In the heavens all power is from the Divine truth that proceeds from the Lord’s Divine good. From this the angels have … the power to protect people by removing the hells from them, for one angel prevails against a thousand spirits from the hells. This cannot be apprehended by those who have the idea that truth and faith are merely thought. The fact is that thought from a person’s will produces all the strength of one’s body, and if it were inspired by the Lord through His Divine truth, a person would have the strength of Samson.”

15. Arcana Coelestia 1812: “While He lived in the world the Lord was in continual combats of temptations, and in continual victories, from a constant inmost confidence and faith that because He was fighting for the salvation of the whole human race from pure love, He could not but conquer.

16. Arcana Coelestia 4735: “The Lord’s passion was the last stage of His temptation, by which He fully glorified His humanity.”

17. “Suppose a linen handkerchief is the natural body which the Lord took on from the virgin Mary. If we pull out one thread of linen and then weave in a thread of gold along the warp, and do that over and over again, removing one thread of linen at a time and filling in with a thread of gold, then turn the handkerchief the other way and do the same with the woof, in the end we will have a handkerchief … but it will be all transformed into gold, without the size and shape perishing. The point is this: The Lord came into the world primarily to give us an image of a God that we can know and love and worship and see.” (Rev. Karl Alden, Doctrinal Papers, (Bryn Athyn: General Church Religion Lessons, 1951) p. 30. 18. True Christian Religion 73[3]: “God could not by His omnipotence have redeemed men unless He had become man; neither could He have made His human Divine unless that human had first been like the human of a babe, and then like that of a boy; and unless afterwards the human had formed itself into a receptacle and habitation, into which its Father might enter; which was done by His fulfilling all things in the Word, that is, all the laws of order therein; and so far as He accomplished this He united Himself to the Father, and the Father united Himself to Him.”

19. Arcana Coelestia 2551: “The Lord by degrees and from His own power, as He grew up, made Divine the human into which He was born. Thus, by means of the knowledge that He revealed to Himself, He perfected His rational, dispersed by successive steps its shadows, and introduced it into Divine light.”

20. True Christian Religion 109: “Before He came into the world, the Lord was certainly present with the people of the church, but through the mediation of angels as His representatives; however, since His coming He is present with the people of the church without any intermediary. For in the world He put on the Divine Natural too, in which He is present with human beings. The Lord’s glorification is the glorification of His Human, which He took upon Himself in the world; and the glorified Human of the Lord is the Divine Natural.”

21. True Christian Religion 126: “Glorification is the uniting of the Lord’s Human with the Divine of His Father. This was effected gradually, and was completed through the passion of the cross. For every person ought to draw near to God; and as far as a person does draw near, God on His part enters into that person. It is the same as with a temple, which first must be built, and this is done by human hands; afterwards it must be dedicated; and finally, prayer must be made for God to be present and there unite Himself with the church. The union itself [of the Lord’s Divine and human natures] was made complete through the passion of the cross, because that was the last temptation endured by the Lord in the world. It is by means of temptations that conjunction is effected.”

22. Apocalypse Explained 659:14: “To open the tombs and to cause the people to come up out of the tombs” signifies to be raised up out of falsities from evil, thus [to be raised up] from the dead. It also signifies [what happens when the Lord] imparts truths from good, thus life, which life is ‘the Spirit of God.’”

23. Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 78: “It is through the Word that the Lord is present with people and is conjoined to them, for the Lord is the Word, and as it were speaks with people in it…. The Lord is indeed present with people through the reading of the Word, but people are conjoined with the Lord through the understanding of truth from the Word.” See also Arcana Coelestia 9817: “The Lord flows in with people of the church chiefly through the Word.”

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 2576, 2798, 2916, 4772, 8018, 9093, 9229, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 586

Doctrine of the Lord 12, 19

Heaven and Hell 312

True Christian Religion 342


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 204, 220, 223, 400, 532, 659, 812, ...

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Exodus 26:31

2 Chronicles 3:14

Isaiah 53:8

Ezekiel 37:12

Bible Word Meanings

Loud
In Revelation 5:2, 'a loud' or 'great voice' signifies divine truth from the Lord, in its power or virtue.

ghost
'The seven spirits' in Matthew 12:45 signify all falsities of evil, and as a result, a total extinction of goodness and truth. 'The seven spirits'...

graves
A grave, as in Psalm 88:5, signifies hell. ‘To come forth out of the grave,’ as in John 5:29, signifies to come forth out of...

opened
To open,' as in Revelation 9, signifies communication and conjunction.

bodies
The body (Matt. 6:22), signifies the man (homo). "His body shall not remain all night upon the tree" (Deut. 21:23), signifies lest it should be...

saints
'Saints' mean people governed by truths from the Lord through the Word.

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

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...

truly
There's a great deal of talk in Swedenborg about "truth" as a concept – it's how we learn the Lord's will, what we must seek...

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.


What Happened Immediately After Jesus Was Crucified? - S&L Short Clips

Learn the symbolism of dramatic events that happened right after Jesus was crucified -- an earthquake, a veil torn in two, and people rising from the grave.

Resources for parents and teachers

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 Do We Try to Entomb the Lord?
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story or passage and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 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

 For Reflection: Points of View on the Lord's Crucifixion
Think about how different people might have felt about the Lord's crucifixion, considering the disciples, the chief priests, and others who may have witnessed or heard about it.
Activity | Ages over 15

 Jesus’s Trial and Crucifixion
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 Let Him Be Crucified
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Pilate Questions Jesus
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Quotes: The Lord's Final Temptation
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Soldiers Guard the Tomb
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Crucifixion at Golgotha
Make a picture of the crosses to help remember the Lord’s victory over evil. He let Himself be crucified, resisted the hells, and then rose again on Easter morning.
Project | All Ages

 The Lord's Last Days on Earth
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 Miracle of Easter
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Trying to Entomb the Lord
This story teaches us that the Lord Jesus, who came to earth and touched us with His great love and wisdom, is more than just a man. He is our God, and He has all power. 
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 When the Lord Was Crucified
Make a wax-resist picture to show how the world went black when the Lord was crucified and then rejoiced when He rose on Easter morning.
Project | All Ages

Commentary

 

Exploring the Meaning of Matthew 27

     

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

Chapter 27.

When Morning Comes

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1. And when it was morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death;

2. And binding Him, they led [Him] away, and delivered Him up to Pontius Pilate the governor.

3. Then Judas, who betrayed Him, seeing that He was condemned, being remorseful, returned the thirty [pieces of] silver to the chief priests and the elders,

4. Saying, “I have sinned, in that I have delivered up innocent blood.” But they said, “What [is it] to us? Thou shalt see.”

5. And throwing down the [pieces of] silver in the temple, he departed, and going away hanged himself.
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The old will must die, but a new understanding can be raised up

The crowing of the rooster announces the end of the night; but it also heralds the dawning of a new day — a time of spiritual awakening. This is contained in the first words of the next episode: “When morning came….” (27:1).

In each of our lives, “morning” represents a state of clarity in which we “wake up” and see truth clearly — especially the truth about ourselves. At the end of the previous episode, Peter awoke to the reality of his unfaithfulness, and wept bitterly. In this next episode, something similar happens for Judas. When Jesus is captured, bound and carried away to Pilate, Judas awakens to the reality of what he has done. Conscience-stricken, he says, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (27:4). Deeply remorseful, but spiritually awakened, he tries to assuage his guilt by returning the thirty pieces of silver — the “blood-money” the religious leaders paid Judas for agreeing to deliver Jesus to them.

The religious leaders, however, reject Judas’ offer. “What is this?” they say (27:4). They have no interest in taking back the money in exchange for Jesus’ release. For them, the real issue is not the money, but rather their concern about Jesus’ rising influence with the people. This has to be stopped. They therefore reject Judas’ offer.

Fully aware of his betrayal, Judas is overcome with despair. While Peter weeps bitterly, Judas goes much further. Feeling utterly devastated, Judas casts the thirty pieces of silver on the floor of the temple, and goes off to hang himself (27:5). The contrast between Peter’s bitter weeping and Judas’ suicidal death represents the difference between the old understanding (the false beliefs that we held) and the old will (the evil desires that generate false beliefs). Also referred to as “the old man,” evil desires must be completely expelled; they cannot be converted into good desires. This is why Judas, who in this episode represents our inherited evil nature, must die. 1

Peter, on the other hand, represents an aspect of our intellect. Even though it may reason falsely, if it can be separated from the evil will, it can be reformed. Therefore, we read that although Peter “wept bitterly,” he did not end his life. This is because the intellect (represented by Peter in this case) can receive truth and be reformed. And a new will can be built in a new understanding. For each of us, the death of the old will (Judas) and the building of a new understanding (Peter) is the morning of a new day. 2

Hope for All

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6. And the chief priests taking the [pieces] of silver said, “It is not permitted to cast them into the offertory, since it is the price of blood.”

7. And taking counsel, they bought with them the field of the potter, for a sepulcher for sojourners.

8. Therefore that field was called Field of Blood to this day.

9. Then was fulfilled what was declared through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty [pieces] of silver, the price of Him who was honored, whom they of the sons of Israel honored;

10. And gave them for the field of the potter, as the Lord directed me.”
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Seen spiritually, Judas’ dark and terrible fate also has a bright side. Just as his rejection of the thirty pieces of silver represents the rejection of an inordinate love of worldly things, his suicide represents the rejection of an inordinate love of oneself: it is the rejection of arrogant pride, self-aggrandizing ambition, and the meritorious feeling that we are sufficient unto ourselves without the help of God. These two evils, called “the love of the world” and the “love of self,” include all other evils. However, when love of the world is properly subordinated, we receive a genuine love for the neighbor. And when the love of self is properly subordinated, we receive a genuine love for the Lord. 3

While we do not mean to imply that Judas’ tragic death is a good thing in itself, its representation of what must die in each of us teaches an important lesson. Despair teaches us how much we need God. Desperation leads us to the acknowledgment that we can do nothing without His power. Sorrow, guilt, and shame can be signs that we do indeed have something left of conscience and are therefore redeemable. True remorse opens the way for redemption and reformation.

Humility, then, is a blessed quality. As it is written in the psalms, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The Lord is forgiveness itself; and we know that His forgiveness is always available, flowing in immediately to the extent that we recognize evils in ourselves, turn from them, and strive to do good. We are fortunate to live in an age when such clear teachings about the Lord’s forgiveness — and how to receive it — are available.

But it was not so at the time of Jesus’ advent. Evil spirits were widespread and eager to take possession of whomever they could. They had already filled Judas with the spirit of betrayal. And although he comes into an awareness of what he has done, he does not realize he has been a mere agent through whom hell has worked its diabolical schemes. It is one thing to accept responsibility for what we have done. This is a sign of emotional and spiritual health. But it is something else to become so immersed in guilt feelings that we feel irredeemable, unforgivable, and beyond hope. 4

Therefore, it is essential to believe that whatever we have done, however much we have sinned, there is still hope. We may at times feel as though we are beyond redemption, but the truth is that we are loved by God, and born for a specific purpose. There is implanted in every human soul the capacity to believe in God and an ability to live according to His commandments — divine gifts which are always preserved and never taken away. We can, of course, keep these gifts deeply buried, and practically extinguish them, but they are always there like the embers of a dying fire awaiting the inspiring and life-giving breath of God.

Apparently, the religious leaders seem to have misgivings about accepting the thirty pieces of silver that Judas has thrown on the floor. “It is not lawful to put them in the treasury,” they say, “because they are the price of blood” (27:6). So instead of putting the silver in the temple treasury, they purchase a location called, the “Potter’s Field” to use as a burial place for strangers. Their decision to purchase the field is a direct fulfillment of the prophecy, “And they took thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced … and gave them for the potter’s field” (27:10; Jeremiah 32:6-9).

Is it possible that these religious leaders know and understand that the thirty pieces of silver is “blood money”? If so, it is an indication that even in the greediest and most selfish human beings there is something decent and humane, deeply hidden perhaps, but nevertheless there. There is a lesson in this for us as well. No matter how far we have strayed, we can always return. There is hope for all. 5

Utterly Alone

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11. And Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked Him, saying, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” And Jesus declared to him, “Thou sayest.”

12. And when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.

13. Then says Pilate to Him, “Hearest Thou not how many things they witness against Thee?”

14. And He did not answer him to one saying, so that the governor marveled greatly.

15. And at [the] festival the governor was accustomed to release one prisoner to the crowd, whom they willed.

16. And they had then a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.

17. When therefore they were gathered, Pilate said unto them, “Whom do you will [that] I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus that is called Christ?”

18. For he knew that for envy they had delivered Him up.

19. And when he was seated on the tribunal, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have thou nothing to do with that just [One], for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.”

20. But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds, that they should ask for Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.

21. And the governor answering said to them, “Which of the two do you will that I release to you?” And they said, “Barabbas.”

22. Pilate says to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus that is called Christ?” They all say to him, “Let Him be crucified.”

23. And the governor declared, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out exceedingly, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”

24. And Pilate, seeing that he profits nothing, but more of an uproar was made, taking water he washed off [his] hands opposite the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just [Man]; you shall see.”

25. And all the people answering said, “His blood [be] upon us, and upon our children.”

26. Then released he Barabbas to them, but delivered Jesus up, when he had whipped [Him], to be crucified.
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As this next episode begins, Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. The religious leaders have done all they can to make it appear that Jesus is guilty of blasphemy. But Roman law does not allow them to pronounce or carry out the death penalty. Therefore this will have to be a civil matter, to be decided by the civil government. In this case the crime cannot be for blasphemy — that is a religious offense; it must be for treason, which is a civil offense. The Roman government will be able to make this charge because Jesus has been called “King of the Jews,” thereby challenging Caesar’s supremacy.

Therefore, Pilate’s question, unlike Caiaphas’, is not, “Are You the Christ, the Son of God?” (26:63), but rather, “Are You the King of the Jews?” (27:11). In both cases, whether accused of blasphemy by the religious leaders or treason by political leaders, Jesus gives similar answers: “You said” (26:63) and “You say” (27:11). Modern translators, in order to make this response understandable have added the words “It is as” to Jesus’ response. So it is written, “It is as you said,” and “It is as you say.” But the original statement can be understood to mean “You have said it!” 6

The emphasis falls on the word “you.” However it is translated, Jesus’ answer challenges each of us as well. Who indeed is Jesus? Each of us must decide for ourselves. What do you say? Is He the Son of God? Is He the king and ruler of our inner lives? Pilate is not willing to make a decision about this. Instead, he urges Jesus to defend Himself. “Do you not hear how many things they testify against You?” he says to Jesus (27:13). But Jesus chooses to remain silent: He answers him “not one word” (27:14).

Afraid to have the blood of an innocent man on his hands, Pilate decides to let the multitude make the decision for him. He is able to do so because there is a Passover custom in which one prisoner is released each year, and the people can choose which prisoner they wish to set free. Pilate, therefore, presents both Jesus and Barabbas to the crowd, saying “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Christ?” (27:18).

Barabbas was a well-known criminal — a “notorious prisoner” — a robber and a murderer (27:16). It would seem, therefore, that Jesus would be the obvious choice of the crowd, the one to be released. After all, the two men are complete opposites: Barabbas is a murderer and Jesus is a life-giver. If the crowd decides to release Jesus, Pilate will have an easy way out of his dilemma. Therefore, Pilate is banking on the idea that the crowd will easily discern between good (Jesus) and evil (Barabbas) and set Jesus free. Ordinarily, this would be an easy choice for those who have eyes to see.

It should be remembered, however, that this is no ordinary crowd. These people have been strongly influenced by the religious leaders whom they respect and fear. These religious leaders represent the false teachings and selfish desires that make us unable to freely choose the good. It is these false teachings and selfish desires that persuade the multitudes [in us] to free Barabbas and “destroy Jesus” (27:20). This is precisely what happens. When Pilate asks, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” the multitudes cry out, “Barabbas!” (27:21).

This unexpected response puts Pilate in a difficult situation. His wife has already cautioned Him, regarding Jesus’ innocence: “Have nothing to do with that just Man,” she has told him, “for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him” (27:19). Pilate’s wife represents the remnant of conscience still remaining in each of us — conscience that still strives to get through, even in a dream. The question is, however, “Will Pilate listen?”

The difficult decision is now in Pilate’s hands. On one side is his wife’s warning; on the other is the cry of the crowd. Pilate must decide what he must do with Jesus. Even though his wife has strongly cautioned him, he is not yet ready to accept her advice, or make a strong decision for himself. Instead, he spinelessly turns to the crowd a second time and asks, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” (27:22). If he expects them to change their mind, he is quite wrong. Still under the powerful influence of the religious leaders, they shout out again, “Let Him be crucified” (27:22).

Pilate believes that he can do nothing more. The multitude has made its decision for him, and he weakly acquiesces. Wishing to absolve himself of any wrong-doing, he takes water, washes his hands before the multitude, and says, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it” (27:24). And the people answer, “Let His blood be on us and our children” (27:25).

What has turned the multitudes away from Jesus? He has loved them, healed them and worked miracles among them for three years. Why are they choosing to crucify Him now? Where are the lepers that He has made whole, the lame that He has made to walk, the deaf that He has made to hear, and the blind that He has made to see? Where are the sick people He has made well, the hungry people He has fed, and the demon-possessed that He has set free? Where are they now? And if they are among the multitude, why are they not speaking up?

The answer is clear. Even as Peter denied Him, Judas betrayed Him, and all the disciples forsook Him, the multitudes turn against Him. In the end, Jesus stands utterly, absolutely alone. No one defends Him; no one speaks for Him. In the closing words of His final parable, Jesus said, “I was in prison and you came to Me.” But no one came to be with Him. As it was written in Isaiah, prophesying this moment in Jesus’ life, “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me…. I looked but there was no one to help” (Isaiah 63:3, 5).

This may seem unbelievable to us today. But that was the hellish state of the world that Jesus was born into. And that is why it was necessary for God to come into the world at that time to redeem fallen humanity — even if it meant being beaten, scourged, and crucified. Pilate, it seemed, was initially reluctant to crucify Him, but he was too weak to stand against the crowd.

In this regard, Pilate represents each of us whenever we refuse to hear the still, small, voice of conscience. Instead, we find ourselves swayed by the angry crowd of inner accusers shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him.” Whenever the mob mentality in us overrules the inner voice of love and reason, Barabbas is set free and Jesus is crucified. And so, we read that Pilate “released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified” (27:26).

King of the Jews

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27. Then the soldiers of the governor, taking Jesus into the Praetorium, gathered against Him the whole band [of soldiers].

28. And stripping Him, they put around Him a scarlet mantle.

29. And braiding a crown of thorns, they put [it] on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and kneeling before Him, mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

30. And spitting upon Him, they took the reed, and struck [Him] on His head.

31. And when they had mocked Him, they took the mantle off Him, and put His own garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify [Him].

32. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to take His cross.

33. And when they were come to a place called Golgotha, which is called Place of a Skull,

34. They gave Him vinegar to drink, mingled with gall, and when He had tasted, He was not willing to drink.

35. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting a lot, that it might be fulfilled which was declared by the prophet, They divided My garments among them, and upon My vesture they cast a lot.

36. And sitting [down], they kept [watch over] Him there;

37. And set over His head His charge written, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”

38. Then were two robbers crucified with Him, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.

39. And they that went by blasphemed Him, moving their heads,

40. And saying, “[Thou] that undoest the temple, and in three days buildest [it], save Thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, step down from the cross.”

41. And likewise also the chief priests, mocking with the scribes and elders, said,

42. “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him step down now from the cross, and we will believe Him.

43. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, I am the Son of God.”

44. And for the same thing the robbers also, who were crucified with Him, reproached Him.
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Jesus’ alleged offense is labeled “treason” for it is claimed that He calls Himself the “King of the Jews.” If true, this would be a crime against the state whose king is the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus. It is a crime punishable by death. The Roman soldiers now proceed to beat and taunt Jesus, cruelly mocking Him by dressing Him up like a king, putting a scarlet robe on His body, and a crown of thorns on His head. They also place a reed (probably a stick) in His hand instead of a royal scepter.

Then, bowing down before Jesus, they say sarcastically, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (27:29). On top of their mockery, they add contempt and abuse, spitting on Him and striking Him on the head with the scepter they now use as a club. When they are finished with their cruel sport, “they put His own clothes back on Him, and lead Him away to be crucified” (27:31).

Jesus has undergone grueling, torturous suffering at the hands of the soldiers. He is now being led away to be crucified. While prisoners are ordinarily compelled to carry the upright beam of the cross upon their backs, Jesus has been so scourged and beaten that His frail body lacks the power to do so. Therefore a man named Simon, a stranger who just happens to be in town at that time, is compelled to carry Jesus’ cross (27:32). The theme of Jesus’ utter loneliness, with no one to help, continues. A stranger carries His cross.

Finally they come to the place where Jesus is to be crucified, “a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of the Skull” (27:33). The translated phrase speaks volumes to us as we imagine a world that has lost all sight of reason. The human mind, without reason or compassion, is no better than the lifeless skull that contains it. Today, the place called Golgotha still stands on the outskirts of Jerusalem, an imposing cliff of unyielding rock. And in the rock one can see with unmistakable and chilling accuracy the shape of a skull — two hollow eyes, a hole where there should be a nose, and a menacing mouth with no lips, or teeth or tongue. This is Golgotha: an ominous symbol of life without religion, and religion without God.

It is there, at Golgotha that they give Him “sour wine mingled with gall” — a fitting representative of a world gone sour. In place of the sweet wine of pure truth, there is the sour wine of falsified religion. Therefore, Jesus refuses to drink it (27:34). It is at this point that they crucify Jesus and put a sign over His head, writing down the mocking accusation, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (27:37).

The crucifixion, however, does not end the taunting and mockery. Even those who pass by say, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (27:40). And they add, derisively, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save” (27:42). “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him” (27:42-44).

Coming down from the cross was not Jesus’ purpose. Saving His body was not His goal. In the previous chapter, when one of His disciples tried to defend Him, Jesus told him to put down his sword. God did not come to earth to save Himself, or to fight physical enemies. Rather He came to fight the hosts of hell through a frail and finite human body — a body that could feel physical pain, and a mind that could be assaulted by evil. This is the plan all along, and He has accepted it. Therefore, He will not come down. Instead, with unflinching courage He chooses to suffer to the bitter end the agony and the humiliation of the cross. Even the robbers who are being crucified with Jesus insult and revile Him (27:44).

The invisible battle

Jesus is on the cross now, rejected by everyone and suffering alone. He has been rejected by the religious establishment, the civil government, the multitudes, the disciples, and even by the two robbers who hang beside Him on the cross. Indeed, “He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

But what about the angels? Surely, they would never reject, despise, or abandon the Lord. Angels, however, like all people, are still human, and still have their weaknesses. Although their capacity to understand truth and do good is vast, they are, after all, not divine. Therefore, as Jesus comes into the extremity of temptation, He is assaulted not only by the most wicked and infernal hells but is also challenged by the angels. These temptations are the inmost of all for they involve a most subtle attack on our deepest loves and desires. In Jesus’ case, it is His ardent love for the salvation of the human race, a love that will not compel anyone. Such is the nature of the divine love itself, and such is the nature of Jesus’ final temptation on the cross. 7

The word “temptation” is normally understood to mean an “allurement” or an “enticement,” the urge to say or do something wrong. But there is a much deeper form of temptation which involves not so much the temptation to say or do evil, but rather the temptation to doubt that the truth we think is really true, and the good we do really matters. As this deeper form of temptation continues, it leads to despair, and finally to the thought that our lives have been wasted, and that nothing we do has any significance. There is no particular “urge to do evil,” but rather a much more subtle urge to simply give up on everything and everyone, including our loved ones, our life’s purpose, and even ourselves. Life seems altogether bleak and hopeless, and all of our efforts seem meaningless.

If questions and doubts like this were being injected by the hells, they would have been much easier to overcome. But coming from friends, and especially from angels, who mean well, they would be much more difficult to combat. We saw something of this earlier, when Peter rebuked the Lord for even considering the possibility that He would have to go to Jerusalem and suffer and die. But Jesus told Peter that His suffering and death in Jerusalem could not be avoided, and that Peter should be mindful of the things of God, not the things of men (16:21-23). Now, as Jesus hangs on the cross, much to the great sorrow of the angels, they come into great despair about the future of the human race, wondering if humanity can ever be saved through the mere gift of freedom. “Oh, Lord,” they perhaps cried out, “Take unto Yourself Your great power and reign. You must do something! It can’t end like this. There is so much more work to be done. Please, don’t give up like this.” 8

This is one of the most difficult forms of temptation. It occurs when those closest to us suggest that we come down from our highest principles. As it is written in the psalms, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if an enemy were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, and my close friend” (Psalm 55:12-13).

The pressure is on now — even more than in Gethsemane — and it is coming from all sides. The disciples want Him to come down from the cross to set up an earthly kingdom. The people who pass by say that He should come down from the cross to demonstrate that He is truly the Son of God. The religious leaders taunt Him to come down from the cross, saying “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself.” And now, even the angels, urge Him to come down from the cross, and end the anguish.

What no one can see, not even the angels, is that Jesus is not giving up. He is fighting an invisible battle against the subtlest and most diabolical of all the hells. And it will be a fight to the finish. Throughout this mighty battle, it is important to remember that the nature Jesus took on is human, and therefore subject to temptation. None of us likes to suffer, and none of us would choose to endure the agony of crucifixion, especially if it appears to be a useless endeavor. Similarly, none of us would want to see our loved ones choosing lives that lead to misery and destruction. It is only natural to want to stop them, to use whatever power and control we have to direct them onto a different course. Now imagine this in Jesus’ case. He knows that the human understanding cannot be compelled to believe truth, nor can the human heart be compelled to love good. This is the way He designed the universe, knowing that our very humanity consists in being free to understand and love the things which proceed from God, without compulsion. 9

In this regard, we should also consider the onslaughts of the hells that are attacking Jesus, endeavoring with all their fury to stir up bitter thoughts and emotions. Like all of us, Jesus must have been tempted to vindicate Himself and prove His innocence. But He chooses to remain silent. Like all of us He must have been tempted to fight back, to retaliate, to punish those who were so cruelly abusing Him. But He does nothing of the sort. Instead He hangs there, silently, without a word of complaint, fighting inner combats more painful than the the pain caused by the iron spikes that are piercing His hands and feet. Regardless of the pain, both external and internal, Jesus remains steadfast in His mission. He will fight against hell, even as it unleashes its full fury against Him, until He has expelled every last evil from His inherited humanity. As a result, the fullness of God’s Divinity would be made manifest in Him. And He will not come down until that mission is accomplished. 10

Jesus’ Last Words on the Cross

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45. And from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.

46. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a great voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” That is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
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My God, My God

Although this chapter begins with the words, “When morning came,” it is perhaps the shortest morning in the history of time. For darkness comes quickly, and by noon “there is “darkness over all the earth” (27:45). This darkness continues for three more hours until Jesus cries out in a loud voice “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (27:46).

In His human nature, Jesus’ sense of being utterly alone, and without support of any kind, is now complete. Not only does He feel abandoned by the disciples, then by the multitudes, and even by the angels, but He now feels abandoned by God. The Hebrew scriptures capture this feeling exquisitely. As it is written, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me? Why are You so far from My groaning?” (Psalm 22:1). “I am like a man who has no strength, adrift among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, who are cut off from your care…. Why, O Lord, do You reject me and hide Your face from me? I am in despair … the darkness is my closest friend” (Psalm 88:4-5, 14, 18). 11

In His weakened human condition, Jesus’ sense of abandonment has reached its lowest point; the desire to give up is overwhelming. As never before, Jesus has to summon up everything that He has within Him in order to rise above the desperate thoughts and feelings that are inundating Him. In the midst of it all, He has to have confidence that humanity can be saved, and that this can be done without compulsion. He has to have confidence that He is not abandoned and that His inmost love for the salvation of the human race (which He calls “the Father”) is still present. He has to have comfidence that although He feels totally abandoned by God, this is not the case. In brief, Jesus’ desperate sense of hopelessness and abandonment will need to be overcome by an inmost sense that God would never abandon Him. This teaching, in fact, was at the heart of Jesus’ entire ministry. Now would be the chance to prove it — not through a miracle, but through faith in God’s goodness and the courage to remain unbroken in spirit, even till His last breath. 12

This is a lesson for each of us as well. There are times in each of our lives when we might feel alone, abandoned, and separated from God. At such times, thoughts like these might arise in our minds:

O God, I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me.

I have believed in You and I have lived according to your Word.

And now, here I am, going through this agonizing experience.

I feel myself sinking.

Where are You? Where are Your wonders?

Why have you abandoned me?

Jesus’ last words on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?” convey a powerful message about faith during times of utter despair. Although Jesus might feel that God has abandoned Him, Jesus has not abandoned God. Out of the depths of His distress, Jesus calls upon the Lord, crying out, “My God, My God.”

The reality of Jesus’ suffering

It has been suggested that Jesus was not in despair at all; instead, when He uttered that plaintive cry, He was merely quoting the opening words of the twenty-second psalm which begins with the words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” The psalm gives key details about Jesus’ excruciating suffering on the cross, but also goes on to describe the inspired outcome of His prayer. As it is written, “The Lord has not despised or rejected the afflicted…. When he cried out to Him, He heard” (Psalm 22:24). And the next psalm begins with the immortal words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

It may be that Jesus was indeed quoting the twenty-second psalm, but this does not mean that His suffering was not real. In fact, the intensity of His suffering is exactly the point. By taking on our fallen humanity, Jesus was able to meet and conquer every physical and spiritual torment that a human being might undergo, including the final, and most piercing torment of all — the feeling that one has been abandoned by God. As a finite human being, like all of us, Jesus had to go through this agony Himself to show us that it could be done. He had to feel utterly alone and abandoned, weak and powerless, entirely on His own so that He could demonstrate that no matter what happens, no matter how furiously we are assailed by the hells, God is still with us.

Like Jesus, we also experience times that may feel like crucifixion. These are the times when we must fight against evil desires and false thoughts as if we are fighting from ourselves while acknowledging that all the power to do so is from the Lord alone. Prayer, of course, is an essential part of this combat because it connects us to the power of God. But prayer alone, even the most fervent prayer, will not chase away the evil desires and false thoughts that arise within us. Therefore, we must do this as if from ourselves, summoning up every last bit of strength and courage. The more we are assailed, the deeper we must go, remaining faithful in times of doubt, resilient in the face of adversity, and determined when feeling despair. The more we do this, fighting as if from ourselves, while believing that the Lord is fighting for us, the more will goodness and truth flowing in from the Lord sustain us and become our own. No matter how often we stumble, no matter how often we fall, if we get up and keep going, in love and faith, we will gradually develop a new nature, a new character, a new will. We will become the people God intends us to be. 13

No matter what happens to us, no matter how strongly we are assailed by doubts and despairs, we must cling to the truth that there is a God who loves us and is supporting us throughout our every trial. This is a God who will never abandon us — a God who will suffer anything for us, even the agony of the cross, to show us how to live, even in the face of death. But we must do our part; we must fight with the strength of Samson who, with his last breath, tore down the pillars of the Philistines; we must fight even as Jesus fought, against all that is evil and false within us, so that we may be born again as children of God. We must never surrender. 14

When Jesus was in the wilderness, the devil tempted Him to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus refused. Again, the devil tempted Jesus to bow down and worship him. Again, Jesus refused. And now, as Jesus concludes His earthly ministry, He is again tempted to come down — this time from the cross. Again, He refused. No one — no living person, no devil of hell, and no angel of heaven — could convince Jesus to come down from the cross or abandon His all-important mission. He remained steadfast and unwavering in His firm resolve to fulfill the purpose for which He came: to subdue the hells and, thereby, make it possible for people to be saved. And because He was fighting for the salvation of the entire human race, and doing this from pure love, He was inmostly aware that He could not help but be victorious. 15

Glorification: The Other Side of Temptation

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47. And some standing there, hearing [it], said, “This [Man] calls for Elijah.”

48. And straightway one of them running, and taking a sponge, and filling [it] with vinegar, and placing [it] on a reed, gave Him to drink.

49. But the rest said, “Let be, let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”

50. And Jesus, again crying with a great voice, let [forth] the spirit.
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This kind of faith is invincible, indestructible, and supreme. Jesus was indeed assaulted in His infirm humanity and brought into states of severe mental anguish. But He continually drew upon those more interior resources — especially that inmost confidence that whoever fights from pure love will prevail. The crueler and more ferocious the onslaughts, the deeper He went, continuously accessing the divine love within Him and drawing it into His finite humanity. In so doing, through combat after combat, He progressively glorified His humanity until He become one with His Divine Soul — the “Father” within Him. Jesus’ passion on the cross, the last of a long series of fearsome battles with hell, was the culmination of this process. As He defeated the last of the hells, and ended the combat, He “cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit” (27:50). 16

The combat was fierce; but the result was glorious. It is similar for each of us. To the extent that we call upon the Lord, use the truth that we know, access His love, and then fight valiantly — while giving all the glory and all the credit to God — we advance a little more on the spiritual journey, as humbler, wiser, and more loving human beings.

It is a process that continues throughout our lifetime in this world and into the next, for none of us can be perfected in a moment. It is through combats of temptation, in fact, that we develop our spirits. So, although temptations may seem like dreaded foes, and unwelcome experiences, the Lord arranges the circumstances of our life perfectly so that every temptation becomes an opportunity to take the next step on our spiritual path. Whenever we meet these temptations with faith and courage, we develop, we grow, and we become spiritually mature. Each time we turn aside from evil, good flows in and takes its place. Each time we refuse to think or say what is false, truth flows in and takes its place. Each time we oppose the urge to criticize, or blame, or find fault, heavenly thoughts and emotions flow in, and take their place. 17

This process was the same for Jesus, but on a much different level. As He fought against and subdued every form of evil His humanity gradually became fully aligned with His divinity. It was as though a substance (His divinity) was being poured into a vessel (His humanity), gradually molding that vessel into a form of perfection until both the vessel and the substance became one. To put it another way, Jesus filled His mind (the finite vessel) with sacred scripture until His humanity become a perfect vessel for the reception of the divine love. In the beginning, the Divine was made human; but in the end, the human was made Divine. 18

Through a lifetime of undergoing temptations, expelling evils, and drawing upon the Divine love within Him, Jesus Christ became much more than the incarnation of God in a weak and fragile human body that died upon the cross. Rather, He became the living God in a new and glorified Humanity — the Divine Human that we can know, approach, and love. 19

This process, through which Jesus gradually filled Himself with divinity, until every cell was fully Divine — including every thought and every emotion — is called “glorification.” It is because of the glorification process that God can now be with us in a Divine natural form. This means that we no longer have to worship an infinite, unknowable, invisible God. Instead, we can worship a visible God — Jesus in His glorified humanity. 20

Jesus’ struggles and victories, up to and including His glorification, have several benefits. While a complete enumeration of those benefits is beyond human understanding, two of them are especially significant. First, in combating and subduing the hells, Jesus has made it possible for each of us to learn the truth and thereby be regenerated. The hells can no longer overwhelm us as long as we turn to the Lord in His Word and live according to the truths therein. Secondly, in glorifying His Humanity, Jesus has made the invisible Creator of the universe visible. Because of this, humanity now and forever has a fuller and more accurate idea of God. Instead of a distant, unknowable, intangible Deity, He became a Divinely Human God — a God who fights for us and shows us how to conquer. Although infinitely loving and wise, and beyond human understanding, the Creator of the universe, could now be seen as a visible God — the Lord Jesus Christ — whom we can know, and love, and follow. 21

Acknowledging Jesus’ Divinity

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51. And behold, the veil of the temple was ripped in two, from the top to the bottom; and the earth was shaken; and the rocks were ripped [open];

52. And the sepulchers were opened, and many bodies of [the] holy [ones] that slumbered arose,

53. And coming out of the sepulchers after His resurrection, entered into the holy city, and appeared to many.

54. And the centurion, and they that were with him, keeping [watch over] Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and those things that were done, feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God.”

55. And many women were there, beholding from afar off, who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him,

56. Among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57. And when it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, whose name was Joseph, who also himself was a disciple of Jesus.

58. He coming to Pilate asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered the body to be given up.

59. And Joseph, taking the body, wrapped it in a clean cloth,

60. And put it in his new sepulcher, which he had hewn in the rock; and rolling a great stone onto the door of the sepulcher, he went away.

61. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.
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At the peak of the crucifixion, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (27:51). The veil of the temple was a beautifully decorated curtain that separated the holy place from the “holy of holies” — the sacred room where the Ten Commandments were kept. The tearing in two of the veil, revealing the “holy of holies,” signifies that the Ten Commandments were once again visible. Even as God had now become visible in Jesus, the Ten Commandments, covered over for so long, now became visible for all to see. The parting of the veil, then, represents a new and clearer understanding of those sacred precepts.

We read also that “the earth quaked and the rocks were split” (27:51). This signifies a profound re-orientation in what we consider good (the earth quaking) and what we consider true (the rocks splitting). When this happens, and we discover a new way to live, we come up from our previous lives, and start a new life. Therefore, it is written that when the earth shook and the rocks split, “the graves were opened.” 22

This represents our resurrection from natural life (concerned primarily with one’s self) to spiritual life (concerned primarily with love for God and others). During this time, our buried affections and tender feelings begin to resurface; they are “raised,” as it were, out of their graves. As it is written, “And many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” As we emerge from our “graves” of selfishness and from our deep “sleep,” we become more sensitive to spiritual values, more aware of the needs of others, and eager to be of service. In other words, we are becoming alive and awake to spiritual reality. In this higher state of consciousness, we see the Ten Commandments as central to our lives — no longer concealed by a curtain. Jesus’ words from a previous episode take on new meaning: “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).

Finally, as we emerge from the graves of selfish concern, especially after having been asleep to spiritual values for many years, we “go into the holy city.” This represents our re-awakened desire to go to the Word (the “holy city”) and eagerly learn about the truths that lead to eternal life. When earth-shaking, rock-splitting miracles like these are taking place within us, we become like the witnesses at the foot of the cross who cry out, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (27:54). The answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” (16:15) becomes clear: He is God in human form.

The beginning of a new spirituality

The miracles that took place during Jesus’ crucifixion — darkness at noon, the earthquake, the splitting of the rocks, the tearing of the veil in the temple, people coming out of their graves — stunned the crowd. From this point onwards, no one blasphemed or taunted Jesus. His crucifixion was no longer a scornful, derisive, mockery. Rather, it became transformed into a scene of sacred awe. Something truly miraculous had happened; suddenly, the same crowd that wanted to see Him crucified now began to openly acknowledge His divinity. This is accompanied by a re-awakening of love among the multitudes — represented by the “many women” who are taking notice. As it is written, “And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were looking on from afar” (27:55).

Whenever we weather the storms of temptation, and make it through upheavals of life, we come into a fuller appreciation of Jesus’ divinity. We are like the witnesses who said, “This was the Son of God.” At the same time, our love for Jesus re-emerges — just as the women who had been holding their distance now reappear. At such times, we acknowledge that He alone has brought us through our troubles. This is represented by the presence of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons who have all returned to minister to Jesus (27:56). These women represent the re-awakened affections in us that are drawn to Jesus, acknowledging His divinity.

Along with these re-emerging affections, represented by the three women, comes the desire to live by the truth that Jesus teaches. This is represented in the next episode when “a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph” (27:57), comes forward. The phrase “a rich man” signifies one who knows many truths. The problem with the religious leaders who sought to destroy Jesus is not that they did not have truth. In fact, they were “rich” with truth. But they had perverted and destroyed the truth by using it in the service of their own self-interest. That religious establishment, therefore, had come to an end, and a new a new one was being raised up to take its place. The coming forward of the three women, and now Joseph of Arimathea, represents the beginning of this new spirituality.

Joseph goes directly to Pilate and asks for the body of Jesus. Pilate, though weak and fearful, is not without common decency, even though it is so deeply buried that he could not prevent Jesus’ crucifixion. But things are changing now; the crucifixion has changed many things. We read, therefore, that “Pilate commanded the body to be given to him” (27:58). In the tender scene that follows, Joseph wraps the body in a clean cloth and lays it in a new tomb, hewn out of a rock. Then, after rolling a large stone against the door of the tomb, he departs. We are left with a final picture of Jesus wrapped in linen, and laid in a new tomb, with a large stone blocking the entrance. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are sitting nearby, opposite the tomb (27:59-61).

A practical application

There are dark times in our lives when the Word does not seem to be speaking to us. We may read the literal words, but we do not hear the Lord’s voice or feel His presence. There is no light in our darkness. Nevertheless, if we wait patiently, like the two Marys, and if we respectfully regard the literal teachings of the Word, like Joseph of Arimathea, something might arise. All we need to do at such times is meditate on a passage of scripture with the uses of life in mind. If we do this prayerfully, guided by faith in the Lord’s goodness, something might arise out of that “new tomb.” The Lord may come to us through His Word. 23

Sealing the Tomb

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62. And on the morrow, which is [the day] after the Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees were gathered together to Pilate,

63. Saying, “Lord, we remember that the deceiver said, while He was yet living, After three days I will arise.

64. Order therefore that the tomb be secured until the third day, lest His disciples coming by night steal Him, and say to the people, He is risen from the dead; and the last error shall be worse than the first.”

65. And Pilate declared to them, “You have a guard; go, secure [it] as you know [how].”

66. And going they secured the tomb, sealing the stone, with the guard.
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The previous episode ended with a description of the two Marys sitting opposite the tomb, watching and waiting. It suggests the way each of us can wait patiently for life to arise from the Lord’s Word. There is something in each of us, God-given, that seeks inspiration and guidance from the Lord’s Word, even when there seems to be no life there at the moment.

At the same time, however, there is another force that wants to keep the tomb well sealed so that nothing might arise. This force fears the light of truth and strives to keep things in darkness. It wants to silence the voice of God. This is represented in the next episode by the words of the religious leaders. Coming to Pilate, they say, “Sir, we remember while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore, order that the tomb be made secure until the third day lest His disciples come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from dead.’” (27:63-64).

Once again, we see a representation of the two opposing forces in us. On one side, there is the tender picture of Jesus being cared for by Joseph of Arimathea and watched over by the two Marys. This is a picture of our faith in the Word and our desire to be inspired by its teachings. On the other side, the religious leaders want to make sure that Jesus’ body remains entombed. For them, the worst possible thing that could happen is that Jesus’ disciples steal the body and spread a rumor that Jesus has risen. As they put it, “If His disciples tell the people, ‘He is risen from the dead,’ the last error shall be worse than the first” (27:64). This is the part of us that does not want to hear what the Word has to say, the part of us that prefers to remain in darkness, the part of us that is represented by the religious leaders who resent Jesus’ power and influence. Remembering Jesus’ promise that He would rise again in three days, they want to make sure it will not come to pass. Therefore, they ask Pilate to set a guard and secure the tomb. But Pilate is no longer willing to comply with their wishes. “You have a guard,” he says to the religious leaders. “Go your way and make it as secure as you know how” (27:65).

In response, the religious leaders “went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard” (27:66). There are places within the human spirit that are dead set against allowing Jesus to be a living influence in our lives. These are the places that “seal the stone and set the guard.”

The two Marys, on the other hand, represent those qualities within us that await Jesus’ promised return. It is the expectation of new life, even in the midst of what appears to be death. Whether we are speaking about the inner meaning of the Word rising up out of the letter, or Jesus rising up from the grave, it suggests that new life can arise within us. The religious authorities, however, want to keep Jesus out of sight — permanently. They want to make sure that the tomb is kept sealed.

A practical application

Jesus came to subdue the hells, not to destroy them. Through His victories in temptation He provided that the hells could no longer overpower and dominate people. But people can still choose to be led by their lower nature. In this way, the Lord preserves human freedom. In every moment we can choose to be led by our highest principles of goodness and truth or be led by base desires and self-centered thoughts. It is this very struggle between good and evil forces within each of us that is portrayed in this episode. Which side will prevail?

Footnotes:

1Arcana Coelestia 18: “Before anyone can know what is true, and be affected with what is good … the old man [evil desires] must die.” See also Arcana Coelestia 2816: “The Lord admitted temptations into Himself in order that He might expel from Himself all that was merely human, and this until nothing but the Divine remained.”

2Arcana Coelestia 5113: “After the truth is learned, the person is able to think it, and then to will it, and at last do it. This is how a new will is formed in a person in the intellectual part.” See also Arcana Coelestia 5072: “Those things which are subordinate to the intellectual part are represented by the butler of the king of Egypt, and those which are subordinate to the will part are represented by his baker; that the former [the intellectual part] are for a time retained, but the latter [the will part] cast out, is represented by the butler returning to his place, and the baker being hanged.”

3Heaven and Hell 151: “Love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbor make heaven, while love of self and love of the world make hell, because the two are opposite.”

4. New Jerusalem Its Heavenly Doctrine 196: “Assaults [of evil spirits] take place . . . by a continual drawing forth, and bringing to remembrance, of the evils which one has committed, and of the falsities which one has thought, thus by inundation of such things; and at the same time by an apparent shutting up of the interiors of the mind, and, consequently, of communication with heaven, by which the capacity of thinking from one’s own faith, and of willing from one’s own love, are intercepted. These things are effected by the evil spirits who are present with a person; and when they take place, they appear under the form of interior anxieties and pains of conscience; for they affect and torment a person’s spiritual life, because the person supposes that they proceed, not from evil spirits, but from one’s own interiors.”

5. In the novel, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo writes: “Is there not in every human soul … a first spark, a divine element, incorruptible in this world, and immortal in the next, which good can fan, ignite, and make to glow with splendor, and which evil can never wholly extinguish?” (Chapter 21). While Swedenborg does not speak of a “divine spark” (because we do not have life from ourselves), he does say that the Lord implants “remains” within everyone. These are the tender affections of childhood that are with us throughout our life in the world. See Arcana Coelestia 530: “Remains are always preserved … otherwise there would be no conjunction of heaven with humanity.” Also, Arcana Coelestia 5128:5: “There are in every person goods and truths from the Lord stored up from infancy. In the Word, these goods and truths are called ‘remains.’”

6. The actual Greek is su legais (σὺ λέγεις). Other translators render this “Yes” (Living Bible); “So you say” (Good News Bible); “You say so” (New Revised Standard); “Yes, it is as you say” (New International Version), and “Thou sayest” (Kempton Version).

7Arcana Coelestia 4295: “The angels are continually being perfected by the Lord, and yet can never to eternity be so far perfected that their wisdom and intelligence can be compared to the Divine wisdom and intelligence of the Lord.” See also Arcana Coelestia 4295. “In the end the Lord fought with the angels themselves, nay, with the whole angelic heaven . . . in order that the universal heaven might be brought into order. He admitted into Himself temptations from the angels who, insofar as they were in what is their own, were so far not in good and truth. These temptations are the inmost of all, for they act solely into the ends, and with such subtlety as cannot possibly be noticed.”

8. See Revelation 11:17: “We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty … because You have taken Your great power and reigned.”

9Divine Providence 136[3]: “The internal is so averse to compulsion by the external that it turns itself away. This is because the internal wishes to be in freedom, and loves freedom, for freedom belongs to a person’s love or life. Therefore, when freedom feels itself to be compelled it withdraws as it were within itself and turns itself away, and looks upon compulsion as its enemy…. Furthermore, compelled worship shuts in evils, which evils then lie hidden like fire in wood under ashes, which is continually kindling and spreading till it breaks out in flames.”

10Arcana Coelestia 1607:3: “His Human Essence [was] united to His Divine Essence when He had overcome the devil and hell, that is, when by His own power and His own might He had expelled all evil, which alone disunites.”

11Arcana Coelestia 840: “As long as temptation lasts, a person assumes that the Lord is not present. This is because the person is being harassed by evil spirits of the worst kind, so harassed in fact that sometimes the person has so great a feeling of hopelessness as scarcely to believe that God exists at all.”

12True Christian Religion 126: “In temptation it looks as if a person is left to oneself, but it is not so, since God is most intimately present at the inmost level, secretly giving support. Therefore, when anyone is victorious in temptation, that person is most inwardly linked with God, and in this case, the Lord was most inwardly united with God His Father.” See also Arcana Coelestia 840: “In times of temptation the Lord is more present than a person can possibly believe.”

13Arcana Coelestia 8179:2: “They who are in temptations usually slack their hands and rely solely on prayers, which they then ardently pour forth, not knowing that prayers will not avail, but that they must also fight against the falsities and evils which are being injected by the hells…. When people fight [against evil and falsity] as if from their own strength and yet believe that they do so in the Lord’s strength, goodness and truth flow in from the Lord and become their own. This gives them a new proprium [sense of self] … which is a new will.”

14Arcana Coelestia 10182:6: “In the heavens all power is from the Divine truth that proceeds from the Lord’s Divine good. From this the angels have … the power to protect people by removing the hells from them, for one angel prevails against a thousand spirits from the hells. This cannot be apprehended by those who have the idea that truth and faith are merely thought. The fact is that thought from a person’s will produces all the strength of one’s body, and if it were inspired by the Lord through His Divine truth, a person would have the strength of Samson.”

15Arcana Coelestia 1812: “While He lived in the world the Lord was in continual combats of temptations, and in continual victories, from a constant inmost confidence and faith that because He was fighting for the salvation of the whole human race from pure love, He could not but conquer.

16Arcana Coelestia 4735: “The Lord’s passion was the last stage of His temptation, by which He fully glorified His humanity.”

17. “Suppose a linen handkerchief is the natural body which the Lord took on from the virgin Mary. If we pull out one thread of linen and then weave in a thread of gold along the warp, and do that over and over again, removing one thread of linen at a time and filling in with a thread of gold, then turn the handkerchief the other way and do the same with the woof, in the end we will have a handkerchief … but it will be all transformed into gold, without the size and shape perishing. The point is this: The Lord came into the world primarily to give us an image of a God that we can know and love and worship and see.” (Rev. Karl Alden, Doctrinal Papers, (Bryn Athyn: General Church Religion Lessons, 1951) p. 30.

18True Christian Religion 73[3]: “God could not by His omnipotence have redeemed men unless He had become man; neither could He have made His human Divine unless that human had first been like the human of a babe, and then like that of a boy; and unless afterwards the human had formed itself into a receptacle and habitation, into which its Father might enter; which was done by His fulfilling all things in the Word, that is, all the laws of order therein; and so far as He accomplished this He united Himself to the Father, and the Father united Himself to Him.”

19Arcana Coelestia 2551: “The Lord by degrees and from His own power, as He grew up, made Divine the human into which He was born. Thus, by means of the knowledge that He revealed to Himself, He perfected His rational, dispersed by successive steps its shadows, and introduced it into Divine light.”

20True Christian Religion 109: “Before He came into the world, the Lord was certainly present with the people of the church, but through the mediation of angels as His representatives; however, since His coming He is present with the people of the church without any intermediary. For in the world He put on the Divine Natural too, in which He is present with human beings. The Lord’s glorification is the glorification of His Human, which He took upon Himself in the world; and the glorified Human of the Lord is the Divine Natural.”

21True Christian Religion 126: “Glorification is the uniting of the Lord’s Human with the Divine of His Father. This was effected gradually, and was completed through the passion of the cross. For every person ought to draw near to God; and as far as a person does draw near, God on His part enters into that person. It is the same as with a temple, which first must be built, and this is done by human hands; afterwards it must be dedicated; and finally, prayer must be made for God to be present and there unite Himself with the church. The union itself [of the Lord’s Divine and human natures] was made complete through the passion of the cross, because that was the last temptation endured by the Lord in the world. It is by means of temptations that conjunction is effected.”

22Apocalypse Explained 659:14: “To open the tombs and to cause the people to come up out of the tombs” signifies to be raised up out of falsities from evil, thus [to be raised up] from the dead. It also signifies [what happens when the Lord] imparts truths from good, thus life, which life is ‘the Spirit of God.’”

23Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 78: “It is through the Word that the Lord is present with people and is conjoined to them, for the Lord is the Word, and as it were speaks with people in it…. The Lord is indeed present with people through the reading of the Word, but people are conjoined with the Lord through the understanding of truth from the Word.” See also Arcana Coelestia 9817: “The Lord flows in with people of the church chiefly through the Word.”

The Bible

 

Matthew 19:17

Study the Inner Meaning

              

17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Matthew 19      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

Chapter 19.

Teachings About Marriage

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1. And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee, and came into the borders of Judea, across the Jordan.

2. And many crowds followed Him; and He cured them there.

3. And the Pharisees came to Him, tempting Him, and saying to Him, “Is it permitted for a man to send away his wife for every cause?”

4. And He answering said to them, “Have you not read that He who made [them] from the beginning made them male and female,

5. And said, ‘On this account shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?’

6. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

7. They say unto Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a document of divorce, and to send her away?”

8. He says to them, “Moses, because of your hard-heartedness, permitted you to send away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.

9. And I say unto you that whoever shall send away his wife, except over scortation, and shall marry another, commits adultery; and he who marries her that is sent away commits adultery.”
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The decline of marriage

Jesus has just finished speaking about what it means to be “great” in the kingdom of heaven. He illustrated this by placing a child in the midst of His disciples, urging them to become as little children. He then added that they should “humble themselves” as a little child — the very opposite of any attempt to exalt themselves.

In their early years, little children store up precious memories of how it feels to love and be loved, to forgive and be forgiven. Their tender hearts are open to the gentle and direct influences of heaven. As Jesus said at the beginning of the previous chapter, “their angels continually look at the face of My Father in heaven” (18:10).

The gentleness of children is then contrasted with the hard-heartedness of the unforgiving servant — a man who was unwilling to forgive a minor debt even though he himself had been forgiven an enormous debt. Between the two episodes (setting a child in the midst of the disciples and the story of the unforgiving servant), Peter asks Jesus, “How often should I forgive someone who sins against me. Up to seven times?” “No,” says Jesus, “seventy times seven,” which means always and forever (see 18:21-22).

With these important teachings about forgiveness in mind, the gospel narrative now turns to the subject of marriage. Although marriage was God’s first blessing (Genesis 1:28), over the course of time it came to be seen as merely a convenience for men who wanted women to serve them as their domestic slaves, preparing meals and producing children. No longer seen as a sacred blessing from God, marriage had lost its grandeur and beauty; the beautiful ideal of two souls becoming as one was lost. Husbands no longer regarded their wives as their noble companions, but rather as their domestic servants. 1

Hardness of heart

This brief history of marriage and its decline provides an important context for the next episode. As Jesus comes into the land of Judea, He is approached by the religious leaders who ask, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (19:3). Their question regards the proper interpretation of a well-known law: “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she find no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, let him write her a certificate of divorce, put it in her hand, and send her out of his house” (Deuteronomy 24:1). This law seems to sanction divorce for any cause. However, not all of the religious leaders agreed. In fact, there was a dispute between two rabbinical schools of thought. One of the schools (Hillel) was teaching that it is literally true that a wife could be divorced for any cause; but an opposing school (Shammai) was teaching that a woman could be divorced only for adultery. 2

This was obviously a trick question, designed to trap Jesus into taking one of the sides in the debate. Because it was a “hot button” issue at the time, Jesus answer was sure to offend someone. Rather than get trapped in this literalistic debate, Jesus uses this opportunity to teach a higher lesson. “Have you not read,” He says, “that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’ and said ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (19:6). Not content with this answer, the Pharisees press on, saying, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce and put her away?” (19:7). Jesus’ response is simple and straightforward: “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (19:8).

Jesus here refers to the “hardness of heart” that had set in over the years. Jesus is very careful about His choice of words. He says that Moses permitted it. This is to make it clear that this command came from Moses, as a permission, but that it is not the Lord’s will. 3

Many of the laws in the Hebrew scriptures were given in their literal form in accommodation to the states of the people, for it was all that they could understand at the time. But just because a law is written in the scriptures, the literal words of that law does not necessarily reflect the Lord’s will for all people at all times. Laws that permitted men to take many wives, or to divorce their wives whenever they wished, were permissions granted on account of the hardness of their hearts, less they perpetrate even more grievous evils. 4

We know for example that the famous law regarding revenge, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Leviticus 24:20), was given so that human beings, in their cruelty, would not retaliate beyond the offense that was given. Similarly, the many laws about animal sacrifice were given, not because God delights in the slaughter of animals, but because it was better than the sacrifice of children. 5

All of these permissions were granted because of the hardness of people’s hearts — that state of inordinate pride, self-love and arrogant self-confidence which is the very opposite of humility. In this state of mind people become unyielding and rigid, unwilling and therefore unable to see anything beyond their own world view. As a result there is no understanding of others, no forgiveness and no mercy. In the Word, it is called a “heart of stone.” (Ezekiel 36:26). 6

One indication of “hardness of heart” is a propensity to focus on our own understanding of truth, to the exclusion of love. Whenever we do this, we have a tendency to become stern, austere, harsh and unyielding. But when truth and love are united in us, and in our lives, we become gentle, soft-hearted, and compassionate. A mere understanding of truth does not become wisdom until it is filled with — or “married to” — goodness. This can be compared to the influence that a woman can have upon her husband as they become more and more one soul in the marital relationship. The wife can help her husband transform his innate hard-headed, hard-hearted intelligence into the true wisdom of a husband. 7

The marriage relationship, then, can be a transformative experience. It can transform a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. This is also true for every human being — whether married or not. This is because the marriage relationship between one man and one woman represents the deeper spiritual relationship between truth and goodness that takes place in every human soul. To the extent that the truth we know is united with goodness, we become more and more a human being — more and more an image of God. As it is written, “Male and female He created them. In the image of God He created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Truth must be united with goodness. If we were to “put away our wife” (goodness) for any reason — that is, divorce ourselves from, love, mercy, and forgiveness — our hearts would remain hard, proud, unyielding, and full of self-love. On the other hand, as we become “one flesh” with these tender qualities, our hearts are softened; we become yielding and receptive to what flows in from the divine.

What God has joined together

In the previous chapter, Jesus instructed His disciples about the importance of humility by setting a child in their midst. And in the story of the unforgiving servant we saw the vital link between humility (awareness of our debt to the Lord) and forgiveness. Now, in this next chapter, the teaching continues in an area of human life where humility and forgiveness are of utmost practical importance — marriage.

Humility is directly related to the ability to see our own evils, to acknowledge them, and to pray for the power to overcome them. Without this essential virtue, a marriage relationship will eventually deteriorate into contempt and criticism, whether spoken outwardly or harbored silently in a hardened-heart. Moreover, without the spirit of humility, each strives for mastery over the other, seeking to have the upper hand, insisting on having the last word. Whether openly through physical coercion and verbal abuse, or secretly through various forms of manipulation, each will strive to dominate the other. The relentless desire to exert control inevitably leads to heated arguments and bitter strife, or to stubborn resistance and icey silence. Either way, what God intends to be our heaven on earth becomes a living hell at home. 8

But this need not be the case. As Jesus says, “From the beginning it was not so.” The beginning of a marriage, like the infancy of our lives, is a time of tender, spontaneous love. Hearts are soft and forgiving. But over the course of time, especially as selfishness sets in, hearts can begin to harden and grow cold; two people who once promised to love each other forever now begin to think about separation and divorce.

How, then, do we overcome “hardness of heart”? Or to say it differently, how can we transform a contemptuous, haughty attitude into an attitude that is humble, respectful and open to the viewpoints of others? As Jesus has shown, there is only one way. It is through the process of temptation. In the combats of temptation, the truth that we know is put to use. As a result, the love of self is subdued, contempt for others is put aside, and the Lord’s mercy flows in. A heart of stone is taken away, and a new heart is given. As it is written, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). This is what can happen to anyone who is willing to “take up one’s cross and follow Jesus” — that is, live according to the truth that Jesus teaches.

We can see, then, that Jesus uses this opportunity to teach eternal lessons about marriage — not only about the marriage between one man and one woman, but also about the marriage of truth and goodness that must take place within every individual. Whether married or not, this internal marriage takes place through the process of spiritual temptation, the perennial combat of truth against falsity, good against evil. While Jesus does not reveal these more interior teachings, it is all there, contained within spiritually loaded phrase, “because of the hardness of your hearts.”

Temptations serve to break up our arrogant self-confidence — our “hardness of heart.” As our hearts begin to soften, we come to realize that without God we can do nothing. Through this process we become truly human. During these times of trial, we come face to face with the question, “Do we truly believe this or not?” And if we do believe, the only way to demonstrate our belief is to we put it to use, even when our lower nature is being stubbornly resistant. If we are successful in subduing our lower nature while compelling our will to apply the truth, the result is an internal marriage of the truth we know with our desire to live according to it. This is the very marriage that God had in mind from the very beginning of creation — a heavenly marriage of goodness and truth within us. This, then, is the spiritual meaning of the words “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (19:9). 9

Is it Better Not to Marry?

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10. His disciples say to Him, “If the case of the man be so with the wife, it is not expedient to wed.”

11. But He said to them, “All do not take in this word, but [they] to whom it is given.

12. For there are eunuchs who were so born from the mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of the heavens. He that is able to take it in, let him take it in.”
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As we have seen, Jesus uses external situations to teach more interior spiritual lessons. In this case, He is teaching not only about the external marriage between a man and a woman, but also about the marriage of truth (represented by “a man”) and goodness (represented by a “woman”) — an internal marriage that can take place within every individual. Therefore, when Jesus teaches that “a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife,” we need to understand this at both the natural and spiritual level. The spiritual message is that every human being must leave behind inherited tendencies to evil in order to receive a new will (“a wife”), that is, a new will that loves what is good. All of this is contained within Jesus’ literal statements. 10

But the religious leaders were not ready for those kinds of explanations. They demanded specific “yes” and “no” answers for their trick questions. So, Jesus gave them what they needed to hear. He tells them, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” This was the clear, unequivocal message they needed to hear. Even if marriages were no longer considered sacred, they were still covenants for life. Jesus knew how destructive it would be for society if wives were simply put away for any reason. Therefore, He reinforced the teaching that the only reason for divorce could be adultery. Moreover, he took it a step further, saying, “And whoever marries her who has been put away also commits adultery” (19:9).

It’s easy to imagine that the disciples were confused. Jesus, who seems to be so open, so loving, and so forgiving about so many things, comes across as unusually firm about the law regarding divorce. So, they say to Jesus, “If such is the case, it is better not to marry” (19:10).

It should be remembered that it is the disciples — not Jesus — who suggest that it is perhaps better not to marry. Throughout the history of the Christian church there have been people who have believed that a celibate life is a higher spiritual path than a married one. Even Paul, who chose celibacy over marriage, said, “I wish that all men were as I myself [celibate] … and I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:7-9).

Though Paul acknowledges that it is not a sin to marry, he does not recommend it. His anti-marriage advice continues: “Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife…. For those who marry will face many troubles in this life and I want to spare you this” (1 Corinthians 7:27-28). And then, to sum it all up, he writes, “So then, he who marries a virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better” (1 Corinthians 7:38).

While some argue that Paul recommends celibacy only because there is an immediate crisis, others claim that he definitely teaches that celibacy is a higher path — not just for Paul’s time, but for all time. This is perhaps because Jesus Himself seems to teach the virtue of celibacy, especially when He adds these words: “There are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” (19:12). It would seem, at least on the surface, that Jesus might indeed be recommending celibacy.

But we need to explore the inner meaning of Jesus’ words.

Jesus is here referring to three types of men: those who have no sexual interest in women because they were born with undeveloped testes (“eunuchs who were born thus”); those who no longer have sexual interest in women because their testes were removed by others (“eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men”); and men who no longer have sexual interest in women because they have removed their own testes for religious purposes (“eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake”). In each of these cases the common denominator seems to be no sexual interest in women.

But if this is really Jesus’ point, why does Jesus have such a high regard for marriage? Why does He, in the preceding episode, take the religious leaders back to the original plan of creation, reminding them that in the beginning God made people male and female and joined them together so that they would become “one flesh”? And why would He bless them and tell them to be fruitful and multiply? Obviously, God is not against marriage, nor is He against sexuality in marriage.

The “eunuch,” then, is a only symbol of spiritual purity — not a recommended religious path. In sacred symbolism a “eunuch” represents an individual who strives to shun adulterous lust out of love and respect for marriage. Such people have no desire to be united with evil, because they know that it is contrary to God’s will. Thus they have become spiritual “eunuchs” for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. 11

When God created the world, and everything in it, He said it is “good.” And when He created man and woman on the sixth day, blessing them, and commanding them to be fruitful and multiply, He said. “Behold, it is very good” (Genesis 1:31). Therefore, it makes sense to conclude that God considers marriage, sexuality, and the production of offspring as a part of His plan. He wants us to marry, to have beautiful sexual relations with our marriage partner, and to produce offspring. Nothing could be simpler, or more wonderful.

Celibacy, on the other hand, is a deviation from God’s order. It prevents us from experiencing the highest happiness and the greatest blessing given to humanity: marriage. The marriage relationship — spiritual and physical — is the container of all heavenly and earthly joys. Sexuality in marriage is the most intimate physical relationship that can take place between a husband and wife. It is no wonder, then, that God has blessed this relationship with the highest of all physical delights — for it corresponds to the delight that the soul experiences when good and truth are united. 12

When Jesus responded to the question about putting wives away, He said, simply, “from the beginning it was not so.” These words remind us that the experience of falling in love and entering the marriage relationship brings us back to the innocence and purity of our childhood, where we can once again be “naked and not ashamed.” It is a time to be open with one another about all things, to love one another deeply and tenderly, and to promise eternal fidelity to each other. In many ways it is a lovely symbol, and perfect representation of our relationship with God — childlike, innocent, trusting, open, and eternal. Jesus compares this to three kinds of eunuch: the eunuch from his mother’s womb; the eunuch made so by men; and the eunuch who makes himself a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven.

The three types of eunuchs perfectly describe three ways of achieving a marriage relationship that is free of licentious desires. In the highest, most heavenly way, the love flows from a heart that has been newborn from the Lord. The relationship is innocent, chaste, and pure — without lust. Though there are sexual feelings, they are focused only on the beloved. These are “eunuchs who are born thus from their mother’s womb.”

The next type of eunuch describes the individual who learns the truths of revelation and applies them to life. These are the truths that help him to rise above every evil affection, especially those lusts that would destroy a marriage relationship. Because the term “men” in the Word signifies “truths,” these are the kinds of people who are described as “eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men.” 13

The third type of eunuch commits himself to marriage out of obedience. The commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” is enough. This is not the same as rising above licentiousness through truths given in the Word (“made eunuchs by men”); nor is it the same as developing a new heart that detests the very thought of adultery.

Nevertheless, “eunuchs” of this type are still welcomed by the Lord. These are “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” 14

The kind of struggle represented by the second and third stages can be painful and difficult. Nevertheless, if we want to enter into true marriage, must be willing to cut away every illicit desire and every wandering lust. Only then can we experience true marriage love.

The description of three kinds of eunuchs is Jesus’ response to the statement of the disciples, who said to Him, “If such be the case, it is better not to marry.” While deeply embedded in spiritual language about eunuchs, Jesus’ response is clear. It is better to marry. But it’s even better to cultivate a chaste love for one’s spouse, purified of lustful desire. In His description of the eunuchs, Jesus is not talking about sexual abstinence. Rather, He is talking about cultivating a love for one’s spouse, devoid of licentiousness, and in accordance with the commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” 15

Jesus, of course, knew that most of this would be beyond the understanding of His disciples, so He ends this illustration with the words, “”He who is able to comprehend, let him comprehend” (19:12).

Let the Little Children Come to Me

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13. Then were there brought to Him little children, that He should lay [His] hands on them, and pray; but the disciples rebuked them.

14. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of the heavens.”

15. And laying hands on them, He went thence.
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As we progress through these three stages in our marriage relationships, and in our lives, and if we strive to trust in the Lord through every stage, we will repeatedly return to that beginning state in which we are again like innocent, trusting children. Therefore, the very next episode begins with these words: “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray” (19:13). This represents the return of our innocent, trusting states — the “little ones” that Jesus spoke of in the preceding chapter.

These “little ones” never leave us, though they may be forgotten, apparently lost, and covered over by the love of self and cares of the world. It is therefore necessary that these tender states in us be once again drawn out; this happens whenever we feel touched by the hand of the Lord. “Then little children were brought to Him, that He might put His hands on them.”

The disciples are still confused and do not fully understanding what Jesus is doing. Like Peter, who rebuked the Lord for saying that He would have to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things (17:21), the disciples now rebuke those who bring little children to Jesus. Peter did not understand that the Lord’s temptations would be necessary for the salvation of the human race, just as our temptations are necessary for our regeneration. Nor did he realize that the “little children” that Jesus touched represent those tender aspects of ourselves that the Lord touches from time to time. This occurs especially after the combats of temptation when we realize that we have no power of our own, and that we are completely dependent upon the Lord — very much like children who are completely dependent on their parents.

This is our return to innocence, where we are once again like little children. Therefore, Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for such is the kingdom of heaven” (19:14). It is an invitation to each of us to come to the Lord, as His children, entirely dependent on Him for our spiritual sustenance. As the “little ones” in us feel the touch of His spirit, we receive His life. Therefore, this episode ends with the words, “And laying hands on them, He departed from there” (19:15).

The Rich Young Ruler

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16. And behold, one coming said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

17. And He said to him, “Why callest thou Me good? None is good except One, God; but if thou willest to enter into the life, keep the commandments.”

18. He says to Him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “This, that thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness,

19. Honor thy father and mother; and, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

20. The young man says to Him, “All these things have I guarded from my youth; in what am I yet lacking?”

21. Jesus declared to him, “If thou willest to be perfect, go, sell thy belongings, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

22. But when the young man heard the word, he went away sorrowful; for he had many possessions.
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The divine narrative now continues with the story of a rich young ruler who asks, “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (19:16). Note the emphasis here upon action rather than attitude. In the preceding series, the primary focus has been upon an attitude of humility. Even forgiveness, though it is expressed in certain physical actions, is essentially an attitude. The rich young ruler, however, lives under the delusion that heaven can be merited by certain external actions, rather than a fundamental change of attitude. Therefore he asks, “What good thing shall I do . . .”

The young man’s need for a change of attitude is made very clear in Jesus’ response to his question. When the young man addresses Jesus as “Good, teacher,” Jesus points out that no person, from himself, is good. All goodness is from God alone. Therefore, He says, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God” (16:17). In other words, we should not take merit for the good that we do, since all good comes from God.

Nevertheless, Jesus says to the rich young ruler, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (19:17). This catches the young man’s attention, for he certainly seems desirous of doing “the right thing” so that he may get into heaven. Therefore, he asks, “Which ones?” as if certain commandments are of more help than others in meriting heaven. Jesus tells him explicitly: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and your mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (19:19). This is good news for the young man, who replies: “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” (19:20)

The young man still believes that he can merit heaven by all of his “doing.” He seems to be quite proud of himself, perhaps even bragging, when he says, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” He has not yet come to acknowledge that the good he does derives from God, and that without God, He can do nothing. It is this humility which he lacks. But rather than tell him this directly, Jesus responds in the language of parable, saying, “ If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” (19:21). We read, however, that this is too much for the young man who goes away sorrowful, for he has great possessions” (19:22).

In the context of all that has preceded, Jesus’ words, “sell what you have” mean that we should get rid of the belief that our riches are our own, acknowledging instead that without God, we are indeed poor. But in so far as we do this — that is, in so far as we attribute all that we have to God — we become rich indeed. In acknowledging our spiritual poverty, God can fill us with the kingdom of heaven. “This is what Jesus means when He says, “give to the poor” (acknowledge our spiritual poverty), and you will have treasure in heaven (God will fill us with every spiritual blessing). It is another way of repeating the opening words from His Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3).

All of this, however, depends on whether or not we are willing to “follow” Jesus, that is, do His will. This is what is meant by Jesus’ invitation to the rich young ruler at the close of this episode, “Come, follow Me.”

Who then can be saved?

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23. And Jesus said to His disciples, “Amen I say to you that with difficulty shall a rich [man] enter into the kingdom of the heavens.

24. And again, I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

25. And when His disciples heard [it], they wondered greatly, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

26. But Jesus looking at [them] said to them, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”
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The rich young ruler knew many truths and had “kept them” from his youth. In this regard, he was spiritually “rich.” We, too, are blessed to know spiritual truth, and even more blessed when we live according to it. But true blessing only comes when we acknowledge that every truth we have, along with the ability to understand it and apply it, is from the Lord alone. As long as we remain puffed up with pride and self-importance, no matter how much we know (spiritual riches), we can never enter the kingdom of God. As Jesus puts it, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (19:24).

Earthly wealth has never been, and never will be, a hindrance to the kingdom of God. 16 Conversely, physical poverty has never been, and never will be, a guarantee of admission. But pride of intellect and arrogant self-confidence will surely keep us out of heaven, while genuine humility, contriteness of heart, and trust in God, will surely open heaven’s gates. Ultimately, all of our knowledge, along with our achievements and successes, are useless unless we acknowledge that it is all from the Lord. This is what Jesus means when He says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples hear this, they are “exceedingly amazed” and say, “Who then can be saved?” (19:25). The disciples are amazed because they have never thought beyond the idea of personal merit. They have grown up in the traditional belief that people are saved by a rigid adherence to religious laws. But Jesus is teaching them something new. The rich young ruler has kept all the commandments. That’s good, but it’s not enough. Something more is needed. While keeping the commandments is commendable, they need to be kept with a right attitude. And that attitude is the humble acknowledgment that even the power to keep the commandments is from the Lord. It is for this reason that Jesus responds to their question, “Who then can be saved?” with this answer, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (19:26). 17

Sitting on Thrones

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27. Then Peter answering said to Him, Behold, we have left all and followed Thee; what then shall we have?

28. And Jesus said to them, Amen I say to you, that you who have followed Me in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory you also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

29. And everyone that has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or fields, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life.

30. But many [who are] first shall be last, and the last first.
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Peter is watching and listening intently. Remembering that Jesus told the young man to “Sell what you have … and follow Me,” Peter says to Jesus, “See, we have left all and followed You.” He then adds, “Therefore what shall we have?” (19:27). Peter’s question,“What shall we have?” reveals that he doesn’t quite understand what Jesus is teaching. Peter still thinks of heaven as a reward — as something you receive for doing the right thing. His question is not very different from that of the young ruler who asks, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” For both Peter and the rich young ruler — as for each of us — it takes time and maturity to discover that the rewards of heavenly life consist in the delights of doing good — without any thought of reward. 18

Jesus, nevertheless, not wanting to discourage Peter or the disciples, says, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (19:28). This must have sounded like wonderful news to the disciples, who all along had been hoping that Jesus would fulfill His role as Messiah and become the new King of Israel. And now, along with this exciting declaration, Jesus tells them that each of them will sit on a throne “judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Though they have been with Jesus for quite some time and have been listening to His preaching about humility, they are still in a natural state, susceptible to worldly ambition, and probably delighted to hear that they will be sitting on thrones in the coming kingdom. 19

Jesus often speaks in accommodation to the merely natural state of His disciples. While He knows that the future holds no literal thrones for them, He also knows they will indeed sit on a different kind of throne — the throne of divine truth. From these thrones, they will have new perceptions; they will be able to identify evil tendencies in themselves, and notice false ideas arising in their minds. And then, like kings summoning their soldiers to battle, they will summon up truth to combat and overcome these spiritual invaders. 20

When Jesus says, “You will sit on twelve thrones,” He means that whenever we are willing to be led by the divine truth (the Son of Man), we will be able to dispel the evils and falsities that attempt to invade our mind. Our power will be like that of a king, for it will be power from divine truth. Nevertheless, we must never claim that power as our own. The moment we do so, we will instantly lose all power. 21

As the disciples come to realize that all power is from the Lord, they will have real spiritual power. This is what Jesus promises the disciples, even though His language is clothed in worldly appearances. Jesus’ words contain a great and wonderful promise for each of us — not just for the disciples. As we continue our spiritual development, successively letting go of all attachments and possessions (honor, reputation, and materialistic gain), we will receive in exchange, wondrous heavenly blessings. This is what Jesus means when He says in the next verse, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit everlasting life” (19:29).

Returning to the connections between episodes, it should be noted that Jesus has just delivered a wonderful discourse on the beauty and sanctity of marriage (19:4-8). Therefore, it would not be reasonable for Him to suddenly switch gears and now speak against it, encouraging husbands to leave their wives in order to follow Him.

Unfortunately, in the history of Christianity, people have taken these words literally; they have actually abandoned their wives and their children in order to follow Jesus.

It should always be remembered that Jesus speaks in parables, using physical objects (seeds, water, houses, etc.) and relationships (wife, brother, father, etc.) to signify spiritual realities. 22 In this case Jesus is speaking about the false concepts and negative emotions that we are to leave behind in order to follow Him. The “houses” signify our old ways of thinking — our belief systems; “brothers and sisters” signify the specific thoughts and affections that are within these belief systems; “father and mother” signify the inherited tendencies toward falsity and evil we have acquired from parents; “wife and children and lands” signify additional tendencies toward falsity and evil acquired and passed on during our lives. 23

Thus, in order to follow Jesus, all this must be left behind — not literally our brothers and sisters, wives and children, but rather everything signified by these terms: our selfish habits of thought, our focus on earthly rather than heavenly rewards, our tendencies towards evils of every kind. All this is what we must leave behind if we are to inherit “everlasting life” (19:29). Clearly, this must have a spiritual meaning, for everywhere else Jesus urges us to love one another, especially parents, spouses, children, neighbors — and even our enemies. Jesus, then, is not calling is away from loving others; rather He is calling us away from those selfish loves that destroy our relationships with others.

As this episode draws to a close, Jesus provides the answer that the rich young ruler has been seeking. The original question was, “What good thing shall I do that I might have eternal life.” And the answer is simple: We must, of course, keep the commandments. But we must also be willing to give up everything that prevents us from receiving the kingdom of heaven. In order to do so, we must become as a child — humble, obedient, and willing to be led. Certainly, this is the very opposite of what the disciples understand by “sitting on thrones” where they envision themselves as ruling, commanding, and judging over others. But the disciples are still in training, and Jesus is patient with them — just as He is with us. For now, it is enough for them to look forward to pre-eminence and glory in His coming kingdom.

But it will be like no kingdom on earth, and they should expect surprises. Therefore, Jesus closes this episode with a warning about seeing themselves as “first” in the coming kingdom. Jesus says, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (19:30).

Footnotes:

1. In the days of ancient Israel, women were considered second-class citizens, mere possessions of their fathers and husbands, with a social position only slightly higher than the status of slaves. A man was allowed to take any woman he wanted from among his captives and make her his wife. But if she did not please him, he could divorce her. See, for example, Deuteronomy 21:14: “She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, and remain in your house … a full month. After that, you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free.”

2. The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Raymond Brown, ed. (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1968), “The Gospel According to Matthew,” p. 96 3. Conjugial Love 340: “The Lord says, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of their hearts, permitted them to divorce their wives, but from the beginning it was not so’ (Matthew 19:8). He says Moses permitted it, to make known that it was not the Lord.”

4. Apocalypse Explained 423: “There are also Divine commands not from the Divine Will, but of leave and permission, many of which were given to the sons of Israel. They were permitted, for example, to have several wives, and to give them bills of divorcement, besides other things of a similar nature. Those commands were of permission, and were given because of the hardness of their hearts.”

5. Arcana Coelestia 2818: “That it was known from the most ancient time that the Lord was to come into the world, and was to suffer death, is evident from the fact that the custom prevailed among the Gentiles of sacrificing their sons, believing that they were thus purified, and propitiated to God; in which abominable custom they could not have placed their most important religious observance, unless they had learned from the ancients that the Son of God was to come, who would, as they believed, be made a sacrifice. To this abomination even the sons of Israel were inclined, and Abraham also; for no one is tempted except by that to which he is inclined. That the sons of Jacob were so inclined is evident in the Prophets; but lest they should rush into that abomination, it was permitted to institute burnt-offerings and sacrifices.”

6. Arcana Coelestia 9377: “The Divine of the Lord cannot flow into a proud heart, that is, into a heart full of the love of self, for such a heart is hard; and is called in the Word a ‘heart of stone.’ But the Divine of the Lord can flow into a humble heart, because this is soft, and is called in the Word a ‘heart of flesh’”(Arcana Coelestia 9377). See also SD 4754: “The love of self is hard; and love to the Divine is soft.”.

7. Conjugial Love 56. “Women are created beauties not for their own sake but for men; that men, of themselves hard, may be softened; that their dispositions, of themselves severe, may become gentle; and their hearts, of themselves cold, may become warm. And such do they become when they become one flesh with their wives.

8. Conjugial Love 248: “Conjugial love looks to the union of wills and thus to freedom of decision. Rivalry for supremacy or rule, casts both of these out of the marriage; for it divides and cleaves asunder the wills and turns the freedom of decision into servitude.” See also LJP 22: “The desire of ruling in marriage takes away conjugial love.” [Note: The term “conjugial” as used by Swedenborg usually refers to a special love between one man and one woman that will continue to eternity. But Swedenborg also uses it to refer to marriage in general.]

9. Arcana Coelestia 3318: Good cannot be conjoined with truth in the natural man without combats, or what is the same, without temptations. That it may be known how the case herein is in respect to people, it shall be briefly told. A person is nothing but an organ, or vessel, which receives life from the Lord; for a person does not live from oneself. The life which flows in from the Lord is from His Divine love. This love inflows and applies itself to the vessels which are in a person’s rational mind… But these vessels are not obedient, being obstinately resistant, and hardening themselves against the heavenly order…. Therefore, before they can be rendered compliant and fit to receive anything of the life of the Lord’s love, they must be softened. This softening is brought about by no other means than by temptations; for temptations remove all that is of the love of self and of contempt for others in comparison with self, consequently all that is of self-glory, and also of hatred and revenge. When therefore the vessels have been somewhat tempered and subdued by temptations, they begin to become yielding to and compliant with the life of the Lord’s love, which continually flows in with a person. This is the reason why a person is regenerated, that is, made new, by temptations; or what is the same, by spiritual combats; and that he is afterwards gifted with another nature; being made mild, humble, single-minded, and contrite in heart.”

10. Conjugial Love 156r [repeated]: “An inclination and also a capacity for conjunction as though into one was implanted in man and woman from creation, and man and woman still have this inclination and capacity in them. That this is so appears from the book of creation [where it is written] … ‘A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and they shall be as one flesh.” (Genesis 2:22-24). See also Conjugial Love 194: “In order that this might come about [the blessedness of marriage] it was enjoined on man that he leave father and mother and cling to his wife. The father and mother a man is to leave mean, in a spiritual sense, the inherent nature of his will and the inherent nature of his intellect (the inherent nature of a person’s will being to love itself, and the inherent nature of a person’s intellect being to love its own wisdom). And ‘to cling’ means to commit himself to love of his wife. These two inherent natures are evil and deadly to a man if they remain in him, but the love arising from the two is turned into conjugial love as a man clings to his wife, that is, as he acquires a love for her.”

11. Apocalypse Explained 710:28: “Eunuchs” [spiritually understood] mean those who have no desire to enter into marriage, that is, they have no desire to be conjoined with the affection of evil, because the understanding of truth and good would thus be perverted and dissipated…. Such are called ‘eunuchs’ because they have no lasciviousness, such as those have who, from the hardness of heart … take several wives, and divorce them for any cause.”

12. Conjugial Love 69: “Regarding its inmost delights — which are delights of the soul, where the conjugial union between love and wisdom, or goodness and truth, first flows in from the Lord — angels have said these delights are imperceptible and therefore indescribable, because they are at the same time delights of peace and innocence. But they said, too, that these same delights, in their descent, become more and more perceptible –as states of bliss in the higher regions of their mind, as states of happiness in the lower regions of their mind, and as consequent states of delight in their heart, at which point they spread from the heart into each and every part of the body, finally coming together in the last of these as the delight of delights.”

13. Arcana Coelestia 8338: “’Women’ signify affections of good, and ‘men’ signify affections of truth.”

14. Conjugial Love 156:2 “Eunuchs who make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God” mean spiritual eunuchs, and these are people who in their marriages abstain from the evils of licentious relationships.” See also Arcana Coelestia 394: “Those in the heavenly marriage are called ‘eunuchs’; those so ‘born from the womb’ are such as resemble the celestial angels; those ‘made of men’ are such as are like the spiritual angels; and those ‘made so by themselves’ are like angelic spirits, who act not so much from charity as from obedience.”

15. Conjugial Love 145 “Conjugial love is more and more purified and becomes chaste in people who become spiritual from the Lord.” See also Conjugial Love 147: “Chastity in marriage comes about through total renunciation of licentious relationships in accordance with religion. The reason is that chastity is the removal of unchasteness. It is a universal rule that to the extent anyone removes evil, to the same extent an opportunity is given for goodness to succeed it. And furthermore, to the extent anyone hates evil, to the same extent he loves goodness. The reverse is also the case as well. Consequently, it follows that to the extent anyone renounces licentiousness, to the same extent he allows the chastity of marriage to enter.”

16. Heaven and Hell 365: “From this it can be established that the rich and the poor alike come into heaven, the one as easily as the other. The belief that the poor enter heaven easily and the rich with difficulty comes from not understanding the Word where the rich and the poor are mentioned. In the Word, those who have an abundance of cognitions of good and truth, thus who are within the church where the Word is, are meant in the spiritual sense by the ‘rich’; while those who lack these cognitions, and yet desire them, thus who are outside the Church and where there is no Word, are meant by the ‘poor.’”

17. Arcana Coelestia 9244: “All who are governed by heavenly love have confidence that the Lord saves them. For they believe that the Lord came into the world to impart eternal life to those who believe and lead lives in keeping with what He taught and prescribed; that He regenerates those people and so makes them fit for heaven; and that He alone does this without a person's aid, out of pure mercy. This is what believing in the Lord means.”

18. Arcana Coelestia 8037: “Those who have self-love and love of the world as their end in view cannot have any charity or faith at all within them. People ruled by those loves do not even know what charity is or what faith is; they do not begin to understand that when a person desires his neighbor’s good without thought of reward he has heaven within himself, or that this affection brings happiness as great as that enjoyed by the angels, which is indescribable. For those people think that if they are deprived of the joy received from the glory of holding important positions and possessing wealth, no joy at all exists any longer. But that is just when heavenly joy begins; and this joy is infinitely superior.”

19. Arcana Coelestia 3417: “[Jesus tells His disciples] ‘Ye shall eat and drink at My table in My kingdom; and shall sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ for at that time they did not know that heavenly delight is not the delight of greatness and preeminence, but is the delight of humility and of the affection of serving others; thus of desiring to be least, and not greatest.”

20. Arcana Coelestia 6397:3: “In the Word one reads that the twenty-four elders will sit on thrones and judge nations and peoples, and that the twelve apostles will similarly sit on thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. A person with no knowledge of the internal sense of the Word will think that precisely that is going to happen. But how those descriptions should be understood becomes clear when one knows from the internal sense what ‘the twenty-four elders,’ ‘the twelve apostles,’ and also ‘thrones’ mean, namely all truths in their entirety, in accordance with which judgment takes place. The same goes for one’s understanding here of ‘judging his people as one of the tribes of Israel.’ The meaning is not that these or any other elders among them will act as judges, but that the actual truths meant by them, therefore the Lord alone since every truth that comes forth from Him will do so.”

21. Apocalypse Explained 333: “The angels indeed possess great power, but still they have no power from themselves; nay if anyone in heaven believes that he has power from himself, he is instantly deprived thereof, and then he is altogether impotent.”

22. Arcana Coelestia 4637: “The things which the Lord spoke in parables appear in the outward form like ordinary comparisons; but in their inward form they are of such a nature as to fill the universal heaven. For there is an internal sense within every detail.” See also Arcana Coelestia 10282: “All names of persons and places mentioned in the Word serve to mean spiritual realities” and Apocalypse Explained 119: “There is an internal sense in every particular of the Word, and also in the names of persons and places.”

23. Apocalypse Explained 724:5: “Evils and falsities are signified by father and mother, wife, children, brethren, and sisters; for all those things, which belong to the love and life of man, or to the affection and the thought therefrom, or to the will and thus to the understanding, are formed and conjoined like generations, descending from one father and one mother, and are also distinguished as into families and houses. The love of self and consequent love of the world are their father and mother, and the desires arising therefrom, and their evils and falsities are the children, which are brethren and sisters.”

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 2658, 5890, 7494, 10154, 10336, 10619

Doctrine of the Lord 45


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 186, 254, 934

Justification 31, 44

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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.


 Introduction to Life After Death
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 Let the Children Come to Me
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Like a Merchant Seeking Pearls
"We have to be able to recognize the pearl of great price when we find it and be willing to forsake all else for its sake. To know the source of happiness is a great thing; to be willing to sacrifice all else in the quest for it is even greater."
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Memory Verse: Marriage of Good and Truth
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Obtaining Conjugial Love
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Preparing to Receive Conjugial Love
Article | Ages 15 - 17

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

 The Face and Clothing of Love
Genuine love of marriage is seen in friendship, which is described as the face and clothing of conjugial love. To be a good spouse is to be a genuine friend.
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Lord as Father
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Sense of Touch
Touch is an important aspect of relationships with others. When we touch another person we should keep in mind what's best for others as well as what's best for ourselves.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Truly Christian Charity
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Two Become One
Use 2 interlocking hearts to picture the way a couple can grow to become one in mind and heart.
Project | Ages 4 - 10

 What God Hath Joined Together
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Why Be Religious? For the Sake of True Married Love
Article | Ages over 15


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