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 26:63

Study the Inner Meaning

              

63 But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Matthew 26      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

Chapter 26.

The Plot to Murder Jesus

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1. And it came to pass when Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples,

2. “You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man is delivered up to be crucified.”

3. Then gathered the chief priests and the scribes, and the elders of the people, into the courtyard of the chief priest, who was called Caiaphas;

4. And consulted that they might take hold of Jesus by deceit, and kill [Him].

5. But they said, “Not at the festival, lest there be an uproar among the people.”
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All along, Jesus has been patiently instructing His disciples, sometimes encouraging with promises about future glory when they will sit on thrones and sometimes reminding them that those who humble themselves will be exalted. This portion of the disciples’ education is now complete. Through parable after parable, and example after example, Jesus has done everything possible to prepare His disciples for His last days on earth. The lessons began on the mountaintop when Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and culminated when Jesus left the temple to give three final parables, one about love, one about wisdom, and the last one, about useful service.

When we acknowledge that without the Lord, we can do nothing, we are “poor in spirit.” This is indeed a blessing because it opens us to receive the kingdom of heaven. Similarly, the six acts of charity, when understood spiritually, teach the same lesson: without the Lord there is nothing good or true in us; without the Lord we have tendencies toward every evil; and without the Lord we dwell in total darkness. However, once we make this acknowledgement and strive to put away the evil and falsity that block the Lord’s entrance, the Lord enters with love, wisdom, and power, enabling us to do useful service that is truly good. Just as Jesus promises that the poor in spirit will receive “the kingdom of heaven,” He promises that those who perform the six acts of charity with God’s love in their hearts and wisdom in their minds will “inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.”

This marks the end of Jesus’ teaching ministry, at least for the time being. From this point on He tells no more parables. It’s time to see if the disciples can put Jesus’ teachings into their lives. Similarly, there are times in each of our lives when we have received sufficient instruction. We have learned the truth; the task is now to apply it to life. Therefore, the next episode begins with the words, “When Jesus had completed all these sayings, He said to His disciples, ‘You know that after two days Passover takes place, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified’” (26:1-2).

Even while Jesus is preparing His disciples for His crucifixion and death, the religious leaders are plotting it. As it written, “Then assembled together the chief priests and the scribes, and the elders of the people, into the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas. And they plotted how they might take Jesus by deceit and kill Him” (26:3). 1

This time, it’s not just the religious leaders. It’s the chief priests, the scribes, the elders of the people, and, even the temple leader himself, the high priest, Caiaphas, who has his own palace. This represents not just an isolated attack of a few evils within us, but rather an all-out assault on everything we believe to be good and true — from the lowly scribes to the high priest himself. It should also be noted that this assault will not be a direct and open one; rather it will be done in a sly and treacherous manner. As it is written, “They plotted how they might take Jesus [i.e. all that is good and true in us] by deceit and kill him.” Moreover, they knew that the murder could not take place during the high holiday called Passover. This was not out of respect for Passover and all that it represented, but rather out of fear that the murder of Jesus might upset the people. Therefore, they said to each other, “Let’s not do it at the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people” (26:5).

Costly Oil

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6. And when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,

7. There came unto Him a woman, having an alabaster [vessel] of ointment, very precious, and poured it on His head as He sat.

8. But when His disciples saw [it], they were indignant, saying, “For what [purpose was] this loss?

9. For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.”

10. And Jesus knowing, said to them, “Why belabor the woman? For she has worked a good work on Me.

11. For you have the poor always with you; but Me you have not always.

12. For in that she has poured this ointment on My body, she has done [it] for My burial.

13. Amen I say to you, wherever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, what this [woman] has done shall be spoken for a memorial of her.”
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We have just spoken about the various ways the hells work within us work, especially by trickery and deceit. This next episode gives an illustration of one of the ways that this takes place. A woman anoints Jesus’ head with very costly fragrant oil. This represents the love in our hearts that each of us should offer to the Lord. It is “very costly,” because it has been achieved through the combats of temptation. In every temptation combat that we undergo, it is the Lord who fights for us every step of the way. In pouring oil on the head of the Lord, we acknowledge Him as our king, the anointed one, who gives us the laws of life, the very laws that help us to win the victory in every combat of temptation.

The deceitful trickster in us, however, sneaks in to take the credit for every victory in temptation. “Nice job,” we hear whispered into our inner ear. “You are very good at overcoming in temptation.” To the extent that we take credit for our part in subduing the hells within us, we discredit what the Lord has done for us. Because the Lord allows us to feel that we have won the victory by ourselves, we forget that the credit for every victory belongs to the Lord. Although we must do our part, it is the Lord alone who subdues the hells in us and wins every victory. In giving ourselves the credit for the victory, we actually strengthen the love of self in us, rather than subdue it. If pride takes the place of humility, we will go through further temptations until we realize that the credit belongs entirely to the anointed one, the king, the Lord alone. 2

This episode then, pictures two sides of ourselves. On one side, is the woman who wants to give full credit to the Lord, represented by the act of pouring costly oil on His head. On the other side, are the disciples who are confused. They say, “To what purpose is this waste?” For this oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor” (26:9).

Anointing the head with oil

In order to understand the more interior significance of this episode, we need to consider the symbolic implications of what is meant by the woman’s pouring costly oil on Jesus’ head. In biblical times, when a king took office the official coronation ceremony featured the use of oil in anointing the new king. Aaron, the high priest was anointed with oil, as were Saul and David. In fact, the very term, “Messiah” means “anointed,” and was associated with the coming king who would save His people. Therefore, He was called “the anointed one.” By anointing Jesus’ head with oil, this woman was recognizing Him as the promised Messiah. The disciples, however, who have recently heard a parable about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and taking in the stranger, are not thinking in these terms. Instead, they are thinking about helping the poor. Therefore, it is understandable that they might say, “To what purpose is this waste?” and “This oil could be sold for a lot of money and given to the poor.”

The disciples are not wrong, nor are they being selfish in their logic. After all, it’s good to help the poor. Jesus made this quite clear through the literal meaning of the parable of the sheep and the goats. But it’s too easy to forget that the Lord must be central in our lives. It’s easy to allow our lower nature to convince us that worship is a waste of time, that reading the Word is pointless, and that time spent in prayer could be better used by doing good for others. But all of this misses the main point: every good work is only good insofar as it is the Lord working through us. That’s why Jesus gently rebukes His disciples, telling them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has worked a good work upon Me” (26:10). In other words, good works are important; they are the goal. But we can’t reach that goal in a selfless way without first keeping the Lord at the center of our lives.

Jesus then concludes this episode by saying, “The poor you have with you always, but you do not always have Me with you” (26:11). It would be a mistake to take this literally. God is always with us, in our very midst. Therefore, we need to understand these words at a more interior level. There are times when we feel closer to God and times when we feel further away from God. When God seems to be absent, when we are not feeling His love or thinking from His wisdom, we are “poor” indeed. The possibility of being in these poor, impoverished states is “with us always.” But there are also moments when we feel truly close to the Lord, wanting to glorify His name, and make every action a holy offering to Him. These are the times when we “anoint the Lord’s head” with the oil of our love and devotion. Because these times are not always “with us,” we need to act on them when they are. While it is important to care for the poor, we should remember, first of all, to “anoint the Lord” with the costly oil of love and devotion.

Jesus then adds, “When she poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial” (26:12). With these words, Jesus not only reinforces the literal idea that He will “not be with them always,” but He also takes them back to the words He spoke at the beginning of the chapter, saying, “the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” He is reminding the disciples that the crucifixion is drawing near and that they should therefore pay careful attention to what this woman has done. “Wherever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world,” He says, “what this woman has done shall be spoken as a memorial for her” (26:13). What has she done? Literally, she has anointed Jesus with oil. Spiritually, her action represents that highest aspect of ourselves, the state of mind we enter whenever we gratefully remember that the Lord as our king and ruler of our lives. It is an act of humble devotion and gratitude.

Thirty Pieces of Silver

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14. Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, going unto the chief priests,

15. Said, “What do you will to give me, and I will deliver Him up unto you?” And they established with him thirty [pieces of] silver.

16. And from then on, he sought an opportunity that he might betray Him.
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The anointing of Jesus’ head represents the acknowledgement of God as the king and ruler of one’s life. In the next episode this kind of grateful, humble acknowledgment is contrasted with the reward-seeking attitude of of Judas Iscariot who approaches the chief priests and asks, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” (26:15). Judas is looking to earn some extra money by delivering Jesus to the chief priests.

Judas’ question about a reward brings to mind a similar question that Peter asked in an earlier episode. “See, we have left all and followed You,” Peter said to Jesus. “Therefore, what shall we have?” (19:21). There is a difference, however, between the ill-intentioned question of Judas, and the innocent question of Peter. This is a vital distinction that needs to be made in every life. In the early stages of our spiritual development, rewards and incentives can be useful. Hopefully, however, we will come to the point when we are no longer looking for any reward other than the delight which comes with useful service. When we come into this humbler state, we find ourselves doing good out of love. This means that we are doing good out of a genuine affection for doing good, and not for a reward of any kind. 3

When Judas asks the chief priests, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” they do not answer him. We read, simply, that “they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver” (26:15). In biblical times, thirty pieces of silver was not a lot of money. It was the compensation collected if an owner’s slave was injured. In those days it was equivalent to a few weeks’ wages. This incident reveals how little value they placed on Jesus’ life and on His work of salvation — not much value at all, worth only “thirty pieces of silver.” 4

Little did they know that a person of the greatest value imaginable was standing in their very midst. He was the very one who had delivered their ancestors from Egyptian captivity; and He was the very one who had come again, in person, to deliver them from their sins. Ironically, this episode ends with the words, “And from that time Judas sought an opportunity that he might deliver Him” (26:16). The one who had come to deliver His people from their sins was about to be delivered to His captors.

The Passover Begins

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17. And on the first [day] of the unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where willest Thou that we prepare for Thee to eat the Passover?”

18. And He said, “Go ye into the city to a man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near; I will do the Passover at thy house with My disciples”’”.

19. And the disciples did as Jesus directed them, and prepared the Passover.

20. And when it became evening, He sat with the twelve.

21. And as they were eating, He said, “Amen I say to you, that one of you shall betray Me”.

22. And sorrowing exceedingly, they began to say to Him, every one of them, “Is it I, Lord?”

23. And He answering, said, “He that dips the hand with Me in the dish, the same shall betray Me.”
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One of the fundamental themes in any true religion is that the Lord alone frees us from spiritual captivity. Nowhere is this truth more dramatically illustrated than in the divinely wrought deliverance of the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. According to the story, the children of Israel, had been slaves in Egypt for many generations. When they cried out to the Lord to deliver them, the Lord responded by sending plagues upon the Egyptians. The children of Israel, however, would be spared if they put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and above the door of their houses. When the Lord saw the blood of the lamb, He would “pass over” and not destroy the children of Israel.

Further details of this miraculous deliverance will be given in the episode titled “the Last Supper,” but for now it is important to know that it was the first of many “Passovers” commemorating deliverance from Egyptian captivity. For over a thousand years this event had been commemorated with an annual celebration lasting eight days. In keeping with that tradition, this next episode begins with preparations for the celebration of Passover. As it is written, “Now the disciples came to Jesus … saying to Him, ‘Where do you want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?’”(26:17). Jesus answers, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples”’” (26:18). 5

The words, “Go into the city to a certain man,” signify going inward to a specific truth, a truth that will be especially useful in meeting a forthcoming spiritual trial. In Jesus’ case, His trial would be His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. In the case of the disciples, their trial would be one in which their devotion to the Lord would be tested. Would they remain faithful to everything Jesus had taught them? Or would they flee at the first sign of danger? It is important to keep in mind that all of this is taking place as they prepare for the Passover. What could be a better preparation for the approaching challenge than the remembrance of how the Lord miraculously freed the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage? As it is written, “So the disciples did as Jesus directed them; and they prepared the Passover” (26:20).

Traditionally, the Passover began at evening, at the setting of the sun. The going down of the sun represents a dark time of spiritual trial as we prepare for the end of an old way of life (a life of spiritual bondage) and prepare for a new way of life (a life of spiritual freedom). 6

During this time, we must go inward to discover our true motivations and desires. It is the beginning of a separation from all that is selfish and self-serving in us. As we engage in this separation process, we must search our hearts to discover in what way our thoughts and actions might betray our devotion to the Lord. Have we placed the “blood of the lamb” on both sides of the door, and above the doorway of our minds? Have we used divine truth (the Lord’s “blood”) to protect us from destructive thoughts and feelings that strive to enter our minds? 7

Similarly, we must ask ourselves whether or not we have we been faithful followers of the divine principles represented by the twelve apostles? Each of the disciples represented some aspect of goodness or truth, whether it be devotion to the Lord or the life of charity towards the neighbor. Have we been good disciples, or have we been disloyal to those essential principles? And so, as they were eating, Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, one of you shall betray Me” (26:20). When they heard Jesus say this, “they were exceedingly sorrowful” (26:22). 8

Each of the disciples, in turn, approaches Jesus and asks, “Lord, is it I?” This is the process that each of us must go through as we examine our motives, observe our thoughts, and consider our actions. Have we been dishonest? cruel? unmerciful? Have we sought merit for our good deeds? Have we harbored murderous judgments about others? Lord, we ask, “How have I betrayed you?” and “When did I do this?” As we search our souls in the light of truth from the Lord’s Word, we must ask the question that each of the disciples asked, “Lord, is it I?” And Jesus responds by saying, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me” (26:23).

Jesus’ reference to “dipping one’s hand in the dish,” calls to mind the eating of bitter herbs in remembrance of the time spent in Egyptian bondage. This aspect of Passover is a most solemn moment; it is a time to dwell on the hard bondage suffered by those who were in Egyptian captivity. But it is also a time to remember the joy of redemption, the wonder of being released from bondage through the mighty hand of the Lord. What the disciples do not yet fully realize is that He who led them out of bondage is now sitting in their very presence, eating with them, and celebrating the Passover with them — even dipping His hand with them in the same dish of bitter herbs.

More Than a Rabbi

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24. “The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for him if that man had not been born.”

25. And Judas, who was betraying Him, answering said, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He says to him, “Thou hast said.”
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Like the other disciples, Judas has dipped his hand in the dish, but while his hand is in the dish, his mind is on his reward. He typifies the spirit of hypocrisy, for while pretending to be engaged in a sacred celebration in memory of his people’s deliverance from bondage, he is actually participating in the capture and bondage of the One who could set him free.

Whenever we use the sacred traditions of worship, or some truth from the Lord’s Word to our own advantage, we, like Judas, betray the Lord. The truths of religion are given to assist us in the process of spiritual rebirth, not for self-aggrandizement and gain. Our part is to learn these truths and apply them to our lives. However, it would be better not to learn them at all, than to misuse them. As Jesus says, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (26:24).

The disciples become concerned. Each disciple, in turn, wonders, Is Jesus talking about me? Does Jesus think that I am the one who will be betray Him? And so, one at a time, they each ask Jesus, in turn, “Lord, is it I” (26:22). Judas is the last of the disciples to approach Jesus. Up to this point, Judas has been able to conceal his betrayal from everyone except Jesus. The dramatic intensity is at its height as Judas approaches Jesus and says, “Rabbi, is it I?” All the other disciples said, “Lord is it I?” but Judas calls Him, “rabbi.” After all these years, after all these miracles, and after everything Jesus has said and taught them, Judas does not recognize Jesus’ divinity. He calls Him “rabbi” rather than, “Lord.” And yet, it should have been clear by now that Jesus is much more than a rabbi. Therefore, when Judas says, “Rabbi, is it I?” Jesus answers, “You have said it” (26:25). By his own words, Judas has incriminated himself.

The Last Supper

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26. And as they were eating, Jesus taking the bread, and blessing, broke [it], and gave to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”

27. And taking the cup, and giving thanks, He gave [it] to them saying, “Drink out of it, all of you.”

28. “For this is My blood, the [blood] of the New Covenant, which [is] poured out for many for the remission of sins.

29. And I say to you, that I will not drink henceforth of this produce of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in the kingdom of My Father.”

30. And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives.
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While Judas’ self-incriminating words are still hanging in the air, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to His disciples. He had already broken bread at the time of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, and again at the feeding of the four thousand. But this time He adds something new — and most dramatic. “Take, eat,” He says. “This is My body” (26:26). He then picks up the cup, gives thanks, and passes it to His disciples, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is the blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (26:26-28).

It is generally assumed that the broken bread foreshadows the breaking of Jesus’ body on the cross, and the red wine foreshadows the spilling of Jesus’ blood, which would occur during His crucifixion. It is also generally assumed that the lamb that was sacrificed and eaten during the original Passover feast foreshadows Jesus, the Lamb of God, sacrificing Himself for the sins of the world. The idea behind these assumptions is that if we remember that Jesus died in place of us, allowing His body to be broken, and His blood to be spilled, we will be saved “by the blood of the Lamb.” This is often referred to as the “vicarious atonement.”

Jesus knows that the crucifixion is drawing near and that this will be the last time He will have an opportunity to eat and drink with His disciples. Therefore, He tells them, “I will not drink this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom” (26:29). It is for this reason that this episode is sometimes referred to as the “Last Supper.”

But Jesus’ words carry a much more interior significance. He is comparing the social benefits of eating and drinking together — an activity which facilitates friendship — with the spiritual benefits of taking in the Lord’s love (bread) and wisdom (wine) and making them one’s own. The physical feast facilitates friendship on earth; the spiritual feast facilitates conjunction with God. In other words, Jesus is referring to spiritual conjunction with Him through receiving His love and living according to His wisdom.

This is what it means to eat bread and drink wine anew (with new meaning) in the kingdom of God. 9

An everlasting ordinance

To understand the true meaning of this “Last Supper,” we need to examine the essential elements and requirements of the original Passover feast. Although we touched on this briefly at the beginning of this chapter, we will now go into greater depth. It’s about 1200 years before the birth of Christ. The children of Israel have been captives in the land of Egypt for over 400 years, and the time has come for them to be released from bondage. Moses has been raised up to deliver his people from Egyptian servitude, but Pharaoh will not let the people go. In consequence, plague after plague is visited upon Pharaoh and his people. The ninth plague — a plague of darkness over all the land — has just passed, and the tenth plague is about to come. The destroyer will be sent throughout Egypt to kill the firstborn in the land, “from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on the throne, even to the firstborn of the maidservant … and all the firstborn of the beasts” (Exodus 11:5).

But a special provision is made for the children of Israel so that they will be protected during the time of the final plague. In order to avail themselves of this protection, however, they must select a “lamb without blemish,” kill it at twilight, and put the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts of their homes (Exodus 12:5-7). The lamb is to be eaten that evening, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. As it is written, “It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast” (Exodus 12:12). But the children of Israel would be saved by the blood of the lamb: “Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I shall strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13).

Because this sacred event was never to be forgotten, the Passover feast was to be celebrated as an everlasting ordinance throughout all generations, and as a memorial of what the Lord had done for His people. In the future when children would ask, “What do you mean by this service?” parents were to answer in this manner: “It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households” (Exodus 12:28).

With this background in mind, we return to the scene of Jesus and His disciples who are celebrating this “everlasting ordinance,” but in a new way. As they are eating, Jesus initiates a new ceremony with bread and wine: “Take, eat; This is my body.” Similarly, Jesus lifts the cup and says, “This is My blood of the new covenant.” His use of the phrase “new covenant” calls to mind the familiar words of the prophet who said, “Behold the days are coming … when I will make a new covenant … not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the house of Egypt” (Jeremiah 31:31-32). This “new covenant” would be written on the human heart. We read, “This is the covenant that I will make … I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people … for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34). Similarly, as Jesus lifts the cup, He fulfills the words of Jeremiah’s prophecy, saying, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (26:28).

This prophecy about the Lord’s forgiveness of sin, taken together with Jesus’ mention of a new covenant and the remission of sins, has led some people to believe that if they confess their belief in Jesus’ shed blood, they will be “saved.” This idea is based on a particular view of the Passover story as it applies to Jesus. It involves seeing God as being so angry with the human race that He was determined to destroy everyone. But Jesus — according to this interpretation — intervened on our behalf. He became the “Lamb without blemish” who would be sacrificed as a way of atoning for all human sin. The living sacrifice of Jesus, including His shed blood on the cross, would somehow have the same effect as the “ blood of the lamb” over the doorposts during the original Passover. In essence, this theory states that all who believe in Jesus’ blood sacrifice will be “saved” from the wrath of God. The Lord will “pass over” them and not destroy them, just as He passed over the homes that were saved by the “blood of the lamb” on the doorposts. In addition, as a reward for this belief, all of their sins will be forgiven.

While it is possible to see how sincere believers came to this conclusion, we need to consider some of the erroneous ideas it contains. First of all, we must believe that an angry God has determined that He will destroy His own children. Further, we must believe that the wrath of this angry God can somehow be appeased through the death of an innocent person. And we must also believe that blood can wash away sin. While it is possible to come to these conclusions through reading the literal teachings of scripture, such inferences cannot be reconciled with either human reason or a just idea of God. Jesus did not come to shield us from God’s wrath; He came to shield us from hell’s rage. 10

He also came to give us the divine truths (represented by “the blood of the lamb”) that can set us free. When we examine ourselves in the light of the divine truth, we search out our evils, confess them before the Lord, and pray for the strength to turn from them. Then, with all the power and effort we can summon, we refrain from committing these evils. And we do so as if this power is from ourselves, while acknowledging it is entirely from the Lord. To the extent that we do this, striving to shun evils with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, our sins are, indeed, “taken away” — yes, by ‘the blood of the lamb,” but only through the divine truth represented by that blood. 11

“This is My blood of the new covenant,” says Jesus, “shed for many for the remission of sins.” It is evident that Jesus is speaking spiritually. He is comparing the truth that He has brought to the human race to the function of blood in the human body. Among its many functions, blood carries everything we need to maintain our health and bodily functions. Penetrating everywhere, blood carries hormones, vitamins, oxygen, and heat to every part of the body. It also carries antibodies which help to heal wounds, fight infection, and protect against disease. Blood helps to remove carbon dioxide and waste matter. If these substances, which become toxic to the body, are not removed by the circulation of the blood, we will die.

By analogy, then, we can begin to appreciate what spiritual truth does for our spiritual body. It nourishes us and gives us spiritual strength. It is constantly on the lookout for anything that might be toxic to our spiritual health. It helps us to identify, fight against, and remove evil thoughts and desires that would otherwise infect and destroy us. The “blood of the Lamb,” then — in spiritual terms — must be applied to the doorposts of our mind. This is the truth of the Lord’s Word. It is spiritual blood, circulating throughout our spiritual bodies, inspiring us with hope and vitality, while defending us from destructive thoughts and emotions. The children of Israel were told to kill a lamb and place its blood over the doorposts of their homes. That was the blood of the old covenant. But the blood of the new covenant is spiritual truth. It is to be placed on the doorposts of our minds to protect us against evil and inspire us to do good.

In the “Holy Supper,” Christians re-enact this moment in time when Jesus offered His disciples bread to eat, saying, “This is My body” and wine to drink, saying, “This is My blood.” We are not, however, to think of this as literal flesh and blood, but rather as spiritual bread (love) and spiritual wine (truth). The bread and the wine symbolize spiritual goodness and truth — the two qualities that make us human. The more we have of these qualities, the more human we become, for they have their origin in God.

In the nourishing, life-giving qualities of the soft, warm bread, the divine love is represented; and in the cool, refreshing, revitalizing fruit of the vine, the divine wisdom is represented. In the Holy Supper we take these two substances into our body, digesting and assimilating them in the same way we digest and assimilate God’s love and wisdom. Working secretly within us, like the secret processes of digestion and assimilation (over which we have no control), God is continually working a great miracle within us, protecting us against evil through the truth of His wisdom (wine), and inspiring us do good through the power of His love (bread). It is then up to us to put this love, wisdom, and power into our lives through performing useful service. 12

As Jesus concludes this last supper with His disciples, He knows that the hour of His crucifixion is near, and that His death is imminent. But there is no expression of sorrow. On the contrary, Jesus faces the future with a song on His lips. We read, therefore, that “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (26:30). It is a fitting conclusion to the last supper He would have with His disciples while on earth.

The Sheep of the Flock will be Scattered

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31. Then says Jesus to them, “All [of] you shall be made to stumble in Me in this night; for it is written,’ I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.’

32. But after I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee.”

33. But Peter answering said to Him, “Though all shall be made to stumble in Thee, I will never be made to stumble”

34. Jesus declared to him, “Amen I say to thee, that in this night, before the cock crows, thou shalt three times deny Me.”

35. Peter says to Him, “Though I must die with Thee, I will not deny Thee.” Likewise said all the disciples.
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Even though Jesus has a hymn on His lips, He knows in His heart that all of His disciples will betray Him: “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me,” He says. Then, to confirm His prediction, He quotes the prophet Zechariah: “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (26:31). Nevertheless, Jesus is not upset or sorrowful, for He knows that the story does not end with crucifixion: “But after I have been raised,” He says, “I will go before you to Galilee” (26:32). No matter how agonizing the crucifixion will be, Jesus knows that resurrection is coming. His mind and heart are not focused on the impending suffering, but rather on the great work that is soon to be accomplished.

Similarly, we can know that there will be trials to go through along the path of our spiritual development, with many ego deaths along the way. But if we keep our focus on the outcome, we will be able to enter every spiritual struggle with a song on our lips, and faith in our hearts. However fierce the battle, we can know that victory is assured because the Lord, who fights for us, is inmostly present.

The taking of the Holy Supper represents those moments in our life when we are closest to the Lord. We feel strengthened, and confident, for the Lord’s presence is near. This heightened state of love is represented by “going out to the Mount of Olives” and singing a hymn. In these states, we have full confidence that we will follow the Lord and not depart from the path of His commandments Yet, in the process of regeneration, there are times when we fall away from these heightened states of love — times when our high resolve is challenged, times when we “will be made to stumble.” 13

This tendency to backslide is a fact of spiritual life. And yet it is also a spiritual reality that we tend to deny this. Such stubborn refusal to accept our tendency to relapse is represented in the next episode. Jesus has just predicted that all of the disciples will be made to stumble that very night, but Peter refuses to believe this. Instead, he is adamant about his devotion to Jesus. “Even if all are made to stumble,” he says, “I will never be made to stumble.” And then he adds, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you” (26:35). And all the rest of the disciples say the same.

Jesus, however, knows otherwise. He knows that Peter will deny Him three times that very night — even before the rooster crows. He also knows that each of us, like every one of the disciples, will stumble many times in our efforts to grow spiritually, even though we (like Peter) are confident that we will never stumble again. It’s a vital lesson that we all must learn, however painful the process.

In order to grow spiritually, confidence in self must be replaced by full confidence in the Lord. It’s a hard lesson, learned gradually through relapse and recovery, over and over again. We must stumble, over and over again, until we finally realize that our only hope, our only trust and our only confidence is in the Lord. As it is written in the psalms, “Though they stumble, they shall not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds them with His hand (Psalm 37:24). Indeed, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8). 14

Easier said than done, as we shall see.

In the Garden of Gethsemane

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36. Then comes Jesus with them to a place called Gethsemane, and says to the disciples, “Sit ye here, while I going away shall pray [over] there.”

37. And taking Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to sorrow, and to be in agony.

38. Then He says to them, “My soul is surrounded with sorrow unto death; remain ye here, and watch with me.”

39. And coming forward a little, He fell on His face, praying, and saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou [willest].”

40. And He comes to the disciples, and finds them sleeping, and says to Peter, “Had you thus not strength one hour to watch with Me?

41. Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is eager, but the flesh [is] weak.”

42. Again for a second [time] going away, He prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Thy will be done.”

43. And coming, He finds them sleeping again; for their eyes were heavy.

44. And leaving them, going away again, He prayed for a third [time], saying the same word.

45. Then He comes to His disciples, and says to them, “Do you sleep still, and rest? Behold, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

46. Arise, let us lead [the way]; behold, he that betrays Me is near.”
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Jesus and His disciples now descend to a small garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives — the Garden of Gethsemane. The geography of descent symbolizes the way we experience ups and downs in our own spiritual life. From high points of firm resolve and unwavering faith we come down into times of doubt, times when our faith is challenged, and our spiritual life is under attack. Times like this, when we are feeling “downhearted” and “depressed,” can be described as times of mental pressure. Fittingly, the word “Gethsemane” means “olive press,” an accurate description of the spiritual pressure and mental anguish that Jesus is about to undergo.

The olive, especially in biblical times, served in many important ways. It produced the oil that was used to anoint kings, reduce friction, heal injuries, and light lamps. Its golden color, its warm smooth feel, and its ability to provide both heat and light make it an appropriate symbol of God’s love. 15

The oil of the olive, which is the very essence of the tree, can only be extracted under the most intense pressure. It is in situations in which we find ourselves under great spiritual pressure that our essence comes out. If our intentions are loving and noble — like the representation of the olive and its oil — this will become apparent. It is these intentions, inmost desires, and utmost loves that are about to pour forth from Jesus as He enters the agony of Gethsemane. Under such crushing pressure, Jesus’ inmost love for the salvation of the whole human race will emerge.

This powerful episode begins with Jesus saying to His disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there” (26:36). Then, taking Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with Him (James and John) He enters His time of agony. He begins to be “sorrowful and deeply distressed” (26:37). We are told very little about His mental anguish at this point except that He says, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (26:38). Just a short time ago, on the Mount of Olives, He was celebrating the Passover, and singing a hymn with His disciples; but now as He descends to the garden, He experiences profound sorrow — even unto death. Going a little farther ahead, He falls on the ground, prostrates Himself in deepest anguish and says, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me”(26:39).

The agony of our temptations are directly related to the love that is being challenged at the moment. If the bonds of affection are minimal, the grief that is experienced will also be minimal. On the other hand, if the love is deep and profound; the grief will be equally deep and agonizing. Many people are familiar with the overwhelming sense of grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one. The deeper the love, the deeper the struggle. 16

It is impossible for us to comprehend the grief that Jesus endured; this is because we can never know the full extent of His love. We can know, however, that He fought, not from any selfish motive or from any self-serving love, but from the deepest and profoundest love of all — the love for the salvation of the entire human race. In Jesus, this love was relentlessly challenged by hellish forces that attacked Him at every possible moment and in every possible way from His earliest childhood throughout His life. And now, at Gethsemane, they are reaching a new height of severity, commensurate with the divine love with which He is becoming One. 17

Jesus knows that His hour is near, and that He is soon to drink fully from the cup of utmost suffering. On one level, this “cup” represents the physical circumstance of the crucifixion. He knows that this will involve dreadful physical pain, even to the loss of His physical life. At a more interior level, however, this cup is soon to be filled with unimaginably violent and furious spiritual assaults on His inmost love. He will come into doubts about whether or not the human race can be saved, whether or not people will use their God-given gifts of freedom and rationality, and whether or not God should override their freedom and simply compel them.

One way to understand Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane is to compare it to a parent who experiences deep agony over the poor choices a child has made. That parent’s grief can be extreme, especially when the parent’s love is deep and the hopeless feeling that “this child will never change” is setting in. How much more does Jesus suffer when He is tempted to feel that all is lost for the human race! After all, He has done everything He possibly could to save humanity. He has given love, offered wisdom, healed the sick, and performed many miracles. In return, He foresees that His own disciples will betray Him; He will experience abandonment, crucifixion, and death while His disciples do nothing. This is indeed a bitter cup of despair, and this is why He prays, “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me” (26:39).

In fact, Jesus repeats this prayer three times during His agony in the garden. As many know from their own experience, the agony of temptation is not always lifted in a moment. They must return again and again to the power of prayer, begging God for His strength and protection. This is why Jesus prays repeatedly that the cup might pass from Him, acknowledging each time that if it cannot pass, that God’s will be done. He repeats the same prayer three times, ending each prayer with a version of the immortal words, “Not My will, but Thy will be done” (26:39, 42, 44).

When Jesus first entered the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples, He specifically asked Peter, James and John to, “Stay here and watch with Me” (26:38). But instead of being watchful, they fall asleep. Therefore, Jesus says to them, “Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (26:40), and again He says, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (26:41). No matter how often He tells them to be watchful, they keep falling asleep.

It is important to note that Jesus does not just tell them to “watch.” He says, ““watch and pray” lest they fall into temptation. In the preceding episode the disciples had eaten the flesh (received the love) and drank the blood (received the truth) of the new covenant. This love and truth is given to protect us from the evil desires and false thoughts that attempt to invade our minds and destroy our souls. To protect against this encroachment, we must be ever watchful, alert, and spiritually awake to what is happening in our inner world. Too often, we are like the disciples who keep falling asleep — even though Jesus keeps reminding them to “watch and pray.”

We “watch and pray” when we are aware that without the Lord our spiritual lives are at risk every moment. Similarly, we “watch and pray” when we choose to remain in the Lord’s love, guided by His truth. When Jesus asks His disciples to “stay awake,” He is speaking to us as well. We must be spiritually vigilant. We cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into self-reliant complacency, or to become content with how much we know or how much good we do. There are indeed “grace periods” along the spiritual path, times when we feel content, relaxed, and at peace. But even then we cannot drop our guard. We must “watch and pray,” lest we be taken by surprise and overcome by some sudden burst of anger, wave of self-pity, or eruption of pride. These are our “Gethsemanes” — those times of crushing pressure when our true essence comes out. 18

Even though Jesus has repeatedly told them to watch and pray, the disciples keep falling asleep. It’s a lesson for each of us. We must stay spiritually awake, always ready to combat evil, fully prepared with truth in our minds, love in our hearts, and a prayer to the Lord on our lips. The more we do this, moving through life aware and alert, we will develop an early warning system — the spiritual ability to detect unpleasant moods, uncharitable thoughts and unloving feelings at their earliest and most subtle arising.

Like destructive weeds, as they first thrust their tiny shoots above the ground, these moods, thoughts and feelings can be identified and uprooted. And it gets easier with practice — but we must be ever watchful. For “the betrayer” will always be at hand. Therefore, as this episode comes to a close Jesus says, “Are you still resting and sleeping? Behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners” (26:45). Jesus tells His disciples to “Rise,” but it is too late. “See,” says Jesus, “he who betrays Me is at hand” (26:46).

The Capture

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47. And while He was yet speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a crowd of many, with swords and wooden [rods], from the chief priests and elders of the people.

48. And he that betrayed Him gave them a sign, saying, “Whomever I shall kiss, is He; take hold of Him.”

49. And straightway coming to Jesus, he said, “Hail, Rabbi.” and kissed Him.

50. And Jesus said to him, “Fellow, why art thou here?” Then coming, they put [their] hands on Jesus, and took hold of Him.

51. And behold, one of them with Jesus, stretching out the hand, withdrew his sword, and smiting the servant of the chief priest, took off his ear.

52. Then says Jesus to him, “Return thy sword into its place, for all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword.

53. Thinkest thou that I cannot now implore my Father, and He will cause to stand by Me more than twelve legions of angels?

54. How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled, that so it ought to be?”

55. In that same hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Are you come out as against a robber with swords and wooden [rods] to take Me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and you did not [take] hold of Me.

56. But all this came to pass, that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples, leaving Him, fled.
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Even as Jesus is reminding His disciples to watch and pray, Judas arrives with “a great multitude” carrying “swords and clubs” (26:47). They have been sent by the religious leaders to arrest Jesus and take Him captive. Judas has arranged to give them a sign by which they will know which one is Jesus. Judas has told them: “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him” (26:48). According to plan, then, Judas meets Jesus, says, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and then kisses Him. Normally, a kiss is a sweet and loving gesture of unity and friendship. But Judas’ kiss is just the opposite. It is the kiss of the hypocrite — by no means the kiss of a friend; it is the kiss of one who praises the Lord with his lips (as in a “kiss”), but whose heart is far from Him. 19

In response to Judas’ hypocritical greeting, Jesus replies, “Friend, why have you come?” (26:50). Referring to Judas as a “friend” in this context is deeply ironic. Jesus knows that

Judas is here to betray Him. Nevertheless, He addresses him as “friend” — but Jesus’ word choice is significant. The Greek word that Jesus uses for “friend” in this context is “hetairos” which means “acquaintance.” Normally, Jesus would have used the word “philos” which suggests deep friendship and brotherly love. There is a fundamental difference between these two sorts of friends. In two previous episodes Jesus used the word “hetairos” to describe the envious laborers in the vineyard (20:13), and the hypocrite who attended the wedding without a wedding garment (22:12). In both cases (and now in this episode) the term “hetairos” refers to religious pretenders like Judas, who practice an outwardly moral life, not because they love God and believe in Him, but because they can gain something of self-interest from it. In this regard, it should also be noted that Judas again calls Jesus “Rabbi” — not “Lord. He sees Him as a teacher (rabbi) but not as his Lord. 20

Judas’ kiss is the sign that Jesus is the one to be captured. But as a soldier moves in for the arrest, one of the disciples takes out a sword and cuts off the soldier’s ear. Earlier in His ministry, Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (10:34). But now Jesus teaches a different lesson: “Put your sword in its place,” He says, “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword (26:52).

Why would Jesus first speak approvingly of the sword, and now admonish a disciple for using it? A “sword,” it will be recalled, symbolizes the ability of truth to make sharp discernments between right and wrong. Like a sword, truth fights for us; it defends us from evil and falsity, and it protects all that is good and true in us. Such “fighting truth” is vital to us in the beginning of our regeneration, for without a knowledge of the truth we would not be able to defend ourselves against falsity or “cut out” those negative thoughts and destructive behaviors that are so detrimental to our spiritual development. At this time in our life, truth must lead the way.

But as we spiritually mature, truth gives way to good. We notice that we are less inclined to argue with others, and have less need to be “right.” We are increasingly reluctant to use truth as a defensive weapon. Instead, we begin to see that there is a more powerful weapon — if it can be called a “weapon” at all. It is the power of love. This advanced state of spiritual development is signified by Jesus’ words, just after He tells the disciple to put down his sword: “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (26:53). “Praying to the Father” represents drawing upon the divine love within Him, a love more powerful than anything on earth or in heaven — for it is the Divine Omnipotence itself. 21

Here we see a continuation of the previous episode in which Jesus entreated His disciples to “watch and pray.” Once again, Jesus speaks of the efficacy of prayer, reminding us that it is more powerful than the sword, for it connects us with the most powerful force in the universe: divine love. This is what Jesus means, then, when He says that there is no need for swords or defensive combat, for He possesses the ultimate weapon — the most powerful force in the universe: He can pray to His Father.

All of this, however, is beyond the understanding of the disciples. At this point in their spiritual development, they can understand combat and victory in its most external forms. But they are not yet able to understand much about internal combat — and especially the nature of the internal combat that is going on in Jesus’ heart and mind. We need to remember that these are the same disciples who wanted to sit on thrones, the same disciples that Jesus said would betray Him, and the same disciples who fell asleep while Jesus went through His agony in Gethsemane. They have not come very far.

Nevertheless, Jesus continues to instruct them and teach them. This time the lesson is about inner restraint, and the willingness to put the sword back in its place. Those who truly follow the Lord, even to the end, will understand something of the power of divine love; it is which never fights, but always conquers. The disciples, however, cannot grasp this. Instead, they are so confused and frightened that they all “forsook Him and fled” (26:56).

Indeed, it is difficult to believe that we do not have to fight in order to conquer. Initially, most of us will flee from this idea. 22

Peter Follows … at a Distance

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57. And they that [took] hold of Jesus led [Him] away to Caiaphas the chief priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together.

58. But Peter followed Him from afar off up to the courtyard of the chief priest, and entering inside, sat with the attendants, to see the end.

59. And the chief priests, and the elders, and the whole council, sought false witness against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death,

60. And found none; though many false witnesses came, they found none. But at last two false witnesses, coming, said,

61. This [Man] declared, “I am able to undo the temple of God, and within three days to build it.”

62. And the chief priest standing up, said to Him, “Answerest Thou nothing? What do these witness against Thee?”

63. But Jesus was silent. And the chief priest answering said to Him, “I adjure Thee by the living God, that Thou tell us if Thou be the Christ, the Son of God.”

64. Jesus says to him, “Thou hast said; nevertheless I say to you, From henceforth you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

65. Then the chief priest rent his garments, saying, “He has blasphemed; what further need have we of witnesses? See, now you have heard His blasphemy.

66. What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is subject to death.”

67. Then did they spit in His face, and buffeted Him; and they hit [Him],

68. saying, “Prophesy unto us, Christ. Who is he that smote Thee?”
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“All of the disciples forsook Him and fled” — all, that is, except Peter, “who followed Him at a distance” (26:58). Peter represents our faith — a faith that still hangs on, hoping that things will turn out all right. But it is a wavering faith; it still follows Jesus, but it follows Him “at a distance.” And it watches as they lead Jesus away and take Him to Caiaphas, the high priest. There the religious leaders are assembled, ready to accuse Jesus of blasphemy so that He might be put to death.

During this time, many false witnesses are brought forward to accuse Him, but nothing of substance is said. Then one of the false witnesses steps forward and says, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days’” (26:61). Jesus has indeed predicted that the temple will be torn down (24:2), but He has not said that He will tear down the temple at Jerusalem or build that temple up again. So this is clearly a false accusation.

But it does contain a deep truth when understood spiritually, for Jesus’ body is indeed a temple housing the living spirit of God. That temple is His human body that houses His Divine Soul. It is a temple that will be beaten, whipped, crucified, and indeed “destroyed,” but not before Jesus has finished His work on earth. And He will indeed “build it in three days.” That is, He will rise again, no longer in the earthly body that He took on from Mary (that “temple” will be destroyed), but in the form of a risen and glorified Humanity — a new and Holy Temple, purified of all human weakness, and filled with all Divine Power. This is why Jesus is able to respond to this accusation by saying, “Hereafter you will see the Son of Man, sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (26:64).

In keeping with the theme of this section, Jesus does not defend Himself. His only response is to speak of the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven. For Jesus, it is another reference to the divine love (the “right hand of power”) which comes through divine truth (“the clouds of heaven). But for the literal-minded high priest it is blasphemy. To him it sounds like Jesus will set Himself up as a literal king — sitting on a physical throne.

This idea infuriates the high priest. He tears his clothes and cries out, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have for witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy!” (26:65). And they all answer and say, “He is deserving of death” (26:66). Then they spit in His face, and beat Him, saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?” (26:68).

The Crowing of the Rooster

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69. And Peter sat outside in the courtyard; and one maid came unto him, saying, “Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.”

70. But he denied before [them] all, saying, “I know not what thou sayest.”

71. And when he was gone out into the porch, another [maid] saw him, and said unto those that were there, “This [man] was also with Jesus of Nazareth.””

72. And again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man.”

73. And after a while came unto [him] they that stood by, and said to Peter, “Truly thou also art [one] of them; for thy speech betrays thee.”

74. Then he began to curse and to swear, [saying], “I know not the Man.” And straightway the cock crowed.

75. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, which He said unto him, “Before the cock crows, thou shalt deny Me three times.” And going outside, he wept bitterly.
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While Jesus is being reviled and spat upon by the religious leaders in Caiaphas’ palace, Peter remains outside in the courtyard. Wavering faith will not come to the rescue. This is the kind of faith which is in our mouth, and maybe also in our understanding, but not yet in our hearts. Though Peter is adamant that He will never deny Jesus (26:34), he now proceeds to deny Him, not just once, but three times. We read, “And a servant girl came to Peter, saying, ‘You also were with Jesus of Galilee.’ But he denied it” (26:69). This is the first denial. Again, another girl comes and says, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth. But again he denied” (26:71). This is the second denial, and this time it is even more adamant. Peter makes an oath, saying, “I do not know the Man” (26:72).

Each of these servant girls represents a gentle stirring of affections, an inclination to follow the Lord, and live by the truth that He teaches. But each time we are held back “What will people think?” “Will I be embarrassed?” “Will it be uncomfortable?” “Will I lose friends?” “Will I have to suffer for my faith?” Like Peter, we still follow the Lord — but from a distance. The gentle stirring of our hearts is not strong enough to overcome our fears and doubts.

Finally, Peter is given one last opportunity to assert his allegiance to Jesus. Others come to him and say, “Surely you are one of them because your speech betrays you” (26:73). This time Peter’s denial is even more vehement than before. In the first instance he simply denies knowing Jesus. The second time his denial comes in the form of a solemn oath. But this time he passionately denies any acquaintance with Jesus. We read that Peter “began to curse and swear, saying, ‘I do not know the Man’” (26:74). Peter’s response must giuve us pause. We need to ask ourselves, “Whatever happened to the faithful disciple who said, ‘Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble’”? (26:33).

The answer is that Peter needs to learn a lesson that we all must learn. Our faith will be tried. There is no way out. But we can be ready and watchful when those trials come, confessing our faith in God by living according to His Word. This is the very lesson that Peter needs to learn, and it is brought home to him with heart-breaking poignancy: the rooster crows and Peter remembers what Jesus said to Him: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (26:75).

The crowing of the rooster at the break of dawn is a dark moment for Peter. We read that “he went out and wept bitterly” (26:75). Yet, that same crowing has another meaning too. For the crowing of the rooster also marks the end of our darkest hour, and the beginning of a new day. After every night there comes the dawn of a new day. After every death there comes the promise of a new birth. And so, in the crowing of the rooster, Jesus not only prophesies Peter’s betrayal, but the dawning of a new awareness — not just for Peter, but for all humanity.

However long the night, the rooster will crow, and morning will come.

Footnotes:

1. True Christian Religion 498: “A person is prey to two loves, that of dominating others and that of possessing everyone’s wealth. These loves, if given free rein, race away without limit. The hereditary evils a person acquires by birth come chiefly from those two loves…. Everyone who is controlled by these loves sees oneself alone as the one person in whom and for whom all others exist. Because they are without pity, fear of God, or love for the neighbor, they are unmerciful, savage and cruel. Their greed and their longing to rob and steal are hellish, and they are sly and deceitful in carrying out such crimes.

2. Arcana Coelestia 1692: “It is the Lord alone who fights in the those who are in the combats of temptation, and who overcomes. From themselves people have no power at all against evil or infernal spirits.” See also Arcana Coelestia 2273:2: “The temptations in which people overcome are attended with the belief that … they are infernal rather than heavenly… If they come into thoughts contrary to these, they [must go through] … similar temptations and sometimes more grievous ones, until they have been reduced to such sanity that they believe they merit nothing.”

3. Arcana Coelestia 4145: “People who are being regenerated believe at first that the good which they think and do is from themselves, and that they also merit something; for they do not yet know, and if they know, they do not comprehend, that good can flow in from some other source, nor that it can be otherwise than that they should be recompensed, because they do it from themselves. Unless they at first believed this, they would never do any good. But by this means they are initiated not only into the affection of doing what is good, but also into knowledge concerning good, and also concerning merit. When in this manner they have been led into the affection of doing what is good, they then begin to think differently and to believe differently, namely, that good flows in from the Lord, and that by the good which they do from their own, they merit nothing. At last, when they are in the affection of willing and doing what is good, they altogether reject self-merit, and even have an aversion for it, and are affected with good from good. When they are in this state, good flows in directly.”

4. Arcana Coelestia 2276:2-3: “The number ‘thirty’ wherever one reads it in the Word, means something relatively small…. Or, how small a value those people placed on the Lord’s merit, and on redemption and salvation from Him. This explains the reference to the thirty pieces of silver in Matthew…. A slave, who was not considered to be worth much, was valued at thirty shekels, as is clear in Moses, ‘If the ox gores a slave or a servant-girl, the owner shall give to his master thirty shekels of silver; and the ox shall be stoned’ (Exodus 21:32).

5. Arcana Coelestia 402: “Whenever the name of any city occurs in the Word, it never signifies a city but something doctrinal.” See also Arcana Coelestia 2268: “In the Word, the human mind is compared to a ‘city’” and Arcana Coelestia 3066: “When the inhabitants of a city are referred to as ‘men,’ it signifies truths.”

6. Apocalypse Explained 401:29 “In Egypt they were in a servile state, and thus in a state of ignorance… signified by ‘the setting of the sun.’ See also, Apocalypse Explained 911:18: “Passover signified deliverance from the falsities of evil, which is the first thing of regeneration.”

7. Arcana Coelestia 9410:6: “They who are in the external sense of the Word separate from the internal … understand this prophetic saying [‘the blood of the lamb’] no otherwise than according to the letter; namely, that by ‘blood’ is meant blood, thus the Lord’s passion; when yet it is the Divine truth that proceeds from the Lord that is there meant by ‘blood.’ They who are in true doctrine are able to know that they are not saved by blood, but by hearing truth Divine, and doing it.

8. Apocalypse Explained 431:6: “In the spiritual sense, ‘the twelve apostles’ signify all truths from good.” See also Arcana Coelestia 433: “The Lord's twelve disciples represented the church of the Lord in general, and each one of them some universal essential of it.”

9. Arcana Coelestia 3832: “Eating and ‘drinking in the Lord’s kingdom … mean making the good of love and the truth of faith one’s own.” See also Apocalypse Explained 329:3 “When anything of meat is named in the Word, good is meant, and where anything of drink is named, truth is meant. From these considerations it is evident, that by the blood from the Passover lamb, which the sons of Israel were commanded to sprinkle upon the two posts, and upon the lintel of their houses, is meant the Divine truth proceeding from the Lord.”

10. Arcana Coelestia 9033: “The Lord punishes no one, because He is mercy itself; and therefore, whatsoever He does, He does from mercy, and by no means from anger and revenge.” See also 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.”

11. New Jerusalem Its Heavenly Doctrine 163: “People who live the life of charity and faith do the work of repentance daily; they reflect upon the evils which are with them, acknowledge them, guard against them, and supplicate the Lord for help … See also New Jerusalem Its Heavenly Doctrine 165: “Sins are not forgiven by repentance with the lips, but by repentance in life. A person's sins are continually being forgiven by the Lord, for He is absolute mercy. But the sins cling to the person, however much he thinks they are forgiven, and the only way to have them taken away is to live in accordance with the commandments of true faith. The more he lives thus, the more his sins are taken away.” 12. Divine Providence 296: “The stomach rolls about the food it receives, opens and separates it by means of solvents, that is, digests it, and distributes appropriate portions to the little mouths opening there of the veins which drink them in…. Similar operations take place in the interiors of a person’s mind…. Hence it is evident that the Divine Providence operates with every person in a thousand hidden ways. Its unceasing care is to cleanse people because its end is to save them. Therefore, nothing is more incumbent on a person than to remove evils in the external. The rest the Lord provides, if His aid is earnestly implored.”

13. Arcana Coelestia 9780:12: “That the Lord so often went up the Mount of Olives was because ‘oil’ and ‘the olive’ signified the good of love, as also does a ‘mountain.’ The reason was that while the Lord was in the world all things respecting Him were representative of heaven; for thereby the universal heaven was adjoined to Him. Therefore, whatever He did and whatever He said was Divine and heavenly, and the ultimate things were representative. The Mount of Olives represented heaven in respect to the good of love and of charity.”

14. Arcana Coelestia 8478:5: “Those who are in the stream of Providence put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him; but that those who are not in the stream of Providence trust in themselves alone and attribute all things to themselves.”

15. Arcana Coelestia 886: “The ‘olive’ signifies the good of charity. This is evident from the signification in the Word not only of an ‘olive but also of ‘oil.’ It was with olive oil, together with spices, that the priests and kings were anointed, and it was with olive oil that the lamps were trimmed. . . The reason olive oil was used for anointing and for lamps was that it represented all that is celestial, and therefore all the good of love and of charity; for the oil is the very essence of the tree, and is as it were its soul, just as the celestial, or the good of love and of charity, is the very essence or the very soul of faith; and hence oil has this representation.”

16. Arcana Coelestia 1690:3: “All temptation is an assault upon the love in which the person is, and the temptation is in the same degree as is the love…. The Lord’s life was love toward the whole human race, and was indeed so great, and of such a quality, as to be nothing but pure love.”

17. 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…. In all His combats of temptation the Lord never fought from the love of self, or for Himself, but for all in the universe.”

18. Divine Providence 183: “For a person from his hereditary evil is always panting for the lowest hell; but the Lord by His Providence is continually leading him away and withdrawing him from it, first to a milder hell, then away from hell, and finally to Himself in heaven. This operation of the Divine Providence is perpetual.”

19. The Greek word which is used here is “chairo” –a familiar greeting meaning “be well” or “be healthy.” Since Judas was arranging for the capture which led to Jesus’ death, a greeting which wishes Him “health” is especially ironic. 20. Apocalypse Explained 195: “He who has not a wedding garment signifies a hypocrite, who, by moral life, assumes the semblance of spiritual life, when yet it is merely natural”; True Christian Religion 380: “Spurious faith is every faith that departs from true faith, and is held by those who … regard the Lord not as God, but as a mere man (True Christian Religion 380).

21. Apocalypse Explained 430:16: “‘Do you think that I cannot now beseech My Father and He will cause to stand by Me more than twelve legions of angels?’ ‘Twelve legions of angels’ meaning the whole heaven, and ‘more than these’ signifying Divine Omnipotence.” See also Arcana Coelestia 1735: “The Lord’s Internal is Love itself, to which no other attributes are appropriate than those of pure love and so of pure mercy towards the whole human race. Such mercy wills to save all, to make them eternally happy, and to impart to them all that is its Own — thus out of pure mercy and by the mighty power of Love.”

22. Arcana Coelestia 1950:2: “Rational good never fights, no matter how much it is assailed, because it is gentle and mild, long-suffering and yielding, for its nature is that of love and mercy. But although it does not fight, it nevertheless conquers all. It does not ever think of combat, nor does it glory in victory. It is of this nature because it is Divine and is of itself immune from harm; for no evil can assail good, indeed it cannot even remain in the sphere where good is. Just as soon as it approaches, evil retreats of itself and falls back; for evil is of hell, while good is of heaven.”

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 3008, 4592, 4763, 4933, 8106, 9422, 10061

Apocalypse Revealed 24, 520

Doctrine of the Lord 19, 26

True Christian Religion 136, 342


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 36, 298, 684, 687

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Psalms 38:14, 15

Isaiah 53:7

Bible Word Meanings

us
Angels do give us guidance, but they are mere helpers; the Lord alone governs us, through angels and spirits. Since angels have their assisting role,...

peace
In ordinary life, we tend to think of "peace" as essentially "a lack of conflict." As a nation, if we're not at war, it's a...

high
'Height' signifies what is inward, and also heaven.

High priest
'The high-priest' refers to the divine good.

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

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

tell
'To tell' signifies perceiving, because in the spiritual world, or in heaven, they do not need to tell what they think because they communicate every...

christ
Christ is one of the names of the Lord. It derives from Greek, and means "the anointed one," a King or Messiah. Christ as King...

son of god
The Lord, in some places, calls Himself 'the son of God,' at other times, 'the son of man (ἄνθρωπος).' This is always according to the...

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.


 Collage of the Lord Praying at Gethsemane
Draw a picture of the Lord praying for the strength and set it in a collage made with torn paper suggesting olive trees and rocks of the garden of Gethsemane.
Project | Ages up to 14

 Eating the Last Supper
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Holy Week
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Jesus' Words on the Cross
Jesus made seven statements from the cross. Discover how New Church teachings give insight into Jesus' message.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Judas’ Betrayal Planned, The Last Supper
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 Praying in Gethsemane
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

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

 The Holiest Act of Worship
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 The Last Supper
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Last Supper
This project uses a beautiful drawing of the Last Supper by Ruth Davis Gyllenhaal. 
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 The Last Supper and the Holy Supper
The Holy Supper is a special church service to remind us of the last supper the Lord had with His disciples.
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Lord and His Disciple, Simon Peter
Four scenes about the Lord and Peter from the gospels of Matthew and John, and two later scenes from the book of Acts.
Activity | Ages 11 - 14

 The Lord’s Last Days (6-8 years)
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 The Lord’s Last Days (9-11 years)
Project | Ages 11 - 14

 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 Lord's Last Days on Earth: Betrayal and Arrest
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 The Lord's Supper
The Holy Supper can help people to remember that the Lord is not far away. He has not forgotten us or left us alone. He is always near us, doing His part to lead us to heaven.
Worship Talk | Ages 4 - 6

 Wax Resist Painting of the Betrayal
Use oil pastels to draw a picture of Judas approaching the Lord, then brush blue or black watercolor over it to show that this event happened at night. 
Project | Ages 7 - 14


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