The Bible

John 20:19-31 : Christ Appears to the Disciples in an Upper Room, and Doubting Thomas

Study the Inner Meaning

19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.

21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

   Study the Inner Meaning
From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 96, 2397, 2628, 2724, 2798, 2921, 3006, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 12, 81, 343, 520, 618, 839, 962

A Brief Exposition of New Church Doctrine 32, 120

Divine Love and Wisdom 383

Divine Providence 230, 324

The Lord 19, 20, 35, 41, 51

Faith 10

Heaven and Hell 287, 461

True Christian Religion 140, 146, 153, 188, 298, 303, 337, ...

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 286


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 53, 102, 130, 183, 254, 365, 419, ...

Canons of the New Church 39, 43

Divine Wisdom 6

Miracles and Signs 18

Scriptural Confirmations 2, 5, 14, 64

Other New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Genesis 43:23

Numbers 6:26

Psalms 22:17, 84:4

Word/Phrase Explanations

Evening
Since the light and warmth of the sun represent the Lord’s wisdom and love, it makes sense that evening, a time when the light and...

the first
'Resurrection' signifies salvation and eternal life. 'The first,' mentioned in Revelation 20:5, 6, does not mean a first resurrection, but the essence and primary part...

first
Why would it be insulting for a man to refer to his married partner as his “first wife”? Because it implies there will be a...

day of
'Day of vengeance' signifies a state of damnation.

Week
'A week' signifies state, and 'the seventh week,' a holy state. The ancients understood 'a week' to mean any period divided into seven, whether days,...

doors
In a general sense, doors in the Bible represent the initial desires for good and concepts of truth that introduce people to new levels of...

shut
There are only a couple of references in the Writings to "close" used as a verb, and both stem from Amos 9:11, which talks about...

disciples
When we read the Gospels and see Jesus addressing the disciples, we assume His words are meant for us as well. And indeed they are!...

fear
Fear of the unknown and fear of change are both common ideas, and together cover a broad spectrum of the fears we tend to have...

jews
It would be simple to think that when the Bible mentions "Jews" it is simply talking about the descendants of the tribe of Judah, the...

came
As with common verbs in general, the meaning of “come” in the Bible is highly dependent on context – its meaning is determined largely by...

midst
The "midst" of something in the Bible represents the thing that is most central and most important to the spiritual state being described, the motivation...

saith
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...

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...

hands
Scientists believe that one of the most crucial developments in the evolution of humans was bipedalism – walking on two legs. That left our hands...

Side
'Side' signifies good or spiritual love.

Glad
To make glad signifies influx and reception from joy of heart.

the Lord
The Bible refers to the Lord in many different ways, which from the text seem indistinguishable and interchangeable. Understood in the internal sense, though, there...

father
Father in the Word means what is most interior, and in those things that are following the Lord's order, it means what is good. In...

send
'Being sent' everywhere signifies, in an internal sense, going forth, as in John 17:8. In similar manner, it is said of the holy of the...

holy
The Bible describes many things as being holy, or sacred. The Ark of the Covenant is one very holy object. The inmost chamber of the...

sins
'Bound up transgressions,' as in Lamentations 1:14, stands for falsities coming up towards interior or rational things.

remit
'To forgive seven times' signifies forgiving at all times.

retain
'To hold fast' signifies permanence in a state of good of love and faith up to the visitation.

one
A company might have executives setting policy and strategy, engineers designing products, line workers building them, managers handling personnel and others handling various functions. They...

twelve
'Twelve' and 'twenty-four' signify everything, and refer to truths.

called
To call someone or summon someone in the Bible represents a desire for conjunction between higher and lower states of life. For instance, imagine someone...

see
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...

hand
In Genesis 27:22, 'voice' relates to truth, and 'hand,' to good.

Put
'To put' has reference to order, arrangement, application, and influx.

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

eight
According to Swedenborg, the number eight represents something that is complete within itself, in every respect. Two reasons are offered for this. First, eight is...

days
"Day" describes a state in which we are turned toward the Lord, and are receiving light (which is truth) and heat (which is a desire...

reach
The hand in the Bible represents power, which is easy to understand, so to reach out or stretch out the hand means to exercise power,...

my lord
Characters in the Bible will often address others using the term “my lord,” and it seems to be no more than an expression of respect....

God
The Lord is love itself, expressed in the form of wisdom itself. Love, then, is His essence, His inmost. Wisdom - the loving understanding of...

blessed
The Lord is perfect love expressed as perfect wisdom. He created us so that He could love us, could give us love and wisdom of...

many
Intellectual things – ideas, knowledge, facts, even insight and understanding – are more separate and free-standing than emotional things, and it’s easier to imagine numbering...

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

written
If knowing what’s right were the same as doing what’s right, we would all be thin, healthy, hard-working, law-abiding, faithful to our spouses and free...

Book
(Rev. 10:9.) "And I went unto the angel, saying, give me the little book," signifies the faculty of perceiving the quality of the Word from...

Might
'Might' denotes the forces or power of truth.

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
Marriages in the Bible represent the union we all can have between the desire for good and the understanding of truth (or an understanding of...

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

life
In John 14:6, 'the way is doctrine,' 'the truth' is every thing pertaining to doctrine, and 'the life' is the essential good which is the...

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

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.


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

 Crucifixion Prophecies Fulfilled
Jesus could have saved Himself from the cross, but then He would not have been able to show us with the great miracle of His resurrection that the death of the body is not the end of life. Sample from the Jacob's Ladder Program, Level 3, for ages 8-9.
Religion Lesson | Ages 8 - 9

 Death and Resurrection
There is an old saying that no one can get out of this world alive! We must all die, and, sad as that eventuality may seem at the time, the only way we can make sense of it is by believing the Lord's words: those who believe in Him can never die. 
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

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

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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

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Make a miniature garden scene to illustrate the Easter story in the gospel of John.
Project | Ages over 7

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Read the story in the gospel of John (20:1-16) about Mary Magdalene seeing the Lord. Use the discussion questions to talk about this story. 
Religion Lesson | All Ages

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Project | Ages 4 - 10

 For Reflection: Doubting Thomas
Think about the development of your faith and how it might relate to the disciple, Thomas.
Activity | Ages over 15

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

 Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the Garden
A picture of Mary Magdalene meeting the risen Lord, with native spring plants of the Holy Land 
Project | Ages 7 - 14

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 Jesus' Words on the Cross
Jesus made seven statements from the cross. Discover how New Church teachings give insight into Jesus' message.
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 Looking into the Tomb
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 Mary Magdalene in the Garden
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 Mary Magdalene Sees the Lord
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 Peace Be with You
Heavenly peace transcends every idea of earthly happiness.
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 Prayers for Adults: Joy Comes in the Morning
Activity | Ages over 18

 Prayers for Teens: Joy Comes in the Morning
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 Quotes: I Am with You Always
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 Quotes: Joy Comes in the Morning
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 The Easter Story in John
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 The Easter Surprise
Surprise! Surprise! The Lord was alive and standing in front of Mary.
Story | Ages 4 - 6

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Religion Lesson | Ages 5 - 6

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Color the picture of the disciples and then insert the Lord through a slit in the page into their midst.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

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

 The Lord as Comforter
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 The Lord's Message to Thomas
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Article | Ages 15 - 17

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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.
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 The Resurrection (3-5 years)
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 The Resurrection (6-8 years)
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Commentary

Two Meetings in Jerusalem after the Resurrection

By Joe David

The risen Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room. 22.4.2010: Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Emilio Romagna, Italy.

Late on the first Easter Sunday, after the Lord had risen from the sepulcher, ten of the disciples gathered for the evening in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem (John 20). They were afraid and probably confused. Since their leader had been crucified by the Roman power, as organized by their own Jewish leaders, they feared that now his followers might also be hunted down and punished. They closed and locked the doors. Were any of the women there? The story does not say, but Peter and John were, who saw and talked with the angels that morning, and the stories of the women were known. Some time must have been spent wondering and perhaps arguing - was He really alive? How could they know it was really Him? This kind of thing, coming back to life after you’re dead, this doesn’t happen in this real world, there must be some mistake!

Then two of the followers, not of the twelve, but the two that had gone to the village of Emmaus, came in, excited and bursting with their news. They had seen Him! They had walked with Him for seven miles and He had told them wondrous things! They had only recognized Him when He broke bread and ate with them. "Don’t doubt us, it really was Jesus!"

And then as they all talked and argued, there He was, standing with them in the room. "Peace be unto you," He said, and He showed them His hands and feet and His side, where he was wounded. He calmed them, and told them that just as he had come down to mankind, so they must go out and teach to all people all the true things that He had taught in the years He was with them.

It was these truths about how to live one’s life that were saving, not the disciples themselves. These saving truths have the power to remit or retain sins, because they were from the Lord, the disciples only transmitted them from the Lord to those who would listen and take them to heart. Then He breathed on them - representing His holy spirit - so that they would not only want to pass these truths on to people, but would also be given the words to say whenever the times came. And then He was gone again.

Thomas was not there that night. We don’t know why. And Thomas, when he heard the story, just could not swallow it. "Except I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe", he said. (John 20:25.)

The next verse tells us that the next Sunday they gathered again, and that Thomas was present this time. As before, the Lord was suddenly there, saying again, "Peace be unto you", and then directly to Thomas, "Reach hither thy finger… and reach hither thy hand… and be not faithless but believing". Now Thomas's response was, "my Lord and my God". It seems as if the Lord came this time just to convince Thomas, because it was Thomas who needed Him.

I think He does work this way. I am reminded of another story, from the gospel of Mark (Mark 9:17-27) where a father comes to Jesus with a young son who is possessed by a devil, and asks Jesus to cure him, and is asked in turn: "Do you believe I can do this?" In Mark 9:24 the father responds. Crying out, he said with tears, "I believe, help thou my unbelief."

I think many people have this conflict between lingering doubts and a desire to have the doubts taken away. If we carry on and make our decisions in life as if the doubts were indeed gone, then indeed they will lose their strength and actually will be gone.

These are the only details given of these two meetings in Jerusalem. Chronologically the next post-Easter stories are the ones that take place in Galilee.

John does go on to say at the end of his gospel "...many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God...." (John 20:30-31). Perhaps there were more post-Easter stories that weren't written down, but the ones we do have are strong. For the disciples who were involved, there was an unstoppable impact from the life and teachings of the Lord, and His crucifixion, and physical death, and now - in these stories - His resurrection. Hearing the Lord's charges to them, these Galilean fishermen and their colleagues launch out into the wide world, and work to achieve the Great Commission, enduring hardships and persecution, and succeeding - probably beyond their wildest dreams!

Commentary

What is Spiritual Faith?

By Rev. William Woofenden

She said to Elijah, "What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?" —1 Kings 17:18

Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." —John 20:28-29

There are many degrees and kinds of the thing we call "faith." We may feel completely confident that the sun will rise each morning, but put a lock on our outside doors because of lack of confidence in our fellow human beings. We may speak of a faithful wife, or a faithful husband, and be easily understood. If we lose faith in our doctor, we will probably look around and find another. If we happen to be a Republican while the Democrats are in power, or vice versa, we somehow manage to maintain our faith in the future of our country. A little child has faith that Mother and Father are the wisest and kindest and best people in the world.

Loss of faith in our neighbors, or in traditional practices, or changing institutions can be an experience which leads people to despair; and such losses probably drive many to seek expert help from psychiatrists or pastors or others in the helping professions. Sometimes in such cases faith can be restored by a transfer of confidence to a person more deserving, or a practice less controversial or a more stable institution. This type of restoration, while important, is not, however, the principal object of our attention this morning. The examples given so far can be classified as secondary forms of faith. It will be our contention that all such forms of faith have their origin in and exist because of the primary form of faith, which is religious faith or faith in God.

When a person today loses faith in God, there is apparently no place to turn. That is, if one's faith is grounded in a belief in one God. Ancient Greeks and Romans avoided this sort of dilemma by having many gods, and if worship of one failed to bring the things they wanted, they simply turned to another, and another.

Think, though, of the plight of the widow of Zarepath in our text, which is closely analogous to the utter loss of hope of so many in this present day. "The son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, 'What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?'"

Not only is this sort of despondent cry of lack of faith in God raised at the loss of one of our dear ones, it may also be heard during severe and crippling diseases, at the loss of a job, or by the disgrace brought to a family by a delinquent son or daughter, or by the loss of all our personal belongings, or even as a result of a terrible personal humiliation.

In order to discover a cure in all such instances, we must first learn to analyze the underlying causes of such losses of faith. The teaching of the New Church tell us that there are two degrees or levels of religious faith, called simply "natural" faith and "spiritual" faith. And the person who loses faith for any of the sorts of reason we have listed may be reassured to this extent: the faith lost was the lower or natural degree of faith, not spiritual faith. It is, for one thing, less serious, and also is more easily regained.

In Arcana Coelestia 8078 there are brief definitions of three forms of natural faith. Let's look at them first:

"Merely natural faith is faith which is introduced by an external and not by an internal way, such as sensory faith, which is believing a thing to be so because it has been seen and touched... It is also like faith in miracles, for miracles tend to compel belief, and what is compelled does not remain. The third type is faith in authority, which is to believe in something because someone we trust has said it."

Over against this is our teaching concerning spiritual faith. In Heaven and Hell 482, we are told that a person does not really have faith if it does not come from heavenly love. There neither is nor can be any real faith in people who are absorbed in physical and worldly love apart from heavenly and spiritual love. All they have is knowledge, or an urge to regard something as true because it is useful to their worldly love. Faith is more than believing; it is loving what is true and wanting to do what is good and true from inward affection.

The person who has lost faith that can be defined as one of the three types of natural faith—that based on sense knowledge, or as the result of a seeming miracle, or on the authority of another—needs to realize first that what was lost was spiritually lifeless anyway, for whatever is truly spiritual, that is, whatever has God in it, can never die. Therefore what is called for in such cases is not to moan over our misfortune, but learn how to call on God to put new life into the old dead framework of our former natural faith.

Here is where our Old Testament reading can help. For the pattern for this sort of renewal of faith is perfectly portrayed in the deeper meaning of the details of restoring the widow's son to life by Elijah. Before turning to the revealed patterns of life contained in this Scripture incident, however, I'd like to suggest that the basic lesson to be drawn here probably applies in some way to every one of us, whether we have recently had a disturbing emotional experience or not. So far we have only mentioned such clearly defined causes of loss of faith as the loss of a loved one, severe illness, personal and financial losses, or seemingly undeserved hardships. Let's think about some of the less clearly defined causes of loss of faith.

I should like to repeat the second verse of a hymn:

"Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and his Word?"

Probably all of us have, back somewhere in our life history, not only pleasant but exciting memories of the surging joy we felt when it first dawned on us that the Lord Jesus Christ is our personal savior, and that he loves us with an everlasting love. And this realization undoubtedly led us either to a new or renewed relationship with the Lord and the church which fairly glowed with missionary zeal.

Can any of us say that the luster of that experience has not dimmed at least a little, that the ardor has not cooled somewhat? Has it gone beyond that, so that our faith is now so tarnished and pedestrian that it is little more than a spiritless habit pattern? Whatever the degree of loss of faith that you and I have experienced, I believe we all can profit from the lesson the Lord has given us for restoring and revitalizing personal faith by opening to us, and to all who seek them, the treasures hidden in his Word:

"'Give me your son,' Elijah said. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. ... Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this boy's life return to him!" The Lord heard Elijah's cry, and the boy's life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. ... Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth."

As we seek the spiritual meaning of this incident and its relationship to our own lives, first let us have in mind one of the primary teachings of the New Church: that all the natural things spoken of in the Bible—persons, places, objects—have a definite and individual correspondence with spiritual things. Many of these relationships, once made known to us, become evident without further explanation. For example, we all know that Moses is closely related to the Ten Commandments, so we are not surprised to find Moses spoken of even in Scripture as being himself the symbol of the Law of the Lord.

Nor is it difficult to see that the forty-year wilderness wandering of the Israelites in their quest for the Promised Land is a mirror of your struggle and mine to attain the heavenly way of life. Let me mention just one more immediately obvious prototype: Jerusalem, or Zion—the religious center of the ancient Hebrews—is quickly identifiable as symbolic of the church of God in all ages. In this same way, all the details of our text from the first book of Kings have been identified with their spiritual counterparts in the writings of our church. All that is left to us is to read and heed the lessons these truths make available to us.

So here we go: looking at our text, Elijah is outstanding among the Old Testament prophets. And more than once in the New Testament his name is linked with that of Moses, the outstanding instance being the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Elijah, we readily see, corresponds to the prophetic Word, that is, God's Word as it has an active effect on our daily lives. Using more psychological language, we might say that Elijah symbolizes dynamic divine truth. In the highest sense, Elijah represents the Lord himself as the living truth.

Moving on, in our text the widow's son was her only hope for the future, and thus pictures anyone's faith, at whatever level it may be. This mother's experience is typical of that of anyone who despite efforts to live a Christian life still may be struck by some disaster and consequent loss of faith. Even the simple act of the widow releasing the boy from her arms to Elijah contains hidden wisdom. For one thing, it points up one of the reasons faith can be lost, namely, a too-possessive attitude regarding our faith, which is really a veiled tendency to ascribe our faith to our own intelligence and goodness. This sort of essentially selfish outlook will eventually kill faith in anyone.

I wonder how many of us who have experienced some sort of loss of faith have ever realized that it probably was basically self-inflicted because of our mistaken attitudes? And how often have we perceived that the only path then left to follow is to concede somehow that faith is never really ours, but both comes from and belongs to the Lord alone? That's what it takes. Once we have this insight it will lead immediately to an elevation of our faith to a more interior level and bring about a closer union between us and the Lord. All of this is contained in the hidden wisdom in the simple act of the woman giving up her apparently dead child to the prophet.

Once this symbolic act took place, Elijah took the child upstairs to his own room, laid him on his own bed, and stretched himself out on the child—not once, but three times. I'm sure you have noticed the striking number of times groups of three appear in the Bible. There is above all the divine trinity. There is faith, hope and love. Among the Lord's disciples we hear most often about Peter, James and John; this same Peter denied the Lord three times before the rooster began to crow. And there are many others.

Three is one of the biblical numbers which denotes completeness. Every complete phase of life has a threefold nature. First there must be a desire or will to do a thing, then there must be the knowledge or understanding of how to do it, and then there must be the act itself. Applying this insight to our text, the action of Elijah shows us that, if we call on the Lord for help, we must also be prepared to make close application of the living truths of his Word to the full complex of our lives. For the Lord can help us only as we voluntarily submit to having divine truth chasten our desires, purify our thoughts, and spur us into applying the truth to our actions.

Then the truths of faith which we formerly understood only in a natural or worldly way can become filled with spirit and life. Then, with confidence renewed, with faith restored to life, we can bring it down again from the heights, so to speak—for we cannot remain for long in the very near presence of the Lord—and reestablish our faith to a place of everyday usefulness in our lives.

With the new concept of faith as essentially spiritual, and hence new spiritual faith, which this experience can give us, we can then realize that any future loss of faith need not be a source of despair, but can in fact be a means of drawing us closer to the Lord than we have ever been before. Furthermore, armed with this sort of knowledge, we will also begin to see new opportunities to reach out to others less fortunate than ourselves and to help them see the only path to restoration of faith.

The faith of the apostle Thomas is good, it is a step in the right direction:
Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

But the faith of Thomas does not meet the specifications of spiritual faith, and will in time fail. This has been dramatically illustrated to us in history by the fact that the church founded by the apostles in time fell into such falsification and decay that it was necessary for the Lord to come again in spirit and in truth to renew it.

Faith which is based on no more than a combination of external testimony of (1) the truth that there is a God, and (2) the trust we have in those who do believe in God, is useful but nevertheless natural faith. We have far better evidence, more convincing evidence for faith in God when we order our lives in ways that allow God's Word to bring inner light and peace to our souls. This is to be numbered among those of whom the Lord said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."


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