Commentary

 

A Ransom for Many - What can that mean?

     

By New Christian Bible Study Staff

A Ransom for Many - What can that mean?

Almost 2000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth -- Jesus Christ -- was crucified. He died. Painfully. And then, by the second morning after that, He was risen from the dead. His physical body was gone - or, rather, in light of subsequent events, it seems to have been transformed into a spiritual one. (That's an interesting thing to think through, in itself, but it's not the focus of this article.)

Instead, here we want to focus on some of the things that are said in the Bible about why Jesus died. There's an almost-2000-year-old confusion about it. Let's dig into it...

In Mark 10:42-45 (and in Matthew 20:25-28), we find this well-known lesson, which occurs late in Jesus's ministry. James and John - still not really understanding the depth of what was going on, were lobbying Jesus for promises of sitting at His left and right hand when he was "king". The other disciples were displeased, of course. Jesus knows what's going on, so He gathers them all, and tries to explain the real nature of His mission, and what their mission should be, too.

Here's the text:

"But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."

A ransom. The Greek word used here is λύτρον, or lutron, which means the price for redeeming or ransoming, from λύω, luo, for loosening, untying, or setting free.

Some theologians have taken this text, and combined it with the text from the crucifixion story, when Jesus says three things that show his distress, and his feeling of separation from his Divine essence -- "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?", and "Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done", and "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

It can certainly be interpreted as a sort of sacrifice, in which Jesus acts as a sort of scapegoat, substituting his death for the human race that had disappointed His Father. Some theologians have done that. Anselm of Canterbury, in around 1000 AD, was one of the leaders of a faction that made that argument. But we don't think that's the right track; in fact, we think it was a wrong track that's been pretty damaging.

In New Christian theology, it doesn't make sense that God was angry. He's love itself. Is He disappointed when we don't reciprocate His love? Sure. But angry? No. There's certainly the appearance of it, especially in the Old Testament at times, but the core nature of God is love.

What's more, it should be even clearer that the death of Jesus's physical body wouldn't make God the Father feel better. Remember, they are really ONE person, of one mind - not two.

Instead, the whole cycle of God's incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection was undertaken so that new truths could reach humankind.

In Arcana Coelestia 1419,

"The Lord, being love itself, or the essence and life of the love of all in the heavens, wills to give to the human race all things that are His; which is signified by His saying that the Son of man came to give His life a ransom for many."

In Apocalypse Explained 328:15, we find this explanation:

“The phrase ‘to ransom’ means to free people from falsities and reform them by means of truths. This is signified by the words, ‘Ransom [redeem] me, O Jehovah, God of truth’” (Psalm 31:5)

One reason Jesus died was to overcome the power of hell. Jesus fought against evil spirits throughout His life. The clearest description of this is just after his baptism, when he spends 40 days in the wilderness. His suffering on the cross was the final struggle against evil, and His resurrection was his final victory over it.

For every person, overcoming evil involves temptation or a struggle against evil. As we struggle against evil individually, Christ struggled against evil on a cosmic scale. His death was the conclusion of that struggle, but it wasn't a loss; it was a win. The Bible says that God took on flesh and blood so that “through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14,15)

Another reason that Bible gives for Jesus’ death was that He might unite His human nature with His Divine nature, so that He could “make in Himself, of two, one new man,” (Ephesians 2:14-16, cf. John 17:11, 21; 10:30).

There are other reasons mentioned, too:

He could "go to the Father" (John 13:3; 14:2, 28; 16:10).
He could be "glorified" (John 17:1,5) or "enter into His glory" (Luke 24:26).
He could be "perfected" (Luke 13:32), or "sanctified" (John 17:19).

In Swedenborg's True Christianity 86, it says,

"Jehovah God came into the world as divine truth for the purpose of redeeming people. Redemption was a matter of gaining control of the hells, restructuring the heavens, and then establishing a church."

At the crucifixion, the forces of evil thought they had won. The religious and civic powers of the day led the way in condemning him. He was mocked. The crowd turned against him.

The death of Jesus' physical body was a "ransom" in this way: by undergoing that torture and death, He could then show that his spiritual power transcended natural death. He freed us, loosened us, from domination by the hells, and established a new church -- a new way that we can follow.

The Bible

 

Matthew 20:25-28

Study the Inner Meaning

              

25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

     

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Matthew 20      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

Chapter 20.

Why Jesus Spoke in Parables

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1. “For the kingdom of the heavens is like a man, a householder, who went out in the morning to hire workers into his vineyard.

2. And when he had agreed with the workers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

3. And going out around the third hour, he saw others standing in the market idle;

4. And he said to these, ‘Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatever is just, I will give you.’ And they departed.

5. Again coming out about the sixth and ninth hour, he did likewise.

6. And going out about the eleventh hour, he found others standing idle, and says to them, ‘Why do you stand here all the day idle?’

7. They say unto him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He says to them, ‘Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatever is just, you shall receive.’

8. And when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard says to his steward, ‘Call the workers, and pay them the hire, beginning from the last unto the first.’

9. And when they came that [were hired] about the eleventh hour, they received each a denarius.

10. And when the first came they supposed that they should receive more, and they also received each a denarius.

11. And receiving, they murmured against the householder,

12. Saying, ‘These last have done one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, who have borne the weight of the day, and the heat.’

13. But he answering said to one of them,’ Fellow, I do not treat thee unjustly; didst thou not agree with me for a denarius?

14. Take thine own and go thy way; but I will to give to this last [one] even as unto thee.

15. Is it not permitted for me to do what I will with what is mine? Is thine eye wicked, because I [am] good?’

16. So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few chosen.”
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The disciples, who are for the most part simple men, have a hard time understanding Jesus’ teachings. It might be said that Jesus speaks “over their heads,” uttering things they can hardly grasp. And even when they can comprehend Him — as in the promise that they will sit on thrones — His meaning is very different from what they understand.

Jesus speaks in this way so that the Word can be understood at a number of different levels, depending upon each person’s ability to live according to the truth and not depart from it. The Word is given in this way because the greatest spiritual danger we can ever face is that of profanation. This occurs when we first acknowledge truth and live according to it, but later deny it and live according to our own desires. To guard against this peril to our spiritual well-being, Jesus speaks to His disciples — and to us — in parables. 1

When Jesus told His disciples that they would “sit on thrones,” He knew that they would take this literally. At the time, they were not aware that Jesus was speaking to them in the language of parable, using a familiar concept about earthly rule to convey a spiritual message about heavenly government. As stated in chapter thirteen, “Without a parable He did not speak” (13:34). Jesus knew that the promise of “sitting on thrones” would appeal to them and be seen as a great reward for their faithfulness. As they continued to follow

Jesus in this life and the next, the more interior meaning of “sitting on thrones” would gradually be revealed to them. 2

Interestingly, the promise of sitting on thrones is followed by the story of the rich young ruler who wants to know “what good thing He should do” in order to gain eternal life. Jesus tells him, “First keep the commandments; then sell all that you have and give to the poor; then follow Me” (see 19:16-21). When the rich young ruler refuses to give up his possessions, and goes away sorrowful, Jesus turns to His disciples and says it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into heaven (see 19:22-24).

The disciples must have been wondering why Jesus was saying these things right after He had told them that they would be sitting on thrones. As rulers they would be wealthy; as rulers that would be “rich men.” As rulers that would have pre-eminent positions in the new kingdom. They would be esteemed as the heads of state, the government leaders, the prime ministers; in brief, among all the other government officials, they would be in first place. Knowing that they would be thinking in this way, Jesus ends this series of episodes with the cryptic comment, “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The disciples don’t understand that Jesus is speaking about the re-ordering of their inner worlds. As yet, they have no idea, or at best only a dim idea, that Jesus is speaking about spiritual priorities. In other words, Jesus is saying that self-love should be last, not first. Similarly, loving the Lord and loving the neighbor should be first and foremost in our lives, not last. There is nothing wrong with loving oneself and loving the things of the world. After all, each of us is a beloved child of God, and God has given us a lovely world to enjoy. But self-love and love of the world must be subordinated to higher loves. When love of the Lord and love of the neighbor is first, we experience heaven; but when self-love and love of the world is first, we experience hell. Therefore, when Jesus says that “the first shall be last, and the last first,” He is promising that those who follow Him will eventually get their priorities in order. Self-love and love of the world will be last; and loving the Lord and the neighbor will be first. 3

All of this, of course, is still beyond the understanding of the disciples. When Jesus said that “the first will be last and the last will be first,” they may have understood this to mean that the Jewish people, who had been in last place under the yoke and dominion of the Roman empire, would now be elevated to places of pre-eminence. As rulers sitting on thrones, the disciples would be in “first” place. At the same time, the Roman rulers, who had been in “first” place, would be removed from their exalted positions of power and would find themselves in the “last” place. The first (the Roman leaders) would be last; and the last (the disciples) would be first.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard

When Jesus says that “the first shall be last, and the last first,” He is not referring to an earthly kingdom with thrones and kings. This is not what Jesus has in mind. He has come to re-establish a spiritual kingdom in human minds, not a natural one. The kingdom of heaven that Jesus calls us to is not about money, power, or prestige, but about the love of serving others. This is a lesson that He can only gradually impart to the minds of His disciples who are still steeped in the idea of reward and merit. They do not yet realize that the delight of heaven is in useful service, and in the wonderful feelings that flow into people while they are engaged in doing good — without any thought of reward. Therefore, Jesus continues to teach in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard” (20:1).

The parable speaks about a landowner who hires people at the first, third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours (6 AM, 9 AM, 12 noon, 3 PM, and 5 PM). The first people who are hired agree to work for one denarius — the equivalent of one day’s wages. Those hired at the third, sixth, and ninth hours are only promised that they will be paid, but no amount is specified. The landowner simply says, “Go work in my vineyard and I will pay you whatever is right” (20:4). When the last group of workers is invited into the vineyard, nothing at all is said about pay. A specific wage is not mentioned, and nothing is said about payment. The landowner simply says, “Go and work in my vineyard” (20:7).

When the time comes to pay the workers, they all receive one denarius — regardless of how many hours they worked. Those who worked twelve hours are outraged, and murmur against the landowner, saying, “These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day” (20:12).

At first glance, it certainly does seem unfair. Conditioned as we are to think in terms of appropriate recompense for our labors, it seems unjust that this landowner would pay every worker the same wage, whether they worked one hour or twelve. The parable, therefore, defies our normal sense of fairness and bids us to look more deeply into its spiritual meaning. And, as we do, we notice that this is a continuation of the previous episode which ends with the words, “many who are first will be last, and the last first.” In fact, in this parable, this reversal actually does happen. We read, “When evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first’” (20:8). The last to be hired are the first to be paid; and the first to be hired are the last to be paid.

If we lift our eyes above the literal level of this parable, we come into a new understanding of who are “the first” and who are “the last.” Seen spiritually, these laborers — the first and the last — are parts of ourselves. Those who have worked all day long, and who complain about “the burden and heat of the day” (20:12), represent that part of ourselves that works primarily for personal reward and selfish gain, rather than from a love of serving others. Notice that they negotiated a specific wage — one denarius. They were working for money. As long as the heat of self-love is our first priority, and a recompense for our labors is our primary concern, our labors are hard and burdensome. In the language of scripture, this is described as “the heat and burden of the day.”

This is the way each of us begins our spiritual life. We think of heaven as a reward for good works. Like the rich young ruler in the previous episode, we ask, “What good thing shall I do that I might have eternal life?” Just after that Peter has a similar request, “We have left all and followed You,” he says to Jesus. Therefore, “What shall we have?”

There is nothing wrong with this at the beginning of our regeneration. It’s where we all begin. But if we are to advance to higher levels of spiritual life, we must move beyond reward-seeking behavior. This is represented by those who are hired at the third, sixth, and ninth hours. They agree to work based on the simple promise that the landowner will pay them “whatever is right.”

This is a more advanced stage in our spiritual development. In this stage, we know that the Lord will indeed reward us in some way for our efforts to live according to His will. We don’t know what the specific reward will be, but we trust that it will be “whatever is right.” While the idea of reward for doing the Lord’s will is present, it is not what predominantly motivates us. Instead, we are serving the neighbor because it is the right thing to do, trusting that we will receive a fair reward for our labors.

Finally, when the landowner approaches the last group at the eleventh hour, he does not specify a wage or even promise to pay them whatever is right. He simply says, “Go and work in my vineyard.” And they do. This represents an even higher stage in our spiritual development. In this stage, we serve the Lord from love, and we serve the neighbor from love, and we keep the commandments from love. In other words, love — not reward, not even a sense of duty or obedience — is what inspires us to serve. 4

Whenever we labor without the thought of self, or of reward, but only out of an unselfish love for others, and in service to the Lord, we lose all sense of time. Instead of saying, “I have to do this” (duty), we say, “I get to do this” (love). The work of an entire day seems but an hour, and a minute flies by in a second. This is what is meant by a “labor of love,” or to labor from love, in love, because of love. We may not realize it, but whenever we are moved by love, and work from love, it is really the Lord who is working in us and through us. And since He is doing the work — not us — it does not seem hard or burdensome. As Jesus implores in an earlier episode, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . . . for My yoke is easy, and My burden light” (11:30).

Learning to see

When the landowner hears the murmuring of the unhappy workers, he says, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I want with what is my own? Or is your eye evil because I am good” (20:15). These workers can’t possibly understand why they would get paid the same wage for twelve hours of work as someone else for working only one hour. Even though they had received exactly what was agreed upon, they can’t appreciate the landowner’s generosity or the good fortune of those who only had to work one hour. This is because they are only thinking of themselves. They are seeing from the perspective of their own interests. And so, they are very dissatisfied.

We often find ourselves dissatisfied with things in life that are unfair. We wonder why bad people succeed and good people suffer. The prophets of old had similar concerns when they asked, “Why do the wicked prosper? Why do the faithless live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1). We should of course do all we can to see that justice prevails in the world, that workers receive their fair compensation, and that innocent people are protected. But we should not doubt the wisdom of God who is constantly providing for each of us at every moment in unseen ways. It’s true that terrible things happen to good and bad people alike. At the same time, it is also true that Lord is working within each of us — no matter what is happening on the outside — to continually refine our spirits. In other words, the Lord can use whatever happens, whether we perceive it as good or bad, to strengthen our faith and expand our capacity to love. 5

The choice is ours. It is, therefore, to our benefit to give up all forms of grumbling against the Heavenly Landowner, who loves us all equally. Instead of complaining and criticizing, we need to keep our spiritual eyes open, learning to see how the Lord will turn every burden, no matter how difficult, into an opportunity to deepen our faith, increase our love, and reach out to others. Rather than think evil in our hearts towards Him who can bring the greatest good out of every situation, we need to trust in the Lord who is Goodness itself. Even if we do not get what we desire, and even when we see injustice in the world, this is never a reason to think evil of the Lord. As the landowner in the parable says to those who complain about his method of payment, “Is your eye evil, because I am good?” (21:16). 6

Labors of love

This then, is what it means to labor in the Lord’s vineyard. Each group of laborers represents an important stage in our spiritual development. If we have been faithful servants, laboring in the vineyard as the Lord has called us, diligently performing the tasks which are appropriate to the various stages of our spiritual journey, we will come to our eleventh hour fully prepared and ready to receive an unsought “reward.” And we shall find that this reward is a return to the simple, child-like joy we experienced in our infancy and early childhood when the Lord stored up rich blessings in our souls. 7

This is a truly beautiful moment in our spiritual development. The selfish concerns that had once made our days seem so long and our labors so heavy are no longer in first place. Instead, they have been banished to the periphery of our consciousness and are now in last place. At the same time, as our reward-seeking behavior departs, the tender feelings and innocent trust of our early years resurface. We find ourselves motivated by love, laboring from love, and living in love. These “labors of love,” which were in last place for so long, and were seemingly forgotten, now resume their rightful position again. They are now in first place, as they should be. As Jesus says, “the first shall be last, and the last first” (21:16).

We have seen, then, that this parable, while apparently describing the business philosophy of a seemingly unfair landowner, contains wonderful teachings about our spiritual development. It describes how the Lord calls each us into His vineyard throughout our life, providing rich spiritual rewards at the eleventh hour to all who have labored with love in their hearts, thinking of the Lord and the neighbor first, and of themselves and the things of the world last. Just a few verses earlier, towards the end of the previous episode, Jesus hinted at this promise, describing it as “a hundredfold” better than anything they could imagine. He put it like this: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit everlasting life” (19:29).

The internal delight we experience and the love we feel whenever we are engaged in unselfish service without thought of reward is surely “a hundredfold” better than any reward the external world can offer. This is because the feelings we experience when involved in these “labors of love” are communicated to us through the angels who are with us. Even more interiorly, whenever we are experiencing the joy of our labors, we are inmostly experiencing the Lord’s own joy as if it is our own. 8

The reception of this inner joy is truly the greatest reward we could ever wish for. This is also Jesus’ indirect answer to the disciples’ question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” When Jesus placed a child in their midst, He gave them an important hint. In the parable about the workers in the vineyard, He elaborated on that hint, suggesting that it had something to do with service.

Many are called, few are chosen

As Jesus concludes the parable of the workers in the vineyard, He says, “many are called but few are chosen” (20:16). In order to properly understand what Jesus means, we need to consider the context. He has just finished telling His disciples a parable about some workers who complained about the landowner’s unfair treatment. The internal sense of the parable, however, is about the blessings that come to us at the “eleventh hour” — the state in which we return to childlike innocence, trusting in God, and serving out of love rather than for reward. This is a state that each of us experiences in our early years. These heavenly experiences are a spiritual inheritance from the Lord, unsought and unearned. They are gifts that we all receive regardless of our biological heredity or the circumstances of our lives. And these gifts remain with us throughout our lives. 9

There is, however, a difference between the involuntary receptivity of a child, and the voluntary receptivity of an adult. As we mature and come into the ability to use freedom and reason, we make decisions for ourselves. We choose between focusing primarily upon ourselves or upon others, between living for worldly ends or for spiritual ends; essentially, we choose between striving for heaven or living in hell.

We need to understand this teaching about our freedom of choice when we consider the often-misunderstood words, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (20:16). Some take this to mean that God predestines some people to heaven and some people to hell, and, even worse, there is nothing we can do about it. Jesus’ statement, then, about the “few who are chosen,” seems to be the answer to the question, “Who goes to heaven?” It looks like the answer is, “Whomever God chooses.”

But how could this possibly be true? After all, it is unthinkable to believe that any father would predestine any of His children to hell — let alone our Heavenly Father. Therefore, the only reasonable conclusion is that everyone is born for heaven, and God does everything He can to get us there. This includes giving us His Word along with the ability to understand it and the power to live according to it. He also gives us freedom of choice — the freedom to believe and do what He teaches, as well as the freedom to turn away and do whatever we want. In essence, then, God is calling us continually to follow Him along the path that leads to heaven. If we do not choose to follow the Lord’s call, it is not the Lord’s choice or the Lord’s fault. The choice is ours, and the fault is ours, because we have freely chosen not to cooperate with the Lord. 10

“Many are called,” and this calling is continual. It begins even when we are children. During that time, we are given glimpses and foretastes of heaven; we take delight in the moment and live without anxiety for the future, trusting that all things are provided for us. These beautiful states are freely given to us in infancy and early childhood. They are, in a sense, our earliest “callings.” As we continue to develop spiritually, these anxiety-free, trusting states can become more and more a part of us as we freely choose to turn to the Lord, trusting in Him and living according to His commandments.

In this sense, everyone is “called,” and everyone who chooses to follow the Lord is “chosen.”

A practical application

When Jesus was on earth, He called many to follow Him into a life of selfless service. Similarly, the owner of the vineyard went into the marketplace throughout the day to call many to work in his vineyard. In our own life, we may also feel the Lord calling us to serve in some way. In fact, every truth from the Word is a call from the Lord. How will we respond? At the beginning of our spiritual lives we might consider responding to the Lord’s call, but only if we know exactly what we are getting into. Eventually, we might respond to the Lord’s call out of a sense of duty, trusting that we will receive a fair reward in the end. Finally, however, we respond to the Lord’s call immediately, cheerfully, and without expectation of reward. We do so simply out of love. This advanced state in us is represented by the “eleventh hour.” In this state, we choose to serve with a humble heart — with no thought of reward. Whenever we experience the inner joy of this state, we can consider ourselves not only one of the many who are called, but also one of the few who are “chosen.” 11

Learning to Serve

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17. And Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took aside the twelve disciples by themselves in the way, and said to them,

18. “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man shall be delivered up to the chief priests and scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death,

19. And shall deliver Him up to the nations to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify; and the third day He shall rise again.”

20. Then came to Him the mother of the sons of Zebedee, with her sons, worshiping, and asking a certain thing of Him.

21. And He said to her, “What willest thou?” She says to Him, “Say that these my two sons may sit, one on Thy right hand and one on the left, in Thy kingdom.”

22. And Jesus answering said, “You know not what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup which I am about to drink, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They say to Him, “We are able.”

23. And He says to them, “You shall indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism which I am baptized with, but to sit on My right hand, and My left, is not Mine to give, but to those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”

24. And when the ten heard, they were indignant toward the two brothers.

25. But Jesus calling them, said, “You know that the rulers of the nations exercise lordship over them, and the great exercise authority over them.

26. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever wills to become great among you, let him be your minister;

27. And whoever wills to be first among you, let him be your servant;

28. As the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His soul a ransom for many.”
---

In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, we learn that we are called to do whatever is set before us, with love in our hearts — even when times are difficult. This is a most appropriate beginning for the next episode.

In this next episode, Jesus takes His disciples aside and reminds His disciples for a third time that they are going up to Jerusalem where He will be “betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death” (20:18). This is not a pleasant message, but it cannot be avoided. Jesus knows what lies ahead; He is aware of the cup of sorrow that He must drink; and He knows there is no other way. It’s a good lesson for us to remember when the road becomes hard and the destination harder. We can rest assured that God sees a bright future for us, but we should also keep in mind that the path to that bright future is not a downhill coast. Rather, it must necessarily lead us upwards to Jerusalem. Sometimes our only solace in this uphill struggle is the assurance that the Lord will see us through.

Even while Jesus is delivering this troubling message to His disciples, the mother of two of the disciples comes to Him and begs that her two sons be allowed to sit at His right hand and at His left hand when He reigns in His kingdom. She, of course, is thinking about the earthly kingdom that the people are still hoping Jesus will establish. But Jesus answers, “You do not know what you ask” (20:22). Then, turning to the two disciples whose mother has just interceded for them, He says, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (20:23). Jesus is here speaking about the fierce temptations and grievous struggles that await Him in Jerusalem. The sons, answer, simply, “We are able” (20:22). They seem to have forgotten that Jesus had just told them about the terrible suffering who was about to undergo when they reached Jerusalem. Perhaps their minds are pre-occupied with Jesus’ more pleasing prediction — that they would “sit on thrones.”

Aware that this is what they are thinking about, Jesus says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (20:25-28).

No response is recorded to this moving — and probably startling — statement. The silence of the disciples suggests they are shocked, confused and disappointed. Only recently, Jesus told them that the “Son of Man” would sit on “the throne of His glory” (19:28), and now He is telling them that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. Similarly, Jesus has promised them that they too would sit on thrones, but now He says that whoever desires to become great among them should be their servant, and whoever desires to be first among them, should be their slave. This is a very different message than the one about sitting on thrones and being rulers. Now He is talking about serving and being a slave. No wonder the stunned disciples give no response.

When understood spiritually, there is really no conflict between the Son of Man ruling and the Son of Man serving. When the Son of Man is ruling, it refers to the rule of divine truth in our lives. However, when the Son of Man is serving, it refers to the fact that truth must be seen as the servant of goodness. While truth is first in time (we must first learn the truth), the goodness of life is first in terms of the end-in-view (a life of useful service is the goal). In other words, truth serves as the path to goodness.

In the beginning of our regeneration, truth is seen as primary. Its function is compared to that of a king who rules his kingdom according to law. Therefore, in one sense it is most appropriate to speak about the “Son of Man” (the divine truth of the Word) sitting on a throne and ruling, because, in a sense, this is what the truth of the Word should do in our mind. It should rule — at least at the beginning of our regeneration. We need truth to subdue the masses of unruly emotions that clamor for expression and satisfaction. This is why Jesus can truly say that the disciples will “sit on thrones.” As they come to understand the truth of scripture more deeply, they will be able to use those truths to subdue their own unruly emotions and desires. This, in the language of sacred scripture, will be “to sit on thrones.”

But truth, which is so necessary in the beginning of regeneration, must eventually subordinate itself to the deeper qualities of humility, forgiveness, goodness and mercy. For the divine truth (the Son of Man) does not come to be served, but to serve. The divine truth of the Word is not an end in itself, but rather, it serves in leading us to see and feel and do what is truly good. We begin with truth, sitting on thrones, but eventually truth must be seen as serving. Or, to put it another way, truth serves to lead us to the goal of regeneration: a life of goodness and mercy. 12

At this point, it’s not about thrones; it’s about service. At the beginning of chapter eighteen the disciples had approached Jesus and asked, “Who shall be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus answered by setting a little child in their midst and then telling them a parable about a vineyard. This time He is more direct. “Whoever will be first among you,” He says, “let him be your servant” (20:27).

Once again, Jesus is reminding His disciples that those whom they consider to be last (those who serve) are actually first. That’s the way it is in the kingdom of heaven.

From Jericho to Jerusalem

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29. And going out from Jericho, a crowd of many followed Him.

30. And behold, two blind [men] sitting by the way, hearing that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David.”

31. And the crowd rebuked them, that they should be silent; but they cried out more greatly, saying, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David.”

32. And Jesus standing called them, and said, “What do you will that I should do unto you?”

33. They say to Him, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened.”

34. And Jesus, being moved with compassion, touched their eyes; and straightway their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.
---

Seeing the Son of Man as a servant rather than a king marks an important turning point in our spiritual development. As mentioned in the preceding episode, we begin the process of regeneration by first learning truth so that it might “rule over” our selfish desires and ignoble impulses. Truth ruling, in the language of sacred scripture, is compared to a king, or the rational, masculine principle in our lives. Therefore in Genesis, after Eve (our undisciplined affections) has listened to the voice of the serpent (sensuous desire), the Lord says she will no longer be able to do whatever she likes. In the future, she will have to be obedient to her husband. As it is written, “he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). 13

Generations of sincere believers have understood this passage to mean that husbands must rule over their wives. As Paul says, “Wives submit yourselves to your husbands” (Ephesians 5:22). We can understand, however, that this passage, like all sacred scripture, contains truths that relate primarily to our individual regeneration. In this case, the story of Adam and Eve speaks about that point in our regeneration — whether we are male or female — when truth must rule, and desires must obey.

But if we continue to live our lives by the truths revealed in the Lord’s Word, the time comes when our unruly desires have been disciplined. Our unregenerate nature begins to exert less pressure as it submits to the guidance of a new understanding. At this point a “new nature” can be born in us; it is a new will which strives to live in accordance with the Lord’s will. But this can only take place as we consent to be ruled by truth. 14

It is fitting, therefore, that in the next episode, two blind men receive their sight. We read: “Two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” (20:30). Jesus asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?” (20:32). And they reply, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened” (20:33). Jesus, moved by compassion, touches their eyes. “And immediately their eyes looked up, and they followed Him” (20:34). 15

A practical application

The healing of two blind men in this episode represents a further opening of our spiritual eyes in the process of our regeneration. Although we had previously believed that truth was primary, we begin to see that truth serves as a means for what is truly primary: living a life of unselfish service. In the language of sacred scripture, we are beginning to see that the Son of Man (the divine truth) does not come to be served, but to serve. We understand that in the kingdom of heaven greatness is not about ruling, but about serving. When our eyes receive sight in this way, we willingly follow Jesus. Therefore, this episode closes with the words, “Their eyes looked up, and they followed Him” (20:34).

Footnotes:

1. Divine Providence 231:7-9: “The worst kind of profanation is committed by those who first acknowledge Divine truths and live according to them, but afterwards depart from them and deny them…. Therefore, the Lord spoke in parables, as He Himself says: ‘Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand’ (Matthew 13:13).”

2. Arcana Coelestia 3857:7: “If the disciples had been told that in the Lord's kingdom there are no thrones, nor positions of government and dominion, as in the world, and that they would not be able to pass judgement on even the smallest aspect of any one person, they would have rejected that saying, and each would have left the Lord and gone back to his own employment. The reason why the Lord spoke in the way He did was so that they would receive those things and through them be introduced into internal truths. For within the external truths which the Lord spoke internal truths lay stored away which in course of time are laid bare. And when these are laid bare those external truths are dispelled and serve solely as the objects or the means for thought about internal ones.”

3. True Christian Religion 403: “When the three universal categories of love are prioritized in the right way, they improve us; but when they are not prioritized in the right way, they damage us…. [These] three universal categories of love are: love for heaven, love for the world, and love for ourselves.” See also Arcana Coelestia 1471: “The internal [in a person] is the lord or master, and the external in relation to it is the servant. A person's internal resides in heaven, and therefore when it is open it constitutes heaven within that person, while the person’s external resides in the world … and the world has been created to serve heaven as a servant does his master.”

4. Arcana Coelestia 9193: “A life of faith consists in doing the commandments from obedience and a life of charity consists in doing the commandments from love.” See also, 10762: “The Lord’s Church is internal with those who do the Lord’s commandments from love,” and Apocalypse Explained 295:12: “Divine love wills nothing else than that love from itself may be with angels and men, and His love is with them when they love to live according to His commandments.”

5. Arcana Coelestia 6663: “Most spirits who come from the world and have lived the life of the Lord’s commandments, before they can be uplifted into heaven and joined to societies there, are infested by the evils and falsities pertaining to them, to the end that these evils and falsities may be removed…. While this is being done, not only are the truths and goods strengthened which had been implanted before, but more are instilled; this being the result of every spiritual combat in which the combatant is victorious…. From all this it can now be seen how it is to be understood that truths [and goods] grow according to infestations, which is signified by “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.”

6. Arcana Coelestia 6574:3: “In the universal spiritual world reigns the end which proceeds from the Lord, which is that nothing whatever, not even the least thing, shall arise, except that good may come from it.” See also Arcana Coelestia 10618: “Evil is something that resides in a person, but never in the Lord. This is because the Lord is Goodness itself. Even so, evil is attributed to the Lord, because it seems that evil is attributable to God when people do not obtain what they desire.”

7. Apocalypse Explained 194: “‘Laboring in the vineyard’ is acquiring for oneself spiritual life through the knowledge of truth and good from the Word when applied to the uses of life…. A ‘vineyard’ in the Word signifies the spiritual church, and with a person spiritual life…. ‘Three’ signifies a full state, or what is complete even to the end, likewise ‘six’ and ‘nine.’ But ‘eleven’ signifies a state not yet full, and yet a receptive state such as there is with well-disposed children and infants. The ‘twelfth hour,’ to which all labored, signifies truths and goods in their fullness.” See also Arcana Coelestia 1906: “As a person is introduced into the world, and comes into its pleasures and lusts, and thus into evils, the celestial things of one’s infancy begin to disappear; but still they remain.”

8. Arcana Coelestia 5094:3: “A person does not live from oneself, but by an influx of life through heaven from the Lord.” See also Arcana Coelestia 4572: “Joy is received from the Lord by way of heaven.”

9. Arcana Coelestia 530: “If there were no remains in a person, that person would not be a person, but much viler than a brute.” See also Arcana Coelestia 1025:11: “Remains are holy because they are from the Lord.” [Note: These tender states of innocence, charity, and love are various aspects of goodness and truth that never leave us. Because they “remain” with us for our entire life, they are called, simply, “remains.”]

10. True Christian Religion 580:3: “Everyone can be regenerated and thus saved. This is because the Lord is present with every person in His Divine good and truth … [along with] the ability to understand and will, together with freedom of choice in spiritual things. In no person are these things lacking…. From all this it follows that everyone may be saved. Consequently, it is not the Lord’s fault if a person is not saved; it is the person’s fault, because the person does not co-operate.” Heaven and Hell 420: “Let them know, therefore, that everyone is born for heaven, that people are accepted into heaven who accept heaven into themselves in this world.”

11. Apocalypse Revealed 744: “By the ‘called’ indeed all are meant, because all have been called …. But by the ‘chosen’ it does not mean that some have been chosen as a result of predestination…. Those who are with the Lord in the external things of the church are termed ‘called’ while those in its internal things are termed ‘chosen.’”

12. True Christian Religion 336:2: “Faith, by which is also meant truth, is first in time, while charity, by which is also meant good, is first in end [primary purpose]. And that which is first in end [purpose], is actually first, because it is primary; therefore, that which is first in time, is not actually first, but only apparently.” See also New Jerusalem Its Heavenly Doctrine 303: “The ‘Son of man’ signifies the Divine truth.”

13. Arcana Coelestia 233: “In Genesis it is written, ‘Thine obedience shall be to thy man [vir], and he shall rule over thee.’ The word ‘man’ here does not mean ‘husband’; rather it means the masculine [principle] — which signifies ‘rational truth.’” See also Apocalypse Explained 721:26: “Because the natural [level in a person] is full of lusts from the love of self and of the world, and these can be removed only by means of truths, therefore it is said “Thy obedience shall be to thy man, and he shall rule over thee.” Here, as elsewhere in the Word, “man” signifies the truth…. This is because a person is reformed and regenerated by means of truths and a life according to them.”

14. Conjugial Love 305: “There are in human minds three regions, the highest of which is called celestial, the intermediate one spiritual, and the lowest one natural. A person dwells by birth in the lowest region, but he ascends into the next higher one, called spiritual, by living according to truths of religion, and into the highest one by achieving a marriage of love and wisdom. All kinds of evil and lascivious lusts reside in the lowest region, which is called natural. In the next higher region, however, which is called spiritual, there are no evil and lascivious lusts, for this is the region into which a person is led by the Lord when he is born anew.”

15. The phrase “their eyes looked up” is usually translated “they received their sight.” In the original Greek this phrase is ἀνέβλεψαν (aneblepsan), which literally means “they looked up” (third person plural).

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 1419, 1594, 3417, 3441, 3857, 4599, 5164, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 3, 128

Divine Providence 215

Doctrine of the Lord 27

Heaven and Hell 218

True Christian Religion 709


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 155, 328, 409, 750, 783

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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.


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