Peace on Earth      

By Rev. Dr. Andrew T. Dibb

The Annunciation to the Shepherds, By Henry Ossawa Tanner -, Public Domain,

Peace on Earth
A Christmas Doctrinal Class by the Rev. Dr. Andrew M.T. Dibb

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

There are many stories about shepherds in the Word. Joseph's brothers were shepherds, and mighty king David himself was a shepherd in his youth. The life these men led was a very responsible one, for they had to look after their sheep. This meant many things. In one story we read of how shepherds had to draw water to give their flocks a drink (Genesis 29:3). When David was a young shepherd, a bear and a lion came to attack his sheep, and he had to defend them (1_Samuel 17:34-36). If a sheep went wandering off, the shepherd had to go and search for it, until the sheep was found - and that was a time of great rejoicing for the shepherd. The Lord once told a story about a man who had a hundred sheep, but when he found that one had gone astray, he left ninety nine of them, and searched and searched until he found the lost sheep. Then he came back full of joy because he had found his sheep (Luke 15:4, Luke 15:5).

We can imagine then, that shepherds knew a lot about sheep - they lived with them out in the fields. This means that shepherds were not city people. They didn't have polished manners, or lots of money. They probably weren't very educated, except about sheep. We know they must have been very brave, because they had to fight off wild animals, and perhaps even people who tried to steal their sheep. They must also have been gentle, because one has to be gentle with sheep, especially with little lambs.

These were the kinds of men the Lord sent the angel Gabriel to on the night He was born in Bethlehem. As we saw last week, an angel is a messenger of the Lord. In the Word angels came to bring wisdom and comfort, hope and the good news, the "euangellion" or Gospel, to those to whom the Lord wanted His presence revealed. This Gospel is the teaching that the Lord Jesus Christ was born into this world, that He made it possible for all people to be saved and brought into His kingdom. The angel Gabriel came in excitement to Mary to inform her that she was the Lord’s choice as His natural mother, and once the Lord was born, he spread the news to those willing to hear.

The angel came to simple shepherds, watching over their flock at night. When they first saw the angel, they were very afraid, but the angel's words were very comforting. "Behold," he said, "I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."

What wonderful words these are. Then, there appeared with the angel "a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"." When the shepherds saw this heavenly host, they saw the entire society of angels who took the form of the angel Gabriel. The shepherds knew what they must do - they left their sheep, and went to see the Lord in Bethlehem.

What was it that made the shepherds so eager to leave their sheep in the middle of the night when they knew that there might be wild animals around, or robbers, or the possibility of the sheep wandering off? The answer is in the words of the heavenly host to them.

"Glory to God in the highest," they said, "and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men." Like us the shepherds lived in a dangerous times. Palestine was under Roman occupation, any signs of revolt, either by individuals or communities against the Romans were brutally subdued by being brutally killed or enslaved. People lived in fear and human life held very little value.

The idea of peace and goodwill contradicted every experience human experience. So it is in our own times. Wars, famine, disease continue to rampage across the face of the earth. Corruption, greed and the quest for power continue to pollute our societies, and immorality, injustice and an array of prejudices tear at the fabric of our communities. It is little wonder that many people have lost their faith in the Lord altogether—the ancient Jews looked for God in external observance of the Mosaic law as a refuge from the world, and modern people turn to naturalism for their answers. The Lord is not to be found in either.

There seems to be little 'peace on earth', and precious little 'goodwill toward men.' So what were the angels talking about. Was Gabriel making empty promises to the Shepherd when he said "I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord." And the heavenly host proclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

The Lord came in the darkest spiritual state, and Gabriel’s words are words of genuine hope. The Lord is present with His love and wisdom in each and every angel of heaven. The things they think and say comes to them from the Lord Himself. This means that their words to the shepherds are truly words of hope. There will be 'peace on earth', and 'goodwill toward men'. The only obstacles to these things come from people themselves, who, like Herod, rejected the Lord and chose lives of selfishness and greed instead.

The full message of the Lord's promise of peace comes when we think of all the words of the angels in this story.

Firstly, Gabriel told the shepherds that a Saviour had been born in the city of David. The shepherds probably knew the ancient prophecies that the Lord would be born in Bethlehem. Like many people at that time, they would have been watching and waiting for a Saviour to come.

"The reason why the Lord was born there and not elsewhere, is that He alone was born a spiritual celestial man, but all others natural, with the capacity or ability to become either celestial or spiritual by regeneration from the Lord. The reason why the Lord was born a spiritual celestial man was that He might make His Human Divine, and this according to order from the lowest degree to the highest, and might thus dispose into order all things in the heavens and in the hells. For the spiritual celestial is intermediate between the natural or external man and the rational or internal man (see above, n. Arcana Coelestia 4585, Arcana Coelestia 4592), thus below it was the natural or external, and above it was the rational or internal." (Arcana Coelestia 4594[2])

We are told in many places in the Doctrine, that the essential quality of the celestial is love to the Lord, and so all good, while the quality of the spiritual is love to the neighbour, which we accomplish by putting truth into action. At birth the celestial and spiritual qualities in us exist only in potential, and become real through the process of repentance. Yet at birth the Lord had these qualities existing in Him. His love for the Divine Itself, His Father, is portrayed in His constant willingness to obey the Father, epitomized by His words in the Garden of Gethesemane: "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). The Lord’s willingness is His celestial quality, and it took the form of the spiritual. The spiritual is loving the neighbour, for the Lord acted at all times from His love for God towards the neighbour, whom He had come to rescue. His spiritual, therefore, is the fact that He is the Word, "made flesh" and dwelling among us.

Seen from this perspective, the Lord is a spiritual celestial being, incorporating these two essentials as a core part of His being, even though they were written and formed in the human from Mary through the process of glorification. Ordinary human beings are not born this way. We are born purely natural, and have to learn truths through the intellect, and then have them form a new will through a willingness to follow the Lord and through the process of regeneration.

"Bethlehem" represents these spiritual celestial qualities in the Lord by which He could save the human race, and for that reason, He was born there. The shepherds would not have known this, but they would have recognized the significance of Bethlehem from the ancient prophecies, and also a savior from the house of David. Like David, the Savior would be a great king.

They expected this saviour to be a mighty prince, or king, who would make the children of Israel into a great and powerful nation again. When the angel spoke to them, he said, "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

Gabriel’s message to the shepherds, that the Child born in Bethlehem was be "Christ the Lord" is different from the message given to Mary when he announced that she would conceive. "Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus" (Luke 1:30-31).

Very deep arcana lie concealed within the internal sense, which up to now have not come to anyone's knowledge. … It becomes absolutely clear from the internal sense of our Lord's two names JESUS CHRIST. When these are mentioned few have any other notion than that they are proper names which are little different from, though more sacred than, the names of any other human being. Better educated people know, it is true, that Jesus means Saviour, and Christ the Anointed, from which they conceive some more interior notion. But this is not the same as the things which the angels in heaven perceive from those names. They perceive things more Divine still, that is to say, when Jesus is mentioned by someone reading the Word they perceive Divine Good, and when Christ is mentioned, Divine Truth. And when both are mentioned together they perceive the Divine marriage of good to truth, and of truth to good. Thus they perceive everything Divine within the heavenly marriage, which is heaven. (Arcana Coelestia 3004)

Technically the name 'Christ' means one who has been anointed with oil, and thus who would be a king. When David was made king, Samuel the priest poured oil over his head as a sign that he was now the king. So when the angel said that 'Christ the Lord' was born, they understood that their king had come. The Writings tell us, however, that the name "Christ" refers specifically to the divine truth, which, in the Lord was His Humanity—thus to that child born in Bethlehem whose human would eventually be glorified and united to the Divine.

The Christ means the Lord's Divine humanity because the Christ is the Messiah, and the Messiah is the Son of God whose coming into the world was awaited by the Jews. (Apocalypse Revealed 520)

Salvation would come through the purifying of the human taken on from Mary, and its glorification, that is, it’s conjunction with the Divine. Christ the Lord is the Savior because by taking on this humanity, the Lord is now able to be present in the natural degree of our lives, and so lead us along the same route He followed in His glorification.

The shepherds were simple men. They thought, as many would later on, that this king would be king instead of King Herod - whom they didn't like. A message like this would have been wonderful enough, and the shepherds must have been very happy that they lived when the King had come down to earth. They couldn't have understood that the Lord did not come as an earthly king, He did not come to take over from Herod, or overthrow the Romans. "My kingdom," He said, "is not of this world." He came to bring us peace and show us how to build goodwill toward all men in our hearts.

As we celebrate Christmas, we are fortunate to know that the Lord didn't come as a king to overthrow the Romans, or take over from Herod. We know that He came to fight against the power of hell, and that He overcame it. He fought and He won, and in so doing, He has made it possible for us to do the same thing. His kingdom doesn't belong in this world, it is the kingdom of heaven, which we know lives within us as a constant source of love and kindness.

As the shepherds listened to Gabriel speaking, they were surprised when suddenly they saw with the angel Gabriel a multitude of the heavenly hosts, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" This was enough to convince the shepherds. They left their flocks and went quickly to Bethlehem, where they saw the Child, wrapped in Swaddling Cloths, lying in a manger.

But if the Lord’s human was His truth, how can a person pick out the real truth from the rest of the things we learn. Let’s assume for a moment that more than one baby was born in Bethlehem on that night. How would the shepherds identify which of the babies born was the Christ? How do we know that the truths that will rescue and regenerate us are the real ones, amid a world full of competing truths?

The shepherds would know by the sign given to them. The Child would be wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger. With this information, they would know not to look for the Lord in a palace or wealthy home, or any place where the animals were separated from people. A stall, or stable, would be the most likely place.

Familiar as we are with the Christmas tableau of the stall, we know that we will not find the Lord in the riches of worldly knowledge, or contemporary wisdom (regardless of the age we live in), nor in conventional thought and practice. To find the Lord we need to look for that manger. In the spiritual sense,

"A manger" means the doctrine of truth from the Word, because "horses" signify the understanding of the Word; and thus a manger, as a feeding place for horses, signifies the doctrine of truth from the Word. (Apocalypse Explained 706[12])

"The doctrine of truth from the Word" is nothing other than the true teachings from the Word—clear, plain teachings that are self-evident to the reason of a person who is looking for truth. For example, when a person considers the qualities of God, that He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, divine, these can only exist in one God. There cannot be a plural of omnipotent God. Reason does not allow for that. The teaching of the Word that God is One God, is eminently reasonable and believable. It is the same with many other teachings, for example, the Ten Commandments. It doesn’t take a genius to see that lying, stealing, murdering or committing adultery are harmful to both individuals and society.

These are the teachings of the Word that appeal to the understanding, the horses which each from the manger, and this is where we will find our salvation. The Lord was the Word, He is the truth come down and dwells among us. And the only place we find Him is lying in that manger of teaching.

It is not stretch of the imagination that the shepherds were looking for this manger, but as there were probably several new-born babies in Bethlehem, so there were probably many mangers in stables around the town. In our quest for understanding, there are many competing ideas laid before us. How do we know which is the right one?

The answer lies in the angel Gabriel’s description, "This will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."

He is also said to have been "wrapped in swaddling clothes," because "swaddling clothes" signify first truths, which are truths of innocence, and which are also truths of the Divine love; for "nakedness," in reference to a babe, signifies deprivation of truth. From this it is clear why it was said by the angels, "This is a sign unto you, ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger." (Apocalypse Explained 706[12])

The "first truths" a person has are the sensual and factual knowledge from which they are able to think, reason, and so to believe and do. The "first truths" introduce a person to the church, and make it possible for them to develop the spiritual understanding that will later guide their lives.

… the first truths there being sensory ones, the second truths being factual, and interior truths matters of doctrine. The latter are based on factual truths inasmuch as a person can have and retain no idea, notion, or concept of them except from factual truths. But the foundations on which factual truths are based are sensory truths, for without sensory truths nobody is able to possess factual ones. (Arcana Coelestia 3310)

The first truths a person learns are from the sense of the letter of the Word, for these become the containant of deeper truths:

First truths are also ultimate truths, such as are in the sense of the letter of the Word, for through these entrance is effected, for these are first learned, and in them are all interior things which constitute the internal sense of the Word. (Apocalypse Explained 395)

These first truths from the foundation for the later truths:

But because exterior truths are the first truths which a person learns, the Lord has provided that by means of them he can be introduced into interior truths. (Arcana Coelestia 3857)

These are the "swaddling cloths" wrapping the baby. When the shepherds found a manger with this baby in it, they would know that they have found the Lord.

When Gabriel had made this announcement to the astonished shepherds, "suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

What wonderful words of praise, and words we still sing today. When the angels praised God, their song was a sign that they believed in God, not only in His existence, but also in all the things He has taught in His Word. From the prophecies of the Word they saw ahead into His life, and saw the great battles He would fight for each one of us. They saw His victories over the power of hell, as He made it subject to Himself.

They also saw that as He conquered hell. He made it possible for peace and goodwill to reign on all the earth - possible because if people followed His teachings, and walked the path He shows us, the primary human evils of selfishness and greed could be overcome, and, without them, there would be peace.

For many people the fact that there are still wars, disease and poverty two thousand years after the Lord's birth is a major stumbling block. Many people ask how these things can continue in the face of the Lord's birth, His life, death and resurrection. Yet the Lord did not come to change the natural world, He came to change our spiritual world - to change the way we think and feel about things, and from that to change how we act. Changing the world alone would not have a lasting effect. True change must come from within us, and genuine spiritual change can only come when we submit ourselves to the Lord as our God and Saviour.

The Lord's main message is, of course, that we must turn aside from evil and do good. We need to do this inside our hearts where no one can see what we really think and feel, and also in our actions, which everyone can see. If we believe that the Lord is our God and Saviour, then it is not so difficult to turn aside from these things, for we do them for the Lord. Our belief in Him, then, won't just be something we say, but it will be intertwined with all the things we do. It will be written on our hearts. So the angel hosts began by saying "Glory to God in the highest," for when we hold the Lord in glory and think of Him first in all the things we feel, think, say and do, then the Lord will be at the centre of our lives.

The angels next words show us what happens to us when we put the Lord high up in our lives. They said, "and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men." The word 'earth' here is a symbol of our minds - we often speak of a person as having a fertile mind, or as ideas as seeds. It is not too difficult, then, to see that the earth means more than just the world around us, it also means our minds.

Our minds become peaceful when the Lord governs it. The Psalmist says, "The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silent before it" which reminds us that our minds come from and belong to the Lord. Our silence is the stilling of the voices of promoting contrary things to what the Lord gives us. When we use our minds properly as a bridge between true spiritual love and our actions in this world, then the Lord is present there, and when our minds are filled with the Lord, there is a silence, partly a silence of awe and partly a silence because the constant irritations of selfishness and greed are quietened by His presence.

This, then, is true peace. It is not contingent on natural things, on whether we are young or old, rich or poor, thin or fat, black or white. Rather it comes from within, from the presence of the Lord in our minds, and from His presence there He guides and directs our thoughts and our feelings, our speech and our actions.

This presence bubbles out of us as love - the angels call it 'Goodwill toward men'. A love that it untainted by selfishness makes it possible for us to reach out to others and embrace their lives with ours. It means that people will think before they act or speak. That they will hold back the hurtful word, or the painful action. It means that they will rise above self concern and learn to give of themselves.

If all six billion of us on this planet today could learn to think like this, then earthly peace would be with us all. There would be no more wars - differences between individuals and countries could be sorted out amicably with regard to the deeper issues at stake. Diseases and famine may still be with us, but people would see in them an opportunity to help one another.

It sounds utopian, and very simple. Yet those were the words the angels used when they spoke to the shepherds, "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men."

The shepherds were so moved by these words - although they could only understand them in a very simple way, that they left their sheep, and went at once and in haste to Bethlehem. There, in that stable they saw, for the first time ever, the face of the Lord - a tiny child with the work of redemption stretched out before Him, a work that He did once during His life time, and over and over again in the hearts and minds of those who hear Him calling, and turn and follow Him.


Luke 2:8-20
Arcana Coelestia 92
Arcana Coelestia 223
Arcana Coelestia 925

From Swedenborg's Works


Apocalypse Explained #706

Apocalypse Explained (Whitehead translation)      

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706. Verse 1. And a great sign was seen in heaven, signifies Divine attestation respecting the coming church and the reception of its doctrine, and by whom it will be assaulted. This is evident from the signification of "a great sign in heaven," as being Divine manifestation and attestation; that it has reference to the church and the reception of its doctrine, and also to assault upon it, is evident from what follows, for the "woman" means the church, her "son a male" doctrine, and "the dragon and his angels" and afterwards "the beasts," mean those who will assault the church and its doctrine. This vision is called "a great sign" because a "sign" means Divine manifestation respecting things to come, and attestation, here respecting the coming church and its doctrine, and also the assault upon it by those who are meant by "the dragon" and "the beasts." This is called a "sign," because it manifests and attests. "Sign" and "wonder" are mentioned in many passages in the Word, "sign" meaning that which indicates, witnesses, and persuades respecting the subject of inquiry, and "wonder" meaning that which stirs up, strikes dumb, and fills with amazement; thus a sign moves the understanding and faith, but a wonder the will and its affection, for the will and its affection are what are stirred up, stricken dumb, and filled with amazement, while the understanding and its faith are what are persuaded and moved by indications and proofs.

(References: Revelation 12:1)

[2] That there is a difference between a sign and a wonder is evident from the fact that the Jews, although they had seen so many wonders performed by the Lord, still sought signs from Him; and also from the fact that the prodigies wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness are sometimes called "signs" and sometimes "wonders," and sometimes both. It is further evident from this, that in every particular of the Word there is a marriage of truth and good, and thus also of the understanding and will, for truth is of the understanding and good of the will, consequently "signs" there have reference to things pertaining to truth, and to faith and the understanding, and "wonders" to the things pertaining to good, and to affection and the will. Thence is clear the meaning of "signs" and of "wonders," where they are both mentioned in the Word, as in the following passages. In Moses:

I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt (Exodus 7:3).

In the same:

Jehovah gave signs and wonders great and evil upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his men 1 (Deuteronomy 6:22).

In the same:

Hath Jehovah tried to come to take to Him a nation out of the midst of a nation, by wonders, by signs, and by prodigies? (Deuteronomy 4:34)

In David:

They remembered not the day in which Jehovah set His signs in Egypt, and His prodigies in the field of Zoan (Psalms 78:42, 43).

In the same:

They set among them the words of their 2 signs and wonders in the land of Ham (Psalms 105:27).

In the same:

He sent signs and wonders into the midst of thee, O Egypt, upon Pharaoh and all his servants (Psalms 135:9).

In Jeremiah:

Who hast set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and even to this day, both in Israel and in men, and hast led forth Thy people Israel out of the land of Egypt by signs and by wonders (Jeremiah 32:20, 21).

This shows that the prodigies wrought in Egypt, and afterwards among the sons of Israel, are called "signs and wonders," "signs" because they attested and persuaded, and "wonders" because they stirred up and filled with amazement; yet they agree in this, that the things that stir up and fill with amazement also attest and persuade, as those things that stir up the will also persuade the understanding, or as those things that move the affection also move the thought by persuading. Likewise in the Gospels:

In the consummation of the age there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, they shall show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22).

Here "great signs and wonders" have a like signification, namely, that they will attest and persuade, and that they will strike dumb and fill with amazement, which will cause a strong persuasion. Who are meant by "false Christs and false prophets," and who by "the elect," may be seen above (n. 624, 684).

(References: Jeremiah 32:20-21; Psalms 78:42-43; The Apocalypse Explained 624, The Apocalypse Explained 684)

[3] In Moses:

If there shall arise in the midst of thee a prophet or a dreamer of dreams who shall give thee a sign or a wonder, and if the sign or the wonder come to pass whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, thou shalt not obey (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).

Here a "prophet" and a "dreamer of dreams," also "sign" and "wonder" are mentioned, because a "sign" has reference to a prophet, and a "wonder" to a dreamer of dreams, because a "prophet" means one who teaches truths, and in the abstract sense the doctrine of truth, and a "dreamer" means one who stirs up to doing, and in the abstract sense the stirring up from which a thing is done; this, too, pertains to a "wonder," and the former to a "sign;" for prophets were instructed by a living voice from the Lord, and "dreamers" by representatives exciting to doing, which flowed into the affection of the dreamer, and from that into the sight of the thought, for when a man dreams his natural understanding is laid asleep and his spiritual sight is opened, which draws its all from the affection. But in this passage the sight that draws its all from an evil affection is meant, for it treats of prophets who teach falsities and who dream vain things, for "other gods" mean the falsities and vain things that such heard and saw.

[4] That "signs" signify attestations which indicate and persuade to the belief that a thing is so, is evident from the following passages. In Moses:

If they will not believe thee nor hear the voice of the first sign, yet they will believe the voice of the latter sign. And if they will not believe these two signs nor hear thy voice, thou shalt take of the waters of the river and they shall become blood (Exodus 4:8, 9).

This is said of the wonders wrought by Moses, when the Lord appeared to him in the bush, which are called "signs" because they were to attest and persuade that Moses was sent to lead them out of Egypt; this is why it is three times said "that they may believe," and also "that they may hear his voice."

(References: Exodus 4:8-9)

[5] In the same:

Jehovah said unto Moses, How long will the people not believe in Me for all the signs which I have done in the midst of them? All the men that have seen My glory and the signs which I wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness, they shall not see the land (Numbers 14:11, 22, 23).

These miracles, too, are called "signs," because mention is made of believing; for as has been said, miracles are called "signs" because they persuade and induce faith; and as signs did not induce faith with those who were unwilling on account of fear to enter into the land of Canaan, therefore it is said of them that "they should not see the land." "Signs" have a like signification in Exodus 4:17; and Jeremiah 10:1, 2.

(References: Exodus 10:1-2; Numbers 14:22-23)

[6] In the Gospels:

The Scribes and Pharisees said, Master, we would see a sign from Thee. But He answering, said, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, but no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the belly 3 of the earth (Matthew 12:38-40; Luke 11:16, 29, 30).

A "sign" plainly means attestation that they may be persuaded and believe that the Lord was the Messiah and the Son of God who was to come, for the miracles that the Lord wrought in abundance, and that they saw, were no signs to them, because miracles, as has been said above, are signs only with the good. "Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale," and this was taken for a "sign," because it signified the burial and resurrection of the Lord, thus the complete glorification of His Human, "three days and three nights" also signifying completeness.

(References: Exodus 10:1-2, 14:17; Luke 11:29-30)

[7] In Matthew:

The Pharisees and the Sadducees, tempting, asked Jesus to show them a sign from heaven. He answering, said to them, When it is evening ye say, It will be fair weather, for the heaven is red. And in the morning, There will be storm today, for the heaven is red and gloomy. Ye hypocrites, ye know how to discern the face of heaven, but not the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous nation requireth a sign, but no sign shall be given unto it but the sign of the prophet Jonah (Matthew 16:1-4).

Here, too, the "sign" asked from heaven means attestation that they might be persuaded and might believe that the Lord was the Son of God, although miracles were wrought that they did not call signs. The Lord then spoke of evening and of morning because "evening and morning" signifies the Lord's coming; here it means when the church with the Jews was laid waste, who then had "fair weather," because they had no knowledge of the Lord, and lived securely in falsities from evil; this is the "evening;" but when they knew Him, and because of falsities from evils in which they were denied and assaulted Him, this is signified by "the morning when there is a storm." This is why the Lord said, "Ye hypocrites, ye know how to discern the face of heaven, but not the signs of the times," that is, the Lord's coming; and because they were "a wicked and adulterous nation," that is, one that adulterated the Word, He said that "no sign should be given unto them."

[8] So again in Mark:

The Pharisees began to dispute with Jesus, seeking of Him a sign from heaven; and He, sighing in His spirit, said, Why doth this generation seek a sign? Verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation (Mark 8:11, 12).

That a "sign" here signifies attestation by which they might plainly know, acknowledge, and believe, that the Lord was the Messiah and Son of God whom they expected from the predictions in the prophets, is evident from this, that "sighing in spirit, He said, Why doth this generation seek a sign? Verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation;" and this was because if this had been plainly revealed or told them from heaven, and if thus persuaded they had acknowledged and believed it, they would nevertheless have rejected it afterwards, and to reject after acknowledgment and faith is to profane, and the lot of profaners in hell is the worst of all.

(References: Mark 8:11-12)

[9] That for this reason plain attestation was not given them from heaven is evident from these words in John:

He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts lest they should see with their eyes and understand with their heart, and should turn themselves, and I should heal them (John 12:40).

"To turn themselves and be healed" means here to profane, which is done when truths and goods are acknowledged, especially when the Lord is acknowledged and afterwards denied; so would it have been if the Jews had turned themselves and been healed by a sign. "To see with the eyes and understand with the heart" signifies to receive in the understanding and will, or in faith and love. From this it is clear that a "sign" signifies a plain testification. (On the lot of profaners see the New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine, n. 172.)

[10] In John:

The disciples 4 said unto Jesus, What doest Thou for a sign, that we may see and believe Thee, what workest Thou? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written, He gave them bread out of heaven to eat. Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not the bread out of heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread out of heaven; for the bread of God is He who cometh down out of heaven and giveth life unto the world (John 6:30-33).

Here also the disciples 4 desired a sign; that this signifies attestation that they might believe is clear from their saying, "That we may see and believe, what workest Thou?" They then spoke of "manna," and the Lord answered respecting "bread from heaven," because "bread" signifies all good and truth that nourishes the soul, and in the highest sense the Lord Himself, from whom is everything of doctrine and everything of spiritual nourishment, whereby he gave attestation that they might see and believe. Nevertheless attestation, that is, a sign from heaven, was given to the three disciples, Peter, James, and John, as can be seen from the Lord's transfiguration, for they then saw His glory, and heard a voice out of heaven saying, "This is My beloved Son, hear ye Him" (Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35; Matthew 17:5).

[11] In John:

When Jesus cast out of the temple them that sold therein, the Jews said, What sign showest Thou, that Thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, yet in three days I will raise it up (John 2:16, 18, 19).

Here evidently "to show a sign" signifies to give attestation by something wonderful, or by a voice out of heaven. But because such an attestation would have damned rather than saved them, as has been said just above, He answered them concerning "the temple," by which He meant His body, that this should be destroyed, that is, should die, and should rise again glorified on the third day. This too is what the Lord meant by "the sign of Jonah in the belly of the whale three days and three nights." (That "temple" in the highest sense signifies the Lord's body, see John 2:21.)

(References: John 2:18-19)

[12] In Luke:

The angels said to the shepherds, There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord; and this is a sign unto you, ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger (Luke 2:11, 12, 16).

Since a "sign" means attestation that they might believe that the Savior of the world was born, it is said that "they should find Him lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes;" but that this was an attestation no one can know until it is known what is meant by a "manger" and by "swaddling clothes." "A manger" means the doctrine of truth from the Word, because "horses" signify the understanding of the Word (as can be seen from what has been shown above, n. 355, 364, and in the small work on The White Horse 2-4); and thus a manger, as a feeding place for horses, signifies the doctrine of truth from the Word. It is said in the seventh verse of the same chapter that this was done "because there was no place in the inn," an "inn" signifying a place of instruction. (This is the signification of "inn" also in Luke 10:34; 22:11; Mark 14:14; and elsewhere.)

Because this was the state with the Jews, who were then in mere falsities, through the adulteration of the Word, this was signified by "there was no place in the inn;" for if it had pleased the Lord He might have been born in a most splendid palace, and have been laid in a bed adorned with precious stones; but He would thus have been with such as were in no doctrine of truth, and there would have been no heavenly representation. He is also said to have been "wrapped in swaddling clothes," because "swaddling clothes" signify first truths, which are truths of innocence, and which are also truths of the Divine love; for "nakedness," in reference to a babe, signifies deprivation of truth. From this it is clear why it was said by the angels, "This is a sign unto you, ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger."

(References: Luke 2:11-12; The Apocalypse Explained 355, 364)

[13] In the Gospels:

The disciples said to Jesus, What shall be the sign of Thy coming and of the consummation of the age? (Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:4; Luke 21:7)

"The coming of the Lord and the consummation of the age" signifies the beginning of the New Church and the end of the former church, "the coming of the Lord" the beginning of the New Church, and "the consummation of the age" the end of the old church, therefore in these chapters the Lord instructs His disciples respecting the successive vastation of the former church, and at its end the establishment of the New Church; but He instructs and teaches them by mere correspondences, which cannot be unfolded and made known except by means of the spiritual sense; and because the Lord spoke by correspondences, all of these were signs and thus attestations. Moreover, the Lord calls them "signs."

As in Luke:

And there shall be fearful things, great signs from heaven. There shall be signs in the sun, moon, and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in desperation, the sea and the waves roaring (Luke 21:11, 21:26).

In Matthew:

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man; and then shall all the tribes of the earth lament, and they shall see the Son of man coming In the clouds of heaven with power and glory (Matthew 24:30).

The signification in the spiritual sense of these and the other things contained in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew have been explained in the Arcana Coelestia, and of "the appearing of the sign of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven" in the work on Heaven and Hell 1), therefore further explanation is unnecessary.

(References: Luke 21:25)

[14] In Mark:

Jesus said unto the disciples, These signs shall follow them that believe, In My name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the infirm and they shall be well. And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them by signs following (Mark 16:17, 18, 20).

These were miracles, yet still they are called "signs" because they were attestations of the Divine power of the Lord who wrought them; therefore it is said, "The Lord working with them by those signs." If these had been applied to the evil they would have been called "wonders," for with the evil such things only fill with amazement and strike the mind, and still do not persuade to belief; but with the good it is otherwise, for with them the same things are attestations that persuade to belief, and therefore they are called "signs," and it is said "these signs shall follow them that believe." But how these signs can persuade to belief shall be briefly told. These miraculous signs, as that "they should cast out demons," "should speak with new tongues," "should take up serpents," "if they drank any deadly thing it should not hurt them," and "they should become well by the laying on of hands," were in their essence and in their origin spiritual, from which these flowed forth and came forth as effects; for they were correspondences that derived their all from the spiritual world by influx from the Lord. For instance, that "they should cast out demons in the name of the Lord" derived its effect from this, that the name of the Lord understood spiritually means everything of doctrine out of the Word from the Lord, and that "demons" mean falsities of every kind, and these are thus cast out, that is, taken away, by the doctrine out of the Word from the Lord; that "they should speak with new tongues" derives its effect from this, that "new tongues" mean doctrinals for the New Church; "they should take up serpents" was because "serpents" signify the hells in respect to malice, and thus they would be safe from infestation by it; "they would not be hurt if they drank any deadly thing" meant that they would not be contaminated by the malice of the hells; and "the infirm would become well by the laying on of hands" meant to be healed of spiritual diseases, which are called iniquities and sins, by communication and conjunction with heaven, thus with the Lord; the laying on of the hands of the disciples corresponding to communication and conjunction with the Lord, and thus to the removal of iniquities by His Divine power.

(References: Mark 16:17-18)

[15] In Isaiah:

Jehovah said unto Ahaz, Ask thee a sign of Jehovah, direct it into the deep, or lift it up on high. The Lord giveth you a sign, Behold, a virgin shall conceive and shall bear a son, and shall call His name God-with-us (Isaiah 7:11, 14).

This was said to Ahaz king of Judah, because the king of Syria and the king of Israel made war against him, even to Jerusalem, and they also had on their side the tribe of Ephraim, and yet they did not prevail, for the reason that "the king of Syria" here represented the external or natural of the church, "the king of Israel" its internal or spiritual, and "Ephraim" its intellectual; but here these three, the natural, the spiritual, and the intellectual, perverted, and these wished to attack the doctrine of truth, signified by "the king of Judah" and by "Jerusalem," wherefore they did not succeed. Nevertheless, in order that Ahaz might be assured of the frustration of their attempt he was told "to ask a sign," that is, an attestation that he might be assured, and the choice was granted him whether it should be from heaven or from hell; this was signified by "direct it into the deep, or lift it up on high," for the king was evil. But because "Jerusalem," which signifies the doctrine of truth from the Word, was not to be destroyed by such before the Lord's coming, there was given him, as an attestation of this, a miraculous sign, namely, that "a virgin shall conceive and shall bear a son, whose name shall be God-with-us." That this church would subsequently be destroyed is indicated further on in the same chapter.

(References: Isaiah 7:10-11)

[16] In the same:

This shall be a sign to thee from with Jehovah, behold, I will bring back the shadow of the steps which is gone down on the steps of Ahaz before the sun, ten steps backward, that the sun may return ten steps on the steps which it has gone down (Isaiah 38:7-8).

This sign was given to King Hezekiah as an attestation that the Lord would defend him and Jerusalem from the king of Assyria (as is said in the sixth verse of that chapter), Isaiah 38:6 that king signifying the perverted rational destroying all things of the church; therefore this sign represented also a New Church that was to be established by the Lord, but here that the time would be protracted beyond that indicated to Ahaz just above; "bringing back the shadow that had gone down on the steps of Ahaz before the sun" signifies a drawing back of the time before this should be done, "steps of Ahaz" signifying a time, here even until the coming of the Lord, and the "shadow" signifying the progress of time from the rising to the setting; that the shadow "should be drawn backwards ten degrees" signifies the prolongation of the time for many years still, "ten" signifying many, and the "sun" which should go back signifying the Lord's coming.

But this shall be further illustrated. The Lord's coming took place when the Jewish Church was at an end, that is, when there was no good or truth left in it; this is meant by "when iniquity was consummated," also by "the fullness of times," in which the Lord was to come. The entire period of the duration of the Jewish Church was represented by "the steps of Ahaz," its beginning by the first step there, which is when the sun is in its rising, and its end by the last when it is at its setting. This makes evident that by "the drawing back of the shadow" from the setting towards the rising means the prolongation of the time. This should take place "in the steps of Ahaz," because Ahaz was a wicked king, and profaned the holy things of the church, consequently if his successors had done the same, the end of that church would have quickly come; but as Hezekiah was an upright king the time was prolonged, for on that account the iniquity of that nation was not so soon to reach its consummation, that is, its end.

[17] In the same:

Say to King Hezekiah, This shall be the sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year that which springeth up of itself, and in the second year that which groweth of its own accord; but in the third year sow ye, reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof (Isaiah 37:30).

This was said to King Hezekiah when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, made war against him, and spoke proudly of himself and insolently of God and of Israel; in consequence of which also one hundred and eighty 5 thousand were smitten in his camp, and he was himself killed by his sons. This was done because "Assyria" signifies the rational, and "the king of Assyria" the like, and "Judea" the celestial of the church, and "its king" the spiritual of the church; but here "the king of Assyria" signifies the perverted rational, which destroys by false reasonings all the celestial and spiritual things of the church, which are its goods and truths. And as "Judea and its king" signify the celestial and spiritual of the church which will be from the Lord when He comes into the world, therefore these things are said by which is described the regeneration of those who will be of that church. So the sign that the first year "they shall eat that which springeth up of itself" signifies celestial good that the Lord will implant in them; "in the second year that which groweth of its own accord," signifies the truth of that good which shall come from it; "to sow, to reap, to plant vineyards, and to eat the fruit thereof," signifies all the goods and truths that flow forth therefrom, "to sow and reap" signifying the implantation of good and its reception; "to plant vineyards" the implantation of truth and its reception; and "to eat the fruits thereof" the enjoyment of good and joyous things therefrom which the regenerate man has. These things are called "a sign" because they are attestations of a celestial church with those who are meant in the spiritual sense by "Judah," whose regeneration is effected by the Lord by the implantation of celestial good, afterwards by the implantation of spiritual good, which in its essence is the truth of celestial good, and finally by multiplication and fructification in the natural man.

[18] In the same:

Thus said Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel and his Former, They have asked Me signs respecting My sons, and respecting the work of My hands they command Me. I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will make straight all his ways. He shall build My city, and he shall send forth My captivity, not for price nor reward (Isaiah 45:11, 13).

This also treats of the Lord's coming and of the establishment of a church by Him. The Lord is meant by "Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, and his Former," who is called "the Holy One of Israel" from Divine truth, and his "Former" from the establishment of the church by means of truth; and "Israel" means the church; therefore "His sons, respecting whom they asked signs," mean those who are in truths from the Lord, and "the work of His hands" means their formation, and the establishment of a church among them. "I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will make straight all His ways" signifies that Divine good and Divine truth are the Lord's, for "righteousness" is predicated in the Word of good, and "ways" signify truths that lead, here Divine truths, because they are predicated of the Lord; "he shall build My city, and he shall send forth My captivity" signifies that He will restore the doctrine of truth, and that He will deliver those who are in falsities from ignorance, "city" signifying the doctrine of truth, and "captivity" the falsities of ignorance in which the Gentiles were, and through which they were in spiritual captivity; "not for price nor reward" signifies freely given from Divine love.

[19] In the same:

Let them declare to you 6 the things that shall happen, declare ye the former things, that we may set our heart and may know the latter end of them; or make us to hear things to come, declare to us a sign for the future, that we may know that ye are gods (Isaiah 41:22, 23).

That to tell things past and to come belongs to the Lord alone, and not to any man or any spirit, is expressed by "declare a sign for the future, that we may know that ye are gods;" this concludes what precedes, therefore "to declare a sign" means to testify by persuading to believe.

(References: Isaiah 41:22-23)

[20] In Ezekiel:

Take to thee a pan of iron, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city; and thou shalt set thy faces against it, that it may be for a siege, and thou shalt lay siege to it; this shall be a sign to the house of Israel (Ezekiel 4:3).

These and the rest of the things in this chapter are representatives of the state of the church with the Jewish nation, signifying that they had no truth that was not falsified and adulterated, which in itself is falsity. Such truth is signified by "the pan of iron" that he should set for a wall between him and the city; and because this, like iron, is hard, shutting out and not admitting any genuine truth, it is said, "that it may be for a siege, and thou shalt lay siege to it;" that this sign should be a witness that the church is such is signified by "this shall be a sign to the house of Israel," "sign" meaning an attestation, and "house of Israel" the church.

[21] In David:

The adversary hath destroyed all things in the sanctuary; the adversaries have roared in the midst of Thy feast; they have set up their own signs for signs. We see not our signs; there is no more a prophet (Psalms 74:3, 4, 9).

"The adversary hath destroyed all things in the sanctuary" signifies that evil has destroyed the holy things of the church; "the adversaries have roared in the midst of Thy feast" signifies that falsities have destroyed all things of worship; "they have set up their own signs for signs" signifies that they have given attestation and persuaded by every means; "we see not our signs" signifies that no attestations of truth were accepted in the church; "there is no more a prophet" signifies no doctrine of truth.

(References: Psalms 74:3-4)

[22] In the same:

Jehovah make a sign with me for good, that they that hate me may see and be ashamed, because Thou, O Jehovah, hast helped me and comforted me (Psalms 86:17).

"To make a sign for good" signifies attestation that Jehovah will help and comfort him, as follows, for this is the good for which Jehovah makes a sign; and because a sign is an attestation of this it is said "that they that hate me may see and be ashamed."

[23] In the same:

God who setteth fast the mountains by His power is girded with might; He maketh the tumult of the seas to cease, the tumult of its waves and the noise of the peoples, that the dwellers in the uttermost parts may fear because of Thy signs (Psalms 65:6-8).

This describes the Lord's Divine power through attestations that cause belief; but attestations that are signs are not that "He setteth fast the mountains, maketh the tumult of the seas and of its waves, and the noise of the people to cease," for these are not such signs as convince those who ascribe all things to nature; but the things meant in the spiritual sense, in which sense heaven and the church are treated of, are the signs that give attestation of the Lord's Divine power, for in that sense, the "mountains" that God setteth fast by His power mean the higher heavens, because the angels of those heavens dwell upon mountains; and in the abstract sense love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbor are meant; these are what the Lord "girded with might, setteth fast by His power," that is, makes them to stand fast forever; that "mountains" have such a signification may be seen above n. 405; "the tumult of the seas" and "the tumult of the waves" mean the disputations and reasonings of those who are beneath the heavens, and who are natural and sensual; that "seas" signify the things of the natural man, thus those who are natural, therefore their tumults and waves signify disputations and reasonings, may be seen also above n. 342. "The noise of the peoples" mean contradictions from falsities, for "peoples" signify those who are in truths, and in the contrary sense those who are in falsities (see above, n. 175, 331, 625). "That the dwellers in the uttermost parts may fear because of Thy signs" signifies holy worship from faith in regard to Divine power with those who are in the ultimates of heaven and the church; that "to fear" means to worship the Lord from charity and faith may be seen above n. 696; and that "dwellers in the uttermost parts" mean those who are in the ultimates of heaven and the church, and are in the faith of charity there, is evident, since "the uttermost parts" mean the ultimates of heaven and the church. From this it is clear that "signs" here signify attestations respecting the Lord's Divine power.

(References: The Apocalypse Explained 175, 331, 342, The Apocalypse Explained 405, The Apocalypse Explained 625, The Apocalypse Explained 696)

[24] In Jeremiah:

This shall be the sign unto you that I will visit upon you in this place, that ye may know that My words shall stand against you for evil. Behold, I give the king of Egypt into the hand of his adversaries and into the hand of them that seek his soul (Jeremiah 44:29, 30).

This treats of those of the church who have become natural, who are meant by those who sojourned in Egypt and returned therefrom. That such would be destroyed by evils and falsities is meant by "He will give the king of Egypt into the hand of his adversaries and into the hand of them that seek his soul," "adversaries" here meaning those who are in evils, and "them that seek the soul" those who are in falsities, thus in an abstract sense evils and falsities (that "Egypt" means the natural man see above, n. 654.

This is called a "sign," because it is an attestation that this will be done; therefore it is added, "that ye may know that my words shall stand against you for evil."

(References: Jeremiah 44:29-30; The Apocalypse Explained 654)

[25] That a "sign" means attestation of certainty is evident from the following passages. In Isaiah:

Hezekiah said, What is the sign that I am to go up into the house of Jehovah? (Isaiah 38:22)

In the book of Judges:

Gideon said to the angel of Jehovah, Show me a sign that it is thou that speakest to me; and the sign was, that when he touched with the staff the flesh and unleavened bread which Gideon had offered, a fire went up out of the rock and consumed them (Judges 6:17, 21).

In the first book of Samuel:

This shall be the sign unto thee that shall come upon thy two sons, in one day they shall die, both of them (1 Samuel 2:34).

If the Philistines say, Come up unto us, then will we go up, for Jehovah hath given them into our hand; this shall be the sign unto us (1 Samuel 14:10).

Nearly the same is signified by:

The signs of the covenant (Genesis 9:13; 17:11; Ezekiel 20:12, 20; and elsewhere);

namely, attestations respecting conjunction.

[26] Attestations are signified also by "signs" wrought by the evil that appeared like miracles, as in the following passages. In Isaiah:

Jehovah maketh void the signs of the liars, He rendereth the diviners mad, He turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge stupid (Isaiah 44:25).

In Jeremiah:

Jehovah hath said, Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of the heavens; for the nations are dismayed at them. The statutes of the nations 7 are vanity (Jeremiah 10:2, 3).

In Revelation:

The beast coming up out of the earth did great signs, so that he even maketh fire to come down from heaven unto the earth before men, and seduceth them that worship 8 upon the earth, because of the signs that were given him to do (Revelation 13:13, 14).

They are the spirits of demons doing signs to go forth unto the kings of the earth, to gather them together unto the war of that great day (Revelation 16:14).

And again:

The beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that did signs before him, by which he seduced them that had received the mark of the beast (Revelation 19:20).

But what is meant by "signs upon the hand and in the forehead" may be seen above n. 427. Again, the "signs" that were set upon mountains to gather the people together to war, to battle, and so on, signified indications to do the things commanded. As in Isaiah:

It shall be in that day that the root of Jesse, which standeth for an ensign of the peoples, the nations shall seek, and his rest shall be glory. When he shall lift up an ensign to the nations, and shall gather together the outcasts of Israel and the dispersed of Judah from the four winds of the earth (Isaiah 11:10-12).

In Jeremiah:

Set thee up signs, place for thee columns, set thine heart to the highway, the way thou mayest go (Jeremiah 31:21).

In the same:

Declare ye among the nations, and make to be heard, and lift up an ensign; Babylon is taken (Jeremiah 50:2).

Lift up an ensign against the walls of Babylon, keep the watch, set the watchmen. Lift up an ensign in the land, sound the trumpet among the nations (Jeremiah 51:12, 27);

and elsewhere, especially in the historical parts of the Word. From all these passages quoted from the Word it is clear that "a great sign seen in heaven" signifies Divine manifestation and attestation (as also in the third verse of this chapter, an (Revelation 12:3) d afterwards in chap. Revelation 15:1).


1.  The Hebrew has "house."

2.  The Hebrew has "His," as found in Apocalypse Revealed 598.

3.  The Greek has "heart," as also found in Arcana Coelestia 2798.

4.  The context would seem to show that we should read "The people."

5.  The Hebrew has "185, 000," as found in Arcana Coelestia 4236.

6. The Hebrew has "to us."

7. The Hebrew has "peoples."

8. The Greek has "dwell," as found in Arcana Coelestia 826; Apocalypse Revealed 600.


(References: Isaiah 7:10-11, Isaiah 38:6-8; Jeremiah 10:2-3; Luke 21:25; Revelation 12:13-14, 13:13-14; The Apocalypse Explained 427)

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