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Arcana Coelestia #9372

Arcana Coelestia (Potts translation)      

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9372. And He said unto Moses. That this signifies that which concerns the Word in general, is evident from the representation of Moses, as being the Word (of which below); and from the signification of “He said,” as involving those things which follow in this chapter, thus those which concern the Word (see n. 9370). (That Moses represents the Word, can be seen from what has been often shown before about Moses, as from the preface to Genesis 18; and n. 4859, 5922, 6723, 6752, 6771, 6827, 7010, 7014, 7089, 7382, 8601, 8760, 8787, 8805.) Here Moses represents the Word in general, because it is said of him in what follows, that he alone should come near unto Jehovah (verse 2); and also that, being called unto out of the midst of the cloud, he entered into it, and went up the mount (verses 16-18).

(References: Exodus 24:16, 24:18)

[2] In the Word there are many who represent the Lord in respect to truth Divine, or in respect to the Word; but chief among them are Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and John the Baptist. That Moses does so, can be seen in the explications just cited above; that so do Elijah and Elisha, can be seen in the preface to Genesis 18; and n. 2762, 5247; and that John the Baptist does so is evident from the fact that he was “Elias who was to come.” He who does not know that John the Baptist represented the Lord as to the Word, cannot know what all those things infold and signify which are said about him in the New Testament; and therefore in order that this secret may stand open, and that at the same time it may appear that Elias, and also Moses, who were seen when the Lord was transfigured, signified the Word, some things may here be quoted which are spoken about John the Baptist; as in Matthew:

After the messengers of John had departed, Jesus began to speak concerning John, saying, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? a reed shaken by the wind? But what went ye out to see? a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft things are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, even more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, Behold I send Mine angel before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way before Thee. Verily I say unto you, Among those who are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist; nevertheless he that is less in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he. All the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye are willing to believe, he is Elias who was to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear (Matthew 11:7-15; and also Luke 7:24-28).

No one can know how these things are to be understood, unless he knows that this John represented the Lord as to the Word, and unless he also knows from the internal sense what is signified by “the wilderness” in which he was, also what by “a reed shaken by the wind,” and likewise by “soft raiment in kings’ houses;” and further what is signified by his being “more than a prophet,” and by “none among those who are born of women being greater than he, and nevertheless he that is less in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he,” and lastly by his being “Elias.” For without a deeper sense, all these words are uttered merely from some comparison, and not from anything of weight.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2135)

[3] But it is very different when by John is understood the Lord as to the Word, or the Word representatively. Then by “the wilderness of Judea in which John was” is signified the state in which the Word was at the time when the Lord came into the world, namely, that it was “in the wilderness,” that is, it was in obscurity so great that the Lord was not at all acknowledged, neither was anything known about His heavenly kingdom; when yet all the prophets prophesied about Him, and about His kingdom, that it was to endure forever. (That “a wilderness” denotes such obscurity, see n. 2708, 4736, 7313.) For this reason the Word is compared to “a reed shaken by the wind” when it is explained at pleasure; for in the internal sense “a reed” denotes truth in the ultimate, such as is the Word in the letter.

[4] That the Word in the ultimate, or in the letter, is crude and obscure in the sight of men; but that in the internal sense it is soft and shining, is signified by their “not seeing a man clothed in soft raiment, for behold those who wear soft things are in kings’ houses.” That such things are signified by these words, is plain from the signification of “raiment,” or “garments,” as being truths (n. 2132, 2576, 4545, 4763, 5248, 6914, 6918, 9093); and for this reason the angels appear clothed in garments soft and shining according to the truths from good with them (n. 5248, 5319, 5954, 9212, 9216). The same is evident from the signification of “kings’ houses,” as being the abodes of the angels, and in the universal sense, the heavens; for “houses” are so called from good (n. 2233, 2234, 3128, 3652, 3720, 4622, 4982, 7836, 7891, 7996, 7997); and “kings,” from truth (n. 1672, 2015, 2069, 3009, 4575, 4581, 4966, 5044, 6148). Therefore by virtue of their reception of truth from the Lord, the angels are called “sons of the kingdom,” “sons of the king,” and also “kings.”

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2233-2234, 7996-7997)

[5] That the Word is more than any doctrine in the world, and more than any truth in the world, is signified by “what went ye out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet;” and by, “there hath not arisen among those who are born of women a greater than John the Baptist;” for in the internal sense “a prophet” denotes doctrine (n. 2534, 7269); and “those who are born,” or are the sons, “of women” denote truths (n. 489, 491, 533, 1147, 2623, 2803, 2813, 3704, 4257).

[6] That in the internal sense, or such as it is in heaven, the Word is in a degree above the Word in the external sense, or such as it is in the world, and such as John the Baptist taught, is signified by, “he that is less in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he;” for as perceived in heaven the Word is of wisdom so great that it transcends all human apprehension. That the prophecies about the Lord and His coming, and that the representatives of the Lord and of His kingdom, ceased when the Lord came into the world, is signified by, “all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” That the Word was represented by John, as by Elijah, is signified by his being “Elias who is to come.”

[7] The same is signified by these words in Matthew:

The disciples asked Jesus, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? He answered and said, Elias must needs first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elias hath come already, and they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they wished. Even so shall the Son of man also suffer of them. And they understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13).

That “Elias hath come, and they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they wished” signifies that the Word has indeed taught them that the Lord is to come, but that still they did not wish to comprehend, interpreting it in favor of the rule of self, and thus extinguishing what is Divine in it. That they would do the same with the truth Divine itself, is signified by “even so shall the Son of man also suffer of them.” (That “the Son of man” denotes the Lord as to truth Divine, see n. 2803, 2813, 3704)

[8] From all this it is now evident what is meant by the prophecy about John in Malachi:

Behold I send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Jehovah cometh (Malachi 4:5).

Moreover, the Word in the ultimate, or such as it is in the external form in which it appears before man in the world, is described by the “clothing” and “food” of John the Baptist, in Matthew:

John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, had His clothing of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his food was locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:1, 4).

In like manner it is described by Elijah in the second book of Kings:

He was a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins (2 Kings 1:8).

By “clothing,” or a “garment,” when said of the Word, is signified truth Divine there in the ultimate form; by “camel’s hair” are signified memory-truths such as appear there before a man in the world; by the “leathern girdle” is signified the external bond connecting and keeping in order all the interior things; by “food” is signified spiritual nourishment from the knowledges of truth and of good out of the Word; by “locusts” are signified ultimate or most general truths; and by “wild honey” their pleasantness.

[9] That such things are signified by “clothing” and “food” has its origin in the representatives of the other life, where all appear clothed according to truths from good, and where food also is represented according to the desires of acquiring knowledge and growing wise. From this it is that “clothing,” or a “garment,” denotes truth (as may be seen from the citations above; and that “food” or “meat” denotes spiritual nourishment, n. 3114, 4459, 4792, 5147, 5293, 5340, 5342, 5576, 5579, 5915, 8562, 9003; that “a girdle” denotes a bond which gathers up and holds together interior things, n. 9341; that “leather” denotes what is external, n. 3540; and thus “a leathern girdle” denotes an external bond; that “hairs” denote ultimate or most general truths, n. 3301, 5569-5573; that “a camel” denotes memory-knowledge in general, n. 3048, 3071, 3143, 3145, 4156; that “a locust” denotes nourishing truth in the extremes, n. 7643; and that “honey” denotes the pleasantness thereof, n. 5620, 6857, 8056). It is called “wild honey,” or “honey of the field,” because by “a field” is signified the church (n. 2971, 3317, 3766, 7502, 7571, 9139, 9295). He who does not know that such things are signified, cannot possibly know why Elijah and John were so clothed. And yet that these things signified something peculiar to these prophets, can be thought by everyone who thinks well about the Word.

[10] Because John the Baptist represented the Lord as to the Word, therefore also when he spoke of the Lord, who was the Word itself, he said of himself that he was “not Elias, nor the prophet,” and that he was “not worthy to loose the latchet of the Lord’s shoe,” as in John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory. The Jews from Jerusalem, priests and Levites, asked John who he was. And he confessed, and denied not, I am not the Christ. Therefore they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? But he said, I am not. Art thou the prophet? He answered, No. They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet. They said therefore, Why then baptizest thou, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elias, nor the prophet? He answered, I baptize with water; in the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not; He it is who is to come after me, who was before me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose. When he saw Jesus, he said, Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, After me cometh a man who was before me; for he was before me (John 1:1, 14, 19-30).

From these words it is plain that when John spoke about the Lord Himself, who was Truth Divine itself, or the Word, he said that he himself was not anything, because the shadow disappears when the light itself appears, that is, the representative disappears when the original itself makes its appearance. (That the representatives had in view holy things, and the Lord Himself, and not at all the person that represented, see n. 665, 1097, 1361, 3147, 3881, 4208, 4281, 4288, 4292, 4307, 4444, 4500, 6304, 7048, 7439, 8588, 8788, 8806.) One who does not know that representatives vanish like shadows at the presence of light, cannot know why John denied that he was Elias and the prophet.

[11] From all this it can now be seen what is signified by Moses and Elias, who were seen in glory, and who spoke with the Lord when transfigured, of His departure which He should accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:29-31); namely, that they signified the Word (“Moses” the historic Word, and “Elias” the prophetic Word), which in the internal sense throughout treats of the Lord, of His coming into the world, and of His departure out of the world; and therefore it is said that “Moses and Elias were seen in glory,” for “glory” denotes the internal sense of the Word, and the “cloud” its external sense (see the preface to Genesis 18, and n. 5922, 8427).

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2135; Exodus 24:1-2)

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Arcana Coelestia 9374, 9378, 9379, 9382, 9386, 9429, 9504, 9779, 9806, 9828, 9954, 10027, 10090, 10215, 10251, 10337, 10355, 10375, 10396, 10397, 10400, 10432, 10450, 10460, 10468, 10528, 10549, 10551, 10635, 10636, 10641, 10690

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 19, 64, 66, 83, 130, 355, 375, 701, 710, 735, 746

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 John the Baptist
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Arcana Coelestia #2015

Arcana Coelestia (Potts translation)      

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2015. Kings shall go forth from thee. That this signifies that all truth is from Him, is evident from the signification of a “king,” in both the historical and the prophetic Word, as being truth (stated above, n. 1672, but not yet fully shown). From the signification of “nations” as being goods, and from the signification of “kings” as being truths, we can see the nature of the internal sense of the Word, and also how remote it is from the sense of the letter. He who reads the Word, especially the historical portion, has no other belief than that the nations there are nations, and the kings kings, and thus that nations and kings are treated of in the very Word itself. But the idea of nations, as well as that of kings, altogether perishes when it is received by the angels, and in their place there succeed good and truth. This cannot but appear as strange and indeed as a paradox, but still it is really so, and the truth of it may appear to everyone from considering that if, in the Word, nations were signified by “nations,” and kings by “kings,” then the Word of the Lord would involve scarcely anything more than any other history, or any other writing, and thus would be a merely worldly affair, when yet there is nothing in the Word that is not Divine, and therefore celestial and spiritual.

[2] Take as a single instance what is said in this verse, that Abraham should be made fruitful and should be made nations, and that kings should go forth from him-what is this but a merely worldly matter, and in no respect heavenly? For in these things there is only the glory of the world, which is nothing at all in heaven; but if this is the Word of the Lord, there must be in it the glory of heaven, and none of the world’s glory. Therefore the sense of the letter is altogether obliterated and vanishes when it passes into heaven; and it is so purified that nothing that is worldly is intermingled. For by “Abraham” is not meant Abraham, but the Lord; by his being “made fruitful” is not meant that his posterity should increase exceedingly, but that the good of the Lord’s Human Essence should increase to infinitude; by the “nations” are not meant nations, but goods; and by the “kings,” not kings but truths. Still the history according to the sense of the letter remains true; for it is true that it was so said to Abraham; also that he was made fruitful, and that nations and kings came from him.

[3] That “kings” signify truths, may be seen from the following passages.

In Isaiah:

The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee; thou shalt suck the milk of the nations, and the breast of kings shalt thou suck (Isaiah 60:10, 16);

what it is to “suck the milk of nations” and “the breast of kings,” is by no means plain from the letter, but it is from the internal sense, in which it signifies to be gifted with goods, and instructed in truths.

In Jeremiah:

There shall enter in by the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses (Jeremiah 17:25; 22:4);

to “ride in chariots and on horses” is a prophetical saying which signifies an abundance of intellectual things, as may appear from very many passages in the Prophets; and thus by “kings entering in by the gates of the city” is signified in the internal sense that they should be imbued with truths of faith. This is the heavenly sense of the Word, into which the worldly literal sense passes.

[4] Again, in the same Prophet:

Jehovah hath despised in the indignation of His anger the king and the priest; the gates of Zion have sunk into the earth; He hath destroyed and broken her bars; her king and her princes are among the nations; the law is not (Lam. 2:6, 9);

“the king” here denotes the truth of faith; “the priest” the good of charity; “Zion” the church which is being destroyed, and whose bars are being broken; hence “the king and the princes are among the nations,” that is, truth and the things which are of truth will be banished to such an extent that there will be no “law,” that is, nothing of the doctrine of faith.

In Isaiah:

Before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the ground shall be forsaken, which thou loathest in the presence of her two kings (Isaiah 7:16); where the Lord’s coming is treated of; the “ground which shall be forsaken” denotes faith, of which there would then be none, and the truths of which are the “kings that would be loathed.”

[5] In the same Prophet:

I will lift up My hand to the nations, and raise up My ensign to the peoples; and they shall bring thy sons in their bosom, and thy daughters shall be carried upon the shoulder; and kings shall be thy nourishers, and their queens those that give thee suck (Isaiah 49:22-23);

“the nations” and “the daughters” denote goods; and “the peoples” and “the sons” truths (as shown in Part First, where it may be seen that “nations” denote goods, n. 1259, 1260, 1416, 1849; and that “daughters” have a similar signification, n. 489-491; also that “peoples” denote truths, n. 1259, 1260; and “sons” likewise, n. 489, 491, 533, 1147). “Kings” therefore denote truths in general, by which they will be nourished, and their “queens” the goods from which they will be “suckled.” Whether you say goods and truths, or those who are in goods and truths, it is the same.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1259-1260)

[6] Again in the same Prophet:

He shall sprinkle many nations, upon him kings shall shut their mouth-for that which was [not] told them have they seen; and that which they did not hear have they understood (Isaiah 52:15),

where the Lord’s coming is spoken of; the “nations” denote those who are affected by goods, and “kings” those who are affected by truths.

In David:

Now, O ye kings, be intelligent; be instructed, ye judges of the earth; serve Jehovah with fear, and exult with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish in the way (Psalms 2:10-12).

“Kings” denote those who are in truths; who also from their truths are often called “king’s sons;” “the Son” here denotes the Lord, who is here called “the Son” because He is the truth itself, and because all truth is from Him.

[7] In John:

They shall sing a new song, Worthy art Thou who takest the book, and openest the seals thereof; Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests, that we may reign upon the earth (Revelation 5:9-10); where they who are in truths are called “kings.” The Lord also calls such persons “the sons of the kingdom,” in Matthew:

He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; the seed is the sons of the kingdom, and the tares are the sons of the evil one (Matthew 13:37-38).

In John:

The sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the Kings that are from the sun rising might be prepared (Revelation 16:12).

That by the “Euphrates” is not meant the Euphrates, nor by “the kings from the sun-rising” any kings therefrom, is evident (what is meant by the “Euphrates” may be seen above, n. 120, 1585, 1866); so that “the way of the kings that are from the sun-rising” means the truths of faith that are from the goods of love.

[8] In the same:

The nations that are saved shall walk in the light of it, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it (Revelation 21:24); where “the nations” denote those who are in goods, and “the kings of the earth” those who are in truths, as may be inferred from the fact that these words are prophetic, and not historical. In the same:

With the great harlot that sitteth upon many waters the kings of the earth have committed whoredom, and have been made drunken with the wine of her whoredom (Revelation 17:1-2).

And again:

Babylon hath made all the nations drink of the wine of her whoredom, and the kings of the earth have committed whoredom with her (Revelation 18:3, 9); where in like manner it is evident that kings are not meant by “the kings of the earth;” for the falsification and adulteration of the doctrine of faith, that is, of truth, is treated of, and this is the “whoredom;” “the kings of the earth” denote the truths that are falsified and adulterated.

(References: Revelation 17:2)

[9] In the same:

The ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, that have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority [potestas] as kings with the beast for one hour. These shall have one mind, and shall give their power and authority to the beast (Revelation 17:12-13).

That these “kings” are not kings, is evident to everyone; for if so it would be wholly unintelligible that the ten kings should receive authority as kings one hour. So too in another passage:

I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war with him that sat upon the horse, and with his army (Revelation 19:19).

That “he that sat upon the horse” is “the Word of God,” is openly stated in verse 13; and it is against this that the kings of the earth are said to have been gathered together. “The beast” denotes the goods of love, profaned; and “the kings” denote the truths of faith, adulterated; these are called “the kings of the earth,” because they are within the church. (That “the earth” is the church may be seen above, n. 662, 1066, 1067, 1262.) The “white horse” denotes the understanding of truth; and “he that sat upon the horse,” the Word. This meaning is still more manifest in Daniel (chapter 11), where the war between “the king of the south” and “the king of the north” is treated of; by which terms are signified the truths and falsities that had fought, the combats being described here also in an historical manner by this “war.”

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1066-1067; Daniel 11; Revelation 19:13)

[10] As “a king” signifies truth, it may be seen what is meant in the internal sense when the Lord is called a King and also a Priest; and also what it was in the Lord that was represented by kings, and what by priests. Kings represented His Divine truth, and priests His Divine good. All the laws of order by which the Lord governs the universe as King, are truths; but all the laws by which He governs the universe as Priest, and by which also He rules truths themselves, are goods; for government from truths alone would condemn everyone to hell; but government from goods lifts everyone out thence and uplifts him into heaven (see n. 1728). Because in the Lord’s case these two are conjoined, they were anciently represented by kingship conjoined with priesthood; as with Melchizedek, who was king of Salem and at the same time priest to God Most High (Genesis 14:18); and afterwards with the Jews, among whom the representative church was instituted in its own form, by judges and priests, and afterwards by kings.

[11] But as the kings represented truths, which ought not to have command, for the reason, as before said, that they condemn, therefore the desire to have kings was so displeasing as to call for rebuke, and the nature of truth as regarded in itself was described by the rights [jus] of the king (1 Samuel 8:11-18); and at an earlier day it was commanded by Moses (Deuteronomy 17:14-18) that they should choose genuine truth which is from good, and not spurious; and that they should not defile it by reasonings and memory-knowledges [scientifica]. This is what is involved in the directions concerning a king, given in Moses in the place just cited; which no one can possibly see from the sense of the letter, but yet is evident from the several points contained in the internal sense; so that “king” and “kingship” evidently represented and signified nothing else than truth.

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Arcana Coelestia 2069, 2089, 2466, 2504, 2509, 2567, 2761, 2781, 2826, 2830, 2832, 2851, 2906, 3009, 3105, 3325, 3355, 3365, 3441, 3703, 3708, 3858, 3863, 3875, 3969, 4391, 4402, 4575, 4669, 4677, 4728, 4763, 4809, 4876, 4973, 5038, 5044, 5068, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 854

The White Horse 10

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 1, 259, 309

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 27, 31, 126, 155, 236, 701

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 The Choosing of Saul
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Matthew 3:4

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4 And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Matthew 3      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

Chapter 3.

Preparing the Way

1. And in those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,

2. And saying, “Repent ye; for the kingdom of the heavens is near.”

3. For this is he that was declared by Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’”

4. And the same John had his clothing of camel’s hair, and a leather belt about his loins; and his food was locusts and wild honey.

5. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the countryside of the Jordan,

6. And were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

7. And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming upon his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers, who has shown you to flee from the anger to come?

8. Therefore make fruits worthy of repentance;

9. And think it not right to say within yourselves, ‘We have Abraham [for our] father,’ for I say to you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

10. And already also the axe is laid to the root of the trees; therefore every tree which makes not good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.

11. I indeed baptize you with water to repentance; but He that comes after me is stronger than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry; He shall baptize you with [the] Holy Spirit and with fire,

12. Whose fan [is] in His hand; and He will purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the barn, and will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Taking up residence in Nazareth of Galilee, as we have seen, represents a state of receptivity to basic truth. It is that place in each of us which is eager to receive the truth when it hears it without filtering it through confusing theological systems that can introduce distortions. It represents our earliest states of receptivity before our understanding is corrupted by misleading teachings, faulty reasoning, and selfish desires (Herod and Herod’s son).

Herod and his son were the great Roman kings of Judea. This was also the land of the entrenched religious establishment. It was a time of widespread corruption in both religion and politics. In sacred scripture, then, Judea represents a spiritual state in which ideas and attitudes — many of which are diametrically opposed to the teachings of genuine religion — are deeply embedded in people’s consciousness; these false idea and negative attitudes must first be uprooted before spiritual progress can begin.

The uprooting of false religious principles is now represented by the coming of John the Baptist — the central figure of this new episode. 1 The focus now shifts not only from Jesus to John the Baptist, but also from Nazareth to Judea. This is the land of the political authorities and religious leaders. Interestingly, Judea — the region that included the thriving metropolis of Jerusalem — is described as a “wilderness.” We read, “In those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea” (3:1). This accurately describes the state of religion and politics in the land of Judea at that time — a spiritual wilderness. 2

In order to have an accurate idea of what is being represented spiritually, we need to understand what the biblical writers meant by the term, “wilderness.” It does not refer (as it often does today) to a place of unspoiled growth with flourishing trees, fertile fields, and untamed wildlife. On the contrary, the biblical writers used the term “wilderness” to describe a barren place where nothing useful is produced. While Judea may have been flourishing materially, it is nevertheless called a “wilderness” because all truth was being destroyed, and spiritual values could not take root. In terms of authentic spirituality, it was more like a barren desert than a lush forest. Religious leaders ruled with an iron hand, teaching people the traditions of men rather than the commandments of God.

While the religious leaders may have thought that they were teaching people the way to heaven, they were greatly mistaken. That’s why John the Baptist’s message is so alarming to the religious establishment: “Repent,” he says, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2). Apparently, the religious leaders were not promoting the kingdom of heaven. Like it or not, repentance would be necessary.

But what is repentance?

The term usually suggests feeling sorry for what we have done. It is related to words like “penitent,” (a person who is sorry for his actions), “penance” (atoning for sins), and “penitentiary” (a place where people are sent to reflect on their transgressions). While these concepts are certainly a part of repentance, it includes much more. Not only does it involve recognizing, acknowledging and feeling guilty for our sins, but it also involves prayer to God, and the resolve to begin a new life in which sinful thoughts and behaviors are put away. 3 To put away “sinful thoughts and behaviors” is to reject any thought or behavior that is opposed to the Ten Commandments. This is what prepares the way for the Lord.

John the Baptist, then, represents the basic teachings of the Word. Those who heed his warning will be baptized — that is, they will wash themselves by means of the truths of the letter of the Word. This is called a baptism by water, because water represents divine truth — especially the clear, refreshing, life-giving truths of the literal sense. These are the truths that give us spiritual life, just as water gives us natural life. 4

But the letter of sacred scripture is filled with spirit. Therefore John says, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (3:11).

Spiritually understood, John’s baptism, is an introduction to the most basic truths of scripture (baptism of water). When we strive to live according to these truths from faith, we undergo a baptism of the Holy Spirit. But when we strive to live according to these truths from love, believing that the power to do so comes from God alone, we undergo a baptism of fire. It is the fire of God’s love blazing in us. 5

When this fire arises in us, we no longer live according to the truth because of mere obedience; nor do we live according to the truth because we see and understand that it is true; rather, we live according to the truth because we love living according to the truth. This is the baptism of fire.

Love to the Lord is spiritual fire. 6 It is a fire that gives life. But when self-love and love of possessing the things of the world supplants a holy love to the Lord, a different kind of fire sets in — an “unquenchable fire” which leads to spiritual death. In sacred scripture this is described as the Lord separating the useful wheat from the useless chaff: “He will gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (3:12). 7

Why Jesus Needed to be Baptized by John

13. Then comes Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.

14. But John forbade Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by Thee, and comest Thou to me?”

15. And Jesus answering said to him, “Let [it] now [be so]; for thus it is becoming to us to fulfill all justice.” Then he let Him.

In the literal narrative, Jesus now approaches John. This is a picture of the spiritual sense of the Word (Jesus) approaching the literal sense (John), seeking to be baptized. But John tries to prevent Him, saying “I have need to be baptized by You, and You are coming to me?” (3:14). John has good reason to be hesitant. He knows that Jesus lives according to a higher degree of spirituality than anything that John can confer upon Him through baptism. So, why would Jesus need to be baptized by John? After all, Jesus already contains the divinity that governs the universe and provides all things.

But this inner divinity is still clothed in fallible humanity — the heredity nature that Jesus took on through His birth into the world. If humanity had remained in its original pristine state, there would be no need for John the Baptist, or the written Word, or even the Lord’s physical advent. Humanity would have known intuitively and directly the inmost truths of heaven, and would have lived according to them. People would have acknowledged God’s presence and leading at all times, fully believing that life is from God alone and not from themselves. Over the course of many years, however, and through many generations, people came to believe that life originated with themselves rather than being a gift of God. This is represented by Adam’s eating from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” 8

As people gradually turned away from God, believing the appearance that life is from themselves, they fell away from their original state of spontaneous love for God and for the neighbor. In theological terms this is referred to as “the fall of man” and “Adam’s sin.” 9 In accommodation to this “fallen state” of humanity, and as a means of leading us back to our original awareness of God as the source of our life, it was provided that a written Word be given — the Word of God — to help lift humanity from its fallen condition. In this way, through the acquisition of truth which could be applied to life, humanity would have the chance to regain its original integrity. This would take place first through learning the literal truths of sacred scripture (being baptized by John), and later through learning and living the spiritual truths of sacred scripture (being baptized by the Holy Spirit and by fire).

In spite of the provision of a written Word, humanity continued to fall away from its original state. And as humanity continued to fall, it no longer read, studied, or understood the scriptures. Those who did read them — the religious leaders — began to twist and pervert the Word so as to serve their own ends. As a result, God could no longer reach humanity directly (as He had done in the beginning), or even indirectly through the Word. He had to come in Person, clothed in finite humanity.

Like each of us, He had to be born, to learn, to be baptized, and thus to enter upon His spiritual path according to order. Even though Jesus was God Incarnate, His life on earth would be a gradual process of casting off all that He had derived from the mother (everything that pertained to the corrupt loves of self and the world), gradually replacing those corrupted desires with pure divinity from the “Father” within Him — His Divine Soul.

This process would begin by learning truths from the literal sense of the Word — signified by being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. In this way it was altogether fitting, and necessary, that Jesus be baptized by John. This is meant by Jesus’ words, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15).

Each of us must go through a similar process, beginning with learning the simple truths of the literal sense of the Word (John the Baptist), and then applying them to our lives (Jesus). This is exactly what Jesus does, beginning where each of us must begin — with baptism, and moving gradually onward and upward. Just as Jesus gradually glorifies His humanity and becomes more fully divine, we gradually shed our inhumanity and become more fully human.

Interestingly, the words, “Permit it to be so now,” are the first words spoken by Jesus in Matthew, as well as His first recorded action. His words and this initial action indicate humility — the willingness to freely submit Himself to baptism.

These first words and this first action contain a great lesson: even Jesus needs to first learn the truths of the letter of the Word. There are times in our lives, too, when we might feel that we have “outgrown” religion, or no longer need the simple truths of the Word. But we are greatly mistaken to believe that we no longer need those basic truths. Like Jesus, we must “permit it to be so now.” We must continue to learn those basic truths, more and more deeply, so that we can continue to learn and grow.

The Heavens are Opened

16. And Jesus, being baptized, went up straightway out of the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and he saw the spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him;

17. And behold, a voice out of the heavens saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

As we begin to learn, study and apply the simple truths of the letter of the Word to our lives, something wonderful happens. We read, “Then, Jesus, when He had been baptized, came up immediately from the water; and behold the heavens were opened to Him” (3:16).

The “opening of the heavens” refers to the opening of the inner meaning of the Word, the understanding of the spiritual sense which is contained within the literal words. Normally, this takes a considerable amount of time as new insights come to us through long years of study and application. But for Jesus, whose soul is Divine, this happens “immediately.” We read, “And he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (3:16-17). 10

Jesus being baptized by John represents the coming together of the spiritual sense of the Word (Jesus) and the literal sense of the Word (John the Baptist). The result is that the heavens are opened. The same is true when the externals of our life are in agreement with spiritual principles. The natural and the spiritual become one, and we experience the kingdom of God. The spirit of God comes upon us and “the heavens are opened.”

Our spiritual progress, while similar to the process that Jesus goes through, is much slower. And while it is true that we have His divine aid every step of the way, there are still obstacles to overcome and problems to deal with. Truths from the literal sense of the Word do indeed initiate the process for us, but we must strive to put them to use. Inevitably, we will meet opposition, because there are parts of ourselves that resist living in accordance with these truths. This resistance, in which our inherited and acquired patterns of selfishness are aroused, is called “temptation.” Because we now know what is true, we must compel ourselves to live accordingly.

Along with the acquisition of truth comes the opportunity to either confirm ourselves in it, or, if we choose, to turn away from it. This time of decision is called “temptation.” It is a moment in our life — and there will be many such moments — when we can make a newly learned truth “our own” by actually using it. As we mature, and as our love for God and for others deepens, the temptations will also deepen — to the point where it sometimes may feel like we are giving up our very lives. The greater the love, the greater the temptation. The more we love, the more we grieve. 11

While this can be a most grueling process, it is also most necessary. That’s because we become spiritual beings through the process of temptation, a process which begins as we learn the truth (baptism) and then struggle to live according to it.

Accordingly, as soon as Jesus’ baptism is accomplished, He is immediately tempted by the devil. The truth that He has learned cannot merely remain in the memory. It has to be tried in the fires of temptation. And so, as our divine narrative continues, the baptism by water leads to trial by fire.


1. This is the first mention of John the Baptist. It will be important to keep in mind that John the Baptist represents the straightforward teachings of the literal sense of the Word. For example, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Like camel’s hair, these teachings come across as harsh, coarse and inflexible. They are “tough as leather.” Here how Swedenborg explains the representation of John the Baptist: Apocalypse Explained 619:16: “John the Baptist represents the exteriors of the Word [literal meaning of scripture], which are natural, like his clothing…. namely, camel’s hair and the leather belt about his loins…. The Word in its most exterior sense is called ‘the sense of the letter’ or ‘the natural sense,’ for this is was what John represented.”

2. Apocalypse Explained 730:4: “In the Word ‘wilderness’ and also ‘solitude’ and ‘waste places’ are mentioned in many passages, and these signify the state of the church when there is no longer any truth in it because there is no good. This state of the church is called a ‘wilderness’ because in the spiritual world the place where those dwell who are not in truths because they are not in good is like a wilderness, where there is no verdure in the plains, nor harvest in the fields, nor fruit trees in the gardens, but a barren land, parched and dry.” [This is the usual significance of the term “wilderness.” However, Swedenborg also describes it as a wild, uninhabitable place filled with dangerous animals — thus a correspondence of hell. See, for example, Apocalypse Explained 730:42]

3. True Christian Religion 528: “Actual repentance is examining oneself, recognizing and acknowledging one's sins, praying to the Lord, and beginning a new life.”

4. Apocalypse Revealed 378: “The Lord washes or purifies a person by the Divine truth…. ‘Water’ signifies the truth of the Word, which becomes good by living a life according to it.”

5. Arcana Coelestia 9229: “‘Baptizing with the Holy Spirit’ means regenerating by means of the good of faith; and ‘baptizing with fire’ means regenerating by means of the good of love.”

6. Arcana Coelestia 7950:2 “The good of charity is like a flame from which is light; for good is of love, and love is spiritual fire, from which comes enlightenment.”

7. Arcana Coelestia 4906: “Good is actually spiritual fire, from which comes the spiritual heat which vivifies, and evil is the fire and the consequent heat which consumes…. This spiritual fire or heat which produces life becomes a burning and consuming fire with the evil, for with them it is turned into this kind of fire.”

8. True Christian Religion 48[17]: “‘The tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ signifies a person who believes that life is from oneself, and not from God; in other words, that love and wisdom, charity and faith, that is, good and truth in the person and belong to the person rather than to God. People believe this because in whatever they think and will, say and do, they seem and appear to behave exactly as if they did so of themselves. So since they go so far as to persuade themselves that they are God, the serpent said: ‘God knows that on the day you eat of the fruit of that tree your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’”

9. True Christian Religion 444: “People were created so that everything they will, think and do appears to be inside them and so to come from them. Without this appearance a person would not be a human being, for people could not receive, retain or make as it were their own any trace of good and truth, or of love and wisdom. It follows from this that unless this were exactly the appearance, a person could not be linked with God, and so no one could have everlasting life. However, if this appearance induces people to believe that they themselves, and not the Lord, are the source of what they will, think and do, however much it looks as if they are the source, they turn good in themselves into evil and so produce a source of evil in themselves. This is called ‘Adam’s sin.’”

10. In Swedenborg’s translation, it is John the Baptist who sees the dove and hears the voice — not Jesus. In True Christian Religion 164, he writes: “When Jesus was baptized, behold, the heavens were opened, and John saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove, and alighting upon Him; and a voice from heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’” This is also consistent with what is written in John: “And John bore witness, saying, ‘I saw the spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him’” (John 1:32).

11. Arcana Coelestia 1690:3: “All temptation is an assault upon the love in which a person is, and the temptation is in the same degree as is the love.”


From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 3301, 3540, 5620, 7643, 9372, 9828

Apocalypse Revealed 350

Doctrine of the Lord 15

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 395, 543, 619

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:

Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Leviticus 11:22

1 Samuel 14:25

2 Kings 1:8

Bible Word Meanings

Jesus as a man in the Bible represents Divine Truth, the pure and perfect expression of the Lord's infinite love. That truth is contained within...

Soft raiment,' as in Matthew 11:9, represents the internal sense of the Word.

leathern girdle
'The leathern girdle' which John the Baptist wore signifies an external band that receives and contains interior things.

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.

 Baptism of the Lord
Use felt tip markers to draw a picture of John baptizing the Lord in the Jordan River. Then dip a paintbrush in water and go over the picture to give the effect of watercolor. 
Project | Ages 4 - 14

 Dove Poster or Mobile
The dove symbolizes purification by Divine truth. Make a poster or mobile with the color picture of a dove and truths which can help us "clean up" our lives.
Project | Ages 11 - 17

 Flight into Egypt
This lesson discusses a story from the Word and suggests projects and activities for young children.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 God Is a Divine Man
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Jesus Comes to John the Baptist
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 John the Baptist
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Lord's Baptism
Put together this project to make a picture of the Lord that can be moved to show Him going into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized. 
Project | Ages 4 - 10

 Quotes: The Promise of Baptism
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 The Dove
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 The Lord’s Baptism
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 The Lord’s Baptism (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

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

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

 The Lord's Baptism: Matthew
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 You Are My Beloved Son (sheet music)
Sheet music for a beautiful song about the Lord’s baptism.
Song | Ages over 11