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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


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 John the Baptist
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Arcana Coelestia #8588

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8588. And Meribah. That this signifies the quality of the complaining, is evident from the fact that in the original tongue “Meribah” means “contention,” or “quarreling,” and “quarreling” signifies complaining (see n. 8563, 8566); and because names signify the quality of the thing (n. 8587), therefore “Meribah” here signifies the quality of the complaining. As regards this temptation itself and its quality, be it known that in this passage are described those who in temptations almost yield, namely, those who complain against heaven and also against the Divine Itself, and at last almost disbelieve in the Divine Providence. These things are signified in the internal sense by what precedes, and also by what follows in this verse, namely, the quality of the state of the temptation, which is signified by “Massah,” and the quality of the complaining in the temptation, which is signified by “Meribah.” That this quality is here signified by “Meribah,” is plain in David:

Thou calledst upon Me in distress, and I rescued thee; I answered thee in the secret place, I proved thee at the waters of Meribah (Psalms 81:7).

[2] But in the internal historical sense, in which the subject treated of is the state of religion with the Israelitish nation, that nation is described in respect to its quality toward Jehovah, namely, that they were not willing by supplication to entreat Him for aid, but that they expostulated. The reason was, that at heart they did not acknowledge Jehovah as the supreme God, but only in the mouth, when they saw the miracles. That at heart they did not acknowledge Him is very evident from the Egyptian calf which they made for themselves and worshiped, saying that these were their gods; also from their frequent apostasy (of which see n. 8301). This is what is here described in the internal historical sense; but in the internal spiritual sense is described the quality of the temptation with those who before they are liberated are brought to the last of temptation.

[3] That the quality of the Israelitish nation and of its religiosity is described by contention with Moses at Massah and Meribah, is also evident in the following passages:

Harden not your heart, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness, where your fathers tempted Me; they tempted Me, and saw My work; for forty years did I feel loathing at the generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and the same have not known My ways, to whom I sware in Mine anger that they should not come unto My rest (Psalms 95:8-11).

Ye shall not tempt Jehovah your God, as ye tempted Him in Massah (Deuteronomy 6:16; 9:22, 24).

Of Leviticus he said, Thy Thummim and thy Urim are with the Holy Man, whom thou didst tempt at Massah, with whom thou didst contend at the waters of Meribah (Deuteronomy 33:8).

“The Holy Man” here denotes the Lord, whom they tempted, and whom Moses and Aaron did not sanctify.

(References: Deuteronomy 4:16, Deuteronomy 33:8-9)


[4] In the internal historical sense, in which the subject treated of is the religiosity of the Israelitish nation, by Moses and Aaron is not represented truth Divine, but the religiosity of that nation whose leaders and heads they were (n. 7041). Because this religiosity was such as said above, it was intimated to them that they should not bring the people into the land of Canaan, as is written in the book of Numbers:

Jehovah said unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye have not believed in Me, and sanctified Me in the eyes of the sons of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them; these are the waters of Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with Jehovah (Numbers 20:12-13; 27:14).

Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall not come into the land which I have given to the sons of Israel, because ye rebelled against My mouth at the waters of Meribah (Numbers 20:24).

The same is said of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:50-51).

[5] That still representative Divine worship was instituted with that nation, was because representative worship could be instituted with any nation that had holy externals of worship, and worshiped almost idolatrously; for what is representative does not regard the person, but the thing (n. 1361), and it was the genius of that nation, beyond any other nation, to worship merely external things as holy and Divine, without any internal; as for instance to worship as deities their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and afterward Moses and David, and moreover to account holy and as Divine, and to worship, every stone and every piece of wood that had been inaugurated in their Divine worship; as the arks, the tables therein, the lamp, the altar, the garments of Aaron, the Urim and Thummim, and afterward the temple. Of the Lord’s Providence there was then given a communication of the angels of heaven with man by means of such things. For there must needs be somewhere a church, or the representative of a church, in order that there may be communication of heaven with the human race; and as that nation, beyond any other nation, could make Divine worship consist in external things, and thus act the representative of a church, therefore that nation was taken.

[6] At that time communication with the angels in heaven was effected by means of representatives in the following way. Their external worship was communicated to angelic spirits who are simple, and who do not reflect upon internal things, but still are interiorly good. Such are they who in the Grand Man correspond to the outer skin. These pay no attention whatever to the internal of man, but only to his external. If this appears holy, they think holily of the internal also. The more interior angels of heaven saw in those spirits the things that were represented, consequently the heavenly and Divine things that corresponded; for they could be present with these spirits, and see those things; but not with the men except by means of the spirits. For angels dwell with men in things interior; but where there are no such things, they dwell in the interior things of simple spirits; for the angels have no interest in other than spiritual and heavenly things, which are the interior things contained in representatives. From these few words it can be seen how there could be communication with heaven by means of such a people. But see what has been previously shown on this subject, namely: That with the Jews the holy of worship was miraculously elevated into heaven quite apart from them (n. 4307); that whatever their quality might be, the descendants of Jacob could represent what is holy, provided they closely observed the rituals commanded (n. 3147, 3479, 3480, 3881, 4208, 4281, 4288, 4289, 4293, 4307, 4444, 4500, 4680, 4825, 4844, 4847, 4899, 4912, 6304, 6306, 7048, 7051, 8301).

(References: Arcana Coelestia 3479-3480, 4288-4289; Deuteronomy 4:16, Deuteronomy 33:8-9)

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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

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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.”
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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.

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Footnotes:

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.”

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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

john
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...

raiment
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


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