Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Spiritual Meaning of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden


The story of Adam and Eve, and their fall by the serpent in the Garden of Eden is still treated as a literal story by many literalists and creationists, causing many to discount Christianity as a whole. Literalists fail to understand a symbolic allegory when presented with one, and indeed will vehemently deny it when presented with that view. In the New Church view, the first 11 chapters of Genesis is written in the form of an allegory, and true history only begins with the 12th chapter of Genesis. Many still believe that the serpent of the Garden of Eden was an actual talking snake, although the Catholic Church has officially moved away from that view and regards the serpent as allegorical.

So if the serpent of the Garden of Eden is an allegorical symbol, what does it symbolize? The most simple answer is that it is simply the personification of evil, and some would go further to say it is a personification of the devil or Satan. However in the revelations of the New Church, there is no individual devil or Satan - hell as a whole is called the devil and Satan. And the origin of evil is man himself from the abuse of the free will he has been given. An individual devil or Satan is a later belief that came as part of tradition, and perhaps the early influence of the Zoroastrian religion from ancient Persia.

The spiritual meaning of a serpent is one who withdraws from heavenly things towards things of the senses and this world. Those who withdraw from their core spirituality towards external material things are called serpents, because serpents crawl on their belly closest to earth, and do not walk upright like men which signify those who live a spiritual life. Those who withdraw from their spirituality and fall into their lower natural desires are represented by beasts, and as the serpent is the lowest it represents those who depend and follow their external senses to the denial of everything else:
"The Most Ancient people did not compare all things in man to beasts and birds, but called them so. Such was their language. Such also it remained in the Ancient Church, after the flood; and similar language is preserved in the Prophets. The things of sense with man they called serpents; for just as serpents are next to the earth, so are things of sense next to the body. Reasonings from things of sense concerning the mysteries of faith, they therefore called the poison of the serpent; and the reasoners themselves they called serpents. And because these reason much from things that are of sense, or visible — as are things earthly, corporeal, worldly, and natural — it is said 'the serpent was subtle beyond every wild animal of the field.'" (Heavenly Arcana, n. 195)
Thus those who state that the serpent represents Satan before his fall are mistaken, and those who believe in an actual serpent in a Garden are deceived by an extreme literal interpretation of scripture. The serpent represents those who only believe in what they receive from their senses. And in modern times, it is worse, where the philosophies of naturalism and materialism prevail, and it affects our way of thinking:
"In ancient times they were called serpents who had faith in things of sense rather than in things revealed. At this day it is still worse; for there are not only those that believe nothing but what they see and feel, but those who confirm themselves by deductions of science unknown to those of most ancient time, and thus blind themselves to a much greater degree. That it may be known how they blind themselves who form conclusions respecting heavenly things from things sensual, scientific, and philosophical, so that they then see and hear nothing at all, and are not only deaf serpents but also flying serpents, which are much more destructive" (Heavenly Arcana, n. 196)
Thus, with this understanding, the "seed of the serpent" represents all belief which comes from arguing from the senses, and the "head of the serpent" is the dominion of evil whose power was destroyed when God chose to become incarnate in human form to fight directly against the hells. So what about the serpent being cursed, so that it was now forced to crawl on its belly? Again it is symbolic:
"That the serpent should go upon his belly means that the sensual could no longer look upward to heavenly things, as before, but looked downward to things corporeal and worldly, is evident from the fact that in the ancient time by the belly were signified things nearest to the earth, by the breast, those that are above the earth, and by the head, those that are highest. So here, the meaning is that the sensual, which in itself is the lowest of man, should go upon its belly, because it turned itself to what is earthly... Therefore when man looked to heavenly things it was said that he walked erect, and that he looked upward or forward, which is the same; and when he looked to corporeal and earthly things, that he was bowed down to the earth, and looked downward or backward." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 247-248)
This is why, in many ancient religions and customs, people would bow down to the earth before God, acknowledging their natural lowness and that heavenly things were higher than the things of the self or one's ego. That this signifies a withdrawal from communion with heaven, can be seen in the book of Revelation where Jesus declares that the "tree of life" is present in paradise or heaven (Rev. 2:7).

OVERCOMING THE SENSES AND BECOMING MORE SPIRITUAL

With this understanding, to become more spiritual one must learn how to withdraw one's desires from material things, and even to withdraw oneself from the senses:
"Unless man's thought can be elevated above sensual things, so that these are beheld as below him, he cannot understand any interior thing in the Word, still less such things as are of heaven abstracted from those which are of the world; for sensual things absorb and suffocate them. It is for this reason that those who are sensual and have zealously devoted themselves to mere outward knowledges, rarely apprehend anything of the things of heaven; for they have immersed their thoughts in such things as are of the world, that is, in terms and distinctions drawn from them, and thus in sensuals, from which they can no longer be elevated and so be kept in a point of view above them..." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 5089)
There are several external means for withdrawing from the senses:

  1. Quiet meditation and prayer, closing one's eyes. This withdraws one's thoughts from the senses.
  2. Fasting. This withdraws one's will from one's cravings.
  3. Chanting, certain kinds of music, affecting the hearing.
  4. Incense, affecting the smell.

Each physical sense corresponds to something internal:
"The sensual which is especially subject to the intellectual part is the sight; that which is subject to the intellectual part and secondarily to the voluntary is the hearing; that which is subject to both together is the sense of smell, and still more the taste; but that which is subject to the voluntary part is the touch." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 5077.3)
One's external senses of the body must be brought under control in order to become more spiritual:
"All the external sensuals of man have relation to his internal sensuals, for they are given to man and placed in his body, that they may serve the internal man while it is in the world, and be subject to its sensuals; when therefore a man's external sensuals begin to rule over his internal, the man is lost; for then the internal sensuals are considered merely as servants, to serve for confirming those things which the external sensuals command with authority." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 5077.2)
One first becomes introduced to spiritual matters through means of knowledges, but the goal is to become elevated above mere natural knowledges to more internal spiritual things by living by the truth:
"The regeneration of the natural is effected by the instilling of spiritual life by the Lord through the internal man into the knowledges therein. This instilling has been treated of in this chapter. But when man is thus far regenerated, if he be such that he can be further regenerated, he is elevated thence to the interior natural, which is under the immediate auspices of the internal. But if the man is not such, his spiritual life is then in the exterior natural. The elevation is effected by a withdrawing from what is of sense and outward knowledge, thus by elevation above them, and then the man comes into a state of interior thought and affection, thus interiorly into heaven." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 6183)
When one understands this, one understands the power of a spiritual life in Jesus Christ:
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:19)
This means, in the spiritual sense, that those who live a spiritual life will overcome all falsehoods of evil:
"That the Lord has [all Divine] power He Himself teaches in express words in Matthew: All power is given to Me in the heavens and on earth (xxviii. 18); and in Luke: Jesus said to the seventy who returned saying that the devils were obedient to them, Behold I give you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing at all shall hurt you. . . . All things have been delivered unto Me of My Father (x. 19, 22). By these words is described the power of the Lord over the hells; devils are they who are in the hells; serpents and scorpions are evils and the falsities of evil; to tread upon them is to destroy the evils and falsities; the hells are also meant by the enemy over which they were to have power." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10019.4)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Who are the 144,000?



The book of Revelation, a highly symbolic work, describes a group of 144,000 who are sealed and protected from the last judgment. So who are they? Literalists will assume 144,000 are literally selected from ethnic Jews, but they miss the point that the Jewish religion was meant to be a symbolic representation of the spiritual Church. Others will recognize it is symbolic, as the number 144,000 is 12 x 12 x 1000, and all numbers in scripture have a symbolic meaning (see Spiritual Meaning of Numbers, or Numerology). Just as there were 12 tribes of Israel, so Jesus selected 12 apostles to begin the Christian Church, and so in the last times 144,000 will be selected. Likewise, in the New Jerusalem there are 12 foundations and on them is written the name of the 12 apostles (see Rev. 21:14).

So if they are symbolic, symbolic of what? The most obvious answer is they represent the Christian church as a whole. This is close to the truth, but right after the sealing of the 144,000 the apostle John encounters a great multitude of people from every nation and people worshiping the Lord (Rev. 7:9-17). So what is the distinction between the 144,000 and the great multitude?  And not only that, no one can answer the question: why is the tribe of Dan missing from the list of the tribes of the 144,000?

These questions, and many others, went unanswered until they were explained in heavenly visions to Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century. The spiritual explanation of the book of Revelation can be found in his work Apocalypse Revealed as well as an unpublished work Apocalypse Explained. Together they form 9 volumes, which I have combined in one work as Apocalypse Revealed and Explained. I will try to summarize here the identity of the 144,000 based on these works.

THE FINAL JUDGMENT TAKES PLACE IN THE SPIRITUAL WORLD

Our material plane is "sandwiched" between two other spiritual planes: heaven and hell. This is the origin of our free will to commit good or evil. The spiritual planes are governed by our own internal spiritual states of being. After death most experience a judgment according to how they live their life and go to either heaven or hell. But others are not ready to be explored in judgment after they die, and they enter a "waiting" state, in a sort of spiritual unawareness, in a spiritual plane between heaven and hell. Here souls gather, until a final judgment takes place to separate the good from the evil.

This final judgment in the spiritual world is described in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), in which the good and evil are mixed together because it is hard to tell them apart. The period before a final spiritual judgment takes place is described in this verse:
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. (Rev. 7:1)
The four angels symbolically describe all of heaven:
"By the four angels here the entire heaven is signified; by the four corners of the earth is signified the entire world of spirits, which is in the midst between heaven and hell: for the final judgment was executed upon those who were in the world of spirits, but not upon any in heaven, nor upon any in hell." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 342)
The "wind" is representative of Divine influx into the lower spiritual planes, to explore the good and evil before the final judgment. This is something that cannot be known without revelation of the nature of the spiritual world:
"Without revelation, who would not think that "winds" here mean winds held back by angels... But "the winds of the earth," here as elsewhere in the Word signify everything Divine that is from the Lord in heaven, in particular, Divine truth, and because Divine truth flows from the Lord as a sun into the whole heaven, and from that into the whole earth, so "holding the winds" signifies to moderate influx. ...The Lord is the sun of the angelic heaven; from Him as a sun all light and all heat there proceed. The light that proceeds is in its essence Divine truth, because it is spiritual light; and the heat that proceeds is in its essence Divine good, because it is spiritual heat. From the Lord as a sun these flow out into all the heavens accommodated to reception by the angels there, thus sometimes more moderately sometimes more intensely. When they flow out more moderately the good are separated from the evil, but when more intensely the evil are cast out. When, therefore, the Last Judgment is at hand the Lord first flows in moderately, in order that the good may be separated from the evil." (Apocalypse, Explained, n. 418)
That "wind" signifies Divine influx, especially of Divine truth, and thus the Holy Spirit, can be proven by many passages from scripture. Throughout the revelations given to Swedenborg, he saw the Lord in heaven as the central sun, and this has been partially confirmed by the modern Near Death Experience phenomenon.

THE SEALING OF THE 144,000 ON THE FOREHEAD

The 144,000 are sealed on their foreheads. Each part of the body is representative of a different aspect of heaven; the forehead signifies the good of love in a person:
"The whole face, where the organs of sight, smell, hearing, and taste, are situated, corresponds to the affections and the thoughts therefrom in general, the eyes corresponding to the understanding, the nose to perception, the ears to hearkening and obedience, and the taste to the desire to know and be wise; but the forehead corresponds to the good of love, from which all these are, for it forms the highest part of the face, and directly encloses the front and primary part of the brain, which is the seat of man's intellect. This is why the Lord looks upon angels in the forehead, and the angels look to the Lord through the eyes; this is so because the forehead corresponds to the love, from which the Lord looks upon them, and the eyes correspond to the understanding from which they look to the Lord; for the Lord grants Himself to be seen through the influx of love into their understanding." (Apocalypse Explained, n. 427)
This can be seen from scripture:
"...it was also commanded that these words, Thou shalt love thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, should be upon the hand and upon the forehead (Deut. vi. 5, 8; xi. 18)." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 347).
This is the origin of the Jewish custom to wear phylacteries (or Hebrew tefillin) on the forehead. The forehead signifies one's purpose or intent, the hand signifies one's power to execute one's intention. To "seal" the 144,000 on the forehead is to separate out those who are in the good of love in the spiritual world. That sealing signifies protection of the good before judgment, can also be seen in Ezekiel chapter 9 where the good are sealed on the forehead before judgment was executed upon Jerusalem.

THE SYMBOLISM OF EACH TRIBE OF THE 144,000

That the Jewish church is a symbolic representation of the spiritual Christian church is known to many, but the modern trend has been towards greater literalism and literalists believe 144,000 Jews will be sealed. But this is not the case: the 12 tribes of Israel, similar to the 12 apostles, signify the entire church of the Lord. However what each tribe in particular signifies has been unknown until this was revealed to Swedenborg in the 18th century:
"Sealed out of every tribe of Israel, signifies the Lord's heaven and church from them. By a tribe is signified religion as to good of life, and by every tribe is signified the church as to all the good of love and as to all the truth from that good, from both of which is the good of life. For there are two things which make the church, the good of love and truth of doctrine: their marriage is the church. The twelve tribes of Israel represented and hence signified the church as to that marriage, and each tribe some universal truth of good or good of truth in it. But what each tribe signified has not hitherto been revealed to any one; nor could it be revealed, lest by wrongly connected explanation the holiness which lies hid in them when united into one should be profaned" (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 349)
What the spiritual meaning of each tribe represents is explained from multiple passages of scripture; however the meaning of each tribe gets slightly modified depending on the order in which each tribe is mentioned. In the spiritual meaning, the context and sequence is important, and the first in a series determines and modifies the meaning of the following terms in the series. In this list of the 12 tribes, Judah comes first, and in a spiritual sense Judah signifies those who are in love to the Lord, In a negative sense, Judah signifies those who are in the love of self and consider themselves better than all others. Thus is a negative sense, Judah represents narcissists or those who elevate their ego above all others.

There are three levels of spiritual development, which is based upon the golden rule or greatest commandment (Matt. 12:30-31):
  1. Those who are in love to the Lord, who consider love as primary, otherwise known as the "celestial" class. This is represented by the first 6 tribes beginning with Judah.
  2. Those who are in love to the neighbor, who consider truth as primary, otherwise known as the "spiritual" class. They first know the truth, then act on the truth. This is represented by the latter 6 tribes beginning with Simeon.
  3. Those who are in external obedience to religious principles, who are essentially good, but who are governed by false appearances and even false beliefs. This is the "great multitude" that is mentioned after the 144,000.
Below is the spiritual meaning of each tribe of the 144,000 in the list of Revelation chapter 7, which generally follow the three principles of love, truth and usefulness in order. Note how the sequence progresses from higher to lower things:
  1. Judah = those who are in love to the Lord.
  2. Reuben = those who are in wisdom from love to the Lord.
  3. Gad = those who are in the uses from wisdom of love to the Lord.
  4. Asher = those who are the love of doing good uses to others/society.
  5. Naphtali = those who are in the perception of use and what good use is.
  6. Manasseh = those who are in the will of serving and doing what is of use.
  7. Simeon = those who are in love towards the neighbor
  8. Levi = those who are in the love for affection for the truth
  9. Issachar = those who are in the good of life from affection for the truth
  10. Zebulon = those who are in the marriage love of good and truth, or the marriage love of the Lord and the church
  11. Joseph = those who are the doctrine of good and truth of the New Church.
  12. Benjamin = those who are in the life of truth from good according to doctrine of the New Church.
WHY IS THE TRIBE OF DAN MISSING?

One particular mystery has popped up in multiple commentaries, where they ask why the tribe of Dan is missing from the list. This cannot be known until the spiritual significance of the tribe of Dan is known, which happens to be the same as the "great multitude" that follows the sealing of the 144,000:
"Among these twelve tribes, out of each of which twelve thousand are said to have been sealed, the tribe of Dan is not mentioned, but in its stead the tribe of Manasseh. The tribe of Dan is not mentioned because that tribe represented and signified such as are treated of in what now follows in this chapter, whom John thus describes, "After these things I saw, and behold a great multitude which no one could number, out of every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palms in their hands" (verse 9 seq.). For these are such as were not in the very truths of heaven and the church, but in the good of life according to the doctrinals of their religion, and these were for the most part not genuine truths but falsities, and yet these falsities were accepted by the Lord as truths, because such were in the good of life, and on account of this the falsities of their religion were not tainted with evil, but inclined to good. The others were taken in place of the tribe of Dan because the tribe of Dan was the last of the tribes, and therefore signified, in the Lord's kingdom, the ultimates in which those are who are in the good of life and of faith according to their religion in which there are no genuine truths." (Apocalypse Explained, n. 450)
It is important to realize, God cares more about the good of your life, over that of the religion you believe in. However certain falsehoods can affect one's life, therefore for this latter group the angel states that the Lord will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Crying or tears is mourning for falsehoods that have destroyed or profaned the truth. It also represents a truth that is very hard to accept due to falsehoods, this is the spiritual meaning that corresponds to the physical act of crying.

THE 144,000 REPRESENT THOSE OF THE NEW CHRISTIAN CHURCH

Swedenborg saw that in the 18th century a spiritual judgment was performed and a new Christian revelation was given, in order to remove falsehoods out of the Christian church. A new Christian heaven was formed, this is represented by the 144,000. In a very specific sense, it refers to those Christians who have the following criteria:
  1. Those who acknowledge God in one person, Jesus Christ, and who acknowledge the Divine in His human. Those who believe in the traditional trinity of three persons do not belong to the 144,000.
  2. They live a life according to the 10 commandments, and love the truth for the sake of truth.
  3. They are are not affected by the falsehood of justification by faith alone which is particular to the Protestant churches.
That the 144,000 are those who acknowledge God in one person, Jesus Christ, can be seen in Rev. 14:1 where they appear on Mount Zion with the lamb of God, with the "name of the Father" written on their foreheads:
"Having His Father's name written in their foreheads, signifies their acknowledgment of the Lord's Divine and Divine Human from love and faith. By the name of the Father is meant the Lord as to the Divine from which all things are, which is called the Father, and at the same time as to the Divine Human which is called the Son; since they are one, and one person, united like the soul and the body. Therefore in heaven by God the Father no other is meant than the Lord; and in the New Heaven the Lord is also called Father. The reason that the name of the Father is here said to be in their foreheads, is also, that the Divine good of the Lord's Divine love is meant by the Father; which is everywhere meant by the Father in the Word of the Evangelists, where He is named by the Lord; and the Divine truth of His Divine wisdom is meant by the Son: which two were united as the soul to the body and the body to the soul, when the Lord glorified His Human" (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 613)
That "the name of the Father" means the Divine with Jesus Christ, can be shown from the fact that even though Jesus commanded the disciples to baptize in the "name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19) in the book of Acts they baptized in the name of Jesus, plus many other passages. The acknowledgment of the Father as the Divine itself in Jesus is the distinguishing factor of the 144,000, which is indicated by a "new song" given to them that only they could know, and not others:
"And no one could learn that song but the hundred forty-four thousand, signifies that no others from among Christians could understand, and thus acknowledge from love and faith, that the Lord alone is the God of heaven and earth, but they who were received by the Lord into this New Heaven. By this song is signified the acknowledgment of the Lord, that He is the God of heaven and earth (n. 279, 617). By learning is signified to perceive interiorly in one's self that it is so; which is to understand, and thus to receive and acknowledge. He who learns in any other way, learns and does not learn, because he does not retain. By the hundred and forty-four thousand are meant they who acknowledge the Lord alone as the God of heaven and earth (n. 612). No other from among Christians could learn this song, that is, could acknowledge that the Lord alone is the God of heaven and earth, because they have imbibed from infancy the idea that there were three Persons in the Divinity, distinct from each other." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 618)
Thus among Christian denominations, I know of only two that follow this doctrine: the New Church, and Oneness Pentecostals. While the New Church is small, the latter has been spreading their message more effectively.

The second distinguishing factor of the 144,000, is that they love truth for the sake of truth, for the sake of living one's life according to God's commandments. This is in opposition to those of spiritual Babylon, who use religion for the sake of gaining power and authority. This is the spiritual meaning of the 144,000 being declared to be "virgins" who have not "defiled themselves with women." This it to be interpreted spiritually, in that they do not adulterate truth:
"These are they who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins, signifies that they did not adulterate the truths of the church, and defile them with falsities of faith; but that they loved truths because they are truths. That a woman signifies the church from affection for truth, and hence in the opposite sense the church from affection for falsity, may be seen above (n. 434, 533); here the church from affection for truth, because it is said not defiled with women. To be defiled with women signifies the same as to commit adultery and fornication. That to commit adultery and fornication signifies to adulterate and falsify the Word, may be seen above (n. 134). For they are virgins signifies because they have loved truths because they are truths, thus from spiritual affection. The reason that these are meant by virgins is that a virgin signifies the church as a bride, who wishes to be conjoined to the Lord, and to become a wife: and the church who wishes to be conjoined to the Lord, loves truths because they are truths; for by truths, when the life is according to them, conjunction is effected." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 620)
Those who read scripture in the literal sense may use this passage as an argument for celibacy, but that is simply not the case. It is spiritually better for one to live a married life. This is perhaps one of the most misinterpreted passages in the book of Revelation.

The third distinguishing factor is the 144,000 are not affected by the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, that one merely has to believe and commit no effort to one's spiritual development. This is described, in the spiritual sense, of how locusts arise from the abyss to torment men, but could not touch or harm any of the 144,000 sealed in their forehead as described in Rev. 9:
"By them who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads they are signified who are not in charity and thence in faith; for the forehead signifies love and charity (n. 347); and to have a seal signifies to know and distinguish these from others (n. 345). They who have confirmed faith alone even to the arcana of justification and salvation by it, cannot take away any truth and good of faith, nor affection and perception, from any but those who are not in the faith of charity, because scarce any one except the prelate who teaches and preaches them, comprehends those things. The layman hears them; but they pass in through one ear, and out at the other: which the mystery-preaching priest himself may know from this, that he has himself expended all the force of his talent in imbibing them in his youth, and afterward in retaining them in his subsequent age; also that he esteems himself supremely learned by reason of them. What then shall the layman do, who simply thinks of faith from charity, when he hears these mystic notions? It may be seen from this, that faith alone justifying is the faith of the clergy, and not of the laity, except of those who live carelessly. These draw from those mysteries only this, that faith alone saves; that they cannot do good of themselves; that neither can they fulfil the law; that Christ suffered for them: besides a few more general propositions like these." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 426)
This is the mystery of the sealing of the 144,000. If one acknowledges that God is one Being, one person who has manifested Himself in Jesus Christ, and lives according to His commandments, then that person belongs to the 144,000. These are they who belong to the New Christian movement, and are able and willing to see the truth and live by them.