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No matter what your faith tradition, you’ve probably caught yourself wondering what Jesus was truly like. What was going through his mind as he traveled on earth? How did he change as he grew?
In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose explore how Jesus’s spiritual and psychological development are reflected in Old Testament stories—and can inform our daily life today.
To begin, it’s important to understand that Swedenborg’s perspective was that Jesus was the divine soul in human form, come to earth to save the human race. For more details on this, check out our episode “Why Jesus Was Born.”
Also, remember that Jesus went through the same process of physical growth that we all do. But if he came to earth to reconcile humanity and divinity, why did he come as a baby rather than as some more imposing form? Our episode “Why Did Jesus Come to Earth as a Baby?” can shed some light on this question.
If we can accept why Jesus was born and that he needed to undergo the human process of physical development, then we can begin to understand his inner, psychological process as well.
So Jesus had a big job in front of him—he had to close an infinite gap, and he had to go through a number of trials to make it happen. To learn more about these experiences, check out our episode “The Spiritual Battles of Jesus Christ.”
According to Swedenborg:
What was revealed seems so mild that it hardly amounts to anything, as far as the literal story goes; to speak and answer in that way is no trial. The fact is, though, that he was tested more severely than any human mind could ever grasp or believe. (Secrets of Heaven §1690)
So what made this so difficult? Jesus’s love for all of humanity.
All trials target the love we feel. The severity of the trial matches the nobility of the love. If love is not the target, there is no trial. To destroy a person’s love is to destroy the core of that person’s life, since love is life. The Lord’s life was love for the whole human race, a love so great and good that it was pure, unalloyed love. He allowed this life of his to be attacked continuously from the dawn of his youth until his final moments in the world. . . . In short, the Lord was attacked by all the hells from early in his youth up to the very end of his life in the world, while he was continually routing, subduing, and vanquishing them. This he did purely out of love for the entire human race. Since his love was not human but divine, and the greater the love the harder the struggle, you can see how fierce his battles were and how savage on the part of the hells. (Secrets of Heaven §1690)
It seems like we don’t know much about Jesus’s inner life, but Swedenborg revealed that the Old Testament actually provides the key.
The nature of the inner meaning . . . requires that each and every particular be understood separately from the literal meaning, as if the literal meaning did not exist. The soul and life of the Word is in the inner meaning, and it does not reveal itself unless the literal meaning vanishes, so to speak. That is how angels—enabled by the Lord—perceive the Word when we on earth are reading it. (Secrets of Heaven §1405)
The meaning to be found in the Bible is multi-layered—the text has literal (outermost), natural, spiritual, and heavenly (innermost) meanings.
The first layer of inner meaning, the natural, pertains to the history of humanity’s spiritual development. The next layer, the spiritual, provides insight into our individual spiritual development and growth—our process of regeneration. In Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg says that Genesis 1 through 11 are primarily focused on these two levels of meaning.
The deepest layer of inner meaning is the heavenly one, which describes Jesus’s own transformation as he unified humanity and divinity within himself. And this is the lens we’ll use to understand Jesus’s psychological journey, which, Swedenborg says, begins at Genesis 12.
From the first chapter of Genesis up [through the eleventh chapter], the story elements were not true history but were made up, and on an inner level they symbolized heavenly and spiritual matters. In the [twelfth chapter], and in those to come, the narrative details are not made up but are truly historical details. On a deeper level they too symbolize heavenly and spiritual matters, as anyone can see simply by considering that it is the Lord’s Word. (Secrets of Heaven §1403)
Abram, the first to be chronicled, broadly represents the Lord and more narrowly represents the heavenly self. Isaac, who comes next, likewise represents the Lord generally but the spiritual self specifically. Jacob too represents the Lord generally, and specifically he represents the earthly self. So the three of them represent properties of the Lord, of his kingdom, and of the church. (Secrets of Heaven §1404)
The stories of Joseph, which follow Jacob, make up the fourth phase, which specifically represents the union of the heavenly, the spiritual, and the earthly. These four phases link together in four ways, all illuminating the process of Jesus’s glorification.
|Patriarch||Levels of Jesus’s Spirit||Focus||Jesus’s Lifetime|
And each of these phases shares the key goal of joining love and wisdom in order to unite human and divine and bring about the salvation of humankind.
First, Abraham’s story illustrates how, by means of divine truth and love in his inner self, Jesus struggled against the evil in his outer self,
thereby joining it to his inner self and accomplishing the first stage of union between divine and human.
Next, Isaac’s story reveals how Jesus reconciled his rationality with genuine truth, which comes from love. This unites love and wisdom at the spiritual and rational levels of Jesus’s mind.
Now, the story of Jacob shows exactly how Jesus’s divine soul and now divine rationality united love and wisdom at the natural level.
Finally, it all comes together in the story of Joseph, where by means of a new will, the inner self makes the final connection to the outer self.
For Swedenborg, the whole Bible is telling this same story of spiritual evolution again and again in different ways so that the reader will be able to understand the complex path from humanity to true divinity.
The way Jesus united the human to the divine is the same path we can take to unite with him.
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About Swedenborg & Life
In a lighthearted and interactive webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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