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On Easter, the Christian church celebrates Christ’s rise from the grave. The reasons for his suffering and death are core to the faith, but is there another way of understanding what happened and why?
In this episode, host Curtis Childs explores eighteenth-century scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg’s spiritual writings about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection—and what it means for us today.
Before jumping in, Curtis emphasizes that although Swedenborg has a very different understanding of the significance of the crucifixion, it’s all based on the Bible. In fact, Swedenborg’s book about Jesus, The Lord, relies so heavily on scripture that 55 percent of the text is nothing but Bible passages, as Dr. Jonathan Rose, series editor of the New Century Edition translations of Swedenborg’s writings, pops in to explain.
The Greatest Prophet
While Jesus was utterly unique, he did follow in a long line of prophets. Like many prophets before him, providence led Jesus through very specific (and sometimes strange) experiences—see, for example, Ezekiel 4:1–6, Jeremiah 13:1–7, and Hosea 1:2. The experiences described in the Bible, Swedenborg says, represent the spiritual tribulations of the people at the time.
The prophets suffered in much the same way because they represented the Lord’s Word and therefore his church, and the Lord was the quintessential prophet. . . . So too, wherever prophets are mentioned in both Testaments it means the body of teaching the church draws from the Word, while the Lord as the supreme prophet means the church itself and the Word itself. (The Lord §15:2, 8)
So what did Jesus’s experiences mean?
- When he was betrayed, arrested, and condemned, it meant the Word was being betrayed and condemned by the church.
- When he was whipped, hit, and spit upon, it meant the true concepts in the Word were being assaulted.
- When he wore a crown of thorns, it meant the people of the church were falsifying and contaminating those true concepts.
- When his garments were divided, it meant the church had destroyed the connectedness of the true meaning of scripture.
- When his inner tunic was not divided, it meant they couldn’t destroy the connectedness of the inner meaning.
- When he was given vinegar to drink, it meant they were only offering things that were distorted and false.
- When he was crucified, it meant they had destroyed and profaned the whole Word.
- When his side was pierced, it meant they had completely stifled everything good and true in the Word.
Many believe that Jesus was atoning for our sins when he died on the cross—that God was angry at the human race, and a sacrifice was necessary in order to redeem us. Swedenborg, however, says that God loves us too much for that to be the case.
It is believed in the church that the Lord was sent by the Father to make atonement for the human race . . . It is quite true that we would all have perished if the Lord had not come into the world, but . . . this was not a matter of retributive justice, since that is not a divine attribute. Justice, love, mercy, and goodness are divine attributes, and God is justice itself, love itself, mercy itself, and goodness itself. Further, where we find these we find no vindictiveness and therefore no retributive justice. (The Lord §18:1)
Swedenborg says that the reason Jesus came to earth was because the human race had become so immersed in sin and false ideas that we were in danger of being cut off from heaven. He provided a ladder that would help lift people out of their self-centered lives—not just in his own time, but for all time.
God didn’t put us in some sort of arbitrary debt to save us from a hell he created—he came to earth to save us from ourselves. He showed us a path to himself.
How the Savior Saves
Jesus’s impact didn’t end in his time. What he showed the church at that time remains true for us today—he can still help us fight evil and turn toward love.
If these things had not happened, no human beings could have accepted anything divinely true that dwelt within them, let alone anything divinely good, because the Devil, who had had the greater power before these events, would have snatched it from their hearts. (The Lord §17:1)
In other words, because Jesus came down to earth and fought for us, we now have a space inside us where we can choose to do right (or wrong!).
So what about our sins? In John 1:29, it says that Jesus “takes away the sin of the world.” According to Swedenborg, this doesn’t mean that our sins were removed through Jesus’s suffering on the cross; he removed them by empowering us to live by his commandments. It’s not instantaneous or effortless—we have to do some work, too.
Reason alone should convince anyone who is the least bit enlightened that sins can be taken away from us only by active repentance—that is, by our seeing our sins, begging the Lord for help, and desisting from them. (The Lord §17:3)
This is how we live and show our belief in the Lord—it’s not just faith; it’s a matter of living our lives every day in the way he showed us, by performing good and loving actions.
In the wrap-up, Curtis describes Jesus as the capstone for a series of prophets, all of whom had the job of letting people know when they were going spiritually astray. His death wasn’t a way of instantly siphoning off our sins or appeasing an angry God, but it was rather a victory over hell and a path to salvation. In order to be saved, though, we have to take the path of repentance and choose good every day. That’s the true meaning of Jesus’s suffering and death: the chance for all of us to become free of hell.
Looking for a more meditative approach? Take a moment to consider what this series of Bible verses means to you.
- I find that the churches of today are [besieged] by many false ideas. How can we find the truth in their teaching so as to bring us together with fellowship and the Lord?
- Why did Jesus cry out, “God, why have you forsaken me?” while dying on the cross?
- Are there any offspring of Swedenborg that still carry out his work? Who are they?
- My uncle has been diagnosed “schizophrenic.” How can I get him to realize that he is something other than the violent voices in his head?
- What are Swedenborg’s ideas on hereditary sin? How does it work? Are we really responsible for our ancestors’ sins? This seems unreasonable and not something God would allow.
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About Swedenborg and Life
In a lighthearted and interactive live 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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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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