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There may be no one whose life has been scrutinized more than Jesus Christ. Much of what he said and did was recorded in detail in the Bible. But you have to wonder: What was going on inside of Jesus? What kind of inner, spiritual battles did he face from birth to his death on the cross? In this episode of Swedenborg and Life, host Curtis Childs and featured guests look to Swedenborg’s writings for an explanation.
Inner Struggles – The Wilderness in Us
The wilderness is the place where Jesus faced an internal battle with temptation, and it’s metaphorically where we face our own battles with right and wrong. The Bible describes a literal wilderness, but Swedenborg believes the wilderness is a metaphor (or correspondence) for a state of mind where spiritual battles and temptation take place. Dr. Jonathan Rose, Series Editor of the New Century Edition of the Works of Emanuel Swedenborg, appears at minute 2:44 of the video to introduce Swedenborg’s unique take on the internal work Jesus had to do in order to fulfill his ultimate purpose of salvation for all. Swedenborg wrote that Jesus was the Divine essence, created by God in human form to save us. Why? Because, as Dr. Rose describes, evil was threatening to take over the human race. In his mercy and love, God was incapable of violence against hell, and therefore Jesus was created to follow a spiritual journey on earth (one that we all have the potential to follow in our own lives) to deal with the threat and restore the balance of good and evil. Dr. Rose even likened the game Angry Birds to God’s battle between good and evil — watch the clip starting at minute 13:20.
“We could not attack an enemy without being armed for battle and coming within range. We could not destroy or drive away the dragons, hydras, and basilisks in some desert without putting a breastplate on our body, a helmet on our head, and a spear in our hand. We could not catch whales at sea without a ship and whaling equipment. These examples are not actual parallels, but they do illustrate the fact that God Almighty could not have even attempted to battle hell without first putting on a human manifestation.” —True Christianity 124
Related Swedenborg and Life video: The Purpose of Spiritual Struggles
Stones to Bread – Spiritual Food
According to Swedenborg, the intensity of an internal trial matches the nobility of our love. Since the Lord’s life was love for the whole human race, he struggled continuously from the dawn of his youth until his final moments in the world. When Jesus was hungry in the desert, the devil tempted him to turn stones into bread. Through Curtis’s study of Swedenborgian theology, he believes the story serves as a powerful representation of Jesus’s spiritual hunger for the good of all humankind. Jesus rejected the temptation because in spiritual terms, turning a stone to bread represents the action of forcing sinful people to be good. This would result in the destruction of free will–the essential element of life that allows humans to consciously perceive and experience the world.
“Love, which was the absolute core of the Lord’s life, is symbolized by this: ‘He was hungry, and the Devil said, If you are the Son of God, say to this stone that it should become bread. And Jesus answered, It is written, Humankind is not to live by bread alone but by every word of God.’”—Secrets of Heaven 1690
Related Swedenborg and Life video: Is the Devil Real?
Mountains and Towers – Self-love and Materialism
During the second temptation in the desert, the Devil told Jesus to stand at the pinnacle of the Temple and throw himself down to prove that God would protect him from harm. Swedenborg asserts that the Temple’s tower, where this temptation took place, was a symbol of self-love and greed. By rejecting the temptation, Jesus rejected selfishness.
In the third temptation, the devil took Jesus to an even higher point—a mountain—and told him he would give him all the kingdoms in the world if he fell down and worshiped him. Jesus rejected the devil’s third temptation, which symbolized love of the world (materialism). This third and final rejection opened the door to spiritual consciousness for humankind. Curtis compared the events in this story to something that we might experience in our lives: we observe that certain actions negatively affect others and choose to stop that behavior because we are aware of cause and effect. That is the purpose of a spiritual battle—to build a greater awareness that can eventually lead to spiritual rebirth.
“The trial mentioned in Matthew 4, Mark 1 and Luke 4 sums up all the Lord’s trials, which consisted in his battling the self-love and materialism that filled the hells, out of love for the entire human race.” —Secrets of Heaven 1690
The Hidden Record – Inner Meaning of the Bible
Swedenborg believes that the Bible should be read as a multilayered description of the spiritual realities within us and in the world beyond. More specifically, he asserts that many of the teachings in the Old Testament contain hidden revelations about the inner life of Jesus Christ.
“Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Luke 24:25-27
Dr. Rose joins the conversation once again to expand on the notion of inner meaning in scripture. He adds that even though Jesus spoke often, he was silent when it came to himself, but the Old Testament gives us clues about what he was dealing with internally throughout his life.
In the last segment of the Hidden Record section, Curtis points out that Swedenborg believes that all the stories in the Old Testament regarding Abraham are actually depicting the internal struggles of Jesus Christ, and provides a review of four of these Scripture stories and a brief overview of the inner meanings revealed by Swedenborg.
The Cross – Jesus’s Ultimate Spiritual Purpose
How did Jesus get to be Jesus? That’s the question Dr. Rose poses to kick off this segment at minute 55:00. Jesus was tested by the worst of hell throughout his life, and he became stronger and stronger with each test he passed. In a poignant moment, Dr. Rose becomes emotional when describing how Jesus was guided by Divine love and a desire to save the human race in spite of challenges that no human could face. As Jesus’s struggles strengthened him, our own spiritual battles strengthen us. Dr. Rose goes on to explain that many think Jesus’s death on the cross was the point of his coming. However, Swedenborg’s take is that the spiritual work Jesus did throughout his life was the purpose of his existence on earth, and it all needed to happen to create a better future for humankind. The crucifixion was merely the finale of a lifetime of constant trials and constant victories.
Dr. Rose recounts a fascinating and unique Swedenborg teaching. He explains this teaching by comparing it to a movie plotline where a hero encounters fights with many small-time antagonists throughout the movie and overcomes the worst opponent at the end. In Swedenborg’s teachings, Jesus actually fought the worst hell had to offer at the beginning of his life. On the cross, he was battling with the spirits in the highest parts of heaven who were letting him down and his supporters on earth who had abandoned him. The crucifixion was Jesus’s final test. Through physical, mental, and spiritual anguish and torture, he continued to love and passed the greatest of all tests. The evil spirits of hell thought they could defeat Jesus through his death, but Jesus was victorious. He battled heaven and hell and rose from the dead, saving humankind.
“From his early youth up to the last hour of his life in the world, the Lord’s life was one continuous struggle and one continuous victory, as many passages in the Old Testament Word indicate. The Lord’s trials did not end with the test he faced in the wilderness, as these words in Luke show: ‘After the Devil had finished all his testing [of Jesus], he left Jesus alone for a while.’ (Luke 4:13) The same thing can be seen from the consideration that the Lord was tested up till his death on the cross and so till the last hour of his life in the world. This evidence makes it clear that the Lord’s whole life in the world, from early youth on, consisted of constant trials and constant victories, the last of which occurred on the cross when he prayed for his enemies and so for everyone everywhere in the world.”—Secrets of Heaven 1690
Questions from Viewers
In the last segment, Curtis answers these questions from our viewers:
- How did Jesus deal with the animal parts of his nature?
- Is Jesus the avatar of God or is Jesus his own being?
- What would Jesus say about pointing out people around you that have evilness in them? Do we point out their evils, or do we let them walk their own spiritual path and love them from afar?
- What was the star that led the Wisemen to Jesus?
- Was Jesus being tested by the same hell as Swedenborg speaks of seeing in the afterlife?
- Did Jesus struggle with wanting to fall in love with a woman and start a family?
- What is the best way to approach our own battles?
- So, what do you think Jesus is doing now?
- I wonder how God could become God before having had a human experience?
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About Swedenborg and Life
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 in a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format.
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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 help others look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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