<< MATTHEW XXVII: Spiritual Meaning >>
1 When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:
2 And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.
3 Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
4 Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
5 And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
6 And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.
7 And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.
8 Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.
9 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value;
10 And gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.
9, 10. Thirty signifies somewhat of combat, and thus but little combat. The number is composed by multiplying five, by which is understood some little, and six by which is understood labour or combat. Thirty here stands for the price of what is little valued. A. 2276. Thirty means what is so little as to be scarce anything, and thus this means that the Jews placed no value on the merit and redemption of the Lord, but with those who believe all good and all truth to be from the Lord, the price of redemption is signified by forty, and in a higher degree by four hundred. A. 2966.
1 The day whose dawn brought repentance to Peter found the Jewish rulers impenitent and unbelieving, and still plotting how they might become murderers of the Just One. When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. The chief priests are evils of the will, and the elders of the people are evils of the understanding; and their taking counsel together is their combining to procure the destruction of heavenly goodness in the person of Jesus.
2 And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor. We bind Jesus when our evil affections restrain and control the Word; and this is the case when we subject it to the dominion of our own will and wisdom. When the Jews had bound Jesus, they led him away, and delivered him to Pilate the governor. A Roman and Gentile, Pilate represented natural reason, or the natural understanding. Hence we find that Pilate, though he manifests some better traits of character than the Jews, yet lends himself as an instrument to carry out their wicked designs against Jesus.
The Sanhedrim had already declared Jesus to be worthy of death, but as the Jews had not at this time the power of life and death, the priesthood had to contrive how they might induce the Roman governor to condemn him. Hence their leading him away to Pilate. Their binding Jesus was an expressive act, the meaning and form of which may be learned from the Lord’s words to Peter after his resurrection: “When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkest whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not” (John xxi. 18). Although this was spoken naturally of Peter’s death, yet it spiritually describes the condition of faith at the end of the church. In its youth faith was free; in its old age it is bound, – the understanding is reduced to obedience, and led whither the church will. The binding of Jesus represented the binding of the Word itself, so as to bring it into subjection to the will of man.
3 The evangelist here introduces the sequel of the history of Judas. Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. The history of Judas forms a contrast to that of Peter. Both sinned, and both repented. But how different the nature and results of their repentance! The one was humbled, and became a new man; the other died by his own hand. But Judas and Peter stand in contrast to each other in their representative characters as well as in their personal history. Judas represented the Jewish church; Peter represented the Christian church. The repentance of Judas represented the repentance which needs to be repented of (2 Cor. vii. 10). His was the conversion against which the Lord hardens the heart and blinds the understanding – the conversion which is followed by profanation, which brings upon the soul the greater condemnation. The restitution and confession which Judas makes is a revelation, rather than a change of state. The returning of the thirty pieces of silver is the rendering back to the Jewish church the truth which had been profaned by being employed for so evil a purpose. Knowledge of truth, like money, which is one of its symbols, is in itself the same whether possessed by the good or the evil, or employed for good or evil purposes. When a church comes to in end, or an individual is judged, the knowledge of truth is taken away from them, according to the law, “he that hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have.”
4 But Judas confessed, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. This represents the laying open of the state of the church, and her own mouth condemning her of having violated and profaned the Word, and so betrayed the Lord. To the confession of Judas the chief priests and elders answered, What is that to us? see thou to that. These men did not concern themselves about the innocence of Jesus; they had paid the price of his blood, and were determined to shed it; their unworthy agent had only to settle the question with himself And thus it is when a false understanding, penetrated with gleams of light, revolts against an evil will, it finds it is -unheeded, and receiving no reciprocation, has to fall back upon itself
5 When the priests and elders would not accept, for the release of Jesus, what they had paid for securing him, Judas cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. Truth profaned in the understanding cannot deliver divine truth from bondage and condemnation in the will: it can only be cast down in the temple, and left as an unclaimed treasure. It has been much discussed whether Judas died by his own hands or fell a victim to remorse. The last opinion is considered to be favoured by the statement of his end in Acts i. 18. The account of the evangelist necessitates the idea of strangulation in some way, and most probably by his own agency. This is all that the spiritual sense requires. For hanging, or strangulation, or suffocation, which have all been suggested, signifies destroying the connection between the internal and the external, and the consequent destruction of both. The neck, as the means of connection between the head and the body, signifies the connecting medium between the internal; and external of our minds. Judas hanging himself, represented that in the Jewish church the conjunction of the internal and external was broken, by which the church was utterly destroyed.
6 And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. This was considered to be in agreement with a law of Moses (Dent. xxiii. 18), though not expressly mentioned in it. The money, as they had given it, was the price of blood; it was given to compass the wicked end of putting Jesus to death, But the blood of the Lord has two meanings. The Jews shed the Lord’s blood for evil – the Lord permitted it for good; that which was death to them was life to the world. It was so ordered, therefore, that the price of Jesus’ blood should not return into the treasury of the Jewish church. As the high priests, by procuring the Lord’s death, had been unwilling agents in procuring the redemption of the world, so, in the final disposal of the price of the Lord’s blood, they unconsciously did an act which represented the reception of the Lord’s salvation by others, as mentioned in the next verse.
7 And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. The work of the potter signifies the work of regeneration. This is clear from Jeremiah xviii. 4. The prophet, by divine command, goes down to the potter’s house to see a work on the wheel. “The vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.” Every one, as he now comes from the hand of his Creator, is a marred vessel, but every one who comes from the hand of his Re-creator is another vessel, made as seems good to the potter to make it. He is renewed according to the will and into the image of God. The silver given by the Jews as the price of the Lord’s blood was given to buy the potter’s field, to represent that the truth originally revealed to the Jewish church, which that church had perverted, to destroy the very end for which it had been given, was now to be transferred to the Gentiles, to become with them the means of that regeneration which the Jews had wilfully refused. The potter’s field is the Gentile church, including the idea of a capacity and desire for being regenerated. This idea is included also in the use for which the potter’s field was purchased – to bury strangers in. Burial, in the first place, signifies resurrection; for burial to the body is resurrection to the spirit. When the body returns to the dust as it was, the spirit returns to God who gave it. But in the second place, burial, like resurrection, signifies regeneration, which is the resurrection from the death of sin into the life of righteousness. When the Jews purchased the potter’s field to bury strangers in, they no doubt intended that the cursed means should be devoted to a cursed use to provide sepulture for the outcast and the destitute, perhaps that their own dust might not mingle with that of the unknown wanderer. But how expressive is this despised use to which the price of the Lord’s blood was devoted! In Jesus the stranger finds a friend; in his blood, salvation; in his resurrection, life. The price of the Lord’s blood is his merit and righteousness; and, despised and valueless as these were in the estimation of the Jews, they are precious to the stranger, – to him who is a spiritual sojourner in the earth, seeking for a home in heaven.
8 Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. Aceldama, the name which the potter’s field acquired, sounds of violence in its historical associations, but in its spiritual sense of salvation and life eternal. All that is comprehended in the meaning of the Saviour’s blood, as realized in Christian experience, is expressed in the “field of blood.” On the one hand, the Lords temptations, sufferings, and death; on the other, his resistance, his triumphs, and his life – all are included in the meaning of his blood. His blood is his divine truth. And when the Christian has, through his truth, suffered and died with Christ, then does he share in his triumphs and his life. “For if we be planted in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Rom. vi. 5). The field of blood is therefore the field of regeneration, and it will ever continue so to be. When the evangelist tells us it is so called “unto this day,” he reveals an eternal truth. With the Word, as with the Lord, today is for ever. In the concerns of the soul and eternity, to-day is not a portion of time, but a state. And the state of regeneration which has been purchased by the price of the Lord’s blood will be available to the spiritual stranger, world without end.
9-11. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me. The purchase of the potter’s field was the fulfilment of a prophecy. This prediction the evangelist ascribes to Jeremiah, when yet it is found in Zechariah. Various explanations of the difficulty have been offered. Noble thinks that the subject of the prophecy properly belongs to Jeremiah, the mourning prophet, but had been put into the mouth of Zechariah, to show the inspiration of the evangelist in assigning it to its true place. The text is found as it is in many ancient manuscripts, though not in all. We incline to think the most reasonable conjecture to be that the passage in Matthew did not originally contain the prophet’s name, but read, “then was fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophet and that “Jeremiah” was inserted by some early transcriber. It is surprising the chief priests were not aware, when they “took counsel,” that their deliberations should result in the literal fulfilment, in every particular, of a prediction uttered centuries before by an inspired prophet. But the thirty pieces, the price of him that was valued, are expressive of the little estimation in which the Lord was held by the Jewish people. By the priesthood the Lord was hated. But in this transaction they unconsciously did what was symbolical of the estimation in which the Lord and his redemption were held by the Jewish people as a whole. Thirty is a number which, wherever it occurs in the Word, signifies comparatively little. And lightly indeed were the Lord’s merit and redemption esteemed by the degenerate descendants of Israel. After recording these circumstances concerning Judas, the evangelist returns to Jesus, who had been delivered bound to Pontius Pilate. And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. This was a form of acknowledgment. The Lord did not offer any explanation or qualification of his affirmation, so as to enlighten or conciliate the judge. He was a king, but his kingdom was not of this world. He was not the king of the temporal, but of the spiritual Jews of the church which the kingdom of Judah represented. The Lord is called a king and a priest. He is a king as divine truth, and a priest as divine good. Truth rules, and good ministers. But when he is called the King of the Jews, truth grounded in good is meant. There were two kingdoms after the time of Solomon. The kingdom of Israel then represented the government of divine truth in the church, and the kingdom of Judah represented the government of divine good in the church.
11 And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.
12 And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.
13 Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?
14 And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
15 Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
16 And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
17 Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?
18 For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.
19 When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.
20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
21 The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
22 Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
23 And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.
11 That the Lord is King is clear from passages in the New Testament. A. 3008.
11-29, 37, 42. Anointed is called Christ in the Greek tongue, and Messiah in the Hebrew, and Anointed is King, hence it is that the Lord was called King of Israel, and King of the Jews, which He also confessed before Pilate, whence it was written upon the cross. E. 684.
12-14. It is remarkable that, when questioned by Pilate, the Lord answered him, but when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. The chief priests were Jews; Pilate was a Gentile. In the Jewish church the voice of Divine Truth was now forever silenced; among the Gentiles, who were to form the new church, there was a disposition to hear it, though, as we shall see, not the capacity to receive it directly. As indicative of the negative state of the Jews, which quenched the voice of the Truth amongst them, and of the affirmative state of the Gentiles, which gave utterance to the truth so far as they knew it, the priests and elders only dealt in accusations against Jesus, while Pilate asked a question, which on his part contained no accusation, and admitted, as it received, an affirmative answer. And even when appealed to by Pilate, who said unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? He answered him to never a word insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly. Pilate, like the simple- minded, when they hear learned unbelievers accuse the Word, or professed believers maintain views that involve an accusation of its divine truth, are liable to be disturbed with doubts, and to demand for them an instantaneous and direct answer; and when that answer is not vouchsafed, they are further liable to experience great perplexity, which is expressed by Pilate’s marveling greatly. The Word, like the Lord, does not accept the challenge of the unbeliever, but leaves every man to work out his own conviction, as it leaves him to work out his salvation, of which conviction is a part, with fear and trembling. This lesson Pilate had not yet wrought out for himself, as we shall see in the sequel.
15-17. At the feast of the passover, the governor was went to release unto the people a prisoner, whom, they would. We come now to see how the people were affected towards Jesus, as shown in the exercise of that singular privilege which the Roman government had conferred on their Jewish subjects. In this case the body of the people could have defeated the purpose of the priesthood. They had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. The choice was given them to claim the release either of Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ. This privilege conferred upon the people the free choice between guilt and innocence, evil and good; and they chose the evil, and rejected the good.
18 Pilate made this offer to the people, in the hope, it would seem, that they would ask for the release of Jesus. For he knew that for envy they had delivered him. Envy is one of the worst of passions; hatred presumes the imputation of a fault, but envy is the acknowledgment of an excellence. It is truly hatred without a cause. How truly must this have been the ground of the priestly aversion to Jesus? Their eye was evil, because he was good. This was the last form which the hatred of the Jewish rulers took against Jesus; and it implied the deepest and most causeless opposition, not only to the truth, but to the good of which Jesus was the impersonation. Envy, therefore, implies aversion of the worst kind, and the most deeply rooted.
19 When he was set down on the judgment seat, before the people had made their decision, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. Dreams had been made by Divine Providence the vehicles of several messages from on high to those who had duties to perform in relation to the Messiah. And now the wife of his judge is made the medium of an admonition to him to refrain from any act that might do him injustice. It is worthy of remark bow entirely Jesus is left alone in his last great trial, as if the powers of darkness had succeeded in turning the whole tide of human action, if not of human sympathy, against him. The Jews persecute him; Judas betrays him Peter denies him the rest forsake him; and now the Roman, otherwise indifferent, plays into the hands of his enemies against him. Had human ingenuity strained its powers to contrive a plot to show the moral grandeur of a hero, not braving, but enduring with dignity and meekness the accumulated wrongs of an evil world, nothing could have exceeded or even equated the reality here so naturally developed and so simply related. All this was but the outbirth of spiritual agents and elements; against which the Lord had to contend, and from which, indeed, he came to redeem and save mankind. It was an exemplification of the truth of the Scriptures themselves, that all, both Jews and Gentiles, were included under sin, and that while we were yet enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. While Jews and Gentiles were both included under sin, there was this important difference between them, that the Jews had sinned against the clear light of revelation, the Gentiles had sinned against the dim light of tradition and indirect transmission. With the Gentiles there was an affection in favour of the truth, and some obscure perception of its excellence. This affection for truth was the wife of Pilate; this obscure perception of its excellence was her dream. But the intellect of the Gentile world, like Pilate, was not yet prepared to act under the influence of this better affection of the will. It was no doubt necessary that human nature as it was among the Gentiles should have a share in the catastrophe out of which the redemption of the world was to be educed; and this Gentile humanity was appropriately represented by Pilate. The much suffering which the wife of Pilate endured on account of Jesus, shows that there was a conscience in the Gentile world that revolted against the crime which the Jews, without, compunction, were thirsting to commit.
20-23. Left by Pilate to choose whether he would release unto them Jesus or Barabbas, the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. The people listened. They demanded that Barabbas should be released, and that Jesus should be crucified. To the question of Pilate, Why, what evil hath he done? they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. Considered as a matter of solemn choice, it seems as if Pilate might have adopted the words of Moses, “Behold, I have set before thee this day, life and good, and death and evil; therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” Life and good were personally manifested in the Lord, who now stood before them; and in Barabbas, who, we have reason to fear, was something like the incarnation of their opposites, death and evil. And this wicked preference of the murderer to the sinless Saviour was truly the choice of evil rather than good, and of death rather than life. They who could make such a choice showed that they were disposed to exalt in their own hearts the evil which they let loose. In Barabbas, and to crucify the good which they were anxious to destroy in Jesus. Demoniacal as it seems in the Jews to have thus inverted all the principles of justice and benevolence, we must remember that we ourselves inherit with them a common nature, and are capable, and may be guilty, of doing spiritually what they did naturally – and many of them, it is to be feared, spiritually also. When the internal intends evil, how easy is it to persuade the external to carry out the evil intention! When the internal and the external are united under one common end, animated by one common object, and that object an evil one, the choice, when it is to be exercised between opposites, is sure to select the evil and leave the good. “Not this, man, but Barabbas,” is still the cry of those who hate good and love evil – who have inverted spiritual order in themselves who have put evil for good, and good for evil; who have put darkness for light, and light for darkness.
24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.
26 Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
28 And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
24 Innocent in the proximate sense signifies one who is without blame, and without evil which they also testified formerly by washing of the hands, the reason of which was, because the good which is from the Lord with man is without blame and without evil. A. 9262. The washing of hands was also a testification of innocence. E. 475.
24, 25. The plenary rejection of truth Divine, which was from the Lord, and which was the Lord, is meant by these words. A. 9127.
24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Pilate’s act is easily recognized as a symbolical mode of testifying his innocence of the crime of condemning a just person. But the act has a spiritual as well as a figurative sense. To wash the hands, figuratively, is to declare one’s self blameless; to wash the hands, spiritually, is to make one’s self blameless – to purify the life from evil and the soul from guilt by the truth of God’s Holy Word. Water is the symbol of that truth, and the hands are the symbols of power, as manifested by the will in act, The psalmist says, “I will wash mine hands in innocence: so will I compass thine altar, O Lord” (Ps. xxvi. 6), where washing is expressive of the act of purifying, not simply of asserting purity. Pilate is a faithful representation of those who are in good without truth, who are easily overborne by those who are in truth without good. The heathens who are in simple good learn the vices sooner than the virtues of their more civilized neighbours, not only because their nature inclines them to evil, but because they are deficient in that intelligence which shows the inherent and distinctive characters of virtue and vice. Pilate saw that Jesus was a just man, but allowed the envious Jews to carry out their determined purpose to destroy him, washing his hands to clear himself from the guilt of a crime which he had allowed, but to which neither the law nor his conscience consented.
25 But if Pilate shrunk from the guilt of innocent blood, the Jews did not. When the governor said, “See ye to it,” then answered all the people and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.” Awful imprecation! too faithfully fulfilled! The children of Judah, as a people, continue to this day to treat the Just and Holy One as an impostor, and still look for a Messiah whose kingdom is of this world, and who will exalt them above other nations. Why should the Jews invoke the curse of this flagrant crime on the children as well as on themselves? Guilt, descending from parents to children, expresses the spiritual law that evil, once confirmed in the heart, descends into all the affections and thoughts which derive their existence from it.
26 When Pilate had released Barabbas unto them, then commenced that series of indignities to which Jesus was subjected, and which only terminated with his death. And when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. The whole of this treatment of Jesus, as the incarnate Word, represents, as we have had occasion to remark, the treatment which the written Word received at the hands of the Jews. It may seem as if it were lessening the force and sanctity of the relation to understand the cruel indignities and mockeries offered to the person of the Lord, as representing treatment to which the written Word had been subjected. This subject can only be understood, and its importance appreciated, when we see the essential identity of the written and the incarnate Word – the written Word being the Divine Wisdom revealed, and the incarnate Word the Divine Wisdom manifested. The incarnate Word came to do for man what the written Word had failed to accomplish. He came to do for man what man had failed to do for himself. He came to fulfil the law that is, the Word, which man had made of no effect. As the Lord fulfilled the whole Word perfectly, his life was the written Word acted out. His life was a practical revelation. His life (including his teaching) was a living refutation of the errors, a living reproof and condemnation of the evils, of the Jewish church. It is on this ground that the treatment which the Lord received at the hands of the Jews represented their treatment of the Word. His enduring these effects of their evils was meant by his bearing their iniquities. It is to be observed that the last sufferings of the Lord were legally inflicted by the Romans, because the Jews had not then the power of administering the criminal law; but they were inflicted by the Jews morally, because they were the authors of all that Jesus endured. The Lord mentioned this on a previous occasion when he said of the chief priests, they “shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify” (Matt. xx. 19). Nevertheless, the Jews were personally guilty of many of the indignities which the Lord now suffered. We therefore read of Pilate, that “when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.” This scourging and crucifying are here mentioned to express, generally, all kinds of opposition to the Lord and his Word. This is of two kinds, – the opposition of falsity to truth and the opposition of evil to good; crucifying signifies the destruction of good by evil. These acts have this meaning, because the cords with which scourging was performed signify falses, and the wood on which crucifixion was inflicted signifies evil. This is the signification of crucifying as distinguished from stoning – the two modes of capital punishment among the Jews; stoning signifying to destroy by falses, and crucifying to destroy by evil.
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. Soldiers, in the genuine sense, signify those who defend the truth; in the opposite sense., as here, those who assault the truth, and who themselves are in the falses of evil. Pilate, therefore, delivering Jesus into the hands of the soldiers signifies the truth being delivered over and made subject to falsities; and not to some only, but to all – “the whole band” being “gathered unto him,” and united against him. The “common hall” into which they took Jesus was the praetorium – the governor’s palace – and signifies here the understanding, where all falsities are collected.
28 And they stripped him, and put on him. a scarlet robe. The profane mockeries to which our blessed Lord was subjected are almost too painful to dwell upon, except to impress upon us the deep corruption of humanity in his tormentors, in which we participated and to see the spiritual state of mankind in reference to the Word as it then existed, and is more or less the state of every natural man. The outer garment of the Lord represented the literal sense of the Word. The soldiers stripping Jesus does not, indeed, signify that those whom the soldiers represent deprive the Word of the letter; but that they deprive the letter of its meaning, and substitute for it a meaning of their own, Which is meant by the soldiers putting upon Jesus a scarlet robe. In putting this robe upon the Lord, they insulted him with the mock honour of royalty. The Lord was indeed a king for truth is a king; nay, he was the king, for he was the truth; but the mock royalty with which they invested him was the derision of the truth, and the substitution of falsehood in its place.
29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
30 And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
31 And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.
32 And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.
29, 30. By the Jews placing a crown of thorns upon the head of the Lord and smiting His head, was signified the reproachful manner in which they treated Divine truth, and Divine wisdom itself, for they falsified the Word which is Divine truth, and contains the Divine wisdom, and adulterated it by their traditions, and by applications to themselves, thus desiring a king who should raise them up above all the nations of the earth. And as the Kingdom of the Lord was not terrestrial but heavenly, therefore they perverted all things that were said about Him in the Word, and mocked at what was predicted of Him. This was represented by their placing a crown of thorns upon His head and by their smiting Him on the head. E. 577.
It is to be observed that all things which are related concerning the passion of the Lord signify the mocking at Divine truth, consequently the falsification and adulteration of the Word, as the Lord when He was in the world, was the Divine truth itself, which in the church is the Word. “For this.reason He permitted the Jews to treat Him altogether as they treated Divine truth or the Word. E. 627.
29 They invested the Lord with other mock emblems of royalty. And when they had platted a crown of thorns they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand. The Lord crowned with thorns has furnished a study for Christian artists to work out the ideal of meek suffering. No less worthy is the spiritual idea of being realized to the mind than the natural suffering as the sense. Thorns, in the Word, signify the falsities of concupiscence. The thorn was the first fruit of the ground after it was cursed for fallen man’s sake; and now the thorn is placed as a fitting diadem on the brow of the Son of man. Such was the triumph of the principle that had its birth with man’s fall. The head of the Son of man represented divine truth in first principles, is revealed in the Word and manifested in the Lord; and a crown is the emblem of wisdom. We still crown the Son of man with thorns when we exalt our own sensual intelligence above the wisdom of God, and glory in such profane mockery. But they also put a reed in his hand as a sceptre. The reed is a striking emblem of the letter of the Word without its spirit. The Lord’s own comparison of the people’s ideas of John the Baptist, who also represented the Word, shows this. “What went ye out for to see? a reed shaken with the wind?” – the letter of the Word, the sport of every wind of doctrine, – every breath of human opinion? As the head of the Son of man signifies divine truth in first principles, his hand signifies divine truth in last principles, such as it is in the letter of the Word. In its ultimate sense divine truth is in its fulness and power, of which fulness and power the hand is also the emblem. Divine truth in ultimates is the Lord’s sceptre; and the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre” (Ps xlv. 6): his is a true, righteous, dominion. Ultimate truth is also the rod of the Lord’s equitable strength, with which he rules in the midst of his enemies (Ps. cx. 2). But the Son of man with a reed in his hand for a sceptre is his Divine Word with the form of power without the reality; so that the reed is a symbol of man’s power over and by the Word, in place of its power over him. This is, indeed, sufficiently evinced in what follows. And they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, king of the Jews! The Jews, in their normal state, represented the church, the ruling principle of which is love to the Lord; so that the Lord as King of the Jews, is the Divine truth ruling in the heart and life. The profane mockery of saluting Jesus as King of the Jews represented the still more profane mockery of paying the homage of love to the Lord, and reverence to his Word, when there is nothing but contempt and hatred in the heart.
30 And they, spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. Spitting in the face was one of the most determined expressions of contempt. It was a law of Moses, that when a man refused to take his brother’s wife, she should loose his shoe and spit in his face; by which was spiritually meant, that one who refuses to comply with the law of marriage, or that of the union of good and truth, is destitute of all genuine goodness and truth, internal and external. The internal is meant by the face, the external by the foot, the shoe of which was loosed. The Lord’s face and his head signify the inmost of the Word as to love and wisdom, To spit in his face and to strike him upon the head represent contempt and violence offered to the highest and purest principles of the divine goodness and truth as revealed in the Word, and manifested in the person and exemplified in the life of the Lord. The reed, we have seen, was a symbol of the letter without the spirit of the Word. To strike the Lord on the head with the reed was, therefore, to turn the letter against the spirit – the external against the internal, of the Word, and thus to prevent and destroy divine order.
31 And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. It may seem as if, by removing the robe and restoring his own raiment, the soldiers were undoing what they had done, and restoring what they had taken away. Not so, however. They had ended one act of their cruelty; they were now about to commence another and greater. Instead of being scourged, he was to be nailed to the cross; he was to be a second time stripped of his garments, that they might be rent in pieces. Putting his own garments on the Lord was therefore only doing naturally what those do spiritually who cease from the Word, when they have subjected it to one series of profanations in order to subject it to another. They now therefore “led him away to crucify him.” It is error that leads away; it is evil that crucifies. The Lord’s being thus led away to be crucified represents a part of the dark passage to the cross through which the Son of man was led in his temptations, so far as they originated in the natural reason of man, to which the natural will gives him up to be scourged and crucified. Outwardly, indeed, as to the body, he was led away by the Roman soldiers; but that outward leading was the effect and the type of another and interior leading, in which the whole powers of darkness were urging forward the crisis on which rested their last hope of success against the Redeemer and redemption. But in leading the Lord away to be crucified, a new agent is introduced.
32 And as they came out they found a man of Cyrene. Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. Executions took place beyond the city, as originally they did out of the camp. This fact, regarding Jesus is mentioned in the New Testament. “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate” (Heb. xiii. 12). The reason of this practice was, that the camp and the city signified heaven, and without signified hell; and capital punishments were inflicted there because they signified the death which is spiritual and eternal. It was in accordance with the representative character of the Lord’s death that he should suffer without the gate; for he was made a curse for us, that he might redeem us from the curse (Gal. iii. 13). It is true that Jerusalem was at that time full of wickedness, and that the Lord was condemned within the city, though he was crucified beyond it. Understood in its profane sense, the Lord’s being condemned in the city, and being led out of it to be crucified without the gate, represented that he, as the Divine Truth, was condemned internally and crucified externally in the church; for we condemn the Lord in our minds and crucify him in our lives. When malefactors were led to execution, it was customary to make them carry the cross on which they were to be crucified – and our Lord was not exempted from this cruel indignity. John speaks of the Lord, and of him only, as the bearer of the cross. “And he, bearing his cross, went forth” (ch. xix. 17). The other three evangelists mention Simon only as the bearer of this burden. It is reasonably supposed that Jesus had been made to bear it first, and that Simon had been compelled to bear it afterwards. There is a spiritual reason for the seeming difference in the recorded fact. In John, where the Lord’s deepest and highest states are described, both as they were in him and as they are in us, the record appropriately speaks of Jesus only as the bearer of his cross; and the other gospels as appropriately mention only Simon. The Lord’s bearing of the cross was only the physical and degrading labour done in the sight of men which he had all along been doing spiritually in the sight of angels; and Simon, bearing it “after him” as Luke (xxiii. 26) expresses it, was only doing what the disciple who follows Jesus has spiritually to do. Simon bearing the cross after the Lord was an outward sign of an inward spiritual labour to be performed by those who would follow the Lord in the regeneration. But if this is the truth represented in the present circumstance, why was it not divinely ordered that one of his own disciples should have been selected and compelled to bear his cross? His own avowed disciples had all forsaken him and fled. In the Lord’s last trial, not only was he condemned by those who represented the world, as the Romans, and by those who represented the church, as the Jews, but he was forsaken by those who represented the truths of his own blessed Word, as the disciples; and all this was done to describe the extent and severity of his last temptation, when he not only had to endure the assaults of all the powers of evil, but had to endure the absence of all the opposite powers of good. The Lord had yet one stay. He was now in the very state of which he himself had spoken: “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (John xvi. 32). The hour was approaching when he should be forsaken even by the Father. Then, indeed, would the Son of man be alone. This crisis, awful and mysterious, has not yet arrived. We shall not anticipate it, but reverentially follow the Lord to the scene of his passion, with Simon, the Cyrenian, bearing the cross on which the last temptation is to be endured and human redemption completed. There is no doubt a providential similarity of name between the bearer of the cross and Simon Peter, to whom the cross was such an offence. Simon, among the disciples, represented faith; but Simon Peter represented faith within the church; while Simon the Cyrenian represented faith without the church – among the Gentiles; for Cyrene was out of the land of Canaan. There is this also to be remembered respecting Simon, – that this was the name of the Lord’s first disciple when he first received the gospel, but afterwards surnamed Peter. Simon the Cyrenian represented faith as it exists among the remoter Gentiles, and among the simple in heart, before they are instructed in the truths of the gospel. There is reason to believe that Simon became a disciple of the Lord. He is spoken of by Mark (xv. 21) as the father of Alexander and Rufus. And the apostle Paul speaks highly of two of Simon’s household. “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine” (Rom. xvi. 13). It is pleasing to think that he who bore the burden of the natural cross of Christ should have come to take up his spiritual cross, and follow the Lord to a mount still more sacred than the mount Calvary, on which be was crucified.
33And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,
33-56. It is known in the church that the Lord conquered death, by which is meant hell, and that He afterwards ascended with glory into heaven. But it is not yet known that the Lord conquered death or hell by combats which are temptations, and at the same time glorified His Human by them, and that the passion on the cross was the last combat or temptation, by which He conquered and glorified. L. 12.
33 The place which forms the termination of the cross-bearing journey is Golgotha, called also Calvary, which have both the same meaning – the place of a skull. The name speaks for itself regarding the spot as a place of common execution, where he who was “numbered with the transgressors” was appointed to suffer. The opinion that the mount was named from its shape is not so probable. Suitable emblem was this place of the state of the church which was about to put to death him who was himself the Life! The ghastly remnant of the noblest part of man’s material frame, so fearfully and wonderfully made – the empty skull – speaks also of the Word emptied, of its living and spiritual contents, and reduced to a mere dead letter, having in relation to the church neither life nor power. Golgotha or Calvary, emblematical as it is of the utterly devastated state of the church which crucified the Lord, and of every church and member of the church who crucifies the Lord afresh, yet it is to the repentant sinner the end of death and beginning of life. There the Lord died for him and there he is himself to die, to lay down the life of his corrupt nature, and crucify every lust and imagination of his evil heart.
34 They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
34 Since the Jewish church falsified all the truths of the Word, and the Lord in all the things of His passion represented it, by permitting the Jews to treat Him as they did the Word, because He was the Word, therefore they gave Him vinegar mixed with gall, which is like wormwood, but tasting it, He would not drink it. R. 410.
34, 38. Their giving to the Lord vinegar mingled with gall, which was also called wine mingled with myrrh, signified the quality of the Divine truth from the Word with the Jewish nation, namely, that it was intermixed with the falsity of evil and thus altogether falsified and adulterated, wherefore He would not drink it. By their afterwards giving to the Lord vinegar on a sponge and placing hyssop about it was signified the quality of falsity with the upright gentiles, which was falsity arising from ignorance of the truth, in which there was something of good and use. As this falsity is accepted by the Lord, he therefore drank its representative. By the hyssop about it was signified purification. E. 519.
34 When they came to Golgotha, they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. It was customary to administer to criminals, before or during execution, a drink that deadened their nervous sensibility, and thus diminished the intensity of their sufferings. The Lord refused this human means of mitigating pain. There was a spiritual reason for this: for everything which was done to the Lord, and which he did, teaches us some great lesson. Vinegar, from its sourness, is the symbol of what is false; and gall, from its bitterness, is the symbol of what is evil.
The Lord’s refusing to drink of the vinegar mingled with gall was intended to instruct us that what is false mingled with evil can find no acceptance with him, or that those in whom error and evil are united cannot enter into his kingdom. But although the Lord refused the vinegar mingled with gall, he took the vinegar alone. “Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his month. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John xix. 28-30). The prophecy is no doubt very specific, and was as specifically fulfilled. “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps. lxix. 21). It is almost impossible to suppose that the prophecy and its fulfilment had only a historical connection and purpose. If his meat was to do the will of his Father, and to finish his work, must not this have been his drink also? The Lord’s natural thirst was but the outward expression of his divine thirst – his desire for the salvation of the human race; for this was the will, the desire of his own infinite love, which was the Father that dwelt within him, and that originated all his desires, and words, and works (John V. 30; xiv. 10). How appropriate, then, after receiving the vinegar which was offered him to quench his thirst, the Lord’s exclamation, IT IS FINISHED! His last drink indeed was vinegar; for that which vinegar symbolized was the best that the church and the world could supply. Truth was extinct; error and falsity everywhere prevailed. There was nothing to quench the Lord’s thirst but vinegar; but when it was offered unmingled with the gall of bitterness, the Lord in mercy received it, and it allayed his burning thirst. So ardent is his divine desire for the salvation of his lost creatures that he refuses not those who are in error; for if error be of the intellect only, free from dissimulation, and from the deliberate evil of a corrupt heart, it is not an absolute cause of separation between man and the Lord. In the absence of an evil purpose, there underlies religious error a desire for purification; and it is this desire that not only removes from religious error its negative character and separating power, but makes it the means of conjoining the soul with God; for there may be religious principle where there is no pure religious truth. This desire of purification was meant by the hyssop on which the sponge containing the vinegar was placed, to be held to the lips of the dying Saviour; for hyssop was used in the representative church as a means of legal purification, is in the purification of the greatest of all uncleanness, that of the leprosy (Lev. xiv. 4).
35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
36 And sitting down they watched him there;
37 And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
35 Garments also signify truths but exterior. They parted my garments and cast lots upon my vesture — dissipating truths by reasonings and falsities. A. 3812. Divine truths were dissipated by the Jews. His garments represented truths in the external form, and His tunic truths in the internal form. A. 9093.
35 But we are drawn from the contemplation of this beautiful and instructive incident in the history of the crucifixion to another of those acts that have a far different character and meaning. And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. It is remarkable that most of the particulars connected with the Lord’s crucifixion should have been special subjects of prophecy. The fulfilment of these predictions having been the work of his enemies, this serves to confirm the historical truth of Jesus being the Messiah. But a higher evidence is afforded by the spiritual significance of the circumstances themselves. This teaches some important facts respecting the treatment of the Word by the church. The psalm from which Matthew cites these prophetic passages is singularly minute in its description of most of the incidents that occurred at the crucifixion. “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture (Ps. xxii 18). Matthew himself does not mention the inner and outer garment, this information being supplied by the prophetic passage he adduces. As all that the Jews did to Jesus represented the manner in which the Jewish church had treated the Word, this act is most significant. The Lord’s outer garment represented the outward or literal sense of the Word, and his inner garment represented its inner or spiritual sense. Their dividing his garments represented that the Jewish church had dissipated all the truths of the literal sense of the Word. This indeed, was done by the soldiers; but we have seen that, being instruments in carrying out the purpose of the Jews, the soldiers represent the militant principle in that church. Among themselves, the Jews were, like Christians of the present day, divided into sects, each contending against the others for what each called the truth, when yet the truth of each was but a variety of the common error, so that amongst them the Word was rent in pieces and dissipated. The Lord however, provides that this division and dissipation of the truths of the Word shall have a limit; otherwise the Word would be destroyed, and salvation rendered impossible. It is only the literal sense of the Word that is capable of this kind of division; for the truths of the letter of the Word are for the most part apparent truths, admitting, of different interpretations, and therefore forming the means of various and discordant opinions. But the internal sense of the Word does not consist of apparent, but of pure, or genuine truths. These are not, therefore, subject to the changeful and sinister interpretations of men, nor are they capable of being severed from, much less of being set up against, each other. Like all real truths, each is in harmony with all the others, and all combine to form one grand and indivisible whole. This is the Lord’s vesture, woven without seam throughout. However the letter may be divided, this is preserved for ever entire. It is not parted, but is disposed of by lot; and this lot is the Providence of God, which passes it on uninjured from one dispensation of the church to another. The difference between the internal and the external of the Word is like the difference between the church and the dispensation. Dispensations pass away, but the church never dies. Dispensations grow corrupt, and die by corrupting and dissipating the truths of the letter of the Word; but the church, consisting of internal vital religion, never dies, but is preserved entire in some minds, that the seed of a new tree may be sown when the old one has fallen into decay. Were the internal sense of the Word to be perverted and destroyed by the church on earth, the connection between angels and men would be entirely cut off, and its renewal would be impossible.
36 When his enemies had carried out their long-cherished desire of nailing him to the cross. Sitting down they watched him there. Naturally this is sufficiently expressive of official indifference to the suffering, combined with care to prevent the release of the sufferer. Spiritually, it teaches another and deeper lesson. Sitting signifies a state of the will; watching signifies a state of the understanding. The murderers of Jesus “sitting down” after his crucifiction signifies a confirmed state of the will in favour of that which the crucifixion represented – the destruction and profanation of the whole Word, and consequently a confirmed state of opposition to all true goodness. Their watching Jesus signifies the vigilance of the understanding to keep the Word in that state of profanation, and prevent any argument or intellectual force from being exerted by those in favour of the Word, so as to deliver it from their power.
37 They also set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. There was a difference between the Jews and Pilate respecting this inscription. They wished him to alter it to “He said I am the King of the Jews,” but Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” The Lord provided that his cross should be crowned with the truth; so that while we look at his cross as the very emblem of suffering, we may see over the head of the holy sufferer the promise of triumph and the hope of glory, its inseparable and sanctified fruits. The difference between the Jews and Pilate expresses the difference between the Jew and the Gentile, – the Gentile writing the truth as the Jewish accusation, the Jew denying the accusation to be the truth. The inscription itself expresses the Lord’s character as divine truth from divine good; for a king signifies truth, and the Jews, like Judah, from whom they were derived, signified good; in other words, the King of the Jews denotes divine celestial truth reigning in the hearts of those who are crucified to self and the world.
38 Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
39 And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
38 Similar things as by the sheep and the goats, are meant by the two thieves who were crucified one to the right and the other on the left hand of the Lord. Hence it was said by the Lord to the one who acknowledged Him, see Matthew xxvii. 38. E. 600.
39 Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. These represented the same as the sheep and the goats on the Lord’s right hand and on his left in the judgment – those who are in charity and faith, and those who are in faith without charity. Of these we say nothing further at present, as we shall have to speak of them again.
39, 40. Our Lord now undergoes another series of insults, involving another series of temptations. And they that passed by reviled, or blasphemed him. The chief priests, with the elders and scribes, mocked him; and the thieves iterated what the others uttered. They who passed by represented those who are in falsity; the chief priests represent those who are in evil; and the thieves represent those who are in both. We will briefly consider them apart. In the passers by we see the children of this world too eagerly engaged in its pursuits and pleasures to bestow more than a passing glance on divine and spiritual things, and then only to revile and contemn them, if not with their lips, at least in their hearts. Wagging their heads. These revilers wag their heads to betoken the supreme contempt which those who are wiser in their generation than the children of light have for the Light itself, when eclipsed by their own materialized apprehensions. These signs of unbelief are such as indicate intellectual opposition to the truth, as does also their argument: Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Here the Lord seems to be assailed by the selfrighteous, the irreligious, and the lawless. All are united against him; as if every possible agency was, by every possible means, to try to shake his confidence, to overwhelm his spirit, and to drive him to bitter despair. The arguments made use of by these Jewish unbelievers are just such as have been employed by infidels of all ages, being, in fact, the natural suggestions of the human mind in the negative state, which knows nothing and believes nothing, of the necessity of the cross as the means to salvation. To such minds, the Lord’s claims and his end must seem to be an entire contradiction. He claims divine power, yet shows the most absolute human weakness; asserts divine glory, and is exposed to public shame and degradation; asserts the highest virtue, and dies as a malefactor; claims allegiance as a king, yet submits to be treated as the meanest subject; declares himself able to raise the temple in three days, yet cannot deliver his own body from the cross; assumes to be the king of Israel, yet cannot come down from the cross; has saved, or pretended to save, many, and even to raise some from death, yet cannot save himself .These contradictions arise out of, because they answer to, the contrariety that exists in fallen human nature between the carnal and the spiritual mind. It is the unwillingness of the carnal natural mind to submit to spiritual indignity, and humiliation, and shame, and death, that makes one unwilling to recognize and unable to feel the need of a Saviour who passed through them all. Like the prophets, the Saviour was a sign unto his people. He came to do that for proud man which proud man despised to do for himself He came to take upon him that natural mind which in itself is so lofty, and proud, and greedy of honour, and in love with life, that he might humble and abase it, and dishonour and crucify it, as the only means of its reconciliation with the spiritual man, and of its becoming his obedient servant. It was because the natural man had exalted himself above the spiritual, and despised and trampled upon him, that the Lord came into the world to subdue him. Such were his sufferings. But these were but the means to a glorious end. They were the passage to glory. True exaltation arose out of them. The true glory of the natural man consists in his being the honoured servant of the spiritual. That which was created to serve cannot be honoured by ruling. Is the body honoured by ruling over the soul? Is it honoured by gluttony, and drunkenness, and lust! Are the appetites honoured by ruling over the reason? Is the world honoured by contemning heaven? Is matter honoured by denying spirit? Is nature honoured by denying God? The temple was the Lord’s body – his humanity – which his enemies were to destroy. But as these accusers represent those who oppose falsity to the truth, they repeat this false accusation against him. The temple also represented the Lord’s divine spiritual principle, which is indeed, that which is contemned and blasphemed by lovers of the world. They deny and, indeed, ridicule the idea of a divine humanity, of which they think the passion of the cross is a sufficient refutation. And this is but the natural or spontaneous language of the heart that refuses to yield submission to the cross. The passers by challenged the Lord to show that he was the Son of God, by coming down from the cross. The Lord did not suffer as the Son of God, but as the Son of man; not as divine good, but as divine truth; not as to his divine, but as to his natural humanity. A prevailing idea is, that if the world was governed by a righteous Being, the just would never suffer; and, of course, if the Lord had been divine, being just, he would have prevented the Jews from putting him to death.
40 And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
41 Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,
42 He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.
44 The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
40 See Chapter XXVL, 61. E. 532.
40, 43, 54. See Chapter III., 16, 17. T. 342.
43, 54. See Chapter II., 15. A. 2798.
41-43. In the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, we see the children of the church; and in the mockery of these we see the blasphemy of the church against the Lord, and of those who are in the evil of self-love, against the divine good of his love. These say, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he has saved others, he must be able to save himself; if he cannot save himself, how can he save others? The sentiment itself is true in a certain sense, though the application of it is false. The Lord glorified himself as he regenerated others; the two works were inseparably connected with each other. These works are meant by salvation. Still further, salvation is effected by the Lord from his divine love or goodness, as redemption is by his divine truth; and the Lord became the Saviour by becoming or making his humanity divine good. The fallacy of the chief priests consisted in supposing that the Lord must show his power of salvation by coming down from the cross, and this fallacy they shared in common with the passers by. But this was the very opposite of the way which the Lord himself had taught men to look for salvation from him. The Lord had said “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” His elevation on the cross represented this lifting up – this glorification. But these men did not desire to be drawn up from the earth to the Lord; they required that the Lord should come down to the earth to them. And so it is with every natural man. He does not desire a religion that will raise him above the world, but one that will come down to and consent to his worldly desires and appetites; least of all does he wish to be raised by means of the cross, by being crucified to the world and the world to him; to attain to glory through suffering life through death. Many would believe him if he would show himself to be the King of Israel by coming down from the cross; for what communion is there, in the eyes of the natural man, between sovereignty and suffering? Much of what is said by the chief priests is found, almost word for word, in Psalm xxii.; and it is particularly deserving of attention, from its connection with the context. At the 8th verse we read, “He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.” It immediately follows: “But thou art he that took me out of the womb.” This is the key to the mystery of the Lord’s seemingly unheeded sufferings and humiliation, but one that the natural man will not consider, and does not comprehend. The new birth is the end which Divine Providence has in view in permitting sufferings which, to the righteous, are indeed as the pains of a woman in travail, who hath sorrow when her hour is come, but who, as soon as her child is born, remembereth no more her anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
44 But the thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth. We have already stated (v. 38) that these two thieves represented the same as the sheep and the goats. This rests on the relation of Luke, who says (xxiii. 39) that one of the malefactors railed on him, while the other acknowledged and prayed to him. It is an opinion that both thieves had at first joined in the reproaches of the spectators, but that one of them had been converted on the cross. If such had been the case, we can hardly imagine so interesting a fact would have been passed over unnoticed. We do not well see how the penitent thief could have rebuked his companion for conduct of which he himself had just been guilty. Nor are we to overlook the great improbability of an entire change of state in so brief a space. It seems more consistent to suppose that one evangelist mentions the circumstance in a general, and another in a special manner. So much for the mere historical sense. The spiritual sense no doubt required both relations to supply a complete basis for itself. To see the spiritual sense, we must, in the first place, consider these two thieves as representing two classes of sinners – one representing those who are in evil and falsity, the other representing those who are in falsity but not in evil. In the historical sense, therefore, they represent the Jews and the Gentiles. Matthew and Mark, who speak of both thieves reviling the Lord, describe them as they were in their first state, both included under sin: but Luke, who gives the account of the penitent thief, describes them in their second state, when the Gentiles acknowledged the Lord, and were accepted as his future church, and the Jews, by persisting in unbelief, forfeited their election, and became reprobate. There is an analogous view of this incident in reference to the regeneration of man, the gospels describing the progress of this work – but under the present passage we are hardly justified in pursuing it, for the subject here treated of is the first phase, when the light and the darkness are yet undivided.
45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
45 The light stands for the Lord from Whom are all good and truth, the darkness for falsities, which are dispersed by the Lord alone. A. 1839.
By the darkness over all the land was represented, that in the universal church there was nothing but evil, and the falsity thence derived. The three hours also signify what is full and absolute. E. 526.
45, 50. The number three signifies what is complete even to the end. E. 532.
45 And now, as if the moral darkness by which the dying Saviour was surrounded and assailed were not enough to try his troubled soul, the sun of nature hides his face, and the most alarming and oppressive of all gloom – that which suddenly overspreads the world at noonday – comes to complete the scene of horror and desolation. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. The sixth hour of the Jewish day was noon. The spiritual darkness of which this natural darkness was but the image, is repeatedly spoken of in the prophets. “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” (Amos viii. 9). The darkness that fell upon the scene of the crucifixion was an emblem of the state of falsity, and of evil derived from it, that overspread the whole church; the three hours, also, during which it prevailed signified that the state was full and final, as well as universal. This darkness taking place at noon did not imply that the church was then in the zenith of its glory. The sun that was darkened was the Sun of Righteousness that even then shone from the cross, the closing of their eyes and hearts against whom brought them into darkness. As the outward appearances were the shadows also of the Lord’s inward states, this darkness was the symbol of that horror of great darkness which culminated in despair of the end for which the Saviour was suffering, which formed the extremity of his last temptation, the utmost limit of inward suffering which even the incarnate Word could endure without yielding.
46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
46 See Chapter XXVL, 37-39, 42, 44. A. 2819.
See Chapter XXVL, 38, 39. A. 7166.
The Lord ascribed to the Father all that He did and said, yea upon the cross He cried out, My God, ??iy God, why dost Thou forsake me? T. 104.
46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? This exclamation is expressive of a deep and awful state, which by us can be but imperfectly understood, and even in our own experience but faintly realized. In all the previous history of the Lord’s last sufferings, we have seen that he was forsaken by men, even by those who were his most devoted followers and friends; and now we find him at last forsaken by God also. This may present some difficulties to the mind. How could the Lord be forsaken by God when he himself was God as well as man? Was he a different and divine being, or a different person, from that God to whom he uttered this despairing cry? One truth is a sufficient answer to these and all such questions. The Lord united in his person two distinct natures – the divine and the human. The human nature was alone capable of suffering, and of having a sense of being forsaken. We sometimes hear language that seems to imply that the Son, as a divine person, might be forsaken by the Father as a divine person. In states of humiliation the Lord’s human nature had a sense of dependence upon, and even of separation from, his divine nature, although the divine nature dwelt within the human as the soul dwells within the body. These were natural and necessary parts of the Lord’s human experience. It is important to remember that the Lord passed through all human experience, and in order to do so he must have had all human consciousness and sensation. Does not man, in states of severe trial and deep temptation, feel as if he were forsaken of God? The Lord must have had the same feeling, else his trials would have been unlike ours, and would have provided no succour for us under them. Still, some will think, and perhaps say, But the Divine dwelt within him, as our soul dwells within our body. Yes. But do not we frequently speak, as we feel, according to the sensations of the body? Man, while possessing an immortal soul, can reason against, and even deny, the soul’s immortality. The consciousness may thus be contrary to the reality. So is it in temptation. The Divine support seems to be withdrawn – the Divine itself to have forsaken us. The words which the Lord uttered on the cross had been uttered by the psalmist in his own states of trial (Ps. xxii. 1), to show that the Lord came to endure and to sanctify human suffering. Temptation in extreme cases proceeds even to despair. Such extreme temptation. is necessary to effect the conjunction of the external with the internal man, and, as a consequence, of man with God; and the conjunction of the internal with the external is regeneration, and the conjunction of man with God is salvation. The union of the human with the Divine in the Lord was the great pattern of this work in man; for the Lord was glorified as man is regenerated. On this great subject the writings of the church speak with great clearness and power. “Glorification is the uniting of the humanity of the Lord with the divinity of his Father. This was effected successively and permanently by the passion of the cross. The reason why that real union was fully effected by the passion of the cross is, because it was the last temptation which the Lord underwent during his abode in the world, and conjunction is effected by temptations; for in them man is, to all appearance, left to himself alone. Yet it is but in appearance, for God is then most present with him in the inmost principles of his mind, and supports him. When, therefore, a person conquers in temptation, he is then most intimately conjoined with God; and this was the case with the Lord in his union with his Father. That the Lord, during his suffering on the cross, was left to himself, is evident from his exclamation, and also from his own words: No man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John x. 18). It is evident, then, from this, that the Lord did not suffer as to his divinity, but as to his humanity, and that at the time of suffering, the most intimate, and therefore the most complete, union was effected. This may be illustrated by the fact, that whilst man suffers with respect to the body, his soul does not suffer, but only mourns, which mourning God removes after victory, and, as it were, wipes the tears from his eyes. This union of the Divine and the human in the person of the Lord was the great work of atonement on reconciliation, through which man is atoned or reconciled to God.
47 When the Lord uttered the exclamation we have now been considering, some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. This would have been a call from the living to the dead. But they misunderstood him. So does the natural man misunderstand the Word of the Lord, changing its divine into human ideas, and substituting trust in man for trust in God. But Elias was himself a representation of the written Word. What then, is spiritually involved in this misunderstanding? It is, to mistake the dead representatives in the Word for the living principles which they represented, and to imagine that life and power can be derived from that which only symbolized them.
48 And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
49 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
48 See Chapter XXVII., 29, 30. E. 627.
48 The false principle which the misconception of these persons symbolized, with some is an error, with others persuasion, for with some it is in the understanding only, with others it is also in the will. Those with whom it is only an error, and not an evil, are represented by the one which ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. We found that when they offered the Lord vinegar mingled with gall, he would not drink, because to have drunk that mixture would have represented his acceptance of those who are principled in falsity united to evil. But here the Lord is offered vinegar without the gall, and he drinks it, because he accepts those who are in error, when not at the same time in evil. The sponge which contained the vinegar was put upon a reed, to represent that these errors are derived from the letter of the Word by unintentional misinterpretations. From John we learn that this vinegar was given to the Lord to drink, in response to his uttering the words, “I thirst,” which expressed his desire for the salvation of the human race; and his accepting the vinegar represented his will and his power to save unto the uttermost, by accepting all, whatever errors they may entertain even respecting himself, if their errors are not rooted in evil.
49 But there is another class who show no active love for the Lord; no tender desire to satisfy his thirst, even for their own salvation; and who would even hinder others from doing so for themselves. These are the rest who said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. Elias appeared with the Lord on the mount, and spoke with him concerning his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. It was a misapprehension, therefore, to suppose that Elias would come to prevent that which he had previously confirmed. So is it a mistake to expect that the written Word can teach salvation by saving the life of the selfhood; for he who saves his life shall lose it, and he who loses his life shall find it.
50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. Luke tells us what this last utterance of our Lord was: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” In the two separate cries of our Lord we see, both in the character of the feelings expressed and in the language in which the Lord expressed them, the distinction which we have had occasion repeatedly to note – the distinction between the Truth and the Good, or between the Lord’s intellectual and voluntary life. The first has reference to the intellectual principle of the humanity; the second to the voluntary principle. The first expresses a sense of being forsaken; the second, a feeling of confidence: the one expresses fear; the other, love. In the first instance the Lord addresses the Divine by the name of God, in the second by the name of Father; the first of these being expressive of the Divine Truth, the second of the Divine Good, or the first of the Divine Wisdom, the second of the Divine Love. Although Matthew does not relate the words which the Lord uttered on the second occasion, he uses a term which conveys the same idea that the words express. He says, “Jesus cried with a loud voice,” more literally, with a great voice; and the term great, whenever it occurs in the Word, is expressive of goodness or love; so that a great voice is the voice of love. So here the very sentiment is expressive of love, with its unbounded trust. When the Lord had uttered the great voice, “he yielded up the ghost” – he rendered up the spirit into his hands to whom he had commended it. Thus died the Saviour. And what a death was that! When the Lord expired, it was not life, but death itself that died. We do not speak of natural death. The Lord did not come to abolish this death, for natural death did not originate with the fall. He came to abolish spiritual death, the death which man had incurred by eating the forbidden fruit. By assuming our fallen nature, the Lord became subject to this death, or rather, he took this death upon himself; and this was essentially the death that died upon the cross, and which was within the natural death which the body suffered. “In that he died, he died unto sin once” (Rom. vi. 10). This was the great death out of which life was educed. This was the agonizing death which our Lord endured. Natural death, by itself, could have been no terrible endurance to him. In that spiritual death hell originated and had its life; and in causing that death to die, the Saviour had to resist and conquer the whole powers of darkness, for death and hell are the same. But the apostle who says of the Lord, “In that he died, he died unto sin once,” continues, “but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.” “He yielded up the spirit,” and so became united in spirit to the Father; and when his body had risen from the dead, he lived unto God wholly, for the human was then wholly born of and united to the Divine, and became life itself, and the fountain of life to all who, like himself, die unto sin.
51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
51 The veil of the temple was rent in twain, signifies that the Lord entered into the Divine itself, by dispersing all appearances, and that He at the same time opened the way to His Divine itself through His Human made Divine. A. 2576.
The externals of the ancient church were all representative of the Lord, and of the celestial and spiritual things of His Kingdom —that is of love and charity, and faith hence—-and consequently of such things as are of the Christian church. Thus when the externals of the ancient and of the Jewish church are unfolded and as it were unwrapped, the Christian church is disclosed. This was also signified by the veil of the temple being rent in twain. A. 4772.
The division of the garments into four parts signified total dissipation, in like manner at the division in Zecha-riah xiv. 4, likewise the division in two parts as we read of the veil of the temple. The rending of the rocks, also at that time, represented the dissipation of all things of faith, for a rock is the Lord as to faith, and thus it is faith from the Lord. A. 9093.
By the veil is signified the medium uniting celestial good and spiritual good. The veil of the temple being rent into two parts when the Lord endured the cross signified the glorification of the Lord. A. 9670.
By the veil of the temple being rent into two parts from the top to the bottom after the Lord suffered, was signified the union of the Divine Human of the Lord with the Divinity itself. E. 220.
All things of the passion of the Lord were representative, as the veil of the temple being rent in twain, the earth quaking, and the rocks being rent. E. 899.
51, 54. It is also recorded in the Word that there was
a great earthquake when the Lord suffered upon the cross, and when the angel rolled away the stone from the door of the sepulchre. Those earthquakes took place as signs that the state of the church was then changed, for the Lord by His last temptation, which He sustained in Gethsemane and on the cross, conquered the hells, and reduced all things in them and in the heavens to order. E. 400.
51 When the Lord by his death had finished the work of redemption and glorification, the effects of that divine work began to be manifested. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. This was evidently a miracle wrought for the sake of its significance. The temple we know, was a symbol of the Lord’s body; and the Divinity that dwelt within the veil was the hidden Divinity that dwelt in the temple of the Lord’s humanity. When death rent asunder the veil of mortality within which the eternal Divinity dwelt in the person of the Lord, one grand purpose of the incarnation was accomplished – an immediate communication was opened between God and man. We say immediate, because, although the Lord’s humanity is a medium, or a mediator, between God and man, yet, being divine-human, it brings the divine and the human God and man into the most direct and intimate saving relation to each other. This holy event was indeed represented in the temple and tabernacle service, and is clearly pointed out in the apostolic Writings. In the epistle to the Hebrews we read; There was a tabernacle made . . . and after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all. . . . Into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest. . . . But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. ix. 2, 3, 7, 8, 11, 12). “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. x. 19). Thus the rending of the veil symbolized the glorification of the Lord’s humanity; and the veil is said to have been rent from the top to the bottom, to represent the completeness of that divine work by which the humanity was glorified for ever, from first principles to ultimates. The rending of the veil represented also the effects of the Lord’s glorification – in rending the veil of the letter, which gave access to the internal of the Word; in rending the veil of ceremonial worship, by which an internal church could exist; and in rending the veil of appearances in the human mind, by which a way was opened to the internal man, so that from being natural be might become spiritual. The entire change in the state of the church is further described by the words; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent. The earth means the church, and an earthquake signifies the entire subversion of the church. The change in the state of the church which was effected by the Lord’s advent was very different from all previous changes from one dispensation to another. All pre-existing churches were representative churches; they saw truth in the shade. After the incarnation the church was actual, and saw truth in the light.
52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
55 And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
56 Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedees children.
52, 53. The idea of sepulchre perishes and is as if it were put off, when the idea of regeneration or of the new life comes in. That the sepulchres were opened and many bodies of the saints arose and went forth, involves resurrection, because of the Lord’s resurrection, and in an inner sense every resurrection. A. 2916.
Their coming forth out of the tombs and entering into the holy city, also their appearing, were in testification that they, who had been hitherto detained in spiritual captivity, were liberated by the Lord, and were introduced into heaven. Heaven is signified in the internal sense by the holy city. A. 8018.
Jerusalem is here called the holy city, when yet it was rather profane, because at that time the Lord was there crucified. A. 9229.
By the monuments (sepulchres) being opened and many bodies of them that slept appearing is signified the same as in Ezekiel xxxvii. 13, 14, namely, the regeneration and resurrection of the faithful unto life, not that the bodies themselves which lay in the sepulchres rose again, but that they appeared to the intent that both regeneration and resurrection to life from the Lord might be signified. E. 659.
The sepulchres being then opened, represented the resurrection of those who were reserved by the Lord in places under heaven until the time of His coming, and who after His resurrection were taken away, and raised up into heaven. E. 899.
53 In Christendom at this day few believe that man rises again immediately after death, but believe that he will rise again at the time of the last judgment, when the visible world will perish. Nevertheless man rises again immediately after death, and then he is a man as to all things. H. 312.
Those are called saints who live according to the truths of the Word. R. 586.
The term holy having respect to chanty, Jerusalem is called the holy city. E. 204,
See Chapter IV., 5. E. 223.
52, 53. A further result of the Lord’s crucifixion was that the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. This opening of the graves and resurrection of the saints were not material but spiritual events. Had it been a natural transaction, would not these open graves have been seen? And would not risen saints – the first-fruits of the Lord’s resurrection – have been afterwards found amongst the disciples? But not one word more is ever said about these liberated tenants of the tomb. The relation describes two results of the Lord’s finished work. The graves here spoken of were the places in the intermediate region of the spiritual world where spirits were in prison, waiting to be delivered by the Lord at his coming. These were the prisoners, so often mentioned in the prophets, whom the Lord the Redeemer was to bring forth out of the prison-house. Death and the grave frequently in the Word mean the state of those who are politically or spiritually dead and buried. Thus, in Ezek. xxxvii. 12: “Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel … and shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live.” This relates literally to the restoration of the Israelitish people from captivity, though in the internal historical sense it relates to the same event in the spiritual world, to which the evangelist refers. To this event the Lord himself alludes when he says in John – “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (ch.v.28, 29). The risen saints, it is said, went “into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” Risen saints appeared, indeed, in Jerusalem to some in vision. But as the event relates to the spiritual world, in which it actually took place, the opening of the graves, and the rising of the saints, and their appearing in the holy city, signify the deliverance of the faithful from the lower earth in the world of spirits, and their elevation into heaven. In the spiritual sense, this opening of the graves and rising of many of the saints signified the spiritual resurrection of regeneration, which the Lord’s finished work had provided for and which was its final cause. To describe this saving effect of the Lord’s glorification, a resurrection of the saints only is spoken of. Yet it may be asked, How, in this case, can the saints be said to be dead and buried? Or, How can those who are dead in trespasses and sins be called by that holy name? In the spiritual sense persons signify principles. And man’s spiritual resurrection consists in the holy principles of truth and goodness being raised out of his natural into his spiritual mind. These principles are man. In the natural mind they are dead, even buried; it is only when raised up into the spiritual mind that they acquire life and liberty. Spiritual resurrection always implies the pre-existence of this element of true humanity. It may exist but as a germ, but exist it must. Therefore the dead and buried are always supposed to be capable of hearing the divine voice that calls them forth. Thus John: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” (v. 25).
54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. These Gentile soldiers represented the Gentile world, who were about to receive the Lord as their Saviour, whom the Jews had so entirely rejected. It may naturally seem that the Romans could have had very imperfect ideas of what their confession involved; but the effect of the Lord’s character – the power of the divine sphere with which he was surrounded – was such as to produce extraordinary impressions upon impressible minds. But their acknowledgement does not necessarily imply a true knowledge of the divine character of Jesus. It only implies that they were struck with the conviction that he was Son of God, according to their own ideas of divine sonship; although it may be understood that they now admitted Jesus to be, what in the course of these events they had heard him accused of having claimed to be, the Son of God. The definite article is not here used before “God” and “Son”. In this respect the confession of these Romans differs from the famous confession of Peter (Matt. xvi. 16), where the language has the definite form, which is, too, expressive of a definite idea. But perhaps, this more vague language of these Gentile soldiers better expresses the more general and obscure light then diffused through the Gentile world; as also the nature of the first perception of this divine truth in every Gentile mind.
55, 56. Besides the centurion and those that were with him, there were others who looked with deeper interest on the scene. And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed – Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children. These were some of the devoted women who were disciples of the Lord, and whose characters shine forth with such heavenly lustre in the sacred page. Unlike the men, they were mute spectators. Silence best befitted, as it best expressed, their feelings. And they themselves represent the feelings, the affections, of the devoted heart. As the centurion and his men represent the intellectual principles of the Gentile church, these women represent the will principle of the Gentile church. They are therefore said to have come from Galilee (of the Gentiles), which, we have seen (ch. ii. 22), represented the Gentile element. The three Marys represent the three affections – the celestial, the spiritual, and the natural. They ministered unto the Lord. Ministering is the work of the affections of the heart, as serving is the work of the thoughts of the understanding. We minister unto the Lord when, for his sake, we do good from love.
57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:
58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
61 And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.
65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.
66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.
66 The angel rolling away the stone from the door of the sepulchre, and sitting upon it signified that the Lord removed all the falsity which intercepted and hindered approach to Him, and thus that He opened Divine truth, for stone signifies Divine truth, which the Jews had falsified by their traditions, hence it is said that the chief priests and Pharisees sealed the stone and set a watch. E. 400.
57, 58. Another pious minister was Joseph of Arimathaea. When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus disciple: he went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. “When the even was come” he went to Pilate and sought the body of Jesus. Joseph was a second Nicodemus. He also was a master in Israel and a disciple of Jesus; yet secretly, for fear of the Jews (John xix. 38), Nicodemus, at the commencement of the Lord’s ministry, came secretly to him during the night to learn some of the mighty truths Jesus was teaching in public. And now, when the Lord had sealed his testimony with his blood, these two secret but faithful disciples came forward to perform his funeral rites. While Joseph furnished the sepulchre, Nicodemus supplied the spices; and these two pious men embalmed the body, and laid it in the tomb (John xix. 38). None of the other male disciples – none even of the twelve – were present; only the women beheld where he was laid. Providence reserved these two secret convents for this pious duty. We have to consider what is meant by this which is here related of Joseph of Arimathaea. We have first a description of Joseph himself. He was a rich man – rich in the knowledge of the truths of the Word. He was of Arimathaea. It is not known where or what this place was. It has been supposed to be the same as Rama. We only know it was “a city of the Jews” (Luke xxiii. 51), which intimates that he was in the good of the doctrine of the church. Everything else recorded of him agrees with this. He was a good man and a just, and had not consented to the counsel and deed of his brethren (v. 50). He waited for the kingdom of God; he was only an expectant; yet the other disciples were no more. Looking for a temporal kingdom, it is remarkable that when the ignominious death of Jesus destroyed all hopes of him being the restorer of Israel, his disciples should still have clung to him, and regarded his crucified body with all the tenderness of the most devoted love. This clearly shows that although their understandings were not opened to understand the Lord’s truth, their hearts had been brought under the power of the Lord’s love. But why should this pious duty of burying the Lord’s body have been performed by one who had not openly followed or even avowed him? It is evident that none but an opulent or dignified Jew could have had sufficient influence with Pilate to obtain from him possession of the body of Jesus. There was a spiritual, even if there had been no natural reason, why Jesus, while put to death by his enemies, should be buried by his friends. It was necessary that the Lord’s crucified body should be buried, not only by a disciple, but by one who stood in the relation to him that Joseph or Nicodemus did. Burial signifies resurrection. It signifies also, and proximately, the rejection of the old man as the necessary precursor of the resurrection of the new; for the old man must die, that the new man may live. We find, therefore, in the apostolic writings, two distinct thoughts expressed, and two distinct regenerative acts represented by the Lord’s burial and his resurrection. The apostle Paul says, “We are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Rom. vi.4, 5). “Wherefore, my brethren,” he says again, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead” (Rom. vii. 4). The reason, then, it would appear, why Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus buried the body of Jesus, was that they themselves were connected with the Jewish church actually, and only to the Christian church potentially. The burial of the Lord’s body signified the putting off of the residue of the humanity from the mother – and this residue belonged to the old dispensation, and not to the new. It was meet, therefore, that men that belonged to the old, should embalm and lay his sacred body in the tomb. Yet it is no less meet that while they were in the old Jewish dispensation, they should not be of it. Externally belonging to the old, and internally to the new, they were the links that connected the past with the future, and were therefore the suitable mediums through whom the Lord passed from the one to the other. They did not merely stand between the future of the Christian church and the past of the Jewish, but between the past and the future of all time; between the two great epochs which the incarnation at once separated and united. We find, therefore, that while these two secret disciples received the Lord at his death, it was his open disciples who received him at his resurrection. Having performed their pious office to their crucified Saviour, we hear of them no more. But those who had forsaken him in his last great trial came again into the relation of disciples, with all their doubts removed, and new light imparted to them. But we have yet to consider the particulars respecting Joseph of Arimathaea.
59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. The garments of the Lord which the soldiers divided among them represented the letter of the Word. The linen clothes in which Joseph wrapped his body must also have represented the external of the Word; and as the Lord, when he rose, left them in the tomb (John xx. 6), we must understand them to represent something which served but a temporary use. “Fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Rev. xix. 8); for genuine truths, which linen garments signify, are the means of acquiring the good of life. The clean linen cloth in which Joseph wrapped the body of Jesus signified the genuine truths of the letter of the Word, as they existed in the Jewish church, but purified from the defilement which the Jews had brought upon it. The clean linen provided by Joseph, and the spices supplied by Nicodemus, unitedly represented the understanding of truth and the affection of good in which the Lord is received by those of the external church. For the Jews to have buried the Lord with their own impious hands in one of their own whited sepulchres would have been an act of aggravated profanation; and would have represented, not resurrection, but damnation; not life, but death. Joseph of Arimathaea, while a sincere disciple of Jesus, was a Jew, whose circumcision was that of the heart in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise was not of men, but of God (Rom. ii. 29).
60 Joseph laid the Lord’s body in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock. This new tomb, out of which Jesus was to rise new-born, represented the Word itself, in which the Lord was laid. Yet it was Joseph’s own tomb. It did not, therefore, represent the Word as it had been desecrated and profaned by the Jews, but the Word as apprehended by the pure in heart and holy in life, such as Joseph was. The rock out of which it was hewn was the symbol of divine truth. As Joseph’s own new tomb, and as hewn out of the rock, the tomb represented also the regenerate mind, as made new for the reception of the divine truths of the Word, these divine truths being the rock out of which it was hewn. But there is a sense in which it relates to, and may be realized by, the pure in heart. Jesus even now can be crucified afresh; and he is so crucified in every truth of his Holy Word that is profaned. But there are those who act Joseph’s part, by taking the injured truth and wrapping it in the clean linen of pure thought, and laying it in the new tomb of a contrite heart, embalmed in their grateful affections; and those who perform this pious duty will receive it again from the dead. Joseph further rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre. This stone represented the literal sense of the Word. A stone signifies truth, and the term great is expressive of goodness – so that a great stone is expressive of truth grounded in goodness. Thus the Lord in the tomb, the door of which is closed by a great stone, represented the Lord in his Word, covered, and at the same time protected, by the literal sense – dead to one dispensation, but not yet alive to another. Joseph, when he had performed his pious office, departed. He had accomplished his use, and now retires, perhaps with the impression that he had covered up with the stone the tomb where his own hopes were buried with the crucified body of the Just One. He departs, that God may work in the final, as in every previous stage of the glorification of his humanity, alone.
61 Two of the Marys who beheld the crucifixion saw also the burial of the Lord. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre. These signify those who are in celestial and spiritual affection of love and truth. They are said to sit – for this posture signifies an interior state – one of settled intention, and is here expressive of interior devotion to the Lord in the hope of his resurrection in the heart. These loving ones had not, perhaps, any such hope. It was their hour of darkness, and despair rather than hope filled their hearts; but where there is love there is everything which will be brought forth in due time, as the ways of God’s providence advance.
62-66. But another of the contrasts that so frequently stand out in the New Testament history comes again into view. The Lord’s pious disciples having, as they supposed, performed the last rites to him whom they regarded with extinguished hope, but with undiminished love, had left the tomb to its own silent tenant. But if the disciples had relinquished all hope, the Jews had not lost all fear. They remembered, what the disciples most unaccountably seem to have utterly forgotten, that Jesus, while he was yet alive, had said, after three days I will rise again. Verily the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. The next day, therefore, the chief priests and Pharisees came to Pilate, and having stated their case, and obtained his sanction, went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch. It is not, perhaps, necessary to dwell further upon this than to say, that the priests and Pharisees sealing the Stone represented what the Jews had done with the Word, in making it a sealed book in all that related to the Lord and his kingdom, by perverting the letter and denying the spirit, and so doing everything in their power to falsify its promises and negative its teaching. To seal is therefore a figure employed in the Word, signifying to close up, conceal, hinder from being known. The Jews, on this occasion, did what Jesus himself, after his ascension, forbade his servant to do, – “Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand” (Rev. xxii. 10). But the Jews not only sealed the stone, but set a watch, implying not only their determination, but their vigilant care, to prevent the possibility of the result which they feared so much.
AUTHOR: EMANUEL SWEDENBORG (COMPILED BY ROBERT S. FISCHER AND LOUIS G. HOECK 1906)
COMMENTARY AUTHOR: WILLIAM BRUCE (1866)
PICTURES: JAMES TISSOT Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum