13. Questioning Jesus’s Authority (2:18-22)

Then the Jews (Judaens) answered and said to Him, What sign do You show to us, since You do these things? Jesus said to them, Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up. Then the Jews said, This sanctuary was forty six years being built, and do You raise it up in three days? But He spoke about the sanctuary of His body. Then when He was raised from the dead, His disciples recalled that He said this to them. And they believed the Scripture, even the Word that Jesus spoke. (John Chapter 2:18-22)

Those who know nothing of the internal sense of the Word cannot know otherwise than that by “Judah” and “Jews,” in the prophetical parts of the word, are meant Judah and the Jews; these, however are not there meant by their names, but all who are in the true doctrine of the church, thus who are in the knowledges of good and truth from the Word; and in the contrary sense, those who are in false doctrine, thus who have adulterated the truths and goods of the Word. That Judah and the Jews are not meant can be seen merely from this, that there is an internal sense in every particular of the Word, and also in the names of persons and places; and that nothing is treated of in this sense except what pertains to heaven and the church; such things, therefore, must also be signified by the names “Judah” and “Israel.” And as with them a church was instituted in which all things were representative and significative of things heavenly, so by their names was signified that which essentially makes the church, namely, in the highest sense, the Lord Himself; in the internal sense His Word; and in the external sense doctrine from the Word, as was said above. (Apocalypse Explained 119{2})

Eternal life and salvation are impossible without conjunction with the Lord, for the reason that He is both of these. That He is eternal life is clearly evident from certain passages in the Word, as from the following in John: Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life (1 John 5:20).He is also salvation, because this and eternal life are one. His name Jesus signifies salvation, and therefore He is called the Savior throughout the Christian world. (True Christian Religion 726)

So far, we’ve looked at the spiritual idea of place and journeying in the Word. We’ve seen that places refer to settled states of life and doctrine, and that journeys refer to states of transition in our thoughts and affections as we allow the Word to work in our life. Today we will now be turning our attention to the idea of person and people. People, in the Word spiritually understood, do not mean individuals who live or have lived on earth. The mind that places importance on the historical aspects of the Word is the natural mind. To think spiritually is to think more universally in accordance with what a thing represents and not to become too attached to the representation itself. So, the spiritual idea in relation to people is that they are to be understood as representations of various qualities of affections and thoughts that people or populate our inner mental world.

We have discussed this a little already in relation to Jesus. When we read from the natural mind, Jesus in the Word is thought of in terms of a historical person. However, when read from the spiritual mind which is in the light of spiritual teaching, the historical Jesus is not the reference point for the thought but rather what is understood that is of a Divine quality of the Lord God, of the Word. The name in Hebrew is Yeshua (in English Joshua) and means Jehovah-Saviour, from Jah which is a shortened form of Jehovah and from Hoshea which means deliverer. So, the spiritually focused mind reads Jesus and thinks of the Lord’s desire for the salvation of the human race and its operation in the life of the minds of all, but the natural mind reads of Jesus and can’t think beyond a person in history.

Those states within us that are attached to a natural understanding of the Word often find a spiritual understanding of these things threatening. It seems to overturn the tables of deeply held beliefs, as represented with Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple in Jerusalem. The natural mind responds by assuming that if these things have a spiritual meaning, then this somehow undermines the Text’s historical accuracy. It can’t see that a natural and spiritual understanding sit on two very different plains of the mind. The spiritual mind, however, sees this clearly and so moves the focus of our sense of faith away from the historical person named Jesus – to the living Word which is the Lord with us. The de-emphasis of the historical facts of the literal sense and the reorientation of the mind onto viewing what lies within it, creates the conditions for the Lord to shine forth from the Word through its outer historical garments. As this begins to occur and we begin to see spiritual applications from the Word, the historical elements almost disappear. For when we are in the effort to make truths one with our life Jesus, that is, the Lord’s desire for our salvation, reveals the inner sense of the Word to us because we start to see how it relates to the life of our mind.

Removing the idea of person from our thinking when the Word uses names of people, tribes, nations etc enables us to move beyond thinking of the Word as speaking of others and looking instead to what the person, tribe or nation might represent within ourselves. For example, in our reading today we see the term Jews used to describe those who challenge Jesus’s authority to cast out those who were in the temple selling animals and changing money.

Then the Jews (Judaens) answered and said to Him, What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?

Natural thinking immediate latches onto the idea of a race of people and that the term Jew in the Word means a particular group of people. But the term Jew or Judean when it occurs in the Word does not mean Jews as a race of people in the natural world. The Word is spiritual and it seeks to reveal to human consciousness spiritual things universally present in the minds of all human beings. The terms it uses certainly have a natural historical meaning and this will interest those who are naturally disposed as far as spiritual things are concerned, and so its use is to provide a natural religion accommodated to natural thought. But the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity have been given to open our understanding of the Scriptures to lift our mind out of a natural religion into a genuinely spiritual one and so we find familiar terms in the teachings but redefined, so that they have new spiritual meanings. These spiritual meanings or definitions have nothing to do with the things of the natural world; they are only concerned with the spiritual world which is the mental world of our affections and thoughts.

Now because our affections and thoughts have two origins reflecting two opposite qualities, so too do the terms used in the Word have double meanings. Depending on the context, a term can have a positive or negative meaning. As human beings who are looking to grow spiritually, we will find that we have two distinct levels of affection and thought. One that flows from the loves of self and the world and is bound up in self interest with all its selfish tendencies, and this is described by the term hell. The other that flows in from a love of the Lord and our neighbour is described by the term heaven. We are affected by both and so there are times when we fall into what is lower and become self absorbed in negativity, and other times when we find ourselves in what is higher where we feel open and expansive towards others.

The work of spiritual growth and development involves a battle to have what is of heaven rule in our life. Divine revelation is the user guide to living a spiritual life. It is given to guide and direct our responses through instructing us in psycho-spiritual processes. It teaches us how the Lord works in our mind to reform and regenerate us so that we are given the ability to consciously choose the higher path. This knowledge is the highest form of knowledge that anyone can receive. It is of absolute critical importance for by means of it we are given the ability to cooperate and work with the Lord as the Word through the understanding of the spiritual realities that it offers us. This understanding includes a vision of what it is we are striving for which is the life of love, what is called heaven, and it instructs as to what gets in the way of this life which are the evils and falsities of the natural man, what is called hell. When falsities and evils are the focus of instruction in the Word, we will find that the context demands that terms take on a negative meaning. However, when it is goods and truths that are the focus then the context will see the same terms being used to convey what is heavenly.

This double meaning is given to terms because it is goods and truths from the Word that are turned to evil and falsity in the lower natural mind. It is a spiritual law that all life is from the Lord and that the only things that can come from the Lord are those that are good and true. But as this life descends into angels, spirits, men, and devils, it takes on the quality of the form of the mind receiving it. In those forms that are receptive of what is good, the expression of life is good; in those where the form of mind is fashioned after evil, the expression of life is evil. So, we see this double meaning in the use of the term Jew. In its highest sense it is used to describe things of a celestial quality, that is, the goods and truths of the Word in those who love the Lord and their neighbour. But when the things of heaven are used to justify disordered states of life so that the loves of self and the world dominate the goods and truths of the church, then they are twisted into what is evil and false. Such a state of mind, rather than welcoming what is of the Lord and heaven, takes on a life that is opposed to Him and His kingdom.

In our reading today the term Jew is used to describe a negative response to Divine truth. So it symbolically refers to our own self-will that finds the disruption, which truth brings into the temple of the human mind, unsettling. When the Word really begins to challenge our way of being it is seeking to motivate us to have the love of self and the love the world cast out of our will.  To have those affections and desires that put self first along with all there supporting false perspectives, set aside. These affections and their false perspectives are represented by the money changers with their tables and coins that Jesus found in the temple.

He threw all out of the temple, both the sheep, and the oxen, and the money changers, pouring out the money and overturning the tables. (John 2: 15)

There is a part of us that finds this too much and seeks to challenge the authority of the Word in our life to bring about these necessary changes. Make no mistake, the natural man is constantly looking to trade off the things of the spirit for natural and worldly pleasures and so is inherently resistant to the spiritual man. It is a powerful force within us and only the Lord as the Word has the power to cast out what challenges the Lord’s authority. Because our proprium or ego is bound up in self love our natural man is constantly looking for reasons and excuses to dismiss the Word’s authority upon our life. This is what is captured in the question put to Jesus by the Jews….

What sign do You show to us, since You do these things? 

It is a question aimed at getting Jesus to entrap Himself so that the authorities can accuse him of blasphemy and so have grounds to nullify his authority. They are not interested in signs; they are only interested in their own positions and status. Therefore, they ask Him by what authority is He doing these things. They ask for something that will convince them of His right to call the temple His Father’s house, and so justify His actions in casting out the traders. This kind of resistance to what is spiritual is inherent in us all and is located in the proprium. It is this resistant attitude universally found in the natural man that is meant by the term Jews here. In us it might take the form of, ‘What is the use of all this? What practical use is there in knowing about inner process and spiritual goods and truths?’ It objects saying, ‘Why is it so difficult to understand? Surely if this were all true then the Lord would have made it much easier to grasp!’ This is how the natural man reasons – ‘Give me a sign, show me, convince me that this is something worth persevering with.’

We are created for eternal purposes and these purposes are realised through our being joined with the Lord and this conjunction is effected in no other way than by the Word. For it is the Word in our mind, when understood spiritually in keeping with genuine truths, that opens us to heavenly influx. Understanding the Word spiritually is not just a matter of knowledge, it’s a matter of practice as a result of knowledge. This is what reforms the mind into a form of heaven so that heaven can be within us. Without goods and truths from the Word woven into the mental fabric of our spirit, the Lord has nothing in us to join with, and it is this joining or connection that brings heaven within. So, if we are to have a spiritual life and be in connection with the Lord then there is no higher priority than persevering in cultivating a spiritual practice that is based on using the Word to examine one’s inner life.

It is evident from the events that follow in the story that those who asked to be convinced were not really interested in any sign Jesus could give, no matter how spectacular. The natural man will never be convinced of the existence of or importance of spiritual things. What matters for this man are the things of the body and external world, what appears before the senses. This is what is real for it because these are the things that bring it pleasure and delight. Spiritual things are deemed unimportant and certainly don’t hold any delight or attraction. Spiritual delight on the other hand, comes from the Lord, who is able to come into the truths that we put into practice and join to them good from Himself. This presence of the Lord is possible with those who are being made spiritual and it is felt as a delight in the Word and those teachings drawn from it found within the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity.

The things of the spirit are inner things and so the spiritual man sees that attending to the quality of its affections and thoughts are of paramount importance in cultivating a heavenly life. And so, this man works with the Word to have what is hellish identified and removed. To the natural man such work holds little if any attraction; it can’t see the point because the goals and pursuits that have meaning for it are those belonging to the world. It will often look on those things to do with spiritual practice and life and say that they focus too much on the negative – it doesn’t see that it is fully emersed in the things of the proprium and that self love taints all that it does. For the spiritual man there is no greater delight, or pursuit in life than to work to have the influences of the loves of self and the world removed. For it knows that until truths are used to remove evils from the life of the external man, it stands outside of the life and sphere of heaven.

The nature of this practice is made clear in the Lord’s statement when he says…

Destroy (loose) this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up. Then the Jews said, This sanctuary was forty six years being built, and do You raise (arouse – in the sense of gathering ones faculties) it up in three days? But He spoke about the sanctuary of His body.

We will consider this next time…

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