One-third of the New Testament is occupied with an account of the last week of the Lord's life on earth and the forty days during which He tarried among men before His ascension. If His whole life had been recorded in the same detail, it would take eighty volumes the size of the New Testament to contain it. John indicates this thought when he said, "and there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." (John 21:25) At Easter time we are accustomed to hear two or three isolated texts with a clear and detailed exposition of their spiritual meaning, but the grand sweep of all the events is frequently overshadowed by our particular interest in some one event. Let me here rather trace for you the sequence of all these events.
For the New Church man the story of the Divine life is the story of the Lord's glorification and, although in its deeper recesses it contains truth of the noblest and the most penetrating kind, yet certain aspects of it can be easily grasped by all who worship the Lord Jesus Christ as their God and Savior.
When the Christ-child was born in Bethlehem His soul made one with the infinite God of the universe, but the body that lived from that soul was all from the Virgin Mary.
On Easter morning, when He rose from the sepulchre, He had with Him nothing that He had taken from Mary. He rose with His whole body; but that Divine substantial body in which He rose was not only conceived of Jehovah, but was also born of Jehovah. The manner of this birth can be clearly understood.
The universal teaching of the Writings is that He continually put off the human from the mother, and in place of it put on the human from the Father. By the human from the Father we mean the Divine qualities into whose image and likeness man was created. We are human because we were created into the image and likeness of the Divine Human.
Let me illustrate this by a simple example: When the Lord was a boy, before He put off the eye-sight which He had derived from His mother Mary, His sight was limited, just as ours is. It could not see through walls, nor around corners, nor into human hearts. But as His glorification advanced He put off limited sight from Mary, and put on divine sight from the Father, which is omniscience, the ability to see everywhere. That He put on this kind of sight is evident from the Gospel story, for when He was feasting with Simon the Pharisee and Mary Magdalene came in and washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head, Simon thought within himself, "This man, if He were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him: for she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39) But Jesus saw right into his heart, and read his thoughts. Again, when Peter asked about the tribute money, the Lord saw the fish with the coin in his mouth and sent Peter to fetch it. These illustrations might be multiplied many times. From them it is obvious that He put off the limited sight that He derived from Mary, and in its place put on the power to see as the Father sees.
The same is true about His power to act. When He was a boy He could move only the objects that He could touch, but as He began to enter into His ministry He was no longer limited by the power of His Mary-body; in its place He put on power derived from the Divine Omnipotence. When the nobleman sought His aid at Cana of Galilee to heal his son who lay sick at Capernaum, twenty miles away, He simply said, "Go thy way; thy son liveth." (John 4:50)
When we come to consider the closing events of His life, it becomes clear that it was through temptation-combats and victories over the hells that He continually put off the human from Mary with its limitations and in its place put on the human from the Father, which knew no limitations.
One month before the Lord's own resurrection, He raised Lazarus from the dead. This proved to be the occasion which caused the Sanhedrin to determine to put Him to death. Knowing their plots He retired northward into the wilderness of Ephraim for two weeks, and then He went down and crossed the Jordan and came into the land of Peraea. Here He spoke the parable of the Prodigal Son. While He was in this place the disciples prevented the mothers from bringing their children to Him and He rebuked them and said, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:14)
But now the time had come for Him to go up to Jerusalem. He crossed the Jordan as Joshua had done twelve hundred years before and entered into Jericho, and there in a sycamore tree He saw Zaccheus, whose action brings a message to all of us, for he is an outstanding example of a man who overcame his handicaps. Being extremely short, he was never able to see the Lord when He passed by, so he did something about it. He overcame his limitations by climbing a tree, and "when Jesus came to the place, He looked up, and saw him, and said unto Him, Zaccheus, make haste, for today I must abide at thy house." (Luke 19:5) As the Savior left Jericho, His attention was arrested by the cries of blind Bartimaeus. When Jesus stood still the blind man came to Him naked, having cast away his ragged garment, true symbol of the falsities of his old faith, which each man must discard if he is to embrace the doctrine of the New Church. (Mark 10:46-52)
From Jericho to Jerusalem was a long hard journey of some twenty-five miles along an up-hill road. But at the end of the journey lay Bethany, and the home of Mary and Martha, and Lazarus. There He and His disciples arrived Friday night, one week before the crucifixion. On the Sunday morning before Easter the Lord sent two of His disciples to a nearby town called Bethphage where He told them that they would find an ass and an ass's colt tied. They were to loose them and bring them to the Lord. If any one questioned their action they had only to say unto him, "The Lord hath need of them." When they brought them to Jesus they cast their garments on them and set the Lord thereon, and as they marched in triumph into Jerusalem many spread their garments in the way and some cut down palm branches and waved them, and the crowd cried out, "Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." And when the priests bade Him silence the multitude, He said that if they should be silent, even the stones would cry out. Had they never read what was written in the Scripture: "Out of the mouth of infants and sucklings hath He perfected praise"? (Matthew 21:16; Psalm 8:2)
One of the profound and beautiful truths taught by this occasion is that the Lord rode triumphant into Jerusalem seated upon borrowed garments. What a living tableau that is to us of the way that He enters our hearts resting upon the garments of truth borrowed from the minds of the prophets, borrowed from the minds of the Evangelists, borrowed from the mind of Swedenborg.
After teaching and healing in Jerusalem, He returned to Bethany with His disciples to spend the night. On Monday He set out again for Jerusalem, on His way cursing the barren fig tree, symbol of the unfruitful faith of the Jewish Church. As was His wont, He went straight to the temple. There He found, as He had found three years before, them that bought and sold, and the money-changers; and He overturned their tables and drove out them that bought and sold, saying, "Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves." (Mark 11:17) Thus at the beginning of His ministry and at the end of His ministry He purified the temple, for it was a symbol of His presence among men, and it must be kept pure. That night He and His disciples returned again to Bethany.
The Tuesday of the last week of the Lord's life is notable for many things: we know more about His teaching on this Tuesday than on any other day of His life. As the Lord and His disciples journeyed from Bethany to Jerusalem, they passed the fig tree which He had cursed and some of the disciples marveled that it was already dead, but Jesus said unto them, "If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done. " (Matthew 21:21)
No sooner had He entered the temple than the forces that hoped to destroy His power with the masses commenced their attack upon Him. First came the priests whom He had angered the day before by cleansing the temple. "By what authority doest thou these things, and who gave thee this authority?" (Matthew 21:23)
The Lord said that He would tell them by what authority He acted if they would answer Him one question: "The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? Answer me. And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven, He will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But if we say, Of men, they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell, And Jesus answering, saith unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things." (Mark 11:30-33)
No sooner had the priests departed than the Pharisees and the Herodians came. Flattering Him with the words, "Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man," they proceeded to ask Him if it was lawful to render tribute unto Caesar. He knew their dark design and put them to rout by asking to see the tribute money, and they brought unto Him a penny. When He was told that the image upon it was Caesar's, He said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22:16-21)
The Pharisees were followed by the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection. They asked Him about a woman who was successively married to seven brothers who in turn had died. Finally the woman died also. Then they asked Him, "In the resurrection whose wife shall she be, for they all had her?" "Ye do err not knowing the Scriptures," He said, "nor the power of God, for in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God."* Then a lawyer came running to Him and asked what was the great commandment, and when He had answered that it was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself, no man durst ask Him any further question. The multitude were delighted with the way in which He had silenced His enemies.
Afterwards the Lord related the parables of the Two Sons, the Wicked Husbandmen, and the Marriage Feast for the King's Son. He then called the attention of His disciples to a touching sight. They were standing watching those that cast money into the treasury, and many of their abundance cast in much; then He pointed out a poor widow who had just cast in two mites, which make a farthing. It was her entire substance, and He said to them that she had cast in more than they all.
Later He went out into the court of the temple and there He gave His farewell temple sermon. It was a scathing rebuke to the powers arrayed against Him. Found in the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, it contains the words, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye devour widow's houses, and for a pretense make long prayers." As they went out of the temple for the last time, one of His disciples said, "Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!" And Jesus said unto him, "Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Mark 13: 1-2)
* Explained in 'The Spiritual Sense of His Answer to the Sadducees.'
Quietly He led His disciples across the valley of the Kedron and up the side of the Mount of Olives, and seated with Jerusalem over against them, He told them of His Second Coming: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven . . . Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:29, 30) The concluding portion of the last Tuesday of the Lord's life on earth was filled with activity. After He had explained the meaning of His second coming, He told His disciples six parables. Among these was the parable of the Ten Virgins, five of whom were wise, and five of whom were foolish. Then follows the parable of the lord who, when he departed, gave to one servant five talents, to one two, and to another one; and the parable of the Judgment Scene with the sheep on the right hand of the Son of Man, and the goats on His left, and the marvelous words:
But His day was not yet finished, for in the evening He had been invited to dine at the home of Simon the Leper, probably one of the many lepers whom He had healed. While they were at meat a woman came in having an alabaster box full of precious ointment. She broke the box and poured the ointment over His head. Judas grew indignant at such waste, and said that this perfume might have been sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor. But the Lord rebuked him: "For ye have the poor always with you; but Me you have not always. For in that she poured this ointment upon My body, she did it for My burial. Verily I say unto you, wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, shall be told for a memorial of her." (Matthew 26:11-13)
It is supposed that this was the night that Judas, stung by the rebuke, went out and covenanted with the chief priests to sell His Master for thirty pieces of silver, the current price of one slave! We know nothing of what He did on Wednesday, but it was probably spent at Bethany in quiet retirement with His disciples. The Lord devoted the last Thursday of His life on earth wholly to His disciples. In the afternoon He sent Peter and John into the city of Jerusalem to find a place where He might celebrate the Passover with His disciples.
When the evening was come He sat down with His disciples to eat the Passover, and after He had washed their feet and separated Judas from their midst He instituted the Holy Supper. The remainder of the evening was spent in soul-searching instruction as they reclined about the table. Near the end of the evening He gave the long discourse recorded in the fourteenth chapter of John, which opens, "Let not your heart be troubled." About midnight, after they had sung a hymn, they went out, and as they walked toward the Mount of Olives He still talked with them. "I am the vine," He said, "and ye are the branches." He led them to the old familiar place where He had talked to them so often and, leaving eight of his disciples, He went on further with Peter, James and John. Then, bidding them remain by themselves, He went a stone's throw away; and as He prayed to the Father that this cup might pass from Him, great drops of sweat like blood fell from Him. We now come to the early hours of the last Friday that the Lord spent on earth.
Three times He came back from praying and each time He found His disciples sleeping. The third time He said, "Sleep on now and take your rest", but no sooner were the words spoken than the noise of the rabble coming up the hill caused Him to say, "Lo, he that betrayeth Me is at hand."
Led by Judas, a multitude with swords and staves and flaming torches approached Him. Twice when He answered them that He was Jesus of Nazareth they fell backward. Finally, betrayed by Judas' kiss, He was bound. Peter asked, "Shall we smite with the sword?" but without waiting for an answer he smote off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest.
Then, in the confusion, the disciples all forsook Him and fled. First He was dragged to the home of Annas who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. There He was informally questioned, and then He was taken to the palace of Caiaphas where the Sanhedrin was assembled. They produced false witnesses which did not agree. Jesus confessed that He was the Christ, the Son of God, and that they would see Him sitting at the right hand of power. At these words the high priest rent his clothes, saying, "What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: What think ye? And they all condemned Him to be guilty of death." (Mark 14:63-64)
It was while this was going on that Peter, warming himself by the coal fire in the courtyard, denied his Lord three times; and then the cock crew and he went out and wept bitterly.
After daybreak the Sanhedrin formally condemned Him. This was an effort to make the trial appear legal. Judas, now seeing the full consequences of his acts, tried to return the money to the priests, but when they refused to receive it, he threw it down in the temple and went and hanged himself.
After the trial before the Sanhedrin they brought the Lord before Pilate, making the governor come out to them because they dared not enter into his house, for this would defile them and make them unfit to eat the Passover. At first they endeavored to prove Jesus guilty of forbidding men to render tribute to Caesar, and they accused Him of stirring up the people to insurrection. "Then Pilate entered into the judgment hail again, and called Jesus, and said unto Him, Art thou the king of the Jews? . . Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world . . . Pilate therefore said unto Him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth . . . Pilate saith unto Him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews." (John 18:33,-36, 37, 38) As the trial proceeded Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, so he sent Him to Herod to be tried, but before Herod the Savior was silent. Herod turned Him over to his soldiers to mock, who put a purple robe on Him and sent Him back to Pilate.
Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews said, "If you free this man you are not Caesar's friend." Then he invoked the custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover, hoping that he might thus release Jesus, but the mob cried out for Barabbas. "What then shall I do with Jesus?" asked Pilate. "Crucify Him, crucify Him," they shouted. When Pilate received word from his wife to have nothing to do with that just man, he called for a basin and water and washed his hands before them all, saying that he was innocent of His blood.
Then he turned Him over to his soldiers to be mocked, and they put on Him a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns. Finally they led Him away to be crucified, and as He stumbled under the weight of the cross they compelled Simon the Cyrenian to bear it. To the women who wept for Him as He passed along the road, He said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but for yourselves and for your children."
They crucified Him between two thieves, having parted His garments among them and cast lots for His vesture. From the cross He spoke seven times: For His enemies He prayed, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." To Mary He said, "Woman, behold thy son," to John, "Behold thy mother," and to the repentant thief, "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise." Then there was darkness over the land from noon to three o'clock. Finally He cried out, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" A little later He said, "I thirst, and then, "It is finished," and last of all, "Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit."
Pilate had said to Him, "What is truth?" but he never waited for an answer. Earlier he had said, "Art Thou a king?" and Jesus answered, "Thou sayest that I am a king; for this reason came I into the world, that I might bear witness unto the truth. "
The Lord was the Word made flesh, the Word of truth, and in order that He might fulfill all things He had to suffer as the truth had suffered at the hands of the Jewish nation. They had crucified the truth, they had made the law of none effect through their tradition. Through them the hells were able to wreak their fury upon the Human which the Lord had assumed from Mary.
Yet as He hung upon the cross there came a time when their power became impotent, and at that moment He cried out, "It is finished." His faithful followers thought that He meant that it was the end of His kingdom among men. His enemies hailed it as evidence of their victory, but the truth was that His Divine work of putting off all the twisted and perverted human states that He had derived from Mary was at an end. That which He had come on earth to do was finished.
Then came the soldiers to break the legs and thus hasten the prisoners' death because of the approaching Sabbath. But Jesus had already expired, so they did not break His bones. Wonderful internal sense! His bones represent the laws of the universe. Men could scoff at Him, could crown Him with thorns, but they could not alter one single Divine law, represented by His bones!
He was buried by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and it is interesting to note that, just as there was a Joseph connected with the birth story and that for the reason that Joseph represents a protection of the truth of the Wordso in the resurrection the same protection was necessary, and we find mention of another Joseph. At six o'clock that evening the Jewish Sabbath commenced. By that time the Lord's body had been buried, a great stone rolled over the door, and a watch of Roman soldiers set.
It was not until twenty-four hours later, at six o'clock on Saturday night, that the women were free to purchase and prepare the sweet spices to anoint His body. So very early Sunday morning they went out to the sepulchre. They found that an earthquake had rolled away the stone and two angels appeared to them, saying, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, He is risen."
Apparently Mary quickly went back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples, and John and Peter raced to the sepulchre to find it empty. Convinced that what Mary had told them was correct, they returned to the city to tell the other disciples, but Mary Magdalene tarried behind. It was then that she stooped down and looked into the sepulchre and saw the two angels in white, and, turning, saw the Lord standing and calling her by name. And she hailed Him as "Rabboni!"
Later on the Lord appeared to two disciples on the way to Emmaus, and in the evening to the ten as they were locked in a room for fear of the Jews. Thomas, not being present, refused to believe, but one week later the Lord appeared again, and Thomas hailed Him as My Lord and my God! "
Some weeks later, seven of the disciples, having gone back to fishing, saw the Lord on the shores of Galilee, and then He appeared to more than five hundred of the brethren at once. Lastly, forty days after Easter He led the disciples out to the Mount of Olives, and there He ascended into heaven, being received by a bright cloud. Two angels then spoke to them saying, "As ye have seen Him go into heaven, so shall He come in like manner." (Acts 1:11)
Now we know that He has come again in those clouds of heaven which are the literal sense of the Word, in which may be seen the glory of the Word, which was in the beginning with God and which was God and which became flesh and dwelt among us. And we can now behold His glory, as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.
In closing, let me point out one of the surest signs that we have that the Lord really did rise from the tomb on Easter morn! That is the conduct of His disciples. You recall that when He was first taken by the band led by Judas 'the disciples all forsook Him and fled. (Matthew 26:56) They were now a band of stunned and deeply disappointed men. The lingering hope that the promise of Palm Sunday, when the Lord rode triumphant into Jerusalem, would become a reality, that in very deed He would establish His kingdom here, had been rudely shattered. In terror
they fled lest they too should be apprehended and persecuted. John and Peter had followed afar off, and the rest of them disappeared from the story. Had there been no resurrection this would have been the end of Christianity instead of its beginning.
There followed the sad crucifixion and burial, and the rest of the Sabbath Day, but with the first day of the week His real appearances commenced, and on twelve different occasions He was seen by various individuals or groups of followers.
Now note how their conduct changed. From being fearful men they became brave and lion-hearted. No power on earth could make them deny the risen Lord whom they had seen with their own eyes. On the day of Pentecost they had received the Holy Spirit. It filled them with a new zeal and a new power, and shortly after receiving this gift from the Lord, Peter and John went into the temple to pray and to give thanks unto God, and there sitting by the gate that is called Beautiful sat a man who had been born lame from his mother's womb. "And Peter fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something from them. Then said Peter, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. " (Acts 3:4-8)
Later a large group of the rulers set John and Peter in the midst of them and asked them "By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, if we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole. " (Acts 4:7-10)
Again the rulers called them before them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. "But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you, more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." (Ibid 4:19, 20) On still another occasion the rulers warned them saying, "Did not we straightly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom ye slew and hanged upon a tree. (Acts 5:28, 29)
This does not sound like the Peter who sat warming his hands at Caiaphas' fire and thrice denied his Lord! A new courage had entered his heart because he had seen the Lord.
The enemies of Christianity have said that the disciples invented the myth of the resurrection. But men will not die to vindicate a lie. Stephen could never have delivered his last fiery sermon in the very teeth of his persecutors had he not seen the risen Lord and been inspired by that sight. So strong was his conviction that even as the death-dealing stones fell thick about him he told those who were killing him of his vision of the risen Lord and he asked the Savior to forgive them for their brutality.
If Christian tradition can be trusted, every one of the disciples except John met a violent death, dying for the Lord whom he had seen. Nothing but the actual sight of the risen Lord could have changed doubting Thomas. Therefore, when the Lord appeared to him and said, "Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing" (John 20:27), all his doubts were dispelled. The surest of all proofs of the resurrection is found in this miraculous change in the conduct of His disciples who, from fleeing cowards, became the living symbols of bravery, faith, and utter devotion to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.