Matt. 10:16-23, 32-40; Luke 12:51-53
E. Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia §10490
(see readings below the message)
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” -Matthew 10:34
In the recent piece entitled “No Justice, No Peace”, I noted the relationship between justice and peace, namely, that the effect of justice will be peace. I pointed out that justice is described by the second of the two great commandments, that is, treating others as we ourselves would like to be treated.
Now we read the words of the Lord in Matthew that He did not come to bring peace on earth but a sword. And in the Gospel of Luke, the Lord said, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.”
The Lord said these things, but isn’t He the Prince of Peace? Didn’t he also tell his disciples to have peace with one another? (Mark 9:50)
He greeted his disciples saying “Peace be to you.” (Luke 24:36) He told them, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27) And also, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
So which group of the Lord’s statements are we to believe? Are we to believe His statements about peace, or His statements about sowing division and bringing a sword?
Perhaps we can sympathize with the Lord’s disciples sometimes being confused by what the Lord was saying. For example, listen to this conversation between the Lord and his disciples from the gospel of John:
(The Lord said) “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.”
Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?”
They said therefore, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.” Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’?
“These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.
His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.” (John 16:16-18, 25, 28-30)
Yet despite what the disciples said, they did not fully comprehend what the Lord was saying to them. They did not really understand what He was saying about going to the Father, nor could they. Everything that the Lord said was in the form of a parable. It had a deeper and often hidden meaning.
As it is written in Matthew, “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘I will open My mouth in parables….'” (Matthew 13:34-35) Even to his disciples the Lord spoke mostly in parables or figurative language. In a few places, he spoke openly and plainly, such as when he told them that “I and the Father are one,” (John 10:30) and that “he who sees Me sees the Father.” (John 14:9). But even these plain statements contain deeper levels of meaning and truth. Everything the Lord said holds a deeper meaning. So also with the Lord’s teachings about bringing a sword and division and not peace. This was explained most clearly in the Arcana Coelestia 10490.
To summarize those teachings: spiritual combats or temptations are being treated of, thus the contentions arising in person between the evils and falsities which are with him from hell, and the goods and truths which are with him from the Lord. The passage tells us that:
He who does not know that such things are signified by “man” and “father,” by “daughter” and “mother,” by “daughter-in-law” and “mother- in-law,” must believe that the Lord came into the world in order to take away peace in homes and families, and introduce dissension; when yet He came to give peace and to take away dissensions….
That the dissension of the internal and the external man is described in this passage, is evident from the signification in the internal sense of “man” and “father,” of “daughter” and “mother,” and of “daughter-in-law” and “mother-in-law,” in which sense “man” [homo] denotes the good which is from the Lord; “father” denotes the evil which is from man’s proprium (love of himself); “daughter” denotes the affection of good and truth; “mother” denotes the affection of evil and falsity; “daughter-in-law” denotes the truth of the church adjoined to its good; and “mother-in-law” denotes falsity adjoined to its evil.
Because the combat between goods and evils, and between falsities and truths, with a person is described, it is also said that “a man’s foes shall be those of his own household,” for by “those of his own household” is signified the things that belong to a person, thus which are his own; and “foes” in a spiritual sense means the evils and falsities which assault goods and truths. —
The Lord was illustrating the dissensions and combats within a person in terms of dissensions and combats within an apparently dysfunctional family. And these are the dissensions and combats taking place within a person who is being regenerated by the Lord. This is why the Lord referred to bringing a sword and division and not peace. For by means of the sword of truth – and a sword represents truth combating – a person may be gradually regenerated by the Lord.
The dissension and combat are those taking place within the mind and soul of one person. If we are following the Lord and being regenerated by Him, that dysfunctional combative family is the family of our mind. It’s all there, taking place within us.
We are both the good man and the evil father; the good being what is from the Lord with us, and the evil being the proprium or love of self with us.
The daughter is the affection for good and truth within us, while the mother within us is the affection for evil and falsity. Likewise the daughter-in-law and the mother-in-law all signify states of good and truth was also states of evil and falsity within us. And these opposing states are at war with each other – – in spiritual combat.
But how do we know this? We know this and may choose to believe this because the Third Testament tells us so. Without the Third Testament as a guide, we like the disciples, would likely also be questioning what the Lord is saying, and when seeing contradictory sets of teachings, say to ourselves, “we do not know what He is saying.” But then, when we read the descriptions and explanations in the Third Testament of difficult passages like this one in the New Testament, we may say to ourselves “see, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!”
But let us approach our knowledge and understanding of the Word with a sense of humility. Keep in mind that in all three Testaments of the Lord’s Word there are levels within levels of meaning. There are always parables containing deeper truths. So what we see is like a drop of water within an ocean.
But how do we know if that drop is true? It is taught that we shall know the truth and the truth shall make us free (John 8:32). And how do we know if that truth is in fact true? The whole passage gives an answer: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Abiding in the Lord’s Word, means living according to the Lord’s Word as we understand it. This is all that the Lord really asks of us. Abide in His Word, live according to it, and the Lord will lead us to spiritual peace and freedom.
Woe is me! For I have become like one who,
after the summer fruit has been gathered,
after the vintage has been gleaned,
finds no cluster to eat;
there is no first-ripe fig for which I hunger.
The faithful have disappeared from the land,
and there is no one left who is upright;
they all lie in wait for blood,
and they hunt each other with nets.
Their hands are skilled to do evil;
the official and the judge ask for a bribe,
and the powerful dictate what they desire;
thus they pervert justice.
The best of them is like a brier,
the most upright of them a thorn hedge.
The day of their sentinels, of their punishment, has come;
now their confusion is at hand.
Put no trust in a friend,
have no confidence in a loved one;
guard the doors of your mouth
from her who lies in your embrace;
for the son treats the father with contempt,
the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
your enemies are members of your own household.
But as for me, I will look to the Lord,
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me.
Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
I must bear the indignation of the Lord,
because I have sinned against him,
until he takes my side
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall see his vindication.
Matthew 10:16-23, 32-40
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.
When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.“ …
Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter, and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
E. Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia §10490**
Anyone who does not know that brothers, companions, neighbours, and further names describing human relationships serve to mean the Church and heaven’s forms of good and truths, or their opposites, which are evils and falsities, cannot know what is implied by very many places in the Word where those names occur.
These verses refer to spiritual conflicts, which are the temptations that those who are to be regenerated must undergo. Thus they refer to the strife a person experiences at that time between the evils and falsities which come to him from hell and the forms of good and the truths which come to him from the Lord. Since those conflicts are what is described here the declaration ‘whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me’ is made, ‘cross’ being used to mean a person’s state during temptations. Anyone who does not know that these kinds of things are meant by ‘man and father’, ‘daughter and mother’, ‘daughter-in-law and mother-in-law’ will suppose that the Lord came into the world to remove the peace in households and families and to introduce strife, when in fact He came to bring peace and remove strife.
The fact that strife between the internal man and the external is described in those verses is clear from the meaning in the internal sense of ‘man and father’, ‘daughter and mother’, and ‘daughter-in-law and mother-in-law’. In that sense ‘man’ (homo) means good which comes from the Lord, and ‘father’ evil which springs from a person’s self; ‘daughter’ means an affection for goodness and truth, and ‘mother’ an affection for evil and falsity; and ‘daughter-in-law’ means the Church’s truth linked to its good, and ‘mother-in-law’ falsity linked to its evil. And since the conflict that takes place between the forms of good and the evils residing with a person, and between the falsities and truths, is described in that manner those verses also contain the declaration ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household’.
By ‘those of his own household’ the things that reside with a person are meant, thus those which belong properly to himself, while ‘enemies’ in the spiritual sense are the evils and falsities that attack forms of good and truths. The fact that such things are meant by ‘man’, ‘father’, ‘daughter’, ‘mother’, ‘daughter-in-law’, and ‘mother-in-law’ has been shown in various places in the explanations.
The Rev. Hugh Odhner is minister at the Lord’s New Church Philadelphia Society. A bridge-builder between the different Swedenborgian branches, he has preached at several Convention ministries, including the Church of the Holy City in Washington, D.C., and has been a regular attendee and lecturer at Fryeburg New Church Assembly for many years. He lives with his wife Denise in Bryn Athyn, PA.
*New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
**Swedenborg, Emanuel. Arcana Coelestia. Translated by John Elliott. London: Swedenborg Society, 1990.