The Unexpected King

The Unexpected King

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, April 4, 2004

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on an ass, a colt, the foal of an ass (ZEC. 9:9).

The Jewish Church began when Jehovah called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees, and commanded him to take Sarai his wife and travel across the deserts and mountains to the land of Canaan. There, Jehovah established a covenant with Abram, that if Abram and his descendants would love and obey God, He would give them the land of Canaan and make them into a great nation. All they had to do was to listen to Jehovah’s commands and be obedient.

We all know the story of Abraham’s descendants and how over the passage of time, they were less and less able to remember their part of the covenant, how they drifted farther and farther away from their God.

One of the signs of this change in their relationship is the way their government changed over time. At first, Jehovah frequently appeared as an angel and spoke man to man with Abraham. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Isaac’s communications with God, and by Jacob’s time, God’s appearances were less frequent, although Jacob did meet angels face to face occasionally.

Joseph led the children of Israel for many years, but he did not see God face to face, but instead he received his instruction and inspiration through dreams. For more than 400 years after Joseph, the children of Israel were essentially a leaderless mob, receiving no direct instruction from God at all.

They experienced a revival when the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush. For the first time in many generations, the Lord was once again speaking directly to the leaders of the children of Israel. Under His direct care and leadership they escaped from Egypt, built the tabernacle, and conquered the land of Canaan by military force. There they lived for several generations, ruled not by a king, but by judges raised up by God from time to time according to need.

While Samuel was the prophet and Judge of Israel, the people went to him and demanded that they be allowed to have a king like all the other nations. They did not want to be ruled by the Lord any longer, but wanted to be ruled by a king of their own, instead. Samuel was furious with them for their request, but the Lord told Samuel not to worry, that they had not rejected Samuel, but they were rejecting Him, the Lord, instead. The Lord told Samuel to go ahead and give them their king – He wanted to accommodate to their needs as they saw them, as always, He sought to lead His people in freedom. So He gave them Saul as their first king, and when he failed, He gave them David, and then Solomon, whose head was turned by his enormous wealth and power. After that, the kingdom was divided and Israel and Judah fought with each other and their external enemies for 300 years until the Assyrians captured and removed Israel, and 200 years later the Babylonians captured and removed Judah.

By the time the Lord came on earth, the Jews were a small remnant of their former selves. Their worship had been radically changed by their years in Babylon. No longer did they sacrifice in the a temple, but instead they gathered to read and study the scriptures together. Most of the tribes had been dispersed and lost to history by the various wars, as were the tabernacle, the ark, and the Ten Commandments carved on tables of stone. The laws of Moses had been interpreted and reinterpreted until they no longer bore any resemblance to the ones given to Moses by Jehovah. And they had not governed themselves or their land in hundreds of years. It is difficult to imagine a greater decline for a nation.

Unless we know how far they had fallen, it is impossible for us to know how great their desire for a king was. They remembered that at one time the Jews had ruled Canaan. They remembered that David was renowned for his military leadership. They savored the knowledge that Solomon’s wisdom and wealth had never been rivaled – and their rage at having to serve the Romans, when they should by Divine right be ruling the Romans, simmered barely under the surface. We know from many historical documents that the Jews were a particularly difficult race to govern because of their knowledge of their own history, and their insistence on their God-given right to return to the days of power and glory.

The scriptures gave them hope, for in many places the scriptures promised that a king would be coming, a king who would lift them up out of their servitude to other nations and would restore them to the position they deserved, of ruling all other nations and peoples on earth! Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on an ass, a colt, the foal of an ass (text). One day, they hoped, their king would come, and their days of unhappiness would end because they would be rulers of the world and able to take revenge upon all those who had offended them in the past.

During the whole of the Lord’s public ministry, there had been rumors and questions about Him, whether or not He was in fact the promised Messiah, the King who would lead them to cast off the yoke of Rome. The Twelve Disciples themselves believed that Jesus was going to use his miraculous powers to lead them in a revolution that could not fail. Finally, after three years of waiting and watching, Jesus gave everyone the sign that He was ready to become the King. He found an ass’s colt that had never before been ridden, and began to ride it up the main road into Jerusalem, the capital city. The people, no doubt aided by the disciples, recognized the symbolic nature of this act, and responded to Jesus as they would to a king, by laying their garments and palm branches in the road, an earlier version of the “red carpet” treatment of royalty.

As we have seen, the Jewish nation had descended from being a people directly lead and governed by God under Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to being an ungovernable nation, seeking only their own wealth and world prominence. And now the Lord was coming to them as a king, a spiritual king, to give them their last chance to recognize Him as a spiritual leader, to finally understand the true nature of His promise and His coming.

When we look back over the known record of the Lord’s own life, we can see that everything He had done or said had let up to and prepared for this final trip to Jerusalem. His name, given to Mary by the angel, means The Savior, the anointed one, the King. The heavenly doctrines tell us that The reason why the Lord is called “King” and “the Anointed,” is that He was the Messiah, or Christ; and “Messiah” or “Christ” means the king and the anointed. This is why, in the Word, the Lord is meant by “king,” and also by “David,” who was king over Judah and Israel. The Lord was king in a spiritual and philosophical sense, and had always been king, but it was on this day and at this place in time that the Lord chose to actually take on the physical appearance of his kingship. He did so at that time and place in order to give the people of the Jewish Church their last chance to accept their part of the Abramic covenant, and accept Him as their spiritual leader, turning away from their worldly and natural views of the church.

The people gave every appearance of accepting Him as their king, at first, by greeting him in the traditional manner by which kings were welcomed into the city, by putting palm branches and garments in the road to give him a clean, never before used surface to travel upon. These acts were correspondential as well, because ‘palm-trees’ signify the goods of the Spiritual Church. The Lord as a king represents the Divine Spiritual, that is, that He governs each and every thing in the universe from the Divine Truth. Therefore, when the people put palm-branches in the road, it represented the affection of good and the delights of life that come when the truths of the Lord’s spiritual kingdom are received and lived, when individuals learn the Lord’s truth and act in love and charity towards others. We are also taught in the heavenly doctrines that to take the branches of palm and crying Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord represents a confession of Divine truth concerning the Lord.

What is particularly interesting about the way the Lord was greeted as He entered Jerusalem is that He was greeted and welcomed as a king by the same people who were to turn on Him and demand His crucifixion in less than a week. This is a scriptural confirmation of the spiritual principle so often mentioned in the doctrines of the New Church, that evil people are capable of hearing and understanding the truth, but they are evil because they choose to ignore it and live according to their own selfish delights instead. Devils sometimes ask to come into heaven, and they are welcomed, and are even able to simulate angelic life for a time – but eventually the evil decide that the filth and ugliness of their own hell is far better for them than the delights of heaven, and so they return there of their own free will. All men can be elevated into the light of spiritual truth. After they receive that elevation, it is up to their own will and their own delights as to whether they will remain there or not.

The Lord also presented Himself as a king at that time for another reason, because His kingship has to do with the spiritual kingdom and therefore with truth, He was also presenting Himself as the Judge as He prepared to complete the judgment on the Jewish Church.

The relationship between the Lord as king and Judge, and the use of truth in the judgment of the church becomes more clear when we think of it in terms of what is supposed to happen in a court of law. There, an impartial judge sits in judgment. Those who are contesting the matter present witnesses who tell what they believe happened. Soon, patterns begin to emerge. Certain things don’t fit into the story and are rejected. Other things become obvious from the circumstances and are put into place. Eventually, the truth emerges, and the judge identifies it and makes his decision. In a proper court, it is the truth, when it is finally discovered, not the judge, that makes the judgment. In the same way, it is the truth that judges the church.

Everything the Lord did during His life in the world was done for a reason. When He chose to enter Jerusalem as a king, it was in part to show all people that He had come to administer true, spiritual justice to all men. He was doing this by allowing the Jewish Church to judge itself against the truth that He had been teaching throughout His ministry in the world. He presented Himself to the Jewish church as a king. He then awaited their response to that truth. He did not judge them, but they judged themselves by the way that they treated Him. Remember that when He was crucified there was a sign on the cross identifying Him as “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The sign had apparently been put there to mock Him, but instead it was a testimony across the ages that told how the Divine Truth, or the Word, had been regarded and treated by the Jewish Church.

The Lord entered Jerusalem on that day as a king, but He had no intention of becoming an earthly king. He did not intend to deceive anyone into thinking otherwise, but rather, He did it because it corresponded to and represented the spiritual truth about His government of the spiritual world, of the church in heaven and the church on earth. He never said He would be a king of a natural kingdom, He did not mislead. He did what He set out to do, not what they expected Him to do, and because the people at that time and in that age were not able to accept spiritual goals and a spiritual kingdom, they turned on Him and killed Him for not being what they expected and wanted Him to be.

As we celebrate this Easter holiday, let us remember the Unexpected king, let us try to see the Lord as He truly is, not as we think He ought to be. The only way we can get that knowledge is by reading the Word for ourselves, with reverence, with respect, and with a heart-felt desire to learn what the Lord teaches there apart from our own personal desires. Then, when we see the truth in the Word, we will be seeing the Lord as a king of His spiritual kingdom, and we can then truly say, Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. (Mark 11:11). AMEN.

First Lesson: Lev 23:37-44

‘These are the feasts of the LORD which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the LORD, a burnt offering and a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, everything on its day; {38} ‘besides the Sabbaths of the LORD, besides your gifts, besides all your vows, and besides all your freewill offerings which you give to the LORD. {39} ‘Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest. {40} ‘And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. {41} ‘You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. {42} ‘You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, {43} ‘that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.’” {44} So Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the LORD. Amen.

Second Lesson: Mark 11:1-11

Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; {2} and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. {3} “And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.” {4} So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. {5} But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?” {6} And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. {7} Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. {8} And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. {9} Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ {10} Blessed is the kingdom of our father David That comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” {11} And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve. Amen.

Third Lesson: Arcana Caelestia 8369

By “palm-trees” are signified goods, by them is also signified the affection of good, and the consequent delight, for all delight is from the affection of good. As this was signified by “palm-trees,” therefore also palm-trees were employed in holy festivities, as in the feast of tabernacles ….

As a “palm-tree” signifies good, it also signifies wisdom, for wisdom is of good. This was signified by the palm-trees which together with the cherubs and flowers were carved upon the walls of the temple; for “the temple” signified the Lord Himself, and In the representative sense, heaven. Amen.


A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida, March 24, 1991

“And the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (Matthew 21:6- 8).

Throughout the Christian world the celebration of Palm Sunday is properly regarded as a Christian festival. For it was on this day that the Lord was recognized and proclaimed by a great multitude to be the long-awaited Messiah. This is obvious from the welcome they accorded Him as He made His way toward Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Spreading their garments and palm branches in His path, they cried: “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matt. 21:9). “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!’ (Luke 19:3 8).

For centuries the Jews had awaited this glorious day. They, the chosen people of the Lord, had suffered humiliation and defeat at the hands of each of the neighboring nations in succession. First the Assyrians subjugated them, then the Babylonians, next the Persians, then the Greeks, and finally the Romans. They waited and prayed for the day when the Messiah would come and conquer their enemies and release them from their chafing bondage.

Many of those present on this occasion knew who it was who was declaring Himself King — that this was Jesus of Nazareth, the teacher from Galilee. They knew of the many miracles which He had done, especially the raising of Lazarus, who had been dead for four days. They had wondered whether or not He was the Messiah. Some said He was Elijah or Jeremiah returned to earth, or one of the prophets (see Matt. 16:14).

Now, by riding into Jerusalem on a “donkey, and a colt, the foal of a donkey” – traditional symbols of royalty – He was proclaiming Himself the promised Messiah, the Savior of Israel. Great throngs, therefore, came to greet Him. Shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and paving the road with their garments and palm branches, they ushered Him into Jerusalem. Now, at last, their dreams would become a reality. Their nation would be restored to its former glory, the glory it enjoyed under Kings David and Solomon. They would become the rulers instead of the ruled. This was what was in their minds as the Lord made His triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. But their great expectations were short-lived. For Jesus made His way to the temple instead of the palace. They had not yet realized that the kingdom He came to establish was not of this world. But when He went daily to the temple to teach instead of seizing the reins of power, their hopes of national supremacy were shattered, and with bitterness and scorn they rejected Him.

As He hung from the cross, less than a week after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, those who passed by railed at Him “wagging their heads, and saying: ‘Ah, you who destroys the temple, and builds it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross.’ Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ And they who were crucified with Him reviled Him” (Mark 15:29-32).

The events which led up to the culmination of the Lord’s life on earth had profound historical significance. Had these things not transpired, it is safe to say that the course of history would have been greatly altered. But, although this is true, it should be born in mind that the acts and events of the Lord’s life have more than historical significance.

Everything that the Lord did, every word that He spoke, every event related to His life had eternal significance. The Writings teach that whatever the Lord did, and whatever He spoke, while He was in the world represented and signified Divine and heavenly things (see AE 405:24). In considering these events, therefore, we should try to see their spiritual meaning and import – their internal and eternal significance.

The Lord came on earth to redeem and save mankind. This was necessary because the human race had completely alienated itself from God. They had closed the way to heaven by rejecting the means which God had provided for their salvation and eternal happiness. In former times the Lord had instructed and led mankind through the prophets whom He had inspired with His Word. But the prophets had been stoned and their message rejected.

If the human race was to be saved from complete and eternal destruction, a new means of approach had to be established – a more direct approach. To accomplish this end, God Himself descended to earth, clothing His Divine soul in a human body derived from the virgin Mary. In this assumed human were all the hereditary characteristics of the human race. The devils of hell were able to approach the Lord through these hereditary tendencies and tempt Him. As He overcame in these temptations, the Lord successively subjugated the hells, and so restored spiritual freedom to people on earth (see AC 1676:3, 1690:6).

But the Lord did more than assume a human body by birth into the world. He put on the human mind, and this in the same way as any other person. Not only did He acquire from Mary hereditary tendencies to evil through which the hells could assault Him, but He also acquired the human affection of truth. And by means of this affection, He acquired knowledges of truth.

In the Arcana Coelestia we read: “In His childhood the Lord was instructed as are other men …. The external mind is corporeal and sensuous, nor does it receive anything celestial and spiritual unless knowledges are implanted in it, as in ground” (AC 1461). “Knowledges are the things that open the way for seeing celestial and spiritual things; by means of knowledge the way is opened for the internal mind to advance toward the external, in which latter are the receiving vessels, which are as many as are the knowledges of good and truth; into these knowledges, as into their vessels, do celestial things inflow” (AC 1458:5).

Thus it was that the Lord, while in the world, acquired knowledges by the ordinary way. In this way He successively put on the human mind. His nature, therefore, was composite or twofold. From within, or as to His soul, He was Divine, infinite, perfect. But from without, through birth, and by means of instruction, He put on a human mind which was finite and imperfect.

Throughout His life in this world this assumed human – the mind put on through instruction – had to be successively purified and freed from its finite, human limitations and imperfections. The human had to be glorified or made perfect and one with the indwelling Divine. The human had to be made Divine. This is what the Lord meant when He said: “O Father, glorify Me with Your Own Self, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). His prayer was that the human which He assumed by birth into the world and through instruction from without would be fully subordinated to, and made correspondent with, His indwelling Divine soul.

The subject of the subordination of the exterior rational to the interior and Divine degrees of the Lord is contained interiorly in the story of Ishmael’s conception and birth, and Hagar’s humbling herself under the hand of her mistress Sarai. Abram and Sarai represent the two interior and Divine degrees of life in the Lord – the Divine celestial and the Divine spiritual. But they were barren. These two degrees cannot produce the rational degree of the mind (that degree which distinguishes man from beast, and is therefore truly human), which the Lord came on earth to acquire and make Divine. But Sarai had an Egyptian handmaid named Hagar -who represents the affection of exterior truth, or the affection of knowledges. By the Divine life flowing into this natural affection -represented by the conjunction of Abram with Hagar – knowledges were acquired, and the rational degree, represented by Ishmael, was conceived and born.

But Hagar then despised her mistress – the affection of exterior truth wanted to exalt itself. Therefore the angel told Hagar that she was to return to her mistress Sarai, and humble herself under her hand. The human rational which the Lord acquired had to be made submissive and subordinate to the Divine life within (see AC 1895-1904).

This subordination of the natural to the Divine is what was represented by the Lord’s riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on a donkey and a colt, the foal of a donkey. The Writings tell us that whenever female donkeys are mentioned in the Word, the natural affection of truth is signified (see AC 2781:5, 5741:2). We are also told that a donkey’s colt represents rational truth, because rational truth is as a son to the affection of natural truth, because that affection conceives and brings it forth (ibid.). We read: “… to ‘ride upon a donkey’ was a sign that the natural was made subordinate; and to ‘ride upon a colt the son of a donkey’ was a sign that the rational was made subordinate” (AC 2781:8, emphasis added).

We see from this that the Lord’s riding into Jerusalem upon a donkey and a colt, the foal of a donkey, was representative of the state of His glorification. Both the natural and the rational, which He had put on while in the world, had been made subordinate to and one with the Divine. The two lower degrees were now glorified. This was the interior reason why there was rejoicing and singing. The glorification of the Lord’s human was almost complete; all that remained was the glorification of the sensuous and corporeal degrees, represented by the cleansing of the temple and the final temptation on the cross. There was, therefore, rejoicing in the heavens on this account, as the Lord made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

This heavenly rejoicing is conveyed by the words: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38). This is also why the Lord said to those Pharisees who told Him to rebuke the multitude for their joy and praise: “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40).

As we approach the Easter festival, let us bear in mind the fact that within all the events recorded in the literal story of the Lord’s last days on earth, there is an internal, spiritual meaning, a meaning which, when seen, elevates our minds to the contemplation of the Lord’s Divine Humanity.

While we may be deeply affected by the literal story, we will realize that the things there related were representative, ultimate acts through which the greatest of all miracles was effected. God was made man, and man was made God. Thus it became Him “to fulfill all righteousness” (see AE lesson). Amen.

Lessons: Genesis 16:1-12,15,16; Matt. 21:1-17; AE 31:7

Apocalypse Explained

31:7. As it is known from these things what is meant by a “king” in the Word, I will add to the above: Why the Lord, when He entered Jerusalem, sat upon the foal of an ass, and the people then proclaimed Him king, and also strewed their garments in the way (see Matt. 21:1-8, Mark 11: 1-11, Luke 19:28-40, John 12:14- 16).

This is predicted in Zechariah: “Exult, 0 daughter of Zion; shout, 0 daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee, just and having salvation, riding upon an ass, and upon the foal of an ass” (9:9; Matt. 21:5; John 12:15). The reason was that to sit upon an ass and the foal of an ass was the distinctive mark of the highest judge and of a king, as can be seen from the following passages: ‘My heart is toward the lawgivers of Israel, you who ride upon white asses” (Judges 5:9,10). “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, till Shiloh come, who shall bind his ass’s foal to the vine, and the son of his she-ass to the noble vine” (Gen. 49:10,11).

As sitting on an ass and the foal of an ass was such a distinctive mark, judges rode upon white she-asses (Judges 5:9, 10); and their sons upon asses’ colts (Judges 10:4, 12:14); and the king himself when crowned, upon a she-mule (I Kings 1:33); and his sons upon mules (II Samuel 13:29).

One who does not know the signification of “horse,’ “mule,” and “the foal of an ass” in a representative sense will suppose that the Lord’s riding upon the foal of an ass was significative of misery and humiliation. But it signified royal magnificence; for this reason the people then proclaimed the Lord king, and strewed their garments upon the way. This was done when He went to Jerusalem because by “Jerusalem” is signified the church.


A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
Preached in Westville, South Africa, February 10, 1991

“So the king answered and said, `Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother.’ And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice” (1 Kings 3:27,28).

It is sometimes difficult, when we read the Old Testament, to understand how the Lord could have used the kings of Israel to represent His government. Saul was the first king, specifically chosen by the Lord and made king over his objections. Although he got off to a good start, all too soon he became arrogant and disobeyed the Lord’s commandments delivered through the prophet Samuel. Saul’s punishment was that his dynasty would end before it was even established; his son Jonathan would never be king, because the Lord had chosen David instead. Saul, in madness caused by jealousy and disappointment, repeatedly tried to kill David, while David refrained from killing Saul even though he twice had the opportunity.

When Saul and his sons died in battle against the Philistines (see Isaiah 31:2 ff.), David became king in his own right. David is often referred to in the Scriptures as the ideal king, and yet the record shows a different picture. He was a brilliant general and a powerful fighter, but he repeatedly had to flee from his palace as various people almost overthrew him. The most dangerous challenge came from his own son Absalom. David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then committed murder to try to hide the adultery.

When David was dying, Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet successfully plotted to put Solomon on the throne instead of one of his older brothers, any one of whom had a more legitimate claim to the throne than Solomon. Solomon, through his apparent hunger for beautiful women, built altars to and worshiped hundreds of different idols to please his wives and concubines.

Yet for all their personal failings, each of these kings represents the Lord. The representation rests not with the man, but with the office of king, and so David, while his personal life was a mess, still represents the Lord as to His royalty because he conquered Jerusalem and made it his capitol, because he skillfully drew Judah and Israel into one nation, and because he fearlessly fought against the Canaanites.

Even today such a distinction between the person and his office is important to make. The mayor wears a badge of office which is passed on from individual to individual showing how the person and the office are distinct. The priest wears certain garments on chancel that are never worn for any other use, in order to make manifest the office of the priesthood, while wearing ordinary clothes for study or recreation. The man is the same, but the uses are different.

Solomon as a king represented the Lord even though as a man he introduced idolatry into Jerusalem. As a king, Solomon was particularly chosen by the Lord to represent Him as to His Divine Wisdom, and so the Scriptures record Solomon’s many accomplishments as a scholar (see 1 Kings 4:29-34). But the incident that stands out in people’s minds when they think of Solomon is the incident where the two women were arguing over a baby.

The essence of the story is that two women each had a very young infant. Their ages differed by only three days. They are described as harlots to explain why neither of them had a husband to help identify which baby survived. It also explains why they were sharing quarters. During the night, one woman accidentally smothered her child while she slept. When she awakened and discovered the death, she secretly switched her dead baby for the other woman’s living child. The mother of the living child immediately knew what had happened, but the children were so young and so similar in appearance that only the mother would know for sure which was which.

The problem they presented was a difficult one. Both claimed the surviving child. There was no objective way of identifying the baby. One of the women was a persuasive liar. No one else had been able to resolve it as long as the one woman kept lying, and so it came to the attention of the king as the supreme judge. His solution, the order to have the baby cut in two and divided between them, is intuitively recognized as an elegant solution because it sidesteps the problem that can’t be solved discovering the liar and instead solves the problem of discovering which was telling the truth by identifying motherly concern. It’s a solution we recognize as correct as soon as we hear it, but it is a solution we would probably not have come up with ourselves. By making such a judgment, Solomon overcame the objections some people had to his rule by showing himself to be wise and compassionate, and the story is recorded in the Scriptures as absolute proof of his wisdom Solomon’s ability to cut through a difficult problem and expose the heart of it, and thus the solution. In this light and from this perspective, one can see that the people feared Solomon’s wisdom because they discovered that they now had a king that couldn’t be fooled.

This story can also be understood from more interior perspectives. It is not too difficult to imagine how this story could have been seen as a symbol of the political difficulties facing the nation of Israel, and a clear sign of how the king intended to deal with these problems.

The kingdom of Israel was fundamentally divided between two competing, and sometimes warring, camps. The roots of the division go back to the jealousy between Judah and Joseph. Judah was the natural leader of the twelve sons of Israel, and he resented his father’s obvious preference for young Joseph, and so he arranged to sell his brother into slavery. Of course we know that in Providence it led to the salvation of the whole family, but the division remained. Five hundred years later when the Children of Israel conquered Canaan, Judah was the most important tribe in the south, while Joseph’s two tribes, named after his sons Ephraim and Manasseh, were the largest and most powerful of the northern tribes. The child Benjamin, as Joseph’s only full brother, had been the focus of the battle between Judah and Joseph, and later the tribe of Benjamin served as a buffer between north and south, siding sometimes with Judah, sometimes with Ephraim.

This explains in part why Saul, David, and eventually Jesus, were all born in Benjamin to attempt to take a neutral stance so that they could be accepted by both Israel and Judah.

The story of Solomon’s wisdom concerning the child can be interpreted in the light of the ongoing battle between Israel and Judah. Both are represented by harlots, because, as Scripture often tells us, the people of both groups frequently “played the harlot” by worshipping Canaanite idols instead of Jehovah (see Judges 2:17, Psalm 106:39, Jeremiah 3:1). The child represents the ideal of a unified kingdom which everyone recognized, but typically expected the other group to make all the necessary sacrifices. The picture we see then is of Israel and Judah fighting about which one will have the most power in the unified kingdom ruled by Solomon. Solomon’s decision to divide the child would have been seen as his announcement that unless the arguing stopped and he was given absolute control, the kingdom would be divided by civil war. When the people heard this announcement, the fear they might have felt was that a destructive civil war was imminent.

It is on a more interior plane that this story begins to have personal meaning for us. The two women together represent the will, or ruling love. All humans, while they yet live in the world of nature, have a will that is mixed, that exhibits tendencies to evil and to good. They are called “harlots” in Scripture because in the unregenerated person these affections are not yet conjoined, as in a true marriage, with the appropriate truths. The two harlots then represent the duality of evil and good in the human will.

The unregenerate, corrupt old will is represented by the harlot who carelessly destroys innocent good, who accidentally smothers her infant while it sleeps. She represents that part of us that is totally selfish, self-centered, and without conscience, that part of us which the Heavenly Doctrines call “a hell in miniature.”

On the other hand, the other harlot represents the new will which is formed in the elevated understanding as we bring ourselves into obedience to the truth of the Word from conscience. The new will can be represented by a harlot to show that it arises from a corrupt source, but during the interview with Solomon it is shown to be something entirely different: when Solomon threatens to kill the child, the old will agrees, because it cares for nothing but itself and its own pleasures. The other harlot, representing the new will, hears the words of Solomon and in her fear that the innocent child be harmed, recognizes that the only way for the child to survive is for her to give up her claim to it, to act in a selfless manner for the sake of another, to make her own needs serve the needs of another which is genuine love and charity.

It is important that we note that it is Solomon’s words that solve the problem about the child and, more important, make the different characters of the two women manifest, for as king, Solomon represents the Lord, and his words therefore correspond to the truths of the Word given by the Lord.

In this context we can see that the story tells us about the kind of things that happen within our minds and hearts as we struggle to determine what is good and right for us to do in our lives. On the one hand we have the old will, insisting that if we want to have happiness, the baby, we must believe her claim. On the other hand, the new will also argues its case compellingly. We are torn. We don’t know what to do. Neither course seems clear. We cannot solve it on our own. However, if we then turn to the Word and seek the truth there, we will find that the Lord will speak to us, that when we look to the Lord for guidance while trying with all our might to do what is right, it is as if the light of heaven shines on the problem, and what has been incredibly difficult suddenly becomes crystal clear. The impossible solution suddenly becomes obvious. We receive enlightenment from the Lord which guides us safely to our goal.

The key idea that we need to have if we are to assist the Lord in the formation of the new will is that we have to come to a point in our lives where we acknowledge from the heart that we actually need the Lord’s help to solve the problems of our spiritual life. Once we approach the Lord in His Word for help, we are reading the Word with an attitude that will permit us to hear, to hearken, to receive the Lord’s words into our hearts. Then, if we wish to do what is right, if we wish to gain the ultimate reward of heaven, we must seem to ourselves to give up the “baby,” that which we love the most. Then, when we give up our evil, proprial loves for the sake of the greater good, the Lord will reward us with the gift of a living child new spiritual life. And we, like the Children of Israel, will tremble with awe when we realize the power and wisdom of God.

“So the king answered and said, `Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother.’ And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice” Amen.

Lessons: 1 Kings 3:16-28, Luke 14:7-14, AC 4865

Arcana Coelestia 4865

That a “harlot” denotes falsity is because marriage represents the heavenly marriage, which is of good and truth … Therefore, adulteries and harlotries, being opposite, signify evil and falsity; and they are opposite in reality, for those who spend their lives in adultery and harlotry care nothing for good and truth. The reason is that genuine conjugial love descends from the heavenly marriage, that is, from the marriage of good and truth, but adulteries and harlotries arise from the conjunction of evil and falsity, which is from hell.



A Palm Sunday Sermon by Rev Kurt H. AsplundhPreached in Bryn AthynApril 8, 1990

“You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).

When the Lord rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday He was received as a king. A great multitude took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him. They cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” (John 12:13). It was a royal welcome.

Not everyone was pleased. The chief priests and Pharisees hated the Lord. They cried out from the crowd while the multitude of disciples praised Him saying, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” He answered that the “stones would immediately cry out” if the people were silenced (Luke 9:38-40). The very rocks and stones of creation would bear witness to the sovereignty of the Lord.

It was less than a week later that the Lord’s enemies would bring Him to the court of Pilate where this issue of kingship would be argued again. The chief priests and scribes had condemned the Lord before their own religious council with the charge of blasphemy in His claim that He was the Son of God. For this they wanted to put Him to death. Being a subject people, however, the Jews could not impose the death sentence. They needed the permission of the Roman governor, Pilate.

Since the Romans had no interest in the religious laws of the Jews or their theological disputes, the Jews brought a different charge. Bringing the Lord to Pilate they said: “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King” (Luke 23:2). It was on this charge that Pilate questioned the Lord in the Praetorium. The question was: Did the Lord pose a threat to the authority of the Roman government? Was He seeking a following to overthrow those in power? Pilate needed to determine if the Lord was indeed the King of the Jews.

In answer to Pilate’s question, “Are You the King of the Jews?” the Lord plainly said: “It is as you say” (Mark 15:2). But He added: “My kingdom is not of this world . . . . My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). This was a puzzling statement for the Roman administrator. What did Pilate know of other worlds? What kind of king could he be that had no temporal power? So he asked again, “Are you a king then?”

The Lord answered: “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).

What is the meaning of the Lord’s answer to Pilate? It is clear to us now. What He said was that truth is a king and that He Himself had come to present the truth to the mind of man. So He added: “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (Ibid.).

Pilate was not a religious or philosophical man, but neither was he unintelligent. He understood from this testimony that the Lord’s purpose was to bear witness to a truth that would rule the minds of men. While he understood this, he was skeptical of it. The Word records his well-known response. Pilate said: “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

“What is truth?” The Heavenly Doctrine comments on this. From the question of Pilate “it is clear,” we are told, “that he understood that truth was called king’ by the Lord . . . ” (AE 31:3). What he doubted was whether truth was, indeed, king. His words pose the crucial question: “Is truth a king?” (AE 27:4, AR 20)

The rest of the account of the Lord’s trial is a sad confirmation of Pilate’s skeptical attitude about the power of truth. The truth did not rule the decisions that were soon to be made. Neither truth nor justice held sway in the tumultuous events that followed. From the moment Pilate appeared before the Lord’s accusers with the verdict: “I find no fault in Him at all,” hatreds, fears, angry emotions, and selfish ambitions took over. The rulers of the Jews did not want the truth from Pilate. They wanted their will. Time and again, they demonstrated the rejection of the rule of truth. This first happened in the matter of Barabbas.

It was customary at their feast that one of the prisoners should be released. Pilate offered them “the King of the Jews” or Barabbas. As we know from exposition, this is a choice between the rule of truth or the rule of principles of murder and theft embodied by Barabbas. The crowd cried out vehemently: “Not this Man, but Barabbas!”

“Not this Man!” What could be more clear?

Later the Lord stood before the people wearing a crown of thorns and a purple robe after He had been whipped and mocked by the soldiers. “Behold the Man!” He said. He was inviting them to see how the truth had been violated, mocked and rejected. There was no remorse, no sense of loss. Impelled by another king, the spirit of self-love they had welcomed in their hearts, they cried out unmercifully, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Pilate asked: “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!” Imagine what that really means! The inner sense of what they shouted was that they were ruled by nothing but practical expediency. The Lord’s truth was of no importance to them. After the priests had cried out, spiritually denying the Lord, Pilate gave Him up to their will.

He was crucified with two thieves at the place called Golgotha. The accusation affixed to the cross by Pilate read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). Even in His condemnation, the Jews objected: “Do not write The King of the Jews,'” they said. Inwardly they were rejecting the Divine truth that should be king. Write “He said, I am the King of the Jews.'” But Pilate would not acquiesce to this. “What I have written I have written” ( John 19:21, 22). And so the title stood in spite of their objection, the very truth of the matter written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

It is not coincidental that the testaments which have borne witness to the Lord’s sovereign power also are written in these three sacred languages the Old Testament in Hebrew, which declares the creative power of the one God of heaven and earth; the New Testament in Greek, which records His incarnation and redemption of the race; and the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem in Latin, which reveals the living Essence of His Divine Humanity.

“For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world,” the Lord declared, “that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37).

Let us ask ourselves on this Palm Sunday if we can be numbered among those who are “of the truth” who hear the Lord’s voice. Pilate was not among these. As he was a Gentile and knew nothing from the Word, he could not be taught that Divine truth is from the Lord or that the Lord Himself bore witness to Divine truth (see AE 31:3). Pilate was not only skeptical of the power of truth but unaware that there was any source of authoritative truth. The Jews who wanted to crucify the Lord were not numbered among those who were of the truth. They had rejected the truth. We are told that “they desired a king who would exalt them over all in the whole earth. And as the Lord’s kingdom was not earthly but heavenly, they perverted everything that was said respecting Him in the Word, and mocked at what was foretold of Him. This is what was represented by their placing a crown of thorns upon His head, and smiting His head” (AE 577:4).

What of us? Are we “of the truth” and willing to hear the Lord’s voice? Do we welcome the King with joy and a willing heart? The greeting of the Lord with palms and Hosannas on that first Palm Sunday pictures a ready acceptance of the truth of the Word, an acknowledgment and confession of the Lord as our king.

Is this our welcome or do we share the rejection of the Jews or the skepticism of Pilate, asking, “What is truth?” Is truth a king?

Pilate recognized that the Lord was not a direct threat to the empire. Had He not said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews . . . ” (John 18:36)? What Pilate had not learned and did not know was the Lord’s teaching that the kingdom of God is within. “The kingdom of God does not come with observation,” He had said to the Pharisees; “nor will they say, See here!’ or See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20, 21).

Here was a new concept to the Jews. Until now they had only an idea of kingdoms of this world, of nations and rulers and subjects under them. The Lord taught of a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom within us that is organized and developed by the spirit of truth. It is this “inner” kingdom that truth can rule. And when the spirit of man is ruled by truth, his actions in the world are also ruled by truth from within.

By creation every man is free. He can be compelled outwardly and be forced to live according to certain laws, but he cannot be compelled to think or believe against his will. We choose the king of our inner life. And this is our real life. The convictions, the principles, the ideals we choose to live by are the essentials of our true character. Is there power in these? The greatest power possible, far greater than the power of any dictator or outward force. The human spirit has proven indomitable. Tyranny’s rule is always short-lived. The desire for freedom that is deeply implanted in human hearts cannot be denied or forcibly suppressed.

The issue is not whether we have spiritual freedom, but what spirit will rule within us. Will it be the spirit of Divine truth or the spirit of the world? Will we choose the Lord for our king or Caesar?

The Lord has revealed Himself anew for the New Church, bearing witness to the truth as never before in the Heavenly Doctrine of the church.

The Palm Sunday account is prophetic of a new and conscious reception of the Lord now possible for us. The New Church is named the New Jerusalem. While we have established organizations for the promotion of the Lord’s church among men, the New Jerusalem is really in the individual heart. How does the Lord enter this New Jerusalem? His approach to us is symbolically pictured in the New Testament. There He rode upon the colt of a donkey with garments and branches strewed before Him. Thus He physically entered that city. To us this signifies something that can take place again and again in our personal life: the subordination and guidance of our rational mind by the Lord’s teachings and the acknowledgment that Divine truths from the Word are the truths that should rule in our life. Palm Sunday takes place in the hidden kingdom of our spirit every time we are ready to receive the Lord. Let us pray for His promised coming. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you. He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). “You say rightly that I am a king . . . . Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice!” (John 18:37). Amen.

Lessons: John 18:28-40; 19:1-22; AE 31:1, 3, 7 parts


Apocalypse Explained 31:1, 3, 7 (parts)

In many places in the prophetic Word, kings are mentioned, and he that is ignorant of the internal sense believes that by “kings” are there meant kings; kings, however, are not meant, but all those who are in truths from good, or in faith from charity, from the Lord. The reason of this is that the Lord is the sole king, and those who from Him are in truths from good are called His “sons” . . . .

That by “King” in the Word is meant the Lord in respect to Divine truth is clear from the words of the Lord Himself to Pilate: “Pilate said, Art thou a king then?’ Jesus answered,

Thou sayest it, because I am a king. For this have I been born, and for this am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is in the truth heareth My voice.’ Pilate said unto Him, What is truth?'” (John 18:37,38)

From the question of Pilate, “What is truth?” it is clear that he understood that truth was called “king” by the Lord; but as he was a Gentile and knew nothing from the Word, he could not be taught that Divine truth is from the Lord, and that He is Divine truth . . . .

As it is known from these things what is meant by a “king” in the Word, I will add to the above: why the Lord, when He entered Jerusalem, sat upon the foal of an ass, and the people then proclaimed Him king, and also strewed their garments in the way . . . .

The reason was that to sit upon an ass and the foal of an ass was the distinctive mark of the highest judge and of a king . . . . One who does not know the signification of “horse,” “mule,” and “the foal of an ass,” in a representative sense, will suppose that the Lord’s riding upon the foal of an ass was significative of misery and humiliation. But it signified royal magnificence; for this reason the people then proclaimed the Lord king, and strewed their garments upon the way. This was done when He went to Jerusalem, because by “Jerusalem” is signified the church . . . .