Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Spiritual Meaning of the Seven Last Sayings of Jesus

I attended a Good Friday service last night, which commemorates the death of Jesus on the cross.  In this kind of service we are reminded of how we have crucified and rejected Jesus in our own hearts - for when we deny God, when we falsify the Word to justify ourselves, and when we do not acknowledge and turn away from our sins, we reject and crucify Jesus.  To simulate the darkness that descended upon earth during midday on the crucifixion scene, one of seven candles would be put out and the church was progressively darkened.  It was quiet and meditative, a chance for inner reflection. It was calming to the soul.

Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still (Ps. 4:4)
Be still, and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10)

I noted that although a lot of effort went into the ritual...the church was nearly empty.  With the internet and computers, and the constant desire for entertainment...such a service is looked upon as boring.  But I found it was not,  sometimes we need to step away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and reflect a bit in silence.  Never mind the fact that Jesus was probably crucified on a Wednesday, to stay in the tomb during the Sabbath days of the Passover for three days and nights: it is the symbolic ritual which is important.  In every detail of the Gospels, there is some spiritual significance, even in the manner Jesus was rejected and crucified.  I am reminded of the fact that just as the Jews corrupted the Word where they ultimately denied Jesus, so the Christian Church has corrupted the Word where there is hardly any truth left in it: for Jesus is crucified when a trinity of three persons are acknowledged in place of Jehovah in human form; He is rejected when it is taught that it is no longer necessary to reform one's life and live according to the 10 commandments.  So indeed, there is a spiritual darkness in most of this world.

The "Sayings of Jesus on the Cross" or the "Seven Last Words from the Cross" - are often reflected upon in Christian meditation.  There are seven last recorded sayings, and seven is the number of holy perfection. None of the Gospels record all seven last sayings: three are recorded in Luke, three in John, and one in both Matthew and Mark.  The exact order is not known, but here is the traditional order.  However, one of them I suspect is out of order, which I have highlighted, and the reasons why I think it is out of order will become apparent:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34)
Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)
Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother (John 19:26-27)
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34)
I am thirsty (John 19:28)
It is finished (John 19:30)
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46)

The actual order of the sayings is probably this:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34)
Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)
Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother (John 19:26-27)
I am thirsty (John 19:28)
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34)
It is finished (John 19:30)
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46)

I have exchanged the phrase My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? with I am thirsty because after these statements are made someone grabs a sponge fills it with sour wine and puts it to his mouth.  So why did I initially do this? Earlier, I had done a blog on the spiritual meaning of the beatitudes, and noted that there are seven main sayings of the beatitudes which Jesus spoke on the sermon of the mount.  So, let us combine the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross with the seven first sayings of the beatitudes.  We now come up with an interesting ritual that can be performed on Good Friday, where the minister can utter one of the last sayings of Jesus, and the congregation can respond with each of the seven beatitudes:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3)

Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. (Matt. 5:4)

Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother (John 19:26-27)
Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. (Matt. 5:5)

I am thirsty (John 19:28)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. (Matt. 5:6)

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34)
Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. (Matt. 5:7)

It is finished (John 19:30)
Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. (Matt. 5:8)

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46)
Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. (Matt. 5:9)

After the seven sayings on the cross, it ends with the death of Jesus.  But among the four Gospels there is one last saying after this, this time by the Roman centurion:

Certainly this was a righteous Man! (Luke 23:47)

And the beatitudes conclude with this:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:10-12)

Note how perfectly the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross correspond with the beatitudes. There is an outcry of despair and sadness, followed by a declaration of hope and promise. As Jesus was persecuted and rejected, so will those who follow Him be rejected. I think we may have uncovered their intended order, and it makes for a good symbolic ritual on Good Friday, or a ritual preceding Easter Sunday.  Actually I had just noticed this when writing this blog, so this is quite surprising to myself.  So lets summarize the seven sayings, and the seven responses of the beatitudes, followed by the eighth concluding statement:
1. FORGIVENESS.  Jesus forgives, because many did not know what they are doing. All should be judged according to the truth that they know.  The first step is to acknowledge one's sins and ask for forgiveness. But in the beatitude declares those who are "poor in spirit" shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Earlier, I explained how "poor in spirit" meant those who were spiritually lacking in knowledge, and knew it.
2. DELIVERANCE FROM TEMPTATION.  One thief tells Jesus, "Remember me when you enter into your kingdom," which follows nicely after the first beatitude. This thief had hope and faith in the very worst of circumstances. Jesus tells him that today he shall be with Him in Paradise. The significance of the two thieves is they represent the last judgment that occurred in the spiritual world upon the death of Jesus: people were divided, and judged: some went to heaven, others went to hell. This is the meaning of the good and bad thief.  In temptation, the good battles with the evil. When one overcomes, he or she becomes conjoined with heaven while here on earth. As Jesus comforted the thief, so the second beatitude declares that those who mourn shall be comforted.
3. WORKS OF CHARITY ESTABLISH THE CHURCH. When one overcomes temptation, one will begin to bear the fruits of charity, of love towards others. Theologians miss the significance of the meaning of where Jesus entrusted Mary into John's care. Swedenborg states that John represents the good works of charity, thus he is the most loved of all the apostles by Jesus. Mary represents the church, and Jesus here declares that the church will be with those who are in the good works of charity. Thus the third beatitude states that the meek shall inherit the earth. The earth represents the church. Even in ancient times, everyone called earth their mother: earth and mother are symbols of the church.
4. TRUTH SHALL ESTABLISH THE CHURCH. Again, theologians miss the spiritual meaning of being "thirsty".  To be in thirst is to be lacking in faith and truth: for Jesus to state that He was thirsty meant that there was no longer any truth in the Jewish church. The correspondence between the saying of Jesus and the fourth beatitude is obvious.
5. GOD'S MERCY ON HUMANITY.  Even in times when we think God has forsaken us, this is only an appearance, for His love and mercy extend to all of us who accept it, in the same manner we have done to others. For if there is love in your heart, God will extend His love to you.
6. GOD'S JUDGMENT ON OUR LIFE.  "It is finished" - means that the life of Jesus was complete, He had accomplished His mission. Likewise, very soon our lives will be finished. But immediate after death, we will enter into a life review with God. It is important to be "pure in heart" - that is, to have good intentions with what we say and do. Our intentions, our goals, govern the purpose of our life.
7. UNION AND CONJUNCTION WITH GOD. To those who overcome, they will enter into a union with God, a personal relationship where He lives in our heart, where we will live and grow in happiness to eternity.  Jesus says, "Into your hands I commit my spirit".  The seventh beatitude states that the peacemakers shall be called "sons of God."  What a perfect correspondence: for after Jesus' death on the cross, the Divine became united with His humanity, and He rose from the dead in a glorified body, the Divine Human - this Divine Human is known in scripture as the Son of God.

I want to note here that this is just the beginning...some of the sayings on the cross can be traced to the Psalms, and knowing this opens the door of interpretation to the Psalms, for internally they point to the Lord.  Here are the seven sayings of Jesus again, this time referencing where they come from in the Psalms:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34)
Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)
Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother (John 19:26-27)
I am thirsty (John 19:28)
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (PSALMS 22:1)
It is finished (John 19:30)
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (PSALMS 31:5)

That is two of the seven sayings. I was curious, can we trace the other sayings on the cross to other Psalms? I first looked at the fourth statement, "I am thirsty", and found this one:

As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, " Where is your God?" (Psalms 42:1-3)

Which is interesting. While most think Jesus was saying He was thirsty, spiritually He may have been referencing this Psalm which fits in well with the crucifixion. But later in the same Psalm it says this:

I will say to God my Rock, Why have You forgotten me? (Psalm 42:9)

Note how this corresponds to the fifth saying of Jesus, AFTER he says "I am thirsty."  This is another indication that the fourth and fifth sayings are mixed up in the traditional order.

So what about "It is finished"?  I found this:

For we have been consumed by Your anger, And by Your wrath we are terrified.
You have set our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your countenance.
For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; We finish our years like a sigh. (Psalm 90:7-9)

Again fits in well, the Psalm of Moses which speaks of our short lives and our death. After death, each one of us will encounter the light of God, and our sins will be laid bare in the life review. So good to address and review our sins now. Don't wait until its too late. This corresponds with the sixth beatitude, which promises we shall see God. The Psalm concludes:

Let Your work appear to Your servants, And Your glory to their children.
And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us (Psalm 90:16-17)

So four of the seven sayings of the cross can be traced to the Psalms.  What about the first three?  At first, they don't seem to be quotes from the Psalms, as they look like spontaneous sayings.  But maybe nothing was spontaneous, but had a hidden intended meaning. I looked and found nothing, until I took a closer look at Psalm 86. Compare sayings out of this Psalm with the first three sayings of the cross:

Bow down Your ear, O LORD, hear me; For I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am holy; You are my God; Save Your servant who trusts in You! (Psalm 86:1-2)

At first this seems to have nothing to do with the first statement of the cross. But it does correspond with the first beatitude, which says "blessed are the poor in spirit". The second saying of the cross is this:

Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise 

Compare that with this verse from the Psalm:

For great is Your mercy toward me, And You have delivered my soul from the depths of hell. (Psalm 86:13)

The third saying of the cross is this:

Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother

Compare with this verse from the same Psalm:

Oh, turn to me, and have mercy on me! Give Your strength to Your servant, And save the son of Your maidservant. (Psalm 86:16)

In this case, instead of saying this as a prayer for Himself, He says it as a prayer for John and Mary, and by extension, the church of those who follow Him. Why did He do this? For by making His human Divine, Mary was no longer His mother. Thus He refers to her as "woman".  From that day, Mary became the mother of John, and John became Mary's son. Jesus did not say this just to Mary and John, His prayer is for the preservation of love in His church. Did not John take care of Mary? Should we not make an effort to preserve the true Church? For what happened then, is true now: for there is no time with God, these events describe what we should do in our own lives.

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