THE MYSTERY OF COMMUNION
One basic problem in Christianity, is that it does not seem rational or logical that the human race should be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. So what does it mean, to be saved by the blood of Jesus? The problem here is that in ancient times, there were symbolic rituals, and blood was symbolic of something. But what? Over time many could not figure it out, so eventually a theology known as "vicarious atonement" was conceived by theologians, which posited a wrathful God that desired to see satisfaction of punishment upon an innocent life for the sake of others who were guilty. This, still, makes no rational sense. In order for "vicarious atonement" to work, one must also conceive multiple persons of the Godhead, which again makes no sense. Unfortunately, that is where most people are in their thought with the Christian churches, but rarely do people question the religion they have grown up with. Questioning like this was not encouraged, so it was simply called "a mystery of faith," and so the priesthood of the church closed up the rational mind of the followers, and in so doing, for many centuries scientific knowledge was also suppressed. Even to this day, these are "mysteries" and we are just supposed to follow what is said without understanding.
Salvation by blood is actually mentioned once each in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. And they all refer to the same incident: the establishment of the ritual of communion by Jesus during the last supper:
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”So one question immediately comes to mind: was Jesus referring to his own blood, or to the wine of the cup which was a symbol for blood? Certain theologians would argue endlessly over this, not recognizing any sort of symbolism here, and even state when the priest blesses it, the wine really does become the blood of Jesus. Such are caught in the literalism of scripture and do not see the spiritual symbolism behind the words. It does have something to do with the body and blood of Jesus, for in the gospel of John, Jesus mystically speaks of this:
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 28:26-28)
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)
Still, not very helpful in understanding. Obviously Jesus is not talking about cannibalism, but even in that day many who heard it thought Jesus was out of his mind and left from following him. This was the ancient way of teaching: by way of parable, by way of symbolic sayings and rituals. This is also the Sufi way of teaching. But why was Jesus putting the focus of salvation on his own flesh and blood? Redemption by blood is mentioned again several times in the letters of the apostles, but again no explanation for it is given, other than to say that the Jewish sacrifices of animals were a symbolic type of the sacrifice of Jesus, thus abolishing the ritual of animal sacrifices. One would think that among the Jews they understand the symbolism of the ritual, but they do not, most just follow the letter of scripture without understanding the spiritual meaning. Even to this day certain Jews want to rebuild the temple, and restore these ancient rituals, which long ago should have served their purpose.
THE SYMBOLISM OF FLESH AND BLOOD
There is a common saying, "You are my flesh and blood," said to those who were close relatives or friends. In a spiritual sense, "flesh and blood" signifies one's own self, what is derived from one's own will and thought. Thus what one loves most is said to be of one's "flesh and blood," for all are born into the love of their self and what pleases it. The self is called by Swedenborg the "human proprium," or what belongs to one self, as opposed to what is Divine. With Jesus, however, things were different, for as he was the Word of God in incarnate form, during his life he was in the process of subduing the body he inherited from his human mother and making it one with Himself - a Divine Human:
"With the ancients, flesh and blood signified the human proprium, because the human consists of flesh and blood; thus the Lord said to Simon, Blessed art thou . . . for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father Who is in the heavens (Matt. xvi. 17). The flesh and the blood, therefore, signified by the bread and the wine in the Holy Supper, are the Lord's Human proprium. The Lord's proprium itself, which He acquired to Himself by His own power, is Divine. His proprium from conception was what He had from Jehovah His Father, and was Jehovah Himself. Hence the proprium which He acquired to Himself in the Human, was Divine. This Divine proprium in the Human is what is called His flesh and blood; flesh is His Divine good (n. 3813), and blood is the Divine truth of Divine good." (Swedenborg, Heavenly Arcana, n. 4735.1)
This is the teaching that has been lost: flesh and blood, in their physical form, are physical manifestations of our will and thought. Our will pertains to what is good or evil in the actions of the body, and thought or soul is represented by blood. This is the ancient symbolism. In modern science we now now that it is blood which carries oxygen to the brain, and without oxygen there is no thought. Mystics understand this, and by slowing down the breath one can achieve higher states of thought.
The other lost teaching here is within the Christian Church itself: for many do not know that Jesus made his very body Divine with the resurrection. Some still hold onto the idea that he still has the body of a human, which is no longer true: he has the body of a Divine Human, and the process of making his human body Divine was the process by which the human race was saved.
In order to show that eating flesh and blood in the spiritual sense does not literally mean eating flesh and blood, but rather that it signifies the appropriation of good and truth from the Divine, Swedenborg quotes the following passage from Ezekiel among many others:
"That blood signifies this holy, is evident from many passages in the Word, of which we may adduce the following: Son of man, thus saith the Lord Jehovih: Say to every bird of the heaven, to every beast of the field, Assemble yourselves and come; gather yourselves on every side to My sacrifice that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel, that ye may eat flesh and drink blood. Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, [of bullocks,] all of them fatlings of Bashan. And ye shall eat fat till ye be full, and drink blood till ye be drunken, of My sacrifice which I will sacrifice for you. And ye shall be filled at My table with horses and chariots, with mighty men, and with all men of war. . . . And I will set My glory among the nations (Ezek. xxxix. 17-21). The subject here is the calling together of all to the Lord's kingdom, and in particular the establishment of the church among the Gentiles; and by their eating flesh and drinking blood is signified appropriating to themselves Divine good and Divine truth, thus the holy which proceeds from the Lord's Divine Human. Who cannot see that by flesh is not meant flesh, nor by blood, blood, where it is said that they should eat the flesh of the mighty and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, and that they should be filled with horses and chariots, with mighty men, and with all men of war?" (Swedenborg, Heavenly Arcana, n. 4735.5)
The "blood" of Jesus is what is holy that proceeds from his body, which is otherwise known as the Holy Spirit. That this is so we know from the fact that the Holy Spirit is also called the "spirit of truth" (see John 14:17, 15:26). The Holy Spirit began to flow from his body once he had glorified it in the resurrection:
"The blood of Thy covenant is the Divine truth proceeding from His Divine Human, and is the holy itself which, after He was glorified, came forth from Him. This holy is also what is called the Holy Spirit, as is plain in John: Jesus said, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. Whosoever believeth in Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit, which they who believed on Him should receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified (vii. 37-39). That the holy proceeding from the Lord is the spirit, may also be seen in John (vi. 63).
"Moreover, that blood is the holy proceeding from the Lord's Divine Human, is plain in David: He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence; and precious shall their blood be in His sight (Ps. lxxii. 14) — precious blood standing for the holy which they would receive. In the Apocalypse: These are they who come out of great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (vii. 14); and again: They overcame the dragon by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death (xii. 11).
"The church at this day does not know otherwise than that the blood of the Lamb here signifies the Lord's passion, because it is believed that they are saved solely by the Lord having suffered, and that it was for this that He was sent into the world; but let this view of it be for the simple, who cannot comprehend interior arcana. The Lord's passion was the last of His temptation, by which He fully glorified His Human (Luke xxiv. 26; John xii. 23, 27, 28; xiii. 31, 32; xvii. 1, 4, 5); but the blood of the Lamb is the same as the Divine truth, or the holy proceeding from the Lord's Divine Human" (Swedenborg, Heavenly Arcana, n. 4735.5)
Note that the literal sense of scripture, where people believe to be saved by the literal blood of Jesus, is meant for the simple. Religion comes by way of progressive revelation. For in ancient times, they began to degenerate to the point of sacrificing humans and animals to a wrathful God; Moses replaced these practices with just animal sacrifices. Eventually these animal sacrifices became isolated to the temple of Jerusalem. Finally, Jehovah became incarnate and suffered violence at the hands of the Jews, that through this the simple would understand.
With further revelation, one reaches the higher spiritual understanding that one must be saved by doing the good by the truth that one knows, and acknowledging that all good and truth originates not from one's self but from God. That one is saved by learning and acknowledging spiritual truth, is even said by Jesus:
"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32)
Where freedom comes when one acts by the truth against the slavery of sin, and one is born again with a new will. Note how Jesus had to first sanctify himself by the truth, before others could:
"Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth." (John 17:17-19)
By "sanctifying himself" Jesus meant he had to conquer sin in his body before he could make his human Divine, which he had inherited from his mother Mary. And this is the other lost teaching of Christianity, for Catholics want to say that Mary was born without sin, thus Jesus was born without sin as well. The truth of the matter is that Mary was an ordinary human woman, from whom was derived a human child that had inherited sinful tendencies. When Jehovah became incarnate in such a body, it was all out war between God and all the spirits of hell, as he used his power to conquer all temptations in the body. For Jesus was the Divine truth incarnate:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
This is a lost teaching of Christianity, for in reality much of the theology of the Protestants have been inherited from the Catholics, though Protestants would be surprised to discover that. Strip away the external rituals of the Catholic church, and the two branches of Christianity are just about the same. Unfortunately, the Protestant branch has misinterpreted the writings of Paul, confusing works of charity with the external rituals of the Mosaic law, and creating a very complicated theology devoid of spiritual morality. When one reaches a true spiritual understanding, one understands that in most present day churches there is barely any remnant of the original truth. That this is so, was declared in the book of Revelation which mentions the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). In the spiritual sense, the "Lamb" is the Divine Human, to be "slain" is to be utterly rejected, and the "foundation of the world" is the foundation of the present day Christian churches.
SO HOW DID JESUS SAVE HUMANITY?
So we come back to another basic question, why was it necessary for God to become incarnate in human form to save humanity? No one can understand this until one understands that we are all spiritual beings in an external physical body. We as humans are different from animals in that we have spiritual freedom. And what is spiritual freedom? It is the choice between good and evil. Where does this choice originate? Most scientists will simply say "the mind," but the mind is but a manifestation of spiritual thought. The truth of the matter, is that all thought originates from the spiritual world - good thoughts flow in from heaven, evil thoughts from hell. Evil and sin is repulsed by the truth. We are higher dimensional beings in three dimensional bodies, and these spiritual planes are something scientists cannot see.
By the time Jesus came, much spiritual truth had been lost, many fallen into idol worship, and hell had gained the ascendancy over mankind, even threatening the lower heavens. By becoming incarnate in human form, God could fight directly against all of hell by resisting sin and temptation in his human form. This happened gradually in stages, something that is spelled out in enormous detail in Swedenborg's massive work Heavenly Arcana (aka, Arcana Coelestia). And before someone screams, "hey this goes against vicarious atonement" - go look at the Orthodox church, for they hold to a similar belief, albeit more obscurely than how it is explained in the visions recorded by Emanuel Swedenborg. When Jesus rose from the dead, he had descended into hell and ascended into heaven, reordering these spiritual planes, for now mankind could have direct communion with Him through the Divine Human. The spirit which flows from this Divine human which relays to the truth to our minds, by which we are saved when we act according to the truth that we know.
For a similar blog post, see What is Blood Atonement or Vicarious Atonement?, or even better, Jesus the Shaman - Descent into the Underworld.