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The Inner Live of Jesus Christ
by Geoffrey S. Childs
"For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me" (John 5:46).
The New Testament is silent about much of Jesus' life as an infant and child. What was happening then? What was He experiencing?
We are all aware of the Christmas story: the promised birth of John the Baptist, the annunciation to Mary, the Lord's birth in Bethlehem. We know that first the shepherds came to adore Him and that later the magi from the East arrived with their gifts. We recall that shortly after the wise men left, Joseph was warned in a dream by night to flee into Egypt with Mary and the infant Jesus.
How old was the child Jesus when He left Egypt? What did He learn there? We know only that when it was safe, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Canaan. Joseph by-passed Jerusalem because he feared Archelaus who now ruled there as successor to his father, Herod. The family went back to Nazareth.
What happened between the time that the Lord returned to Nazareth and the time that He was twelve years old? These are vital years in His growing up, but again we know nothing about them from the gospels. At age twelve, Jesus traveled with Joseph and Mary down to Jerusalem so that the family might observe the Passover feast. On their journey home, Joseph and Mary realized that Jesus was not with the caravan. They rushed back to Jerusalem and sought frantically for Him for three days. Finally they found Him in the temple, speaking and listening to the teachers there and showing wisdom that "astonished" those who heard Him.
The next time we hear of Jesus, He is thirty. Eighteen years have passed. What happened during these years? It seems that the Lord had stayed in Egypt for about three years before returning to Nazareth with Joseph and Mary. If this is accurate, nine years passed in Nazareth between the ages of three and twelve. Nine years and eighteen years--twenty-seven years of Jesus' life, and of these we know next to nothing from the New Testament. For believing Christians this is one of the mysteries of the Bible. Obviously these were vital years in His development. We are told that He "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2: 52). We are also told in Mark (6: 3) that He took up the trade of carpentry: "Is not this the carpenter?"
These gaps in the history of the Lord's life on earth have led to many legends. Some say He went to the lost tribes of Israel; others that He traveled to the Orient and taught there. But these are simply guesses. There is no conclusive evidence. During His ministry on earth the Lord promised that He would disclose more.
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:12,13).
On the walk to Emmaus with two of His followers on Easter afternoon, the Lord responded to their terrible anxieties:
"Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24: 26,27).
Later these two followers said, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32)
What did Jesus tell them? Did He reveal how, within the Old Testament, Moses and the Prophets speak about His own life on earth? Later in Luke we read that Jesus also unfolded the Scriptures to His disciples on Easter evening. He said to them
"These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things might be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." And He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures (Luke 24: 44,45).
He told them the things written within the Old Testament concerning Himself. Somehow, the books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets teach of the Lord's life on earth. If they speak of His states and education and experiences here, do they tell us what happened during those missing years?
I believe that the Lord's answers to these questions are in the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. From these works, called by many simply "The Writings," we learn that within the stories of the Old Testament lie hidden stories which treat of the Lord's lifetime on earth in great depth and detail. But the Old Testament does not treat of the Lord's outer history - the day-by-day outward events of His life. Rather, it deals with His inner history, that is, His loves and His struggles, and the development of His mind and character. This highest "sense" or meaning in the Bible tells of the successive mental states of His infancy, childhood, youth, and then His entire life on earth.
But before relating the inner story of Jesus Christ, I will first treat of what Jesus Christ came on earth to achieve. Why, indeed, did "the Word become flesh"? (John 1:14) The young virgin Mary was at first frightened and bewildered by the appearance of the angel Gabriel, announcing that she would give birth to the Savior of humankind. And yet, despite being unable to fully understand what this event would mean, she answered willingly from her heart: "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).
By this willingness, Mary was able to serve God, but not only by providing a mother's arms to hold and care for the infant Jesus. By coming through a finite human mother, Jehovah God was able to inherit both a material body and all the finite tendencies and weaknesses that make human beings vulnerable to evil. Though Mary herself was sweet and good, she held within her, as all finite humans do, the imperfections that can allow a person to be led astray.
Only by means of such a birth could Jehovah God come all the way down to the level at which humans were struggling. Though Jesus visibly cast out many demons during His life on earth, this was only a glimpse of a much larger picture. The influence of evil spirits from hell on human hearts and minds had swelled tremendously. The cruelty and ignorance that the hells were inspiring threatened to cut off all contact between humankind and its God. And so Jehovah came down to us as Jesus, born into the human condition through a finite human mother. Only there could He dwell with us, to face the pain and confusion and ignorance that had been attacking the human race. Only there could He work to confront these hellish forces, and forge a path back to love, wisdom and peace which we can follow after Him.
Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth-century scientific genius, was prepared during the first part of his life to become a scribe through whom the Lord would reveal "the Spirit of truth." In 1748, after a powerful vision of Christ, Swedenborg was divinely inspired to write a series of books about the deeper meanings contained within the stories of Genesis and Exodus. These books are entitled Arcana Coelestia (abbreviation AC), which in Latin means Heavenly Secrets.
The Arcana begins by describing the inner meaning or "internal sense" of the stories of creation: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, and the tower of Babel. For instance, in the internal sense the stories of creation are the stories of our spiritual creation - of our regeneration, or rebirth, in seven "days" or seven major stages. But then, in describing the inner meanings in chapter twelve of Genesis, the Arcana takes on a new focus. It begins to tell the story of the Lord's life on earth, from His birth and first infantile awareness to the completion of His Divine mission. This is revealed in the inner meaning of the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.