Topical and Doctrinal Notes
Thought: The Twelve Apostles
We have been reading about the wonderful works the Lord did, and about "disciples" who were always present with Him. The word "disciple" is a Greek word (Greek being the language in which the New Testament was written), and it means "learner." The disciples were men who had been called by the Lord, and who followed Him wherever He went to learn of Him. They learned that He was the promised "Messiah" or "Christ"; that is to say, the Anointed One, or King. They learned what the great kingdom was that He had come to establish, namely, a kingdom where men were not to be ruled by force of arms, or by stern commands, but by the law of love. It was to be a kingdom of faith in the Lord and charity to all. They heard Him preach many things about this. They also saw Him heal the sick, cleanse lepers, cast out demons, and raise the dead. All this was preparing them for a great work they were to do.
He went to all the cities and villages, preaching and performing these miracles, and when He saw the multitudes, He felt a great pity for them, because they had no teachers of truth who would lead them to live well. They were like sheep who have no shepherd and are scattered, and He said to His disciples: "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore to the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest." It was His intention to make use of His disciples to be such laborers.
No doubt they did as He told them, and prayed. And this prepared them still further for the great work He was going to have them do.
Think of it! He called them together and gave them power, from His own power, "against unclean spirits to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease"; and He sent them out to "the lost sheep" of the house of Israel, to preach, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," and to use the power He had given them to heal the sick, and even to raise the dead. What a merciful and holy work it was He gave them to do! And how kind He was to them to choose them for this work, and to give them the power to perform it!
They were called "disciples" while they were learning from Him; but when they were sent out they were called "apostles," another Greek word, meaning "sent forth."
He had many disciples, and of them He chose twelve, whose names you will find in the chapter, and ought to learn.
Why did He choose twelve? Perhaps you will say, "Because there were twelve tribes of Israel." You are on the way to a correct answer, but have not reached it. For there were not only twelve tribes of Israel, because twelve sons of Israel, but Ishmael, who was Jacob's uncle, also had twelve sons, from whom were descended twelve nations; and besides the number twelve often occurs in the Word. There is a deep reason for all this, which is to be found in the correspondence of the number twelve.
The number twelve means all things good and true in the Lord's kingdom or the church. There are twelve cardinal things that belong to the faith of the church, and these taken together give us the whole faith. There are twelve cardinal things that enter into our love or charity, and these taken together present to us the fullness of love. For this reason there were twelve disciples, and also twelve tribes, also twelve gates to the New Jerusalem, twelve foundations to its wall, and the measurements had the number twelve in them; while those that were sealed on their foreheads were twelve times twelve thousand, or 144,000.
You will notice that although the disciples were to go to all the scattered "sheep" of Israel, they were to stay only where people were worthy. They were going as the Lord's ambassadors, to do His work, and they would be treated as people were going to treat Him. He told them in advance what was going to happen to them, not so much in the immediate future, for they came back and reported to Him about their work, but in the time long after, when He Himself would have been crucified. He told them that they would be hated, persecuted, arrested and killed, but that they should not fear those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.
We shall learn in due time that these things that the Lord foretold, happened to the apostles. They were persecuted, and some of them killed. But only their bodies were killed and not their souls, and we are told in the Writings which teach us about the world where souls live; that is, in the Writings which the Lord has given us through Swedenborg, that he saw the apostles in heaven, where they are angels, and that they continue to do work in the other world, which is like the work to which they had been called by the Lord Himself on earth. In the last book published by Swedenborg, called True Christian Religion, he tells us that after that book was finished, "the Lord called together His twelve disciples who had followed Him in the world: and the next day He sent them all out into the whole spiritual world, to preach the Gospel, that the Lord Jesus Christ reigns, whose reign will last forever," and that "this was done on the 19th day of June, in the year 1770," thus thirteen years after the Last judgment which had been executed in the spiritual world in the year 1757. It had become necessary to execute the judgment and to send out the twelve apostles, because the Christian Church established through them on earth had come to worship three gods. For they prayed to three Divine Persons,-calling one "the Father," the second "the Son," and the third "the Holy Ghost." The apostles therefore went throughout the spiritual world teaching people the truth that the Lord is one God, and that the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in Him, as soul, body and operation are one in man, and that this God is the Lord Jesus Christ, and one and only God of heaven and earth. Each Apostle was given a district in which to do this work, and they are executing the Lord's command, "with all zeal and industry." (T. 4, 108, 791)
This is the Gospel that the Lord has ordained the ministers of the New Church to preach.