The Raising of the Widow’s Son at Nain


Luke 7:11-17
11 And it occurred in the next journey, that He went into a city called Nain. And together with Him went a considerable number of His disciples and a vast throng.” 12 Now as He nears the gate of the city, lo! there was fetched out, being dead, an only-begotten son of his mother. And she was a widow. And a considerable throng of the city was with her.” 13 And perceiving her, the Lord has compassion on her and said to her, “Do not lament!” 14 And approaching, He touches the bier. Now those bearing it stand. And he said, “Youth, to you am I saying, Be roused!” 15 And the dead youth sits up and begins to be speaking. And He gives him back to his mother. 16 Now fear got all, and they glorified God, saying that “A great prophet was roused among us! and that “God visits His people!” 17 And this saying concerning Him came out in the whole of Judea and in the entire country about.

Arcana Coelestia 6221.
Angels have no knowledge at all of death or of sickness and consequently form no mental image of them. Instead they form, when a person reads about sickness and death, an idea of the continuation of life, and an idea of resurrection. The reason they do this is that when a person dies he casts off solely what has served him for use in the world and enters into the life his spirit has led. This is the idea that comes to angels’ minds when a person reads about ‘dying’ and ‘being sick’. An idea of regeneration likewise comes to mind, since regeneration is resurrection to life. For at first the person was spiritually dead; but once he has been regenerated he is made alive and ‘a son of the resurrection.’*

[2] The person who, while living in the body, is desirous of heaven thinks of death and of sickness previous to it as nothing else than resurrection to life. For when he thinks about heaven he detaches himself from thought of the body, especially when he is sick and approaching death. From this it is evident that a spiritual idea of death of the body is an idea of newness of life. When therefore those in heaven refer to resurrection or regeneration, and this comes down and is channelled into the kinds of things that belong to the world, it cannot fall into any other kinds of images than these. This is how it is with the Word. Every single detail has come down from the Lord, passing through heaven and into the world. On the way down it assumes forms suited to the understanding of those in the three heavens, and at length assumes a form suited to man’s understanding, which form is the literal sense.

* Luke 20:36



To grasp the Word’s spiritual meaning and application we need to remind ourselves that everything in each of its stories involves the things of the mind – that everything has psychological and spiritual relevance.  This means that what we are reading in the Word is really about our mental states of life and the shifts they undergo due to the influence of the Lord’s inflowing life.  Now the Lord’s life is love, but specifically it is love for the salvation of the human race, therefore the operation of His life within our minds is always focussed on this end.  This is why the spiritual life involves conflict, for where the Lord’s life is focussed on eternal ends our focus tends to be on temporal concerns that are often at odds with the Lord’s desire for our life.  To work on the level of our mental states requires a willingness on our part to make efforts to reflect on the activity of our inner life in the light of our understanding of the Word.  This is what enables our spiritual faculties to be opened so that we can come to see more clearly the spiritual sense of the Word and its application to the life of our spirit.  The spiritual sense of the Word is specifically tailored to support work on our mental states and by the spiritual sense of the Word is meant, the Lord in His Divine Human.  Without the practise of self-examination and repentance, as it relates to the inner life of the mind, the Word remains closed as to its spiritual meaning and in this sense will appear in its letter as something that has no life.

In our story today we see we have something that has no life, the only son of a widow.  We tend to think of death as final, and this is because our thought is more rooted in natural thinking than it is in what is spiritual.  But as we saw from our reading the mention of death in the Word more often than not doesn’t mean death at all.  This is because the angels have no concept of death as it is something that sits outside of their experience.  Angels understand the Word according to its internal sense or spiritual meaning.  And what’s more wonderful is their close connection with us seen in that when we read of death in the Word the angels with us are thinking of those things involved in the resurrection or regeneration of the human mind.  The Lord desire for us is that we learn to think in this way as well, for to do so is to think as one with the angels, which has the remarkable effect of opening our natural minds to receiving higher insights that flow in through the heavens that can assist and strengthen us to live a more spiritually focussed life.

If we think about what death is for a moment we can see that it involves putting something off.  On the natural plane when the body is put off through death the person still lives in full awareness as a person but they are now in a spiritual body, or a body generated by the Lord’s life flowing into their minds.  This body perfectly corresponds to the quality of the states of love and thought that they have cultivated while they lived in a natural body in the world.  When we make a conscious effort to attended to the quality of our motives and thought life, through the practise self-examination and repentance from the Word, we are involved in a process putting off of the evils and falsities belonging to the loves of self and the world and in their place a putting on of a new self and spiritual body created from the goods and truths of the Word.  This process is also described in terms of death in the Word…

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  Mk 8:34-35

Apocalypse Explained 899[13] …natural death, which is a rejection of the unclean things of the body, and spiritual death, which is a removal of the unclean things of the spirit, signify resurrection,

I Corinthians 15:35-49
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.

39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.

40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.

42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.

For those who have chosen to give up their life it is a fact that after putting off the natural body they find themselves in a new spiritual body that is reflective of the ineffable beauty of the angelic form of mind that has been established through their choice to follow the Lord when they lived in a body in the world.  That beauty also extends beyond the spiritual bodies of angels’ as the Lord’s inflowing life creates around them a world of spiritual objects that perfectly reflects the states that make up the unique form of the Lord’s love and wisdom each angelic mind is.  This is how the heaven of angels is produced, and from the Heavenly Doctrine we learn that if anyone wishes to enter heaven, heaven must first be created within them.

The idea of death, as being a process of putting something off, is a key idea with regard to living a spiritual life.  The principle is that in putting what is more external off what is more internal can be put on or brought more firmly to the fore.  We can see this principle at work in terms of our relationship to the Word as we move from thought resting in the letter to thought that rests in the internal meaning, which is really what this story of the raising of the widow’s son is about.

Spiritually the idea of beauty describes a state where goodness from the Lord is able to be expressed more externally in a form that is able to more or less perfectly capture its essence.  The more perfect the external form through which that goodness can express itself the more beautiful the appearance will be.  It’s interesting to note that the meaning of the name of the city, ‘Nain’, is ‘beauty’, and being a city it represents doctrine from the Word or the human mind that is in this doctrine.  This suggests that this story has something to do with the shift in a person’s understanding of the Word, and in particular their understanding of the letter of the Word, which is its body and its relationship to its internal sense or its spirit.

This can be seen from the fact that a ‘widow’ in the Word corresponds to “those who are in good but lack truths, yet desire them” (AC 9195) and that by ‘a mother’ is meant the affection for truth or the Church in a person (AC 4257).  The quality of the Church in us is a reflection of our understanding of the Word, and our understanding of the Word will be a reflection of our understanding of what doctrine teaches with regard to what it means to live a spiritual life.  The Word cannot be properly understood without doctrine to guide the mind…

True Christian Religion 227.
By means of doctrine not only is the Word understood, it also shines in the understanding, since it then becomes like a candelabrum with its lamps lighted. Thus man sees in it more things than he saw before, and also understands things he did not understand before; and things obscure and discordant he either passes over without seeing, or he so sees and explains them as to bring them into accord with doctrine.

It is doctrine that teaches how the Word is to be understood and from that how we are to live.  The doctrine represented by the city of Nain is that doctrine or mental state that points to the beauty that is the internal sense of the Word.  The Word is seen to be beautiful by those who are in a life of applying it to their inner life.  As we approach the letter of the Word, in the knowledge that it has an internal sense, and from that look to the Lord to enlighten us as to what it requires of us, so the Lord approaches us.  This is described in the story of the Lord approaching the “gate” of the city.  A city gate is an entrance way, through traffic passes in and out of a city.  It represents forms of knowledge and teaching that introduces a person to more internal things.  Two things are happening at this gate, the first is that the Lord is using it to enter the city and secondly it is being used to remove the dead son from the city.  But what’s significant here is that this gate is where these two movements come together and have contact with each other.  It’s a point of meeting, where what is higher and what is lower come into contact with each other, this is the meeting of the internal and external sense of the Word in the natural mind.

This city, mind, or doctrine is receptive of the Lord and the Lord is received where He is acknowledged through the practise of repentance and the removal of evils and falsities from the mind and life.  This kind of work only proceeds in a person who is in the affection for truth (rep. by the idea of ‘mother’) and who is in good but lacking in truths desires truths of a more interior kind (rep. by the idea of ‘widow’) which they can apply to the life of their mind.  Son’s in the Word correspond to truths, and so here a “dead son” represents how we experience the letter of the Word prior to the spiritual sense being opened from which we can experienced it as something living and vital.  The mother is said to “lament” which describes both the strength of desire for interior or spiritual truths as well as the struggle to find them due to being caught up in the sensual appearances that make up the letter of the Word.

This describes the experience of all those who struggle to find more in the Word than what appears in its surface meaning.  On the natural level the grief of this mother who, having lost her husband and now having lost her only son, well describes the depth of loss felt by those who, having once been secure in their doctrine and the understanding of the Scriptures this provided, find that the Word is no longer as alive and as meaningful for them as it once was.  It is in need of being resurrected or raised up in a new spirit or understanding, yet in that period of transition there is a sense of loss and doubts seem to cloud out what truths teach.

In such states of life it is important to attend to what needs attending to, even if it feels like it’s just “going through the motions.”  This is captured for us here in this funeral procession in which there is a care and a love being expressed as the “dead son” is being carried out through the gate.  While the son is dead, while the letter of the Word appears to have no life, it is still cared for and honoured.  This is found in the meaning of the Greek word translated “fetched or carried out” which holds within it the idea of, to tend or take care of, and what is of further interest regarding the meaning of this in relation to the meaning of the “dead son” is that the root word (Gk. kome) for “carried out” means the hair of the head, and hair corresponds to the outmost sense of the Word or the Word as to its letter (AE 1086.5).

It is into this situation or state of mind that the Lord arrives and something begins to shift, as the compassion of the Divine Love inspires hope through the words of Divine Truth.  The Lord in the person of Jesus represents the inflowing life of the Divine who as the Divine truth inspires spiritual insights that bring about a new understanding of the letter of the Word.  In touching the bier the Lord brings a halt to the procession, just as when we are touch by spiritual insights we find that the natural flow of our thoughts into the sensual meanings of the letter are arrested which creates conditions for a shift into a new state of mind or relationship to the Word.  The Lord in speaking to the dead youth demonstrates how insights from heaven, such as those found in the Heavenly Doctrine, bring new life to our understanding of the letter of the Word for it is said that “the dead youth sits up and begins to be speaking” and that the Lord, “gives him back to his mother”.  For the youth to sit up, speak, and be returned to his mother is for spiritual truths to be established as the basis for understanding the letter for…

AC 9422  “sitting” signifies remaining in a state; for movements from place to place signify changes of state of the interiors… Consequently “sitting” signifies a permanent abiding in the state of the interiors.

To speak signifies what is of the heart or will (see Matt 12:34; AC 3076) and so for the youth to speak is for letter of the Word to convey what lies within it and so satisfy every heart that desires more interior truths for the sake of life which is represented by the mother and widow.

To experience this is to experience the Word as “A great prophet roused among us” and to have “Our God visit us”


About David Millar

My passion revolves around supporting people to engage with the Lord's Word, or Divine truths in the form of sacred texts, to cultivate an intentional spiritual practice. Through the works penned by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) we find that the Biblical texts contain a deeper meaning that, once understood, enables them to be applied in ways that open the human mind to the realisation of its spiritual potential. The goal of the Divine Life is to free each and every human being from the pain of self centred living and bring them into the experience of all that is heavenly through the promotion of what is genuinely good and true. The material shared here is offered in the pursuit of that aim.
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