The Gospel of St. John
5 March 1906, Berlin
What we have said so far about the Gospel of St. John has taken us deeply into the essence of Christianity, and has shown us what profound mystical power lies hidden within this Christian document. We have seen that it should not be read like a report of outer events, or an historical account, but a script engraved by life, so that every sentence re-lived, transforms something in us.
We have followed the seven stages of spiritual ascent in the life of St. John. Today we will add something which goes even deeper. A few examples will show that I have not forced an arbitrary meaning on the gospel, but that by means of occult teaching we are able to understand many things that otherwise would remain dark and unintelligible. First I will remind you of the seven stages of initiation which existed at the time of the birth of Christianity.
In the last lecture we came to know the Christian initiation, but it was not Christianity that first made initiation possible. At all times, ever since there were men as we know them on earth, it was possible to become an initiate — to ascend to higher stages of human existence. Through Christianity all these things became more inward. Since Christianity has provided us with such documents as the John Gospel — which only needs to be allowed to work and live in us — one can achieve much, and rise to spiritual heights. There were no such documents in pre-Christian times available. One had to be introduced into hidden mystery temples, or centres, and according to the various peoples, the lower stages of initiation differed. In the higher stages national peculiarities were of no account, and they were the same for all peoples even in much older times.
I would like to describe the seven stages of initiation as they were practised in the Persian Mithras cult. It was a form of initiation that was cultivated in the whole of Asia Minor, in Greece and Rome, and even as far as the Danube basin it was practised far into the Christian era. For a long time it was possible to go through these stages even in the hidden cultic centres and temples in Egypt which were often built into the solid rock. They were only accessible to those who came to know them as morally advanced pupils and initiates after strict tests. The first grade was the “Raven”. As a raven the neophyte carried the knowledge acquired in the outer sense world into spiritual life. The idea of the raven has lingered in myths and sagas. There are the Ravens of Wotan, the ravens of Elijah, and in the German Barbarossa saga ravens are the intermediaries between the emperor under a spell in the mountain and the outer world. In the Mithraic mysteries “Raven” signified a grade of initiation.
The second grade was that of the “Occult One”. This was the name for someone who had already received some important occult secrets.
The third grade was that of the “Fighter”. These were initiates who felt their higher self to the extent that they understood sayings such as one finds in the second part of “Light on the Path”. 1“Stand aside in the coming battle, and though thou fightest, be not thou the warrior.” Light on the Path, Mabel Collins, Theosophical University Press. Pasadena, California, 1971. Only an initiate of the third grade can understand such sayings. This does not mean that the ordinary person cannot reach a certain comprehension. Everyone has a higher self, and if one is able to abnegate one's lower self and make it a servant of the higher self then one can say in a certain sense: “Though thou fightest thou art not the fighter”. But it is not until one has reached a particular stage of initiation that one really knows what this sentence signifies. What one formerly considered as higher interests become mere subsidiary interests, mere servants of the fighter.
The fourth grade was achieved when complete inner harmony and calm, equilibrium and strength are gained. This grade was called that of the “Lion”. Such an initiate had so developed the occult life in himself that he could represent the occult not only with words but with deeds.
Meanwhile the consciousness of a person who has passed through these four stages of initiation extended further and further. He identified himself with ever larger groupings of people. All these names have a hidden meaning. For instance, the expression, “The Occult One”. What is a human being as we see him in front of us? He is what is in him. As a Raven an initiate of the first grade — he tries to overcome what is only in him. Then his interests become wider. What people around him are, what they feel and what they will, becomes his own feeling and his own will. The terms were coined in times when there were still communities which were kindred enlarged families. How did one regard such a family? One said they were members of a soul-family tracing right back to a common ancestral pair — members of a hidden ego.
An initiate of the second grade, an “Occult One”, had so ennobled his ego that it became the ego of his community; he made their interests his own. The occult entity of a human community was able to live in him. When the ego of such a human community became the ego of an individual initiate then this community became his dwelling place. The “Fighter” fought for the larger community. In ancient Palestine one designated as a “Lion”, he who had raised himself up to encompass the consciousness, the ego, of a whole tribe. The “lion” of the tribe of Judah is the term applied to someone who had reached such a stage of initiation that he bore within himself the ego of the whole tribe.
The initiate of the fifth grade had so overcome his personality that he could take up the folk-soul. The folk-spirit lived in him. In Persia such an initiate was called a “Persian”. In Greece one would have called him a “Grecian”, if it had been the custom. What does this grade signify? For him everything individual has vanished and his consciousness has become one with the whole. This constitutes a higher state of consciousness.
Today it is different. Because of the splitting up of all communal groups we meet with quite different stages of initiation. But at the time of the birth of Christianity it still had a meaning when one spoke of souls initiated to the fifth grade. You can verify this in the John Gospel. Take the first chapter, verse 45:
“Philip findeth Nathanael and saith unto him: We have found him of whom Moses in the law and the Prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him: Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him: Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him and saith of him: Behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile!”
Nathanael is here acknowledged as an initiate of the fifth grade. This means that he had learned to know what for us men is the essence of life, the Tree of Life. Earlier in life one tastes of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. One partakes of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge the moment one is able to say “I” to oneself. When the higher, the spiritual, in man awakens it can happen that God has to protect man. Jehovah was concerned lest man, after having eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, should also eat of the Tree of Life before he was ready for it. The initiate of the fifth grade learns what relieves this concern and what raises one beyond all death and all that is transitory. This is the spiritual element.
How can the spiritual element become established in man? For someone who has penetrated more deeply into Theosophy it is something which flows through the whole world. For him whose vision is able to penetrate into higher worlds, all that is, to begin with, a stage of inner development even on higher planes, is expressed at first on the astral plane as a picture. When a person has reached the fifth grade of initiation he always sees a picture on the astral plane, which formerly he had not seen — the picture of a tree, a finely branched, white tree. This picture on the astral plane, which is to be taken as a symbol of the fifth grade of initiation, is called the Tree of Life. He who had reached this point is said to have sat under the Tree of Life. Thus Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree and Nathanael under the Fig Tree. These are terms for the picture on the astral plane. What is seen are reflections of inner — even bodily inner things. The Bodhi Tree is but the astral mirror image of the human nervous system. He who through initiation is able to direct his gaze inward, sees his inner life, even his bodily inner life, projected, reflected into the outer astral world. So you see what is intended in this chapter of the John Gospel.
Nathanael is addressed as one who knows. It is implied: We understand each other. “Jesus said unto him, ‘Before that, Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.’” This means, we are brothers of the fifth grade of initiation. It is a recognition between initiates. “Nathanael answered and saith unto him, ‘Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel.’” You see the recognition is complete. Jesus answered him, and said that it will become apparent that he is more than an initiate of the fifth grade. He said, “Because I said unto thee I saw thee under the fig tree, thou believest; thou shalt see greater things than these.”
I would also like to draw your attention to the conversation with Nicodemus, which you will find in the third chapter. There we have the significant words, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” What does it mean to be born anew and to see the Kingdom of God? It means to have awakened the higher self, to be born so that the eternal core of one's being is awakened. What does it mean to enter the kingdom of heaven? It means to see not only the reflection of Devachan here on earth as we see it through our physical eyes, but to see this realm directly itself. He alone can do this who has not only been born for this physical world, but is born a second time.
Take what I have used as a comparison, but one which is more than a comparison. Take it literally. To be born means to proceed from an embryo to a stage at which one perceives the outer world with the senses. If one does not pass through an embryonic stage one can never be ready to be born. Those who know this stage also know that ordinary life is an embryonic stage for the higher life. This leads us deep into the meaning of ordinary life. It could be quite easy for someone who directs his gaze towards the spiritual world to become convinced that there is such a world and that man is a citizen of it. He could then proceed to disregard the physical world and to believe that one cannot depart from it quickly enough, and that one should mortify the flesh, the sooner to reach the spiritual world. This shows ignorance. It is as senseless as if one would not allow the human embryo to mature but would bring it into the world at two months, and expect it to live there. Likewise for the higher world, one has to develop to become mature. Such is he who has developed his higher self. The physical world is the school. He who has developed his ego here is ready to enter the kingdom of heaven, which means to be born again. Man has to go through birth and death ever and again, until he has gained his full maturity in order to enter the spiritual world itself, so that he no longer needs physical organs. Thus we have to realise that everything we do by means of our eyes, ears and other senses is work done for the higher life.
Certainly, we have, frequently said that man must develop higher senses, that he must develop the chakrams or holy wheels, which enable him to enter the spiritual world and see it. But how does he come to obtain these holy wheels? Through his work on the physical plane. Here is the place of preparation. Our work here prepares the organs for a higher world. As the human being is prepared in the mother's body, so in the body of the great world mother — where we are while leading our physical life — is prepared what is necessary to make it possible for us to see and act in higher worlds. One is perfectly justified to speak of a higher world and to value it higher than our lower world, but we should only use these terms in a technical sense. All worlds are, basically, equally valid expressions of the highest principle, in different forms. We should not despise any world. In this way we learn to relate ourselves rightly towards both the lower and the higher worlds. This is the requirement for entering into the third chapter of the John Gospel.
It must be understood that Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of a genuine rebirth, and that, above all, he wishes to remind him that looked at in this way, the ordinary, everyday life must be reborn as a higher life and recognised as such. He who reads this chapter really carefully will see that this is what is meant.
Many circles lay it against Theosophy that it teaches reincarnation — the gradual maturing of humanity through rebirth and repeated earth lives. It is said that Christianity knows nothing of this teaching of reincarnation. But actually in the John Gospel there is a clear indication that when he spoke intimately with his disciples, Jesus taught reincarnation. For instance, one can only make sense of the ninth chapter (the healing on the Sabbath of the man born blind) if one bases it on the idea of reincarnation. One must remember that he spoke in the language current at that time. In Greece it was then usual to speak of the power that permeates man's innermost being and leads it forward. For the Greeks and all other peoples of that time, the power that made man into man and caused him to develop was God. An outer God, a God in the next world, was unknown in those days. Therefore one called what lived in man, the God in man. Thus if one spoke of the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, it was the higher self that was meant. One can only understand the Old Testament if one appreciates this conception of God. Jesus too speaks of the God living in man when talking intimately to his disciples: “His disciples asked him, saying, ‘Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.’”
These three sentences speak clearly enough. Neither had he sinned in his physical body, nor had his parents; therefore the Jewish law that God will visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto so and so many generations does not hold good. But the works of God in man shall be made manifest, i.e. the self in man that passes through all his incarnations. These words which Jesus spoke to his disciples could not be clearer. You know the orthodox explanation. Think, if someone meant what is supposed to be said here: The glory of God should be made manifest in a blind person. This presumes that it was arranged that someone should be blind so that Jesus could heal him and the glory of God be made manifest. Can this be reconciled with true Christianity? No. Christianity would be morally degraded. Interpreted theosophically, this image carries a truly beautiful and noble meaning.
It was always so when Jesus spoke intimately with his disciples. That it was so, is especially revealed in the scene known as the transfiguration. It is, however, not in the John Gospel. We find it in the seventeenth chapter of St. Matthew and in the ninth chapter of St. Mark. In St. John it is not to be found. The only reference that could have any relation to it is the passage in the twelfth chapter, verse 28: “‘Father glorify thy name.’ Then came there a voice from heaven saying, ‘I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.’” And further in verse 31: “‘Now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.’ Thus he said, signifying what death he should die. The people answered him, ‘We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever, and how sayest thou: the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ Then Jesus said unto them, ‘Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.’”
We find the transfiguration scene in all the evangelists except St. John. This is significant. Let us clarify the meaning of this scene. What takes place? Jesus goes with three disciples Peter, James and John — up a mountain: this means into the inner sanctuary where one is initiated into higher worlds and where one also speaks in occult language. Then it is said: the master took his disciples up into a mountain — it means that he went to that place where he expounded the parable to them. The disciples were carried up into a higher state of consciousness. They saw then that which is not transitory but eternal. Moses and Elias appear and Jesus himself with them. What does this mean? In occult science the word Elias means the same as El — the goal, the way. Moses is the spiritual scientific word for truth. By the fact that Elias, Moses and Jesus appear you have the fundamental Christian truth: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus himself says — this is a fundamental Christian mystical truth — “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (John, ch. 14, v. 6)
The important thing is that here the eternal is shown as against the temporal, and the disciples see into a world which lies beyond this world. Afterwards they said to the master, “All this should only have come to pass once Elias has come again.” Thus they spoke to him as though reincarnation was taken as a matter of course, as also in many other passages in the gospels. John asked, “Art thou Elias come again?” Then answered the master, “Elias is indeed come again — John the Baptist is Elias. But the people did not recognise him. Say it unto no man until I come again.” Here we have the general, religious, profound truth of reincarnation uttered in the intimate conversation between the master and his disciples. At the same time it is set down as a testament: “Say it unto no man until I come again.” This coming again refers to a much later time, the time when all men will recognise Christ through their higher comprehension. When this comes about then will He reappear to them.
Thus time is being prepared through the theosophical world conception. Christ will reappear in the world. The doctrine of reincarnation and karma as a generally accepted idea was to be laid aside until this time. At that time people should know nothing of reincarnation and karma, so that they were obliged to take the life between birth and death as something of particular value and importance. Humanity had to pass through all stages of life experience. Up to the time of Christ, reincarnation was generally accepted. Life between birth and death was only a passing episode. But then man had to learn to take life on earth as something important. An extreme form of this teaching was the dogma of eternal punishment and eternal reward. This is an extreme form. What mattered was that each human individuality, each “God-man”, should pass through one incarnation in which he knew nothing of reincarnation and karma and in which he appreciated the vital importance of life between birth and death.
If you read theosophical books you will find that the time between the two incarnations is fifteen to eighteen hundred years. This is about the same length of time as between the birth of Christ, and the present day. Those living then, appear again today. Because of this they are able again to accept the new teaching. Therefore, the theosophical outlook was really prepared on Mount Tabor by Christ Jesus. If we look at world history in broad lines, we should not think that we are dealing either with truth or with error which we can censure. It is not a question of absolute truth or error, but of what is right for man at any given time. If I sat here with a group of boys no more than ten years old, and set about teaching them higher mathematics, I would be teaching them truth and yet it would be folly. I must give a person what he needs, at any given stage of his development. It is not right for us today to say in retrospect, that the Christian teaching contained errors. No. In order to master the physical plane, one had to take this one life seriously. Certainly, the priestly sages of Chaldea taught great spiritual truths. They brought down a vast knowledge of the spiritual world, but they used the most primitive tools, and did not know how to use the forces of nature in everyday life. The physical plane had first to be mastered. To do this, man's whole life of feeling must be directed towards it. Christianity had to prepare mankind to master the physical world. This was decreed, it is the testament from Mount Tabor. What lies behind this declaration is something wonderful.
If one penetrates deeper, one will find more and more. If we want to understand religious documents which came down to us from times which had true knowledge of spiritual life and not a materialistic way of thinking, we must realise that the mode of thought was so different, that if one spoke of man, one spoke in a completely different way.
Now I must tell you something which though easy to understand intellectually, is difficult for the man of today to grasp with his whole soul. The time when the gospels were written was the dawn of Christianity. One used names then in a way which I will now explain. One did not look to the outer physical man, but one saw something higher, the spiritual, shining through it. A name was not used as it is today, it had a significance. Suppose someone was called James (Jacobus). James really means water. Water is the spiritual scientific term for the soul element. If I call somebody James, I say that his soul shines through his body. With this, I signify that he belongs to the watery element. If I give the name James to an initiate, he is to me the symbol for water (Hebrew — Jam). James is nothing but the technical name for an initiate who especially governs the force of water in its occult sense.
Thus were the three disciples who were taken up to Mount Tabor called by their initiate names: James means water, Peter stands for earth, or rock (Hebrew — Jabascha), John signifies air (Ruach). Thus, John means he who has attained the higher self. This leads us deep into the secret doctrines. Transport yourself back into the time when man only possessed the lower principles — the third Root Race, the Lemurian epoch. Mankind did not then breath air, he breathed through gills. Lungs and breathing through lungs developed later. This process coincided with the impregnation by the higher self. Air is, according to the hermetic principle, the lower which represents the higher — the higher self. If I call somebody John (Johannes), then he is one who has awakened his higher self, who governs the occult forces of air. Jesus is the one who governs the occult forces of fire (Nur). Thus you have in these four names, the representatives of earth, water, air and fire. They are the names of the four who ascended Mount Tabor.
|Jam — James|
|Jabascha — Petrus|
Think of these four together on the Mount of Transfiguration. There you have at the same time, the initiates who govern the four elements: fire, water, air and earth. What happened? It was made manifest spiritually that through the appearance of Jesus, the whole power of the elements was renewed in such a way that the life pulsing through the elements passed through a new, important phase of its development. This is the transfiguration seen occultly. If somebody goes through the transfiguration in this manner, if he has within himself the stages of water, earth and air, and even rises to the forces of fire, then he is a reawakened one, someone who has gone through the crucifixion. Thus, in the case of the other evangelists, this scene is but a preparation for the deeper initiation scene of the crucifixion itself. In the John Gospel, everything is already prepared. The preparatory scene does not appear, only the death on the Mount of Golgotha. Jam, Nur, Ruach, Jabascha — INRI — this is the meaning of the words on the cross.
One can go deeper and deeper into the religious texts and never finish learning. Sometimes when one hears an explanation like this it sounds forced. But every step that leads you deeper will furnish evidence that it is not forced. Superficial explanations seek to avoid the “depths” purposely. But there are depths in these writings. Those who know something can always say to themselves: probably there is much more in it, I have still much to learn. This is the attitude of reverence that we can bring to religious texts.
This reverence is of the utmost importance, for it will become strength in us drawn from the depths. There is one important sentence that I can only touch on. In chapter 19, verse 33,we find: “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was dead already they brake not his legs ... ” and in verse 36, “For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.” You know that this reminds one of a passage in one of the books of Moses (Exodus 12:46). Rightly understood, it has a deep meaning. It is deeply symbolical, but I can only touch on it.
If you look around the world you will have to admit that man as he is now incarnated in the flesh has no power over life, nor over what stands, above life. He is only master of the lifeless inorganic forces. Man cannot oblige a plant to grow, or to grow faster. He would have to acquire occult power, to do so. Far less is he able to master what is higher than life forces. What he is able to control is the lifeless outer world. There, he exerts his mastery in everyday work over the materials with which nature provides him. He creates works of art, pictures of the Almighty, but he cannot breathe life into them. He can only copy life. He cannot awaken an intimation of life in the lifeless, even in the most sublime Christian works of art. This is so because man has enfolded his astral and etheric forces in the solid, dense physical body. Thus he came to have this relation to the outer world — to be master only of the lifeless. The higher forces which are not tied to the physical must be awakened, and then man will again be able to master life. As it is, he can only control physical forces, and not life itself.
This is connected with the fact that the human body which was once soft and pliable has now become more and more solid. If you go back in evolution you will see that man has changed very much. In Lemurian times he had no skeleton. This was formed later. The bones were the last things to appear in the human organism. He will have them until he has spiritualised himself again, until he has awakened again his inner forces and learned the lesson which he can only learn in this dense body with its hard skeleton. Christ Jesus is that spirit whose cosmic mission it was to be incarnated in just such a body in order to show man the way out of this world into a higher world. He is the leader and guide into the higher world. That which has to find its way into the higher world is symbolised by the solid human skeleton. As long as man had not reached the stage of having a hard skeleton, he did not need a Messiah. But for this present epoch he needs the Messiah, the Redeemer.
Thus it is evident that the forces in Jesus which are connected with the higher world do not concern present day humanity. We can express it by calling the skeleton the exterior; water, the etheric body; blood, the astral body; and then the spirit. *[First Epistle of John, ch. 5, v. 8, (literally) “And there are three that bear witness: the spirit and the water and the blood.”] Therefore blood and water can flow from the body of Christ. These are of no import for the present cycle of human development. On the other hand, that which supports the whole, which leads man upwards to the throne of the Eternal, what he needs in order to learn the lesson, that must be kept uninjured. This is the skeleton, the symbol for the lifeless in nature. Through this skeleton, Christ is connected with the present cycle of man's development. This is what must be kept intact until such time as man shall have reached higher stages. We can follow this back to the corresponding passages in the Books of Moses. But this can be done some other time.
Today I wanted to add something which will have shown you that the John Gospel is inexhaustible, and how full it is of strength and life. As we take it in and absorb it, it gives us strength and life. This is why this gospel is the leading scripture for those who wish to penetrate deeper and deeper into theosophical Christianity. If theosophy is to work for Christianity it is from this, above all, that it must start. But clearly, if I were to explain the John Gospel in its entirety to you, I should have to take the whole winter. I should have to take it sentence by sentence and then you would see how deep are the words ascribed to John, i.e. to him whose very name indicates that he is a herald of the higher self. He is the representative of air, and master of the higher forces, who, from the perception of the higher self, wrote his Gospel according to St. John.
It would be futile and in vain, to attempt to fathom, or criticise this gospel with the powers of the ordinary intellect. In our time the intellect has achieved great things, but the John Gospel is not written for the intellect. Only he who has overcome the intellect and is able to lead it to the heights of spirit power as John did, can understand his gospel. Theosophy would be quite wrong to undertake an intellectual critique of this John Gospel. Instead, it should immerse itself in it, in order to understand it. Then we should see that a new spirit of Christianity — not only the spirit of the past, but a future Christianity, can proceed from the John Gospel. We will become aware of the deep truth of one of the most beautiful and profound sayings of Christ. Out of his mouth we are told that Christianity is not something that has merely lived in the past, but that the same power still lives today. True it is what Christ said: I am with you always, even unto the end of time.