Three Temporary Keys to the Eternal
Matthew 16:19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Why does Christ repeat so many of his ideas in patterns of three similar repetitions? For example, why are there three similar repetitions of the synoptic Gospel? Why does this pattern of three sometimes change into a pattern of four, or, more precisely, a pattern of three plus one? For example, the three synoptic Gospels plus John?
Christ uses pattern and analogy (the Greek word from which we get “parables” means “analogy) to express other dimensions to his words that would be too complicated to express otherwise. The symbols that he used in his analogies are highly organized. His system of analogies is never explain, but left in plain sight for us to discover. Fortunately, these patterns are easier to see in the original Greek. Understanding these keys helps us understand a little more about Christ’s message.
The Four Keys - Three Temporal Plus the Eternal
If reviewed in the Greek, when Christ uses his repetition of three, he never uses exactly the same words. The subtle changes follow a pattern. One of the repetitions will concentrate of the physical aspects of the lesson, another on the mental or intellectual, and the other on the emotional or relationship aspect of the situation.These are the three key aspects of our temporal lives that Christ comes back to again and again. We see it first in the pattern of the three temptations.
When the pattern is four, the final piece is the spiritual or eternal aspect of the lesson. We see this pattern for the first time in the Beatitudes. The eight Beatitudes repeat this pattern of four twice.
The four hidden keys in Christ’s could be called simply the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual parts of life, but describing them this simply drains them of all the depth of meaning and interconnections within life that Christ gave them. For Christ, each of of these keys is a complex idea that could only be explained by analogies.
Each key is part of many different cycles of life. The nature of these keys is defined largely by the role they play in these cycles. These cycle are described throughout the Gospels in analogies.
Quick test, what does “parable” mean in Greek? It means “analogy” or “comparison.” These keys are “hidden” only because they appear almost exclusively in analogies.
There is very little in the Gospels that isn’t connected to one of these four keys, their analogies, or the related cycles.
A Quick Overview of the Keys
These four keys are explained in more detail on their own pages. Click on titles for more detail. They are also better understood by the role in the Three Key Cycles.
The Physical Key: This is the realm of the body, needs and deeds, eating and drinking, symbolized physically by bread, water, the sea, fish, fruit, the sense of sight, and personified by Jonah who went into the belly of a fish and by David who ate the consecrated bread from the temple when he was hungry. Christ does NOT condemn physical needs. Indeed, he contrasts himself to John the Baptist because John fasted and he and his followers enjoyed eating and drinking. As the story of David explains, sometimes physical needs trumps religious rules.
The dark side of the physical is the body is temporary. Hunger and thirst are only temporarily satisfied. The analogies are that fish and fruit rots. The physical is by its nature transient.
The Intellectual Key: This is the realm of the mind, ideas and thoughts, symbolized by grain, metal, wine, trees, fire, demons, the sense of hearing, and personified by Solomon. Again, Christ does NOT condemn wealth and power as such. They are worldly forms of achievement. I don’t say success, because the word is too intangible. Christ talks about real, tangible success in the form of possessions. The ultimate power and wealth, after all, belongs to God. Most of Christ’s parables have rich men and kings symbolizing God. Christ ties wealth and power to mind and wisdom. This is not a condemnation of wealth and power but a recognition that it takes wisdom to be successful in life.
The dark side of the intellectual is useless thinking and poor judgment. Worthless thinking leads to physical and emotional consequences. This dark side is symbolized by demons, that make your life worse.
The Emotional (Relationship) Key : This is the realm of the heart, caring and sacrificing for others, symbolized by the heart, the earth, flesh and blood, and personified by Jesus. Though we call it “emotional,” the concept is defines and is defined by our relationships with others. It is specifically what we care about in our relationship with other people. It is the emotional connection between people. Sex in Christ’s view falls under feelings for others, not physical needs. This emotional connection is both personal and social.
The dark side of the emotional is social concerns, worrying about what society thinks about you and acting on the basis of social rewards.
The Spiritual Key: This is the realm of the divine. It is symbolized by the seed, the air, breath, the sky (heaven), blinding light, and the wind. This key is personified by the prophets who were inspired by God. In the original Greek, the term used for “spirit” is pneuma, which means the wind, the blast, and divine inspiration. Christ’s role was to bring the age in which spirit reigns supreme.
Christ makes a clear separation between our personal relationship with God in pure spirit and our social relationship with the priests, tradition, and other church members. Religions are part of the emotional realm, the realm of relationships. In personification, prophets are those who experience divine inspiration directly while the observant (the righteous, in KJV, from the Greek dikaios) personalizes those who follow tradition, that is, care about social rules.
Christ draws between spiritual concepts and mental thoughts. Spiritual ideas or concepts exist independent of any specific person or thing. The number “pi,” for example, exists as an concept independent of any round form. It is real even without tangible form, even if no one knows it. The number “pi” existed even before people knew about it. Spiritual ideas inspire and shape thoughts, but they are not the thoughts themselves. Once people know about “pi” the can use the idea and it can shape their plans and actions. This is what Christ means by “spirit,” the real concepts underlying reality. People can think about concepts, but concepts are bigger and beyond those thoughts, like “pi” is beyond our ability to write it all down.
Only God’s concepts underlie physical reality. When we get into the realm of relationships, the emotional, God’s concepts contend with human concepts. Christ’s role is to bring the kingdom of heaven, that is, God’s concepts, back to human relationships and human society. This is his “leaven.” These concepts must contend against those of organized religion and the state. He is warning the apostles that it is very easy to mix spiritual and worldly ideas.
The spirit in its pure form of the universal rule is the beginning and purpose of life. We can blaspheme (argue) against Christ as a personification of caring, but we can never blaspheme the spirit.
The Four Elements Connected to the Keys
There is a connection in these four Gospel keys and four classical elements. Water represents the physical realm. Fire represents the intellectual realm. Earth represents the realm of emotions. Air represents the spirit realm. When Christ says “winged ones of the air” he is talking about the divine, the realm of God. However, demons, interestingly, clearly belong to the realm of the mind.
Fire is symbolic of judgment in the intellectual realm, so it is the image for punishment. Heat is another symbol for this element. Its opposite is the light of the air, which is spirit and pure knowledge, which is beyond our intellectual abilities.
Interestingly enough, in the Greek much of the discussion of fire and ovens in the Gospels is not as much about punishment as it is about separation and even fuel.
Symbolically, most of the mingling of worthwhile (good) and evil (useless) takes place in the “field,” which is another metaphor for the physical realm, the most tangible aspect of the temporary realm. Christ makes the point that only the angels, God’s messengers, can sort this out. What is useless fuels the fire but the fire is not one of simple destruction. The fire is in an oven, but the word for furnace is specific to the bread ovens of the time. The useless lives provide the fuel that allows the conversion of grain into bread. Fire is a tool. It does cause weeping and gnashing of teeth because it represents a mental realization of the truth after it is too late to act. Taking the heat for worthless always hurts.
More Complete Table of Symbols
The list of eight types of relationships in Mar 10:29 also indicates the use of the pattern of three plus one, repeated twice as it is in the Beatitudes. If the symbol pattern is the same, we get an extended key of Christ’s symbolic system. House and mother symbolize the spiritual aspect of the relationship realm (the connection of mother to “a house” is explained here). Father and lands symbolize the physical aspect of the relationship realm. Brother and wife symbolize the emotional aspect of the relationship realm, and sister and children symbolize the mental aspect of the relationship realm.
This larger key of relationships is also consistent with Christ’s symbol of the Father as the physical aspect of the eternal realm as the Creator, the Son (child) as the mental aspect of the eternal realm as the Word, and, interestingly, and the Spirit as the relationship aspect of the eternal realm.
Christ knew that the leper would not heed his direction, but Christ wanted to take a stand again broad, public, anonymous communication. The cleansing that Christ is bringing is a personal, private awareness not a social movement. Cleansing changes society one person at a time.
Why does Christ want the leper to show himself to the priest? Because the law of Moses commanded a specific ritual upon the healing of a leper (Lev 14:2). Such a healing was to be followed by a ceremony of cleansing that involved several sacrifices over several days time, along with certain good, public health practices, such as saving, washing, and washing clothes. The end of the disease was separated from this cleansing, which allowed time to pass and proved to the public that the victim was clean and could be welcomed back into society.
So we have two cleansings, the real physical one and the second social one, bringing the victim back into society. Christ provided the real healing, but the second one depended upon the traditions of the people involved. Christ did not come to change those traditions. Rather his job was to put them into perspective.
We learned from the beginning of Matthew that Christ saw our temporary life on earth as consisting of three components: the physical, the mental, and the emotional. The emotional components involves our relationships with one another, both personal and social. For Christ, all three components were important as part of a process.
Words, that is the intellectual part of life, affect the physical and social. Words and ideas can improve our lives. Learning can alleviate suffering. Christ's words here heal the leper. But the power of words has a limitation: they should not be used to change emotions. Emotions and relationships must depend on actions, in this case, the actions dictated by tradition. Thought (words) directs action. Action directs feeling. Feelings direct thoughts. Spirit (or information) must direct all of these components. As productive as words are in the intellectual world, they are destructive in the emotional world. Our emotional relationships should depend on actions, not words. Our relationships should not be based upon what happens moment to moment but upon what happens over time.
Ideas can physically change our lives in a moment, but our actions over time are the proof of our healing and feeling.