"The joy of Jehovah is your stronghold."
We have reason to rejoice, for our God Jehovah is a happy God and he wants us to be happy. (Psalms 104:31; Prov. 27:11) The sons of Korah expressed their joy in songs of praise: "What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises," yes, "what joy for those who trust in you." (Psalms 84:4, 12; NLT) King David likewise found joy in worshiping Jehovah, singing: "Happy is the people whose God is Jehovah." (Psalms 144:15) Everything that Jehovah has given us is meant to bring us joy, including preaching "the glorious good news of the happy God." (1 Tim. 1:11) In fact, joy is a fruitage of God's spirit, for it reflects the very nature of God. Therefore, we can rightly expect to be happy when we have God's spirit. (Gal. 5:22; Acts 13:52)
Why, though, is joy lacking sometimes in our life; which is then reflected in our lack of feeling motivated? Some can't remember the last time they were truly happy. Perhaps it was when they first learned of Jehovah and his promise of everlasting life on a righteous earth, and the hope of a resurrection for loved ones who have died. But that joy seems to have evaporated over the years. (Matt. 5:5,6; John 11:25,26, 39-44) When joy is lacking, it may indicate a problem; just as physical pain indicates a physical problem. No, it does not necessarily mean that we have lost God's spirit.
In the time of the prophet Ezekiel, Jehovah took notice of the ones among his people who were "sighing and groaning over all the detestable things that [were] being done in the midst of [them]." Their lack of joy was a good thing, for it marked them for survival. You see, God's people had become extremely wicked, and because nothing of any consequence was happening to them they actually began to believe that Jehovah was not seeing them, or not caring; prompting them to say: "Jehovah has left the land, and Jehovah is not seeing." Yet, they did not realize that Jehovah was about to execute his judgment upon them, for he said: "And as for me also, my eye will not feel sorry, neither shall I show compassion. Their way I shall certainly bring upon their own head." (Ezek. 9:3-10; compare Malachi 3:14-18) Within a few short years, Jehovah brought the Babylonian army against his people. Jerusalem with its temple was destroyed, and most of the inhabitants did not survive. But those who had been marked for survival, as described by Ezekiel of the man with the secretary's inkhorn, had God's protection and even prospered in their place of exile, Babylon ― such as the prophet Daniel; and king Jehoiachin who surrendered to the Babylonian king. (2 Kings 24:12-15; 25:27-30; Dan. 1:3-7; 2:48,49)
If you are "sighing and groaning over all the detestable things" that are happening within God's household today; and you no longer enjoy attending the meetings in your Kingdom Hall, or even at the larger conventions, take courage. Don't feel that it is because you have lost God's spirit. Your sighing and groaning may actually be marking you for survival, as Jehovah sees your "streams of water" that "have run down [your] eyes over of the fact that they have not kept [God's] law." (Psalms 119:136; 2 Peter 2:7-9) Also, if you have come to view your sacred service to Jehovah ― such as preaching the good news of the kingdom ― as having become burdensome, and robbing you of your joy, then be assured that this burden is not from God. It is more likely that you are chafing under a heavy load that has been imposed upon you by men; and you mistakenly view it as from Jehovah. Jesus invited the people to "come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)
The heavy load that many are experiencing today originates with the foretold man of lawlessness. For example, the unscriptural doctrine regarding "Dedication" demands that God's people must "live up to their dedication" in order to receive everlasting life. And since such a thing is not mentioned in the Scriptures, this man of lawlessness is free to explain whatever he wants it to mean. (2 Thess. 2:3,4, 9; Acts 20:29,30; Gal. 4:15-17) Many years ago, a young married brother and father told me that he did not expect to survive Armageddon because he could not live up to his dedication, that is, all that the Society teaches is essential for survival. Worshiping Jehovah had become too great a burden for him. According to his understanding, this required him to attend all the meetings (which were three times a week back then); preparing for the meetings; commenting at the meetings; conducting a regular weekly family study; perhaps conducting a Bible study with an interested person; participating in the preaching activity, preferably twice a week, and spending at least the number of hours averaged by the congregation. This was especially hard since his job took him away from his family for a few days each month. Having lost the "joy of Jehovah," he was about to give up on himself.
In order for us to hold on to our God-given joy ― which is vital in helping us endure ― we need to distinguish between the things that God requires of us, and the needless burden that is placed upon us by men. (Matt. 23:1-4; 1 John 4:6) Remember, Jesus said that his yoke is kindly and his load is light. If your yoke and load has become heavy and burdensome, robbing you of your joy, then you can be certain that it is not the yoke Jesus invites you to accept. By means of his prophet Ezekiel, Jehovah addresses the wicked shepherds and accuses them of scattering his sheep, because "with harshness you have had them in subjection, even with tyranny." Soon, Jehovah will "break the bars of their yoke" and "deliver [his sheep] out of the hand of those who had been using them as slaves." (Ezek. 34:2-10, 26,27) Be assured that Jehovah cares for his sheep. He tells us: "You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people, and I am your God." (Ezekiel 34:31; NLT)
"It does not belong to you..."
Upon creating Adam, God told him: "Here I have given to you all vegetation bearing seed which is on the surface of the whole earth and every tree on which there is the fruit of a tree bearing seed. To you let it serve as food." The account in Genesis goes on to say that "Jehovah God made to grow out of the ground every tree desirable to one's sight and good for food and also the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and bad." (Gen. 1:29; 2:9) Adam was permitted to eat the fruit of every tree in the garden, with just the one exception, for God told him: "From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.” (Gen. 2:16,17)
Clearly, Adam had everything he needed in the way of food; he did not need to eat from the one tree that God commanded him to stay away from, not even to touch it. (Gen. 3:1-3) The tree of the knowledge of good and bad belonged to Jehovah. He kept it "in his own jurisdiction," and therefore it did not belong to man. To eat from the tree would be a violation of God's clearly stated command and an act of rebellion, the penalty for which would be death. (Acts 1:7; Rom. 5:12)
It was Adam's wife, Eve, who first ate from the forbidden tree when Satan, "the original serpent," deceived her by telling her that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad was going to give her knowledge that God was keeping from her. She began to look at the tree as "good for food and something to be longed for to the eyes." (1 Tim. 2:14; Rev. 12:9) Eve then offered the fruit also to her husband who accepted it. Thereby they both turned their backs on their Creator; and, as God had warned, they eventually died and returned to the dust from which they were created. (Gen. 3:6-19; 5:5)
What could possibly have induced Adam and Eve to violate God's clearly stated command not to eat from the one tree that was out of bounds for them? They lacked nothing! After all, they were permitted to eat from every other tree in the garden, including the "tree of life" that was in the middle of the garden, the fruit of which represented their right to life as long as they continued obedient to God; just as the tree of the knowledge of good and bad represented God's right to tell them what is good and bad, and the consequence for disobedience, namely death. Upon sinning, God removed them from the garden in order to prevent them from eating any further from the tree of life, to which they had now lost access. (Gen. 2:9, 16,17; 3:24; 1 Cor. 15:22; compare Rev. 2:7; 22:1,2)
We certainly do not want to be like Adam and Eve; and yet there is the danger that we too may be deceived into considering something as "good" -- yes, "something to be longed for" -- but which God "has placed in his own jurisdiction," and therefore does not belong to us; and the reaching out for it would be just as rebellious as were Adam and Eve.
The resurrected Jesus had shown himself to his disciples throughout forty days as proof that he had risen from the dead and to strengthen them. The time had arrived for him to ascend to heaven, and thus he was meeting with his disciples for the last time. Of course, they still had many questions regarding the kingdom that he had promised them and commissioned them to preach to all the nations. And so they were moved to ask: "Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” It is natural to want to know when certain events will happen in fulfillment of God's promises; but Jesus' blunt answer may have surprised them when he told them: “It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction"; or as other translations say, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority." (Acts 1:3, 6,7; Matt. 24:14; Luke 9:1,2; 12:32)
Jesus was not about to divulge the Father's times or seasons, not only because it did not belong to them to get that knowledge, but neither did he have the authority to provide that information. In fact, Jesus had told them earlier that even he did not receive that information from his Father. (Matt. 24:36) It goes without saying that since Jesus himself did not know "that day and hour," there is simply no way of calculating it, and searching for it in the Scriptures would be futile. But even more serious, it would be rebelling against God to try and get hold of the forbidden knowledge that we are told does not belong to us but to God alone. This is not any different from the command that God gave Adam and Eve regarding the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and bad. Like in their case, Satan can make something that is forbidden appear to be very attractive, even beneficial for us, so that we may be tempted to want to reach out for it. Even Satan himself would love to have that knowledge, for it would enable him to more effectively oppose God's kingdom. (1 Peter 1:10-12; Eph. 3:8-11)
Charles Taze Russell's attempt to calculate the times or seasons for the establishment of God's kingdom went directly contrary to Jesus' words. While he believed that Jesus had returned in 1875, he also had reckoned, according to his figures, that God's chosen ones would be taken up to heaven in 1914 to join Christ in his kingdom. Not surprisingly, this proved to be a great disappointment for everyone who put his trust in his prediction but still remained on earth by the following year. Yet, the succeeding president of the Watchtower Society, Joseph Rutherford, stuck with Russell's date of 1914, while at the same time discarding most of Russell's other teachings regarding God's "Divine Plan of the Ages." As Jesus had said, we cannot get to know the times or seasons which belong to Jehovah alone. Rather than being able to calculate a date, we have been given signs, events, which, when observed clearly indicate the nearness of God's kingdom; especially the prophecies that are fulfilled in connection with God's household in the last days. (Luke 21:28; 2 Tim. 3:1-7, 13) These signs are recorded for us in the Scriptures to familiarize ourselves with. Jesus told his disciples: "Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. In the same way, when you see the events taking place that I’ve described you can be just as sure that the Kingdom of God is near. I solemnly declare to you that when these things happen, the end of this age has come." (Luke 21:29-32, TLB)
We anxiously await "the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels," while in the meantime we lean on Jehovah to provide us everything we need to help us endure, and to keep our faith in his promises alive. James writes that "every good gift and every perfect present is from above, for it comes down from the Father of the celestial lights." (James 1:17) Our hearts fill with gratitude for Jehovah's many provisions; while at the same time we do not desire the things he has said do not belong to us --- the things he has kept for himself.
"Keep yourselves in God's love, while you are waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ with everlasting life in view." (Jude 21)
will know the truth, and the truth will set you free"
Can we know the truth? Jesus said: "If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31,32) Does that not sound like we can know the truth, when we accept Jesus' words; and that the truth sets us free from falsehood and deception? Jesus further said that "the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him." (John 4:23,24)
Many are of the opinion that we cannot know the truth at this time. That is undoubtedly due to the confusion created by the Watchtower's ever shifting ideas and teachings, which, although at one time were considered God's truth, have been abandoned in favor of some "new" or "updated" insight. But if we cannot know the truth, then neither can we worship Jehovah with spirit and truth, for God does not accept lies and errors mixed with his true worship. (Ezek. 13:6-10) Jesus emphatically told the scribes and Pharisees: "You have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition. You hypocrites, Isaiah aptly prophesied about you, when he said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, yet their heart is far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep worshiping me, because they teach commands of men as doctrines.’” (Matt. 15:3-9)
You see, when we make God's word invalid by teachings that contradict the Scriptures, then our worship is in vain. And when our worship is in vain, then we will miss out on the everlasting life that God has promised to those who obey him. (Heb. 5:9)
Can we know the truth? Yes, of course --- when we are taught by holy spirit. Paul says that it is "to us God has revealed [his hidden wisdom] through his spirit, for the spirit searches into all things, even the deep things of God." (1 Cor. 2:10) All of God's people have his spirit, which teaches us. In fact, we are God's temple and his spirit resides in us. (1 Cor. 3:16,17) We could lose that spirit, though, if we were to continually grieve it by rejecting the truth that we are taught by the spirit in favor of man-made teachings, doctrines, and traditions; such as we receive from the Watchtower Society, the teachings of which -- for the most part -- have been based on Joseph Rutherford's own peculiar interpretation of the Bible; which in turn he based on his then theory of types and anti-types (which idea the Watchtower recently abandoned, see WT 3/15/2015).
How can we be sure that what we are taught, by anyone, is indeed God's truth? We do as the Beroeans did to whom Paul preached the good news. They did not just accept every word he said, but were "carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11,12) We must do that too. Indeed, the apostle John tells us that it is our responsibility to do so if we do not want to fall victim to any false prophets. He says: "Test out the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world." (1 John 4:1) We are not so much in danger of the false prophets of this world, including those in Christendom, as we are in danger of the false prophets among own God's people. (2 Peter 2:1-3) That is why the apostle Paul warned: "I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise up and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves." (Acts 20:29,30)
The foretold "man of lawlessness" has seated himself within God's temple (the temple being God's people) where he has lifted himself up over everyone, including God's chosen ones ("everyone who is called 'god' or an object of reverence" --- compare Jude 8, 10,13). But, Paul foretold that his presence within God's temple is revealed in the days leading up to Jesus' return, "whom the Lord Jesus will do away with by the spirit of his mouth and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his presence." This "lawless" one's presence is not from Jehovah or Jesus, but rather is "according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents and with every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing, as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth that they might be saved. So that is why God lets an operation of error go to them, that they may get to believing the lie, in order that they all may be judged because they did not believe the truth." (2 Thess. 2:3-12)
In view of Paul's words, we can see why it is so important for us to know and understand the truth, in order to avoid falling prey to the "unrighteous deception" of the man of lawlessness, who is sitting in "opposition" to the truth. (v. 4) If there are those who prefer the lie -- including any elders in the congregations -- and they want to put their trust in man, then Jehovah allows them to "get to believing the lie." (Psalms 146:3,5; Ezek. 14:9,10) It is our personal and individual responsibility to read God's word, and familiarize ourselves with God's teachings; for only then will we be able to distinguish between "the inspired expression of truth and the inspired expression of error." (Psalms 1:1-3, 6; 1 John 4:6; 1 Tim. 4:1,2) God's Word alone is truth. God cannot lie! And he gives his "holy spirit to those asking him," in order that we may be taught the truth that is contained in his Word. (Luke 11:13; John 14:15-17, 26; 17:17; Rom. 3:4; 2 Peter 1:21)
The truth of God's word never changes. It never becomes outdated or obsolete. What we see happening within God's household at the present time proves the reliability of God's word regarding his people in the time of the end. We can put our trust and confidence in everything it says, which in turn serves as an anchor that keeps us from drifting away. (Matt. 26:54; Heb. 2:1; 6:19)
"No one has come to know the things of God, except the spirit of
(1 Corinthians 2:11)
What is God's spirit? God is holy, and therefore so is his spirit. In the Scriptures, God is spoken of in an illustrative way as a "sun." The sons of Korah sang, "Jehovah God is a sun and a shield. Favor and glory are what he gives!" (Psalms 84:11)
All life on earth is dependent on the sun, which is situated at just the perfect distance from the earth --- and not by coincidence. The sun is an incredible source of energy. It not only illuminates our earth, bathing it in light, but it also powers the weather and produces the abundant vegetation that supplies food for all living things. In many ways, it well illustrates the glory of Jehovah. Just as all life owes its existence to God, we also owe our continued existence to the sun that God created. Further, we cannot gaze at the brilliant sun with our naked eyes, without causing blindness. Similarly, it is impossible to look upon the Creator of the sun. When Moses requested to see God's face, God told him: "You are not able to see my face, because no man may see me and yet live." (Deut. 33:18-20) Of course, Jehovah must be greater in glory and power than all the things he has created, such as the universe with its billions of galaxies, each consisting of billions of stars, many of them dwarfing our own sun.
God is a spirit person who dwells in the spirit realm called heaven, and which is invisible to physical mankind. Since we cannot see God, he describes himself for us in terms that we humans can understand. There is no darkness at all with God, and when we walk with Him, we are said to be walking in his light, in contrast to those who are estranged from God, for they are dwelling in darkness. (Psalms 27:1; Isa. 30:26; 60:19,20; 1 Thess. 5:4,5)
The comparison in the Scriptures of Jehovah to that of the sun in glory and power, in an illustrative way, helps us to understand what his holy spirit is and how it operates; for his holy spirit is his glory and power that emanates from him, similar to the light and the power of the sun which makes possible and sustains the vast variety of life on earth. The basic fact is, there can be no life on earth without the sun and its life-giving power. In the same way, there can be no life anywhere apart from God and his holy spirit. Those who cut themselves off from God, also cut themselves off from his spirit and life, as the Scripture says: "If you conceal your face, they get disturbed. If you take away their spirit, they expire, And back to their dust they go. If you send forth your spirit, they are created; And you make the face of the ground new. The glory of Jehovah will prove to be to time indefinite. Jehovah will rejoice in his works." (Psalms 104:29-31)
God created all things by the power of his holy spirit. (Gen. 1:2) This spirit is not something separate from him. It is the very essence of who he is, his power and glory that emanates from him and by which he accomplishes his purpose. He can give his spirit to his creatures, which enlightens us; teaches us; empowers us; it can fill us, or reside in us; etc.. Jesus referred to God's spirit as a "helper," which we receive from the Father; and since Jehovah is the "God of truth" his spirit is "the spirit of the truth, which the world cannot receive." Also, since the spirit proceeds from God, it is at times personified, being referred to as "he." This does not mean that it is a person, distinct from God with its own personality. (Psalms 31:5; John 14:16,17, 26; 16:7,8)
What a blessing it is to have God's holy spirit in our lives. It is something that we should treasure and cling to at all cost, for it is evidence of God's favor upon us, and makes us the happiest people on earth. And not only that, it draws others to us when we display the fruitage of the spirit in our lives, such as "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, and self-control," the very things that personify God himself. It transforms us to be the sort of person who reflects God's qualities and personality. (Gal. 5:22,23; Eph. 4:20-24) When we are taught by holy spirit, we will not fall victim to "the unrighteous deception" of the man of lawlessness, who is sitting so prominently within God's temple. (2 Thess. 2:9-12) And another thing, when we appreciate what the holy spirit is, it also helps us to understand the seriousness of blaspheming the holy spirit, for which there is no forgiveness, as Jesus warned. (Matt. 12:12:31,32)
"You will not be able to witness to every town in Israel before the
Son of Man comes."
(Matthew 10:23; VOICE)
Back in the mid 1970s, we had a Circuit Overseer who in his spare time arranged tours to the Middle East ― mostly Egypt, Jordan, and Israel ― for the Brothers and Sisters who could afford to visit that part of the world. Upon returning from one such journey, one elder in our congregation commented on the fact that religion was an integral part of the countries he visited, and that there are comparatively few Witnesses to preach the good news of the kingdom, which was not officially permitted by the governments. He came away with the conclusion that therefore the end of this system of things must still be far off, as he was of the opinion that every person needs to hear about God's kingdom. And mind you, this was back in the days when the Society had us believe that Armageddon was just around the corner.
Was the brother correct in his assumption? Must the good news of the kingdom be preached in every nation, to every individual, before the end comes? (Matt. 24:14)
Regarding the signs of the "conclusion of the system of things" (end of age), Jesus included the fact that his disciples would be persecuted. (Matt. 24:3, 9-14) On an earlier occasion, he had told his disciples: "Further, brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise up against parents and will have them put to death. And you will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my name; but he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved. When they persecute you in one city, flee to another; for truly I say to you, you will by no means complete the circuit of the cities of Israel until the Son of man arrives." (Matt. 10:21-23; NWT)
Undaunted, when Jesus' disciples were persecuted they fled to other cities, where they zealously continued to preach the good news of "the kingdom of the heavens." Thus the persecution facilitated the spreading of the good news all over the Roman Empire. (Matt. 10:7; Acts 8:1-6; 13:50,51) Although the preaching work is God's "holy work" (NWT) for us, yet, as Jesus indicated, we will not be able to witness to every town or city, or country, or individual, before his return. (Rom. 15:16) Thus, we should not expect the preaching work to open up in every country or territory where it is now under ban or restrictions.
But, would it not be unjust on God's part not to give every person the same opportunity to hear the good news of his kingdom, and let every informed individual decide for himself whether to accept or reject it?
The fact is, mankind has had ample opportunity to become acquainted with the good news of God's kingdom for the past two thousand years; the information of which is contained in the book that he has lovingly provided―the Bible; and which has been available to the vast majority of people of all nations. How much longer does mankind need before they are willing to listen to God? He has his own appointed time for when he will hold all people accountable. (Zeph. 1:14-18; 2 Peter 3:8-10) It is not due to any fault on God's part that most people have rejected his message, for they have "accumulated teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled," while they are putting their trust in the false prophets who present themselves as leaders, and who have made God's word invalid by their own doctrines, teachings and traditions, in accord with their own selfish interests. (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 4:1-5; Matt. 15:6-9, 14; Acts 20:29,30; Rom. 1:18-32)
And yet, because the preaching of the good news of the kingdom originates with Jehovah, he is seeing to it that every right-hearted person ― wherever he may reside ― receives the opportunity to become acquainted with him. How? Do you realize that Jehovah's holy angels are not only assisting us in this work, but they are actually in charge of the preaching work; and that we are simply "God's fellow workers"? (Luke 19:40; 1 Cor. 3:9; Heb. 1:14) The apostle John saw in vision an "angel flying in midheaven, and he had everlasting good news to declare as glad tidings to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people." (Rev. 14:6; Matt. 28:18-20) It was an angel that directed Philip to approach the Ethiopian eunuch, an official in the court of queen Candace of Ethiopia, to explain to him the good news about Jesus; with the result that this man became a baptized disciple. Would Philip have known about this devout man without the angel's guidance? (Acts 8:26-40; 10:1-8, 30-33) Many of God's zealous servants today can testify that they have been guided to a right-hearted person under unusual circumstances, who rejoiced upon learning of God's kingdom. Perhaps you, too, can relate a personal experience, either of finding someone who was hungering for righteousness; or having one of God's servants find you. (Matt. 5:6)
In view of all this, should we not take serious our commission to preach the good news of the kingdom, "in favorable season, in troublesome season"? (Mark 13:10; 2 Tim. 4:2) What is our personal responsibility before God in this?
Since the time has now arrived for God to reveal the presence of the man of lawlessness within his temple, resulting in the exposing of the many errors and lies that have been taught in God's name, some of God's servants have become confused and apprehensive about continuing to participate in proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, not being sure how to proceed when someone displays interest. (2 Thess. 2:3,4, 9,10; 1 Cor. 3:16,17) Jesus assured us that "the worker is worthy of his wages"; and the apostle Paul encourages us "not [to] give up in doing what is fine, for in due season we shall reap if we do not tire out." (Luke 10:7; Gal. 6:9) So, please, keep in mind that we are engaging in "the holy work of the good news of God" (ἱερουργοῡντα τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῡ θεοῡ), and not that of men; and that our reward of everlasting life comes from Jehovah. (Rom. 15:16; Col. 3:23,24) Jesus is the one who has been appointed by God to be judge of everyone, and therefore it is not our business to judge anyone, including the man of lawlessness. (Acts 10:42; Jude 9,10)
We do not need to include unscriptural details in our preaching of the good news of the kingdom, such as telling people God's kingdom was established in 1914. By strictly confining our message to God's inspired word, we will appeal to right-hearted people who are yearning for an answer to present day problems, giving them a hope for a bright future under God's rulership. (Isa. 65:17-25; Rev. 11:15-18; 21:3-5) And since Jesus is the head of the congregations, we should not hesitate to invite interested persons to our meetings; perhaps reasoning that we do not want to expose them to the lies of the Society; and thereby be depriving them of becoming "members of the household of God." (Eph. 2:19; 4:15,16; Rev. 1:9-11, 20) In his illustration of the dragnet, Jesus showed that all sorts of persons will respond to the preaching of the good news, yet not everyone will be suitable for the kingdom. And just as the angels are having a vital part in the preaching of the kingdom, so too they remove anyone who does not belong in God's kingdom. (Matt. 13:47-49) The judging does not belong to us; but the preaching work does! Since it is from God, it will be accomplished. Therefore, may you continue to have a share in it according to your ability!
"The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful
in your prayers."
(1 Peter 4:7; NKJV)
When you read the letters of the apostles Peter and John and Paul; and the two half-brothers of Jesus, James and Jude; yes, also Jesus' own words, including his letters to the Seven Congregations; can you sense the immediacy that those Bible writers expressed in their endeavor to encourage and admonish the disciples in the first century regarding the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ? (Matt. 24:42, 44; Rom. 13:11,12; 1 Thess. 5:4-6; Rev. 2:16; 3:11; 22:7) Has perhaps the passing of two thousand years greatly diminished your own sense of urgency?
As the first century was drawing to a close, John, the last surviving member of the twelve apostles, had seen many troubling developments within the congregations, as these had grown and expanded in a few short years throughout the Roman Empire. The troubling developments included the appearance of false Christs and apostates, even as foretold by Jesus. (Matt. 24:23-26) John's words express a certain urgency, when he wrote: "Children, it is the last hour [the end of this age]; and just as you heard that the antichrist is coming [the one who will oppose Christ and attempt to replace Him], even now many antichrists (false teachers) have appeared, which confirms our belief that it is the last hour." (1 John 2:18; Amplified Bible)
The presence of false teachers in many of the congregations like Pergamum, Thyatira, even Corinth; and overseers like Diotrephes, may have led the apostle John to believe that it was the last hour. Or, perhaps, John was also keenly aware of the urgency of the time because of what Jesus had said in reply to Peter's question as to what would become of John. Jesus had answered Peter with the words: "If it is my will for him to remain until I come, of what concern is that to you?" John explains that "In consequence, this saying went out among the brothers, that that disciple would not die." Of course, that is not what Jesus had said! (John 21:20-24; 3 John 9,10; Rev. 2:14-16, 20-23) The apostle John himself may have understood Jesus' words to mean that he would remain until Jesus' return, and, since he was well along in years, he may have reasoned that it was now the last hour and that Jesus was "standing at the door." (John 14:1-4; Rev. 3:20; 22:12, 20) And, yet, although John believed that it was the last hour in his day, almost two thousand years ago, that does not make "the last hour" of his less meaningful for us today; for Paul explains that "Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us"... "who live at the end of the age." (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11, NLT)
You see, it doesn't matter why John believed that the end of all things was at hand in his day, for the things that are written in the Scriptures are really meant for us, "upon whom the ends of the system of things have arrived." (1 Cor. 10:11; NWT) It is meant for our instruction and our encouragement, in order for us to be able to endure our present tribulation that Jesus said we would experience. (Matt. 24:10-13; John 16:1-4; 2 Tim. 3:1-7)
God's people have always been in the minority and few in number when compared to the world that "is lying in the power of the wicked one." But that does not make us insignificant―no, not in God's eyes; for God's people are the ones about whom, and for whom, the Bible was written. (1 John 5:19; Heb. 11:32-39) Ever since the rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden, mankind has had to choose between two very distinct and opposite sides: either Jehovah's side which revolves around his true worship; or the opposing side belonging to Satan, "who is misleading the entire inhabited earth," ― whose earth has been partitioned into the countless religious and political divisions. (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:9) For that reason, Jehovah requires that his people keep themselves separate and "without spot" from the world. (James 1:27; 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Cor. 10:20-22) We cannot be part of the world and at the same time be a member of God's house. (2 Cor. 6:14-18; James 4:4)
The amazing yet disturbing events that are now happening within God's house, in fulfillment of Bible prophecies, goes unnoticed by the world; just as the outpouring of the holy spirit at Pentecost in the first century was a non-event to the Jews who had rejected Jesus. But we, who have understanding of the significance of the present unfolding events among God's people, are heeding Jesus' admonition to "keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man." (Luke 21:34-36)
Jehovah must judge his own people first, for how, otherwise, could he judge the world? Paul explains: "When we do wrong, that shows more clearly that God is right. So can we say that God does wrong when he punishes us? (That’s the way some people think.) Of course not. If God could not punish us, how could he judge the world?" (Rom. 3:4-6, ERV) Seeing that God's judgment starts with his own house, should we not expect certain developments that would provide evidence of that? (1 Peter 4:17,18; Dan. 11:35) Actually, the world has already been judged! God passed judgment upon Satan and his world of mankind immediately upon the rebellion in Eden. Jesus explains that "he that does not exercise faith has been judged already, because he has not exercised faith in the name of the only-begotten Son of God." (John 3:18; 12:31)
While the judgment has already been determined upon all who refuse to put faith in the only "name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved," yet, there still remains the need to identify and judge the members of God's house. That is because not everyone claiming to worship Jehovah is in fact acknowledged by him as belonging to him, as Jesus said and also illustrated in his parable of the wheat and the weeds, and the dragnet. (Acts 4:12; Matt. 13:36-43, 47-49) God's people will be judged, not by who or what they profess to be, or claim to have done, but by their obedience to God. That is why Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." The prophet Malachi speaks of the time when Jehovah will set apart his true worshipers, for then we will again "see the distinction between a righteous one and a wicked one, between one serving God and one who has not served him.” (Matt. 7:21-23; ESV; Mal. 3:17,18; 4:1-3)
Do you feel the urgency of the present time, as did the apostle John, that "the end of all things is at hand"? (Compare 2 Peter 3:1-4, 9-13) We can find comfort in knowing that our present persecution from within the congregation, or from our family members, will soon come to an end, "at the revelation of our Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus." (Matt. 10:32-39; 2 Thess. 1:6-10)
When Jesus' indicated just how difficult it will be to get into the kingdom, his disciples were moved to ask: "Who really can be saved?" Jesus answered them by saying: "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matt. 19:24-26; Rom. 7:17-25) For us to "endure to the end" is not a matter of survival of the fittest, but rather the outcome for everyone who has put his steadfast trust in Jehovah; and not in men. That requires that we "keep [ourselves] in God's love, while [we] are waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ with everlasting life in view." (Jude 21; Psalms 146:3,5)
"We don’t speak about these things with words taught us by human wisdom,
but with words taught by the Spirit"
(1 Corinthians 2:13, ISV)
Jesus never quoted from the Watchtower―no, not once! This may cause some to wonder, how then were the disciples able to learn the truth? Although Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived, yet his disciples failed to understand many of the things he taught. Toward the end of his ministry, Jesus said to them: "I have many things yet to say to you, but you are not able to bear them at present. However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide you into all the truth." Jesus called the spirit of the truth "the helper, the holy spirit, which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I told you." (John 16:12,13; 14:25,26; )
It is not any man or group of men that can make us understand the truth of God's Word; but rather it is "the helper," God's holy spirit, that teaches us "even the deep things of God." Paul explains: "We don’t speak about these things with words taught us by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, as we explain spiritual things to spiritual people. A person who isn’t spiritual doesn’t accept the things of God’s Spirit, for they are nonsense to him. He can’t understand them because they are spiritually evaluated." (1 Cor. 2:10, 13; ISV)
The same holy spirit that inspired the writing of the Scriptures will also teach you the truth of the Scriptures. (John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16,17; 2 Peter 1:20,21) Have you ever wondered how exactly the holy spirit teaches us, in practical terms? Permit me to relate one of my own experiences regarding this, which will likewise apply to everyone who asks for understanding, for God "gives generously to all and without reproaching." (Luke 11:9-13; James 1:5)
A few years ago, when a brother who had recently come to understand that we "are all, in fact sons of God through our faith in Christ Jesus," he wrote and asked if that means we are also all "born again," as Jesus told Nicodemus. (Gal. 3:26; John 3:3, 7) I had to admit that I did not at the time have the answer, and invited him to share with me any research he was doing. I had discussed this subject many times with a close friend, but we never reached a consensus as to the meaning of the term "born again," since there seemed to be no specific Scripture we could point to. We wondered: Does it refer to the 144,000 when they are anointed, as taught by the Watchtower Society? or does it apply to all Christians who accept Jesus as their Saviour, as many religions of Christendom believe? or does it perhaps apply to the heavenly resurrection, when "this which is corruptible puts on incorruption, and this which is mortal puts on immortality," as some have suggested. (1 Cor. 15:50-54)
While lying in bed one night, wondering about the subject of Born Again, I turned to Jehovah in prayer and asked: "Please help me understand what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus that he must be born again." Immediately the words of Isaiah came to mind: "Before she began to come into labor pains she gave birth. Before birth pangs could come to her, she even gave deliverance to a male child. Who has heard of a thing like this? Who has seen things like these? Will a land be brought forth with labor pains in one day? Or will a nation be born at one time? For Zion has come into labor pains as well as given birth to her sons." (Isa. 66:7,8) I turned on the light beside my bed, got up and went over to the desk where I had my Bible. Although I knew the Scripture was somewhere in Isaiah, I didn't quite remember where. But when I opened my Bible, it opened right on that very page. I read the two verses several times, including the surrounding verses, but could not make any sense of what that Scripture had to do with my question.
So I went back to bed, turned off the light, and once more asked the same question. Again, Isaiah's words returned vividly in my head, but this time there were also the words of Jeremiah where God promises to make "a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." I was familiar with this Scripture because I had recently studied Paul's explanation of it. (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13) I got out off bed again and began to read the verses in Jeremiah several times, but failed to see any connection with the one in Isaiah. Therefore I asked Jehovah: What do the two Scriptures have in common? I understood that the nation of Israel became God's people at Mount Sinai, at which time God made his covenant with them. But was there a definite Scripture that stated that? I figured that such a Scripture would most likely be in Deuteronomy. (I have read the entire Bible through several times, and am surprised―no, disappointed―to have retained so little as not to remember such Scriptures.) As I opened my Bible, for the second time it fell open to the exact page I was looking for, Deuteronomy 29:10-18.
As I read Moses' words about the people entering "into the covenant of Jehovah...for the purpose of establishing you today as his people," the question occurred to me: Were the people not already God's people while in Egypt? Did Jehovah not deliver his people out of Egypt? How, then, did they become God's people at Mount Sinai? There seemed to be a discrepancy, and again I turned to Jehovah for help. The thought came to me that the answer may lie in what Jehovah told Moses to say to Pharaoh; and that most likely would be found in the first few chapters of Exodus. Surprisingly, I did not have to search for it, for again, the third time, the Bible fell open right to that Scripture where Moses is told to say to the king of Egypt: "This is what Jehovah has said: 'Israel is my son, my firstborn. And I say to you: Send my son away that he may serve me. But should you refuse to send him away, here I am killing your son, your firstborn.'" (Exodus 4:22,23)
And with that Scripture, a whole new understanding came to mind, things I had never thought of before nor read anywhere. Jehovah was symbolically comparing the birth of his people to the birth of a son―his firstborn. Whereas it takes nine months from conception to the natural birth in humans, the birth of the nation of Israel took about four hundred years, from the birth of Isaac―when the nation was conceived―to its eventual birth at Mount Sinai. (Gen. 15:1-7; 17:1-14, 19; 18:1-3, 9-14) Isaac came to have two sons, Esau and Jacob, and Jehovah chose Jacob through whom the blessings would come. Jacob in turn became father to twelve sons, who became the twelve tribes of Israel; and by the time Jacob and his family moved into Egypt Jacob's family had increased to seventy. (Gen. 28:13-16; 46:26,27) Jehovah brought them into Egypt in order to protect them from being absorbed by the Canaanites. (Gen. 34:1-4, 8,9, 20-24; Deut. 7:3,4) Egypt, which was the prominent power at the time, served as a womb for God's firstborn son, Israel, within which the nation could grow in security and become strong until the time of birth. (Gen. 47:3-5; Job 31:15) But the birth was not going to be without "labour pains," for it took ten plagues and the destruction of the pursuing Egyptian army in the Red Sea to attain their delivery. (Exodus 1:1-14)
With all this, I also came to understand the relevance of Isaiah's words. With the inauguration of the new covenant the old covenant became obsolete, as Paul explains. (Heb. 8:13) Unlike the previous birth of God's firstborn son at Mount Sinai, God's sons under the new covenant would be born in "one day," "at one time," yes, "before she [Zion] began to come into labor pains she gave birth." This was fulfilled at Pentecost with the outpouring of the holy spirit, at which time the new covenant became operational. It happened so suddenly that even the disciples were caught by surprise. (Acts 2:1-4, 43-47) Isaiah's words that "Zion has come into labor pains as well as given birth to her sons," was fulfilled in the persecution that accompanied the birth of the nation under the new covenant. (Acts 4:1-4, 13-22; 5:17-20, 27-32; 8:1-3)
With all that, I finally came to understand what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus that he and the nation needed to be "born again," namely, he needed to be born into the new covenant of which Jesus is the mediator. This was in reply to Nicodemus' words, "Rabbi, we know that you as a teacher have come from God; for no one can perform these signs that you perform unless God is with him." Jesus was right in telling Nicodemus: "Are you a teacher of Israel and yet do not know these things?" As a teacher, Nicodemus should have been familiar with the prophecy that foretold that God would raise up a prophet from among the midst of their brothers, like Moses, who would speak the words of God. And he should also have known Isaiah's prophecy and that of Jeremiah regarding the new covenant. (Deut. 18:17-20) Paul's words to the Ephesians that "God made you alive though you were dead in your trespasses and sins," does not apply to Jesus' words to Nicodemus. Paul was writing to Gentiles who were "without Christ, alienated from the state of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, and you had no hope and were without God in the world." That certainly did not apply to Nicodemus. (Eph. 2:1,2, 11-18) For further details see the article, "Born Again" ― What did Jesus mean?
We are all taught by Jehovah. He gives his people his holy spirit generously, in order to help us understand even the deep things of his word; without which we could not come to know anything, even if Jesus himself were our teacher. (John 6:45, 60-66; Luke 11:13)
"In Eden, the garden of God, you proved to be."
When God created Adam and Eve, they were perfect―without any defect; and they had everything they needed―there was nothing lacking. God purposed a bright and endless future for our original parents, as he blessed them and gave them the meaningful and enjoyable assignment to "be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it." (Gen 1:26-28; 2:7, 15) So, what went wrong? How is it that a perfect man, who is created in God's own image, can sin? Sin means "missing the mark." Can a perfect person "miss the mark" by falling short? Would that not indicate something lacking? Please consider what perfection does not mean.
Being perfect did not mean for Adam to be all-knowing. After he was created he had to learn about his Creator, not only by studying his amazing surrounding but also by communicating with his heavenly Father. He had to become familiar with his home, which included the abundant variety of foods available to him. And he had to learn about the animals by observing them and interacting with them, since God had given him the work of assigning names to them. (Genesis 2:19,20) Jehovah intended to educate Adam, and since he was perfect he would be able to retain the information easily, having a perfect memory―no brain fog. And, in turn, what Adam learned he could teach to his future offspring.
Although perfect, there were many things Adam could not do simply because he was not designed for it. For example, he might run with the animals, but not necessarily outrun them. He clearly could not fly like the birds, no matter how much he might have desired to soar like an eagle. His ability to dive under water depended entirely on how long he could hold his breath. Perfection did not mean that he would not get tired. (John 4:6) Neither does perfection require a golfer to get a hole-in-one every time he swings his golf club; nor a musician to be able to sit in front of a piano for his first time and play a complicated piece of classical music without any practice or lessons.
Consider Jesus for example. He was born without sin, and like Adam he was perfect. Yet, he could not walk as soon as he was born, but like all of us, had to learn that. He probably stumbled a few times before he became proficient at it, until he was finally able to run. He also had to learn to talk, and later learn from his father Joseph the carpentry skills. Does perfection demand that he did everything "perfectly" the first time? He needed to be educated, although he must have been an excellent student. By the time he was twelve years of age the teachers in the temple "were in constant amazement at his understanding and his answers." (Luke 2:46,47) Perfection enabled Jesus to take in information, retain it, recall it when needed, and apply it far better than we are able to do in our present imperfect condition. (Matthew 13:54)
Adam too had to acquire knowledge and skills, which would take time and might even include making mistakes, such as stumbling over an obstacle. In order to shield man from the consequences of any serious mistakes, Jehovah God lovingly provided him protection in the form of a powerful—yet invisible to humans—spirit person, a cherub, to "cover" or screen man from any serious harm. (In the same way that Jehovah screened, or covered, Moses when Moses got a glimpse of God's glory. ―Ex. 33:21-23) He was to be man's "covering"—or guardian—angel. (Compare Luke 4:9-11; Psalms 91:10-12) This cherub was "an angelic creature of high rank having special duties, distinguished from the order of seraphs... In [Ezekiel’s] pictorial visions the cherubs are intimately associated with the glorious personage of Jehovah and constantly attendant upon him." —INSIGHT ON THE SCRIPTURES, Vol. 1, page 431,
But rather than prove himself to be the protector God had anointed him to be, this once glorious cherub became responsible for man's fall from perfection, when he succeeded in getting Eve to rebel against God's clearly stated command not to eat of the "tree of the knowledge of good and bad," and Eve in turn induced Adam to join her. (Gen. 2:16,17; 3:1-13) Just as a sinful person can do good, because he wants to, in the same way a perfect person can also do bad, if that is what he chooses to do. (Compare Ezekiel 33:18,19)
The Bible reveals the following about this anointed covering cherub: "This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: 'You are sealing up a pattern, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. In Eden, the garden of God, you proved to be. Every precious stone was your covering, ruby, topaz and jasper; chrysolite, onyx and jade; sapphire, turquoise and emerald; and of gold was the workmanship of your settings and your sockets in you. In the day of your being created they were made ready. You are the anointed cherub that is covering, and I have set you. On the holy mountain of God you proved to be. In the midst of fiery stones you walked about. You were faultless in your ways from the day of your being created until unrighteousness was found in you. Because of the abundance of your sales goods they filled the midst of you with violence, and you began to sin. And I shall put you as profane out of the mountain of God, and I shall destroy you, O cherub that is covering, from the midst of the fiery stones. Your heart became haughty because of your beauty. You brought your wisdom to ruin on account of your beaming splendor. Onto the earth I will throw you. Before kings I will set you, [for them] to look upon you.'" (Ezekiel 28:12-17)
Being anointed by God rightfully placed this cherub in the Garden of Eden. He had been given his position of authority in the same way that Jehovah has entrusted other servants of his with authority to watch over his people, such as in the case of Moses, Saul, David, Jeroboam, and many others, including of course Jesus and his twelve apostles. (Num. 12:7; Heb. 3:1,2; 5:4-6; 2 Sam. 7:8; Matt. 28:18; 24:45-47; Luke 12:32) Having received his authority from Jehovah, this anointed cherub could later say to Jesus when tempting him, "I will give you all this authority and the glory of them, because it has been delivered to me, and to whomever I wish I give it." (Luke 4:6; John 12:31)
Seeing that this high ranking cherub had been anointed by God, can we blame God when an anointed servant of his becomes presumptuous on account of his position of authority, such as was the case with king Saul; king Jeroboam; Judas Iscariot; or even some present day "anointed" ones who have rebelled against God by lifting themselves up over their fellow brothers, in imitation of the anointed covering cherub who made himself Satan the Devil? (1 Sam. 13:13,14; 1 Kings 14:6-11; Acts 1:15-20; 2 Cor. 1:21; Rev. 12:9) Jehovah has promised that he will remove all such rebellious ones at his appointed time, and "break up the works of the Devil." This means that he will yet succeed in having righteous mankind live forever upon the paradise earth that Adam failed to bring about. (2 Thess. 2:3,4, 8-10; 1 John 3:8; Isaiah 25:8,9; Rev. 21:1-4)
"Woe to the stupid prophets, who...have waited to have a word come true."
How do we identify a true prophet from a false prophet, or vice versa? The Scriptures warn against following false prophets, while at the same time requiring us to listen to the prophet from Jehovah. For example, Moses was appointed by Jehovah as his prophet and leader of his people, and it was absolutely necessary for the people to listen to him. Any revolt against Moses was a revolt against God himself! (Num. 12:1-9; 16:1-3, 11, 23, 28-35, 41-50) Jehovah further foretold that at some future time he would raise up a prophet like Moses from among his people, to whom they would need to listen, saying: "A prophet I shall raise up for them from the midst of their brothers, like you; and I shall indeed put my words in his mouth, and he will certainly speak to them all that I shall command him. And it must occur that the man who will not listen to my words that he will speak in my name, I shall myself require an account from him." Then Jehovah added this warning: “‘However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded him to speak or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die." (Deut. 18:18-20; John 12:44-50) The foretold prophet like Moses proved to be Jesus Christ, who became the mediator of the new covenant. (John 5:46,47; Heb. 3:1-6; 9:15)
Seeing that it was vital to listen to God's approved prophet, while at the same time not falling victim to a false prophet, the question God's people naturally asked was: "How shall we know the word that Jehovah has not spoken?" Jehovah's answer? "When the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true, that is the word that Jehovah did not speak. With presumptuousness the prophet spoke it," adding, "You must not get frightened at him." (Deut. 18:21,22) Clearly, a false prophet is identified when he speaks in God's name and his words fail to come true. That is very basic ― and there are no exceptions! But it may take time for the words to be proven a lie, often many years, during which time the false prophet may exploit his presumed position as God's prophet to the harm of the people. (Isaiah 29:9-14; Matt. 15:3-9)
That was the case in the days of Jehovah's prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, whose words from God were contradicted and opposed by the self-appointed false prophets. Jehovah called them "stupid" because they "waited to have a word come true," imagining that because of speaking in God's name he would be obligated to make their personal visions and predictions come about. That was stupid indeed; and so were the people who put their trust in them! (Ezek. 13:3; 14:9,10; Jer. 23:16-22, 30-32) God's people were not so much in danger of the false prophets of the nations as they were of their own false prophets, such as Hananiah who was prophesying "in the house of Jehovah before the eyes of the priests and of all the people." (Jer. 28:1-9, 15-17; 2 Chron. 18:6,7, 12,13)
Should we be surprised that false prophets, like Hananiah, are also to be found among God's people today, "in the house of Jehovah"? The apostle Peter foretold: "But even in those days there were false prophets, just as there will be false teachers among you today. They will be men who will subtly introduce dangerous heresies. They will thereby deny the Lord who redeemed them, and it will not be long before they bring on themselves their own downfall. Many will follow their pernicious teaching and thereby bring discredit on the way of truth. In their lust to make converts these men will try to exploit you too with their bogus arguments. But judgment has been for some time hard on their heels and their downfall is inevitable." (2 Peter 2:1-3; PHILLIPS) Jesus also forewarned of the presence of false prophets among God's people in the time leading up to his return (presence), when he said: "For false Christs (anointed ones) and false prophets will arise and will give great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones." (Matt. 24:24,25; Acts 20:29,30)
In his second letter to the congregation in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul goes even further in identifying the false prophets and false teachers within God's house, whom he calls collectively "the man of lawlessness" and "the son of destruction," explaining that "he is set in opposition and lifts himself up over everyone who is called 'god' or an object of reverence, so that he sits down in the temple of The God, publicly showing himself to be a god." God's temple is his people, and that is where the man of lawlessness is ruling, exercising authority over God's people that he claims he received from God; but in reality his presence is "according to the operation of Satan." (2 Thess. 2:3-12; 1 Cor. 3:16,17; 1 Tim. 3:15)
Jehovah says that a false prophet is anyone who speaks "in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true. With presumptuousness the prophet spoke it." That was also the case of Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, who believed that Jesus had returned in 1874 (as did other clergymen), and for forty years sounded the warning that the Gentile Times of Luke 21:24 ("the appointed times of the nations," NWT) would end in 1914; at which time God's kingdom would begin its rule, and the disciples would be taken up to heaven. He also expected the nations to meet their end at Armageddon with that event. (jv 134-135; w90 10/15 19) The outbreak of World War I in 1914 seemed to vindicate his prophecy―at least for a few short years. Russell died in 1916, and so he did not see that his expectations went unfulfilled, as the Great War ended in November of 1918 and the nations had not met their end; and neither had the disciples gone to be with Jesus.
Joseph Rutherford, who succeeded Russell as president of the secular Watchtower Society in 1917, rejected many of Russell's teachings, and reinterpreted the Scriptures according to his own fascination with Types and Anti-Types, upon which he based many, if not most, of his beliefs―interpreting every past event recorded in the Scriptures as having a modern fulfillment, or anti-type. (This idea has been rejected with the March 15, 2015 Watchtower.) He also expected that the year 1925 would see "the fulfillment of marvelous Bible prophecies, believing that at that time the earthly resurrection would begin, bringing back faithful men of old, such as Abraham, David, and Daniel," and for that reason even purchased a house for them to live in. But to their great disappointment, the expected resurrection did not occur and the property was eventually sold.
The same Awake! article quoted above, further stated that "more recently, many Witnesses came to believe that events associated with the beginning of Christ’s Millennial Reign might start to take place in 1975. Their anticipation was based on the understanding that the seventh millennium of human history would begin then." Further, in the 1960s and early 70s, we were assured that we would not grow old in this system and therefore it would be pointless to pursue a career in this world. To the hurt and great disappointment of many, this has proved to be also false as these ones have grown old, and many are now destitute because of not having planned for their retirement in this system. And what can be said about the promise that the generation of 1914 would not pass away before Armageddon, but which ran out of time in the mid 1990s? These are just some examples of promises made in God's name, but which proved to be lies. (See Awake! 1995 6/22 p. 9 Can You Trust God’s Promises?; Also Awake! May 22, 1969, p. 15; Kingdom Ministry May 1974, p. 3)
The above Awake! article, entitled "Can You Trust God’s Promises?", explained away the failed prophecies this way, saying: "These erroneous views did not mean that God’s promises were wrong, that he had made a mistake. By no means! The mistakes or misconceptions, as in the case of first-century Christians, were due to a failure to heed Jesus’ caution, ‘You do not know the time.’ The wrong conclusions were due, not to malice or to unfaithfulness to Christ, but to a fervent desire to realize the fulfillment of God’s promises in their own time."
Jehovah has nothing to do with their "erroneous views," their lies. How blasphemous to even question whether we can trust God's promises because of their own failed expectations; or to explain them away as a good thing, a "desire to realize the fulfillment of God’s promises in their own time." The truth of the matter is that the false prophets within God's house "have visioned what is untrue and a lying divination, those who are saying, 'The utterance of Jehovah is,' when Jehovah himself has not sent them, and they have waited [in vain, we might add] to have a word come true." (Ezek. 13:6-10) Right up to the present day, the governing body, identified as "the man of lawlessness," has continued to perpetuate the lie that Jesus returned in 1914 and has been ruling in his heavenly kingdom ever since, contrary to Jesus' own words as recorded at Luke 21:29-32. Jehovah tells us not to become frightened at them, for their "judgment has been for some time hard on their heels and their downfall is inevitable." (John 16:1-4; 1 John 4:1, 6)
"He That Sent Me is Real, and You Do Not Know Him"
How well do you know Jehovah? How real is he to you? Although the Israelites were God's people, they did not know Him. Through Jeremiah his prophet, Jehovah said to them: “And I gradually brought you to a land of the orchard, to eat its fruitage and its good things. But you came in and defiled my land; and my own inheritance you made something detestable. The priests themselves did not say, ‘Where is Jehovah?’ And the very ones handling the law did not know me; and the shepherds themselves transgressed against me, and even the prophets prophesied by Baal, and after those who could bring no benefit they walked." (Jer. 2:7,8)
We might think that the nation of Israel would have known their God Jehovah. After all, they had Abraham as their father; and Abraham certainly knew Jehovah―being called "Jehovah's friend." (John 8:39; James 2:23) Jehovah was also the God of Abraham's son Isaac, and Isaac's son Jacob, both of whom had likewise come to know Jehovah personally. (Luke 20:37,38; Gen. 26:12, 24,25; 28:10-19) But with the passing of more than 400 years, from the time God had first promised Abraham to make his seed as numerous as "the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore," his "seed" did not know the God of their forefathers. That was perhaps mainly due to the fact that the children born to the seventy souls of Jacob's house, who had moved into Egypt, came under the influence of the Egyptians and their gods; having learned what they knew about their God Jehovah only from what their fathers and grandfathers related to them. (Gen. 22:17; 46:3,4, 26,27)
When Jehovah sent Moses to deliver his people Israel out of Egypt, they did not know Jehovah. ( Ex. 12:40,41) That is why Moses asked: "Suppose I am now come to the sons of Israel and I do say to them, 'The God of your forefathers has sent me to you,' and they do say to me, 'What is his name?' What shall I say to them?" At this God said to Moses: "This is what you are to say to the sons of Israel, 'Jehovah the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name to time indefinite, and this is the memorial of me to generation after generation." (Ex. 3:13-15) The Israelites quickly learned that their true God Jehovah was far superior to all the gods of Egypt when he brought the ten plagues upon the Egyptians, which resulted in their freedom. Not only did his people need to unlearn the ways of the Egyptians and their false worship, but they also needed to become acquainted with Jehovah on a personal level, as had been true of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob [Israel].
How would every individual of Jehovah's liberated people come to know Him? Jehovah purposed to make himself known by his dealings with them. For that reason he was going to lead them through the hostile and barren wilderness, where such a great multitude would surely have perished without his loving and timely provisions and protection. In the wilderness they would be alone with Jehovah! Hence, after having destroyed the pursuing Egyptian army in the Red Sea, Jehovah directed Moses to lead his people into the wilderness of Shur, where they marched for three days without having any water. Of course they were very thirsty by then, probably barely able to walk! They had witnessed Jehovah's great power in their deliverance from the Egyptians, but they also needed to come to know his other qualities besides his power, such as his love and justice and mercy; and his insistence on obedience!
When they finally found water at Marah, it was bitter so that they could not drink it. How did they respond? The account tells us that "the people began to murmur against Moses, saying: 'What are we to drink?'" Moses then cried out to Jehovah, and "Jehovah directed him to a tree, and he threw it into the water and the water became sweet." It says that "there [Jehovah] put them to the test," that is, he tested their faith under suffering. Did they really doubt that Jehovah would come to their aid, after having delivered them out of Egypt just to perish in the wilderness? Genuine faith is not a one-time matter but is constant, even in the face of adversity! (Ex. 15:22-27; Heb. 11:1,2, 8, 17-19) Sadly, time and again the entire assembly would rebel against Jehovah when confronted with suffering, even threatening to return to Egypt.
The two years of wandering in the wilderness was to serve as a get-acquainted with Jehovah occasion, for it was Jehovah's way of giving every individual among his people the opportunity to come to know him; just as their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had trusted in Him. He had purposed to lead them through the great wilderness for only two years (still a lengthy time, considering the hostile environment in company with such a large crowd), which included the visit to Mount Sinai, where he entered into the covenant with them that established them as his people; and where he gave them his Laws by which to live and worship him. (Deut. 29:10-18; 30:19,20)
The two years in their harsh environment, where they daily needed to rely on Jehovah, should have been ample time to get acquainted with their God. They needed the faith in order to take possession of the land of Canaan, which God had promised to their forefather Abraham. (Gen. 13:14-17; Deut. 8:10-20) Yet, they failed to enter the land, although having reached its boundary. Why? Because they feared the Canaanites! They had learned nothing during their two years of wandering in the wilderness; or their liberation from Egyptian slavery. Read the account for yourself, how the people rebelled against Jehovah once again, and even talked of pelting Moses and Aaron with stones, wanting to replace them with a leader of their choosing who would return them to Egypt. It says that "they would make [Jehovah] feel hurt in the desert! And again and again they would put God to the test, and they pained even the Holy One of Israel." Until Jehovah came to despise that generation. (Psalms 78:40-42, 59) Therefore, Jehovah sentenced them to wander in the wilderness for an additional thirty-eight years, until they had all died in the wilderness, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, for as Jehovah told them, "You will answer for your errors forty years, as you must know what my being estranged means." (Num. 13:1,2, 25-33; 14:1-12, 26-30, 34)
With few exceptions, the Jews never got to know Jehovah, the God of their forefathers. When they asked Jesus, "'Who do you claim to be?' Jesus answered: 'If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father that glorifies me, he who you say is your God; and yet you have not known him. But I know him. And if I said I do not know him I should be like you, a liar. But I do know him and am observing his word.'" (John 8:53-56) It is a sobering fact that among God's people in the past, very few knew Jehovah personally. Paul lists some of the men and women to whom Jehovah was real. They had implicit faith in Him; and he took notice of them. (Heb. 11:3-40; Mal. 3:16-18)
What about you? Can Jehovah add your name to his list of faithful worshipers who know him? He assures us that under the new covenant "they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them. For I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more." (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:11,12)
"Whoever eats the loaf or drinks the cup of
the Lord unworthily. . ."
(1 Corinthians 11:27)
When Jesus instituted the Memorial of his death, and instructed his disciples to "keep doing this in remembrance of me," he did not include any other details such as instructions regarding someone "unrighteous" partaking of the bread and the wine. (1 Cor. 6:9,10; 2 Peter 2:9) Thus, it seems there were some in the early Christian congregations who missed the point, or significance, of this solemn occasion. For example, Paul found it necessary to counsel some of the members in the congregation in Corinth for treating "the Lord's evening meal" as an opportunity to celebrate their love of good food and wine, to the point of over-eating and getting intoxicated. (1 Cor. 11:17-22) Consequently, Paul explained how the Lord's evening meal ought to be observed by reminding them of its purpose: "For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are retelling the message of the Lord’s death, that he has died for you. Do this until he comes again." (1 Cor. 11:23-26, TLB)
The purpose of coming together on the anniversary of Jesus' death is to retell the message of the Lord's death, that he has died for us! Paul says: "God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) Jesus' death has opened for mankind the way to everlasting life; even for unrighteous persons who have died, for they will return to life in the future resurrection. (John 3:16; 5:28,29; Acts 24:15; 1 Cor. 15:22)
Paul goes on to caution the brothers in Corinth that it would be a serious matter for someone to partake of the bread and the wine unworthily, saying: "So if anyone eats this bread and drinks from this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, he is guilty of sin against the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 That is why a man should examine himself carefully before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. 29 For if he eats the bread and drinks from the cup unworthily, not thinking about the body of Christ and what it means, he is eating and drinking God’s judgment upon himself; for he is trifling with the death of Christ. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and some have even died*. 31 But if you carefully examine yourselves before eating you will not need to be judged and punished." (1 Cor. 11:26-31; TLB) In what way can a person eat the bread and drink from the cup unworthily, thereby eating and drinking God's judgment upon himself?
After his resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples, proving to them that he was indeed alive, and helped them understand the Scriptures in connection with his death and resurrection, saying, in part: "In this way it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from among the dead on the third day, and on the basis of his name repentance for forgiveness of sins would be preached in all the nations―starting out from Jerusalem." (Luke 24:36-47) Before God grants us forgiveness for our sins, there must first be repentance―a genuine regret for having fallen short of God's righteous requirements. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness! That is why Peter writes: "Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
Someone who has repented of his sins, will try his best not to commit them again, isn't that so? And if he has a certain weakness, he doesn't give up in his struggle to overcome it, for he realizes that as long as he continues to genuinely repent for his sin(s) Jehovah will forgive him. (1 John 2:1-6) But what can be said of a person who after having come to know the truth keeps sinning wilfully, perhaps reasoning that Jesus' death will cover all his sins? Should such a person eat of the bread and drink of the wine at the Memorial? Paul says that such a person would be partaking unworthily, eating and drinking God's judgment upon himself, for he is "trifling with the death of Christ." In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul wrote: "If we decide to go on sinning after we have learned the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins. There is nothing but fear in waiting for the judgment and the angry fire that will destroy all those who live against God. Any person who refused to obey the law of Moses was found guilty from the proof given by two or three witnesses. He was put to death without mercy. So what do you think should be done to a person who does not respect the Son of God? He looks at the blood of the agreement, the blood that made him holy, as no different from other men’s blood. He insults the Spirit of God’s grace. Surely he should have a much worse punishment. We know that God said, 'I will punish those who do wrong. I will repay them.' And he also said, 'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:26-31; 6:4-6; ICB)
The Memorial of Jesus' death (Wednesday, March 23, 2016) should move us to express deep appreciation to our Lord Jesus, and to Jehovah our God, for the ransom provision, without which everlasting life would not be possible; and for each of us to consider the progress we have made in the truth for the past year (since the last Memorial) in putting on the new personality, by bringing our lives into ever greater harmony with God's will. (Eph. 4:20-24; 1 Peter 4:1-5)
Also, note one other point: Paul nowhere forbids anyone from partaking of the bread and the wine, for that would be overstepping his authority and overruling Jesus' command to "keep doing this in remembrance of me." Paul leaves it up to each individual as to what he does. If a person partakes unworthily, then he will come under God's judgment. Thus Paul's admonition: "That is why a man should examine himself carefully before eating the bread and drinking from the cup."
*The Greek word here is sleeping. Some translations read "sleeping [in death]," such as the New World Translation. (see 1 Cor. 15:6, 20); while other translations, such as Phillips, read "spiritually asleep," or simply are "sleeping." The context itself seems to suggest that Paul was saying that many who have been partaking unworthily are weak and sick spiritually, as well as spiritually asleep. (Compare 1 Thessalonians 5:4-7)
"Keep Doing This in Remembrance of Me."
Under the heading, You Will Be With Me in Paradise, the invitation to this year's Memorial, reads: "In the hours before he died, Jesus assured his faithful apostles that they would be with him in his heavenly kingdom. (Luke 22:28-30) He later promised a condemned criminal: 'You will be with me in Paradise.' (Luke 23:43) How will those words come true? The fulfillment of both promises is possible because Jesus surrendered his life for mankind, even for sinners like that criminal. Jesus' sacrifice was so vital that he commanded his followers to commemorate it.―Luke 22:19,20.
"This year, the anniversary of Jesus' death falls on Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Jehovah's Witnesses invite you to meet with them on that date to observe the Memorial that Jesus instituted. You will hear an explanation of how his death can benefit you and your family."
On that last night with his apostles, as Jesus passed the loaf (bread) to them, he said, "This means (is―έστιν) my body which is to be given in your behalf, Keep doing this in remembrance of me." And regarding the cup (wine), he added, "This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood, which is to be poured out in your behalf." (Luke 22:19,20; NWT) There is nothing in Jesus' words that suggests that his command to "keep doing this in remembrance of me" was restricted to his apostles who were present with him on that occasion; or to some other "special" group. The apostle Paul was not present, and neither were any of the members of the congregation in Corinth, to whom he wrote instructions on how to behave and "eat the Lord's evening meal." (1 Cor. 11:20-29)
Why do Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only the remnant of the 144,000 (little flock) still on earth are entitled to partake of the bread and the wine; while everyone else is invited to merely observe the ritual of passing the emblems from person to person? You may be surprised to learn that it wasn't always like that. It was first in 1938 that a new class of "sheeplike" persons were invited to the Memorial, but only as observers. Under the heading OBSERVERS AT THE MEMORIAL, The Watchtower in 1978 said this: "A remnant of spiritual Israelites, who are members of the spiritual 'body' of Christ, are still on earth. In recent years they have invited others to attend the annual Memorial celebration as witnesses or observers. These dedicated sheeplike persons were foreshadowed by Jonadab the friend of King Jehu of Israel. (2 Ki. 10:15-23; Jer. 35:1-16) Ever since the year 1935 C.E. Jesus Christ the Fine Shepherd has brought a 'great crowd' of such modern 'Jonadabs' or 'other sheep' into association with the spirit-begotten remnant of his spiritual 'body.' But first in the Watchtower issue of February 15, 1938, we read this invitation: “ . . . After 6 p.m. on April 15 let each company of the anointed assemble and celebrate the Memorial, their companions the Jonadabs also being present. Let the emblems be unleavened bread and real red wine.”—Page 50, under 'Memorial.'
"Those 'other sheep,' who are not of the same 'fold' as the 'little flock,' attended the Memorial as observers, not as partakers."—The Watchtower 1978 3/1 p. 11 Memorializing Christ’s Death—How Much Longer? (Bold added)
Who was this "great crowd" of "modern Jonadabs" or "other sheep," who were "not of the same 'fold" as "the spirit-begotten remnant of [Jesus'] spiritual “body”? This is how The Watchtower (1979) explained it: "Volume III of Vindication, released Monday, July 18, 1932, in Brooklyn, N.Y., was the first to set out (on pages 77-83) that Jonadab of old pictured a class of God-fearing people who, under God’s protection, would pass alive through the 'great tribulation' into the New Order under Christ’s kingdom. (Pp. 230-233 of the Watchtower issue of August 1, 1932) The interesting subject for discussion 'Millions Now Living Will Never Die' was thought to apply to them. Logically, then, the Watchtower issue of April 15, 1935, made this announcement: "Again The Watchtower reminds its readers that a convention of Jehovah’s witnesses and Jonadabs will be held at Washington, D.C., beginning May 30 and ending June 3, 1935. It is hoped that many of the remnant and the Jonadabs may find it convenient to attend this convention. Heretofore not many Jonadabs have had the privilege of attending a convention, and the convention at Washington may be a real comfort and benefit to them.—P. 114.
"23 It did prove to be so, for there on Friday, May 31, it was revealed to them that the Jonadab class was identical with the “great multitude” foreseen in Revelation 7:9-17 (Authorized Version). Likely most of the 840 conventioners baptized in water next day proved to be Jonadabs or antitypical Rechabites.
"24 The original Jonadab lived in the 10th century B.C.E. and did not see Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 B.C.E. But his descendants, the Rechabites, whom Jeremiah put to a test on vow keeping, did experience Jerusalem’s downfall and survived it indefinitely. Because of descent from Jonadab, they too prefigured the 'great crowd' destined to survive Christendom’s downfall."—The Watchtower 1979 12/1 p. 28 pars. 22-25. (Bold added)
As we can see from the above, our celebration of the Memorial—who partakes or doesn't partake—is entirely based on Joseph (Judge) Rutherford's interpretation according to the idea of types and antitypes; an idea that was taught by such "Church Fathers" as Origen, Ambrose, and Jerome; regarding whom The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia says: “They sought for types, and of course found them, in every incident and event, however trivial, recorded in Scripture. Even the most simple and commonplace circumstance was thought to conceal within itself the most recondite [hidden] truth..., even in the number of ﬁsh caught by the disciples on the night the risen Saviour appeared to them—how much some have tried to make of that number, 153!”
Many would be surprised to learn just how much of our doctrines has been based on Rutherford's interpretation of types and antitypes; teachings that are not found in the Scriptures. What is meant by types and antitypes? Last year's (2015) Watchtower explained: ˇThe Watchtower of September 15, 1950, deﬁned a 'type' and an 'antitype' this way: "A type is an image or representation of something that will come to pass at some future time. The antitype is the reality of the thing which the type represents. The type may properly be called a shadow; the antitype, the reality.' Many years ago, our publications stated that such faithful men and women as Deborah, Elihu, Jephthah, Job, Rahab, and Rebekah, as well as many others, were really types, or shadows, of either the anointed or the 'great crowd.' (Rev.7:9) For example, Jephthah, Job, and Rebekah were thought to represent the anointed, while Deborah and Rahab were said to foreshadow the great crowd. However, in recent years we have not drawn such comparisons. Why not? . . ."
To the above mentioned names of men and women who represented, or foreshadowed, the "anointed" or the "great crowd," we can also add Jehu and Jonadab who are conspicuously omitted in the above quoted article. After citing some obviously improbable and illogical examples, it goes on to answer why they no longer draw such comparisons: "If such interpretations seem far-fetched, you can understand the dilemma. Humans cannot know which Bible accounts are shadows of things to come and which are not. The clearest course is this: Where the Scriptures teach that an individual, an event, or an object is typical of something else, we accept it as such. Otherwise, we ought to be reluctant to assign an antitypical application to a certain person or account if there is no speciﬁc Scriptural basis for doing so."—The Watchtower 2015 3/15 p. 17-18. (Bold added)
Does that mean that in the near future, the Society will also revoke their teachings that are based on Rutherford's interpretation of types and antitypes; thereupon allowing, perhaps even encouraging, everyone to partake of the bread and the wine, in obedience to Jesus' command? You don't have to wait until they change their tradition on this important occasion. Many of Jehovah's people are celebrating the Memorial of Jesus' death with like-minded family members and friends the way Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11:20-29, either after attending the one at the congregation location, or instead of it. (Matt. 15:6-9)
"Jehovah Knows Those Who Belong to Him"
(2 Timothy 2:19)
Can we know who belongs to Jehovah, and thereby identify God's household? From the time of Abel to the present day, Jehovah has always been "cognizant of those seeking refuge in him"; although the world has not recognized them. (Nahum 1:7; 1 Cor. 8:3) Paul lists many of God's faithful servants of ancient times; but since the writing of the Bible was completed at the turn of the First Century, it obviously does not give us the names of others who have belonged to Jehovah during the past nineteen hundred years. (Heb. 11:4-40)
Along with the inauguration of the new covenant on the day of Pentecost, the Christian congregation came into being, of which Jesus is the head. (Eph. 4:15,16; 5:23-25) Early during his ministry, Jesus selected his twelve apostles whom he entrusted with the oversight of shepherding his sheep after his departure. (Matt. 10: 1-4; John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:1-4) Along with the formation of the early congregations, there appeared an element of opposition to the apostles' authority, such as Paul encountered in Corinth where he had to content with the "superfine apostles," "false teachers," and "false brothers." (2 Cor. 11:5, 13,14, 26; Gal. 2:4-6; 2 Peter 2:1-3, 12-21; Rev. 2:2)
Were there any faithful Christians after the death of the apostles, whom Jehovah would have acknowledged as belonging to him? There was Polycarp, for example, who lived from 69 – 155 CE. He was said to have been a disciple of the apostle John, and died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake at the age of eighty-six. Polycarp is recorded as saying on the day of his death, "Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked." On his farewell, he said, "I bless you Father for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ."―Fr. Paolo O. Pirlo, SHMI (1997). "St. Polycarp". My First Book of Saints.
What is the Watchtower Society's view of Polycarp? Do they allow that he belonged to Jehovah? In an article entitled, The Apostolic Fathers—Truly Apostolic?, the Watchtower said: "Polycarp was willing to die a martyr’s death rather than renounce his Christian faith. It is reported that he was instructed by the apostles and others who knew Jesus. He quoted from the Bible, and it appears that he strove to live by Christian principles. The devotion that some had to Polycarp, however, verged on idolatry. The Martyrdom of Polycarp states that after his death, the 'faithful' were eager to claim his remains. They considered his bones 'more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold.' Clearly, the poisoned waters of error were surging." (w09 7/1 p. 28) Note how the article says that the devotion that some had to Polycarp "verged on idolatry"; and that on account of that devotion, "the poisoned waters of error were surging."
Is that any different from what exists today? Doesn't the Society's governing body encourage the "faithful" to idolize them as the "faithful and discreet slave," a title that they have come to apply to themselves? (Matt. 24:45) There is no record of Polycarp ever having encouraged the faithful to idolize him, or address him by any title. The "poisoned waters of error" have surged right up to the present day, as is shown in another example. Consider Ignatius of Antioch, who was a contemporary of Polycarp, and like Polycarp was instructed by the apostle John. Ignatius met Polycarp in Smyrna, where Polycarp was an overseer. (See Rev. 2:8-11) And like Polycarp, Ignatius too was faithful unto death, when he was fed to wild beasts in the Roman arena. (Rev. 2:10) Do you think that Jehovah might have recognized Ignatius as belonging to Him? Concerning Ignatius, the same Watchtower said: "For his part, Ignatius envisioned a new organization of the Christian congregation, with just one bishop presiding 'in the place of God.' This bishop would hold authority over many priests. Such inventions opened the way for further waves of unscriptural teaching.—Matthew 23:8, 9." (Bold mine)
This vision of one bishop presiding in the place of God and holding authority over many, became a reality within the Watchtower Society, when its president Joseph (Judge) Rutherford united all the congregations and elders under his authority and control, as "presiding in the place of God" (not unlike the Roman Catholic pope). Later, the Board of Directors of the Watchtower Society gained equal authority with the President, constituting "the governing body." They claim their authority as being from God, saying: “It is vital that we respond to the directions of the 'slave' as we would to the voice of God, because it is His provision." (jv p. 212; w57 6/15 p. 370) True to Paul's prophecy regarding God's people in the time immediately prior to Jesus' return, the governing body―as the "man of lawlessness"―is sitting within "the temple of the God, publicly showing himself to be a god." But his presence is neither from God nor Jesus, but "according to the operation of Satan." (2 Thess. 2:3,4, 9,10)
Were Polycarp and Ignatius, and other early Christians like them, known by Jehovah as belonging to him? Only Jehovah knows, as Paul says. Did they, perhaps, in some way contribute to the apostasy that developed over the following Centuries? One thing is certain, Jehovah knows those who belong to him, and he protects them. In fact, their names are written in his "book of life." (Mal. 3:16-18; Rev. 3:5; 20:15)
"Jehovah of armies—he is the One whom you
should treat as holy, and he should be the object of your fear”
Who is your object of fear? In the first century, the Jews feared their religious leaders and their fellow Jews, which prevented them from following Jesus. The apostle John writes that "the Jews had already come to an agreement that, if anyone confessed him as Christ, he should get expelled from the synagogue." (John 7:13; 9:22; 12:42) That threat is just as real today, for if anyone among Jehovah's people does not accept all the teachings as presented by the Watchtower Society's governing body; or refuses to acknowledge this small group of men as "the faithful and discreet slave"; he may find himself expelled from the congregation. (Matt. 24:45; NWT) But this should not surprise us! Jesus himself forewarned us, when he said: "I have spoken these things to you that you may not be stumbled. Men will expel you from the synagogue [Kingdom Hall]. In fact, the hour is coming when everyone that kills you will imagine he has rendered a sacred service to God. But they will do these things because they have not come to know either the Father or me. Nevertheless, I have spoken these things to you that, when the hour for them arrives, you may remember I told them to you." (John 16:1-4; NWT) Yes, the hour has arrived for many to be expelled (disfellowshiped) from the congregation by men who have not come to know either the Father or Jesus! But do not fear them! (Matt. 10:28-31)
The scribes and the Pharisees had "seated themselves in the seat of Moses," and as such presumptuously interpreted the Law given through Moses as they saw fit; even viewing their own additions to the Law just as binding as the One given them by God. In fact, their own laws often conflicted with God's laws, since they failed to get the spirit behind God's laws. (Deut. 4:2; Matt. 22:36-40) Thus, when on one occasion some scribes and Pharisees complained to Jesus that his disciples were overstepping their tradition of not washing their hands when about to eat a meal, Jesus replied: "Why is it you also overstep the commandment of God because of your tradition? For example, God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Let him that reviles father or mother end up in death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother: “Whatever I have by which you might get benefit from me is a gift dedicated to God,” he must not honor his father at all.’ And so you have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition." By making God's word invalid, their worship was also invalid, in vain! (Matt. 15:1-9) Does that seem familiar?
We too have similar traditions, by which we have made God's word invalid! And one tradition also has to do with something dedicated to God. For example, the relationship of a husband and his wife is much closer than that of a man and his parents. Concerning this, the Awake! magazine, in an article on marriage said: "Jesus made clear that marriage was to be permanent when he answered a question put to him about the propriety of divorce. He stated: 'Did you not read that [God] who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, "For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh"? So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.'” (Matt.19:4-6) Yet, immediately after the above paragraph, it goes on to say: “It has rightly been said that in the life of a Christian, marriage is second in importance only to his or her dedication to God. The latter binds one to the Creator forever, and baptism makes that publicly manifest. Marriage is the public declaration of commitment to another person – forever. It is unthinkable either to dedicate oneself to God or to forge a marriage bond while having serious reservations. Therefore, those contemplating marriage do well to examine carefully the prospective mate’s beliefs, goals, attitudes, and disposition.” —Awake! 2/8, 2002 Marriage Should Be A Permanent Bond, page 9. (Bold mine)
Is what the above article states scripturally sound? Is marriage second in importance only to a person's dedication to God? There is no doubt about what the Scriptures say about the sacredness of the marriage bond, as noted in the article; but where is there any mention in the Scriptures of the importance of a person's dedication to God; and that one's dedication takes priority over one's marriage; or that baptism is a symbol of that dedication? The Scriptures are clear that baptism is for forgiveness of sins, not about a person's dedication to God! (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Heb. 10:17,18, 21,22; 1 Peter 3:21)
The Watchtower, in an article entitled, "When Marital Peace Is Threatened", further argued that absolute endangerment of spirituality also provides a basis for separation. It said: "The believer in a religiously divided home should do everything possible to take advantage of God’s spiritual provisions. But separation is allowable if an unbelieving mate’s opposition (perhaps including physical restraint) makes it genuinely impossible to pursue true worship and actually imperils the believer’s spirituality. Yet, what if a very unhealthy spiritual state exists where both mates are believers? The elders should render assistance, but especially should the baptized husband work diligently to remedy the situation. Of course, if a baptized marriage partner acts like an apostate and tries to prevent his mate from serving Jehovah, the elders should handle matters according to the Scriptures. If disfellowshipping takes place in a case involving absolute endangerment of spirituality, willful nonsupport, or extreme physical abuse, the faithful Christian who seeks a legal separation would not be going against Paul’s counsel about taking a believer to court." (w88 11/1 22-3 When Marital Peace Is Threatened) (Bold mine) Is it God's direction for a "baptized marriage mate" to be disfellowshiped "in a case involving absolute endangerment of spirituality," whatever that may involve? Should elders encourage, or even support, a mate seeking a legal separation? (Compare 1 Corinthians 7:10-16; 1 Peter 3:1-7).
Like the scribes and the Pharisees, who not only opposed Jesus but threatened the people with expulsion, so too God's people today face similar opposition for obeying "God as ruler rather than men." (Acts 5:27-34, 38-42) What should we do under present circumstances, when we become aware that many of the Society's teachings are not based on the Scriptures, but rather on Joseph Rutherford's interpretation of the Scriptures? Should we stand up and correct the conductor of the Watchtower Study; or disrupt a meeting when an obvious error is being presented as truth? Or, putting it another way: Is it our responsibility to speak up in the congregation for what we believe to be lies? That would certainly appear to be a fearless display of loyalty to Jehovah and the truth. Yet, Jesus cautioned us to be careful, when he said: "Look! I am sending you forth as sheep amidst wolves; therefore prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves." (Matt. 10:16,17) Jesus does not require us to be fearless sheep among wolves. He encourages caution! But even more importantly, if you genuinely make Jehovah your object of fear, then you will also want to be afraid of disobeying him when he tells us that he has not appointed you or me as judges in the congregation. Rather, "he has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him from the dead." (Acts 17:31; Matt. 7:1-5; James 2:10-13) Jesus is the one appointed by God to judge not only God's people, but all mankind. (1 Peter 4:16-19; 2 Thess. 1:6-10)
Paul wrote instructions to Timothy regarding the appointment of overseers and their assistants, ministerial servants, so that we "may know how [we] ought to conduct [ourselves] in God's household, which is the congregation of the living God, a pillar and support of the truth." (1 Tim. 3:1-15) Since the congregations belong to Jehovah, which are built upon the foundation laid by Him―and who purchased all the members with the exceedingly precious blood of his only-begotten Son―we sometimes fail to realize that if we find fault with our fellow brothers, who are members of God's household, that we are at the same time finding fault with Jehovah and his way of doing things. (1 Cor. 7:23; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 2:19-22) The presence of "the man of lawlessness" within God's temple does not reflect on Jehovah's own righteousness, does it? Jehovah is holy, and he should be the object of our fear. We give him the honor and fear when we remain faithful and obedient to Him, and when we continue to trust in all his promises; including the eventual removal of the wicked from within his household. May we continue to pray, then, "all the time making supplication that [we] may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man." (Luke 21:36)
"Keep testing whether you are in the faith, keep proving what you yourselves
are." (2 Corinthians 13:5)
It is our human sinful inclination to make excuses for our weaknesses. Call it pride, or perhaps disappointment in our own shortcomings, but all too often we fail to acknowledge our mistakes or when we use bad judgment; even when it is obvious to everyone else. When Samuel confronted king Saul for having disobeyed Jehovah's command to devote the Amalekites to destruction―having spared their king Agag and the best of the flock and herds of animals―king Saul excused himself by saying, "But I have obeyed the voice of Jehovah in that I went on the mission on which Jehovah had sent me and I brought Agag the king of Amalek, but Amalek I have devoted to destruction." Saul excused himself in saying that he had done God's will by going on the mission on which God sent him; but he had failed to fully carry out the purpose of that mission. Jehovah did not accept his lame excuse and the punishment was severe for he rejected Saul from being king; after this having no further dealings with him, although Saul had been his choice as the first king over his people Israel. (1 Sam. 9:15-17; 15:1-23)
There is an important lesson for us in Saul's example, namely, we should never take for granted our relationship with Jehovah and any blessings we may be enjoying. Our continued friendship with the Most High depends on our unswerving obedience. That is why Paul counsels us to keep testing as to the person we really are. We may change over time, and so may our attitude towards spiritual things. We may become disheartened or even critical of Jehovah's way of doing things, such as his tolerance of the man of lawlessness within his temple and how his presence has been an obstacle for us to "worship with spirit and truth." (2 Thess. 2:3-12; John 4:23,24) Our resentment or discouragement may cause us to drift away when we may not even be aware of it, as our love for Jehovah and his word of truth diminishes over time and gets replaced by other things.
How can we test ourselves as to whether we are still in the faith? Perhaps you might ask yourself: Has my enthusiasm for the truth and the love for all the brothers grown stronger, or is it diminishing? (2 Thess. 1:3; Rev. 2:4) Is the sure promise of everlasting life still real to me? (Gal. 6:9) Does Jehovah still listen to my prayers, or does there seem to be a "cloud" blocking my approach to him? (Lam. 3:44; Prov. 15:29) Have material desires or pursuits lately been vying for more of my time and attention? (Gal. 5:16,17) It is hard to carry on our struggle to remain strong and focused on the reward ahead when we are immobilized by discouragement. We may even feel condemned by what we perceive to be our own weakness.
The VOICE Bible, commenting on 2 Corinthians 13:5, says the following: "Weakness looks like failure in the eyes of the world, but for Paul weakness is an avenue to share in Jesus’ death and, therefore, in His life as well. The challenge is to remain faithful even in the difficult times, even when there is no one left to provide support. It is in these times that God’s power and comfort are most evident. This call to embrace weakness and suffering is difficult. It is normal to run from pain. But the examples of Jesus in the Gospels, of Paul in his letters, and of David in the psalms are of finding God’s strength in times of weakness."
We need God's strength if we are going to endure in walking on the cramped road leading to everlasting life. (Matt. 7:13,14; 2 Peter 1:5-8) This is especially true in view of what the Scriptures foretold regarding the condition that would exist in our congregations in "the last days." Consider whether Paul's words apply also to your own congregation, when he writes:
"But you must realise that in the last days the times will be full of danger. Men will become utterly self-centred, greedy for money, full of big words. They will be proud and contemptuous, without any regard for what their parents taught them. They will be utterly lacking in gratitude, purity and normal human affections. They will be men of unscrupulous speech and have no control of themselves. They will be passionate and unprincipled, treacherous, self-willed and conceited, loving all the time what gives them pleasure instead of loving God. They will maintain a facade of 'religion', but their conduct will deny its validity. You must keep clear of people like this. . . Persecution is inevitable for those who are determined to live really Christian lives, while wicked and deceitful men will go from bad to worse, deluding others and deluding themselves." (2 Tim. 3:1-5, 12,13; Phillips New Testament)
When we are surrounded by such ungodly association as Paul mentioned to Timothy, which also existed in the Corinth congregation where Paul was going for his third visit to deal with unrepentant sinners, it becomes clear as to why we need to "keep testing whether [we] are in the faith," and to "keep proving what [we] ourselves are," for Paul adds: "Or do you not recognize that Jesus Christ is in union with you? Unless you are disapproved." (2 Cor. 13:1-4; 1 Cor. 15:33,34) Someone once asked Jesus, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Jesus answered by saying, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to." (Luke 23,24, NIV; Matt. 7:13,14, 21-23)
"Anyone who doubts is like an ocean wave tossed around in a storm."
(James 1:6, CEV)
What do you think: Do you believe that God hears your prayers? Maybe Yes―Maybe No? (Ps. 145:18) Can we know and understand the truth of God's Word? Maybe Yes―Maybe No? (John 4:23; 8:31,32) Does Jehovah have a household today? or are God's people scattered throughout all religions? Maybe Yes―Maybe No? (Heb. 3:6; 2 Cor. 6:17,18; Eph. 2:19; James 1:27) If God does indeed have a household, and you discover that therein are false teachers in positions of authority, should you leave or should you stay? (2 Thess. 2:3-5; 2 Peter 2:1-3; Rev. 2:24) Does it matter to God whether or not you exercise faith in Him? Maybe Yes―Maybe No? (Heb. 11:6)
It's not as if we cannot be certain about the answer to these questions; but rather, it is a matter of accepting what God says in his inspired written Word. (John 17:14, 17-19)
We may begin to have doubts and start to question our own understanding of things when we are faced with adversity, and when everything seems to go so contrary to what we had believed and were in expectation of; like a storm descending upon us. But that is not God's fault who foretold these things. Perhaps our expectations were based on our faith in the teachings of the false prophets; and as we have now come to see they were simply lies and empty promises; with the consequence that we have become discouraged and confused, resulting in our being tossed around like an ocean wave. But that is all the more reason to "pay more than the usual attention" to God's own Word. (Heb. 2:1-4; 1 John 4:1) Please understand that if this applies to you, you are not alone. Many feel just as lost as you do―not just today, but even back in the first century. To such ones the disciple James wrote:
"When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him. But he must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God’s help or not. The man who trusts God, but with inward reservations, is like a wave of the sea, carried forward by the wind one moment and driven back the next. That sort of man cannot hope to receive anything from God, and the life of a man of divided loyalty will reveal instability at every turn." (James 1:2-8, J.B. Phillips New Testament)
When you ask Jehovah for help, be assured that he hears you. He doesn't make you "feel foolish or guilty" for asking; so don't disrespect him by lack of faith in his desire or ability to come to your aid; because if that were the case, you won't receive anything from him. (Ne. 9:26; Ps. 74:18) Neither doubt that he has a people for his name, because he has told us that he does; and if you are among his people then you will definitely know it, just as Jehovah himself knows everyone who belongs to him. (Acts 15:12-14; 1 Tim. 3:15)
1/9/16"You are My witnesses, says Jehovah, and I am God" (Isaiah 43:12, A Literal Translation of the Bible, 1985)
"To Jehovah Belong the Earth and that Which Fills it."
As the nation of Israel was about to enter the land that God had given to their forefather Abraham, but which at the time was occupied by Canaanite tribes, Jehovah reminded them that "the earth and all that is in it" belong to him. As the Creator and Owner, it was His to give to whomever he wished. It was no ordinary land, but a land "flowing with milk and honey," "a land that Jehovah your God is caring for," and his eyes were "constantly upon it, from the beginning of the year to the close of the year." (Gen. 12:1,2; 13:14-17; Deut. 10:14; 11:8-12) The nation of Israel needed to understand that their continued possession of this most desirable land was conditional upon their obedience to God; and just as Jehovah was about to annihilate the wicked Canaanites from the land, so he would also rip his own people away from off its soil if they were to rebel against his laws and the covenant they had entered into. (Deut. 29:10-13; 30:17-20)
The history of God's people, the Jews, is a record of continuous rebellion, to the point where they became worse than the nations they had dispossessed. In turn, Jehovah removed them from off the land, just as he had forewarned, and scattered them among the nations. (2 Chr. 33:9; Deut. 28:63,64) Just why should we be interested in these things that happened so many centuries ago? (1 Cor. 10:11) Because we too need to understand that "to Jehovah belong the earth and that which fills it." This simple basic truth is just as valid today as it was in Abraham's day, for God has promised that "a little while longer" and "the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace." (Psalms 37:11, 29; Matt. 5:5)
We should not imagine that God lost interest in the land he had given to Abraham, or somehow handed ownership of it to another people, after the destruction of his temple in Jerusalem by the Romans―"the city that I have chosen for myself to put my name there." (1 Kings 11:36) To demonstrate his ongoing interest in "the land of Decoration" after the destruction of his holy temple, and the scattering of the Jews among the nations; and to show that it was with his permission that it took place just as he had foretold; Jehovah prophesied what would happen to this land through the ensuing centuries. He called the two powers who would vie for ownership of this land the "king of the north" and the "king of the south"; and they would continue their struggle over the land that belongs to Jehovah, right up until the "time of the end." Daniel the prophet received the prophecy regarding the two kings from the angel Gabriel, in order for "the people who are knowing their God, [to] prevail and act effectively. And as regards those having insight among the people, they will impart understanding to the many." And yet, "some of those having insight will be made to stumble, in order to do a refining work because of them and to do a cleansing and to do a whitening, until the time of the end; because it is yet for the time appointed." (Dan. 11:32-35; 12:4, 9,10; 1 Peter 4:17-19)
The prophecy regarding the king of the north and king of the south is for the purpose of strengthening God's people during the time of the end, when the struggle of these two kings reaches their climax at Armageddon; for "there will certainly occur a time of distress such as has not been made to occur since there came to be a nation until that time. And during that time your people will escape, every one who is found written down in the book." (Dan. 2:44; 12:1; Mal. 3:16-18; Matt. 24:21,22; Rev. 3:5; 7:9, 13-17) The prophecy regarding these two kings should instil in us the sort of faith in Jehovah that will enable us to endure the present "critical times hard to deal with"; as we have the assurance that Jehovah, "the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind, and that to the one whom he wants to he gives it." (Dan. 4:25, 34,35; 2 Tim. 3:1-7) At the present time, "the whole world is [still] lying in the power of the wicked one." But Satan's rule and influence will soon end, when Jehovah will give the earth to his people. (1 John 5:19; Rev. 20:1-3; 21:3-5)
For further information on "the king of the north" and "the king of the south," see "Who is the King of the North" in the Question Box.
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