Q:  When were God’s people held captive by Babylon the Great?



:  The Study Edition of The Watchtower, March 2016, in QUESTIONS FROM READERS, addresses the question, "When were God’s people held captive by Babylon the Great?" The information presented is described as an "adjusted view" to former explanations.

The real question we should be asking, though, is: Does the Bible teach that God's people were ever held captive by Babylon the Great, ―
even in just a "symbolic captivity"? That is what many have read into the words at Revelation 18:4, where an angel out of heaven is heard, saying: "Get out of her [Babylon the Great], my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues." (Rev. 18:4) Does this not say that God's people are in Babylon the Great, and that unless they "get out of her", they will share in her fate?

Let us consider the context in which theses words appear. The previous verses describe the destruction of Babylon the Great at the hands of the ten horns, and the wild beast. (Rev. 17:15-18) Upon her devastation, an angel announces: “She has fallen! Babylon the Great has fallen, and she has become a dwelling place of demons and a lurking place of every unclean exhalation and a lurking place of every unclean and hated bird!” (Rev. 18:1-2) Her destruction has come upon her suddenly and swiftly, as "in one day"; and it is so complete that she is reduced to ashes, yes, she is "completely burned with fire." (Rev. 18:21)

What is Babylon the Great? She is described as "the great prostitute, who rules over many waters. The kings of the world have committed adultery with her, and the people who belong to this world have been made drunk by the wine of her immorality.” She is also very rich, living in luxury; and "drunk with the blood of God’s holy people who were witnesses for Jesus." The waters where the prostitute is ruling is said to "represent masses of people of every nation and language." (Rev. 17:1-2, 5-6, 15; NLT) The disciple James tells us that "friendship with the world means enmity with God." (James 4:4) Babylon the Great is an integral part of the world, of which Satan is the god and ruler, for she not only is ruling over the people of every nation and language, but she also "rules over the kings of the world." (Luke 4:5-8; John 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; Rev. 17:18, NLT) When God's appointed time for judging her arrives, he will put it into the hearts of the kings of the world to pounce upon her, "to carry out his thought, even to carry out their one thought." (Rev. 17:17) 

She is called "Babylon the Great" because in many ways she resembles that ancient great city of Babylon; which not only had an extensive influence on the religions of other nations, but she was also the enemy of God's people. The "fall" of Babylon the Great does not mean simply a fall from glory and power, as in the case of ancient Babylon, which continued to exist long after its fall to the Medes and Persians in 539 B.C.E., until about the fourth century C.E. No, the fall of Babylon the Great means her total and final end. But, if she no longer exists, how is it that "she has become a dwelling place of demons and a lurking place of every unclean and hated bird"? That does not describe her condition after her fall, but rather what she has become at the time of her fall. That is why some translations (including The Kingdom Interlinear Translation, published by the Watchtower Society, 1985) render the Greek word
ἐγένετο [egeneto] as, “and she became a dwelling-place of demons." (Disciples’ Literal New Testament; Young's Literal Translation; compare ἐγένετο at John 1:3, 6, 10, 14, etc.)

The call to "get out of her, my people", does not apply to God's people after the fall of Babylon the Great, but rather before, while there is yet time to get out of her. Many, if not the majority, of God's people were at one time members of a religion that belongs to Babylon the Great, "worshiping what they do not know," as Jesus said. (John 4:22-24) But they got "out of her" when they learned of God's kingdom and came to know the only true God, Jehovah. Echoing the words of the angel, the apostle Paul explains that anyone who desires to worship God with "spirit and truth" must "get out" from among unbelievers: "Stop forming inappropriate relationships with unbelievers. Can right and wrong be partners? Can light have anything in common with darkness? Can Christ agree with the devil? Can a believer share life with an unbeliever? Can God’s temple contain false gods? Clearly, we are the temple of the living God. As God said, 'I will live and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.' The Lord says, 'Get away from unbelievers. Separate yourselves from them. Have nothing to do with anything unclean. Then I will welcome you.' The Lord Almighty says, 'I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters.'” (2 Cor. 6:14-18; GW; Malachi 3:17-18) The simple fact is, as stated by Paul, we cannot become God's people, that is, his sons and daughters and have Jehovah as our Father, until after we have removed ourselves from Babylon the Great. That is why the angel urges everyone who desires to worship the only true God to get out of her "my people."

False teachers and false prophets among God's people may contaminate the true worship of Jehovah, yet this does not make God's worship a part of Babylon the Great. The apostle Peter explains: "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) Jehovah does not accept, or tolerate, worship that is in any way tainted with lies and deceit. The time will come, "and it is now," when he will remove all such persons from his household, for his judgment will start with his own people. (John 4:23; Matt. 13:40-43; 15:6-9; John 8:44, 47; 10:26-28)

But, are God's people not held captive by Babylon the Great at some point in time, which, according to the Watchtower article puts the captivity between the second century and the nineteenth century? There is no scriptural basis for such an idea! Some will point to the fact that God's people, the nation of Israel, went into exile in Babylon as being a type, and that in the "greater fulfillment" ― the anti-type
this was fulfilled when God's people went into captivity in Babylon the Great. But please consider: Why did the nation of Israel go into exile in Babylon? Was it not because they refused to repent of their apostasy and revolt against God, having broken his covenant, and worshiping false gods? (2 Chron. 36:15-21; Jer. 31:31-32) What reason does the Watchtower offer as to why God's faithful servants, after the second century, would come into captivity in Babylon the Great for that many centuries?

Jesus has been the head of God's people ever since the outpouring of holy spirit at Pentecost, at which time the Christian congregation came into being under the new covenant. As head of the congregation, Jesus promised that he will be with his disciples "all the days until the conclusion of the system of things." (Matt. 28:19-20) At what point in time did Jesus forsake his disciples and allow them to go into captivity in Babylon the Great? Did persecution subject them to captivity, as it is claimed? Jesus was persecuted by the religious leaders of his day, but that did not make him their captive. He said to his disciples: "In the world you are having tribulation, but take courage! I have conquered the world." (John 16:33) Yes, because God's people are no part of this world, we too can expect persecution. (John 15:18-20) But that certainly does not mean that we are being held captive by the world. Like Jesus, we too conquer the world, of which Babylon the Great is the most reprehensible. The apostle John explains, "for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith." (1 John 5:4, NRSV; Rev. 2:7, 26)

In 325 C.E., at the council of Nicaea, prominent apostates from Christianity accepted Satan's offer of receiving all "authority" and "glory" over "all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth" for an act of worship (which Jesus himself had earlier rejected), when Roman Emperor Constantine adopted their adulterated form of worship for his empire; and thereby they put themselves under Satan's control.
(Luke 4:5-8) Yet, faithful Christians continued to be persecuted because they refused to allow themselves to be enslaved again from the things Christ had set them free. (John 8:31-36; Gal. 4:24-26) They kept themselves "without spot from the world." At no time have they been conquered by the world, or been held captive by Babylon the Great.
(James 1:27; 4:4)


* * * * * * *

Since God's people have never been held captive by Babylon the Great (for those who are in Babylon the Great cannot be God's people), the explanation offered in the Watchtower of March 15, 2016 is simply not applicable. (Ezek. 13:8-9) Yet, God's people are facing a real danger of enslavement, and the Watchtower's interpretation of Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones in its supposed larger fulfillment, helps identify this danger,no, not from Babylon the Great, or the world,―but from the foretold "man of lawlessness," who sits prominently right inside God's own temple, and is showing himself to be "a god" desiring to dominate God's people. (2 Thess. 2:3-12)

Ezekiel's prophecy was fulfilled with the captivity of God's people Israel, which, as the Watchtower says, "lasted a long time. It began in 740 B.C.E. with the fall and exile of many from the ten-tribe northern kingdom. Then, in 607 B.C.E., Jerusalem was destroyed and people of the southern kingdom of Judah were also taken into exile. This period of captivity ended in 537 B.C.E. when a remnant of the Jews returned to rebuild the temple and reestablished pure worship in Jerusalem." It goes on to explain that "in its larger fulfillment, this restoration prophecy applies to 'the Israel of God.' (Gal. 6:16; Acts 3:21) Next, Ezekiel sees the bones come to life and become a large army. What a fitting way to describe the spiritual resurrection of God’s people that culminated in the events of 1919!" (Bold and italics added for emphasis.)

First of all, it should be noted that any presumed "larger fulfillment" of past Biblical events are not based on Scriptures, but on the theory of types and anti-types, which theory the Society has recently rejected; unless the greater fulfillment, the anti-type, is specifically mentioned in the Scriptures, such as at Galatians 4:22-26; or Hebrews 9:9-10. Why are they reverting back to what inspired most of Joseph Rutherford's teachings; but which theory they say they no longer accept?

In any case, how does the Watchtower explain the supposed "spiritual resurrection" came about with the events of 1919? The article goes on to say: "In the late 1800’s, Charles Taze Russell and his associates worked zealously to restore Bible truths. It was as if symbolic flesh and skin were starting to be put on spiritual skeletons. Zion’s Watch Tower and other publications helped honesthearted ones to discover spiritual truths. Later, such tools as the 'Photo-Drama of Creation' in 1914 and the book The Finished Mystery in 1917 also strengthened God’s people. Finally, in 1919, God’s people were given life, spiritually speaking, and were settled in their new spiritual land. As time has progressed, this remnant of anointed ones has been joined by those with an earthly hope, and together they have become 'an extremely large army.'—Ezek. 37:10; Zech. 8:20-23."
(Bold and italics added for emphasis.)

Did Charles Taze Russell and his associates (fellow directors of the Watchtower Society) restore Bible truths? Why is it that most of what C. T. Russell published is no longer considered to be Bible truths by the Watchtower Society today, the Society which he incorporated in 1884? The fact is that Joseph Rutherford, who succeeded Russell as president of the Society upon his death, rejected much of Russell's "restored Bible truths," and proceeded with his own interpretation of the Scriptures.

Whereas Russell was greatly influenced by the Great Pyramid of Gizeh in Egypt, particularly its dimensions ("demonic symbols," as one Watchtower referred to it), Rutherford on the other hand interpreted the Scriptures according to his understanding of types and anti-types; which, although having recently been rejected by the Society, they are still holding on to the many teachings that have been built upon that theory. Rather than having helped "honesthearted ones to discover spiritual truths," the ever changing teachings and "adjusted views" of the Watchtower has over the years caused confusion among lovers of truth. But in so doing it has helped in the revealing of the mysterious "man of lawlessness." (2 Thess. 2:6-8, 10)

No, the Watchtower Society has not been the restorer of Bible truths, but it has proved to be the means by which the foretold man of lawlessness has succeeded in setting himself up within God's temple, enabling him to unite all the congregations under his authority, and bringing God's people under its control. Ezekiel prophesied about the wicked shepherds, when he wrote: “This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: 'Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have become feeders of themselves! Is it not the flock that the shepherds ought to feed? The fat is what you eat, and with the wool you clothe your own selves. The plump animal is what you slaughter. The flock itself you do not feed. The sickened ones you have not strengthened, and the ailing one you have not healed, and the broken one you have not bandaged, and the dispersed one you have not brought back, and the lost one you have not sought to find, but with harshness you have had them in subjection, even with tyranny.' "Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of Jehovah. This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said, ‘Here I am against the shepherds, and I shall certainly ask back my sheep from their hand and make them cease from feeding [my] sheep, and the shepherds will no longer feed themselves; and I will deliver my sheep out of their mouth, and they will not become food for them.’” (Ezek. 34:2-10)

In the "larger fulfillment," if I may borrow that expression (and there is a larger fulfillment for our day, as the Scripture shows), Ezekiel's prophecy applies to the shepherds of God's people during the last days, "in the day of clouds and thick gloom" (v. 12). At that time, Jehovah "will raise up over them one shepherd, and he must feed them, even my servant David. He himself will feed them, and he himself will become their shepherd." (Ezek. 34:22-24; Joel 2:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:1-7; Rev. 7:17)

We should expect the man of lawlessness to generously lavish unwarranted praise upon himself; and in the absence of Jesus, even take the credit for leading God's people out of captivity. (Compare Exodus 32:1, 4-6) Their spiritual restoration claims have served them well in establishing and justifying their position of power within God's house. Foremost among their self-serving teachings is their assertion that God's kingdom was established in 1914; and that Jesus appointed them as "the faithful and discreet slave" in 1919; and also at which time they were released from symbolic captivity to Babylon the Great. As "proof" that Jesus returned in 1914 as king of God's kingdom, they point to the signs Jesus gave, as recorded in Matthew 24; Mark 13; and Luke 21; which they affirm began to be fulfilled with the outbreak of World War One in 1914. But rather than providing evidence of his presence (parousia), Jesus himself said that the signs would indicate that "he is near at the doors," and that "the kingdom of God is near." (Read Matt. 24:32,33; Mark 13:28,29; Luke 21:29-31)

Since we are still expecting Jesus' return, which will be "at an hour that [we] do not think to be it," the Watchtower's interpretation of Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones as having a modern fulfillment has no scriptural support whatsoever! But we can expect Ezekiel's prophecy regarding the wicked shepherds to be fulfilled in our day; at the time of Jesus' return―his presence [parousia]
when he will identify his slave who proved "faithful and discreet," and at the same time do away with the wicked slave, "by the spirit of his mouth and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his presence." (Matt. 24:45-51; 25:13-30; 2 Thess. 2:8)

Does the insight into the identity of the man of lawlessness prove to you that God does not have a people; and that the Watchtower Society is part of Babylon the Great, and that we must heed the call to "get out of her my people"? If that is true in your case, then you have missed the point entirely! (Dan. 11:35; 12:9-10) The apostle Paul tells us that the presence of the man of lawlessness within God's temple (which is God's people),
is "according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work, and with every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing." (1 Cor. 3:16,17; Eph. 2:19-22; 2 Thess. 2:9-10)

Satan "is a liar and the father of the lie," and he wants to separate us from God. He certainly succeeded with our original parents, Adam and Eve; and he succeeded likewise in separating the nation of Israel from Jehovah, their God, and the covenant he had made with them. (John 8:44, 47) Whether you remove yourself from God's household voluntarily; or fall victim to the unrighteous deception of Satan's lies by putting your trust in men who publish books and magazines; either way, Satan will have succeeded in claiming you as his victim. (Psalms 146:3, 5; 1 Peter 5:8-10)

On the other hand, Jesus tells us in his illustration of the wheat and the weeds, that in the conclusion of the system of things (end of age), he "will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness, and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace. There is where [their] weeping and the gnashing of [their] teeth will be. At that time the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." (Matt. 13:41-43, 49) God's kingdom is no part of this world; nor of Babylon the Great! (John 17:14; 18:36) The judgment upon God's house will precede the judgment upon Babylon the Great. The apostle Peter writes: "The time has evidently arrived for God’s judgment to begin, and it is beginning at his own House. And if it starts with us, what is it going to mean to those who refuse to obey the Gospel of God? ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’" (1 Peter 4:17-18; PHILLIPS) Yes, get out of Babylon the Great if you are still a member of its many religions. Don't wait until her fall; for by then it will have been too late!