"Born Again" ― What Did Jesus Mean?
“I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you
cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
―John 3:3, NLT
The vast majority of the many churches in
the realm of Christendom believe that a person must be "born again" in
order to go to heaven and be with Jesus. That belief is said to be based
on the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler
of the Jews, who came to Jesus after dark to visit him privately. When
Nicodemus confessed that Jesus must be from God―on
account of the many miracles,
Jesus answered him, saying:
"I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is
born again," and be "born of water and the Spirit." (John 3:3-7;
NIV) What did Jesus mean by the term born again? And when a
person today claims to have been born again, or asks if you have been
born again, what exactly does he have in mind?
According to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, this is what most people understand born again to mean: "In Christianity, to be born again is to undergo a 'spiritual rebirth' (regeneration) of the human soul or spirit, contrasted with the physical birth everyone experiences. The origin of the term 'born again' is the New Testament: 'Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again."'"
Although Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of the need to be "born again" in order to "see the kingdom of God," the Scriptures reveal that Jesus did not use it in the context in which it became popular, as described in the above definition. In fact, the term "born again" was adopted to legitimize a new sort of resurrection that began to be taught during the time of the apostles, and which was spreading rapidly among many of the early Greek congregations.
The Jews believed in the physical resurrection of the body, although the Sadducees did not; and neither did the Greeks. (Luke 20:27; Acts 23:6-8; 17:31,32) Jesus himself, of course, believed in the resurrection, for he had absolute confidence that his Father would raise him up from the dead on the third day. (Matt. 20:17-19)
Since the resurrection was an important feature of Jesus’ ministry; and he had shown himself to "upward of five hundred" disciples after his death, in prove of the resurrection, how is it that some started to question the reality of the resurrection of the dead? (1 Cor. 15:4-8) The apostle Paul found it necessary to address this problem in the Corinthian congregation, when he wrote them: “Now if Christ is being preached that he has been raised up from the dead, how is it some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If, indeed, there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised up. But if Christ has not been raised up, our preaching is certainly in vain, and our faith is in vain.” (1 Cor. 12-22)
It’s not that these were rejecting the resurrection hope outright; but there were some among them who were “deviating from the truth” by preaching a different sort of resurrection. Hymenaeus and Philetus were of these. That is why the apostle Paul found it necessary to warn young Timothy of their dangerous influence: “Keep away from worthless and useless talk. It only leads people farther away from God. That sort of talk is like a sore that won’t heal (gangrene; ESV). And Hymenaeus and Philetus have been talking this way by teaching that the dead have already been raised to life. This is far from the truth, and it is destroying the faith of some people." (2 Tim. 2:16-18; CEV) This deviation from the truth developed into the popular doctrine of a spiritual resurrection.
When Martha’s brother, Lazarus had died, and Jesus comforted her by saying that her brother will live again, Martha replied: “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus proved that he had the authority and power from his Father to resurrect the dead when he brought Lazarus back to life, although he had been dead four days. (John 11:21-27, 40-44) That most certainly was a real resurrection of a dead physical body coming to life again! Then how is it that the teaching of a spiritual resurrection came to infect many congregations?
With the establishing of Greek congregations by Paul, some of the disciples who were still very much influenced by Greek philosophy—such as that of an immortal soul—began to interpret the resurrection hope that Jesus taught with a resurrection that was merely spiritual in nature, one that could be explained in terms of an immortal soul. Thus many were teaching that the resurrection had already occurred in the case of those who had accepted Jesus as their Savior. (2 Tim. 2:17,18) After all, if the soul cannot die, then neither is there a need of a physical resurrection. (Ezek. 18:4,20) This became a problem in the Corinth congregation that Paul needed to address.
They may even have appealed to Paul’s own letters as confirming their argument, "which the untaught and unsteady are twisting, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:15,16) Take for example his letter to the Greek congregation in Ephesus, which could have been twisted by some to bolster their false teaching, when Paul wrote: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:1-6; ESV)
Under the influence of "the prince of the power of the air," Satan, apostates such as Hymenaeus and Philetus could readily corrupt the meaning of Paul’s words in order to pervert the truth and teach a resurrection different from the one that Jesus and Paul taught. (John 11:25,26; 1 Cor. 15:3-8, 21,22) It gave rise to the “born again” doctrine, which, as already noted, teaches that the person becomes alive in a spiritual way by means of a spiritual resurrection at the time the person accepts Jesus into his heart. The "born again" teaching began to be widely accepted as the necessary means by which all Christians go to heaven. The term itself was adopted from Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, and the two teachings were married into one doctrine; but Jesus was not teaching any spiritual resurrection when he told Nicodemus that he and the Jews as a nation needed to be born again.
Did Jesus Say that the Resurrection Was Already Here?
The doctrine of a spiritual resurrection, rather than the resurrection
from actual death of the physical body, has also found its way into most Bibles,
making even Jesus seem to have taught it. According to most translations, Jesus
is reported to have said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and
is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those
who hear will live.” (John 5:25, ESV) The New World Translation quotes
Jesus' words similarly: “Most truly I say to you, The hour is coming, and it
is now, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who
have given heed will live.”
The words “and is now here” (English Standard Version); or “and it is now” (New World Translation) are recognized to be an interpolation, that is, they are spurious and do not belong in the Bible, for they are missing in the oldest manuscripts. They were added in the margin by a copyist who believed in a spiritual resurrection, later to find their way into the main text.* Jesus never said that the hour of the resurrection had already arrived, in which “all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28,29; Acts 17:31; 24:15)
Christendom’s teaching of a “spiritual" resurrection, commonly referred to as being “born again,” is vital for them in order to go to heaven. The Watchtower Society likewise teaches the need of being "born again," but with a few variations, such as restricting it to the 144,000, who are the only ones to go to heaven. The claim is made that only those who are "born again" are "God's sons"; that only they have their sins forgiven and are declared righteous at the time of their anointing, when they are said to be born again; while the rest of mankind is considered "spiritually" dead and don’t come to life "until the thousand years were ended”—which, by the way, is based on another scripture acknowledged to be an interpolation, namely Revelation 20:5. (Gal. 3:26; 1 Tim. 2:4-6)
We should not confuse being "born again," or the “spiritual" resurrection—which is a "deviating from the truth"—with that of the "first resurrection," that Jesus promised to his chosen ones who will rule with him in his heavenly kingdom. (Matt. 19:27,28; Rev. 20:4, 6; 14:1, 3) In order for them to be with Jesus, these 144,000 "holy ones," who are his bride, will give up their fleshly bodies and be made alive in the spirit, as in Jesus' own case. (Dan. 7:27; 1 Peter 3:18; Rev. 19:7,8) Theirs will be a real resurrection to the heavens as "spirit" persons, because “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom," as Paul explained in his letter to the Corinthians, adding further, “It is sown in corruption, it is raised up in incorruption. It is sown a physical body, it is raised up a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:35-54; Rev. 20:6) Clearly, the expressions "spiritual" resurrection and "first" resurrection are not compatible or interchangeable. They do not refer to the same thing. The one originates with apostates, while the other is from God.
Interestingly, The Watchtower also speaks of the "spiritual" resurrection as having already occurred. The issue of October 1, 1986, said: “After 1914, during Jesus’ ‘presence’ in Kingdom power, he, as the archangel, issues the heavenly command for those ‘in union with Christ’ to assemble. In the case of such anointed ones ‘asleep in death,’ this trumpetlike summons calls for their spiritual resurrection into the heavens. The Watchtower has long presented the view that this resurrection of anointed Christians from death commenced in the year 1918.” (w86 10/1 pp. 13-14 par. 18 Comfort From the God of Peace) (Bold mine) Doesn't that sound a lot like the claim made by those against whom Paul warned Timothy when he wrote: "These very men have deviated from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and they are subverting the faith of some"? (2 Tim. 2:18)
in discussing "Interpolations", explains (under the heading
INTERPOLATIONS, AND WHY)
the likely reason for the addition of the spurious words in John 5:25:
John 5:25 -- "and now is," Soon after the apostles fell asleep in death the church began to lose sight of the real hope of the resurrection. The heathen doctrine of immediate survival after death -- which, in professed Christian circles became the doctrine of inherent immortality -- made void the necessity of a resurrection of the dead. The addition of the words "and now is" to this text is intended to convey the thought that Jesus' promise of the resurrection is fulfilled in some mysterious way when one hears the call of truth and becomes a Christian. Thus not only is the real meaning of this promise voided, but the text is made to contradict itself, because the resurrection could not be `coming' and `now is' at the same time. (Published by the Hartford Bible Students)
What Did Nicodemus Understand by "Born Again"?
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a teacher of Israel, a ruler of the Jews (that is, a member of the Jewish governing body, the Sanhedrin), who is mentioned only in John's Gospel. Nicodemus was impressed with the signs that Jesus performed in Jerusalem at Passover time of 30 C.E. Consequently, he visited Jesus one night and confessed that Jesus must have come from God. (Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 2, page 497) According to John's account, the discussion went like this:
He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher
who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you
are doing if God were not with him."
In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the
kingdom of God unless he is born again."
4 "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." ―John 3:1-8. (New International Version)
Nicodemus was puzzled by Jesus' reply about the
need to be "born again," although Jesus told him that he
"should not be surprised" at this. Since he was a teacher of the Jews
Nicodemus should have been familiar with God's promises and prophecies,
and that is why Jesus chided him, saying, "Are you a teacher of Israel
and yet do not know these things?" (vs. 10) What did Jesus mean when he
told Nicodemus that "no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born
again," and why should Nicodemus have understood this?
When we understand his answer we realize that with these few words Jesus focused on the very heart of what Nicodemus had just acknowledged, the evidence that he had come from God, the purpose of his coming and how Nicodemus and all the Jews were involved, and the changes that were about to come upon the entire nation of Israel in fulfillment of God's promises as he had extensively foretold by means of his prophets.
But before we can understand what Jesus meant we must first determine whether Jesus had told Nicodemus that he must be born "again" or born "from above," for the Greek word used, άνωθεν, anothen, (pronounced an'-o-then), can mean either. That is why some Bibles translate Jesus as saying, "I tell you for certain that you must be born from above before you can see God's kingdom." (CEV)
In the King James Version the word an'-o-then (Strong's 509) appears 13 times: three times it is translated as "the top" (Matt. 27:51; Mark 15:38; John 19:23), twice as "from the very first" or "from the beginning" (Luke 1:3; Acts 26:5), five times as "from above" (John 3:31; 19:11; James 1:17; 3:15, 17), and three times as "again" (John 3:3, 7; Gal. 4:9). Therefore, how can we determine whether Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born "again" or be born "from above"; or do those two terms mean the same?
The simple answer to this, of course is, what did Nicodemus understand Jesus to say? According to his reply, "How can an old man go back into his mother's womb a second time," indicates that he understood Jesus to say that he must be born "again" or "a second time," (δεύτερον - Interlinear Translation). He did not understand Jesus to say that he must be born "from above" as this would not fit his reply to Jesus. That is why the majority of Bible translations render Jesus as saying "born again." (NWT, KJV, NKJV, NIV, NLT, NIRV, HCSB, NLV, ESV, NASB, RSV, ASV, Amplified, Young, Darby, Webster, HNV) We can also be sure that Jesus said born again by understanding what it was that he meant, why there was the need to be born "again" or a "second time."
For anything to happen "again" the same thing must have taken place at least once previously. Did Jesus indicate to Nicodemus that he was first born in the flesh? That is what Nicodemus thought, according to his words. But, Jesus quickly ruled that out, saying, "What has been born from the flesh is flesh, and what has been born from the spirit is spirit." (vs. 6) In other words, being born in the flesh has nothing to do with being born again in the spirit. They are not the same at all. Nicodemus and all the Jews had to be born again in the same way or manner that they, as God's people, had already been born on a previous occasion.
Jesus and Nicodemus belonged to a nation that had come into existence solely because of the promise that Jehovah had made to their forefather Abraham. God had chosen Abraham to be the one through whom he purposed to fulfill his promise of a future seed by means of which blessings would come to all the nations of the earth, and that time was now at hand. —Genesis 22:17,18.
The Conception and Birth of Israel, God's "Firstborn Son"
The most precious, profound
and personal gift that we can offer to Jehovah, from his standpoint, is
for us to have faith in him and his promises.
It indicates our complete trust in him, his care for us individually,
acknowledging his wisdom and power; and this in spite of never
having seen him or personally heard his voice. There have been countless individuals throughout history who have been
known to have had that sort of faith.
Faith results in love and obedience. We cannot love Jehovah if we have no faith in him, which we get by coming to know him; and we obey him because we have faith that obedience brings blessings. (Heb. 11:6) Faith is something very personal, something tangible by which we prove what sort of person we are. No wonder that "faith is not a possession of all people." (2 Thess. 3:2) Abraham was a man who had such faith. In fact, he is called "the father of all those having faith." He set the example for all of us. —Romans 4:11.
Abraham had first proven his faith by leaving his home city of Ur, moving to a distant land, as Jehovah had commanded him, and arrived in the land of Canaan when he was already an old man of 75 years. He had no offspring, and yet, God promised that he would make a great nation out of him. And Abraham put faith in that promise. —Genesis 15:5,6.
Another ten years passed, and as Abraham's wife Sarah continued barren she now offered to Abraham her maidservant, Hagar, in order to have a child by her. Perhaps this was their attempt to help fulfill God's promise. And so at the age of 86 years Abraham became father to his son Ishmael, by Hagar. (Gen. 16:16) But Ishmael was not the son according to Jehovah's promise through whom the seed would come, and by means of which all the nations of earth would bless themselves. Jehovah confirmed to Abraham that his own wife, Sarah, though barren, would give birth to a son, whom he was to name Isaac, and with him Jehovah would conclude his covenant. —Genesis 17:15-21.
True to his promise, though another 14 years went by, Jehovah miraculously enabled barren Sarah to become pregnant by her husband and to give birth to Isaac their son, when Abraham was a hundred years old and she was ninety. With the birth of Isaac was conceived the future nation of Israel.
“Listen to me, YOU people who are pursuing after righteousness, YOU who are seeking to find Jehovah. Look to the rock from which YOU were hewn out, and to the hollow of the pit from which YOU were dug out. Look to Abraham YOUR father and to Sarah who gradually brought YOU forth with childbirth pains. For he was one when I called him, and I proceeded to bless him and to make him many." ―Isaiah 51:1-3, 15,16.
It would take time for the nation to
grow, much longer than the nine months it took from Isaac's conception
until his birth. (Ps. 139:13-17) In
the case of Israel it's development would be gradual, over a period of
more than 400
years from its conception to the actual birth as a nation at Mount
Sinai. During all that time Jehovah, as their Father, would
watch over his "son," his people, protecting them and helping them "even from the belly,"
which is "evidently referring to the very beginning of their development
as a people." (Isa. 44:1,2)
997-998 Son(s) of God.
The nation started to form when two sons were born to Isaac and Rebekah, namely, Esau and Jacob. Jehovah chose Jacob, and repeated the covenant that he had made with his grandfather also with him. (Gen. 28:14,15) Jacob's name was changed to Israel and he came to have twelve sons. (Gen. 32:27,28; 35:10-12) The danger now presented itself for the developing nation to be integrated with the nations round about, as became evident when Dinah, Jacob's daughter, became involved with a son of a chieftain of the Canaanites. (Gen. 34:1-31) In order to protect his as yet unborn nation, Jehovah maneuvered matters to bring them into the safety of Egypt, where he had made Joseph, one of Jacob's twelve sons, a powerful ruler, only subordinate to Pharaoh himself. Also, his families were left unmolested by the Egyptians because they were shepherds and "every herder of sheep is a detestable thing in Egypt." (Gen. 46:33,34) There, Israel could increase in numbers, but when they started to grow mighty the Egyptians began to fear them as a threat and began dominating them by enslaving them.
Jehovah had foretold all this to Abraham, the gradual growth of the nation and the time it would take for them to return to the promised land and take possession of it. "And he began to say to Abram: 'You may know for sure that your seed will become an alien resident in a land not theirs, and they will have to serve them, and these will certainly afflict them for four hundred years. But the nation that they will serve I am judging, and after that they will go out with many goods.'" —Genesis 15:13-16.
The years progressed. The four hundred years came to an end, and the few
family members of seventy, that had gone into Egypt, had grown into a
nation of over 600,000 male adults.* (Gen. 46:27; Ex. 12:37) The time had
now arrived for the momentous occasion of giving birth to Jehovah's "son," his "firstborn." But this
delivery would not be without labor pains. Jehovah sent Moses to
appear before Pharaoh: "And you must say to
Pharaoh, '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."'" (Ex. 4:22,23) (*Possibly more than three million
left Egypt. For details see
Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, page
Of course, Pharaoh refused to release God's "son," and it took ten plagues, including the death of every firstborn among the Egyptians, before Jehovah procured the release of his people. Even then Pharaoh changed his mind and chased after them, resulting in the destruction of his entire army when Jehovah trapped them in the Red Sea. To add to the birth pains was the fact that they, a vast crowd, had to wander a long distance through the wilderness, where they and their little children suffered from the heat, cold, hunger and thirst, before Jehovah brought them to Mount Sinai (also known as Mt. Horeb). Here, in the year 1513 B.C.E., the nation of Israel, as Jehovah's son, was born when Jehovah concluded a covenant with them, with Moses as their mediator, validated by "the blood of the covenant" of animal sacrifices. —Exodus 24:7,8; Ezekiel 16:3-6.
Jehovah could rightly expect his people to learn from Abraham's example of outstanding faith, and imitate it, as it is natural for children to look with pride to their forefather, as did the descendants of Jehonadab, the son of Rechab. (Gen. 18:18,19; compare Jer. 35:1-19) Especially should this have been the case since they knew that their very existence came about because Jehovah himself, the Creator of the earth and everything upon it, was their Father, having caused their conception and now their birth as a nation. (Isa. 41:8; James 2:23) Along with the covenant Jehovah made this promise to them:
"And now if YOU will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then YOU will certainly become my special property out of all [other] peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me. And YOU yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." ―Exodus 19:5,6.
If the nation of Israel would
prove faithful to his covenant, as a loyal son, Jehovah would choose exclusively
from among his sons the full number of those who would be kings and priests
in his future kingdom, by means of which blessings would come to "the
whole earth," the details of which God kept as a "sacred secret" until
his appointed time.
—Rom. 11:17-27; 16:25,26; Eph. 1:4;
Col. 1:26,27; Rev. 20:6.
The "People that is to be Born"
"You were once not a people, but are now God's people." ―1 Peter 2:10.
The covenant that Jehovah made with the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai, that gave birth to them as his sons, was not the end of the journey, as if this was all there was to God's purpose in fulfilling his promise made immediately after the rebellion in the Garden of Eden. (Gen. 3:15) From the very beginning Jehovah had purposed to redeem all of Adam's descendants, all mankind "who had not sinned after the likeness of the transgression by Adam." (Rom. 3:21-25; 5:14, 19; 1 Cor. 15:22) Abraham's seed and the covenant God had made with them would be the means by which he was going to accomplish this. For that reason the time would come when the Law covenant, once it had served its purpose, would be replaced by a new and better covenant. —Galatians 3:24,25.
“Look! There are days coming,” is the utterance of Jehovah, “and I will
conclude with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new
32 not one like the covenant that I
concluded with their forefathers in the day of my taking hold of their
hand to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt, ‘which covenant of
mine they themselves broke, although I myself had husbandly ownership of
them,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.”
33 “For this is the covenant that I shall conclude with the house of Israel after those days,” is the utterance of Jehovah. “I will put my law within them, and in their heart I shall write it. And I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people.”
34 “And they will no more teach each one his companion and each one his brother, saying, ‘KNOW Jehovah!’ for they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them,” is the utterance of Jehovah. “For I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.” ―Jeremiah 31:31-34.
Nicodemus, as a teacher of Israel, would
have (should have) been very familiar with Jehovah's promise of a new covenant, as
foretold by Jeremiah. The time had now arrived for Jehovah to bring this
about and Nicodemus, along with all the Jews, should have been in
expectation of it, especially since he confessed that the signs that Jesus
performed provided evidence that he had come
One striking difference of this new covenant was that God's law would be written in the heart of his people, instead of on stone tablets and parchment as had been the case with the old covenant, and to which the Jewish religious leaders had added abundantly. (Matt. 23:1-4) Yes, instead of obeying God because of some written code—made up of rules and regulations, as is common among man-made organizations—under the new covenant God's people would obey him because of their faith and deep love for him, all of them having come to know Jehovah "from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them."
Please note that Jehovah says concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah that "I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people." (vs. 33) Was Jehovah not already their God, and were they not also his people who were born to him at Mt. Sinai, due to the covenant mediated by Moses? Yes, the Jews had enjoyed their relationship with God as sons on account of that covenant. Since it was about to become "obsolete" their relationship could no longer continue based on a covenant that no longer existed. The end of the old covenant would also end their special relationship with God! Therefore, for them to again become God's people, and have Jehovah once more become their God, they needed to be born "again," a "second" time, by being brought into the new covenant. —Colossians 2:13,14; Hebrews 8:13.
Also, an outstanding feature of the new covenant is the forgiveness of sins. (Jer. 31:34) How is this different from the forgiveness the Jews obtained from their animal sacrifices at the temple? The life of an animal is never equal to that of a man, and thus can never fully compensate God for the sins committed by his people. Paul explains that "it is not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take sins away." (Heb. 10:4) God's people were guilty of sins by failing to live up to all that the Law of the old covenant required of them, and were in need of forgiveness. (Gal. 3:19) The new covenant made that possible because of the superior sacrifice of the perfect man Jesus. (Heb. 9:12-14; 1 Peter 2:24) The Jews needed to accept the mediator of the new covenant in order to have their transgressions forgiven and inherit the promises God had made to the nation. The apostle Paul explains it this way: "Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant." (Heb. 9:15, ESV) Having their sins thus forgiven would make it possible for the nation to get a fresh start, in a cleansed condition, by being born again. This new covenant was not "like the covenant that [God] concluded with their forefathers." (Jer. 31:31,32) Nicodemus, as a "teacher of Israel," should have understood most of these things.
This new covenant would further fulfill God's promise to Abraham that "all the nations of the earth must bless themselves by means of him." It would embrace not only Abraham's natural descendants, as God's firstborn son, but now also people of all the nations would be "born" to God as his added sons. —Gen. 18:18; Ex. 4:22; Matt. 5:9; 2 Cor. 6:17,18.
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn back to Jehovah. And all the families of the nations will bow down before you. 28 For the kingship belongs to Jehovah, And he is dominating the nations. . . 30 A seed itself will serve him; It will be declared concerning Jehovah to the generation. 31 They will come and tell of his righteousness To the people that is to be born, that he has done [this]. ―Psalms 22:27-31.
Jehovah is a faithful God. (Deut. 7:9)
Abraham's faith in him was not in vain. Not only did Abraham's seed
become as "the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are
on the seashore," but also through them blessings would come to all
mankind. (Gen. 22:17,18) It was his seed who
was entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God, and from among them
the promised "seed" or Messiah appeared. It was Abraham's seed that got
to know Jehovah because of their covenant with him, and now the ones who
put faith in Christ and were born again could "tell of his righteousness" to
"all the families of the nations,"
the people that is to be born."
—Romans 3:1,2; 9:4,5; Galatians
Under the new covenant people of all nations would be born to God, but only the Jews who had been in the previous covenant could be born "again." The mediator of the new covenant, Christ Jesus, validated the new covenant by means of his own shed blood. Anyone who exercises faith in "the blood of the covenant" will have his sins forgiven and be "born" from God by being brought into that new covenant. —Galatians 3:14-16; Revelation 7:14.
Everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born from God, and everyone who loves the one that caused to be born loves him who has been born from that one. 2 By this we gain the knowledge that we are loving the children of God, when we are loving God and doing his commandments. 3 For this is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments; and yet his commandments are not burdensome, 4 because everything that has been born from God conquers the world. And this is the conquest that has conquered the world, our faith. ―1 John 5:1-4.
Everyone born from God "conquers the world" as Jesus did, by keeping integrity and not being any part of the world of which Satan is the ruler. (John 12:31; 15:17-21) How different this now was for people of the nations who previously were "without Christ, alienated from the state of Israel and strangers to the covenants of the promise, and had no hope and were without God in the world." (Eph. 2:12) They now had the same opportunity as the Jews of being born from God and becoming his sons.
13 But now in union with Christ Jesus YOU who were once far off have come to be near by the blood of the Christ. 14 For he is our peace, he who made the two parties one and destroyed the wall in between that fenced them off. 15 By means of his flesh he abolished the enmity, the Law of commandments consisting in decrees, that he might create the two peoples in union with himself into one new man and make peace; 16 and that he might fully reconcile both peoples in one body to God through the torture stake, because he had killed off the enmity by means of himself. 17 And he came and declared the good news of peace to YOU, the ones far off, and peace to those near, 18 because through him we, both peoples, have the approach to the Father by one spirit. ―Eph. 2:13-18.
There would no longer be any distinction between a Jew and a Gentile
under the new covenant, for they would both equally be born as sons of God.
It is to these believing Gentiles that Jesus referred when he said, "And
I have other sheep, which are
not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my
voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd."—John
10:16; Rom. 10:11,12; Gal. 3:26.
The new covenant is actually the restored original covenant of life that Jehovah had made with Adam, which now makes possible for all of his offspring to be completely reconciled to God through their faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Cor. 5:18,19; Col. 1:20) There is no other future third covenant necessary. Jesus did not make "a covenant for a kingdom" with his disciples on the night he was arrested, as is taught by the Society. On that occasion he simply promised that they would receive the kingdom, the means by which blessings will flow to redeemed mankind under the new covenant, for God's kingdom will replace all present oppressive human governments. —Dan. 7:13,14, 27; Luke 22:29,30; Rev. 3:21. (see Did Jesus make a covenant for a kingdom?)
The only distinction that will endure forever will be regarding the "Israel of God," which had its root firmly planted in the covenant Jehovah had made with Abraham. Since the root was holy, the 144,000 branches would also be holy, even though some of the domestic branches had been broken off [unfaithful Jews] and replaced by "wild" branches [believing Gentiles]. —Romans 11:16; Revelation 7:4-8.
It might be good to note at this point that although the Jews were born from God as his sons, none of them had the opportunity of ruling with Christ in his heavenly kingdom, that is, not until the time of Christ's actual appearance; no, not even John the Baptist who prepared the way for him. That is why Jesus said regarding him: "I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is!" (Matt. 11:11, NLT) King David certainly was God's son, yet he did not have the heavenly hope. Therefore, Jesus told Nicodemus, "No man has ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man." —John 3:13; compare Acts 2:34.
It is evident, that to qualify as being born from God as his son, one does not need to have the heavenly hope. There is no scriptural basis for suggesting that this designation has changed. Those who will rule with Christ are chosen from among God's sons. Such future rulers may be viewed as God's sons in a special sense, as God spoke of his king designate, Solomon, "I myself shall become his father, and he himself will become my son." (2 Sam. 7:14) All who will "inherit the earth" will be sons of God just as Adam was a "son of God" before his rebellion. (Matt. 5:5; Luke 3:38) ―it-2 pp. 998 Son(s) of God.
"A Nation Born at One Time"
"Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor
she brought forth her children."—Isaiah 66:8, ESV
The new covenant
came into operation at Pentecost 33C.E.,
which, according to the Jewish calendar was Sivan 6; and with that the
old Law covenant became obsolete. It is interesting what
Insight on the Scriptures notes
regarding this date:
"The Jews traditionally hold that
Pentecost corresponded to the time of the giving of the Law at Sinai,
when Israel became a distinguished people. It was early in the third
month (Sivan) that the Israelites gathered at Sinai and received the
Law. (Ex 19:1) Just as Moses as mediator was used to introduce Israel
into the Law covenant, so Jesus Christ as Mediator of spiritual Israel*
now brought that new nation into the new covenant."
―Vol. 2, page
The term "spiritual Israel" is not found in the Bible.)
It had taken the nation of Israel a period of several hundred years to form; and its birth, with the covenant made at Mount Sinai, had been accompanied with great birth pangs, labor pains. But their new birth, with the new covenant, was going to be astonishingly different. It would take place in one day, before there could even be any "birth pangs."
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. ―Isaiah 66:7,8
Zion, in Jerusalem, was where Jehovah's
temple stood and where God's sons were worshiping him according to the
old Law covenant, although they continually broke it. But it was not
this Zion that Isaiah prophesied would give birth to her sons. Because
the sacred ark was situated in Jehovah's temple on Mount Zion, Zion came
to represent Jehovah's presence and heavenly realities. Quoting
Insight on the Scriptures, "Zion became a mountain especially holy
to Jehovah when David had the sacred Ark transferred there. Later, the
designation “Zion” embraced the temple area on Mount Moriah (where the
Ark was moved during Solomon’s reign) and the term was, in fact, applied
to the entire city of Jerusalem. (Compare Isa 1:8; 8:18; see MOUNTAIN OF
MEETING.) Since the Ark was associated with Jehovah’s presence and
because Zion was a symbol of heavenly realities, Zion was referred to as
the place of God’s dwelling and the place from which help, blessing, and
salvation would come." ―Vol.
2, page 1236.
Before his ascension to heaven Jesus had told his disciples not to withdraw from Jerusalem, "but keep waiting for what the Father has promised." While his disciples had already been baptized by John the Baptist in water, showing "that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven," they were about to be "baptized in holy spirit not many days after this." (Mark 1:4, 8, NLT; Acts 1:4) As the Father had promised by means of the prophet Isaiah, Zion was about to give birth to her sons and his new nation was about to be born in one day, "at one time." The account in Acts tells us what happened when Jesus' twelve apostles and 108 disciples were gathered together:
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. ―Acts 2:1-4, NLT.
Regarding the Spirit, Jesus
had told Nicodemus that
"the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot
tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone
born of the Spirit." (John 3:8) On the last night with his
disciples Jesus had promised them
"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 14:26; 15:26; 16:7) Now, on this day of
Pentecost, God sent the promised helper by pouring out the holy spirit
upon the 120 disciples. Since the holy spirit is not visible to the
eyes, God made it evident when it was accompanied by the sound from
heaven "like the roaring of a mighty windstorm" (NLT), so loud that it
brought the multitude, that had gathered in Jerusalem for the festival,
running to the house where the disciples were gathered.
They could hear the sound but could not see where it came from. Inside,
the holy spirit made itself evident when
"flames or tongues of fire" settled upon each of the 120 individuals receiving it.
The disciples had previously already been "born of water," having been baptized which made forgiveness of their sins possible once Christ had paid the ransom, resulting in their clean standing before God. (1 Cor. 6:11; Heb. 9:14) Now they had been baptized also with holy spirit which filled them with "all the fullness that God gives," empowering them to understand and "grasp what is the breadth and length and height and depth." (Eph. 3:18,19) Full of holy spirit, the apostle Peter was able to explain to the crowd that had gathered, the significance of what had just occurred, according to Joel's prophecy: “And after that it must occur that I shall pour out my spirit on every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will certainly prophesy. As for your old men, dreams they will dream. As for your young men, visions they will see. And even on the menservants and on the maidservants in those days I shall pour out my spirit."
With the outpouring of his holy spirit Jehovah brought the new covenant into force, thus giving birth to his new nation — his household, made up of Christ's disciples. As foretold by his prophet Isaiah, his new nation was "born in one day," "in one moment." It was not Zion, the city of Jerusalem, that gave birth to God's new nation, but rather this came from Jehovah himself: "'Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?' says the LORD; 'shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?' says your God." —Isa. 66:8,9; ESV.
Jehovah began to lay the foundation of his new nation with his chosen twelve apostles and 108 other disciples, all of them natural offspring of Abraham; with "Christ Jesus himself [as] the foundation cornerstone." (see Summary) Keeping "the covenant in force for the many for one week [of years]," Jehovah continued to choose exclusively from among faithful Jews for another three and a half years to add to the foundation of his household, until 36 C.E., when Cornelius became the first Gentile to be added until the full "foreordained" number of 144,000 would be fulfilled. —Daniel 9:27; Acts 10:1, 44-48; Romans 11:13, 17-24; Ephesians 2:19-22.
Of what use is a foundation, unless a building is constructed upon it? (Luke 6:47,48; 14:29,30) A foundation is of a specific size, having definite dimensions, which includes the one cornerstone. On the other hand, that which is build upon it is only limited by what the foundation can bear. After laying the foundation on the day of Pentecost, Jehovah also immediately build upon the foundation with "about three thousand souls [that] were added." These three thousand had responded to Peter's speech and consequently repented and were baptized for forgiveness of their sins. (Acts 2:37-41) Likely Jehovah chose a number of them in order to add them to the 120 foundation stones. But most of the newly baptized disciples were built upon the foundation. The two loaves of newly ripened grain that were presented to God at Pentecost under the old covenant had pictured these two groups: 1. The anointed disciples who would eventually number 144,000, and who were the foundation, with Jesus as the foundation cornerstone; and 2. The countless others, "all those who [are] rightly disposed for everlasting life," who are build upon this foundation, and whose natural hope of life on earth is assured by Jehovah. (Rev. 14:1, 3; 7:9,10; John 3:16; Acts 13:48; 1 John 4:9) Both groups were presented before Jehovah on that day; both taken from among sinful mankind as the loaves, having been baked leavened, symbolized.* (See footnote) —Leviticus 23:16-20.
The 120 disciples, who were anointed with holy spirit as the foundation stones, and the 3000 who were baptized that day, were thus "born again" and brought into the new covenant, becoming God's sons for a second time since the old covenant was from this day on no longer valid. Samaritans, and later Gentiles, would also be born from God, but for their first time. (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 4:4-7) In this way "the whole building [was] being harmoniously joined together, growing into a holy temple for Jehovah," and "built up together into a place for God to inhabit by spirit." —Ephesians 2:19-22; Hebrews 3:6; 1 Peter 2:4-6.
All who belong to Jehovah have been "born of water" (by baptism) and are also born of the spirit. It is God's spirit that teaches us to know the things of God, "for the spirit searches into all things, even the deep things of God. . . But a physical man does not receive the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know them, because they are examined spiritually." (1 Cor. 2:10-14) All of God's faithful people have God's spirit, as a recent Watchtower article acknowledged: "Genuine anointed Christians. . . do not believe that they necessarily have more holy spirit than their companions of the other sheep have." ―The Watchtower, May 1, 2007, page 31.
We are born from God, according to his will and promise, and are brought into the new covenant as we are adopted as his sons and daughters. As such we become members of his household, some as foundation stones, others built upon this foundation; and if we remain there, faithful, we will inherit the blessings that Jehovah had originally intended for Adam's offspring, had Adam remained faithful. —2 Cor. 6:16-18; Gen. 1:27,28; Ps. 37:10,11, 29; Rev. 20:3,4.
Do not allow anyone to rob you of your precious relationship with your heavenly Father, for you were bought with a price and have been brought into the new covenant, born from water (by your baptism) and the Spirit (generously poured out upon us), which has been made possible by the "blood of the covenant." —1 Cor. 6:19,20; 7:23.
The Jews were born as a
nation at Mount Sinai, and became God's people when they, at that time, entered
into the covenant with God. The entire nation, "every man of Israel," including
the little ones, and their wives, were included in that covenant, "for the
purpose of establishing you today as his people and that he may prove himself
your God." (Deut. 29:10-13) That covenant was made with Abraham's offspring for
the purpose of producing the promised Seed, thereby safeguarding the lineage
through which the Messiah would come by means of whom "all nations of the earth
will certainly bless themselves," according to God's promise to Abraham. (Gen.
22:16-18; Matt. 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-34)
God also foretold that once this covenant had fulfilled its divine purpose, he would then make a new and better covenant with his people, thereby rendering the former old covenant obsolete. Nicodemus, a leader and teacher among the Jews, should have been familiar with God's promise of a new covenant, as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah. (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:7-9, 13) When he failed to get the sense of Jesus' words, "You people must be born again," Jesus scolded him, saying: "Are you a teacher of Israel and yet do not know these things?" (John 3:7, 9,10) Clearly, not only Nicodemus, but all the Jews should have been in expectation of the Messiah, including God's promise of making a new covenant with them.
Being God's people under the old covenant, the Jews needed to be "born again" by entering into the new covenant upon termination of the old one; but how could they if they rejected the mediator of that new covenant? (Heb. 9:13-15) Only by entering into the new covenant could they inherit the promise God had made them: "And you yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," for it was by means of the new covenant that this was to be fulfilled. (Exodus 19:5,6) That is why Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)
When Jesus told Nicodemus that "anyone" [of you people, the Jews] must be born "again" in order to see the kingdom of God, he was not referring to "people of the nations," the Gentiles, who had not been previously in the old covenant, but were "alienated from the state of Israel and strangers to the covenants of the promise." (Eph. 2:11-18; Matt. 15:24) Yet, through their faith in Jesus, people of the nations could now also become God's people, under the new covenant; no, not as proselytes as before, but as genuine "sons of God." (Rom. 10:12; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 John 3:9; 5:1) Both Jews and Gentiles are equally "born from God" when they are baptized, in obedience to Jesus' command, at which time they receive "the free gift of the holy spirit." Thus they are "born from water and spirit." This was true also in Jesus' own case. (Matt. 3:16,17; 28:19; compare Acts 2:38; 8:14-17; 10:47; 11:15-17; 19:1-6; 1 Peter 3:21) It is only by means of this new covenant that anyone can enjoy a personal relationship with God, just as he foretold regarding it: "'I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people." (Jer. 31:33; Acts 15:14-18)
At the moment of a person's baptism, he also receives the benefits of the ransom, including the forgiveness of his previous sins. (1 John 2:-3, 12) He is now a member of God's household, which is God's holy temple, "a place for God to inhabit by spirit." (Eph. 2:21,22; 3:5,6; 1 Cor. 3:16,17) As long as he remains within God's temple he is assured of inheriting God's kingdom, which means the everlasting life that God promised, and as Jesus told Nicodemus. (John 3:16; Jude 21; Heb. 6:4-6; Matt. 13:40-43) The vast majority of mankind will live right here on earth, according to God's original purpose for Adam and his offspring; whereas a small number are chosen by God from among Christ's disciples to rule with Jesus in his heavenly kingdom, by which God will bring about the blessings to the nations that he first promised to Abraham. (Daniel 7:13,14, 27; Matt. 5:5; 6:10; 19:27,28; Rev. 3:21; 20:6)
• "Born again" does not refer to some sort of spiritual resurrection.
• The nation of Israel was born as God's people at Mount Sinai when God made the covenant with them, with Moses as the mediator, "for the purpose of establishing you today as his people and that he may prove himself your God." (Deut. 29:12,13)
• God foretold: "Look! There are days coming and I will conclude with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant; not one like the covenant that I concluded with their forefathers . . . I will put my law within them, and in their heart I shall write it. And I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people." (Jer. 31:31-33; Heb. 8:6-13) Please note, with the new covenant they would renew their relationship with God as his people; he would become their God again, and they his people again.
• The foretold new covenant became operative on the day of Pentecost, with Jesus as the mediator, when he poured out the holy spirit upon the 120 disciples. (Acts 2:1-42; Heb. 9:13-15, 18-22)
• Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled on Pentecost: "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." (Isaiah 66:7,8) The Jews, who exercised faith in the mediator Christ Jesus, became the nation that was born at one time, in one day. They were thus born again, again becoming God's people while He again became their God. The Jews who failed to enter into the new covenant, by rejecting the mediator, would no longer be God's covenant people. (Paul in his letter to the Galatians illustrates the two covenants by comparing them to the birth of Hagar's son and Sarah's son; Gal. 4:21-31; Rom. 10:1-4; Heb. 8:13)
Nicodemus, as a teacher of Israel, should have known these prophecies, as Jesus indicated to him. (John 3:9,10) When he went to visit Jesus that night, he had the privilege of being instructed by the mediator of the new covenant. This is what Jesus was impressing on him.
The terms "born again" and "new birth" are not interchangeable. They do not refer to the same thing! Whereas "born again" applied to the Jews in the first century, who were in the old covenant but needed to be brought into the new covenant, upon the termination of the old covenant (as discussed above); the "new birth," mentioned by Peter, refers to those of Jesus' disciples who will rule with him in his heavenly kingdom. (1 Peter 1:3-5) This hope of going to heaven is something new, for it did not exist prior to Jesus time. It remained God's "sacred secret" (mystery) until the time when it began to be fulfilled, starting with the choosing of the twelve apostles, and applies only to the ones who are chosen by God, the number of which will eventually total 144,000. (Rev. 14:1, 3; Rom. 16:25,26; 1 Cor. 2:7) Even John the Baptist, the greatest "among those born of women," was not among these, nor did he know anything about this new hope reserved for them. (Matt. 11:11; 25:34-46) All of God's people are "born from water and spirit," but they do not all have the "new birth."
Regarding the two loaves presented on the day of Pentecost, Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 2, page 599, states: "The fact that there were two loaves of newly ripened grain that were presented to Jehovah at Pentecost indicates that more than one person would be involved in the fulfillment. It may also point to the fact that those who become spirit-begotten followers of Jesus Christ would be taken from two groups on earth: First from the natural circumcised Jews, and later from all the other nations of the world, the Gentiles." (bold mine)
The second loaf presented to Jehovah at Pentecost cannot symbolize spirit-begotten Gentiles, for Gentiles were not presented to Jehovah until three and a half years later, with the baptism and anointing of Cornelius. (Acts 10:44-48) Since the two loaves were presented together, and for them to have any significance, they must also represent "two groups" who were present on that occasion together, namely the 120 anointed disciples, and those immediately joined to them, the 3,000 who were not anointed with the spirit but were also baptized and presented to Jehovah, being brought into the new covenant. This second group, or loaf, would be cared for by the ones who had been anointed for that purpose, and thus both groups were "being built up together into a place for God to inhabit by spirit." Significantly, Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 2, (page 599, par. 1) notes, "After the loaves were waved, one of them was taken by the high priest, and the second was divided among all the officiating priests." (Luke 12:42-44; John 21:15-17; Acts 2:1-4, 37-42; Eph. 2:21,22; 1 Peter 5:2-4)
Another reason why the second loaf cannot represent spirit begotten Gentiles is because of Jehovah's promise in connection with his covenant made at Mount Sinai with only natural Israelites. "'And now if YOU will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then YOU will certainly become my special property out of all [other] peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me. And YOU yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you are to say to the sons of Israel." (Exodus 19:5,6)
Since the festival of Pentecost (also known as the "Festival of Harvest," "Festival of Weeks," and "the day of the first ripe fruits"), was part of the Law "spoken by Moses to all the people" in connection with the covenant Jehovah made with them, if the second loaf presented to Jehovah on that day represented "spirit-begotten followers of Jesus Christ" taken from among Gentiles then Jehovah was telling his people from the very beginning of making his covenant that the promise he made to them, about becoming a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation," was unattainable for them, and thus he was already illustrating to them, yes, reminding them yearly on that date, that they would eventually be replaced by people of the nations. (Ex. 23:16; 34:22; Num. 28:26; Heb. 9:19,20) That would render all his future appeals to his people to return to him, and his promises to them, meaningless, even hypocritical, for he had already determined to reject them from the beginning, that is, if the second loaf indeed pictured anointed Gentiles. (2 Chr. 36:15; Jer. 44:4,5)
But Jehovah is not the kind of God who makes false promises, as Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, page 1138, assures us: "Jehovah God is the Source of true hope and the One able to fulfill all his promises and the hopes of those trusting in him. It is through his undeserved kindness that he has given mankind “comfort and good hope.” (2Th 2:16) He has been the hope of righteous men in all ages. He was called “the hope of Israel” and “the hope of [Israel’s] forefathers” (Jer 14:8; 17:13; 50:7), and many are the expressions of hope, trust, and confidence in him in the Hebrew Scriptures. In his loving-kindness toward his people, even when they were going into exile for disobedience to him, he said to them: “I myself well know the thoughts that I am thinking toward you, . . . thoughts of peace, and not of calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11) Jehovah’s promise kept alive the faith and hope of faithful Israelites during the Babylonian exile; it greatly strengthened men such as Ezekiel and Daniel, for Jehovah had said: “There exists a hope for your future, . . . and the sons will certainly return to their own territory.” (Jer 31:17) That hope came to fruition when a faithful Jewish remnant returned in 537 B.C.E. to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple.—Ezra 1:1-6."