"Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them.
And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?"
—Matthew 6:26 (New Living Translation)
"One is Your Father, the Heavenly One"
Who do you pray to? On one occasion after Jesus had finished praying, one of his disciples said to him: "Lord, teach us how to pray, just as John also taught his disciples." (Luke 11:1) Accordingly, Jesus gave the following answer, as recorded by Matthew:
"You, however, when you pray, go into your private room and, after shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you. But when praying, do not say the same things over and over again, just as the people of the nations do, for they imagine they will get a hearing for their use of many words. So, do not make yourselves like them, for God YOUR Father knows what things YOU are needing before ever YOU ask him. YOU must pray, then, this way: ‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. . .'" (Matt. 6:6-9; 23:9)
Please note how Jesus refers to God
as "your Father." Is Jehovah God also your father? How do
him in prayer? Are you entitled to call God your
father? That is not such a stupid question as some may think, because if
Jehovah is your "Father in the heavens" then it stands to reason that you
must be either a son or daughter of his. After all, who else but his sons
and daughters can call God their Father.
Jesus does not refer to God as being our father merely in a sense of respect and honor, as if it were a title, as was the case with the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin, "whose prerogative it was by virtue of the wisdom and experience in which they excelled, to take charge of the interests of others." No, God is our father "because he is [the] creator, upholder, ruler, preserver, guardian and protector of spiritual beings and of all men." (The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon) For that reason Jesus told his disciples, "Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One." (Matt. 23:9)
Jesus could certainly call Jehovah his Father as he was God's Son. Jehovah himself had said of him "This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved." (Matt. 3:17; 16:16) Not only was Jesus God's Son, but his "only-begotten Son," and as such had a very special and unique relationship with his father. God's Word tells us that he is the very beginning of the creation by God, and by means of him all things in heaven and on earth were created. That includes the many other spirit persons in heaven who can likewise call God their Father, as they are "sons of God." (John 3:16; Col. 1:15-17; Rev. 3:14; Job 1:6)
These spirit sons of God watched with fascination and joy as Jehovah created (by means of his only-begotten Son) the physical universe and prepared the earth as a home for another son, Adam, whom he created out of the elements of the earth in his own image. And when Jehovah created a wife for his son, she became his daughter. Eventually the whole earth would be filled with their own children, sons and daughters who would all be able to call Jehovah their Father. (Gen. 1:27; 2:7; Job 38:7; Luke 3:38)
Adam, as a son of God, enjoyed a close relationship with his heavenly father and was often in communication with him. But he lost that precious intimacy when he rebelled against his father. Sadly, the vast majority of Adam's offspring followed his bad example by rejecting God's guidance and care, and allowing themselves to come under the influence of one of the spirit sons of God who instigated this rebellion, Satan. The resulting terrible consequences of suffering and eventual death was not the fault of their heavenly father. The fact that he had provided his children with a law that meant to guide them was evidence that he loved them and wanted nothing but the best for them.
For I shall declare the name
Do YOU attribute greatness to our God!
The Rock, perfect is his activity,
For all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice;
Righteous and upright is he.
They have acted ruinously on their own part;
They are not his children, the defect is their own.
A generation crooked and twisted!
Is it to Jehovah that YOU keep doing this way,
O people stupid and not wise?
Is he not your Father who has produced you,
He who made you and proceeded to give you stability?
If those who Jehovah has
produced but who "have acted
ruinously on their own part," are not considered by him to be his children, then what can
be said of those who have listened to him?
The Scriptures speak of many who walked with Jehovah in faithfulness. Paul calls them "so great a cloud of witnesses," and Jehovah "is not ashamed of them, to be called upon as their God." Adam's son Abel "offered God a sacrifice of greater worth than Cain, through which [faith] he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness respecting his gifts; and through it he, although he died, yet speaks." (Heb. 11:4, 16)
Enoch "kept walking with the [true] God" and "had the witness that he had pleased God well." (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5)
"Noah was a righteous man. He proved himself faultless among his contemporaries. [He] walked with the [true] God," and "by faith [he], after being given divine warning of things not yet beheld, showed godly fear and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; and through this [faith] he condemned the world, and he became an heir of the righteousness that is according to faith." (Gen. 6:9; Heb. 11:7)
"By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed in going out into a place he was destined to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, although not knowing where he was going. By faith he resided as an alien in the land of the promise as in a foreign land, and dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the very same promise." (Gen. 15:5,6; Heb. 11:8,9)
In the book of Hebrews, chapter 11, the apostle Paul mentions just a few names of the many individuals who "walked with Jehovah." We can be certain that they all prayed to God, and he listened, for they were favorably heard. (compare Acts 10:31) Could they address him as their Father, in the manner that Jesus taught his disciples to pray? Without doubt! Yes, these faithful men and women could call upon Jehovah as their "father in the heavens," seeing that they were his obedient children. Although we may not measure up fully to God's righteous requirements, and fail to please him many times, nevertheless, because of our obedience and faith like that of Abraham and the many other faithful servants of old, we too can call upon our Father in the heavens, knowing he hears us. (Psalms 65:2; 145:18; 1 Peter 3:12)
"Look from heaven and see out of your lofty abode of holiness and beauty. . . For you are our Father; although Abraham himself may not have known us and Israel himself may not recognize us, you, O Jehovah, are our Father. Our Repurchaser of long ago is your name." —Isaiah 63:16
The Nation of Israel as God's "Son"
When Jehovah sent Moses to Egypt and appear before Pharaoh to demand the release of his people it is interesting to note the message Moses was to deliver. He was to tell 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.'" Finally, after ten plagues, Moses led Israel out of Egyptian slavery and at Mount Sinai Jehovah made a covenant with them. The Watchtower, August 1, 1995, said regarding this:
Much later, during Moses’ day, Jehovah entered into a covenant relationship with the nation of Israel. As a result, that nation became his chosen people and was viewed as his “son.” God said: “Israel is my son.” (Exodus 4:22, 23; 19:3-6; Deuteronomy 14:1, 2) Based on that covenant relationship, the Israelites could say, as recorded by the prophet Isaiah: “You, O Jehovah, are our Father.” (Isaiah 63:16) Jehovah assumed his fatherly responsibility and lovingly taught his children, Israel. (Psalm 71:17; Isaiah 48:17, 18) In fact, when they became unfaithful, he mercifully pleaded with them: “Return, O you renegade sons.” —Jeremiah 3:14. (w95 8/1 pp. 9-10 Jehovah—A God Who Teaches)
Every male member of the twelve tribes of Israel could claim to be God's "son" and had individual accountability accordingly. Thus, they could bring guilt upon themselves individually for wrongdoing, or the whole nation could become guilty before Jehovah as a collective son. (Isai. 44:8; Ezek. 18:20; compare Rev. 2:23) Insight on the Scriptures, vol. 2, says:
Jehovah protected, carried, corrected, and provided for them as a father would for his son. (De 1:30, 31; 8:5-9; compare Isa 49:14, 15.) As “a son,” the nation should have served to the praise of its Father. (Isa 43:21; Mal 1:6) Otherwise Israel would belie its sonship (De 32:4-6, 18-20; Isa 1:2, 3; 30:1, 2, 9), even as some of the Israelites acted in disreputable ways and were called “sons of belial” (literal Hebrew expression rendered “good-for-nothing men” at De 13:13 and other texts; compare 2Co 6:15). They became “renegade sons.”—Jer 3:14, 22; compare 4:22. (it-2 pp. 997-998 Son(s) of God)
What a wonderful blessing and awesome responsibility it was
for any Israelite to be recognized as a son of the true God because of
his obedience and faith, being a member of the nation that God recognized
as his people, his composite "son."
Note, though, how Jehovah had called Israel "my son, my firstborn," even before he made the covenant with them, while they were still in Egypt. This was due to the covenant he had made centuries earlier with their forefather Abraham. Because of Abraham's great faith and obedience, even to the point of offering up his only son by his wife Sarah, Jehovah had promised:
"By myself I do swear,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘that by reason of the fact that you have done this thing and you have not withheld your son, your only one, I shall surely bless you and I shall surely multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore; and your seed will take possession of the gate of his enemies. And by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves due to the fact that you have listened to my voice.'" —Genesis 22:16-18.
If Jehovah recognized the nation of Israel as his son even before making the covenant with them, what can be said of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Would they not also be God's sons? Jehovah's promise to Abraham included three things: Abraham's offspring would become numerous like "the stars of the heavens," and Jehovah, as their father, would be with them as their protector; also the promised "seed," first mentioned by God immediately after Adam's rebellion in Eden, would come from Abraham's line of descent; and thirdly, by means of that seed "all nations of the earth" would receive blessings. (Gen. 3:15; Matt. 1:1-16; Ga. 3:16) It was in this last context that Jehovah referred to the children of Abraham as "my son, my firstborn," because the time would come when not only his "firstborn" son Israel would belong to Jehovah but he would also have many more sons, people of "all the nations of the earth," because of their having faith like that of Abraham, and blessing themselves by means of his seed.
YOU know that those who adhere to faith are the ones who are sons of
Abraham. Now the Scripture, seeing in advance that God would declare
people of the nations righteous due to faith, declared the good news
beforehand to Abraham, namely: "By means of you all the nations will be
blessed." Consequently those who adhere to faith are being blessed
together with faithful Abraham."
The Exclusive Three and a Half Years
Jehovah's promise of a coming seed, a Messiah who would in God's due time crush the Devil, was well known to his people Israel; yet there was another important element to that promise that he kept as a "sacred secret" until the appointed time arrived for its fulfillment. Jehovah had purposed to provide close associates to that Seed, as close as a bride, who would be rulers with his Son in his kingdom, and whom he personally would choose from among the sons of Israel. (John 3:29) The full number of these chosen ones was foreordained in the beginning but was not revealed until the end of the first century when the apostle John received the Revelation. (see Rev. 14:1-4) It would be by means of the Messiah and his anointed companions that Jehovah would establish an administration, his heavenly kingdom, by which all the damage caused by Adam's rebellion would be undone. (Dan. 7:13,14,18,27; Luke 22:28-30) The apostle Paul writes in this regard:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ, for he has blessed us with every
spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in union with Christ, just
as he chose us in union with him before the founding of the world, that we
should be holy and without blemish before him in love. For
he foreordained us to the adoption through Jesus Christ as sons to
himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, in
praise of his glorious undeserved kindness which he kindly conferred upon
us by means of [his] loved one.
"This he caused to abound toward us in all wisdom and good sense, in that he made known to us the sacred secret of his will. It is according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself for an administration at the full limit of the appointed times, namely, to gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth. [Yes,] in him, in union with whom we were also assigned as heirs, in that we were foreordained according to the purpose of him who operates all things according to the way his will counsels, that we should serve for the praise of his glory, we who have been first to hope in the Christ." —Eph. 1:3-6, 8-12.
Jehovah, the "God and Father" of Jesus
Christ, purposed to choose from among
his firstborn son Israel, that is, Abraham's natural descendants, those he had foreordained before
the founding of the world to be his adopted "sons." These
anointed, adopted sons, would make up the "Israel of God," the "kingdom of
priests and a holy nation," that Jehovah had promised at the time he
concluded the covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. Of, course, as he told
them, to be recipients of those blessings would depend upon their obedience. (Exodus 19:5,6; Gal. 6:16;
1 Peter 2:9)
God never purposed to have millions, that is, every member of the nation of Israel, to rule in the kingdom of his Son. As already mentioned, that number was fixed "before the founding of the world," when Jehovah first mentioned the seed. (Gen. 3:15) The choosing of these future rulers would first begin upon the arrival of the promised seed, and the first ones to be thus chosen were the twelve apostles who were among the "first to hope in the Christ." According to Luke, Jesus called his disciples together and "chose from among them twelve, whom he also named apostles." (Luke 6:12-16) Note that only twelve were chosen. Obviously, not everyone of his disciples was picked to be an apostle. When one of the twelve rejected his appointment he was replaced by another and the number remained at twelve. (Acts 1:24-26)
In the same way, God purposed to choose only 144,000 whom he would anoint to rule with Christ in his heavenly kingdom (including the twelve apostles), and these would be chosen over the centuries from among God's earthly sons. The last ones will be sealed just prior to the Great Tribulation. All of these must prove themselves "faithful even to death" in order to receive their reward. Should any one of them prove unfaithful, as was the case with Judas Iscariot, then he too must be replaced. (1 Peter 1:3,4; Rev. 2:10; 5:9; 7:1-4; 14:4) The anointing of the first members of these started at Pentecost when Jehovah poured out his holy spirit upon the twelve apostles and one hundred and eight other disciples present with them.
We might wonder why the "upward of" three hundred and ninety-two other disciples that Jesus had appeared to after his resurrection were not present at the outpouring of the holy spirit (500 less the 108 at Pentecost besides the apostles; see 1 Cor. 15:5-7). The answer is simple: Jehovah never intended to choose every single disciple of Christ as a member of the "Israel of God." The desire and hope of living forever on earth did not disappear at this time. (Matt. 5:5)
Immediately after their anointing the apostle Peter gave a stirring witness to all the Jews and proselytes that had gathered there, with the result that "about three thousand souls" responded and were baptized. (Acts 2: 10, 37-41) Not every one of these new disciples would be anointed with his spirit as prospective co-rulers with his Son. Perhaps he might choose a few from among the newly baptized natural Jews but certainly not any proselyte on that historic occasion. The prophet Daniel had foretold that Jehovah would "keep the covenant in force for the many for one week; and at the half of the week he will cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease." (Dan. 9:27) What did that mean? The Watchtower says:
Even after the Jews had slain his Son, Jehovah continued to show them long-suffering for a period of three and a half more years, granting them the exclusive opportunity of being called to become a part of the spiritual seed of Abraham. (Daniel 9:27) Before and after the year 36 C.E., some Jews accepted this call, and thus, as Paul later put it, “a remnant has turned up according to a choosing due to undeserved kindness.”—Romans 11:5. (November 1, 2001, page 13, Jehovah Is a God of Long Suffering.) (Bold mine)
That exclusive time period of three and a half years ("half of the week" after Christ's sacrificial death; 33 C.E. to 36 C.E.) of being invited did not extent to any non-Jews such as proselytes and Samaritans, for it was exclusive to Abraham's natural descendants who were in the covenant with Jehovah. Insight on the Scriptures, volume 2, page 699, says regarding proselytes:
Throughout Israelite history non-Jews became proselytes, in effect saying about the Jews what Moabitess Ruth said to Naomi: "Your people will be my people, and your God my God." (Ru 1:16; Jos 6:25; Mt 1:5) (Bold mine)
These proselytes were not included in the covenant that Jehovah made with Israel:
What was the standing of such proselytes? When Jehovah made his covenant, it was only with Israel; those of the "vast mixed company," although present, were not named as participants. (Exodus 12:38; 19:3, 7, 8) Their firstborn were not taken into account when the ransom price for the firstborn of Israel was calculated. (Numbers 3:44-51) Decades later when the land of Canaan was divided between the Israelite tribes, nothing was set aside for non-Israelite believers. (Genesis 12:7; Joshua 13:1-14) Why? Because the Law covenant was not made with proselytes. But proselyte men were circumcised in obedience to the Law. They observed its regulations, and they benefited from its provisions. Proselytes as well as Israelites came under the Law covenant.—Exodus 12:48, 49; Numbers 15:14-16; Romans 3:19. (The Watchtower, February 1, 1998, page 11; Jehovah Is a God of Covenants - Proselytes in Israel) (Bold mine)
As is noted, although the covenant that Jehovah made with Israel was exclusively between him and Abraham's natural offspring, yet non-Jewish circumcised proselytes could worship Jehovah and came under the Law of that covenant. Could any proselyte become a disciple of Christ during these exclusive three and a half years? Yes, of course they could, as The Watchtower goes on to say:
So closely were proselytes associated with Israel under the Law that at Pentecost 33 C.E. when the first ‘key of the kingdom’ was used in behalf of the Jews, proselytes also benefited. As a result, "Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch," became a Christian and was among the "seven certified men" appointed to care for the needs of the Jerusalem congregation.—Matthew 16:19; Acts 2:5-10; 6:3-6; 8:26-39 (The Watchtower, February 1, 1998, page 11; Jehovah Is a God of Covenants - Proselytes in Israel)
The Watchtower states that proselytes at
Pentecost 33 C.E. benefited when the first key of the kingdom was used in
behalf of the Jews. If by "benefited" it is meant that they too had the
invitation for the heavenly calling then that is not possible. That
invitation was exclusively for the Jews. That is what exclusive means,
"not shared with others; not including." (Webster's II New Riverside
Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch, is mentioned in Acts as one of the seven, who "full of spirit and wisdom" was selected to share in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:5) He was certainly blessed as a disciple of Christ, but as a non-Jew the heavenly invitation would not have been extended to him during these three and a half years. Since it says that he was "full of spirit" does that not indicate that he had been anointed for the heavenly calling? Having God's spirit is not necessarily evidence of a person having been anointed, but rather it is God's helper that assists us in serving him, as was the case with the seventy older men of Israel who had been selected to assist Moses. God's spirit helped them to be "prudent." (Num. 11:16,17, 24-29; Neh. 9:20; John 14:26) God's spirit helps all his people today to worship him.
And the same can be said about the Samaritans. Jesus indicated the exclusiveness of the Jews when he sent forth his twelve apostles, saying: "Do not go off into the road of the nations, and do not enter into a Samaritan city; but, instead, go continually to the lost sheep of Israel." (Matt. 10:5,6) Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. (John 4:8) That does not mean, though, that they could not become Christ's followers, as is shown when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. (John 4:7-30) Although many of them became disciples, and received holy spirit during these three and a half years, none of them had the heavenly calling extended to them at this time. The holy spirit was God's "free gift" to them. (see Acts 8:14-20)
The three and a half years of exclusiveness for the natural Jews ended in 36 C.E. when the apostle Peter was sent to Cornelius. From then on people of the nations had the same opportunity of being chosen by Jehovah as did the Jews, for God no longer made any distinction. (Acts 10:1-48; Rom. 10:12) So, what can be said of the proselytes and Samaritans who became believers during the three and a half years? Simply that they were Christ's disciples without the heavenly calling. Yes, not everyone in the first century had the heavenly hope, but only those whom Jehovah personally chose. Yet all these believers were sons of God due to their faith in Christ.
"YOU are all, in fact, sons of God through YOUR faith in Christ Jesus. For all of YOU who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for YOU are all one [person] in union with Christ Jesus. Moreover, if YOU belong to Christ, YOU are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise." —Galatians 3:26-29.
Paul's Letters to the Gentiles
Paul says that "you are all, in fact, sons of
God through your faith in Christ Jesus." He does not qualify the "all"
when he says "through your faith in Christ Jesus," as if some would be
sons of God because of their faith while others, having like faith, would not be. The Jews who
had faith in Christ Jesus were already sons of God, even before his
coming, and people of the nations now had the same opportunity. Why did Paul
need to explain to the Galatians that they were all, in
fact, sons of God, and then, in connection with this, goes on to write
about them being "heirs with reference to a promise"?
According to "All Scripture Is Inspired Of God And Beneficial" (page 216), the Galatian congregations that Paul wrote to in that Roman province included the ones in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, and were "made up of varying nationalities, such as Phrygians, Greeks, Romans, Gauls and a minority of Jews."
To them Paul wrote that "when you did not know God, then it was that you slaved for those who by nature are not gods." Through his ministry they had "come to know God, or rather...come to be known by God." (Gal. 4:8,9) As was true of the Ephesians, the Galatian disciples formerly "were people of the nations as to flesh; 'uncircumcision' YOU were called by that which is called 'circumcision' made in the flesh with hands—that YOU were at that particular time without Christ, alienated from the state of Israel and strangers to the covenants of the promise, and YOU had no hope and were without God in the world. But now in union with Christ Jesus YOU who were once far off have come to be near by the blood of the Christ." (Eph. 2:11-13)
These "people of the nations" who had now become Christ's disciples had formerly been "alienated from the state of Israel and were strangers to the covenant." Yes, as strangers to the Law covenant they did not have the benefit of it serving as their "tutor leading to Christ," as was the case with the Jews. (Gal. 3:24) In their worship of what Paul calls "those who by nature are not gods," these Gentiles had no concept of a son and father relationship, as was the case with Israel and their true God Jehovah. Indeed, it would have been sacrilegious for any Roman to claim to be a son of a god. Illustrated History of the Roman Empire, under the heading, Roman Gods, gives us some idea about the gods that these Gentiles worshiped:
The Romans gods were from a
strange mixture of influences. Before Rome became a big city, the area
around it, called Latium, was settled my superstitious villagers, the
Latins, who believed in many gods and spirits. As Rome grew into a city
and began to become more powerful it came into contact with the Greeks,
who had a complex Pantheon of their own. It seems that the Roman gods were
a mix of those two main influences; Latin and Greek.
In Roman religion every household had its own personal spirits which protected it. The lares were the spirits of the family's ancestors. And the penates were kind spirits who garded the larder. Little figurines of these spirits were kept in a small household shrine, called the lararium. The spirits would be worshipped by the family on special days. Bits of food or wine might be sacrificed to them.
With the vast size of the empire, there was of course many new gods from distant civilizations which the Romans learnt about. Romans didn't tend to think that only their gods were the right ones. If they heard of other peoples' gods they would think that these were real gods who watched over other parts of the world and whom they had simply not yet heard about. And so as they learned about these new gods, new temples were built to these new arrivals in the Roman pantheon.
The concept of only one true God was foreign to these
people of the nations that Paul preached to. They truly were "alienated from the life that belongs to God,"
and there was much they had to learn and unlearn. (Eph.
Can we now better understand why Paul, an apostle to the nations, had so much to write to these Gentiles in the way of explaining their new relationship with Jehovah as "sons," made possible through their faith in Christ Jesus? Did he write such extensive letters to any Jewish congregations who already understood such relationship? Paul's meticulous explanations that all the disciples were sons of God does not at all indicate that all of them were chosen by God for the heavenly hope. Everyone understood that "YOU are all, in fact, sons of God through YOUR faith in Christ Jesus" included them. Whereas formerly the nation of Israel was God's people, his firstborn son, now people of all nations could also become his sons, heirs with reference to the promise that Jehovah had made to Abraham, namely, that by means of his seed people of all the nations would be blessed. It was time for Jehovah to begin fulfilling this promise and Paul did a marvelous job explaining this. (Rom. 11:13; Acts 3:25,26; Rev. 7:9)
The Need for Adoption
There was something else though that needed
to be explained: How can we, as sinful descendants of Adam, with no
inherited right to life, become "sons of God" by faith in Christ Jesus? In
other words, how does the death of one righteous man (Christ Jesus)
benefit those who were born to the one (Adam) who brought condemnation
upon them? (Rom. 5:18,19)
Just as Jehovah's law required that "unless blood is poured out no forgiveness takes place," there is also the law of Heredity and Reproduction. That is why Adam's natural offspring could never inherit what he had lost, his relationship with Jehovah as a son and the right to everlasting life. (Heb. 9:22) Paul explains in his letters how Jehovah has gone about satisfying both of his legal requirements; first, by providing the ransom, and second, by adopting as his own all those who put faith in Christ Jesus who paid that ransom.
Adoption, according to Insight on the Scriptures, is "the taking or accepting as a son or daughter one who is not such by natural relationship. The Greek word translated “adoption” (hui·o·the·si´a) is a technical legal term that literally means 'a placing as son.'—Compare Ro 8:15, ftn." It goes on to note that "the practice of adopting slaves as sons has long been a common Middle Eastern practice, and as such they had inheritance rights, though not above those of children descended naturally from the father." (it-1 pp. 50-51 Adoption)
When God's only-begotten Son, Christ Jesus, presented himself to be baptized by John the Baptist to start the ministry for which purpose he had come, he was a perfect equal to God's first human son, Adam. That is why he is called "the last Adam." (Matt. 3:13-17; 1 Cor. 15:45) But unlike Adam Jesus remained sinless. In fact, Christ died not because of any sin on his part but rather because of his unswerving loyalty and obedience to Jehovah. (Heb. 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22-24) In this way he paid the ransom, according to Jehovah's law, buying back what Adam had lost by his rebellion. Christ did not lose his right to life when he was put to death. Jehovah resurrected him and with this right to life he could "purchase" all those of Adam's offspring who would put faith in him. (Heb. 9:24)
The benefits of the ransom do not come automatically to everyone. As Jesus himself said, "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life." (John 3:16) As natural offspring of Adam we individually need to make the decision to accept Christ and exercise faith in him by following him.
Jesus did not purchase us for himself but rather to be sons of God, just as Adam was and we would have been had Adam not lost that for us. But since we are not related by birth to Christ as we are to Adam how do we attain the legal right of inheritance of everlasting life? A transferring of sonship is needed if we are to be true sons of our heavenly Father. As Paul explains to the Galatians, "But when the full limit of the time arrived, God sent forth his Son, who came to be under law, that he might release by purchase those under law, that we, in turn, might receive the adoption as sons." (Gal. 3:26; 4:4,5)
Yes, we become God's sons due to our adoption by him, because we were "bought with a price" and thus no longer belong to ourselves. (1 Cor. 6:19,20; 7:23) But with the adoption as sons comes responsibility. We can no longer go on walking in sin as we formerly did when we were Adam's sons in the flesh.
"Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering." —Romans 8:12-17, New Living Translation.
By being adopted by God we get bestowed upon us all the legal rights
of a natural son, the right to inherit everlasting life and also the right to call God "Abba,
Father." Jehovah makes that evident by giving us his holy spirit as a
free gift which
helps us to understand and appreciate our relationship with him, and to please him as our Father. That is true of all who will inherit
everlasting life, whether in heaven or on earth. Paul was explaining this
from his own standpoint of having been adopted with the hope of ruling
with Christ in his heavenly kingdom.
But does Paul not indicate in the same chapter of Romans that the adoption as sons was still future?
"Not only that, but we ourselves also who have the firstfruits, namely, the spirit, yes, we ourselves groan within ourselves, while we are earnestly waiting for adoption as sons, the release from our bodies by ransom." —Romans 8:23
Actually, according to that scripture, Paul was saying that as adopted sons who had the heavenly hope, they were earnestly waiting for the blessings that come with the adoption, the release from their bodies, eagerly looking forward to be united with Christ in the heavens. That is why some translations read this as follows:
"while we eagerly await our
full adoption as Sons—the
redemption of our bodies"
"as we wait for full sonship in the redemption of our bodies" —Wey
"as we await that right of sonship that involves our bodily redemption" —Ber
"while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realized our full sonship in him" —Phi
"We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us—bodies that will never be sick again and will never die" —Living Bible
And according to the New World Translation With References, in the footnote, "adoption as sons" is omitted in some early manuscripts (אABCVgSyh,p; P46D).
The full benefits of our
adoption is still future when the vast majority of God's sons and
daughters will inherit the earth and live forever upon it, while the
little flock of chosen ones will rule in Christ's heavenly kingdom for the
blessing of all God's creation. (Psalms 37:11, 29; Prov. 2:21; Rev. 20:6)
But even now we enjoy wonderful blessings as adopted sons of God. We can
approach Jehovah and render him sacred service because of our clean
consciences. (Heb. 9:14; 10:22; 1 Peter 3:21; Rev. 7:14,15) This, of course, is because our
sins have been forgiven and we endeavor to please God in everything we do.
Those with the heavenly hope have no advantage in this over those who will
live on earth. (1 John 2:1-3)
Someone may ask, though, since we are God's sons, having been adopted because of our faith in Christ and his ransom, and our sins have been forgiven, why then are we still dying? Does it not say that "the wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord?" (Rom. 6:23) Yes, the benefits of Christ's ransom are applied to us at the moment of our baptism, which we undergo because of our faith and in obedience to the command to be baptized. It is not because we have not been forgiven our sins that we continue to grow old and die, but rather because we do not live long enough to benefit from the healing of the ransom.
To illustrate: A person with a terminal illness may be told by his doctor, "I have good news and I have bad news for you. I'll give you the good news first. There exists a treatment that will completely cure you of your disease. The bad news is that the cure takes effect over a period of a year and you have only a few weeks to live." Now, if there were a way for the doctor to keep his patient alive for the duration of the year then the patient would survive.
That's how it is with the cure provided by the ransom. When Adam sinned against his Creator he went contrary to the way he had been designed and the result was losing his perfection. It took almost a thousand years for his now damaged body to deteriorate to the point of death. (Gen. 5:5) It will take just as long for the benefits of the ransom to reverse the damage, to heal redeemed mankind and have them acquire the perfection that Adam had been created with. In order for God's sons and daughters to be healed and brought to perfection will require intervention on God's part. He will have to keep them alive long enough for the cure to take effect. He has promised to do that under the rule of his kingdom when he will bless and protect them for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:1-3; 21:1-4; 22:1,2)
Those who will rule with Christ Jesus in his kingdom during this time will not have to wait for the gradual repair of their imperfect bodies. Their advantage over redeemed mankind is that they will be resurrected in perfection, "in the twinkling of an eye," with suitable incorruptible spirit bodies, that is, bodies that are not prone to decay or deterioration. (1 Cor. 15:42-44,52)
Abraham's Seed Declared Righteous for Life
It is commonly believed that when the Scriptures speak of Abraham's seed it always applies to Christ and his 144,000. But in making the promise to Abraham Jehovah spoke firstly of a different seed, namely, "I shall surely bless you and I shall surely multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore." (Gen. 22:17) This seed, of course, proved to be Abraham's natural descendants who grew numerous and mighty and who in time produced the promised seed, Christ Jesus. But there was more to that promise. According to God's covenant with Abraham, this multitudinous seed would eventually include people of all the nations by reason of their faith. That is why Paul wrote to the Ephesians in the way of explanation:
"But now in union with Christ Jesus YOU who were once far off have come to be near by the blood of the Christ. For he is our peace, he who made the two parties one and destroyed the wall in between that fenced them off. 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; 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. And he came and declared the good news of peace to YOU, the ones far off, and peace to those near, because through him we, both peoples, have the approach to the Father by one spirit." —Ephesians 2:13-18.
It was Jesus' sacrifice that made it possible for people of the nations (the ones far off) and the Jews (those near) to be reconciled "in one body to God," making "the two parties one." Yes, "both peoples have the approach to the Father by one spirit." After all, in the greater picture, did Jesus not die for all mankind, buying back what Adam through his rebellion had lost for all his offspring! "For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive." (1 Cor. 15:22) In bringing blessings to all mankind Jehovah saw fit to use faithful Abraham to be the means by which he was going to accomplish this. And in this way Abraham would become "the father of us all." (Rom. 4:16,17) Paul explains further on this:
"For if by the trespass of the one [man] death ruled as king through that one, much more will those who receive the abundance of the undeserved kindness and of the free gift of righteousness rule as kings in life through the one [person], Jesus Christ. So, then, as through one trespass the result to men of all sorts was condemnation, likewise also through one act of justification the result to men of all sorts is a declaring of them righteous for life. For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were constituted sinners, likewise also through the obedience of the one [person] many will be constituted righteous." —Romans 5:17-19.
Jesus made possible for all men of faith to be "declared righteous for life," just as Abraham had also been declared righteous because of his faith and has become the father of all those having faith. (Rom. 4:912) It is interesting to note what The Watchtower (1954) says in this regard:
Still someone may ask, Was not Abraham’s faith in Jehovah “counted to him as righteousness”? Yes, but only to the extent that “he came to be called ‘Jehovah’s friend’.” Then are imperfect humans declared righteous in varying degrees and for different purposes? Yes. Abraham had faith in God’s promise regarding a seed, and because of his faith God accepted him as a friend. But Abraham did not know who that Seed would be; so he could not exercise faith in Christ Jesus and in his ransom sacrifice, without which no one can be declared righteous with the hope of everlasting life. —Jas. 2:23, (w54 9/1 p. 521 Declared Righteous by Jehovah)
Is there any scriptural support for their
claim that imperfect humans are "declared righteous in varying degrees and
for different purposes?" Their human reasoning on the matter contradicts
what Paul wrote when he said, "through one act of justification the result
to men of all sorts is a declaring of them righteous for life." The one
act of justification resulted in righteousness for life, the opposite of
the result of the one act of trespass. There is no such thing as varying
degrees of righteousness just as there are no varying degrees of life. One
person is not slightly righteous while his brother may be
enormously righteous for exactly the same faith. What nonsense! Those who have the hope of
living on earth are declared righteous in the same manner and to the same
degree as those who are called for the heavenly glory. The little flock,
as Jesus called those who will rule in his kingdom, are not chosen because
of any higher degree of righteousness imputed to them but rather because of the ransom
that Christ paid, and their faith in that. (Luke 12:32)
Yes, a person is declared righteous for life due to his faith, as Paul wrote the Galatians, "knowing as we do that a man is declared righteous, not due to works of law, but only through faith toward Christ Jesus, even we have put our faith in Christ Jesus, that we may be declared righteous due to faith toward Christ." (Gal. 2:16)
How does their doctrine of "righteousness in degrees" measure up against what Paul says in his letter to the Romans?
"But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins." —Romans 3:21-24; New Living Translation.
It is worth emphasizing: Yes, it is by God's
undeserved kindness and our faith in Christ Jesus that we are declared
righteous, and this is true for everyone, no matter who we are. We
fall short of God's glorious standard, those who hope to rule with Christ
the same as those who hope to live on earth. Both are recipients of God's
undeserved kindness equally.
Another point the Watchtower article made is that, "Abraham did not know who that Seed would be; so he could not exercise faith in Christ Jesus and in his ransom sacrifice, without which no one can be declared righteous with the hope of everlasting life."
What would have greater value in God's eyes: having faith in what we see at hand, like Christ's disciples being eye-witnesses to his teachings and miracles, or having faith in a promise the fulfillment of which might be hundreds of years in the future? Would not Abraham's faith be even more outstanding than those who saw the fulfillment and believed? Paul expresses the proper regard for such faith when he writes, "In faith all these died, although they did not get the [fulfillment of the] promises, but they saw them afar off and welcomed them and publicly declared that they were strangers and temporary residents in the land." (Heb. 13:13) For such faith Abraham was declared righteous. In this those chosen for heavenly life have no advantage over Abraham. The are not more righteous.
Note also how that article states that Abraham was declared righteous merely as a friend of Jehovah and not with the hope of everlasting life. A more recent Watchtower (1985) makes this statement:
James also mentions Abraham as an example to prove that faith must be backed up by godly works. After stating that Abraham was declared righteous, quoting Genesis 15:6, James adds a comment that helps us to see the scope of Abraham’s justification. He writes: “The scripture was fulfilled which says: ‘Abraham put faith in Jehovah, and it was counted to him as righteousness,’ and he came to be called ‘Jehovah’s friend.’” (James 2:20-23) Yes, due to his faith, Abraham was declared righteous as a friend of Jehovah, not as a son with the right to perfect human life or to kingship with Christ. Interestingly, in his Synonyms of the Old Testament, Robert Girdlestone wrote concerning Abraham’s righteousness: “This righteousness was not absolute, i.e. such as would commend Abraham to God as a rightful claimant of the inheritance of sonship.” (w85 12/1 p. 15 par. 10 Declared Righteous as a Friend of God) (Bold mine)
By saying that Abraham was declared righteous only as a friend and not with the right to perfect human life they directly contradict what Jesus himself said regarding Abraham and his righteousness. In answer to the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, Jesus said:
"But that the dead are raised up even Moses disclosed, in the account about the thornbush, when he calls Jehovah ‘the God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob.’ He is a God, not of the dead, but of the living, for they are all living to him." —Luke 20:37,38.
According to Jesus his forefather Abraham was
"living" to Jehovah, awaiting the resurrection of the righteous, as he
promised, "Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming 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 24:15) Jesus
said that Abraham was alive to Jehovah although he had died. He had faith
in God's promises and "did good things" and for that reason was declared
righteous. Is he not going to receive the resurrection of life? Yes,
according to Paul and Jesus,
Abraham was "declared righteous for life." (Rom. 5:18)
I find it stunning that the Watchtower would need to seek support from Robert Girdlestone's Synonyms of the Old Testament, instead of presenting solid evidence from God's Word that, as they say, Abraham was not declared righteous for life! How desperate they are to cling to their human tradition that only they, as anointed sons of Jehovah, are worthy to be counted righteous, and that they are, oh, so much more righteous in God's eyes than the poor Amhaarets. (Insight on the Scriptures, volume 2, page 600, pr. 6.)
"But he spoke this illustration also to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and who considered the rest as nothing: 'Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and began to pray these things to himself, "O God, I thank you I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give the tenth of all things I acquire." But the tax collector standing at a distance was not willing even to raise his eyes heavenward, but kept beating his breast, saying, "O God, be gracious to me a sinner." I tell YOU, This man went down to his home proved more righteous than that man; because everyone that exalts himself will be humiliated, but he that humbles himself will be exalted.'" —Luke 18:9-14.
O Jehovah, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you
are our Potter;
and all of us are the work of your hand." (Isaiah 64:8,9)
1. If Jehovah is your "Father in the heavens" then you must be a son or daughter of his. (And not simply because of our worldwide brotherhood, as has been suggested)
2. The nation of Israel was God's son, his firstborn, even while they were still in Egypt.
3. Proselytes and Samaritans did not receive the heavenly invitation between 33 C.E. and 36 C.E.
4. Having or receiving God's holy spirit is not evidence in itself that a person has been anointed to rule with Christ in his heavenly kingdom. All God's people may receive it. It is God's free gift to us and our Helper. Proselytes and Samaritans received it during the exclusive three and a half years.
Jesus promised: "I will
request the Father and he will give you another helper to be with you
forever, the spirit of the truth, which the world cannot receive." (John
14:16, 17) This "spirit of the truth," or holy spirit, is not a person but
a force—Jehovah’s own active force. It is powerful beyond measure. It is
the force that Jehovah used in creating the universe, in performing
spectacular miracles, and in providing visionary revelations of his will.
Since Jehovah is not using his spirit in those specific ways today, does
that mean that we do not need it?
On the contrary! In these "critical times hard to deal with," we need Jehovah’s spirit more than ever. (2 Timothy 3:1) It strengthens us to bear up under trials. It helps us to cultivate beautiful qualities that draw us closer to Jehovah and to our spiritual brothers and sisters. (Galatians 5:22, 23) How, then, can we benefit from this marvelous help from Jehovah?
First, we need to pray for holy spirit. Jesus said: "If you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will the Father in heaven give holy spirit to those asking him!" (Luke 11:13) Yes, Jehovah is the best Father imaginable. If in faith we sincerely ask him for holy spirit, it is inconceivable that he would deny us this gift. The question, then, is, Do we ask for it? We have good reason to make that request in our prayers every day. —w04 12/15 pp. 19-20 pars. 11-13 Do You Accept Jehovah’s Help?
5. Since Jehovah chose his first
anointed sons from among his "firstborn" son Israel they both are
obviously his sons; not just those chosen to rule with Christ.
6. "YOU are all, in fact, sons of God through YOUR faith in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-29) All of God's people are his sons and daughters, due to their faith in Christ Jesus. Becoming sons and daughters to Jehovah by separating themselves from false religion and this world does not apply only to those with the heavenly hope.
"Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? And what agreement does God’s temple have with idols? For we are a temple of a living God; just as God said: "I shall reside among them and walk among [them], and I shall be their God, and they will be my people." "‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing’"; "‘and I will take YOU in.’" "‘And I shall be a father to YOU, and YOU will be sons and daughters to me,’ says Jehovah the Almighty."" —2 Corinthians 6:14-18.
7. Abraham's seed is not restricted
to just Christ Jesus and the 144,000. The multitudinous "seed" that
Jehovah promised would come from Abraham proved to be his natural
and eventually people of all the nations who have faith
like that of Abraham. (Rev. 7:9) They are the "heirs with reference to
[the] promise" that "all nations of the earth" would bless themselves by
means of the promised seed, Christ Jesus, who is the means by which
all this is made possible.
Paul, as an apostle to the nations, wrote to explain how the Gentiles were
benefactors of God's covenant with Abraham. (Galatians 3:26-29)
8. The need of being adopted as sons of God is very basic, for without its requirement the ransom sacrifice of Christ Jesus would not have been necessary. We inherited our sinful condition from Adam and thus we die, as Paul writes: "Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned." (Rom. 5:12; 6:7) That is according to God's law of Heredity and Reproduction (pigs remain pigs, oak trees remain oak trees, someone unclean cannot produce someone clean, etc. —Job 14:4; Ps. 49:7)
If it were not for this law of heredity then Jehovah could have simply viewed Adam's offspring as untouched by the sin of their father, and thus Christ's ransom would not have been required. But since it is impossible to inherit the right to everlasting life from Adam or any of his imperfect offspring, a perfect man was needed who had the right to life and could bestow that right on others. Jehovah provided that perfect man in Jesus. Since we are not related to Jesus in the flesh (as we are to Adam), the right to inherit what belongs to him can only be accomplished legally by the provision of adoption. Yes, those who accept Christ and value the price he paid, the ransom, are adopted by God and acquire the same inheritance rights as a natural son, to be free from sin and enjoy perfect life, along with the privilege to call God "Abba, Father." But along with the adoption comes responsibility:
"Do not give up when you are punished by God. Be willing to take it, knowing that God is teaching you as a son. Is there a father who does not punish his son sometimes? If you are not punished as all sons are, it means that you are not a true son of God. You are not a part of His family and He is not your Father. Remember that our fathers on earth punished us. We had respect for them. How much more should we obey our Father in heaven and live? For a little while our fathers on earth punished us when they thought they should. But God punishes us for our good so we will be holy as He is holy. There is no joy while we are being punished. It is hard to take, but later we can see that good came from it. And it gives us the peace of being right with God." —Hebrews 12:7-11, New Life Version.
The vast majority of his adopted "true sons" will "inherit the earth," as was Adam's prospect, while a chosen "little flock" has their inheritance reserved in the heavens. (Gen. 1:27,28; Ps. 37:11,29; Prov. 2:21; Matt. 5:5; Luke 12:32; 1 Peter 1:3,4)
9. Abraham was declared righteous for life, as Jesus showed, as are
all who have faith like his.
10. The apostle Paul did not have all the information regarding the heavenly calling. For example, he did not understand that there would eventually be only 144,000 chosen. That was not revealed until the apostle John received the Revelation about the year 96 C.E., well after Paul had proved faithful unto death.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
By the time Jehovah carries his great crowd of righteous worshipers
through the Great Tribulation they will already have come to understand
and appreciate their cherished relationship with their heavenly Father.
Charles Taze Russell helped many sincere people understand the true nature
of God, that he is not some three headed monster who takes delight in
tormenting the wicked in a fiery place of eternal torment. J. F.
Rutherford, who seized control of God's household after Russell's death,
shed some light on the identity of the great crowd pictured in the
Revelation. But neither of these two men came to understand and appreciate
the full extent of the precious relationship that this faithful great
crowd enjoys with their heavenly Father. (Rev. 7:9,10, 14-17)
Jehovah did not enlighten his anointed shepherds with these truths for it served as a means of testing their integrity and faithfulness to the responsibility he had entrusted to them. Would they follow his instructions as laid out in the Scriptures and according to the example set by his Son, and humbly serve on behalf of his sheep, or would they become oppressive, lording it over his flock as if the sheep belonged to them, as so many other men of position in the past had done to whom the care of God's sheep had been committed. (compare Exodus 16:4; Deut. 8:2; Ps. 26:2; Matt. 9:36; 23:1-7,12; John 13:14-17; Acts 20:28-30; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Rev. 2:10)
When the time arrives for the master Christ Jesus to settle accounts with the appointed shepherds of God's household, his faithful followers who had endured the time of trouble leading up to his coming (and no doubt made worse by the oppressive shepherds among them) will finally come to understand their precious relationship with Jehovah in all its beauty. They will come to see how the Scriptures were written for their instruction and encouragement, and that Jehovah had appointed shepherds for their benefit and care, and not for the glory of the shepherds themselves, some of whom just could not wait for their time of glory in the heavenly kingdom when they would get to sit next to their master, for "they loved the glory of men more than even the glory of God." (Rom. 15:4; Dan. 7:18,27; John 12:43; Rev. 20:6)
All of God's anointed shepherds should take notice of Jehovah's message addressed to them in the book of Ezekiel, the entire 34th chapter, for his accounting with them is fast approaching, "in the day of clouds and thick gloom," (vs. 12) which the New World Translation of The Holy Scriptures with References applies to the time Zephaniah also speaks of: Jehovah's day of fury, a day of distress and anguish, of storm and desolation, of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick gloom at Armageddon, through which the great crowd of faithful worshipers will be protected. (Zeph. 1:15)