Calling a Nation to Return to Jehovah
1. How long by now had Haggai prophesied alone, and what had Jehovah roused up the Jews to do?
AT LEAST ten days passed by from the time that the prophet Haggai gave his second prophecy at Jerusalem, on the twenty-first day of the seventh lunar month (Tishri), in the year 520 B.C.E. This was still in the second year of the reign of King Darius I of the Persian Empire. A faithful remnant of the worshipers of Jehovah God who had come back in 537 B.C.E. from the exile of the Jews in Babylonia were now back in their homeland for seventeen years. A ban that had been imposed by a preceding king of the Persian Empire against the rebuilding of the temple of Jehovah at Jerusalem was still in force. The rebuilding of the temple had got no farther than the laying of its foundation in the year 536 B.C.E. Then, without waiting for the official ban of a mere man against the rebuilding of his house of worship to be lifted, Jehovah God had raised up his prophet Haggai to rouse up repatriated Jews to resume their construction of the temple. This had occurred on the first day of the sixth lunar month (Elul). For two lunar months Haggai had continued alone as the only prophet urging the rebuilding work.
2. What did Jehovah now furnish to strengthen further the faith and courage of the temple builders?
2 Although the prophesying of Haggai alone should have been sufficient and did stir the Jews to some action, yet it would be strengthening to faith and courage for the Jews to have a second witness of Jehovah to testify that now, without delay, was Jehovah’s time for the rebuilding of his temple at Jerusalem to be resumed. Considerately, Jehovah did raise up a second prophet at the critical time, a man named Zechariah. Concerning the ban on temple building and how and why it was defied by the temple builders in due time, we read this record:
3. What does Ezra say about how the building ban was enforced and how in due time the Jews defied it?
3 “Now after the copy of the official document of Artaxerxes the king had been read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their colleagues, they went in a hurry to Jerusalem to the Jews and stopped them by force of arms. It was then that the work on the house of God, which was in Jerusalem, stopped; and it continued stopped until the second year of the reign of Darius the king of Persia. And Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the grandson of Iddo the prophet prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and in Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. It was then that Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jehozadak got up and started to rebuild the house of God, which was in Jerusalem; and with them there were God’s prophets giving them aid.”—Ezra 4:23 to 5:2.
4. When did Zechariah begin to prophesy?
4 When in that second year of King Darius I (520 B.C.E.) did Zechariah the grandson of Iddo begin to prophesy? Zechariah’s own book of prophecy informs us in its opening words, saying: “In the eighth month in the second year of Darius the word of Jehovah occurred to Zechariah the son of Berechiah the son of Iddo the prophet.”—Zechariah 1:1.
5. (a) What day may it have been when Zechariah began to prophesy? (b) What shows his book to be important for us to examine today?
5 The eighth lunar month, of twenty-nine days, was called Heshvan, and was an autumn month. The day of the month is not given in the prophecy. Evidently it was the first day of Heshvan, the day of the new moon, when many Jews would celebrate in Jerusalem. If so, this would be exactly two months after Haggai began to prophesy. The translation by S. Byington here reads: “On the eighth new moon in the year two of Darius, Jehovah’s word came to the prophet Zechariah the son of Berekiah the son of ‛Iddo.” (Zechariah 1:1, By) Little did Zechariah know then that his book of prophecy would be so important that, hundreds of years later, inspired Christian writers would quote it to prove that the expected Messiah, the Christ or Anointed One, had come and had carried out the first part of his mission in behalf of all mankind. (Matthew 21:5; 26:15, 28, 31; 27:9; Mark 14:24, 27; Luke 22:20; John 12:15; 19:37; Revelation 11:2, 4) This proves, not only that the book of Zechariah is an inspired book of true prophecy, but also that it is important for us today to examine for modern-day fulfillments.
6. Zechariah was instructed to declare the utterances of whom, and what shows that it is important for us to bear Zechariah’s book in mind now as we near Har–Magedon?
6 From the start the utterances of God that Zechariah is instructed to declare are said to be the expressions of “Jehovah of armies,” a very significant phrase. Very appropriate for the time and situation, also. Fifty-two (52) times through Zechariah’s prophecy of fourteen chapters that forceful expression is used. The final chapter, verse three, shows that this is no idle designation of God, for this is what it foretells: “Jehovah will certainly go forth and war against those nations as in the day of his warring, in the day of fight.” (Zechariah 14:3) It is highly important to bear this prophecy in mind, in these days when the last book of the Holy Bible is being fulfilled regarding the march of all the nations to Har–Magedon for the “war of the great day of God the Almighty.” (Revelation 16:14, 16) This is the same God as the Jehovah of armies worshiped in the days of High Priest Eli and of the prophet Samuel and of the shepherd boy David, who went out “with the name of Jehovah of armies” to fight the heavily armored Philistine giant Goliath and killed him with a perfectly aimed stone from his sling.—1 Samuel 1:3–4:4; 17:45.
ZECHARIAH’S OPENING PROPHECY
7. According to Zechariah 1:2, against whom had Jehovah grown very indignant, and why so?
7 The opening message of Jehovah of armies through his new prophet Zechariah was addressed to the repatriated Jews, “saying: ‘Jehovah grew indignant at your fathers—very much so.’” (Zechariah 1:1, 2) Such “fathers” were their fathers and grandfathers who had been taken into exile in Babylon in the years 617 and 607 B.C.E. Jehovah of armies was very much indignant against these because they had profaned and polluted his holy temple at Jerusalem and had broken their national covenant with Him and had formed political alliances with worldly pagan nations. His indignation heated up to such a degree that he finally let Jerusalem and its temple be destroyed and the whole land of Judah become desolated without man or domestic animal for seventy years. At the root of the trouble was the Jews’ abandoning of the pure, undefiled worship of Jehovah of armies. This serious fact was something of which to remind the Jews who had been released from exile in Babylon to go home to Jerusalem to rebuild Jehovah’s temple there.
8. What was Zechariah then told to tell the Jews to do toward God?
8 To these Jews, already back in their homeland for seventeen years, the message to Zechariah went on to say: “And you must say to them, ‘This is what Jehovah of armies has said: “‘Return to me,’ is the utterance of Jehovah of armies, ‘and I shall return to you,’ Jehovah of armies has said.”’”—Zechariah 1:3.
“RETURN,” IN WHAT SENSE AND WITH WHAT RESULTS?
9. In what sense were those restored Jews to “return” to Jehovah of armies, and why?
9 In what way did Jehovah mean for those restored Jews to “return” to Him? Had not Haggai the prophet already spoken to them with some resulting action? Yes! And the account says, after Haggai’s first prophecy: “And Jehovah proceeded to rouse up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, the governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak the high priest, and the spirit of all the remaining ones of the people; and they began to enter in and to do the work in the house of Jehovah of armies their God. It was on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.” (Haggai 1:14, 15) But in the more than a month since then there may have been a lag in their efforts and possibly some indifference on the part of a number of persons. This would make it very appropriate for another rousing exhortation to be given by another prophet as a corroboration.
10. How were those Jews to “return” to their God, and what would be the evidence of their full return?
10 The whole nation needed to return to Jehovah of armies with one heart and with one soul, and to do it without fear of the enemy. The return was to be in the form of again taking up the fearless, wholehearted worship of the one living and true God. In their case back there this would mean their giving visible expression of their return to their God by rebuilding his temple to a completion. That had been the main objective of their coming back to their homeland. (Ezra 1:1 to 4:3) Building their own private houses and running their farms and other material interests were of secondary importance. Only by having their completed temple at the city where God had put his name could those restored Jews fully carry out their worship of him according to his law given to them through the prophet Moses. (Haggai 1:3-9) So there was much to which to return in order for those Jews to worship their God in complete obedience to his law and arrangements.
11. For returning to him, how would Jehovah “return” to them?
11 And if they did thus “return” in whole-souled worship, what? “‘I shall return to you,’ Jehovah of armies has said.” His return to them would signify the full restoration of his favor to them. He would bring to nothing the opposition of the enemy to their rebuilding of their central house of divine worship. He would take away from them the setbacks that they had been suffering in their material prosperity ever since they left off working at the restoration of the temple. He would bless them with material good things as well as unspeakable spiritual blessings.—Zechariah 8:9-15.
12. So what was the work that the whole nation should unite for, in order to gain the divine favor?
12 Total mobilization of the nation! The time had come for just such a thing as that—under Jehovah’s direction, and with the encouragement of his prophets. All the restored Jews should get behind their most important work and bring Jehovah’s house of worship to its completion in all parts. This would make a name for Jehovah, and only then could the nation’s high priest, underpriests and all the Levites carry out their prescribed duties and services to the spiritual benefit of all the nation and of all the faithful proselytes out of all the nations. But minus the completed temple, the Jews from near and far could not celebrate their three annual festivals properly, nor their annual Day of Atonement. And, too, the Nethinim, the “gatherers of wood and drawers of water,” could not make their full contribution to the services at the temple. (Joshua 9:23; Ezra 2:43-58) So here now was a work for which the whole nation should unite, to gain divine blessing.
13. The outcome of the course of their fathers should have served as what to those restored Jews, and so what was called to their attention?
13 The course of their fathers and the outcome thereof should have served as a warning example to the restored Jews at this critical time. That is why Jehovah, speaking through the prophet Zechariah, continued on to say to them: “‘Do not become like your fathers to whom the former prophets called, saying: “This is what Jehovah of armies has said, ‘Return, please, from your bad ways and from your bad dealings.’”’ ‘But they did not listen, and they paid no attention to me,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘As for your fathers, where are they? And as for the prophets, was it to time indefinite that they continued to live? However, as regards my words and my regulations that I commanded my servants, the prophets, did they not catch up with your fathers? So they returned and said: “According to what Jehovah of armies had in mind to do to us, according to our ways and according to our dealings, that is how he has done with us.”’”—Zechariah 1:4-6.
14. (a) If the restored Jews followed the course of their fathers, what was to be expected? (b) Why did Jehovah ask them about their fathers’ condition, and was the like condition of the former prophets a reason for not listening to Haggai and Zechariah?
14 According to this warning, if the restored Jews did become like their fathers who were taken into exile in Babylon, they could be sure of suffering Jehovah’s displeasure. The reason why he asked them where their fathers were was that their fathers were no more alive, because of the divine displeasure. They had refused to leave their bad ways and dealings and return repentantly to their God. However, the restored Jews could raise the question, ‘What about the prophets, like Jeremiah who specifically prophesied about the destruction of Jerusalem and the desolation of the land of Judah? “Did they continue to live?” Are they not dead the same as our disobedient fathers?’ Although the answer to this had to be Yes, still such a fact was no sound reason for the restored Jews to pay no attention to the prophets Haggai and Zechariah whom Jehovah was now raising up in that year 520 B.C.E.
15. (a) Rather than the mortality of those former prophets, what was the important, determining thing in connection with them? (b) So, in what was imitating their fathers’ course sure to result?
15 The mortal prophets, whom Jehovah used as his inspired mouthpieces to declare his words and his regulations, were not the things upon which to base a sound argument. What Jehovah inspired those prophets to say was the important thing, the determining thing. Did Jehovah’s words by them and his regulations or decrees that he decided upon come true? The fathers of the restored Jews were obliged to answer Yes! The fathers were forced to return or turn around in their thinking and to admit: “According to what Jehovah of armies had in mind to do to us, according to our ways and according to our dealings, that is how he has done with us.” Why, then, should the restored Jews put Jehovah to the test as to whether he meant exactly what he said, as their fathers had done? The outcome was sure to be just as with their fathers, Jehovah’s unfailing words and regulations or decrees would catch up with them; the fulfillment of such pronouncements of Jehovah would in course of time overtake them. Disaster would result. So, why not rather they return to Jehovah now, that he might return to them, as promised?
THE SIMILAR ISSUE IN MODERN TIMES
16. (a) What is the vital issue on which we must make our decision now? (b) So the question that the surviving remnant faced in the first postwar year of 1919 C.E. was in connection with what?
16 The vital question on which we must make our decision is, How do we stand with regard to the house of worship of the only living and true God, Jehovah? That is the question that early faced the generation of mankind that has survived from the year 1914 C.E. until now. World War I of 1914-1918 C.E. saw many religious buildings damaged or destroyed in the arena of international conflict. Quite a number of those churches were repaired or rebuilt in the postwar period. However, after that world conflict the thing that vitally concerned the true dedicated people of Jehovah God was not the building of any religious house or church, as in the case of the restored Jews back there in 537-520 B.C.E. Jehovah’s true spiritual temple had not been damaged or destroyed by any bombs from the air or other explosives used during World War I. It had not been touched. Hence the question in the first postwar year of 1919 C.E. was, How did the remnant of Jehovah’s dedicated people stand with regard to his true spiritual temple and the pure, undefiled worship that was due to be rendered therein?
17. Was there need for the dedicated, baptized International Bible Students who survived World War I to repent and return to Jehovah, and why?
17 During World War I the dedicated, baptized International Bible Students had had their work of witnessing to God’s kingdom seriously interfered with by war operations, governmental bans and violent persecutions. They had yielded in a measure to fear of men, which lays a snare for the fearful one. (Proverbs 29:25) They had tried to keep free from bloodguilt by undertaking, for the most part, noncombatant service, but had not kept a strict, total neutrality toward the conflicts of this world. In certain serious respects they needed to repent and return to Jehovah, that he might return with favor to them.—Zechariah 1:3.
18, 19. It was the due time to take up what work again, and why?
18 The nations of this world had definitely entered their “time of the end”—with the close of the Gentile Times in 1914. (Daniel 12:4) The stage of world affairs now certainly called for Jehovah’s appointed work to be taken up again, and that was that which his Son Jesus Christ had foretold:
20. (a) In what way did that tremendous worldwide work need to be done? (b) What two organizations are there to take into account?
20 Such a tremendous work of worldwide scope required to be done in a most organized way, with a fully united organization, under the supreme headship of the theocratic Ruler, Jehovah God, who was in his true spiritual temple. Jehovah must do the organizing. There are only two organizations that are operating universally, and the organization of the One should be well known to every intelligent creature. That is the Creator’s organization, Jehovah’s organization. The other is that of his chief adversary, the one to whom the prophet Zechariah himself refers, namely, Satan the Devil.—Zechariah 3:1, 2.
21. What are the main parts of the Devil’s organization, and what makes it imperative that Kingdom preaching be done in an organized way?
21 The present system of things among men certainly represents an organization, and the Christian apostle Paul speaks of Satan the Devil as “the god of this system of things.” (2 Corinthians 4:4) In a letter to the Ephesians (2:2; 6:11, 12) he describes how highly organized the invisible spirit part of Satan the Devil’s organization is. Both the invisible part and the visible earthly part of Satan’s organization are opposed to the preaching of the good news of God’s Messianic kingdom. This makes it all the more imperative that the preachers of the Kingdom work in an organized way.
22. (a) Are Jehovah’s “armies” organized? (b) Till Jesus’ death, what was Jehovah’s visible earthly organization, and since Pentecost of 33 C.E., what has been his visible earthly organization, with what features?
22 Jehovah of armies certainly has all these armies organized. (Luke 2:13-15; Revelation 14:6, 7) The assignment to preach the Kingdom news on earth Jehovah of armies would give only to his visible earthly organization. From the days of the prophet Moses down to the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, the earthly nation of natural, circumcised Israel was the visible organization of Jehovah God. (Psalm 147:19, 20) But from the pouring out of God’s spirit upon the faithful disciples of Jesus Christ on the festival day of Pentecost in 33 C.E., the spiritual Israel with circumcised hearts has been God’s “holy nation” and his visible earthly organization. (Acts 2:1-40; Galatians 6:16; Romans 2:28, 29; 1 Peter 2:9) The spiritual Israel is thus the true Christian congregation made up of the dedicated, baptized, spirit-anointed disciples of the Messiah Jesus. Like the human body, it is highly organized, the many members of it having each one his individual part to perform. (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-28; Ephesians 4:15, 16; Colossians 2:19) For special services the congregation has its appointed elders and ministerial servants.—Philippians 1:1.
23. Besides Kingdom preaching, what other work has there been for Jehovah’s visible organization to do?
23 In this “time of the end” for this present system of things the preaching of “this good news of the kingdom” for a witness to all the nations is not the only work of God’s visible earthly organization after the close of World War I. There has been a harvesting work in progress, in a spiritual sense. Jesus Christ foretold this. When explaining his parable of the wheat field that an enemy oversowed with darnel weeds, Jesus said:
24. What did Jesus say about the harvest and the reapers?
24 “The sower of the fine seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; as for the fine seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; but the weeds are the sons of the wicked one, and the enemy that sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things, and the reapers are angels.”—Matthew 13:37-39.
25. In 1919, into what was the surviving remnant of spirit-anointed servants of Jehovah gathered, but why was there yet a harvest to be carried out by His angels, and through whom?
25 In the postwar year of 1919 C.E. and under angelic guidance the faithful remnant of Jehovah’s spirit-anointed people were gathered into his visible earthly organization, for the foretold Kingdom-preaching work. This fact was very manifest by the holding of the eight-day general assembly of the International Bible Students Association at Cedar Point, Ohio, in September of 1919. But the members of this faithful anointed remnant who had survived the severe trials and persecutions during World War I were not enough to complete the foreordained number of those who are anointed to reign with Jesus Christ in his heavenly kingdom. The full number of the joint heirs of Christ in his kingdom was foreordained to be 144,000. (Revelation 7:4-8; 14:1, 3; 20:4, 6) Consequently more of the “wheat” class had to be found and harvested by the angels and gathered into Jehovah’s visible earthly organization. As the invisible heavenly angels were working through the anointed remnant on earth, what did the harvest work now require?
26. What did this harvest work require the surviving members of the anointed remnant to do, and what must occur with those whom they baptize for these to become joint heirs of Christ?
26 It required, from 1919 forward, that the surviving members of the joint heirs of Christ’s kingdom must do further work of making disciples, baptizing them and teaching them. Following their baptism as dedicated disciples of Jesus Christ, these new disciples must be anointed with God’s spirit to become “sons of the kingdom,” joint heirs of Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:15-17) Those thus collected during this “conclusion of the system of things,” together with all the other wheatlike Christians who had already proved faithful to the death, will complete the foreordained number of 144,000 “sons of the kingdom.” As regards all such faithful harvested ones, it is written: “Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.”—Revelation 20:4, 6.
SPIRITUAL UNDERPRIESTS IN THE TEMPLE’S “HOLY”
27, 28. (a) What relationship do these anointed ones hold to the High Priest Jesus Christ, and so what location do they occupy as regards Jehovah’s spiritual temple? (b) What special privileges do they enjoy in that special area?
27 Note that these faithful anointed disciples are not merely to reign with Jesus Christ in the heavenly kingdom. They will also be “priests of God and of the Christ.” The 144,000 anointed ones are therefore underpriests of the High Priest Jesus Christ. While yet alive on earth, they hold this relationship with Jesus Christ their Head. That is why, nineteen hundred years ago, the apostle Peter wrote to his fellow anointed Christians and said: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” As underpriests they are privileged “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:9, 5) Accordingly, while yet on earth they are in a special relationship to Jehovah’s spiritual temple, the Holy of Holies of which is His exclusive residence in the holy heavens where the resurrected Jesus Christ presented the value of his perfect, human sacrifice.
28 These underpriests, even while yet on earth in the flesh, are in the spiritual condition pictured by the first interior compartment of “Holy” of the temple at Jerusalem. And just as the Holy of the temple of Jerusalem held the golden tables of showbread or loaves of presentation, and the golden lampstands and the golden altar of incense, so the Christian underpriests in the spiritual Holy eat spiritual food, enjoy spiritual enlightenment and offer up the perfume of faithful prayers and zealous service to Jehovah while they are yet on earth. (Exodus 40:4, 5, 22-28; 1 Kings 7:48-50; 2 Chronicles 4:19-22) Although this may not be appreciated by persons who have no spiritual discernment and appreciation, there is a real sacred service that these spiritual anointed underpriests render in this Holy area of Jehovah’s great spiritual temple. From his exalted position in the Most Holy of this spiritual temple He can scrutinize the activities of these underpriests and can render judgment concerning them as to their service under His High Priest, Jesus Christ.—Malachi 3:1-5.
29. (a) So, since 1919, what kind of work were the surviving anointed remnant doing? (b) How did this affect Jehovah’s spiritual temple?
29 When we take these things into consideration, there is this fact that we can see: In the year 1919 C.E., the surviving anointed remnant of Christ’s disciples presented themselves for their part on earth in the harvest work under the superior direction of the “reapers,” the heavenly angels. In this way they were undertaking a work that affected the true spiritual temple of Jehovah. How so? Well, by doing their discipling work and thus collecting the “wheat” class under angelic reapers, they were working for the producing of more spiritual underpriests. They were colaboring with Jehovah God that he might put more underpriests, yes, the full complement of the spiritual underpriests, into the Holy of His great spiritual temple. They were thus working for an enlarged sacred service by more underpriests at Jehovah’s temple.
30. Was this the right time for the collecting of the wheatlike Christians, and how was this a building up of the working force in the temple “Holy”?
30 Instead of this being a “gleaning work” such as followed a regular harvest in the ancient land of Israel,* this collecting work on the part of the surviving anointed remnant was the real harvest under the angelic “reapers.” The time of their doing this was the “conclusion of the system of things,” since the year 1914 C.E., and Jesus said that “the harvest is a conclusion of a system of things.” (Matthew 13:39; 24:3, 31) As a result of the spiritual harvesting work during the years that followed, the anointed remnant of wheatlike disciples of Christ grew in numbers, notably down to the year 1931 when the anointed remnant embraced the Scripturally backed designation “Jehovah’s witnesses.” Manifestly the number of spiritual underpriests in the Holy of Jehovah’s spiritual temple had increased, likely to include the full complement that was needed to complete the foreordained quota of 144,000 spiritual underpriests under the High Priest Jesus Christ. It was indeed a buildup of the working force in the Holy of Jehovah’s true temple.
31. In behalf of the temple work, how had they been liberated and restored in 1919 C.E.?
31 Here, then, was a spiritual temple work that began to be undertaken in the year 1919 C.E. by the surviving anointed remnant. By Jehovah’s loving-kindness through his Greater Cyrus, Jesus Christ, they had been released from bondage to Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, and its political paramours. They had been liberated and restored to their rightful estate on earth for the very purpose of applying themselves to this temple work.
32. How did what occurred in 1919 C.E. correspond with what occurred in 520 B.C.E.?
32 It was just like back in the year 520 B.C.E., when the prophets Haggai and Zechariah were raised up to encourage the restored Jewish remnant to take up again their work on the long-neglected temple at Jerusalem. In the year 1919 C.E. the columns of the Watch Tower magazine were used to rouse up and encourage the surviving anointed remnant to resume their open, public service of the Most High God in a fearless manner. His Messianic kingdom had been established in the heavens at the close of the Gentile Times in 1914 and it must now be announced world wide. This sacrifice of praise to God was now due to be offered up to him even in the presence of all His enemies.—Hebrews 13:15; Psalm 138:1-3.
33. If the anointed remnant were to imitate the course of the fathers of the ancient Jewish remnant, what was due to happen, and so what did the anointed remnant do?
33 In this way they were able to “return” to Jehovah, in view of which he would “return” to them with divine favor. If they were to become like the fathers of the ancient Jewish remnant against whom He had had very much indignation, they would suffer calamity just as did those fathers for not listening or paying attention to the warnings and counsel of Jehovah’s prophets. They also would have the prophetic words and decrees of Jehovah against the disobedient ones catch up with them in this “time of the end” Wisely, therefore, the anointed remnant began to “return” to Jehovah in 1919 C.E.
See The Watch Tower, as of May 1, 1919, under the heading “The Harvest Ended—What Shall Follow?”; also, as of August 15, 1919, page 249, under the headings “Perilous Times Come” and “The Gleaning Work.”