Unlocking a Sacred Secret
1. How should we react to the glowing picture recorded at Revelation 1:10-17?
AWESOME indeed is the vision of the exalted Jesus! No doubt, if we had been spectators there with the apostle John, we too would have been overcome by that resplendent glory, prostrating ourselves as he did. (Revelation 1:10-17) This superlative inspired vision has been preserved to stimulate us to action today. Like John, we should show humble appreciation for all that the vision means. May we always have reverential respect for Jesus’ position as enthroned King, High Priest, and Judge.—Philippians 2:5-11.
“The First and the Last”
2. (a) By what title does Jesus present himself? (b) What is meant when Jehovah says: “I am the first and I am the last”? (c) To what does Jesus’ title “the First and the Last” call attention?
2 Nevertheless, our awe need not give way to morbid fear. Jesus reassured John, as the apostle next relates. “And he laid his right hand upon me and said: ‘Do not be fearful. I am the First and the Last, and the living one.’” (Revelation 1:17b, 18a) In Isaiah 44:6, Jehovah rightly describes his own position as the one and only almighty God, saying: “I am the first and I am the last, and besides me there is no God.”a When Jesus presents himself by the title “the First and the Last,” he is not claiming equality with Jehovah, the Grand Creator. He is using a title properly bestowed on him by God. In Isaiah, Jehovah was making a statement about His unique position as the true God. He is God eternal, and besides him there is indeed no God. (1 Timothy 1:17) In Revelation, Jesus is talking about his bestowed title, calling attention to his unique resurrection.
3. (a) In what way was Jesus “the First and the Last”? (b) What is meant by Jesus’ having “the keys of death and of Hades”?
3 Jesus was indeed “the First” human to be resurrected to immortal spirit life. (Colossians 1:18) Moreover, he is “the Last” to be so resurrected by Jehovah personally. Thus, he becomes “the living one . . . living forever and ever.” He enjoys immortality. In this, he is like his immortal Father, who is called “the living God.” (Revelation 7:2; Psalm 42:2) For all others of humanity, Jesus himself is “the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) In harmony with this, he says to John: “I became dead, but, look! I am living forever and ever, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:18b) Jehovah has given him the authority to resurrect the dead. That is why Jesus can say that he has the keys to unlock the gates for those bound by death and Hades (gravedom).—Compare Matthew 16:18.
4. What command does Jesus repeat, and for whose benefit?
4 Jesus here repeats his command to record the vision, telling John: “Write down the things you saw, and the things that are and the things that will take place after these.” (Revelation 1:19) What exciting things will John yet make known for our instruction?
The Stars and the Lampstands
5. How does Jesus explain “the seven stars” and “the seven lampstands”?
5 John has seen Jesus in the midst of seven golden lampstands with seven stars in his right hand. (Revelation 1:12, 13, 16) Now Jesus explains this: “As for the sacred secret of the seven stars that you saw upon my right hand, and of the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars mean the angels of the seven congregations, and the seven lampstands mean seven congregations.”—Revelation 1:20.
6. What is represented by the seven stars, and why were the messages specifically addressed to these?
6 The “stars” are “the angels of the seven congregations.” In Revelation, stars sometimes symbolize literal angels, but Jesus would hardly use a human penman to write to invisible spirit creatures. So the “stars” must be the human overseers, or elders, in the congregations, viewed as Jesus’ messengers.b The messages are addressed to the stars, for these are responsible for the oversight of Jehovah’s flock.—Acts 20:28.
7. (a) What shows that Jesus’ speaking to only one angel in each congregation does not mean that each congregation has only one elder? (b) Who, in effect, are represented by the seven stars in Jesus’ right hand?
7 Since Jesus speaks to only one “angel” in each congregation, does this mean that each congregation has only one elder? No. As early as Paul’s day, the Ephesian congregation had a number of elders, not just one. (Revelation 2:1; Acts 20:17) So in John’s day, when messages were sent to the seven stars to be read to the congregations (including the one in Ephesus), the stars must have stood for all those who served in the bodies of elders within Jehovah’s anointed congregation. In like manner, overseers today read to their congregations letters received from the Governing Body, made up of anointed overseers who serve under Jesus’ headship. The local bodies of elders have to make sure that Jesus’ counsel is followed by their congregations. Of course, the counsel is for the benefit of all those associated in the congregations, not just the elders.—See Revelation 2:11a.
8. What is indicated by the elders’ being in the right hand of Jesus?
8 Since Jesus is the Head of the congregation, the elders are properly said to be in his right hand, that is, under his control and direction. (Colossians 1:18) He is the Chief Shepherd, and they are undershepherds.—1 Peter 5:2-4.
9. (a) What do the seven lampstands represent, and why are lampstands a fitting symbol for these? (b) Of what would the vision likely remind the apostle John?
9 The seven lampstands are the seven congregations to whom John directs the book of Revelation: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Why are congregations symbolized by lampstands? Because Christians, whether individually or collectively as congregations, have to ‘let their light shine before men’ in this bedarkened world. (Matthew 5:14-16) Additionally, lampstands were among the furnishings of Solomon’s temple. Calling the congregations lampstands would likely remind John that, in an illustrative sense, each local congregation of anointed ones is “God’s temple,” a dwelling place for God’s spirit. (1 Corinthians 3:16) Moreover, in the antitype of the Jewish temple arrangement, members of the congregation of anointed ones serve as “a royal priesthood” in Jehovah’s great spiritual temple arrangement, of which Jesus is the High Priest and where Jehovah dwells personally in the heavenly Most Holy.—1 Peter 2:4, 5, 9; Hebrews 3:1; 6:20; 9:9-14, 24.
The Great Apostasy
10. What happened to the Jewish system and its unrepentant supporters in 70 C.E.?
10 When John wrote Revelation, Christianity was upwards of 60 years old. At the outset, it had survived 40 years of constant opposition from Judaism. Then the Jewish system received a mortal blow in 70 C.E. when the unrepentant Jews lost their national identity and what was to them virtually an idol—the temple in Jerusalem.
11. Why was it so timely for the Chief Shepherd to warn the congregations of developing trends?
11 Nevertheless, the apostle Paul had foretold that there would be an apostasy among the anointed Christians, and Jesus’ messages show that in John’s old age this apostasy was already developing. John was the last of those who acted as a restraint on this all-out attempt by Satan to corrupt the seed of the woman. (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 2 John 7-11) So it was the appropriate time for Jehovah’s Chief Shepherd to write to the elders in the congregations, warning of developing trends and encouraging righthearted ones to stand firm for righteousness.
12. (a) How did the apostasy develop in the centuries after John’s day? (b) How did Christendom come into existence?
12 How the congregations in 96 C.E. responded to Jesus’ messages we do not know. But we do know that the apostasy developed rapidly after John’s death. “Christians” ceased to use Jehovah’s name and substituted “Lord” or “God” for it in Bible manuscripts. By the fourth century, the false doctrine of the Trinity had infiltrated the congregations. During this same period, the idea of an immortal soul was being adopted. Finally, Roman Emperor Constantine gave state approval to the “Christian” religion, and this led to the development of Christendom, where Church and State joined forces in ruling for a thousand years. It was easy to become a new-style “Christian.” Whole tribes adjusted their earlier pagan beliefs to versions of this religion. Many of the leaders in Christendom became oppressive political tyrants, enforcing their apostate views by the sword.
13. Despite Jesus’ warning against sectarianism, what course did the apostatizing Christians take?
13 Jesus’ words to the seven congregations were completely ignored by the apostatizing Christians. Jesus had warned the Ephesians to regain the love they had at first. (Revelation 2:4) Nevertheless, members of Christendom, no longer being united in love for Jehovah, fought vicious wars and persecuted one another horribly. (1 John 4:20) Jesus had warned the congregation in Pergamum against sectarianism. Yet, sects appeared even in the second century, and today Christendom has thousands of squabbling sects and religions.—Revelation 2:15.
14. (a) Though Jesus warned against being spiritually dead, what course did professed Christians take? (b) In what ways did the professed Christians fail to heed Jesus’ warning against idolatry and immorality?
14 Jesus had warned the Sardis congregation against being spiritually dead. (Revelation 3:1) Like those in Sardis, professed Christians quickly forgot about Christian works and soon delegated the highly important work of preaching to a small, paid clergy class. Jesus had warned the congregation in Thyatira against idolatry and fornication. (Revelation 2:20) Yet, Christendom openly sanctioned the use of images, as well as the promoting of the more subtle idolatry of nationalism and materialism. And immorality, while sometimes preached against, has always been widely tolerated.
15. Jesus’ words to the seven congregations expose what regarding Christendom’s religions, and what have Christendom’s clergy proved to be?
15 Hence, Jesus’ words to the seven congregations expose the total failure of all of Christendom’s religions to be Jehovah’s special people. Indeed, the clergy of Christendom have been the most prominent members of Satan’s seed. Speaking of these as ‘the lawless one,’ the apostle Paul foretold that their “presence is according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents and with every unrighteous deception.”—2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10.
16. (a) Against whom did Christendom’s leaders show special hatred? (b) What took place in Christendom during the Middle Ages? (c) Did the Protestant rebellion, or Reformation, change Christendom’s apostate ways?
16 While claiming to be shepherds of the flock of God, Christendom’s leaders, religious and secular, showed special hatred for anyone who tried to encourage Bible reading or anyone who exposed their unscriptural practices. John Hus and Bible translator William Tyndale were persecuted and martyred. During the bedarkened Middle Ages, apostate rule reached a peak in the diabolic Catholic Inquisition. Any who disputed the teachings or authority of the church were unmercifully suppressed, and countless thousands of so-called heretics were tortured to death or burned at the stake. Thus Satan endeavored to ensure that any true seed of God’s womanlike organization would be quickly crushed. When the Protestant rebellion, or Reformation, occurred (from 1517 onward), many Protestant churches manifested a similar intolerant spirit. They too became bloodguilty by martyring those who endeavored to be loyal to God and Christ. Truly, “the blood of holy ones” was freely poured out!—Revelation 16:6; compare Matthew 23:33-36.
The Seed Endures
17. (a) What did Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds foretell? (b) What took place in 1918, resulting in what rejection and what appointment?
17 In his parable of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus foretold the time of darkness that would exist while Christendom reigned supreme. Nevertheless, through all the centuries of apostasy, there would exist individual wheatlike Christians, genuine anointed ones. (Matthew 13:24-29, 36-43) Thus, when the Lord’s day dawned in October 1914, there were still true Christians on earth. (Revelation 1:10) It appears that Jehovah came to his spiritual temple for judgment about three and a half years later, in 1918, accompanied by Jesus as his “messenger of the covenant.” (Malachi 3:1; Matthew 13:47-50) It was time for the Master to reject finally the false Christians and to appoint ‘the faithful and discreet slave over all his belongings.’—Matthew 7:22, 23; 24:45-47.
18. What “hour” came in 1914, and what was it time for the slave to do?
18 It was also time for this slave to give special attention to the things written in Jesus’ messages to the seven congregations, as we see from what is stated therein. For example, Jesus refers to his coming to judge the congregations, which judgment began in 1918. (Revelation 2:5, 16, 22, 23; 3:3) He speaks of protecting the Philadelphia congregation from “the hour of test, which is to come upon the whole inhabited earth.” (Revelation 3:10, 11) This “hour of test” arrives only with the dawning of the Lord’s day in 1914, after which Christians were tested as to their loyalty to the established Kingdom of God.—Compare Matthew 24:3, 9-13.
19. (a) What do the seven congregations picture today? (b) Who have associated in large numbers with the anointed Christians, and why do Jesus’ counsel and the conditions he describes apply to them also? (c) How should we view Jesus’ messages to the seven first-century congregations?
19 For this reason, Jesus’ words to the congregations have had their major application since 1914. In this setting, the seven congregations picture all the congregations of anointed Christians during the Lord’s day. Moreover, during the past 70 years and more, the anointed Christians pictured by John have been joined by large numbers of believers whose hope is to live forever in Paradise on earth. The counsel of the glorified Jesus Christ and the conditions he found in the seven congregations as a result of his inspection apply with equal force to these, since there is only one standard of righteousness and faithfulness for all of Jehovah’s servants. (Exodus 12:49; Colossians 3:11) Thus, Jesus’ messages to the seven first-century congregations in Asia Minor are not mere historical curiosities. They mean life or death to each one of us. Let us, then, listen carefully to Jesus’ words.
a In the original Hebrew at Isaiah 44:6, there is no definite article with the words “first” and “last,” whereas in Jesus’ description of himself in the original Greek at Revelation 1:17, the definite article is found. So, grammatically, Revelation 1:17 indicates a title, whereas Isaiah 44:6 describes Jehovah’s Godship.
b The Greek word agʹge·los (pronounced “anʹge·los”) means “messenger” as well as “angel.” At Malachi 2:7, a Levite priest is referred to as a “messenger” (Hebrew, mal·’akhʹ).—See New World Translation Reference Bible, footnote.
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A Time of Testing and Judging
Jesus was baptized and anointed as King-Designate at the Jordan River about October 29 C.E. Three and a half years later, in 33 C.E., he came to Jerusalem’s temple and threw out those who were making it a cave of robbers. There appears to be a parallel to this in the three-and-a-half-year period from Jesus’ enthronement in the heavens in October 1914 until his coming to inspect professed Christians as judgment began with the house of God. (Matthew 21:12, 13; 1 Peter 4:17) Early in 1918 the Kingdom activity of Jehovah’s people met with great opposition. It was a time of testing earth wide, and fearful ones were sifted out. In May 1918 Christendom’s clergy instigated the imprisonment of officials of the Watch Tower Society, but nine months later these were released. Later, the false charges against them were dropped. From 1919 the organization of God’s people, tried and refined, moved zealously forward to proclaim Jehovah’s Kingdom by Christ Jesus as the hope for mankind.—Malachi 3:1-3.
As Jesus began his inspection in 1918, the clergy of Christendom no doubt received an adverse judgment. Not only had they raised up persecution against God’s people but they had also incurred heavy bloodguilt by supporting the contending nations during the first world war. (Revelation 18:21, 24) Those clergymen then placed their hope in the man-made League of Nations. Along with the entire world empire of false religion, Christendom had fallen completely from God’s favor by 1919.
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Christendom’s religion incurred a heavy bloodguilt by persecuting and killing those who translated, read, or even owned the Bible