Righteousness Sprouts in Zion
1, 2. What change is about to befall Israel, and who will bring this about?
LET freedom be proclaimed! Jehovah has determined to free his people and restore them to their ancestral land. Like a seed that sprouts after a gentle rain, true worship will once again appear. When that day arrives, despair will give way to joyful praise, and heads formerly covered with ashes of mourning will be crowned with divine approval.
2 Who will bring about this marvelous transformation? Only Jehovah can do such a thing. (Psalm 9:19, 20; Isaiah 40:25) The prophet Zephaniah prophetically commanded: “Joyfully cry out, O daughter of Zion! Break out in cheers, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! Jehovah has removed the judgments upon you.” (Zephaniah 3:14, 15) What a joyful time that will be! When Jehovah gathers the restored remnant from Babylon in 537 B.C.E., it will be like a dream come true.—Psalm 126:1.
3. What fulfillments do the prophetic words of Isaiah chapter 61 have?
3 This restoration is foretold in Isaiah chapter 61. However, while that prophecy clearly had a fulfillment in 537 B.C.E., it is fulfilled in greater detail at a later period. The more detailed fulfillment involves Jesus and his followers in the first century and Jehovah’s people in modern times. How meaningful, then, these inspired words are!
“The Year of Goodwill”
4. Who is commissioned to tell good news in the first fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1, and who in the second?
4 Isaiah writes: “The spirit of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah is upon me, for the reason that Jehovah has anointed me to tell good news to the meek ones. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to those taken captive and the wide opening of the eyes even to the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1) Who is the one commissioned to tell good news? Likely, in the first instance it is Isaiah, who is inspired by God to record good news for the captives in Babylon. However, Jesus pointed to the most important fulfillment when he applied Isaiah’s words to himself. (Luke 4:16-21) Yes, Jesus was sent forth to tell good news to the meek, and to this end he was anointed with holy spirit at his baptism.—Matthew 3:16, 17.
5. Who have been preaching the good news for some 2,000 years?
5 Moreover, Jesus taught his followers to be evangelizers, or preachers of the good news. At Pentecost 33 C.E., about 120 of these were anointed with holy spirit and became spiritual sons of God. (Acts 2:1-4, 14-42; Romans 8:14-16) They too were commissioned to tell the good news to the meek and brokenhearted. Those 120 were the first of 144,000 to be anointed in this way. The final ones of this group are still active on earth today. Hence, for about 2,000 years, anointed followers of Jesus have been witnessing “about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.”—Acts 20:21.
6. Who received relief from hearing the good news preached in ancient times, and what about today?
6 Isaiah’s inspired message brought relief to repentant Jews in Babylon. In the days of Jesus and his disciples, it brought relief to Jews who were brokenhearted because of the wickedness in Israel and were languishing in captivity to the false religious traditions of first-century Judaism. (Matthew 15:3-6) Today millions ensnared by Christendom’s pagan customs and God-dishonoring traditions are “sighing and groaning” because of the detestable things committed in that religious system. (Ezekiel 9:4) Those who respond to the good news are liberated from that pitiable state. (Matthew 9:35-38) Their eyes of understanding are opened wide when they learn to worship Jehovah “with spirit and truth.”—John 4:24.
7, 8. (a) What are the two ‘years of goodwill’? (b) What are Jehovah’s ‘days of vengeance’?
7 There is a timetable for preaching the good news. Jesus and his followers were commissioned: “Proclaim the year of goodwill on the part of Jehovah and the day of vengeance on the part of our God; to comfort all the mourning ones.” (Isaiah 61:2) A year is a long time, but it has a beginning and an end. Jehovah’s “year of goodwill” is the period during which he gives meek ones the opportunity to respond to his proclamation of freedom.
8 In the first century, the year of goodwill for the Jewish nation started in 29 C.E. when Jesus began his earthly ministry. He told the Jews: “Repent, you people, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matthew 4:17) That year of goodwill lasted until “the day of vengeance” of Jehovah, which climaxed in 70 C.E. when Jehovah allowed the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem and its temple. (Matthew 24:3-22) We today are living in another year of goodwill, one that began with the establishment of God’s Kingdom in the heavens in 1914. This year of goodwill will conclude with another, more widespread day of vengeance when Jehovah brings about the destruction of this entire world system of things at the “great tribulation.”—Matthew 24:21.
9. Who today benefit from Jehovah’s year of goodwill?
9 Who today benefit from God’s year of goodwill? Those who accept the message, demonstrate meekness, and zealously support the proclamation of God’s Kingdom in “all the nations.” (Mark 13:10) Such ones find that the good news brings real comfort. However, those who reject the message, refusing to take advantage of Jehovah’s year of goodwill, will soon have to face the reality of his day of vengeance.—2 Thessalonians 1:6-9.
Spiritual Fruitage That Glorifies God
10. How are the Jews returning from Babylon affected by Jehovah’s great deed in their behalf?
10 The Jews who return from Babylon realize that Jehovah has performed a great deed in their behalf. Their mourning as captives turns into exultation and praise because they are finally free. Thus, Isaiah fulfills his prophetic commission, that is, “to assign to those mourning over Zion, to give them a headdress instead of ashes, the oil of exultation instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of the downhearted spirit; and they must be called big trees of righteousness, the planting of Jehovah, for him to be beautified.”—Isaiah 61:3.
11. Who in the first century had good reason to praise Jehovah for his great deed?
11 In the first century, the Jews who accepted release from bondage to false religion also praised God for his great deed in their behalf. Their downhearted spirit was replaced with a “mantle of praise” when they were delivered from a spiritually dead nation. Such a change was first experienced by Jesus’ disciples when their mourning over his death turned to rejoicing over their anointing with holy spirit by their resurrected Lord. Soon after, a similar change was experienced by 3,000 meek individuals who responded to the preaching of those newly anointed Christians and got baptized at Pentecost 33 C.E. (Acts 2:41) How good it was to be confident of having Jehovah’s blessing! Instead of “mourning over Zion,” they received holy spirit and were refreshed by “the oil of exultation,” which symbolizes the exultation of those who are richly blessed by Jehovah.—Hebrews 1:9.
12, 13. (a) Who were “big trees of righteousness” among the returning Jews in 537 B.C.E.? (b) Who have been “big trees of righteousness” since Pentecost 33 C.E.?
12 Jehovah blesses his people with “big trees of righteousness.” Who are these big trees? In the years following 537 B.C.E., they were individuals who studied and meditated on God’s Word and cultivated Jehovah’s righteous standards. (Psalm 1:1-3; Isaiah 44:2-4; Jeremiah 17:7, 8) Such men as Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, and High Priest Joshua proved to be outstanding “big trees”—stalwarts for truth and against spiritual pollution in the nation.
13 From Pentecost 33 C.E. onward, God planted similar “big trees of righteousness”—courageous anointed Christians—in the spiritual estate of his new nation, “the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16) Over the centuries, these “trees” have come to number 144,000, producing righteous fruitage to beautify, or bring glory to, Jehovah God. (Revelation 14:3) The final ones of these stately “trees” have flourished in the years since 1919, when Jehovah revived the remaining ones of the Israel of God from their temporary state of inactivity. By supplying them with an abundant supply of spiritual waters, Jehovah has produced a virtual forest of righteous, fruit-bearing trees.—Isaiah 27:6.
14, 15. What projects were undertaken by Jehovah’s released worshipers starting in (a) 537 B.C.E.? (b) 33 C.E.? (c) 1919?
14 Highlighting the work of these “trees,” Isaiah continues: “They must rebuild the long-standing devastated places; they will raise up even the desolated places of former times, and they will certainly make anew the devastated cities, the places desolate for generation after generation.” (Isaiah 61:4) Under the decree of King Cyrus of Persia, faithful Jews who returned from Babylon rebuilt Jerusalem and its temple, which had been left in a devastated condition for so long. Restoration projects would also mark the years following 33 C.E. and 1919.
15 In 33 C.E., Jesus’ disciples were greatly saddened by his arrest, trial, and death. (Matthew 26:31) However, their outlook changed when he appeared to them after his resurrection. And once holy spirit was poured out on them, they got busy with the work of preaching the good news, “both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Thus they began to restore pure worship. In a similar way, from 1919 onward Jesus Christ caused the remnant of his anointed brothers to rebuild “places desolate for generation after generation.” For centuries the clergy of Christendom had failed to impart the knowledge of Jehovah, replacing it with man-made traditions and unscriptural doctrines. The anointed Christians cleaned out of their congregations practices that were tainted by false religion so that the restoration of true worship could go forward. And they began what would prove to be the greatest witnessing campaign that the world has ever known.—Mark 13:10.
16. Who have been helping anointed Christians in their restoration work, and with what tasks have they been entrusted?
16 This was a huge commission. How could the relatively few remaining ones of the Israel of God accomplish such a task? Jehovah inspired Isaiah to declare: “Strangers will actually stand and shepherd the flocks of you people, and the foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers.” (Isaiah 61:5) The figurative strangers and foreigners have proved to be “a great crowd” of Jesus’ “other sheep.”* (Revelation 7:9; John 10:11, 16) They are not anointed with holy spirit with a view to a heavenly inheritance. Rather, they have the hope of everlasting life on a paradise earth. (Revelation 21:3, 4) Still, they love Jehovah and have been entrusted with spiritual shepherding, farming, and vinedressing duties. Such activities are not menial tasks. Under the direction of the remaining ones of the Israel of God, these workers help in the shepherding, nurturing, and harvesting of people.—Luke 10:2; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2; Revelation 14:15, 16.
17. (a) What will members of the Israel of God be called? (b) What is the only sacrifice needed for forgiveness of sins?
17 What of the Israel of God? Jehovah tells them, through Isaiah: “As for you, the priests of Jehovah you will be called; the ministers of our God you will be said to be. The resources of the nations you people will eat, and in their glory you will speak elatedly about yourselves.” (Isaiah 61:6) In ancient Israel, Jehovah provided the Levitical priesthood to offer sacrifices in behalf of the priests themselves and their fellow Israelites. However, in 33 C.E., Jehovah ceased using the Levitical priesthood and inaugurated a better arrangement. He accepted the perfect life of Jesus as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Since then, no other sacrifice has been needed. Jesus’ sacrifice is valid for all time.—John 14:6; Colossians 2:13, 14; Hebrews 9:11-14, 24.
18. What kind of priesthood does the Israel of God form, and what is their commission?
18 How, then, are the members of the Israel of God “the priests of Jehovah”? Writing to fellow anointed Christians, the apostle Peter 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.” (1 Peter 2:9) Hence, as a group, anointed Christians form a priesthood with a specific commission: to tell the nations about Jehovah’s glory. They are to be witnesses of him. (Isaiah 43:10-12) Throughout the last days, anointed Christians have faithfully discharged this vital commission. As a result, millions now share with them in the work of witnessing about Jehovah’s Kingdom.
19. What service will anointed Christians be privileged to perform?
19 Further, members of the Israel of God have the prospect of serving as priests in another way. After their death, they are resurrected to immortal spirit life in heaven. There they serve not only as rulers with Jesus in his Kingdom but also as priests of God. (Revelation 5:10; 20:6) As such, they will be privileged to apply the benefits of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice to faithful mankind on earth. In the apostle John’s vision recorded in Revelation chapter 22, they are again described as “trees.” All 144,000 “trees” are seen in heaven, producing “twelve crops of fruit, yielding their fruits each month. And the leaves of the trees [are] for the curing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1, 2) What a wonderful priestly service that is!
Shame and Humiliation, Then Rejoicing
20. Despite opposition, the royal priesthood awaits what blessing?
20 Since 1914 when Jehovah’s year of goodwill began, the royal priesthood has met with nothing but opposition from Christendom’s clergy. (Revelation 12:17) Nevertheless, all efforts to stop the preaching of the good news have ultimately failed. Isaiah’s prophecy foretold this, saying: “Instead of your shame there will be a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will cry out joyfully over their share. Therefore in their land they will take possession of even a double portion. Rejoicing to time indefinite is what will come to be theirs.”—Isaiah 61:7.
21. How did anointed Christians come to enjoy a double portion of blessings?
21 During World War I, the anointed remnant suffered shame and humiliation at the hands of nationalistic Christendom. Members of the clergy were among those who falsely accused eight faithful brothers from the headquarters in Brooklyn of sedition. These brothers were unjustly imprisoned for nine months. Finally, in the spring of 1919, they were freed, and later all charges against them were dropped. Thus the scheme to stop the preaching work backfired. Instead of allowing his worshipers to suffer lasting shame, Jehovah liberated them and restored them to their spiritual estate, “their land.” There they received a double portion of blessings. Having Jehovah’s blessing more than made up for all that they had suffered. Truly they had reason to cry out joyfully!
22, 23. How have anointed Christians imitated Jehovah, and how has he rewarded them?
22 What Jehovah says next provides another reason for Christians today to rejoice: “I, Jehovah, am loving justice, hating robbery along with unrighteousness. And I will give their wages in trueness, and an indefinitely lasting covenant I shall conclude toward them.” (Isaiah 61:8) Through their study of the Bible, the anointed remnant learned to love justice and hate wickedness. (Proverbs 6:12-19; 11:20) They learned to “beat their swords into plowshares,” remaining neutral in mankind’s wars and political upheavals. (Isaiah 2:4) They also left behind God-dishonoring practices, such as slander, adultery, theft, and drunkenness.—Galatians 5:19-21.
23 Because anointed Christians share their Creator’s love of justice, Jehovah has given them “their wages in trueness.” One such ‘wage’ is an indefinitely lasting covenant—the new covenant—which Jesus announced to his followers on the night before his death. It is on the basis of this covenant that they became a spiritual nation, God’s special people. (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:20) Under it, Jehovah will apply all the benefits of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, including the forgiveness of sins for both anointed and all other faithful ones of mankind.
Exulting in the Blessings of Jehovah
24. Who from among the nations are “the offspring” who come to be blessed, and how have they become “offspring”?
24 Some among the nations have recognized Jehovah’s blessing on his people. This was foretold by Jehovah’s promise: “Their offspring will actually be known even among the nations, and their descendants in among the peoples. All those seeing them will recognize them, that they are the offspring whom Jehovah has blessed.” (Isaiah 61:9) Members of the Israel of God, anointed Christians, have been active among the nations during Jehovah’s year of goodwill. Today those who have responded to their ministry number into the millions. By working closely with the Israel of God, those from the nations have the privilege of becoming “the offspring whom Jehovah has blessed.” Their happy condition is visible to all mankind.
25, 26. How do all Christians echo the sentiments expressed at Isaiah 61:10?
25 All Christians, both anointed and other sheep, look forward to praising Jehovah eternally. They wholeheartedly agree with the prophet Isaiah, who says under inspiration: “Without fail I shall exult in Jehovah. My soul will be joyful in my God. For he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; with the sleeveless coat of righteousness he has enwrapped me, like the bridegroom who, in a priestly way, puts on a headdress, and like the bride who decks herself with her ornamental things.”—Isaiah 61:10.
26 Clad in “the sleeveless coat of righteousness,” anointed Christians are determined to remain pure and clean in Jehovah’s eyes. (2 Corinthians 11:1, 2) Declared righteous by Jehovah with a view to inheriting heavenly life, they will never return to the desolate estate of Babylon the Great, from which they have been liberated. (Romans 5:9; 8:30) The garments of salvation are priceless to them. Their other sheep companions are similarly determined to observe Jehovah God’s elevated standards of pure worship. Having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” they are declared righteous and will survive “the great tribulation.” (Revelation 7:14; James 2:23, 25) Until then, they imitate their anointed companions in avoiding any contamination by Babylon the Great.
27. (a) During the Millennial Reign, what noteworthy “sprouting” will there be? (b) How is righteousness already sprouting among mankind?
27 Today Jehovah’s worshipers delight to be in a spiritual paradise. Soon they will also enjoy Paradise in a physical sense. We look forward with all our hearts to that time, which is vividly described in the closing words of Isaiah chapter 61: “As the earth itself brings forth its sprout, and as the garden itself makes the things that are sown in it sprout, in like manner the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will cause the sprouting of righteousness and of praise in front of all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:11) During Christ’s Millennial Reign, the earth will experience “the sprouting of righteousness.” Humans will shout triumphantly, and righteousness will expand to the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 26:9) We, however, do not have to wait for that glorious day in order to give praise in front of all the nations. Righteousness is already sprouting among the millions who give glory to the God of heaven and publish the good news about his Kingdom. Even now our faith and our hope give us every reason to exult in the blessings of our God.
Isaiah 61:5 could have had a fulfillment in ancient times, since non-Jews accompanied natural Jews on their return to Jerusalem and likely helped in restoring the land. (Ezra 2:43-58) However, from verse 6 the prophecy seems to apply only to the Israel of God.
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Isaiah has good news to proclaim to Jewish captives
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Starting in 33 C.E., Jehovah has planted 144,000 “big trees of righteousness”
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The earth will sprout righteousness