Jehovah’s Witnesses continue a work that had its start with the followers of Jesus Christ in the first century of our Common Era
1. What parallels are there between the early Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses today?
THEY zealously bore witness. Their hearts impelled them to accept the help and guidance of the holy spirit. Persecution did not still their lips. And the rich blessing of God was upon them. All of this was true of the early Christians, just as it is true of Jehovah’s Witnesses today.
2, 3. What is especially noteworthy about the book of Acts?
2 Surely you have been encouraged by the faith-strengthening accounts found in the action-packed Bible book Acts of Apostles! It is unique, for it is the only divinely inspired history of early Christianity.
3 The book of Acts names 95 individuals from 32 lands, 54 cities, and 9 islands. It is a thrilling story about people—common folk, haughty religionists, vain politicians, rabid persecutors. But most of all, it is about your first-century brothers and sisters, who not only met the usual challenges of life but also preached the good news with zeal.
4. Why do we enjoy a special bond with such individuals as the apostle Paul, Dorcas, and other faithful witnesses of old?
4 Almost 2,000 years now separate us from the activities of the zealous apostles Peter and Paul, the beloved physician Luke, generous Barnabas, courageous Stephen, kindhearted Dorcas, hospitable Lydia, and so many other faithful witnesses. Yet, we enjoy a special bond with them. Why? Because we have the same disciple-making commission. (Matt. 28:19, 20) How blessed we are to share in it!
5. Where did Jesus’ early followers begin to carry out their commission?
5 Reflect on the commission Jesus gave his followers. “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you,” he said, “and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) First, the holy spirit empowered the disciples to be witnesses “in Jerusalem.” (Acts 1:1–8:3) Next, under the spirit’s direction, they witnessed “in all Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:4–13:3) Then they began to take the good news “to the most distant part of the earth.”—Acts 13:4–28:31.
6, 7. In performing our ministry, what advantage do we have over our first-century fellow believers?
6 Your fellow believers of the first century did not have the entire Bible for use in their work of bearing witness. Matthew’s Gospel was not available until at least 41 C.E. Some of Paul’s letters were written before Acts was completed, in about 61 C.E. But the early Christians had neither personal copies of the complete Holy Scriptures nor a variety of publications to leave with interested people. Before becoming Jesus’ disciples, Jewish Christians had heard the Hebrew Scriptures read in the synagogue. (2 Cor. 3:14-16) But even they needed to be diligent students, since they probably had to quote texts from memory.
7 Today, most of us have a personal copy of the Bible and an abundance of Bible literature. We are making disciples by declaring the good news in more than 230 lands and in many languages.
Empowered by Holy Spirit
8, 9. (a) The holy spirit enabled Jesus’ disciples to do what? (b) What is the faithful slave producing with the help of God’s spirit?
8 When Jesus commissioned his disciples to be witnesses, he told them: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you.” Under the direction of God’s spirit, or active force, Jesus’ followers would ultimately serve as witnesses in all the earth. By holy spirit, Peter and Paul effected cures, expelled demons, even raised the dead! However, the power received through holy spirit had a more important purpose. It enabled the apostles and other disciples to impart accurate knowledge that means everlasting life.—John 17:3.
9 On the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., Jesus’ disciples spoke “with different tongues, just as the spirit was granting them to make utterance.” They thus bore witness regarding “the magnificent things of God.” (Acts 2:1-4, 11) We do not miraculously speak in tongues today. With the help of God’s spirit, however, the faithful slave is producing Bible literature in many languages. For example, millions of copies of The Watchtower and Awake! are printed every month. All of this enables us to declare “the magnificent things of God” to people of all nations, tribes, and tongues.—Rev. 7:9.
10. Since 1989, what has been done with regard to Bible translation?
10 Since 1989 the faithful slave has placed emphasis on making the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures available in many languages. This Bible has already been translated into scores of tongues, and tens of millions of copies have been printed—with many more to come. Only God and his spirit could have made these efforts successful.
11. What has been done with respect to the translation of Witness publications?
11 Publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been translated into more than 470 languages. Translation work is being done by hundreds of Christian volunteers in over 130 countries. This should not surprise us, for no other organization on earth is led by holy spirit in “bearing thorough witness” worldwide regarding Jehovah God, his Messianic King, and the established heavenly Kingdom!—Acts 28:23.
12. How were Paul and other Christians able to do the work of bearing witness?
12 When Paul bore witness to Jews and Gentiles at Antioch in Pisidia, “those who were rightly disposed for everlasting life became believers.” (Acts 13:48) As Luke concludes the book of Acts, Paul is “preaching the kingdom of God . . . with the greatest freeness of speech, without hindrance.” (Acts 28:31) Where is the apostle witnessing? Why, in Rome—the capital of a world power! Whether through discourses or by other means, Jesus’ early followers did all their witnessing work with the help and guidance of holy spirit.
Persevering Despite Persecution
13. Why should we pray when we experience persecution?
13 When Jesus’ early disciples experienced persecution, they petitioned Jehovah for boldness. The result? They were filled with holy spirit and empowered to speak God’s word with boldness. (Acts 4:18-31) We too pray for wisdom and strength to keep on witnessing despite persecution. (Jas. 1:2-8) Because we are blessed by God and helped by his spirit, we press on in Kingdom service. Nothing stops the work of bearing witness—neither intense opposition nor brutal persecution. When we are being persecuted, we certainly need to pray for holy spirit and for wisdom and courage to declare the good news.—Luke 11:13.
14, 15. (a) What happened as a result of “the tribulation that arose over Stephen”? (b) In our time, how did many people in Siberia come to learn the truth?
14 Stephen gave a bold witness before he met his death at enemy hands. (Acts 6:5; 7:54-60) In the “great persecution” that arose at that time, all the disciples except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. But that did not stop the work of bearing witness. Philip went to Samaria “to preach the Christ” and did so with excellent results. (Acts 8:1-8, 14, 15, 25) Moreover, we are told: “Those who had been scattered by the tribulation that arose over Stephen went through as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, but speaking the word to no one except to Jews only. However, out of them there were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene that came to Antioch and began talking to the Greek-speaking people, declaring the good news of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 11:19, 20) At that time, persecution spread the Kingdom message.
15 In our time, something similar occurred in the former Soviet Union. Especially in the 1950’s, thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses were exiled to Siberia. Because they were scattered in various settlements, the good news was constantly spreading in that vast land. In no way could so many Witnesses have found the money needed to travel perhaps as much as 6,000 miles (10,000 km) to proclaim the good news! However, the government itself sent them across the country. “As it turned out,” said one brother, “the authorities themselves enabled thousands of sincere people in Siberia to come to know the truth.”
Richly Blessed by Jehovah
16, 17. The book of Acts gives us what evidence of Jehovah’s blessing on the work of bearing witness?
16 Jehovah’s blessing was unquestionably upon the early Christians. Paul and others planted and watered, “but God kept making it grow.” (1 Cor. 3:5, 6) Reports in the book of Acts provide evidence of such growth because of Jehovah’s blessing on the work of bearing witness. For instance, “the word of God went on growing, and the number of the disciples kept multiplying in Jerusalem very much.” (Acts 6:7) As the witness work spread, “the congregation throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria entered into a period of peace, being built up; and as it walked in the [reverential] fear of Jehovah and in the comfort of the holy spirit it kept on multiplying.”—Acts 9:31.
17 In Syrian Antioch, both Jews and Greek-speaking people heard the truth from courageous witnesses. “Furthermore,” says the account, “the hand of Jehovah was with them, and a great number that became believers turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:21) Regarding further progress in that city, we read: “The word of Jehovah went on growing and spreading.” (Acts 12:24) And with the witnessing work of Paul and others in full swing among Gentiles, “in a mighty way the word of Jehovah kept growing and prevailing.”—Acts 19:20.
18, 19. (a) Why do we know that “the hand of Jehovah” is with us? (b) Give an example showing that Jehovah supports his people.
18 “The hand of Jehovah” is unquestionably with us today too. That is why so many are becoming believers and are symbolizing their dedication to God by being baptized. Moreover, it is only with God’s help and blessing that we are able to endure stiff opposition—at times, intense persecution—and successfully carry out our ministry, even as Paul and other early Christians did. (Acts 14:19-21) Jehovah God is always there for us. His “indefinitely lasting arms” unfailingly support us in all our trials. (Deut. 33:27) Let us also remember that for the sake of his great name, Jehovah never deserts his people.—1 Sam. 12:22; Ps. 94:14.
19 To illustrate: Because Brother Harald Abt kept on bearing witness, the Nazis sent him to Sachsenhausen concentration camp during World War II. In May 1942 the Gestapo went to the home of his wife, Elsa, took away their little girl, and arrested Elsa. She was sent to various camps. “My years in German concentration camps taught me an outstanding lesson,” said Sister Abt. “It is, how greatly Jehovah’s spirit can strengthen you when you are under extreme trial! Before I was arrested, I had read a sister’s letter that said that under severe trial Jehovah’s spirit causes a calmness to come over you. I thought that she must have been exaggerating a bit. But when I went through trials myself, I knew that what she had said was true. It really happens that way. It’s hard to imagine it, if you have not experienced it. Yet it really happened to me.”
Keep On Bearing Thorough Witness!
20. What did Paul do while under house arrest, and of what encouragement can this be to some of our brothers and sisters?
20 The book of Acts ends with Paul zealously “preaching the kingdom of God.” (Acts 28:31) Because he was under house arrest, he was not free to witness from house to house in Rome. Nevertheless, he kept on witnessing to all who came to him. Today, some of our dear brothers and sisters are housebound, perhaps bedfast, or are living in nursing homes because of advanced age, illness, or infirmity. Yet, their love for God and their desire to bear witness are as strong as ever. We pray for them and can well ask that our heavenly Father bring them in touch with those yearning to learn about him and his wonderful purposes.
21. Why should we bear witness with a sense of urgency?
21 Most of us can engage in the house-to-house ministry and other features of the disciple-making work. So let each of us do everything possible to fulfill our role as Kingdom proclaimers, sharing in bearing witness “to the most distant part of the earth.” This work must be done with a sense of urgency, for “the sign” of Christ’s presence is clearly in evidence. (Matt. 24:3-14) There is no time to lose. Right now, we have “plenty to do in the work of the Lord.”—1 Cor. 15:58.
22. What should we be determined to do as we await Jehovah’s day?
22 As we await “the coming of the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah,” let us be determined to continue giving a bold and faithful witness. (Joel 2:31) We will yet find many people like the Beroeans who “received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind.” (Acts 17:10, 11) May we therefore bear witness until, in effect, we hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful slave!” (Matt. 25:23) If we zealously do our part in the disciple-making work today and are ever faithful to Jehovah, we will surely rejoice throughout eternity that we had a blessed share in “bearing thorough witness” about God’s Kingdom!