1, 2. What was the greatest event ever to occur in world history, and why is it not surprising that it went unseen by human eyes?
DO YOU ever wonder what it might have been like to live during some great turning point in history? Many do. But consider: If you had lived in such a momentous time, would you have personally witnessed the key events that brought about change? Perhaps not. Events that spell doom for old regimes and fill the pages of history books often take place out of the public eye. In a sense, much of history unfolds behind closed doors—in throne rooms, in private council chambers, or in government offices. Nonetheless, such changes affect millions of lives.
2 What about the greatest event ever to occur in the history of the world? That event has touched millions of lives. Yet, it took place out of human view. We refer, of course, to the birth in heaven of God’s Kingdom, the long-promised Messianic government that will soon bring this whole world system to its end. (Read Daniel 2:34, 35, 44, 45.) Since humans did not witness that momentous birth, should we conclude that Jehovah hid the event from mankind? Or, rather, did he prepare his loyal people for it beforehand? Let us see.
“My Messenger . . . Will Clear Up a Way Before Me”
3-5. (a) Who was “the messenger of the covenant” mentioned at Malachi 3:1? (b) What would happen before “the messenger of the covenant” would come to the temple?
3 From ancient times, Jehovah purposed to prepare his people for the birth of the Messianic Kingdom. For instance, consider the prophecy of Malachi 3:1: “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will clear up a way before me. And suddenly the true Lord, whom you are seeking, will come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant will come, in whom you take delight.”
4 In the modern-day fulfillment, when did Jehovah, “the true Lord,” come to inspect those who were serving in the earthly courtyard of his spiritual temple? The prophecy explains that Jehovah would come with “the messenger of the covenant.” Who was that? None other than the Messianic King, Jesus Christ! (Luke 1:68-73) As the newly installed Ruler, he would inspect and refine God’s people on earth.—1 Pet. 4:17.
5 Who, though, was the other “messenger,” the first one mentioned at Malachi 3:1? This prophetic figure would be on the scene well before the Messianic King’s presence. In the decades before 1914, did anyone “clear up a way” before the Messianic King?
6. Who acted as the foretold “messenger” that came first to prepare God’s people for the events ahead?
6 Throughout this publication, we will find answers to such questions in the thrilling history of Jehovah’s modern-day people. This history shows that in the latter part of the 19th century, one small group of faithful people was emerging as the only body of genuine Christians in a vast field of imitations. That group came to be known as the Bible Students. Those taking the lead among them—Charles T. Russell and his close associates—did, indeed, act as the foretold “messenger,” giving spiritual direction to God’s people and preparing them for the events ahead. Let us consider four ways in which the “messenger” did so.
Worshipping in Truth
7, 8. (a) During the 1800’s, who began to expose the falseness of the immortality of the soul doctrine? (b) C. T. Russell and his close associates exposed what other teachings as false?
7 Those Bible Students studied prayerfully; they agreed on, collected together, and published clear doctrinal truths. For centuries, the world of Christendom had been enveloped in spiritual darkness; many of its teachings were rooted in paganism. A prime example is the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. During the 1800’s, though, a few sincere students of the Bible scrutinized that teaching and saw that it had no support in God’s Word. Henry Grew, George Stetson, and George Storrs wrote and lectured boldly, exposing that satanic lie.* Their work, in turn, had a profound impact on C. T. Russell and his close associates.
8 The little group of Bible Students found that other doctrines linked to the immortality of the soul were likewise confusing and false—for example, the teaching that all good people go to heaven or that God torments the immortal souls of the wicked in eternal hellfire. Russell and his close associates boldly exposed those lies in numerous articles, books, pamphlets, tracts, and published sermons.
9. How did Zion’s Watch Tower expose as false the Trinity doctrine?
9 Likewise, the Bible Students exposed as false the widely revered Trinity doctrine. In 1887, Zion’s Watch Tower remarked: “The Scriptures are very clear concerning the distinct individuality and exact relationship of Jehovah and our Lord Jesus.” The article then noted how amazing it was that “the idea of a triune God—three Gods in one, and at the same time, one God in three—should ever have gained prominence and general acceptance. But the fact that it is so, only goes to show how soundly the church slept while the enemy bound her in the chains of error.”
10. How did the Watch Tower point to 1914 as a marked year?
10 As its full title suggested, the journal Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence was deeply concerned with prophecies pertaining to Christ’s presence. The faithful anointed writers who contributed to that journal saw that Daniel’s prophecy regarding the “seven times” had a bearing on the timing of the fulfillment of God’s purposes regarding the Messianic Kingdom. As early as the 1870’s, they pointed to 1914 as the year when those seven times would end. (Dan. 4:25; Luke 21:24) Although our brothers of that era did not yet grasp the full significance of that marked year, they proclaimed what they knew far and wide, with long-lasting effects.
11, 12. (a) To whom did Brother Russell give credit for what he taught? (b) How important was the work carried out by Russell and his associates in the decades prior to 1914?
11 Neither Russell nor his faithful associates claimed credit for uncovering and grasping those vital spiritual truths. Russell gave much credit to others who had come before him. Above all, he gave credit to Jehovah God, the one responsible for teaching His people what they need to know when they need to know it. Clearly, Jehovah did bless the efforts of Russell and his associates to sift out truth from falsehood. As the years passed, they stood ever more apart and distinct from Christendom.
12 The work those faithful men did in championing doctrinal truth in the decades before 1914 was simply amazing! Looking back, The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence of November 1, 1917, commented: “Millions of people today find themselves free from the burden of fear, imposed upon them by the teachings of hell fire and other false doctrines . . . The tide of Truth, which began more than forty years ago, is still steadily rising and will continue to rise until it fills the whole earth; and its opponents might as well try to sweep back with an ordinary broom the waves of a mighty ocean as to prevent the Truth from spreading throughout the earth.”
13, 14. (a) How did the “messenger” help to prepare the way for the Messianic King? (b) What can we learn from our brothers of more than a century ago?
13 Consider this: Would people have been prepared for the beginning of Christ’s presence if they were not able to distinguish Jesus from his Father, Jehovah? Surely not! Nor would they have been prepared if they thought that immortality was the automatic possession of all and not a precious gift bestowed on only relatively few of Christ’s footstep followers; nor if they thought that God tormented people in hellfire for all eternity with no hope of relief! Without doubt, the “messenger” prepared the way for the Messianic King!
14 And what about us today? What can we learn from our brothers of more than a century ago? We likewise need to be avid readers and students of God’s Word. (John 17:3) As this materialistic world becomes emaciated, spiritually speaking, may our appetite for spiritual food grow ever stronger!—Read 1 Timothy 4:15.
“Get Out of Her, My People”
15. The Bible Students gradually came to what realization? (See also footnote.)
15 The Bible Students taught that it was necessary to break away from worldly churches. In 1879, the Watch Tower referred to the “Babylon church.” Was it talking about the papacy? The Roman Catholic Church? Protestant denominations had for centuries made such applications of Babylon as a prophetic type in Scripture. However, the Bible Students gradually came to the realization that all the churches of Christendom were included in modern-day “Babylon.” Why? Because they all taught doctrinal lies such as those discussed above.* In time, our publications became more and more direct about what honesthearted members of Babylon’s churches should do.
16, 17. (a) How did Volume III of Millennial Dawn and the Watch Tower urge people to remove themselves from false religion? (b) What factor diluted such early warnings? (See footnote.)
16 For example, in 1891, Volume III of Millennial Dawn discussed God’s rejection of modern-day Babylon and noted: “The whole system—a system of systems—is rejected.” It added that all those “not in sympathy with her false doctrines and practices are now called to separate themselves from her.”
17 In January 1900, the Watch Tower offered counsel to those who still kept their names on the denominational rolls of Christendom’s churches and who rationalized their course, saying, “My sympathies are all with the truth, and I rarely attend other meetings.” The article asked: “But is this right—to be half out and half in Babylon? Is this the obedience required . . . and pleasing and acceptable to God? Surely not. He [the church member] publicly entered into a covenant with the denomination when he joined it, and he should faithfully live up to all the conditions of that covenant until he . . . publicly renounces or cancels his membership.” Over the years, that message became stronger.* Servants of Jehovah must renounce all ties with false religion.
18. Why was it necessary for people to get out of Babylon the Great?
18 If such warnings to get out of Babylon the Great had not been sounded regularly, would Christ as the newly installed King have had a body of prepared, anointed servants on earth? Surely not, for only Christians who are free from Babylon’s grip can worship Jehovah “with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) Are we today likewise determined to keep free from false religion? Let us keep obeying the command: “Get out of her, my people”!—Read Revelation 18:4.
Gathering for Worship
19, 20. How did the Watch Tower encourage God’s people to gather together for worship?
19 The Bible Students taught that fellow believers should gather together for worship, where that was possible. For genuine Christians, it is not enough to get out of false religion. It is vital to take part in pure worship as well. From its early issues, the Watch Tower encouraged readers to gather together for worship. For example, in July 1880, Brother Russell reported on a speaking tour he had made, commenting on how encouraging the many meetings had been. He then urged readers to send in cards regarding their progress—some of which would be published in the journal’s pages. To what end? “Let us all know . . . how the Lord prospers you; whether you keep up your meetings with those of like precious faith.”
20 In 1882, an article called “Assembling Together” appeared in the Watch Tower. The article exhorted Christians to hold meetings “for mutual edification, encouragement and strengthening.” It noted: “It matters not whether there is any one learned or talented among you. Let each one bring his own Bible, paper, and pencil, and avail yourselves of as many helps in the way of a Concordance, . . . as possible. Choose your subject; ask for the Spirit’s guidance in the understanding of it; then read, think, compare scripture with scripture and you will assuredly be guided into truth.”
21. The congregation in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, set what example regarding meetings and shepherding?
21 The Bible Students had their headquarters in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. There they set a fine example by gathering together in obedience to the inspired counsel recorded at Hebrews 10:24, 25. (Read.) Much later, an elderly brother named Charles Capen recalled attending those meetings as a boy. He wrote: “I still remember one of the scripture texts painted on the wall of the Society’s assembly hall. ‘One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.’ That text has always stood out in my mind—there is no clergy-laity distinction among Jehovah’s people.” (Matt. 23:8) Brother Capen also recalled the stimulating meetings, the warm encouragement, and Brother Russell’s diligent efforts to shepherd every member of the congregation personally.
22. How did faithful people respond to the encouragement to attend Christian meetings, and what lesson may we learn from them?
22 Faithful people responded to this example and to the instruction given. Congregations formed in other states, such as Ohio and Michigan, and then all over North America and in other lands. Consider: Would faithful people have truly been prepared for the presence of Christ if they had not been trained to obey the inspired counsel to meet together for worship? Surely not! What about us today? We need to be just as determined to attend Christian meetings faithfully, seeking every opportunity to worship together and be spiritually upbuilding to one another.
23. How did the Watch Tower make it plain that all anointed ones must be preachers of the truth?
23 The Bible Students taught that all the anointed must be preachers of the truth. In 1885, the Watch Tower commented: “We should not forget that every member of the anointed body is anointed to preach (Isa. 61:1), called to the ministry.” An 1888 issue contained this exhortation: “Our commission is plain . . . If we ignore it and excuse ourselves, we are certainly slothful servants, proving our unworthiness of the high position to which we are called.”
24, 25. (a) How did Russell and his close associates do more than encourage people to preach? (b) How did one colporteur describe his work in the “preautomobile days”?
24 Brother Russell and his close associates did more than encourage people to preach. They also began to produce tracts called Bible Students’ Tracts, which were later also called Old Theology Quarterly. Readers of the Watch Tower received these to distribute to the public without charge.
We do well to ask ourselves, ‘Is the preaching work central to my life?’
25 Those who devoted themselves to the ministry full-time were called colporteurs. Charles Capen, mentioned earlier, was among them. He later recalled: “I used maps made by the United States Government Geological Survey to guide my covering the territory in Pennsylvania. These maps showed all the roads, making it possible to reach all sections of each county on foot. Sometimes after a three-day trip through the country taking orders for the books in the Studies in the Scriptures series, I would hire a horse and buggy so that I could make the deliveries. I often stopped and stayed overnight with farmers. Those were the preautomobile days.”
26. (a) Why did God’s people need to engage in the preaching work in order to be prepared for Christ’s reign? (b) What questions do we do well to ask ourselves?
26 Such early efforts at preaching certainly required courage and zeal. Would true Christians have been prepared for Christ’s reign if they had not been taught the importance of the preaching work? Assuredly not! After all, that work was to become an outstanding feature of Christ’s presence. (Matt. 24:14) God’s people had to be prepared to make that lifesaving work the central feature of their lives. We today do well to ask ourselves: ‘Is the preaching work central to my life? Do I make sacrifices in order to have a full share in that activity?’
God’s Kingdom Is Born!
27, 28. What did the apostle John witness in vision, and how did Satan and his demons react to the birth of the Kingdom?
27 Finally, the momentous year 1914 arrived. As we discussed at the outset of this chapter, there were no human eyewitnesses to the glorious events in heaven. However, the apostle John was given a vision that described matters in symbolic terms. Imagine this: John witnesses “a great sign” in heaven. God’s “woman”—his organization of spirit creatures in heaven—is pregnant and gives birth to a male child. This symbolic child, we are told, is soon to “shepherd all the nations with an iron rod.” Upon its birth, though, the child is “snatched away to God and to his throne.” A loud voice in heaven says: “Now have come to pass the salvation and the power and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ.”—Rev. 12:1, 5, 10.
28 Without doubt, John saw in vision the birth of the Messianic Kingdom. That event was surely a glorious one, but it did not please everyone. Satan and his demons warred against the faithful angels, who were under the leadership of Michael, or Christ. The outcome? We read: “Down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.”—Rev. 12:7, 9.
29, 30. Following the birth of the Messianic Kingdom, how did conditions change (a) on earth? (b) in heaven?
29 Long before 1914, the Bible Students said that a time of trouble would begin in that marked year. But even they could not have imagined how accurate that prediction would turn out to be. As John’s vision revealed, Satan would then begin to have an even greater impact on human society: “Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing that he has a short period of time.” (Rev. 12:12) In 1914, the first world war broke out and the sign of Christ’s presence in kingly power began to see global fulfillment. The “last days” of this system of things had begun.—2 Tim. 3:1.
30 However, there was joy in heaven. Satan and his demons were banished forever. John’s account reads: “On this account be glad, you heavens and you who reside in them!” (Rev. 12:12) With the heavens cleansed and Jesus enthroned as King, the Messianic Kingdom was now poised to act in behalf of God’s people on earth. What action would it take? As we saw at the outset of this chapter, Christ as “the messenger of the covenant” would first act as a refiner of God’s servants here on earth. What would that mean?
A Time of Testing
31. What did Malachi foretell about the period of refining, and how did that prophecy begin to see fulfillment? (See also the footnote.)
31 Malachi foretold that the refining process would not be easy. He wrote: “Who will endure the day of his coming, and who will be able to stand when he appears? For he will be like the fire of a refiner and like the lye of laundrymen.” (Mal. 3:2) How true those words proved to be! Beginning in 1914, God’s people on earth faced a succession of major tests and hardships. As World War I raged, many Bible Students experienced vicious persecution and imprisonment.*
32. What internal turmoil afflicted God’s people following 1916?
32 From within, the organization suffered turmoil as well. In 1916, Brother Russell died at only 64 years of age, leaving many of God’s people in shock. His death revealed that some had been placing too much emphasis on one exemplary man. Though Brother Russell wanted no such reverence, a measure of creature worship had grown up around him. Many thought that the progressive revelation of truth had ended with his death, and some bitterly resisted efforts to move forward. That attitude contributed to an outbreak of apostasy that divided the organization.
33. How did unfulfilled expectations test God’s people?
33 Unfulfilled expectations were another test. Though the Watch Tower had rightly pointed to 1914 as the year when the Gentile Times would end, the brothers did not yet understand what would take place in that year. (Luke 21:24) They thought that in 1914, Christ would take his anointed bride class to heaven to rule with him there. Those hopes were not realized. Late in 1917, The Watch Tower announced that a 40-year harvest period would end in the spring of 1918. But the preaching work did not end. It continued to prosper after that date passed. The magazine suggested that the harvest had indeed ended but that a period of gleaning remained. Still, many stopped serving Jehovah because of disappointment.
34. What daunting test arose in 1918, and why did Christendom think that God’s people were “dead”?
34 A daunting test arose in 1918. J. F. Rutherford, who succeeded C. T. Russell in taking the lead among God’s people, was arrested along with seven other responsible brothers. They were unjustly sentenced to long terms of imprisonment in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. For a time, the work of God’s people may have seemed paralyzed. Many among the clergy of Christendom rejoiced. They assumed that with the “leaders” imprisoned, the headquarters in Brooklyn closed up, and the preaching work under attack in America and Europe, those pestilent Bible Students were “dead”—no longer a threat. (Rev. 11:3, 7-10) How wrong they were!
A Time of Revival!
35. Why did Jesus allow hardships to afflict his followers, and what action did he take to help them?
35 Little did the enemies of the truth know that Jesus allowed these hardships to afflict his people only because Jehovah was then sitting “as a refiner and cleanser of silver.” (Mal. 3:3) Jehovah and his Son were sure that the faithful ones would emerge from those fiery tests refined, purified, and better suited than ever for service to the King. From early in 1919, it became clear that God’s spirit had done what the enemies of his people thought impossible. The faithful ones were revived! (Rev. 11:11) At that time, Christ evidently fulfilled a key feature of the sign of the last days. He appointed “the faithful and discreet slave,” a small group of anointed men who would take the lead among his people by dispensing spiritual food at the proper time.—Matt. 24:45-47.
36. What showed that God’s people were reviving spiritually?
36 Brother Rutherford and his associates were released from prison on March 26, 1919. A convention was soon scheduled for that September. Plans got under way to start up a second journal, to be called The Golden Age. A companion to The Watch Tower, it was designed for use in the field ministry.* The same year saw the publication of the first issue of the Bulletin, which is now the meeting workbook for Our Christian Life and Ministry. From the start, it has always been a stimulus to the field ministry. Without a doubt, from 1919 onward the personal, house-to-house ministry came increasingly to the fore.
37. In the years after 1919, how did some prove disloyal?
37 The preaching work continued to refine Christ’s servants, for the proud and arrogant among them had no stomach for such humble work. Those who would not get in step with the work parted company with the faithful ones. In the years following 1919, some disloyal ones were embittered and resorted to slander and libel, even siding with the persecutors of Jehovah’s faithful servants.
38. What do the successes and victories of Christ’s followers on earth furnish for us?
38 Despite such attacks, though, Christ’s followers on earth continued to thrive and to prosper spiritually. Their every success, their every victory since then, furnishes us with convincing proof that God’s Kingdom rules! Only by God’s active support and blessing—which he provides through his Son and the Messianic Kingdom—could a group of mere imperfect humans win victory after victory over Satan and this wicked system of things!—Read Isaiah 54:17.
39, 40. (a) What are some of the features of this publication? (b) What can studying this book do for you?
39 In the chapters that follow, we will examine what God’s Kingdom has accomplished on earth in the century since it was born in heaven. Each section of this book will cover a distinct aspect of the Kingdom work here on earth. In each chapter, a review box will help us individually to determine just how real the Kingdom is to us. In the concluding chapters, we will discuss what to expect when the Kingdom comes in the near future to destroy the wicked and usher in a paradise earth. What will studying this publication do for you?
40 Satan wants to erode your faith in God’s Kingdom. But Jehovah wants to strengthen your faith so that it will protect you and keep you strong. (Eph. 6:16) Therefore, we urge you to study this publication prayerfully. Keep asking yourself, ‘Is God’s Kingdom real to me?’ The more real it is to you now, the more likely it is that you will be on hand, faithfully and actively supporting that Kingdom, on the day when everyone alive will see that God’s Kingdom is real and that it is ruling!
To learn more about Grew, Stetson, and Storrs, see the book Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, pages 45-46.
Although the Bible Students saw the need to withdraw from religious organizations that were friends of the world, for years they continued to view as Christian brothers individuals who, although not Bible Students, professed belief in the ransom and claimed to be dedicated to God.
One factor that diluted the force of such early warnings was that they were applied mainly to Christ’s little flock of 144,000. We will see in Chapter 5 that prior to 1935, it was thought that the “great multitude,” as described at Revelation 7:9, 10 in the King James Version, would include countless members of the churches of Christendom and that they would be made a secondary heavenly class as a reward for siding with Christ at the very end.
In September 1920, The Golden Age (now Awake!) published a special issue detailing numerous instances of wartime persecution—some of it shockingly brutal—in Canada, England, Germany, and the United States. In contrast, the decades prior to the first world war saw very little persecution of that kind.
For many years The Watch Tower was intended mainly for members of the little flock for their personal edification.