1-3. What did Jesus do when he found that the temple was being polluted?
JESUS had great respect for the temple in Jerusalem because he knew what it stood for. The temple had long been the center of true worship on earth. But that worship—the worship of the holy God, Jehovah—must be clean and pure. Imagine, then, how Jesus felt when he came to the temple on Nisan 10, 33 C.E., and found that it was being polluted. What was happening?—Read Matthew 21:12, 13.
2 In the Court of the Gentiles, greedy merchants and money changers were taking unfair advantage of the worshippers who came to present offerings to Jehovah.* Jesus “threw out all those selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers.” (Compare Nehemiah 13:7-9.) He denounced those selfish men for turning his Father’s house into “a cave of robbers.” Jesus thereby showed his respect for the temple and what it represented. The worship of his Father had to be kept clean!
3 Centuries later, after he was installed as Messianic King, Jesus again cleansed a temple—one that involves all today who want to worship Jehovah acceptably. What temple did he then cleanse?
Cleansing “the Sons of Levi”
4, 5. (a) How were Jesus’ anointed followers refined and cleansed from 1914 to early 1919? (b) Was that the end of the refining and cleansing for God’s people? Explain.
4 As we saw in Chapter 2 of this publication, after being enthroned in 1914, Jesus came with his Father to inspect the spiritual temple—the arrangement for pure worship.* As a result of that inspection, the King saw that anointed Christians, “the sons of Levi,” needed some refining and cleansing. (Mal. 3:1-3) From 1914 to early 1919, the Refiner, Jehovah, allowed his people to go through various trials and hardships that served to refine and cleanse them. Happily, those anointed ones emerged from the fiery tests in a cleaner condition, eager to show their support for the Messianic King!
5 Was that the end of the refining and cleansing for God’s people? No. Throughout the last days, Jehovah by means of the Messianic King has continued to help his followers to be clean so that they might remain in the spiritual temple. In the next two chapters, we will see how he has refined them morally and organizationally. First, though, let us discuss spiritual cleansing. It is faith-strengthening to consider what Jesus has done—both in clearly recognizable ways and behind the scenes—to help his followers to be spiritually clean.
“Keep Yourselves Clean”
6. How do Jehovah’s commands to the Jewish exiles help us to understand what spiritual cleanness involves?
6 What is spiritual cleanness? To answer that, let us examine the words that Jehovah spoke to Jewish exiles as they were about to leave Babylon in the sixth century B.C.E. (Read Isaiah 52:11.) Those exiles were returning home to Jerusalem primarily to rebuild the temple and restore true worship. (Ezra 1:2-4) Jehovah wanted his people to leave behind all traces of Babylon’s religion. Notice that he gave them a series of commands: “Touch nothing unclean,” “get out from the midst of her,” and “keep yourselves clean.” Jehovah’s pure worship must not be tainted by false worship. What, then, may we conclude? Spiritual cleanness involves keeping free of the teachings and practices of false religion.
7. Through what channel has Jesus helped his followers to be spiritually clean?
7 Shortly after he was installed as King, Jesus put in place a clearly recognizable channel through which he has helped his followers to be spiritually clean. That channel is the faithful and discreet slave, which Christ appointed in 1919. (Matt. 24:45) By that year, the Bible Students had already cleansed themselves of many false religious teachings. Still, they needed some further cleansing spiritually. Through his faithful slave, Christ has gradually enlightened his followers about various observances and practices that they needed to abandon. (Prov. 4:18) Let us consider some examples of this.
Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?
8. What had the Bible Students long acknowledged about Christmas, yet what did they not see clearly?
8 The Bible Students long acknowledged that Christmas has pagan roots and that Jesus was not born on December 25. Zion’s Watch Tower of December 1881 stated: “Millions were brought into the church from Paganism. But the change was mostly in name, for the pagan priests became christian priests and the pagan holidays came to be called by christian names—Christmas being one of these holidays.” In 1883, under the title “When Was Jesus Born?” the Watch Tower reasoned that Jesus was born about the beginning of October.* Yet, the Bible Students did not at the time clearly see the need to stop celebrating Christmas. It continued to be celebrated even by members of the Brooklyn Bethel family. After 1926, however, things began to change. Why?
9. What did the Bible Students come to realize about Christmas?
9 As a result of careful, closer scrutiny of the subject, the Bible Students came to realize that the origin of Christmas and the practices associated with it actually dishonor God. The article “The Origin of Christmas,” in The Golden Age of December 14, 1927, noted that Christmas is a pagan celebration, focuses on pleasures, and involves idol worship. The article made it clear that the celebration was not ordered by Christ and concluded with this pointed statement about Christmas: “The fact that the world, the flesh, and the Devil are in favor of its perpetuation and observance . . . is a final and conclusive argument against its celebration by those who are dedicated wholly to the service of Jehovah.” Not surprisingly, the Bethel family did not celebrate Christmas that December—or ever again!
10. (a) What thorough exposé of Christmas was presented in December 1928? (See also the box “Christmas, Its Origin and Purpose.”) (b) How were God’s people alerted to other holidays and celebrations that should be avoided? (See the box “Exposing Other Holidays and Celebrations.”)
10 The following year, the Bible Students received an even more thorough exposé of Christmas. On December 12, 1928, Brother Richard H. Barber, a member of the headquarters staff, gave a radio discourse that laid bare the unclean origins of this holiday. How did God’s people respond to the clear direction from headquarters? Recalling when he and his family stopped celebrating Christmas, Brother Charles Brandlein said: “Did we mind putting those pagan things away? Absolutely not! . . . It was just like taking a soiled garment off and throwing it away.” Reflecting a similar spirit, Brother Henry A. Cantwell, who later served as a traveling overseer, recalled: “We were pleased that we were able to give up something to prove our love for Jehovah.” Christ’s loyal followers were willing to make the needed changes and have no part in a celebration that stemmed from unclean worship.*—John 15:19; 17:14.
11. How can we show our support for the Messianic King?
11 What a fine example those faithful Bible Students set for us! Reflecting on their example, we do well to ask ourselves: ‘How do I view the direction we receive from headquarters? Do I gratefully accept it and apply what I learn?’ Our willing obedience shows our support for the Messianic King, who is using the faithful slave to dispense timely spiritual food.—Acts 16:4, 5.
Should Christians Use the Cross?
12. For many years, how did the Bible Students view the cross?
12 For many years, the Bible Students viewed the cross as an acceptable symbol of Christianity. They certainly did not feel that the cross should be worshipped, for they understood that idolatry is wrong. (1 Cor. 10:14; 1 John 5:21) As early as 1883, the Watch Tower frankly stated that “all idolatry is an abomination to God.” Yet, at first, the Bible Students saw no objection to what they thought were appropriate uses of the cross. For example, they proudly wore a cross-and-crown pin as an identifying badge. To them it signified that if they proved faithful to death, they would receive the crown of life. Beginning in 1891, a cross-and-crown symbol appeared on the cover of the Watch Tower.
13. What enlightenment did Christ’s followers receive about use of the cross? (See also the box “Progressively Enlightened About Use of the Cross.”)
13 The Bible Students cherished the cross-and-crown emblem. Starting in the late 1920’s, however, Christ’s followers were progressively enlightened regarding the use of the cross. Reflecting on the 1928 assembly held in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A., Brother Grant Suiter, who later served on the Governing Body, recalled: “At the assembly the cross-and-crown emblems were shown to be not only unnecessary but objectionable.” Over the next few years, more enlightenment followed. It was clear that the cross has no place in worship that is pure and spiritually clean.
14. How did God’s people respond to the progressive enlightenment they received about the cross?
14 How did God’s people respond to the progressive enlightenment they received about the cross? Did they continue to hold on to the cross-and-crown emblem, which had been so dear to them? “We easily gave it up when we realized what it represented,” recalled Lela Roberts, a longtime servant of Jehovah. Another faithful sister, Ursula Serenco, expressed the feelings of many, saying: “We came to recognize that what we once cherished as symbolic or representative of the death of our Lord and of our Christian devotion was really a pagan symbol. In harmony with Proverbs 4:18, we were grateful that the path was being more brightly illuminated.” Christ’s loyal followers wanted to have no part in unclean false religious practices!
15, 16. How can we show that we are determined to keep the earthly courtyards of Jehovah’s spiritual temple clean?
15 We share that determination today. We recognize that Christ has been using a clearly recognizable channel—his faithful and discreet slave—to help his people keep spiritually clean. Hence, when the spiritual food we receive alerts us to observances, practices, or customs that are tainted by false religion, we promptly and obediently respond. Like our brothers and sisters who lived in the early part of Christ’s presence, we are determined to keep the earthly courtyards of Jehovah’s spiritual temple clean.
16 Throughout the last days, Christ has also been working behind the scenes to protect the congregations of Jehovah’s people from individuals who could cause spiritual contamination. How has he done so? Let us see.
Separating “the Wicked From Among the Righteous”
17, 18. In the illustration of the dragnet, what is the meaning of (a) letting down the dragnet, (b) “gathering fish of every kind,” (c) collecting the fine fish into containers, and (d) throwing away the fish that were not suitable?
17 The King Jesus Christ keeps a watchful eye on the congregations of God’s people earth wide. In ways that we cannot fully perceive, Christ and the angels have been doing a separating work. Jesus described this work in his illustration of the dragnet. (Read Matthew 13:47-50.) What does the illustration mean?
18 Letting “a dragnet . . . down into the sea.” The dragnet represents the Kingdom preaching that is taking place throughout the sea of humanity. “Gathering fish of every kind.” The good news attracts people of all kinds—those who take steps to become true Christians, as well as many others who may initially show some interest but do not really take a stand for pure worship.* Collecting “the fine ones into containers.” Honesthearted ones are gathered into containerlike congregations, where they can render clean worship to Jehovah. Throwing away “the unsuitable” fish. Throughout the last days, Christ and the angels have been separating “the wicked from among the righteous.”* As a result, those who lack the right heart condition—who are perhaps unwilling to abandon wrong beliefs or practices—have not been allowed to taint the congregations.*
19. How do you feel about what Christ has been doing to safeguard the cleanness of God’s people and the purity of true worship?
19 Is it not reassuring to know that our King, Jesus Christ, is protective of those under his care? And is it not comforting to know that his zeal for true worship—and true worshippers—is as fervent today as it was when he cleansed the temple in the first century C.E.? How thankful we are that Christ has been working to safeguard the spiritual cleanness of God’s people and the purity of true worship! We can show our support for the King and his Kingdom by avoiding all contact with false religion.
Visiting Jews had to use certain currency to pay the annual temple tax, and the money changers charged a fee to convert coins into the required currency. Additionally, visitors might have needed to buy animals for offerings. Jesus called the merchants “robbers,” likely because they charged exorbitant prices or fees for their services.
Jehovah’s people on earth worship him in the earthly courtyards of his great spiritual temple.
This article noted that a winter date for Jesus’ birth “does not comport well with the account of the shepherds being out with their flocks.”—Luke 2:8.
In a personal letter dated November 14, 1927, Brother Frederick W. Franz wrote: “We will have no Christmas this year. The Bethel family has voted not to have Christmas anymore.” A few months later, in a letter dated February 6, 1928, Brother Franz wrote: “Little by little the Lord is cleansing us from the errors of the Devil’s Babylonish organization.”
Consider, for example, that in 2013, there was a peak of 7,965,954 publishers, while 19,241,252 attended the annual observance of the Memorial of Christ’s death.
The separating of the fine fish from the unsuitable fish is not the same as the separating of the sheep from the goats. (Matt. 25:31-46) The separating, or final judgment, of the sheep and the goats takes place during the coming great tribulation. Until then, those who are like unsuitable fish may return to Jehovah and be gathered into containerlike congregations.—Mal. 3:7.
Eventually, the unsuitable ones will symbolically be cast into a fiery furnace, denoting their future destruction.