Maintaining the Way of Favor
1. (a) What is the purpose of Christ’s return as contrasted with that of his first presence? (b) How will he make his presence known?
NO MAN can look upon God and live. That is because God is spirit and far above man’s natural ability to see. After Jesus’ death as a human he was raised to immortality as a spirit in the express image of God, so that now it is impossible for man to see the glorified Christ Jesus either. Yet he promised to return and reveal himself to the world of mankind. This he will do not by appearing in the flesh, since he would thereby be unable to accomplish the purpose of his visit, but he will make his presence known to mankind first by the many evidences that were foretold to mark his return. However, not all persons will accept these evidences as a sign that Christ has taken up his invisible position as regards the earth or that he has actually been sent forth in Kingdom power to begin his reign. But as his first presence was to prove his right to the Kingdom, so the purpose of his return is to establish that kingdom in full power and glory and make all persons, nations, and even Satan himself, subject to that righteous rule. Therefore, those who refuse to accept this royal representative of Jehovah’s sovereignty by recognizing his dominion through the sign that has been divinely foretold and manifested must be forced to recognize his presence through the revelation of the fiery execution of judgment against them.
2. Why was the beginning of Jesus’ presence in 1914 not marked by a “revelation”?
2 Jehovah does not delight in the execution of the wicked. (Ezek. 18:23) That is why when Christ returned in 1914 he did not reveal himself “in a flaming fire” to bring due punishment upon those not knowing God. After the war in heaven had accomplished a successful purpose and Satan with all his demons had been ousted and cast down to the earth, Christ Jesus halted this first exercise of Kingdom power. (Rev. 12:7-9) In giving the sign of his return and of the end of Satan’s system of things Jesus said: “Unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.” (Matt. 24:22, NW) So he temporarily brought an end to the hot war against Satan in order that he might accomplish another purpose of God. (Rev. 7:1-3) It is a time of judgment, a time of showing favor to those whom God approves.
TIME OF DECISION
3. (a) What illustration did Jesus give to show his manifestation must precede his revelation? (b) What is indicated in some being “taken along”?
3 After Jesus had cited the examples of Noah and Lot to show the nature of his presence and revelation he then gave evidence to show that his manifestation must precede the execution of adverse judgment. He said: “Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken along and the other be abandoned; two women will be grinding at the hand-mill: one will be taken along and the other be abandoned. Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Master is coming.” (Matt. 24:40-42; Luke 17:34, 35, NW) The word used here in the Greek for the expression “taken along” is also used when Joseph is said to have taken his wife home. It is also as when Jesus is said to have taken Peter, James and John along with him into the mount of transfiguration. Jesus used the word when he said: “I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be.” (John 14:3; Matt. 1:20, 24; 17:1, NW) Thus, those “taken along” receive a favorable standing with the Lord and are brought into a way of salvation. This corresponds to Noah’s being taken into the ark the day of the flood and to Lot’s being taken by the hand and led out of the city and therefore precedes the execution of judgment.
4. (a) When and how did the manifestation of Christ’s first presence take place? (b) Into what position of favor were those approved taken?
4 This condition is further illustrated by the judgment of favor which Jesus rendered during the days of his first presence. Throughout his three and a half years of preaching Jesus not only healed the sick physically but also opened the way for spiritual recovery. So when Jesus unexpectedly rode into Jerusalem on Nisan 10, A.D. 33, to present himself as king, a division among the people took place. The multitudes who had prepared themselves by listening to him hailed him as king. On the other hand, the chief priests, who had refused his works, now manifested their attitude by refusing to recognize and anoint him with holy oil in the manner of accepting kings in Israel. At Pentecost, shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection, this division became even more marked when Christ manifested his favor toward those following him by pouring out God’s active force upon them. It was at this time that they were entrusted with the stewardship of God’s service and anointed with his spirit to preach the good news of the resurrection of Jesus, the sign of the first presence of the promised Messiah. Speaking of them as “stewards of sacred secrets of God,” Paul discusses this division with the words: “Do not judge anything before the due time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring the secret things of darkness to light and make the counsels of the hearts manifest, and then each one will have his praise come to him from God.” (1 Cor. 4:1-5, NW) While Paul was looking forward to Christ’s coming for judgment at the spiritual temple in 1918, he had as an example that sudden appearance of Christ at Jehovah’s literal temple in Jerusalem Nisan 10, A.D. 33.
5. In what way were the religious leaders “abandoned”?
5 In that judgment on Israel Jesus made manifest the heart condition of those religious leaders occupying positions of temple service and rejected them completely, abandoning them to their own hardness of heart. This is shown in the words of Jesus to the fleshly nation of Israel when he pronounced against them Jehovah’s official divorce decree. “Look! your house is abandoned to you.” It would seem Jesus here meant the temple at Jerusalem, for he later told his disciples concerning the temple: “By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.” (Matt. 23:38; 24:2, NW) Jehovah from then on withdrew his presence from the house of Israel’s worship just as he has abandoned the house of Christendom’s worship.
6. How can it be certain that those taken along are not literally caught up out of the earth?
6 Some religious interpreters of the Bible have concluded from Jesus’ words regarding those taken along and those abandoned that when he returns he will suddenly catch up out of the earth in a “rapture” some whom he has approved while others will be left behind and destroyed by fire. This is private interpretation and a wresting of the Scriptures. According to the miniature fulfillment of Jesus’ words to his disciples they were separated from the rest of Israel only in their favorable standing and relation with Jehovah. On the other hand, the religious leaders and those who would follow them were left desolated of God’s favor and allowed to remain for almost forty years to hear the resurrection of Christ preached throughout the nation. So Israel’s time of decision continued until A.D. 70, while those who had been “taken along” continued present with those who had been “abandoned.” This miniature foreshadow finds a parallel in the time of Christ’s second manifestation and revelation.
7. How was favor shown in the manifestation of Christ’s second presence, and what resulted to those found unfaithful?
7 In 1918 the Lord suddenly appeared at the spiritual temple for judgment. At that time he showed favor to the faithful overcomers who were in the sleep of death by raising them to immortality. Those found faithful on the earth were taken along by the Lord into temple service and entrusted with the interests of God’s kingdom. (Luke 12:42-44; 1 Thess. 4:16, 17) Since then, especially from 1919 on, they have joyfully gone forth heralding the presence of the King and proclaiming throughout all the inhabited earth the good news of his established kingdom, pointing to the sign of Christ’s second presence, the sign of the Son of man. At the same time those who were found to be sluggardly slaves, unmindful of the advance of the sign of Christ’s presence, were abandoned to their own evil imaginings and cast out with the class of lawless religious leaders, those called “hypocrites” who have never been faithful to their implied covenant to do temple service. There they await the accomplished end when Christ will be revealed.—Matt. 24:48-51; Luke 12:45, 46.
KEEPING IN BALANCE
8. Through what activity has Christ continued to manifest himself?
8 Christ not only in 1919 manifested favor to those who were earnestly seeking him but also since then has continued to make himself known to those who recognize his presence through the preaching of these. This increasing activity on the part of those taken along has been carried on despite severe persecution by those who have been abandoned for destruction. The faithful ones take courage, however, in the knowledge that their very preaching is a part of the sign and their boldness an evidence of the impending destruction of those who oppose. (Phil. 1:27, 28) But they realize there are still many pitfalls that lie between them and the time of the revelation of Jesus Christ. They know that during the consummation of this system of things Jehovah’s faithful witnesses are called upon to make decisions every day that might affect their standing with the Lord. They remember that the bulk of the Christian Greek Scriptures admonishing Christians to faithfulness was written when there was special need for them then during the consummation of the Jewish system of things and before the climax of judgment. So today, with their minds braced up for activity those taken along continue to heed the warning of Peter to “keep completely balanced.”
9. What Scriptural admonition is given to those who are in the way of favor?
9 The saying, “Once saved always saved,” is not in harmony with Bible teaching. Jesus warned: “No man that has put his hand to a plow and looks at the things behind is well fitted for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62, NW) Then he admonished further: “On that day let the person that is on the housetop but whose movable things are in the house not come down to pick these up, and the person out in the field, let him likewise not return to the things behind. Remember the wife of Lot.” (Luke 17:31, 32, NW) For this reason those who have been taken along must ‘keep making straight paths for their feet’ and be guided solely by God’s Word. (Heb. 12:13; Prov. 3:5, 6) The beginning of compromise is the beginning of apostasy; so they must and do refuse to be turned aside by any plausible-sounding reasonings of men. (Col. 2:8) Jesus said: “Look out that nobody misleads you; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying: ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.” (Matt. 24:4, 5, NW) Those in the favored position today carefully and prayerfully continue to study God’s Word as it is revealed through the “faithful and discreet slave,” recognizing that they individually are but a part of the organization with which Jehovah is dealing and which he is triumphantly directing to victory according to his own will.
10. What warning will those take who are properly balanced?
10 Keeping balanced means keeping a clear vision of the theocracy and one’s relation to it. An unbalanced person is erratic, changeable, unreliable. Falling a prey to the insidious unrighteousness of the world, one might begin to form his decisions and to set his course of action according to the “accepted” standards of the oldworld society. Such a course is dangerous and leads to many painful experiences. (1 Tim. 6:10) One should always remember that many an experienced traveler has become completely lost while on a particularly rough and difficult detour. And those who sincerely and whole-heartedly love Jehovah and his New World society do not wish to have any serious part with those who are being abandoned to Jesus Christ’s wrath at his revelation.
11. (a) How does making secondary issues the important thing upset one’s balance? (b) How is this illustrated in the racial issue?
11 Neither will those maintaining proper balance be drawn aside by some secondary issue and make it the motivating factor in their lives. For example, in the days of the early Christians many wished to make the matter of circumcision a major issue and caused the preaching work to be interrupted. The question was not settled nor the trouble abated until the governing body took the necessary action. (Acts 15:1-29) Today, in many countries of the world the racial question becomes a major problem in the Kingdom work. But those of the “faithful and discreet slave” class recognize that the final settling of such problems is not their commission. Their commission as clearly stated is to preach and to call attention to the existing sign of the approaching revelation of Christ and the execution of his judgment. They refuse to become any part of the wrangling factions and schisms that face extinction at Armageddon. They know that division or class distinction does not exist within Jehovah’s service organization even though it may be necessary or expedient to adhere to Caesar’s law in some localities by holding separate meetings. However, we know that assembling together is primarily for study, while our main objective is giving the witness in the field. So those whose eye is sincere will rightly maintain complete balance by taking whatever course or following whatever legal methods are most practical to break down prejudice of the people in their territory. Why not show those among whom we live the only way to real freedom, which we are already enjoying? Why force an issue already strained and add to the problems of witnessing? Love for our neighbor is one of Jehovah’s righteous requirements. Those who are maintaining complete balance will make sure their love is expressed not toward oneself nor in elevating some particular group in the eyes of man but in properly directing the “other sheep” to the love of God where true help and succor are to be found.
12. In what proper light should the revelation of Jesus Christ be viewed?
12 Only the unmerciful look to Armageddon solely as the time of God’s wrath and execution of his judgment against the wicked. Paul says: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are, if you judge; for in the thing in which you judge another, you condemn yourself, inasmuch as you that judge practice the same things. Now we know that the judgment of God is, in accord with truth, against those who practice such things. But do you have this idea, O man, while you judge those who practice such things and yet you do them, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and long-suffering, because you do not know that the kindly quality of God is trying to lead you to repentance? But according to your hardness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath and of the revealing of God’s righteous judgment.” (Rom. 2:1-5, NW) Those today who are prone to criticize and find fault endanger their position with the Lord and test his mercy and long-suffering perhaps to the limit. That is why Peter admonished us: “Set your hope upon the undeserved kindness that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:13, NW) Since Jehovah has mercifully shortened this day of wrath expressed against Satan by allowing a time when men can flee to safety, those who have the love of God and of their neighbor make all haste to take advantage of it to the full, stabilizing their own minds securely in the accurate knowledge of God’s Word and actively proclaiming the good news to all others who will hear.
AWAITING THE DAY
13. How does Peter emphasize the importance of keeping busy?
13 In his second letter Peter explains the matter further and again emphasizes the importance of keeping busy. Reminding us that many ridiculers would come who assume God has forgotten man’s condition, he says: “Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance. Yet Jehovah’s day will come as a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a hissing noise, but the elements being intensely hot will be dissolved, and earth and the works in it will be discovered. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in holy acts of conduct and deeds of godly devotion, awaiting and keeping close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah!”—2 Pet. 3:9-12, NW.
14. In what different ways are the beginnings of Christ’s second presence and manifestation marked?
14 Peter’s mention of the day’s coming as a thief gives rise to another question. Some, untrained in the Scriptures, point to this as an instance of inconsistency in the Bible. “How,” they say, “can you harmonize the statements that he would come in power and great glory and also as a thief in the night?” The answer, of course, is simple, as already explained in our discussion. These ridiculers have failed to recognize the various aspects of Christ’s presence and what is to be accomplished by each phase of his advent. Whereas the beginning of his presence was heralded world-wide when he came in power and glory, the next phase of his presence, namely his appearance or manifestation at the temple for judgment, was as unexpected as a thief in the night. Even those seeking him were not aware of this activity until after it had begun.—Mal. 3:1, 2; Matt. 25:1-13.
15. (a) In what way is the revelation of Jesus Christ like a thief? (b) How does it differ in this respect from his manifestation?
15 The day of Jehovah referred to above by Peter is the day for the expression of God’s wrath at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Here again the time is spoken of as thieflike. How, then, will even the wicked know he is present? It is the beginning of that “day” that arrives unexpectedly and comes upon them while they continue unprepared, but as it progresses it will become more and more obvious to all that the end of this system of things has arrived. (Ezek. 7:6-9; Luke 21:34-36) But unlike at Christ’s manifestation in 1918 those who are seeking him now will not be caught napping. This is made certain by Paul’s words: “You yourselves know quite well that Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. Whenever it is that they are saying, ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them just as the pang of distress upon a pregnant woman, and they will by no means escape. But you, brothers, you are not in darkness, so that that day should overtake you as it would thieves, for you are all sons of light and sons of day.” (1 Thess. 5:2-5, NW) Being in the light, they have come to distinguish accurately between the beginning of Christ’s presence, his manifestation and his revelation. They are thereby “handling the word of the truth aright.”
16. How will the beginning of the revelation of Jesus Christ be recognized?
16 How shall we know when the time of the revelation of Jesus Christ has arrived and has begun? Notice the sign given to the Thessalonians by Paul in his letter quoted from in the preceding paragraph. When they are saying, “Peace and security!” the time has arrived. And how will this be so? Persecution of those taken along into God’s favor is certain to continue and increase at the hands of those left desolate of God’s presence. (Rev. 12:17; 13:7) These abandoned ones, at Satan’s instigation, will muster all their forces in final all-out war against Jehovah’s enthroned King and will seek to wipe out the new nation of spiritual Israel that Christ is building as a part of the new world. It might be they will make it appear they have accomplished their purpose and for this reason cry, “Peace and security!” Then it is that Christ reveals himself to the nations in all the majesty and power of his great invisible presence.—Ezek. 38:18, 19, 21-23.
17, 18. Where does the execution of judgment begin, and who alone will find deliverance?
17 “This takes into account that it is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for you, but, to you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings due punishment upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength.” (2 Thess. 1:6-9, NW) The ax falls first at the roots of apostate Christendom (Jer. 25:34, 35; Luke 3:9) and, when these mercenary shepherds flee for cover, only those Christians whose faith has been tried in the fire will survive and continue to pronounce the coming judgment against heathendom and all the rest of Satan’s organization.
18 Courage, then, faithful slaves of Jehovah! “Let us not sleep on as the rest do, but let us stay awake and keep our senses.” (1 Thess. 5:6, NW) The way of maintaining the favored position is clearly marked out before us and the victory feast is certain. So press on in the advancing light of the manifestation of Christ’s presence until he is fully revealed and final and complete deliverance has been accomplished!