Avoid the Pitfalls
1. What questions arise on Jesus’ words at Luke 21:34-36?
ON LOOKING closer at the words of warning recorded at Luke 21:34-36, we find that there are certain questions we would like answered. Do Jesus’ words apply to all alike, or to some more than others? What is covered by the expression “overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life”? In what way can we “succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur”? What will help us to “pay attention” and “keep awake,” and what part does “making supplication” play in this?
2. (a) For whom was that warning primarily given? (b) Does this imply that only the heavenly class are saved?
2 In the first instance Jesus gave that prophecy to a limited audience of four of his disciples, but logically it was really given for the benefit of those disciples of the same kind or class of “chosen ones” who would be living on earth at the time of his second presence. (Mark 13:3, 4; Matt. 24:22) But does it mean that only those of the true church with the heavenly hope set before them would be able to hold their position before the Son of man? For our answer we turn once more to the Revelation, this time to chapter seven Re 7:1-8. In the first eight verses of this chapter there is clearly pictured the church class or congregation, “the Israel of God,” that is, those chosen ones who make up spiritual Israel and who obtain the inheritance that fleshly Israel as a nation failed to obtain. These spiritual Israelites are all “sealed . . . in their foreheads,” corresponding to the same company as described at Revelation 14:1. But are these the only ones who are saved? Christendom may say yes, but what does the Bible answer?—Gal. 6:16; Rom. 11:7; Rev. 7:3.
3. To whom else is salvation held out, and what is their declaration?
3 Immediately “after these things” just mentioned, John sees a “great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations,” and, look! they are certainly holding their position, “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Who are these? They are not of the “little flock” of spiritual Israel and do not need to be in heaven in order to enjoy a position of favor, standing before the throne. They are identified as the Lord’s “other sheep,” with the hope of life on earth set before them, but who first, in company with the remnant of the “little flock” still on earth, must hold their position before the Son of man. And how are they counted worthy of doing so? Listen to what “they keep on crying with a loud voice, saying: ‘Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” No doubt about their public acknowledgment regarding to whom they are indebted for salvation and as to whose side they are on respecting the issue of rulership and worship.—Rev. 7:9, 10; Luke 12:32; John 10:16.
4. (a) Into what major pitfall has Christendom fallen? (b) Contrast the General Assembly of the U.N. with that of God’s organization.
4 By taking such a stand these true worshipers avoid that tremendous pitfall, that hidden danger, into which the vast majority of Christendom has fallen. What is that? The pitfall of looking to that crowning human effort, the United Nations, as God’s instrument for carrying out his purpose and fulfilling the prophecy at Isaiah 2:4, inscribed on a wall in a prominent position at its headquarters at New York city. Those of this “great crowd” appreciate that God’s instrument for salvation is not a man-made instrument, but is God’s kingdom under Christ. It is true that the major organ of the United Nations is the General Assembly. It is also true that associated with the King, Christ Jesus, at the “city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem,” there are “myriads of angels, in general assembly, and the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens.” But there the comparison ends, for in the latter “general assembly” there cannot be found a single politician, and certainly no one with the power of veto, as used so often and ruthlessly in that other vital organ of the United Nations, the Security Council. How could there be, when Jesus stressed in his prayer that his true followers, like himself, would keep sanctified and form “no part of the world,” and as James stressed when he wrote that “friendship with the world is enmity with God,” constituting spiritual adultery in God’s sight? This does not mean literally withdrawing from the world, but as Jesus supplicated his Father, saying: “I request you, not to take them out of the world, but to watch over them because of the wicked one.” We, too, today, “all the time making supplication,” should include a similar petition for ourselves and all Jehovah’s sheep.—Heb. 12:22, 23; John 17:15-17; Jas. 4:4.
5. How do the Scriptures contrast God’s instrument with the one built by man?
5 The purpose of the instrument built by man through his own governments and kingdoms is to preserve the present order under improved conditions. Diametrically opposed to this, the purpose of God’s instrument, the kingdom built by “the God of heaven,” is to “crush and put an end to all these [man-made] kingdoms, and [then] it itself will stand to times indefinite” and bring in the promised blessings of eternal life and salvation in a restored paradise. It is Christendom’s clergy who are responsible for causing the United Nations and its predecessor the League of Nations to be viewed as God’s instrument, labeling it “the political expression of the Kingdom of God on earth.” They must have overlooked what the psalmist wrote under inspiration at Psalm 127:1: “Unless Jehovah himself builds the house, it is to no avail that its builders have labored on it.” They must also have overlooked that powerful illustration given by Jesus about the ‘discreet man who built his house upon the rock-mass,’ holding its position in the day of storm and stress, and, in contrast, about the “foolish man, who built his house upon the sand,” and which proved to be a veritable pitfall when the rain and floods and winds came.—Dan. 2:44; Matt. 7:24-27.
6. How is Christendom seen to be the greatest pitfall of all?
6 Really, organized religion as seen in Christendom is the greatest pitfall of all and the most subtle. Read what Jesus said leading up to that illustration just mentioned. He spoke of those who would make much profession, saying: “Master, Master, did we not . . . perform many powerful works in your name?” Will that entitle them to hold their position in the day of final judgment? What an astonishment and a disgrace for them when they are made to hear and experience the judgment pronounced against them: “Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness”! Ah! there is the key to the situation. Christendom may be very religious, but she is lawless. She claims to be Christian, yet her leaders and peoples prefer to choose and exercise their own religion their own way; hence her many creeds and churches. Her clergy are the outcome of the falling away foretold by Jesus and the apostles and are the “man of lawlessness” described by the apostle Paul at Second Thessalonians, chapter two. Note that the aspiration of this “man of lawlessness” is exactly parallel to the “god of this system of things.” Paul wrote: “He is set in opposition and lifts himself up over everyone who is called ‘god’ or an object of reverence, so that he sits down in the temple of The God, publicly showing himself to be a god.”—Matt. 7:22, 23; 2 Thess. 2:4; Isa. 14:13, 14.
7. What is the root cause of confusion in peoples minds, and what therefore should our prayer be?
7 No wonder the issue of rulership and worship is so confused and beclouded in the minds of the people, suffering under “every unrighteous deception.” And as Paul so aptly expressed it when he wrote: “And no wonder, for Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light. It is therefore nothing great if his ministers also keep transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness.” Therefore, let us keep making supplication that each and every one of us may be preserved from these pitfalls, seeking sincerely at all times to be found ‘doing the will of our Father who is in the heavens,’ and clearly discerning what is God’s instrument. Hold your position by choosing the kingdom of God under Christ and serving its interests.—2 Thess. 2:10; 2 Cor. 11:14, 15; Matt. 7:21.
8. Luke 21:34 warns us of what pitfalls, and what is the remedy?
8 Coming closer home to the more personal pitfalls that Jesus mentioned, “overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life,” let; us consider what these things mean and wherein the danger lies. Jesus emphasized these same things in his sermon on the mountain when he pointed out that one who is absorbed in these things, either by the one extreme of overindulgence or the other extreme of being anxious about a sufficiency of these material things for the next day, is in actual fact not going to be a slave to God but to Riches. That is the danger. He will, after all, be no different from all the rest of the people, “for all these are the things the nations are eagerly pursuing.” But Jesus also kindly gave us the remedy for this problem when he said: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” Faithfully attending to such a course will indeed help us to “pay attention” and “keep awake” and our ‘hearts will never become weighed down.’—Matt. 6:24-33; Luke 21:34.
9. How do the Scriptures warn and advise respecting overconfidence?
9 Carefully heeding this right attitude and course of action, we need to add constant supplication on our part. We must never become overconfident, no matter how many years we may have been a dedicated child of God, rejoicing in a good knowledge of the truth and many privileges of service. The contest is not yet over and, as Paul says: “Every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things.” Such a man has to ‘browbeat his body and lead it as a slave, that, after having preached to others, he himself should not become disapproved somehow.’ Paul cites the case of Israel and shows that the generation coming out of Egypt failed to hold its position before God, even after that mighty deliverance from Pharaoh’s clutches. “On most of them God did not express his approval, for they were laid low in the wilderness.” After giving further evidence, Paul concludes: “Let him that thinks he has a firm position beware that he does not fall. . . . [God] will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.”—Luke 21:36; 1 Cor. 9:25-27; 10:5, 12, 13.
10. (a) Shall we escape by being taken away from the scene of action? (b) What are the things “destined to occur”?
10 Note that last expression. God does not always “make the way out” by taking us away from the temptation; but by the help he provides through his Word and organization, and by his spirit, we are “able to endure it,” so that it does not overwhelm us. Jesus’ words appear to have a similar significance when he said: “You may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur.” Surely he did not mean that we should ask to be taken away bodily from the scene of action, no more than Noah and his family were taken away from the scene of action, but were preserved right through the Flood itself, safely riding on top of it. What an experience! The things that are “destined to occur” are those things foretold in Scripture and which we have been discussing, the unexpected and shocking exposure and disgrace and mighty fall of Christendom, the exposure and failure of the United Nations, the “wild beast” that “goes off into destruction.” Add to this the exposure and failure of every part of Satan’s world, as Jesus said: “Heaven and earth will pass away.” Finally, Satan himself will be seized and bound and hurled into the abyss.—Luke 21:36, 33; Rev. 17:3, 8, 11; 20:2, 3.
HOLD YOUR POSITION
11. (a) What provision already made will help us hold our position? (b) How do those of the “great crowd” maintain their position?
11 By Jehovah’s undeserved kindness through the Son of man we can escape all these things and hold our position before him. In contrast to heaven and earth passing away, Jesus said: “But my words will by no means pass away.” We, too, if we hold fast to his words in faithful obedience, will by no means pass away. The dissolving of Satan’s heaven and earth will not leave us stranded. Jehovah’s “new heaven and a new earth” are already established, the latter part being represented in the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses. Besides the remaining ones of spiritual Israel, large numbers of that “great crowd” have obeyed the urgent command: “Get out of her [Babylon], my people,” and have fled to God’s city, Zion. They are not trusting in man’s schemes or in their own works in order to win God’s approval. The reason “why they are before the throne of God” is because they publicly confess and identify themselves as trusting in the provision God has kindly made for them. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Then they continue to maintain their position before the throne of God by “rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple,” that is, in close union with the remnant of spiritual Israel, likened by Peter to “living stones [who] are being built up a spiritual house,” or temple.—Luke 21:33; Rev. 21:1; 18:4; 7:14, 15; 1 Pet. 2:5.
12. What is our obligation toward all peoples, and in what does this result?
12 Reverting to the question as to whether Jesus’ words at Luke 21:34-36 apply to all alike, or to some more than others, it is evident from what he said that all people everywhere are involved, “all those dwelling upon the face of all the earth.” First, then, it logically follows that those who realize we are fast approaching “that day” of final reckoning have an obligation to sound the warning far and wide. As Jesus said, this must be done “for the purpose of a witness to all the nations,” whether they accept the message or not. The Scriptures indicate that the nations as such, blinded by the “god of this system of things,” will refuse to pay heed. Their blood will be upon their own heads. But, as also foretold and abundantly proved by the facts, there are many sheeplike ones who are recognizing the voice of the “right shepherd” in the Kingdom message being proclaimed world-wide and who are coming in their thousands to join the ranks of the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses.—Matt. 24:14; 2 Cor. 4:4; John 10:14-16.
13. Why do those joining our ranks need much help, and how is this need met?
13 While the Kingdom message must continue to be proclaimed to all people, we have a special obligation to help these many new ones who are coming to a knowledge of the truth. Very few of them previously had much knowledge of the Bible, if any at all. When opposition arises and they are confronted with various problems, they have no background of knowledge or experience to guide them and give them a balanced outlook. They need much help in every way in order to hold their position. Those in Jehovah’s organization already in a position of responsibility, the “faithful and discreet slave” class referred to at Matthew 24:45-47, certainly appreciate this, and it would be true to say that the whole organization is geared to help these “young lambs,” these “little sheep.” But are these the only ones who particularly need help?—John 21:15-17.
14. Why should none in the congregation be taken for granted?
14 It must be admitted that when Jesus said, “But pay attention to yourselves,” he had in mind all his disciples living on earth at the time of the fulfillment of his words. From that point of view his words apply to all alike. There may be a tendency for the servants in a congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses to take for granted those who have been some years in the truth and active in the witness work and who are looked upon as being mature. They may be, but, as experience shows, surprisingly so at times, it is a sad mistake to conclude that these beloved brothers and sisters of ours are finding it comparatively easy to hold their position. By reason of their long standing they may not be so ready to tell of their difficulties, also because of not wanting to discourage those younger in the truth. But they are still in the flesh, still beset by limitations and certain tendencies that need to be curbed and that cause many a mental battle, though perhaps known only to themselves and quite unsuspected by others. A genuine interest and concern should therefore be shown toward everyone in the congregation. They should be visited, especially if for some reason they are not sharing in the meetings and activities of the congregation as they were previously doing. Remember that Satan is particularly wrathful “with the remaining ones of her [the woman’s] seed, who observe the commandments of God and have the work of bearing witness to Jesus.”—Rev. 12:17.
15. How does Paul warn of the pitfalls to be guarded against?
15 For the benefit and guidance of all seeking to hold their position we recall some of the fine expressions used by Paul in his letter to the Hebrews, where he seemed to have this theme very much in mind. After describing the superior position given by Jehovah to Christ Jesus, he warns of the need to “pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away.” Then, after showing how a whole generation of Israelites in the wilderness lost their position before God and with whom he “became disgusted,” he again warns us to beware lest we too should develop “a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God.” Later on, addressing those who had already “endured a great contest under sufferings,” he makes the appeal: “Do not, therefore, throw away your freeness of speech, which has a great reward to be paid it.” Then again, drawing on the experience of the Israelites, he advises of the sad result “if we turn away from him who speaks from the heavens.” Finally, after a grand word telling why Jesus Christ holds his position, because he “is the same yesterday and today, and forever,” he warns: “Do not be carried away with various and strange teachings; for it is right for the heart to be given firmness by undeserved kindness.” These are worthwhile expressions to keep in mind concerning things against which we should fortify ourselves. Do not gradually drift away or, through lack of faith, draw away from the living God or turn away from listening to him. Do not throw away your freeness of speech on behalf of the truth or get carried away with strange teachings contrary to the truth.—Heb. 2:1; 3:10-12; 10:32, 35; 12:25; 13:8, 9.
16. What positive exhortation is given to help us hold our position?
16 On the positive and constructive side Paul exhorts us who belong to the house over which the Son, Christ Jesus, is the head, to “make fast our hold on our freeness of speech and our exultation over the hope firm to the end,” and to “make fast our hold on the confidence we had at the beginning firm to the end.” After telling of the merciful provisions made through Jesus, the “great priest over the house of God,” he says: “Let us hold fast the public declaration of our hope without wavering, for he is faithful that promised.” He is confident we are “not the kind that shrink back to destruction, but the kind that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.” Finally, after a fitting reminder that the kingdom which we serve is one which “cannot be shaken,” he beautifully summarizes the essential attitude and course of action to be maintained if we are to hold our position before the Son of man, when he says: “Let us continue to have undeserved kindness, through which we may acceptably render God sacred service with godly fear and awe.”—Heb. 3:6, 14; 10:21, 23, 39; 12:28.