The World—God’s Field of Work
“The field is the world.”—Matt. 13:38.
1. (a) Of what is the entire human family a part? (b) Whose field of cultivation is it, and why is it good to give consideration to it at this time?
DID you know that you are part of a field that is under cultivation? Whether you believe it or not, you are, just as certainly as you are part of the human family. This cultivation is not part of a selfish scheme in order to exploit you in some such sort of way as the imperial powers of this earth have made selfish gain out of the people whom they have subjected and governed as colonies. The cultivation that we will here examine is for our highest good for all time to come. It is God’s cultivation, which he sent his beloved Son to undertake and accomplish, sending him with the pure motive of love. The Son as a fellow worker with God described this work of cultivation by means of a parable.
2. (a) What illustration of Jesus is it now timely to consider? (b) Show the wisdom of the householder in not letting his slaves immediately pluck the weeds in his field of wheat.
2 In this parabolic illustration the Son, Jesus Christ, likened himself to a householder of nineteen hundred years ago who sowed good seed in his field. By night an enemy sneaked onto the field and oversowed it with weeds. When the seeds began to grow, the presence of the weeds was discovered. The householder would not let his slaves at once remove the weeds for fear that while doing so they might also uproot much of the wheat and thus cause a loss. He waited till harvest, at which time the difference between the weeds and the wheat would be unmistakably plain. Then he sent the slaves out to pluck out the weed stalks by hand, leaving the wheat undisturbed in the field. The weeds were bound in bundles to be burned, so that the work of the enemy came to nothing. After that the householder had his slaves gather the pure wheat into his storehouses, free from all poisonous weeds.—Matt. 13:24-30.
3, 4. To the disciples’ inquiry what explanation of this illustration did Jesus give?
3 Not even the disciples of Jesus Christ understood the prophetic meaning of this illustration, and so they asked him privately for an explanation. We quote his explanation as it is translated into English in the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible, now more than 350 years old, which calls the weeds “tares”:
4 “He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”—Matt. 13:37-43, AV.
5. What are the difficulties encountered when reading this illustration from the Authorized Version?
5 According to the way that the Authorized or King James Bible translates the parable “the field is the world” and “the harvest is the end of the world” and “so shall it be in the end of this world.” From this translation a person who does not know the original Greek of the Christian Scriptures of the Bible would understand that at the harvesttime the “field,” which is “the world,” is to come to an end, evidently by fire, because fire is mentioned as an agency of destruction. From this the reader of the Bible authorized by King James in 1611 might understand that the earth underneath our feet is to be destroyed by a worldwide fire, and so have a fiery end, like those tares or weeds.
6, 7. However, what did Jesus say was destroyed, and what continued to remain?
6 However, in the illustration Jesus did not say that the householder burned up his field and ruined himself as a farmer, either before or after the genuine wheat was gathered into his storehouses. It was only the tares or weeds that were burned, and this only after they had been plucked out of the field.
7 Hence the field, which pictures “the world,” remained for the householder’s further service, although some changes took place in that field. The “world,” pictured by the field, remains, but in a cleansed condition. The “harvest,” which comes at the end of the growing season, does not therefore picture the end of that “field” symbolizing the world. According to the Authorized Bible Version of King James of England there seem to be contradictions in Jesus’ explanation of his illustration. But Jesus did not contradict himself in the original language of the Bible. The difficulty was created by King James’ Bible translators.
8. What now helps us to understand this parable of Jesus?
8 The problem is easily solved when we go back to the original language by means of various Bible helps and find out that the two worlds are not one and the same thing. In the original Greek text of the Bible the word for the “world” symbolized by the “field” is kósmos, but the word for “world” the end of which comes at harvesttime is aión. Never in the Christian Greek Scriptures do we read of the end, conclusion or consummation of the kósmos; but the end, conclusion or consummation is what befalls the aión. We read, in so many words, of only the end of the aión.
9, 10. Cite how different Bible translations render Matthew 13:38, 39.
9 The difference between kósmos and aión is shown in some of our modern Bible translations that translate kósmos and aión as being different.a For example, the New English Bible of 1961 reads: “The field is the world; . . . The harvest is the end of time. . . . so at the end of time the Son of Man will send out his angels.”—Matt. 13:38-41.
10 The Revised Standard Version of 1952 translates the same portions as follows: “The field is the world, . . . the harvest is the close of the age, . . . so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels.” Alexander Campbell’s translation, made in 1835, reads: “The field is the world: . . . The harvest is the conclusion of this state; . . . so shall it be at the conclusion of this state. The Son of Man will send his angels.” In agreement with this last-quoted translation the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, of 1961, reads: “The field is the world; . . . The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things, . . . so it will be in the conclusion of the system of things. The Son of man will send forth his angels.”
11. Why has the King James Version Bible caused confusion in the use of the English word “world”?
11 There is no contradiction put into Jesus’ original words by such modern translations. By their more accurate renderings they do not leave the English reader to imagine that the inspired Christian writers used only one Greek word for our English word “world” in the King James Version Bible. Even in the inspired Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible there are five distinct Hebrew wordsb that the King James Version Bible translates by the one English word “world.” In the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures there are four distinct Greek wordsc that the King James Version renders into English as “world.” Any sensible person can see that the result of this would be religious confusion of mind. With justice to the Bible, let us clear up some of this confusion.
12, 13. On what Bible translation was the book Three Worlds based?
12 Eighty-seven years ago (or, in 1877) there was published in Rochester, New York, under the joint authorship of N. H. Barbour and C. T. Russell, a book of 197 pages the title page of which read as follows:
THREE WORLDS, and The Harvest of this World.—A Brief Review of the Bible Plan of Redemption, Which Spans Three Worlds: “The World That Was,” “The World That Now Is,” and “The World to Come;” with the Evidences That We Are Now in the “Time of Harvest,” Or, Closing Work of the Gospel Age.
13 The wording of that title page was based on the King James Bible translation, in which we read, in 2 Peter 3:6, 7: “The world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” In 2Pe 3 verse six the Greek word translated “world” is kósmos, and the apostle Peter does not use that word again in the remaining twelve verses of his letter, even when speaking about the “heavens and the earth, which are now,” and the “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”—2 Pet. 3:13.
14. How does the Authorized Version translate the Greek word aión at Galatians 1:4 and Matthew 12:32?
14 However, in Galatians 1:4 (AV), we read: “Who [that is, our Lord Jesus Christ] gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world.” Here the word translated “world” is that other Greek word, aión. Also, in Matthew 12:32 (AV) Jesus says: “Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” There again, the word translated “world” is that other Greek word aión.
15. Why did C. T. Russell evidently choose the title “The Divine Plan of the Ages” for his book published in 1886?
15 So, in the Scripture verses to which the title page of the book Three Worlds refers, only one kósmos is referred to and two aiónes are referred to, rather than three cosmoses. For that reason, doubtless, the book that was later (in 1886) brought out by the aforementioned C. T. Russell, by himself alone, was entitled, not The Divine Plan of the Worlds, but “The Divine Plan of the Ages,” and its chapter four was entitled “The Epochs and Dispensations Marked in the Development of the Divine Plan.” It spoke of the “Three Great Epochs of the World’s History” and “Their Distinctive Features” and “Subdivisions of Three Great Epochs.” (Page 65) So this book, which showed consideration for the original Greek, chose to speak of Ages or Epochs, with their respective features and dispensations, rather than to speak of “worlds.” This avoided confusion of ideas.
16. Define the word aión.
16 Today also we desire to do away with any mental confusion as regards God’s Word, the Holy Bible. The quotations that we made a little previous to this (page 42, paragraphs 8, 9, 10) revealed to us that modern Bible translators consider the Greek word aiónd to mean “time,” “age,” “state,” or “system of things.” The word does not mean mere time (there is another Greek word for that), but means rather a duration or period of time, short or long, in an unbroken continuance. Hence, as one exhaustive Greek-English Lexicon defines aión, it means “space of time clearly defined and marked out, epoch, age,” and it came to mean also “lifetime, life,” or “age, generation.” Now, we know that an age or epoch can begin and it can end or it can even go on forever, according to the will of God. So an age could be endless, though having a beginning.
17. What two examples are cited to show the time meaning of the word aión?
17 As having regard for time we find the word aión used in Mark 3:29, where Jesus Christ said to his critics: “Whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit has no forgiveness forever [literally, to (for) the age], but is guilty of everlasting [aionian, agelong, perpetual, eternal] sin.” That would mean no forgiveness now or in any time to come, because of a sin that can never be wiped out. Later, when Jesus cursed the fig tree that gave the appearance of bearing fruit but that had produced none, what did he say to that tree? According to Matthew 21:19 he said: “Let no fruit come from you any more forever [literally, to (for) the age].” The next day when he and his disciples passed by they found the fig tree to be withered. (Mark 11:12-14, 10-22) That fig tree did not remain fruitless for only a period of time; but, because of what Jesus said to it, it remained fruitless for all time. As fruit trees were taxed over in the Near East at that time, the withered fig tree was without doubt chopped down to become untaxable. So the time of its fruitlessness was endless, truly forever. Thus an age can be endless.
18. How was this same word used by the angel announcing the birth of Jesus to Mary?
18 As a further illustration of this, the angel Gabriel said to Mary the Jewish virgin: “You will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you are to call his name Jesus. This one will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; and Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule as king over the house of Jacob forever [literally, to (for) the ages], and there will be no end of his kingdom.” (Luke 1:26-33) The fact that there would be no end to his kingdom meant that he would reign over the house or nation of Jacob forever, for all time.
STATE; SYSTEM OF THINGS
19, 20. (a) To what else may the word aión refer? (b) Therefore, explain the true meaning of Galatians 1:4 with the aid of the New World Translation.
19 An age, an epoch, a particular space of time, may be marked by certain features that exist during its continuance, or be marked by a certain current of affairs, or a consistent state of things, or a particular system of things. Hence when these end, the age or epoch ends. The Greek word aión may thus come to have reference more to the state or system of things that exists than to the matter of time. For example, in Galatians 1:4, according to the King James Version Bible, the apostle Paul writes: “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.” Instead of the expression “this present evil world,” the Revised Standard Version Bible says “the present evil age.” However, the apostle Paul and the Galatian Christians to whom he wrote continued living in that age, and we today are still living in it. It was therefore not just the age or particular space of time from which Jesus Christ delivered Christians by the sacrifice of himself; it must have been, rather, from the state or system of things existing during this time period that he delivered Christians who follow him.
20 For this reason the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures renders Galatians 1:4 more factually by translating it this way: “He gave himself for our sins that he might deliver us from the present wicked system of things according to the will of our God and Father.” Although they still live during this age or period of time that began after the flood of Noah’s day, the true, dedicated followers of Jesus Christ are no part of the system of things that prevails during this age, because they have been delivered from the wicked system by the sin-removing sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They no longer lie under the power of the present wicked system of things, but are spiritually free to do God’s will.
21. What rule, then, does the New World Translation follow, and how is this shown at Luke 20:34, 35?
21 Accordingly, where the distinguishing features rather than the time are the more prominent thought in a particular Bible verse, the New World Translation renders the Greek aión as “system of things,” which imparts more exact meaning to the English translation. For example, when talking about what opportunities the dead people will have in the resurrection to life on earth under God’s kingdom. Jesus used the word aión and said: “The children of this system of things marry and are given in marriage, but those who have been counted worthy of gaining that system of things and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (Luke 20:34, 35) So in this present time there is “this system of things” according to which men and women can marry, but after this there is “that system of things” in the future time when the resurrection of the human dead will occur. So, then, this system of things will end, but there will be a next system of things, a new system of things, that will follow it.
22. How is it shown that aión refers to the “distinguishing features rather than the time” in Romans 12:2; 1 Timothy 6:17; 2 Timothy 4:9, 10?
22 To the Christians at Rome the apostle Paul wrote: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things [rather than this age or time period], but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Rom. 12:2) In harmony with this advice Paul wrote the Christian overseer Timothy and said: “Give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment.” A Christian by the name of Demas did not follow this advice, and, in his last inspired letter, Paul was obliged to write to Timothy this information: “Do your utmost to come to me shortly. For Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things [not the present age, but its system of things], and he has gone to Thessalonica.” He thus abandoned Paul as a prisoner in Rome.—1 Tim. 6:17; 2 Tim. 4:9, 10.
23, 24. (a) In what sense is aión used at Hebrews 11:3? (b) What has Jehovah therefore done for the good of his servants?
23 Another Bible verse where, not the space of time itself, but the distinguishing features of a time period are evidently meant is Hebrews 11:3. Hence the New World Translation puts the verse into English this way: “By faith we perceive that the systems of things were put in order by God’s word, so that what is beheld came to be out of things that do not appear.”—See John Parkhurst’s A Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament, under Aión, page 17, column 2, under section VII. (London edition of 1845)
24 It was not a case where God lined up one time period after another, one age after another, but he had in mind the visible distinguishing features that would exist by his permission or his arrangement. Hence he had systems of things in mind. He did not leave his servants on earth in total ignorance of these systems of things and the order in which they would come. By his spoken word and in his written Word he gave clues concerning these successive systems of things, each one of which was adjusted to his purpose. But to perceive those systems of things we need not just to hear what God says or to read the Holy Bible; we need also to exercise faith and believe in them, and then shape our personal lives in harmony with them. That is what men of faith, from Abel onward, did. So the things that do not appear to faithless men, these men of faith foresaw or even saw ‘come to be.’ They won God’s approval.—Heb. 11:2, 6.
25-27. (a) Who is in control of the present wicked “system of things,” and what proof have we for saying this? (b) Against whom, therefore, does the Christian have to fight?
25 This present system of things is what the apostle Paul calls it, “wicked.” This is because those who control it visibly and invisibly are likewise wicked. It has selfish people who are “wiser” oftentimes in a materialistic way than the “sons of the light” are. (Luke 16:8;1 Cor. 3:19) It has its writers and debaters with their worldlywise arguments, and also princes or rulers who do not know God’s wisdom as expressed in his sacred secret. (1 Cor. 1:20; 2:6-8) But behind these visible figures stands an invisible intelligence who blinds them religiously and who tries to tempt and destroy true Christians who are not part of the present system.
26 With regard to that blinding influence Paul wrote: “If, now, the good news we declare is in fact veiled, it is veiled among those who are perishing, among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through.” (2 Cor. 4:3, 4) Jehovah God, who sent the good news, is the God of his people on earth during this age or period of time, but he is not the God of this system of things. Satan the Devil is its god. He has demon angels associated with him in the invisible realm, and against these the Christians who do not conform themselves to this system have to fight.
27 Just as Paul writes, “We have a fight, not against blood and flesh, but against the governments, against the authorities, against the world rulers [cosmocrats] of this darkness, against the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” To fight these we have to put on the full suit of armor from God.—Eph. 6:11-13.
28. What wise counsel does Paul give about keeping separate from the wicked “system of things,” and what awaits those keeping separate?
28 Satan the Devil is the disobedient spirit who wields invisible authority superior to that of the men who disobey God. We cannot conduct ourselves according to the system that now visibly exists but must live for the one to come by God’s undeserved kindness. To enlarge our appreciation of this, the apostle Paul writes: “You at one time walked according to the system of things [aión] of this world [kósmos], according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with the Christ, even when we were dead in trespasses—by undeserved kindness you have been saved—and he raised us up together and seated us together in the heavenly places in union with Christ Jesus, that in the coming systems of things there might be demonstrated the surpassing riches of his undeserved kindness in his graciousness toward us in union with Christ Jesus.”—Eph. 2:2, 4-7.
29. (a) To what do we then refer when we speak of a Nev World society? (b) Who makes this new system of things, and through whom is it made?
29 By faith, therefore, we look forward to the incoming of a new system of things; and when we use the long-time common expression “the new world” and talk about ourselves as a New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses, we really have reference to this coming new system of things, this new order of things, according to the Scriptural statement of matters in the original Greek. That new order is one of those systems that God makes by means of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, by whom also he spoke to mankind nineteen centuries ago. When Jesus spoke, it was the crowning point of God’s delivering his message of salvation to mankind, as Hebrews 1:1, 2 points it up by saying: “God, who long ago spoke on many occasions and in many ways to our forefathers by means of the prophets, has at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the systems of things.”
30. (a) How does the Bible translation by Alexander Campbell accurately show what the disciples meant when asking Jesus about his presence and a certain destruction? (b) What phraseology does the New World Translation use?
30 It was not concerning the destruction of our earthly globe that the apostles of the Son of God asked him after he had told them about the coming destruction of the temple in the holy city of Jerusalem. The New Testament translation by Alexander Campbelle (of 1835) keeps us from wrongly thinking about the destruction of our earth by rendering Matthew 24:3 in this way: “As he sat upon the Mount of Olives, his disciples addressed him privately, saying, Tell us, when will this happen; and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the conclusion of this state?” And Jesus’ words calling for missionary activity in Matthew 28:19, 20, Mr. Campbell renders this way: “Go, convert all the nations, immersing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all the things which I have commanded you; and behold! I am with you always, even to the conclusion of this state.” In place of the expression “the conclusion of this state,” the New World Translation uses “the conclusion of the system of things.” We now live in the time of that “conclusion.” This is the harvesttime spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 13:39.
31, 32. What blessings await those coming away from the present system of things?
31 We are not only in the conclusion of the old but also at the threshold of the new. It is worth leaving everything of the present period of time to gain life in the coming system of things. Jesus told his apostles who had left all to follow him: “No one has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not get a hundredfold now in this period of time [this kairós], houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, with persecutions, and in the coming system of things [aión] everlasting life.” (Mark 10:29, 30; Luke 18:29, 30) That life will be in association with Jesus Christ, who will then have a position and name above all other creatures. In that regard the apostle Paul says of Jesus:
32 God “raised him up from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above every government and authority and power and lordship and every name named, not only in this system of things, but also in that to come.”—Eph. 1:19-21.
33. To whom can we give glory for this coming system of things?
33 For the providing of this wonderful coming new system of things under Christ, we have Jehovah God to thank, for he has made this his eternal purpose. We can join the apostle Paul in ascribing glory to this wonderful, loving God, in these words: “Now to the one who can, according to his power which is operating in us, do more than superabundantly beyond all the things we ask or conceive, to him be the glory by means of the congregation and by means of Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever [literally, of the age of the ages]. Amen.”—Eph. 3:11, 20, 21.
a Even the Latin Vulgate shows the difference between the two Greek words by rendering kósmos as mundus and aión as saeculum. But, in spite of this, the English Douay Version Bible, which is a translation of the Latin Vulgate, renders both words as “world.”
b The five Hebrew words are erets, hhedel, hheled, olam and tebel.
c The four Greek words are aión, ge, kósmos and oikouménē.
d The Greek word aión is generally understood to be derived from aeí, meaning “forever; ever.” However, page 202 of the book New Testament Synonyms, by Archbishop R. C. Trench (1901), says: “We must reject the etymology of aion which Aristotle (De Caelo 1. 9) propounds: the derived name was taken from the word aei. It is more probably connected with áo, áemi, to breathe. Like kosmos it has a primary and physical and then, superinduced on this, a secondary and ethical, sense, in its primary, it signifies time, short or long, in its unbroken duration; oftentimes in classical Greek the duration of a human life . . . but essentially time as the condition under which all created things exist, and the measure of their existence; . . . Thus signifying time, it comes presently to signify all which exists in the world under conditions of time; . . . and then, more ethically, the course and current of this world’s affairs.”
e Alexander Campbell is known as the founder of the religious denomination known as the Disciples of Christ or “Campbellites.”
[Picture on page 44]
Fruitless Forever (Aión)
[Picture on page 45]
Not Fashioned After This System of Things (Aión)