“Preach a Release to the Captives”
“He sent me forth to preach a release to the captives and a recovery of sight to the blind, to send the crushed ones away with a release, to preach Jehovah’s acceptable year.”—Luke 4:18, 19.
1. For the people today it is a case of either release or what, and what warning example was furnished us nineteen centuries ago?
TODAY it is a question of early release or inescapable destruction! Either there is a release for the people or else they will be destroyed with what is holding them captive and crushing them! The matter is that pressing! The situation today facing us all is not without a warning example earlier in history. It faced a group of thirteen men nineteen centuries ago. They took the situation courageously in hand and put forth strong efforts to bring about a release of their people before the horrible destruction came. A number of thoughtful persons gave an obedient ear to the preaching of a release and accepted the help offered and gained a timely release from the organization holding them captive and crushing them. They were not among the more than a million of their own people who died in a few months of siege and the tens of thousands of others who were led off into exile and slavery to pagan masters. All this was prophetic and its lesson should come home to us today. By way of similarities of events, history is about to repeat itself today, only on a worldwide scale. For people now it is a case of either release or destruction!
2. As regards religion, what national situation faced Jesus and his apostles, and was his nation a free people?
2 Look at the national situation that faced Jesus Christ and his twelve apostles nineteen hundred years ago. He had to start out single-handedly, except, of course, that God was with him. He came to his own people. They were deeply religious. They were jealously attached to their religion, which was absolutely different from the Hinduism, the Buddhism, the Persian Zoroastrianism, the Greek and Roman religions, and the Gothic and Druid religions that flourished over large areas of the earth. Such Gentile religions were marked by idolatry. Because of this difference of religion Jesus’ people should have been a free people, at least religiously. They had thirty-nine sacred books, and these were grouped under three headings, namely, the Law or Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms. These they had received from God the Creator. Why should they not have been a free people? But they were not!
3. What was it that put Jesus’ people in a slave state?
3 It was not the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms that put these people in a slave state, religiously speaking. It was not the Roman Empire that enslaved them religiously, although it had taken over their country in the year 63 Before Our Common Era. It was the great body of traditions and rules of men that were later brought together in written form in the Jewish Talmud.
4. Who put them in this system of bondage, and how, and with what resultant action toward God’s prophets?
4 Even though these traditions, rules and precepts of uninspired men contradicted and nullified the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms, the religious leaders put these in the place of the inspired written Word of God; and the people trustfully submitted to this. This put the common people into a system of bondage, a bondage to religious leaders who had more regard for what men of previous times had taught and practiced than for God’s plainly written Law and arrangement. This bondage blinded them. It made them blindly follow their blind religious leaders and oppose inspired men whom God himself sent to them. As the naked facts of history show, it made them oppose, to the death, their greatest Prophet, who gave all evidences of being the very Son of God.
5. How did the people react to the protection offered to them by Jesus, and what, therefore, happened to their city?
5 For instance, take the ancient walled city of Jerusalem back in the year 33 of our Common Era, which was the nineteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar of Rome. Three days before the Jewish Passover that year, Jesus Christ denounced the religious enslavement of the common people and then said to their holy city: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her,—how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it. Look! Your house is abandoned to you. For I say to you, You will by no means see me from henceforth until you say, ‘Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name!’” (Matt. 23:1-4, 15, 37-39) But the people who followed their tradition-keeping religious leaders did not want the protection that Jesus Christ offered to them, as a hen protects her chicks under her wings. The Jerusalem of that day never did say to Jesus: “Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name!” So, in 70 C.E., that Jewish city was horribly destroyed.
6. With a reference to Abraham’s household, how did the apostle Paul illustrate the slavery of his people, and how long did Jerusalem continue in this slavery?
6 The apostles of Jesus Christ also saw the religious captivity of the people. About twenty years before Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman armies, the apostle Paul wrote to some disciples in Galatia who were being misled into captivity to religious traditions: “Abraham acquired two sons, one by the servant girl and one by the free woman . . . Now this [servant girl] Hagar . . . corresponds with the Jerusalem today, for she is in slavery with her children. Wherefore, brothers, we are children, not of a servant girl [Hagar], but of the free woman. For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 4:21-25, 31; 5:1) Those words meant that for seventeen years after Jesus Christ died outside her gates, Jerusalem had continued in her religious slavery. She continued in it till she was destroyed in the year 70 C.E. and the tens of thousands of her religiously enslaved children were dragged away into slavery to the pagan Romans.
RELEASE PREACHED AND OFFERED
7. In Jesus’ day was it a case of either a release of the people or their destruction, and what does subsequent Jewish history show on this?
7 Well, then, when Jesus Christ presented himself to his people nineteen hundred years ago, did they need a release? Was it a case of either a release or destruction? For refusing the religious release, did they suffer a bodily destruction? Yes, 1,100,000 of them, according to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. Their having a priesthood, their having a magnificent temple and altar and holy city, their having the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms in the original Hebrew and Aramaic did not save them. They had rejected the release that had been offered to them in God’s way. No release came by their own rebellion against Rome in 66 C.E. and their heroic efforts to free themselves from Roman domination. God had indeed abandoned their “house,” their holy temple in Jerusalem. He did not protect it from destruction in 70 C.E.
8. (a) In Jerusalem’s case, how much time was involved for bad results of wrongdoing to appear? (b) In what capacity did Jesus return to Nazareth, and fittingly what did he do on the sabbath day there?
8 It takes time for a wrong course of action to produce its bad results. That is the way it was with Jerusalem and her temple. At least forty years were involved. At the Passover time in the spring of 30 C.E. Jesus Christ cleansed the temple of bankers and businessmen who were turning the temple into a “house of merchandise.” (John 2:13-17) Some months later he visited his hometown of Nazareth. The year preceding he had left Nazareth as a carpenter. Now he returned as a preacher of God’s kingdom. The Jewish sabbath came, and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue, not just to listen but to present his message of release. He stood up to read part of the Holy Bible to the Jewish worshipers there. “So the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed him, and he opened the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor, he sent me forth to preach a release to the captives and a recovery of sight to the blind, to send the crushed ones away with a release, to preach Jehovah’s acceptable year.’”—Luke 4:16-19.
9. Where was the prophecy that Jesus read found, and, in its first application, whose release from captivity did it indicate?
9 That was the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1, 2, written at least 732 years Before Our Common Era. So it was written at least 125 years before the Babylonian armies destroyed Jerusalem and dragged most of the surviving Jews off into captivity in Babylon, the capital of false religion. There they were crushed under oppression and their God Jehovah was made fun of. Just as the prophet Isaiah had foretold: “‘The very ones ruling over them keep howling,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and constantly, all day long, my name was being treated with disrespect.’” (Isa. 52:5) Babylon had no thought of releasing the captive Jews. It became necessary to overthrow religious Babylon in order to bring about the release of the captive Jews. That was why the prophet Isaiah, when foretelling the downfall of Babylon, said that people would ask this question about her overthrown royal dynasty: “Is this the man that was agitating the earth, that was making kingdoms rock, that made the productive land like the wilderness and that overthrew its very cities, that did not open the way homeward even for his prisoners?” (Isa. 14:16, 17) However, Isaiah’s prophecy about an anointed preacher indicated that a release would come for the Jewish prisoners. Without fail, release did come—in 537 B.C.E.
10. How was the question about the anointed preacher foretold by Isaiah settled in the Nazareth synagogue?
10 Who was the anointed preacher to whom Isaiah referred? The prophetic words as recorded in the Hebrew Bible read: “The spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me, for the reason that Jehovah has anointed me to tell good news to the meek ones. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to those taken captive and the wide opening of the eyes even to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of good will on the part of Jehovah and the day of vengeance on the part of our God; to comfort all the mourning ones.” (Isa. 61:1, 2) The question about this anointed preacher was settled by Jesus Christ there in the synagogue of Nazareth. After he finished reading Isaiah’s prophecy, he handed the scroll back to the attendant and sat down and said to all those in the synagogue: “Today this scripture that you just heard is fulfilled.” (Luke 4:20, 21) That meant that Jesus was the anointed preacher.
11. (a) In what way had Jesus there spoken correctly? (b) Why did he go looking outside Nazareth for Jews wanting release from captivity?
11 Jesus had spoken correctly. The year preceding he had been baptized by John the Baptist and, as he came up out of the Jordan River, God poured down the holy spirit upon the baptized Jesus. The Lord Jehovah anointed him with holy spirit. Thus he became the one anointed to preach the release to the captives and the recovery of sight to those blinded by the deep gloom of their religious prison. (Matt. 3:13-17) But Jesus said to those Nazarenes in the synagogue: “Truly I tell you that no prophet is accepted in his home territory.” Jesus was right; for, when he finished his sermon, they tried to kill him, even though he was actually the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. But their way was not the way for Jesus Christ to die. So with God’s help he got out of their hands, and went preaching elsewhere. (Luke 4:22-30) He looked outside his home territory for Jews who wanted release from captivity.
12. Was Isaiah’s prophecy about the anointed preacher finished in Jesus, and what did happenings on the following Pentecost show?
12 Was Isaiah’s prophecy about the anointed preacher finished in Jesus Christ? No! The preaching of a release was not over when Jesus Christ died on Passover day of 33 C.E. His death still left the capital city of Jerusalem “in slavery with her children.” (Gal. 4:25) But Jesus had gathered twelve men about him, to be with him most of the time. After his resurrection and before his ascension back to heaven, he said to his faithful apostles: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” Ten days later the holy spirit did arrive upon them, on the day of the festival of Pentecost, there at Jerusalem. (Acts 1:1-9; 2:1-21) Thus the Lord Jehovah began anointing with spirit the baptized followers of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 1:21; 1 John 2:20, 27) In that way Isaiah’s prophecy became applicable to them also, and the obligation came upon them to “preach a release to the captives.”
13. On the day of Pentecost, how did the apostle Peter show the people’s urgent need of a release?
13 Those Jews and proselytes who gathered by the thousands to hear Peter and the rest of the apostles preach under the impulse of holy spirit that day of Pentecost may not have fully appreciated how important and timely this release from religious captivity was. But Peter appreciated it, and he told the inquiring people: “Get saved from this crooked generation.” Also, in his preceding talk to them he quoted Joel’s prophecy about the pouring out of Jehovah’s spirit in the last days and continued on quoting the rest of Joel’s prophecy, saying: “And I [Jehovah] will give portents in heaven above and signs on earth below, blood and fire and smoke mist; the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and illustrious day of Jehovah arrives. And everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.” (Acts 2:16-21, 40; Joel 2:28-32) That meant that the outpouring of holy spirit and the preaching of release were forerunners of an unusual time of trouble with destruction for the “crooked generation” and all those who did not call on the name of Jehovah.
WHAT MUST FOLLOW THE ANOINTING WITH SPIRIT
14, 15. After the anointing with spirit, what was to follow upon the nation, and how did Gabriel foretell this to Daniel?
14 Trouble was brewing for earthly Jerusalem, who was “in slavery with her children.” Another prophetic statement with regard to the anointing indicated this. In that prophecy the angel Gabriel told the prophet Daniel the exact year of the anointing of Jesus with holy spirit to make him “Messiah the Leader,” and also the anointing of his followers. After that there was trouble to follow, for the angel Gabriel said, in part:
15 “There are seventy weeks that have been determined upon your people and upon your holy city, in order to terminate the transgression, . . . and to anoint the Holy of Holies. . . . Messiah will be cut off, with nothing for himself. And the city and the holy place the people of a leader that is coming will bring to their ruin. And the end of it will be by the flood. And until the end there will be war; what is decided upon is desolations.”
16. What was the “Holy of Holies” that was to be anointed, and when and how did this take place?
16 In these words from Daniel 9:24-26, the Holy of Holies that was to be anointed is God’s spiritual temple or sanctuary. It is composed of Jesus Christ and his 144,000 faithful followers who become “living stones” of the spiritual temple. By his spirit God inhabits this temple of living stones. (1 Pet. 2:5; Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Cor. 3:16, 17) So this anointed temple is different from the “holy place” that was to be brought to ruin by the people of the coming leader. The doomed “holy place” was the house of worship, the temple of literal, inanimate stones, that Jesus said had been abandoned by God to the unbelieving Jews. (Matt. 23:38) It was not anointed with God’s holy spirit; but at the beginning of the seventieth week in the year 29 C.E., Jesus was baptized with holy spirit. Shortly after the middle of the seventieth week his faithful apostles and other disciples were anointed with spirit at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost; and at the end of the seventieth week the first Gentile or non-Jewish believers were anointed with holy spirit,* at Caesarea, about fifty miles northwest of Jerusalem.
17. (a) What, as decided upon by God, came upon the “city and the holy place,” but what about the “Holy of Holies”? (b) So regarding what day was Peter warning the Jews on the day of Pentecost?
17 This anointed “Holy of Holies” survived when the “holy city” and “the holy place” were brought to ruin thirty-four years after the end of the seventieth week. Just as the angel Gabriel had told Daniel, until the end of Jerusalem and her temple there was war, and the Roman leader that came with his legions, namely, Titus, brought upon the “city and the holy place” what was decided upon by Jehovah God, namely, “desolations.” That was certainly a “day of Jehovah” with reference to Jerusalem and her children. And in connection with that day there was plenty of “blood and fire and smoke mist,” the sun not brightening the gloom of the city by day, and the moon suggesting shed blood, not peaceful, silvery moonlight by night. These things came after Jehovah God had been pouring out his holy spirit upon all sorts of flesh in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, the prophecy that the apostle Peter quoted to the thousands of Jews and proselytes at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost of 33 C.E. Peter was particularly warning those circumcised Jews and proselytes of the “great and illustrious day of Jehovah” that was due to arrive in the year 70 C.E.
18. How did Jesus’ prophecy over Jerusalem on his ride to that city indicate there was an urgency about accepting a release?
18 Was there, then, any urgency about their accepting the release that was being preached by Jesus’ disciples to the religious captives, and was there any urgency about their calling upon the name of Jehovah through Jesus Christ in order to be saved? Indeed there was! Only two months before Pentecost, when Jesus was on his kingly ride to Jerusalem, he stopped and wept over the city, saying: “If you, even you, had discerned in this day the things having to do with peace—but now they have been hid from your eyes. Because the days will come upon you when your enemies will build around you a fortification with pointed stakes and will encircle you and distress you from every side, and they will dash you and your children within you to the ground, and they will not leave a stone upon a stone in you, because you did not discern the time of your being inspected.”—Luke 19:41-44.
19, 20. (a) While sight-seeing in Jerusalem’s temple, what prophecy did Jesus make about it? (b) In answer to his apostles, what prophecy did Jesus give concerning Jerusalem, and what day was Jesus thus preaching?
19 Two days later, after Jesus had told the Jews that their temple, their house of worship, had been abandoned to them, he did some sight-seeing in the temple and said to his apostles: “Do you not behold all these things? Truly I say to you, By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.” (Matt. 23:38; 24:1, 2) When was this to be? His apostles asked him later on.
20 Then he gave his prophecy on the end of the system of things, in which he said: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her; because these are days for meting out justice, that all the things written may be fulfilled. Woe to the pregnant women and the ones suckling a baby in those days! For there will be great necessity upon the land and wrath on this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:20-24) Jesus was then preaching the day of vengeance of our God.
21. On his way to Calvary, how did Jesus predict trouble for Jerusalem and her daughters?
21 Three days later Jesus was marching to Calvary followed by Simon the Cyrenian carrying the torture stake for him. “But there was following him a great multitude of the people and of women who kept beating themselves in grief and bewailing him. Jesus turned to the women and said: ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for me. On the contrary, weep for yourselves and for your children; because, look! days are coming in which people will say, “Happy are the barren women, and the wombs that did not give birth and the breasts that did not nurse!” Then they will start to say to the mountains, “Fall over us!” and to the hills, “Cover us over!” Because if they do these things when the tree is moist, what will occur when it is withered?’”—Luke 23:26-31.
22. How was the symbolic tree still moist, and how would it become withered?
22 There was still some moisture of life in the tree of the Jewish nation because of the existence of a believing remnant in the midst of it. But the taking out of this Christianized remnant would leave a spiritually dead tree, a withered national organization. O how it would bring God’s wrath upon the Jews then!
23. Some years later, what did Paul say about the conduct of the Jews and about what was to come upon them, and did this come?
23 About seventeen years after Jesus warned about the withered tree, the apostle Paul, a converted Jew, wrote to the Christian congregation that was under persecution in Thessalonica, Macedonia, and said: “You became imitators, brothers, of the congregations of God that are in Judea in union with Christ Jesus, because you also began suffering at the hands of your own countrymen the same things as they also are suffering at the hands of the Jews, who killed even the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us. Furthermore, they are not pleasing God, but are against the interests of all men, as they try to hinder us from speaking to people of the nations that these might be saved, with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But his wrath has at length come upon them.” (1 Thess. 2:14-16) How true, for twenty years later the “great and illustrious day of Jehovah” arrived upon them, and his wrath was poured out upon them at the hands of the Roman armies!
24. When the Christianized Jews fled, what began to be withheld from those in Judea and Jerusalem, and did that betoken anything?
24 Following Jesus’ counsel, the Jewish Christians fled from Jerusalem and the Province of Judea, leaving the unbelieving Jews to their foretold terrible end. Then the outpouring of Jehovah’s holy spirit upon Jews in Jerusalem and Judea ceased. This withholding of his spirit was very ominous, betokening trouble ahead!
25. How did the rejection of the release as preached by Jesus’ followers turn out to mean destruction for the Jews?
25 The unbelieving Jews rejected the preaching of a release as delivered by Christ’s followers anointed with holy spirit. They chose to remain captives to the tradition-bound system of Judaism. Their very own religious table became a trap of destruction for them. (Ps. 69:22; Rom. 11:9) Rejecting Jesus Christ as the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” they continued holding their annual Passover at Jerusalem. Instead of fleeing with the Christians from Jerusalem and Judea, they flocked into Jerusalem by the hundreds of thousands in the spring of 70 C.E. Then the Roman legions under General Titus returned and bottled them up at Jerusalem, building a five-mile fortified enclosure about the doomed city. After a cruel siege Jerusalem fell to General Titus on September 8, 70 C.E. According to the historian Flavius Josephus, there was a death toll of 1,100,000, and 97,000 miserable survivors were carried off into slavery. For at least 1,100,000 the refusal of release by Jesus Christ had meant terrible destruction.
See The Watchtower, as of December 1, 1946, page 363, under the heading “Good Results of Seventy Weeks.”
[Picture on page 686]
“By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.”