Orders for Worldwide Fishing
1. Where afterward did the resurrected Jesus appear again to his apostles, and, according to Matthew, what did he say to them?
EVIDENTLY it was some short time after the above that the resurrected Jesus reappeared to his disciples in Galilee, this time to all eleven faithful ones, and this time not by the seaside but in a mountain. The apostle Matthew was there and writes this about it: “The eleven disciples went into Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had arranged for them, and when they saw him they did obeisance, but some doubted. And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: ‘All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”
2. (a) Was the discipling work to be confined to the eleven faithful apostles, and what evidence is offered in answer? (b) In what fishing grounds was the work to be carried on?
2 Likely there were many more in the mountain than just the eleven faithful apostles. (Matt. 28:16-20) This may be the occasion to which the later apostle Paul refers, when he says: “After that he appeared to upward of five hundred brothers at one time, the most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep in death.” (1 Cor. 15:6) Unquestionably the discipling work was not to be confined to the eleven faithful apostles, and the later Bible records show that it was not limited to the apostles. The fishing for men was to be carried on by all the disciples, including the newly made disciples, and Jesus’ parable of the dragnet proves this. The fishing grounds were not to be confined to the small pool of the natural Jews but were to include the whole sea of mankind, “people of all the nations.” This was to continue down to the “conclusion of the system of things,” in which we are now.
3. (a) By his fishing operations on earth, how many “fish” had Jesus directly netted up to Pentecost of 33 C.E.? (b) What kind of catch was there that day, and who took part in the operation?
3 Jesus’ direct fishing operations on earth, with the help of his apostles and evangelizers, had netted only about one hundred and twenty disciples. At least that many were found together in the upper room on the morning of Pentecost of the year 33 C.E. Where were the others of the five hundred that at one time had witnessed his appearance in Galilee’s mountain? (Acts 1:15 to 2:4) Prior to that remarkable day of Pentecost Jesus Christ had not gathered his followers together and established them as Christian congregations separate from the Jewish synagogue. But now, on this sixth day of the lunar month of Sivan of 33 C.E., fishing operations by Jesus’ trained fishers of men began. All one hundred and twenty in the upper room in Jerusalem, anointed with God’s holy spirit through Christ, participated in the operation, as with a common net. As on the two occasions of special fishing efforts at the Sea of Galilee, there was a miraculous catching of symbolic fish. On that one day about three thousand were netted, for all these were baptized in water in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. They clung to the apostolic fishers and held meetings.—Acts 2:5-47.
4. When was fishing in international waters begun, and what was first netted?
4 About three years four months and ten days later, or in the autumn of the year 36 C.E., the Christian fishing net was let down in international waters under the direction of the heavenly Fisher, the glorified Jesus Christ. That was when fisherman Peter, accompanied by six faithful Christian Jews, was sent to the seaport city of Caesarea to preach the Kingdom message to the Italian centurion Cornelius and the other Gentiles whom he had gathered into his house. God blessed the fishing operations of Peter and, through the glorified Jesus Christ, God poured out holy spirit upon the Gentile believers. Thus the first Gentile “fish” were netted for the kingdom of the heavens.—Acts 10:1 to 11:12.
IN THE “CONCLUSION OF THE SYSTEM OF THINGS”
5. According to Jesus’ parable of the dragnet, what are we now approaching, and what about fishing operations?
5 Since the catching of the non-Jewish Cornelius of Caesarea into the Christian net the activities of Christian fishers of men in all waters have gone on down into this “conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 28:20) The symbolic “fiery furnace” into which Christ’s holy angels will cast the unsuitable symbolic fish is very near. (Matt. 13:47-50) The time gets more critical as the days go by. But the spiritual fishing operations must go on!
6. (a) What quality did it require to let down nets in 1919? (b) How was there a resuscitation of the organization in 1919, and was it purposeless or not?
6 As in the case of Jesus’ apostles on two occasions at the Sea of Galilee, it required great faith for the true fishers of men to obey Christ’s command and let down their nets in the year 1919. That was the first postwar year following the first world war. In the spring of that year the three directors* and five other prominent members of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania were released from the Federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A., and the free administration of the International Bible Students Association was restored. The organization of these dedicated, baptized Christians, which was badly crippled world wide during World War I by religious persecution and militarized governing elements, was repaired. It was as if, like the prophet Jonah, they had been disgorged from the belly of a big fish, to prophesy further. Why was there a spiritual resurrection of these dedicated Christians? To continue fishing! Even though the Gentile Times had ended in the early autumn of 1914, the worldwide fishing for men was not yet over. Down the nets must go again!
7. How, in effect, was the command issued to let down the nets, and how were they let down?
7 To that end, articles on “Blessed Are the Fearless” were published in the issues of August 1 and 15, 1919, of the Watch Tower magazine; the first general assembly attended by thousands was held at Cedar Point, Ohio, U.S.A., at the beginning of September, and the new magazine The Golden Age began to be published on October 1, 1919. In effect, there was a command to these dedicated Christian Bible students: “Let down your nets for a catch.” Obediently, and in a fearless way, they let down in waters that had been quite barren during the years of World War I their nets by an intensified ‘preaching of the good news of the kingdom’ to all the “sea” of mankind. (Matt. 24:14) Was there a catch?
8. What report concerning the “catch” did The Watch Tower make in the summer of 1925?
8 The statistics for those postwar years and the spreading of activities answer Yes! For example, under date of September 1, 1925, The Watch Tower, on page 263, said regarding attendance at the worldwide celebration of the Lord’s supper: “We are pleased that the number participating in the Memorial is so great, because it manifests much interest in the truth everywhere, and this is as it should be. The grand total reported to date is 90,434, which is 25,329 more than were reported a year ago.”
9. At first the renewed fishing was done to catch whom, and what name did the fishers embrace?
9 For more than twelve years from 1919 onward the fishing activities of these Christian fishers of men were directed chiefly to netting symbolic fish for the kingdom of the heavens, to be joint heirs with Jesus Christ in the heavenly kingdom. In 1931 the remnant of these Kingdom heirs assumed the Biblical name “Jehovah’s witnesses,” beginning Sunday afternoon, July 26, 1931, when around 10,000 in international assembly in Columbus, Ohio, joyously adopted a resolution in favor of taking this name, it being based on Isaiah 43:10-12. Congregations of these Kingdom heirs around the globe followed this action.
10, 11. (a) When, apparently, had all “fish” suitable for the Kingdom been netted? (b) What were those fishers, still in the “conclusion of the system of things,” to do then?
10 The Kingdom “fish” collected by the angels by dragnet operations during the nineteen centuries since Pentecost of the year 33 C.E. were finally to number 144,000. (Rev. 7:4-8; 14:1-5) So, now, during this “conclusion of the system of things” since the end of the Gentile Times in 1914 the last of these Kingdom “fish” were to be caught in the dragnet, in fulfillment of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:47-50. All of this final remnant who were netted by angelic operations were themselves made “fishers of men,” even as the apostles whom Jesus called from professional fishing in the Sea of Galilee had been made such.* (Matt. 4:18, 19; Luke 5:10) Apparently, by the years 1931-1935 all symbolic fish suitable for the kingdom of the heavens had been caught to complete the foreordained number of 144,000 joint heirs of Christ. (Matt. 22:10, 11) Well, then, were those of the anointed remnant to stop their fishing activities? Were they to throw their fishing nets into discard and just wait to be taken to heaven? How could they Scripturally do so? We are still in the “conclusion of the system of things.” We dare not forget that Jesus said to his followers:
11 “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”
12. (a) In Matthew 28:19, 20, did Jesus set a date for ceasing from making disciples of him? (b) During the year 1938, how many were reported fishing, and whom did this number doubtless include?
12 By those words in Matthew 28:19, 20 Jesus set no date in the conclusion of the system of things for the fisherman class whom he addressed to stop their work of making disciples. So people who are not netted for a share in the kingdom of the heavens can become disciples of Jesus Christ, even though they are not given the heavenly hope but rejoice in hope of everlasting life in an earthly paradise governed by the heavenly kingdom of God. Hence it is a published fact that since the year 1935 the Christian “fishers of men” began concentrating their attention on those whom God will make heirs of the earthly paradise. To these the possibility was held out of being protected during the coming final war of Armageddon and surviving into the righteous new order on earth under God’s celestial kingdom.* During the year 1938 there was an average of 47,143 who were reported fishing in 52 lands around the globe. Doubtless these included many dedicated Christians who entertained the earthly paradise hope.
13. How did the outbreak of World War II affect the fishing, but why did the fishing continue on in the sea of humanity?
13 The outbreak of World War II in September of 1939 greatly hindered the work of fishing for disciples of Jesus Christ. At that time it was a case of fishing in troubled waters; but despite war and cruel persecution the “fishers of men” kept on toiling, as it were, through the night. In a number of lands their spiritual fishing work was banned by the wartime governments. But Jehovah’s “fishers of men” do not get their fishing license or rights from the rulers of this world. Psalm 95:3-5 tells them: “Jehovah is a great God . . . to whom the sea, which he himself made, belongs.” Likewise the sea of humanity belongs to him, and he has issued to his dedicated, baptized witnesses fishing rights to fish in all waters regardless of the restrictions that mere men try to set up over certain areas. So the Kingdom fishing work went on steadily, in secret where necessary. In 1941 the Kingdom message that attracted the symbolic fish was being proclaimed in eighty-eight languages, on printed page and by word of mouth.
14. How was a change of presidency of the Watch Tower Society brought about shortly after America entered World War II?
14 On December 7, 1941, World War II sucked in the United States of America, the land where the headquarters base of the spiritual fishing was located. Thirty-two days later the aged president of the headquarters organization in Brooklyn, New York, died. Thus in the midst of war of world proportions a change in the presidency became necessary, and the responsibility of this office was laid upon the shoulders of a dedicated man half as old, on January 13, 1942.
15. What call issued early in 1942 showed whether there was a loss of courage or confidence on the part of Jehovah’s organization, and what was the reaction to it?
15 Although men were becoming faint because of the horrors of the greatest war of all times till then, there was no loss of courage or of confidence on the part of Jehovah’s organization of “fishers of men.” From its earthly headquarters there went forth the call to “fishers of men” in all waters: “Let down your nets for a catch.” This came specially in the form of a leading article in the February 1, 1942, issue of The Watchtower, which used as its theme the text of Jeremiah 16:16 (AV), which reads: “Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.”* Paragraph 28 (page 42) of this stirring article referred to the call to the “fishers of men” as set out in Matthew 4:18-22 and Luke 5:1-11. Whether the troubled waters of the war-torn sea of humanity were at the time barren of symbolic fish or not, down went the nets into the waters, in full faith, with trust in the Chief Fisher, Jesus Christ.
16. (a) Was there a “catch” in that war year of 1942? (b) What was there to show determination to continue and enlarge the fishing?
16 Be it a miracle or not, there was a catch. Although the combined report from all fishers active during the gloomy war year of 1942 was not received in full, it could be reported that upward of 100,000 were actively engaged in the spiritual fishing, and, of these, 7,624 were pioneer publishers putting in their full time as “fishers of men.” (1943 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, page 221) The work of traveling representatives who visited the congregations of “fishers of men” in zones of territory was started again. On September 18-20, 1942, the New World Theocratic Assembly was held, fifty-one cities being linked with the main assembly city Cleveland, Ohio, and twenty-six foreign cities being favored with the same program. In the public talk, “Peace—Can It Last?” the peace that was to follow World War II in 1945 was foretold, also the reviving of the international organization for world peace and security, now the United Nations. In 1942 plans were laid to build a new printing factory in Brooklyn, and also to start the Bible School of Gilead for missionary fishers.
17. What indicated that there had been a catch despite World War II, which ended in 1945?
17 All those things that were projected were realized. The letting down of the fishing nets resulted in a catch, contrary to what might have been expected. In the year 1939 there were 61,589 “fishers of men” casting out nets world wide; but in 1945, in the September of which World War II ended, there were 127,478 who were regularly fishing each month, and, of these, 6,719 were full-time pioneer fishers. This was learned from the necessarily incomplete reports. The vast majority of this increase in symbolic fish netted during those years were persons who became disciples of Christ with an earthly paradise hope.
18. By the year 1947, what indicated that the most of those being now netted were those with an earthly hope?
18 Accordingly, the number of those who had the witness of God’s spirit that they had the heavenly Kingdom hope began to decrease yearly. Also, when the number of the “fishers of men” on earth exceeded the number of 144,000 Kingdom heirs, it was self-evident that those symbolic fish now being netted were disciples with hope of living on earth forever under God’s heavenly kingdom. That fact was plain in 1947, twenty years ago, when the number of fishers regularly reporting world wide was 181,071, in 86 lands.
19. (a) Has our letting down our nets since 1945 been in vain? (b) Why will this fishing season shortly be over?
19 Our obedience in letting down our nets according to the command of the Chief Fisher, Jesus Christ, has not been in vain. In these postwar years since 1945 hundreds of thousands of symbolic fish have been netted. Today about a million of them have become dedicated, baptized disciples of Christ and have become ordained “fishers of men.” Shortly this great fishing season will be over. Its close will be marked by the “war of the great day of God the Almighty” at Armageddon, where any “unsuitable” fish on hand will be destroyed as in a “fiery furnace.” (Rev. 16:14-16) A close must come to the “conclusion of the system of things,” during which Jehovah’s Chief Fisher, Jesus Christ, with his holy angels, is directing where the fishing nets should be cast. That terrible close is getting nearer, if we judge from evidences Biblical and mundane. That is no reason for us “fishers of men” to go ashore, hang up our idle nets, and quit our assigned fishing work.
20. (a) Though some fishing grounds seem overworked or depleted, what does trustful letting down of nets accomplish? (b) Where might fishers in such areas go for a catch?
20 Some fishing grounds may now seem to be overworked and almost depleted of available “fish.” True, in such places fewer fish may be hauled up, yet the trustful letting down of the nets by Kingdom preaching, teaching and training always results in catching some who become dedicated, baptized disciples of the Chief Fisher Jesus Christ. This appears to be true even in some national fishing grounds where the number of fishers in the organization does not increase or even decreases. If possible, let those who are able to do so move their “boats” to untouched fishing grounds or to where more “fishers of men” could be used to take care of the big catch that is apparently possible.
21. Who is still in charge of fishing operations, and why should we continue to let down our nets for a catch?
21 The One who called us to this occupation, Jesus Christ, is in charge. He knows where he is directing us. He can bless our seemingly fruitless efforts with a surprise catch. We can be sure that he will have all his “fish” caught who become his dedicated, baptized disciples, before all the unsuitable creatures of the sea of humanity are cast into the “fiery furnace” at Armageddon, and the faithful, enduring “fishers of men” are rewarded with life-giving privileges in God’s new order under his heavenly kingdom of peace and happiness. Till that time of execution of divine judgment, “let down your nets for a catch.”
President J. F. Rutherford, Secretary-Treasurer W. E. Van Amburgh and A. H. Macmillan. See The Watch Tower as of April 15, 1919, page 123.
With a similar understanding the article “Catching Fish with the Gospel Net” was published on pages 308, 309 of the October 15, 1914, issue of The Watch Tower.
See the book entitled “You May survive Armageddon into God’s New World,” published in 1955 by the Watch Tower Society.
According to M’Clintock and Strong’s Biblical Cyclopœdia, Jeremiah 16:16 may be applied in a favorable sense. Volume 3, in its article on “Fishing,” pace 579, paragraph 1, says:
“The copious supply of fish in the waters of Palestine encouraged the art or avocation of fishery, to which frequent allusions are made in the Bible: in the Old Testament these allusions are of a metaphorical character, descriptive either of the conversion (Jeremiah 16:16; Ezekiel 47:10) or of the destruction (Ezekiel 29:3 sq.; Ecclesiastes 9:12; Amos 4:2; Habakkuk 1:14) of the enemies of God. In the New Testament the allusions are of a historical character for the most part . . . , though the metaphorical application is still maintained in Matthew 13:47 sq.”
The Holy Bible Commentary by F. C. Cook, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, in 1886, says, in Volume 5, page 414, on Jeremiah 16:16: “. . . spiritually, the fathers expound it of the Apostles as ‘fishers of men.’ So Origen, ‘The Apostles are the Fishers, who from the divine scriptures weave the nets whereby they draw men out of the briny sea of a worldly life, that God may give them a better life, even upon the mountains, with the prophets and their Lord, who was transfigured upon a mountain, and upon a mountain taught the people His beatitudes: and there the hunters are the angels, who come to receive their souls as they depart from their bodies’ (Origen in ‘Gr. Ghislerii,’ II,430).”
On the unfavorable side M’Clintock and Strong’s Biblical Cyclopædia, Volume 3, says, under “Fisher,” page 580, column 1:
“A term used, besides its literal import . . . in the phrase ‘fishers of men’ . . . as applied by our Saviour to the apostles . . . in calling them to their office; and in a like typical manner, but in an unfavorable sense, the word occurs Jeremiah 16:16. The application of the figure is obvious.”
Some commentators take verses 14, 15 of Jeremiah 16 to be an interruption of the prophecy, those verses being repeated, though with slight changes, in Jer chapter 23, verses 7, 8. Accordingly, An American Translation (Smith-Goodspeed) puts Jer 16 verses 14, 15 in brackets, whereas the Bible translation by Dr. James Moffatt omits verses 14, 15 altogether. When read thus immediately after verse 13, verse 16 would take on an unfavorable meaning toward God’s ancient covenant people of Israel.