Assemblies After the Death of Christ
1. (a) Did the death of Jesus Christ stop his followers from assembling? (b) How did Christ give encouragement at their meetings in difficult times?
THE faith of those who had been trained and selected by Jesus to be part of the Christian congregation was put to a severe test by events surrounding the death of Jesus and persecution of his followers connected therewith. Although at the time they were in considerable danger, the faithful ones did not fail in inviting one another to come together for worship and thanksgiving to God. So it was that, following his resurrection, Christ Jesus joined in some of the Christian assemblies. Because of the fear of the Jews, the disciples met together behind locked doors. Jesus came along to encourage and build them up. It must have been a thrilling experience to be there and have Jesus come into the room though all doors were locked and hear him speak again. This and other evidences of Jesus’ resurrection received by the Christians could hardly pass without great thanksgiving on the part of the Christians. Jesus actually arranged for meetings with his disciples following his resurrection. On a mountain in Galilee Jesus told them: “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.”—Matt. 28:18-20; John 20:19-22.
2. What was learned at the last meeting Christ attended with them on earth?
2 Acts of Apostles opens with a record of Christian meetings and instruction from Christ on what should be done in days to come. “And while he was meeting with them he gave them the orders: ‘Do not withdraw from Jerusalem, but keep waiting for what the Father has promised, about which you heard from me; because John, indeed, baptized with water, but you will be baptized in holy spirit not many days after this.’ When, now, they had assembled, they went asking him: ‘Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?’ He said to them: ‘It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction; but 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.’ And after he had said these things, while they were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud caught him up from their vision.” (Acts 1:4-9) Thus this was the last earthly assembly at which Jesus Christ was visibly present.
REASONS FOR THANKSGIVING AT PENTECOST
3. What unique experience was enjoyed by the Christians assembled on the day of Pentecost?
3 After the ascension of Jesus Christ to the heavens, his faithful followers on earth continued meeting together for prayer and consideration of important spiritual things. The festival days of the Jews provided an opportunity for Christians to meet at one place, and as faithful Christians they seized the opportunity to congregate on the day of Pentecost in 33 C.E. Can you imagine what disappointment would have been experienced by any one of the Christians who failed to congregate on that occasion? The Bible does not indicate there was advance notice that anything special would occur at that particular occasion, but how glad they must have been that they were “all together at the same place”! It was a unique experience for about one hundred and twenty dedicated servants of Jehovah: “And suddenly there occurred from heaven a noise just like that of a rushing stiff breeze, and it filled the whole house in which they were sitting. And tongues as if of fire became visible to them and were distributed about, and one sat upon each one of them, and they all became filled with holy spirit and started to speak with different tongues, just as the spirit was granting them to make utterance.”—Acts 2:2-4.
4. (a) What did God’s spirit move his servants to do that day? (b) What were some reasons for thanksgiving then?
4 Here Jehovah had sent his active force, holy spirit, to move his dedicated servants into the witness work. Miraculous power from God caused the small assembly to bring about a great testimony to the honor of God’s name. What the Christians spoke was in many languages understood by people then in the city of Jerusalem and it caused astonishment among those who understood. The occasion of this assembly opened an opportunity for a public discourse by Peter. The discourse provided instructive material for the assembly itself and also for those not Christians who were within hearing distance. Peter was moved by Jehovah God to use scriptures and powerful reasoning to convince the assembled ones that indeed Jehovah God had sent Jesus as Christ, that the powerful works Jesus did were of God, that Jesus had succeeded in gaining a resurrection from the dead and was now at the right hand of Jehovah in the heavens. Peter’s speech contained motivation and exhortation to get saved. So convincing was Peter’s presentation that the small group of Christians had a lot to do that day. The group of about one hundred and twenty was composed of men and women, so probably less than one hundred men got busy with the baptism of about three thousand new Christian praisers of Jehovah. Thus this spiritual feast on the occasion of Pentecost produced honor to Jehovah and signaled a giant step forward for the spreading of the good news. It would be difficult to imagine that anyone who was present on that occasion could fail to be filled with thanksgiving to Jehovah.—Acts 2:22-41.
5. Mention some of the blessings that followed Pentecost.
5 From that time onward, with holy spirit guiding them, Christians energetically mounted a great educational campaign that spread throughout the whole Roman Empire and beyond. They continued devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to prayer, to meetings, and to praising God. They found favor with all the people. “At the same time Jehovah continued to join to them daily those being saved.” (Acts 2:42, 46, 47) As time went on, congregations were formed all throughout the area called Palestine. God’s servants continued to come before him with thanksgiving, watching with great interest and joy as the spirit of Jehovah moved the visible theocratic organization forward. As the expansion went on, persecution arose; however, Jehovah always carried his servants through it and kept adding to their strength.—Acts 5:14; 6:7; 8:1, 14, 40.
6. (a) How did holy spirit direct extension of the expansion to include non-Jews? (b) What part was Paul privileged to have in assembling Christians?
6 For about three and a half years those who had been associated with Jesus experienced the excitement of seeing great crowds from among the Jews becoming believers in Jesus Christ and returning to the pure worship of Jehovah. To them it must have seemed like a great expansion was under way. At times they must have pondered on the words of Jesus when he said they would be witnesses of him to the most distant part of the earth. As they looked to Jehovah for direction, they were not disappointed. By holy spirit Peter was directed to go to Caesarea, and there a new field for expansion of worship opened up as Jehovah accepted Cornelius and other Gentiles into the ranks of his dedicated servants. Thus the way opened up for Gentiles as well as the fleshly descendants of Israel to participate in assembling together for Christian worship of Jehovah. The next few years witnessed a tremendous growth in the Christian organization. (Acts 11:19-21) While the governing body maintained headquarters at Jerusalem, representatives were sent to all kinds of cities and provinces, and the assembling together of Christians became very widespread during the first century of our common era. The apostle Paul was privileged to have a considerable part in the theocratic expansion program, congregating people everywhere. (Acts 14:21-28) It is in his writing to the Hebrews that the exhortation occurs: “Let us hold fast the public declaration of our hope without wavering, for he is faithful that promised. And let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.”—Heb. 10:23-25.
ASSEMBLY BLESSINGS IN THE “LAST DAYS”
7. Why is assembling of Christians in modern days so important?
7 The words of the apostle Paul quoted above have been full of meaning for Christians ever since they were written. The very phraseology used by Paul indicates a special importance for those living in the “last days,” for he says, “all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” If ever there would be a time when one should hold fast without wavering and incite others to love and fine works, the “last days” would especially be such a time. What Paul wrote was in full harmony with Jesus Christ, who urged his servants to be together. His expression at Matthew 18:20, “For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst,” indicates the benefits of being together with other Christians. Blessings come through Christ Jesus to those who gather together in his name. And while such blessings will come to two or three, they will also be found if there be two or three hundred, twenty or thirty thousand or even more. The Scriptures give ample evidence that Christ Jesus continues to look with favor upon those who come before Jehovah with thanksgiving.
8, 9. (a) What are some of the reasons for thanksgiving now? (b) What has come along in addition to increased understanding of the Scriptures that causes great joy in advertising the Kingdom?
8 As we have considered already, many blessings came to God’s servants who assembled together in earlier days. We recall the good things the apostle Peter was able to express on the occasion of Pentecost or at the time when Cornelius was admitted into the congregation of Christians. The application of scriptures on such occasions proved to be cause for thanksgiving among those who assembled. But now in this period which the Scriptures have designated as the “last days,” there are even more causes for thanksgiving. Much more light has been shed upon God’s purposes. Many of the events foretold in Bible prophecy have come to pass. The “times of the nations” which Jesus spoke of have run out; the year 1914 became a marked year so far as God’s purposes are concerned, and Jehovah has lovingly let his witnesses see the facts showing the fulfillment of Revelation chapter 12 with the birth of the Kingdom in the heavens and the ousting of Satan and his demons from heaven, cast down to the earth. All of the evidence has accumulated to show that the end of wickedness is near and it is a time to lift up Christian heads and be full of joy because deliverance is at hand.—Luke 21:24, 28.
9 Christians living in the “last days” are very thankful to Jehovah for a clear appreciation of the meaning of Matthew chapter 24. As the years have gone by since 1914, understanding of the significance of points mentioned by Jesus in Matthew’s record has become clearer. From 1922 forward importance of advertising the King and the Kingdom has been well known and Jehovah God has opened up the way for the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy at Matthew 24:14. If the good news of the Kingdom is to be preached in all the world for a witness to all the nations, then people would have to do the preaching. Though the ranks of God’s witnesses were few in the year 1922 compared to now, the blessing of Jehovah has indeed produced results so that there have been great increases in the number of individuals proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. Jehovah God has not only raised up those of the “little flock,” but in assemblies God’s servants have come to understand the meaning of Revelation 7:9-17 and have identified a “great crowd.” Preaching of the Kingdom good news has reached more than 200 lands now. The number of those sharing in this activity sometime ago passed the one million mark and keeps steadily increasing from year to year. When assemblies are held for special occasions of worship, such as the Memorial of the death of Jesus Christ, the numbers go up into the millions and are increasing from year to year. It is easy to find many reasons for coming before Jehovah with thanksgiving in these “last days.”
10. In connection with our spiritual food, what material things are we extremely thankful for now?
10 In addition to providing his servants with people to proclaim the good news, Jehovah God has graciously made available the material things necessary to carry on the tremendous activity required. Facilities are in the hands of God’s dedicated servants for the production of Bibles and Bible literature, and millions of copies are going out each month, thereby speeding up the required activity of getting the good news spread all over the world. Individuals have been raised up by Jehovah to comprise the “faithful and discreet slave” whom Jesus foretold at Matthew 24:45-47, and so there has been a great flood of spiritual truths brought forth in these “last days.” It is a time of much spiritual feasting on revealed truths; regular provisions of spiritual food are made for the congregation of God’s servants throughout the earth.
11. (a) How do large Christian assemblies add blessings? (b) Why are Christians thankful to see faithful brothers keeping integrity?
11 Regularly God’s people assemble together to partake of this spiritual food. This has brought about a wonderful unity in the worship of Jehovah God world wide. Many times this has been demonstrated in the international assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses in recent years. The fact that such great assemblies have been possible is in itself cause for much thanksgiving to Jehovah. Anyone who is able to participate in an assembly of God’s people can look about him and see that he has many brothers and sisters. Among these are some who have already shared in this service of Jehovah for many years. The presence of such individuals is a blessed example and cause to thank God for those who endure in his service over the years. It is well known to those who serve God in these “last days” that endurance is necessary and that there are those who oppose the spreading of the good news. But it is today just as it was following Pentecost of 33 C.E. Jehovah keeps the way open. He keeps his hand of care and protection over his organized people and gives spiritual strength to his servants so they can endure under many varying circumstances and conditions. The Christian in modern times is full of thanksgiving to Jehovah for the theocratic organization He has built up in this period and we are moved to make expressions similar to the apostle Paul’s in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5: “We are obligated to give God thanks always for you, brothers, as it is fitting, because your faith is growing exceedingly and the love of each and all of you is increasing one toward the other. As a result we ourselves take pride in you among the congregations of God because of your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the tribulations that you are bearing. This is a proof of the righteous judgment of God, leading to your being counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are indeed suffering.”
12 As the Scriptures foretold, all kinds of people make up the congregation of Jehovah God now. It is really a pleasure to be able to see and be with such a varied association of Christians. We are moved to thanksgiving by the fact that the new commandment Jesus mentioned in John 13:34, 35 is a reality. Although God’s servants are from all nationalities, races and peoples, true Christian love binds them together. Each one shows interest in the other and not in himself alone. Jehovah has done this through the unifying force of his spirit and his Word. The rallying point for Christians in these “last days” is the united worship of Jehovah, and the opportunity is available regularly to join in such worship in the more than 26,000 Christian congregations now functioning around the world. As God’s faithful ones in ancient times did, so too in these “last days” his servants desire to be united together in his worship and invite others, saying: “O come in, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before Jehovah our Maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasturage and the sheep of his hand.”—Ps. 95:6, 7.
13. Why are all readers of The Watchtower invited to join in assembling for worship of Jehovah?
13 The invitation is extended to all readers of The Watchtower to come regularly into the Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s witnesses throughout the world. There are vital reasons for everyone to join in worship and thanksgiving to Jehovah God. As you read on the previous pages about the blessings given to worshipers of Jehovah in both ancient times and our century, do you see the value in congregating with servants of God? Do you wish to receive and enjoy spiritual blessings now? and in the future? Those whose God is Jehovah and who are people of his pasturage are full of joy now and have assurance of everlasting life in happiness under his eternal rule. (Ps. 37:9-11) Be a worshiper of Jehovah. In unity with other worshipers of Jehovah, acknowledge with thanks your own faith in Jehovah and you will never be disappointed. “For the Scripture says: ‘None that rests his faith on him will be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for there is the same Lord over all, who is rich to all those calling upon him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.’”—Rom. 10:11-13.
[Picture on page 399]
The 120 Christians at Pentecost 33 C.E. must have been filled with thanksgiving to God and glad they were “all together at the same place”!