Questions From Readers
● Revelation 14:3 reads: “They are singing as if a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one was able to master that song but the hundred and forty-four thousand, who have been bought from the earth.” If the elders mentioned here, and in Revelation 4:4, represent the entire body of 144,000 heavenly king-priests, how is it possible for the 144,000 to sing in front of these elders?—Ecuador.
A key to understanding the book of Revelation is provided in its opening words: “A revelation by Jesus Christ, which God gave him, to show his slaves the things that must shortly take place. And he sent forth his angel and presented it in signs through him to his slave John.” (Rev. 1:1) Manifestly, something that would be impossible in reality can be portrayed by means of signs or symbols. For example, while a man could not sing in front of himself, he could stand in front of his own picture and sing. So there is really nothing contradictory about the fact that the 144,000 are depicted as standing before something by which they themselves are represented or symbolized.
The very background of the one seeing the vision, the apostle John, aids us in determining in what sense the “twenty-four elders” mentioned in Revelation 4:4 are a sign or symbol. Being a Jew, John knew that the “older men of Israel” represented and spoke for the entire nation. (Ex. 3:16, 18; 19:7) Now, the entire congregation of anointed Christians forms the “holy nation” of spiritual Israel, and Christian “older men” or “elders” may stand for or represent that entire “nation.” (1 Pet. 2:9) In agreement therewith, the “twenty-four elders” seated on thrones would represent the entire body of 144,000. The number twenty-four would have reminded John of the twenty-four priestly divisions arranged for by King David to serve at Jerusalem’s temple. (1 Chron. 24:4) This dovetails nicely with the fact that the “holy nation” of 144,000 are to function as a “royal priesthood.”
Note also that John was here being given a vision of future events, “things that must take place.” (Rev. 4:1) Accordingly, the vision of the “twenty-four elders” was a prophetic preview of the arrangement Jehovah God would set up in heaven. At the time the apostle John saw the vision, not a single member of the body of 144,000 was in heaven. Those of that body who had fallen asleep in death were awaiting a resurrection. (1 Cor. 15:20-23, 51, 52) However, the fact that the “twenty-four elders” were seen in vision guaranteed that the positions of eldership would be filled by those for whom they had been reserved.
● Without compromising one’s position as a Christian, can one take a ‘loyalty oath’?—U.S.A.
Whether a Christian can conscientiously take a certain oath or not depends primarily on the purpose, content or nature of the oath.
Back in the first century C.E., Jesus Christ corrected the Jews for making light, loose and indiscriminate oaths. They swore by heaven, by the earth, by Jerusalem and even by their own heads. But Jesus reproved them, saying: “Just let your word Yes mean Yes, and your No, No; for what is in excess of these is from the wicked one.” (Matt. 5:33-37) A worshiper of God should not need to back up every statement by an oath in order to make it more believable.
Under certain circumstances, however, the Mosaic law required oaths. (Ex. 22:10, 11; Num. 5:21, 22; Deut. 21:1-9) And Jesus himself did not object to being put under oath by the Jewish high priest. (Matt. 26:63, 64) So Jesus’ statement about swearing cannot be used as a basis for condemning all oaths. But what kind of oaths may a Christian take without injuring his conscience?
This he must determine for himself by comparing the oath in question with Bible principles. Jesus Christ stated: ‘Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.’ (Matt. 22:21) Hence a Christian could not swear to anything that would require him to do things that are contrary to God’s law. But there would be no objection to his taking an oath to ‘uphold or defend’ the provisions of the law that do not stand in opposition to God’s law. The Christian recognizes that his defense and support of Caesar’s law must be within the limitations imposed by God’s Word. He can ‘defend’ the law by word, by his daily conduct and, in legal matters, by his testimony in court. Christians are told: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities.” (Rom. 13:1) So there would be nothing objectionable to swearing to do something that one is already obligated by God to do.
Many enlightened countries, though, recognize the reasonableness of the Christian’s other obligation, to ‘give to God what belongs to God.’ Thus the Constitution of the United States, as well as that of many other nations, guarantees freedom of religion. It is understood, then, that a Christian is not going to be required to do anything contrary to his religious beliefs and his obligations to God. There is no danger to the country in this provision, because true Christians do not engage in subversion; rather, they strive to be exemplary, law-abiding citizens.
Since a true Christian takes his worship and his relationship with God very seriously, he ought to give careful thought to any oath he is asked to take. He should be convinced in his own mind that the oath will not cause a violation of his conscience or compromise his neutral position as regards the political nations and their controversies. (Compare Romans 14:5.) If, after reasoning on the matter, he finds that he can take a particular oath, he will have to bear his own responsibility. He should always keep in mind his prior obligation to the Supreme Sovereign, Jehovah God, before ever putting himself under any other obligation.
● The Bible says: “Make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous riches.” (Luke 16:9) Does this mean that, as long as money or other possessions are used in a good way or to benefit others, it is not important whether such material things have been obtained dishonestly, unrighteously?—U.S.A.
The above statement of Jesus Christ does not mean that Jehovah God is unconcerned about how people acquire possessions. Luke 16:9 does not say, ‘Acquire riches through fraudulent means and then use these riches in the right way to make friends for yourselves.’ Not the means for acquiring them, but the riches are referred to as being “unrighteous.” Why? In contrast to the possession of or desire for spiritual riches, the possession of or desire for material riches can, and often does, lead to lawless acts.
When saying “make friends,” Jesus Christ was not speaking about gaining friends among humans. He added that the friends to whom he was referring would receive one into the “everlasting dwelling places” when the “unrighteous riches” failed. Riches fail all humans at the time of death, and dying humans cannot receive anyone into “everlasting dwelling places.” But the eternal and immortal God Jehovah and his immortal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, can receive others into “everlasting dwelling places.” Jesus Christ assured his disciples of this, saying: “In the house of my Father there are many abodes. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going my way to prepare a place for you.”—John 14:2.
The only ones who will gain access to the “everlasting dwelling places” of Jehovah God and his Son are those who measure up to his requirements. Said Jesus: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will.” (Matt. 7:21) God’s will for humans includes their leading honest, upright lives. In his Word we are told that “greedy persons” and “extortioners” will not inherit his kingdom. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) We also read: “Let the stealer steal no more, but rather let him do hard work, doing with his hands what is good work, that he may have something to distribute to someone in need.” (Eph. 4:28) Hence no one who continues acquiring riches through dishonest or fraudulent means will become a friend of Jehovah God and of his Son and be received into the “everlasting dwelling places.”
Honesty is required not only of those who will rule with Christ in the heavenly kingdom but also of those who will be its loyal subjects. Such loyal subjects are depicted in Scripture as being arrayed in “white robes,” that is, as having a clean, acceptable appearance before Jehovah God. It being their privilege to render sacred service to God in his temple, they must meet the requirements for being a guest in that temple. (Rev. 7:13-15) Answering the question as to who would be a guest in Jehovah’s sanctuary, the inspired psalmist declared: “He who is walking faultlessly and practicing righteousness and speaking the truth in his heart. . . . And a bribe against the innocent one he has not taken.”—Ps. 15:1-5.
The point emphasized by Jesus at Luke 16:9 is thus seen to be the need for one to use material riches properly, wisely. One desiring divine approval should use honestly acquired material things, not for selfish purposes, but, rather, for the advancement of pure worship and in rendering aid to needy fellow humans.