Leaving the City of Refuge Means Loss of Life
1. In what position like the Jews of Jesus’ day does Christendom stand?
TODAY bloodguilt rests heavily upon Christendom and upon all the world. Many sincere persons, because they have not personally killed a man or directly engaged in war, are unaware of their own personal share in the guilt. Nevertheless, they must share this responsibility with those represented in prophecy as having shed innocent blood. Christendom today stands in the same position as the Jews of Jesus’ day, to whom Jesus said: “Here I am sending forth to you prophets and wise men and public instructors. Some of them you will kill and impale, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city; that there may come upon you all the righteous blood spilled on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I say to you, All these things will come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her.”—Matt. 23:34-37.
2. From what did Jerusalem’s bloodstained record come, and what retribution did she receive?
2 Jerusalem’s bloodstained record came, not from engaging in theocratic warfare under the command of Jehovah God, but because she shed innocent blood and deliberately put to death many of God’s prophets, even Jesus, God’s Son, being condemned to death there. This was not done in innocence, for seven centuries earlier, in Jeremiah’s day, Jehovah exposed Jerusalem’s bloodguilt when he said through his prophet: “Also, in your skirts there have been found the blood marks of the souls of the innocent poor ones. Not in the act of breaking in have I found them, but they are upon all these. But you say, ‘I have remained innocent. Surely his anger has turned back from me.’ Here I am entering into controversy with you on account of your saying, ‘I have not sinned.’” (Jer. 2:34, 35) Acting directly upon these words, in 607 B.C.E. Jehovah did express his anger against Jerusalem for her wanton bloodshed, and his Babylonian executioners poured out her blood upon the ground in an appalling destruction. So, too, Jerusalem came in for another bloodbath, in fulfillment of Jesus’ words, and before it was finished in the summer of 70 C.E. 1,100,000 had died within the besieged city.
BLOODGUILT THROUGH SHARING RESPONSIBILITY
3. Why did many perish who had not directly taken life?
3 Let those in Christendom particularly take heed from this warning example. Not all the Jews killed by the Babylonians or by the Romans were guilty directly of killing God’s prophets or otherwise taking human life, yet they perished with those who had willfully shed innocent blood. Why so? Because they upheld the record and traditions of Judaism and thus shared in this society responsibility for her bloodguilt.
4. Why cannot Jehovah overlook Christendom’s record?
4 Christendom is truly a modern-day counterpart of Jerusalem and her realm of Judah. Christendom’s record before God has been stained with blood unjustly shed from her beginning in the fourth century, in Constantine’s day. This record cannot go unnoticed, for Jehovah, who does not change, stated to Noah: “Your blood of your souls shall I ask back. From the hand of every living creature shall I ask it back; and from the hand of man, from the hand of each one who is his brother, shall I ask back the soul of man. Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God’s image he made man.”—Gen. 9:5, 6.
5. (a) What acts of Christendom have established her record, and why can they not be justified? (b) Who share responsibility in Christendom’s bloodguilt?
5 Christendom’s hundreds of wars besides religious inquisitions and crusades prior to 1914 have expended the lives of countless hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting persons, and the two world wars since 1914, for which Christendom must bear the major responsibility as to tens of millions of lives, have amassed a frightful blood debt, which she must settle according to God’s covenant concerning blood. These wars cannot be claimed to be theocratic wars fought in God’s name, although priests and clergymen of both sides in these controversies that were fought in Christendom have imparted blessings on their participants. This has not authorized anyone to kill his fellowman and stand without bloodguilt before Jehovah God. Coming under such priest’s or clergyman’s blessing was not a coming into the “city of refuge” of Jehovah’s High Priest, Jesus Christ. Though fought sincerely by many in a religious or patriotic fervor, the calling of God’s name on such conflicts has not relieved the participants of bloodguilt. Additionally, those who approve, aid or back up those persons that directly commit bloodshed, or engage in propaganda and such movements that lead to innocent spilling of blood, likewise come under a society responsibility as parties to the crime and must stand before the God of justice, who cannot and will not pass by such bloodguilt.
6. Of what further act is Christendom guilty, and will she escape punishment for this?
6 Of a far more serious nature, however, is Christendom’s bloodguilt because of taking the lives of many of God’s true servants. Babylon the Great, the worldwide empire of false religion, of which Christendom is the dominant part, is described in the book of Revelation as being “drunk with the blood of the holy ones and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” (Rev. 17:6) Just as surely as Christendom has failed to heed the warning of Jehovah, so Jehovah’s judgment will soon be entered upon her as it was upon her prototype, Jerusalem and Judah, in 607 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. All persons found to be in association with her at that time will be sharers in her guilt and must also share in her destruction.—Rev. 18:4.
HOW TO FLEE TO TODAY’S REFUGE CITY
7. When will Jehovah’s Avenger of blood strike, and where only is refuge to be found?
7 Jehovah has mercifully held back his Avenger of blood, the Lord Jesus Christ, from striking out with his angelic hosts against Christendom and all those sharing in her bloodguilt, but soon the time limit will be ended. (Rev. 7:1-3) In the coming “great tribulation” the Avenger of human blood will strike. “For, look! Jehovah is coming forth from his place to call to account the error of the inhabitant of the land against him, and the land will certainly expose her bloodshed and will no longer cover over her killed ones.” (Isa. 26:21; Matt. 24:21, 22) When that time of decision comes, all mankind will be brought face-to-face with their joint responsibility, and this on a larger scale than Jerusalem and Jewry ever faced. All who have not found the place of safety will be made to pay the penalty. For all time the earth must be cleansed of the blood of those unrighteously slain. Atonement must be made in order that the covenant concerning the sanctity of blood made with Noah might be fulfilled. The only way to flee to safety is to find the road leading to Jehovah’s antitypical “city of refuge” and abide there until the day of Jehovah’s wrath is past and continue dwelling in it under the benefit of Jehovah’s great High Priest, Jesus Christ. What, then, is the antitypical city of refuge?
8. What is the antitypical city of refuge, and how is entrance made into it?
8 In ancient Israel the manslayer must flee to one of the six cities especially designated, and, after establishing his innocence in regard to wanton slaying, he must abide in the city of refuge until the acting high priest died. (Num. 35:9-34) Thus the antitypical city of refuge must be Jehovah’s provision to protect one from execution for violating God’s covenant concerning the sanctity of blood. Entrance into that city is made by our coming and remaining under the benefits of the active service of his High Priest, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ perfect human life, which he sacrificed on earth, was equivalent to that which the first man Adam enjoyed in the paradise of Eden. Jesus surrendered this sinless life in death and after his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God in heaven he was able to present the value of the ransom sacrifice for the sake of Adam’s dying descendants. Thus Jesus became mankind’s Redeemer, our closest relative. The administration of the benefits of this ransom sacrifice therefore cleanses us of guilt and provides a reconciliation for mankind to God.—Heb. 2:14; 10:12; Rom. 5:11; compare Acts 2:37-40.
9. (a) In seeking God’s forgiveness, what must be done by every violator of the divine covenant concerning the sanctity of blood? (b) How does Paul stand as an example?
9 Every violator of the divine covenant concerning the sanctity of blood, whether willful or unintentional, must seek God’s forgiveness and the cancellation of his sin through faith in this lifeblood of the High Priest, Jesus. He must show sincere repentance over having committed a violation by obediently remaining under the divine provision through Christ, trusting in the righteousness and the good offices of the High Priest. Paul, the apostle, who as Saul of Tarsus persecuted the Christian congregation, even approving of the murder of them, stands as an example of those violating the covenant concerning blood. “Nevertheless,” he says, “I was shown mercy, because I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith.” (1 Tim. 1:13) Because Jehovah through Christ saw this repentant attitude in Saul, established later by many faithful works, the Avenger of blood, the resurrected Jesus Christ, did not put him to death later in the ‘day of vengeance of our God.’ (Isa. 61:2) When Jesus revealed himself to Saul and exposed Saul’s persecution of the true church as persecution of Him, Saul repented, changed his course of action, and availed himself from then on of the benefits of the ransom sacrifice, as in a refuge city.—Acts 9:1-19.
REQUEST TO GOD FOR A CLEAN CONSCIENCE
10. How does one today seek to have a clean conscience before God?
10 Coming into the ancient city of refuge on the part of the unintentional manslayer was not enough for his protection. Before he could remain in the city and receive the benefits the city had to offer he must prove that he had a clean conscience toward God in regard to the intentional spilling of blood. Today this clean conscience toward God can be obtained only by a sincere, honest request to God expressed in dedication of oneself to God through Christ and then baptism. This means that the person coming to God must recognize the sins that he has committed in violation of God’s law and must change his course of action in regard to the doing of God’s will. Thus, a full and unreserved dedication of his life must be made to Jehovah and then a presenting of himself for total immersion in water must take place in symbol of his dedication. Especially now as the world’s end nears.
11. What is the clean conscience that we request, and how is it maintained?
11 The apostle Peter spoke of the saving power of baptism and its relation to the Christian conscience when he wrote at 1 Peter 3:20, 21: “That which corresponds to this [that is, Noah and his family’s passing through the flood in the ark in that end of the world] is also now saving you, namely, baptism, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the request made to God for a good conscience,) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The conscience that we request from God by complying with his baptismal arrangement is a conscience that is freed of any guilt toward God. It is an awareness of the provision of Jesus’ atonement sacrifice that cleanses us of all sin, not like the animal sacrifices that had to be repeated every year. No, this good conscience that God gives us allows us to come into a clean relationship with Jehovah and stay that way by availing ourselves of the services of his great High Priest. Those coming into this condition must maintain that good conscience by continuing to perform the work assigned to them in this antitypical city of refuge. The conscience therefore plays an important part in our remaining in the city of refuge.
12. How could we put ourselves in the dangerous position of leaving the modern-day city of refuge?
12 Having come into the antitypical city through dedication and baptism under the provision of the atonement sacrifice of Christ Jesus, we leave behind all sense of guilt and we should continue on in the city with that same freedom. Should we, however, begin to harden our conscience against God and justify ourselves for even minor infractions of Jehovah’s law for those refugees in the city, we are putting ourselves in the dangerous position of eventually leaving the city altogether. God’s law is clearly defined for us in his Word and through the Bible publications that he has provided to understand his will and purpose for mankind in the time of the end. To ignore this clear direction of God’s spirit is to ignore the direction of our Christian conscience. To ignore the conscience is in time to feel no pain or disturbance when it should prick us. Eventually, as Paul said, the conscience can become hardened like flesh seared with a branding iron. In this condition the conscience, like proud flesh, feels no pain, no sense of guilt. In time we could become complacent toward wrongdoing, and when wrong is called to our attention we will eventually just shrug it off as though to say: “So what? Who cares?” Such an indifferent attitude can lead only to a complete disregard for the provision under which we were permitted to enter the city, and if we are overtaken in this condition, this state of mind, we would have no protection from the Avenger of blood because we would be no longer in this city under the protective benefits of the High Priest during the coming “day of vengeance.”
HOLDING FIRM DOWN TO THE END
13. How does one leave the antitypical city of refuge, how can this be avoided, and what danger is faced by those who do leave?
13 Since becoming self-reliant and losing faith in the High Priest’s sacrifice and trusting no more in its covering of sins is to leave the city of refuge, thus exposing ourselves to destruction at Armageddon, we do well to heed the warning of the apostle Paul when he said: “That is why it is necessary for us to pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away.” (Heb. 2:1) The time for Jehovah’s Avenger to go into action is ever closer. Now is no time to be caught unawares, outside the city of refuge or in a dangerous position near the edge of the pasture grounds, which marked the limits of this sanctuary provided by Jehovah. We must never fall into the snare of thinking that we can deviate even just a little from the righteous requirements of Jehovah. Who of us can say at what point one becomes willful in ignoring Jehovah’s provision and ceases to be one who is ‘just using poor judgment’? Remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:4: “For I am not conscious of anything against myself. Yet by this I am not proved righteous, but he that examines me is Jehovah.” Can we say that we are putting our trust in Jehovah if we deliberately ignore or violate his commandments to us? To think of leaving the antitypical city of refuge even temporarily is to tempt God to save us from his Avenger of blood. Besides, if a person in such a condition had to face death right now from natural causes before the “great tribulation,” what share has he in the resurrection? Never should we neglect laying a sufficiently sound basis in faith, relying sufficiently on the great High Priest’s services, for the Avenger of blood to remember us favorably when resurrection time comes. (Matt. 24:21, 22) Failure to do so in this “time of the end” can mean extinction for all time. One would not be privileged to survive the coming “great tribulation.” One is executed.
WHEN FREED FROM THE CITY OF REFUGE
14. How long must those now on earth with heavenly hopes stay within the antitypical city, and why until then?
14 How long must the former bloodguilty ones stay inside the city of refuge? Until they no longer need the services of the High Priest. Paul wrote to the Hebrews: “Consequently he is able also to save completely those who are approaching God through him, because he is always alive to plead for them. For such a high priest as this was suitable for us, loyal, guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners, and become higher than the heavens.” (Heb. 7:25, 26) Such services, then, are for those survivors of the “great tribulation” who are in human imperfection. As long as any bloodguilt continues, the services of the High Priest are necessary in order to maintain a right standing with God. Those who have been anointed by God’s holy spirit to be spiritual sons, joint heirs with Christ, must keep within the antitypical city of refuge till they faithfully finish their earthly course in death, thereby forever sacrificing their human nature. Since Christ’s sacrifice applies only to those having human nature, the High Priest “dies” to them in the sense that he no more needs to act in their behalf with the merit of his human sacrifice, for in the case of the “little flock” of “joint heirs with Christ” in the resurrection they are changed from human to spirit and reside henceforth in heaven as possessing a “divine nature.”—Luke 12:32; Rom. 8:17; 2 Pet. 1:4.
15. When are those with earthly hopes free to leave the antitypical city, and what accomplishes this for them?
15 Those survivors of the “great tribulation” with hopes of earthly life, however, are not freed from the city of refuge when God’s enemies have been destroyed at Armageddon and retribution has been meted out for the blood of those innocently slain throughout the generations of mankind. True, before the Avenger of blood acts as Jehovah’s executioner, those of this “great crowd” must have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Still, the “great tribulation” does not remove their bloodguilt or rid them immediately of the sins inherited from Adam. Even though they have a clean conscience toward God, they must continue to maintain this clean conscience by staying within the bounds of the antitypical city of refuge until restored to human perfection, thereby no longer needing the services of the High Priest. When will this come? Only when they have attained to human perfection at the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ and he yields them over in their perfection to Jehovah for a final test of their integrity on their own merit. When they come out from under this protection of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, he, in effect, as High Priest dies to them, for he will no longer need to act in their behalf with the cleansing blood of his sacrifice.
16. What position toward the antitypical city of refuge do those have who come forth in the resurrection to life on earth?
16 What of those, then, who will be resurrected during Jesus’ thousand-year reign? Must these, too, come within the city of refuge and remain there until the “death of the high priest”? No. For these have paid the penalty for their sinfulness by their own death. (Rom. 6:7) They have been acquitted of sin by going down into the common grave of all mankind. On coming forth from death, they are now standing on a road that leads, not into the antitypical city of refuge, but into life everlasting. Continuing on this highway of life they too will be aided by the High Priest to attain to human perfection. Their passing the final test after the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ will bring them also Jehovah’s declaration of them righteous and a guarantee of endless life on earth. Failure, however, to meet the requirements of God that will apply to mankind in that day will bring upon them a final judgment of condemnation and they will be exterminated forever, just as those who were executed a thousand years earlier in the “great tribulation.”
17. What questions arise as to the “death” of the High Priest?
17 But, someone might ask, what of Paul’s words to the Hebrews: “This hope we have as an anchor for the soul, both sure and firm, and it enters in within the curtain, where a forerunner has entered in our behalf, Jesus who has become a high priest according to the manner of Melchizedek forever”? (Heb. 6:19, 20) Why is it said that Jesus will be a High Priest forever if his services as High Priest are to end toward the world of mankind at the end of the thousand years? In what way does he continue as High Priest forever?
18. What service of the great High Priest will come to an end, but why will this not put an end to all his relationship with mankind?
18 In the Jewish type the high priest literally died, thus ending not only his services as high priest but his life as well. This is not so with the greater High Priest, Jesus Christ. True, his services end in this capacity when mankind is brought to a complete standing in righteousness before Jehovah, but Jesus at Jehovah’s right hand continues forever. Cessation of his office as a mediating High Priest toward mankind does not end his life. The good effects of his service as King and High Priest over mankind will remain forever with mankind, and mankind will forever be indebted to him for having served as King and High Priest in their behalf. To all eternity they will bow the knee at the name of Jesus and confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5-11) His services toward mankind will then no longer be necessary in the application of his atonement sacrifice toward them. But as Jehovah’s great Administrator and Spokesman, he will unquestionably continue throughout all eternity as the preeminent One in magnifying Jehovah’s praise and leading in worship that will unify the entire universe to Jehovah’s glory and honor.
19. What can now sustain us, and what should our earnest effort be?
19 What a blessed privilege it will be to be among those happy creatures who have survived down to that time! How thankful we will be for the mercy of Jehovah that has made this marvelous provision possible! It is this hope now that can sustain us. May we cherish it as we treasure life itself, for remaining in Jehovah’s refuge city now in this “time of the end” of the bloodguilty world does mean our life.