Earth’s Rulers for a Thousand Years
THE earth has seen many rulers come and go. Both rulers and ruled have tried every conceivable form of human government, but none have brought real relief and happiness to the people. This has been going on now for nearly six thousand years.
But, actually, for this long period of time there has been one ruler over the earth who has operated all this world’s system of things. How? By exerting his influence on the imperfect men making up those systems. We can see whether this ruler has been good or bad by following the Bible’s cause-and-effect principle: “When the righteous are in power the people rejoice, but they groan when the wicked hold office.”—Prov. 29:2, The New English Bible.
Yes, for six millenniums the people have groaned because they have been invisibly ruled by the one Scripturally called “the god of this system of things,” and “the ruler of the world,” who is the enemy of God. (2 Cor. 4:4; John 12:31; 14:30) The Bible identifies him as Satan the Devil. (Rev. 12:9) The rulership over earth’s governments was shown to be his when he offered Jesus Christ all the kingdoms of the world for the price of an act of worship to him.—Matt. 4:8-10.
Now, people who want peace, life and freedom can look to something better than the present situation. They can take heart in the truth of another Bible proverb: “When the wicked become many, transgression abounds; but those who are righteous will look on their very downfall.” Today, wickedness is alarmingly widespread. But its end is near.—Prov. 29:16.
Six thousand years of human history are nearing their close, and to humans, that seems very long. But to the Universal Ruler, and in universal time, six thousand years is merely as a few days, or hours. Yet it has allowed men ample opportunity to see the hopelessness of man’s own efforts and the need for God’s kingdom, which he has prepared and which is ready to replace all other rulership of the earth.—2 Pet. 3:8, 9.
In a thousand years God’s Messianic kingdom will undo all the bad effects of Satan’s six-thousand-year rulership of earth. Christ Jesus is the King, but he has with him 144,000 associate kings. What kind of rulers are they? How can we be sure they will not let corruption enter into government? (For the least deviation from right principles can eventually spread to corrupt an entire government and its people. “A little leaven ferments the whole lump.” [Gal. 5:9]) How do these rulers qualify for such important offices?
Jesus Christ, of course, is greatly concerned with the quality of the kings he will have with him. These kings receive repeated mention in the vision he gave to his apostle John. John reports:
“I saw thrones, and there were those who sat down on them, and power of judging was given them. Yes, I saw the souls of those executed with the ax for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God, and those who had worshiped neither the wild beast nor its image and who had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand. And they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.”—Rev. 20:4-6.
The thrones John saw were up in heaven, not on earth, for Christ’s throne is in heaven. (Rev. 3:21) And they were not indefinite in number. The number was 144,000, to correspond with the 144,000 spiritual Israelites who were sealed with the “seal of the living God” and who “keep following the Lamb [Jesus Christ] no matter where he goes.” (Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5) John here saw the beginning of the glorious judicial day of one thousand years’ duration. This day was spoken of to the Court of Areopagus, Athens, more than nineteen centuries ago, in these words:
“[God] has fixed the day on which he will have the world judged, and justly judged, by a man of his choosing; of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”—Acts 17:31, NE (1970).
“EXECUTED WITH THE AX”
How can we be sure that these 144,000 rulers will be as faithful and loyal to righteousness as is their Leader the Messianic King Jesus Christ? The vision tells us that before their resurrection to be kings, they were “executed with the ax.” Why? “For the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God.” (Rev. 20:4) They, like Jesus, gained the victory over the world by refusing to break their loyalty to God. They continued to bear witness to God’s kingdom, to Jesus as its King and to God as its Creator, and to its coming rule of earth. Only their deaths could stop their loyal witnessing.
The scripture does not mean that every one of the 144,000 prospective kings would be executed with a literal ax, or beheaded. The apostle James was killed by the sword at the order of Herod Agrippa I. (Acts 12:1, 2) Tradition has it that the apostle Paul was beheaded at Rome, Italy. (2 Tim. 4:6-8) Others were killed by different means of execution, while some died in a “normal” way.
All, however, had to be faithful until death. (Rev. 2:10) They had to die in order to receive a change of nature from human to “divine” (Godlike, spirit) nature by a resurrection, just as Christ did. (2 Pet. 1:4) They had to die “a death like his” in order to “attain to the earlier resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10, 11) So they do not die for their sins. Their death is therefore counted as “sacrificial” with Christ. Paul writes: “If we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection.”—Rom. 6:5.
How, then, can they be said to be “executed with the ax”? Well, in the Roman Empire the power of execution was symbolized by an ax wrapped within a bundle of rods, called the fasces. Benito Mussolini popularized the symbol during his “Fascist” regime in Italy.
So the political state, in effect, executes the 144,000 Kingdom heirs by judging them as unworthy to live under its authority. It sentences them to death, as it were. This is because the world hates them. (John 17:14; Matt. 24:9) They are “undesirable” in the eyes of the religious and political leaders of the world, even as were the apostles.—1 Cor. 4:13.
NO WORSHIP OF THE “WILD BEAST”
We can also be assured of the continued faithfulness of these 144,000 as kings by considering another reason for which they were “executed with the ax.” It was because they “had worshiped neither the wild beast nor its image” and “had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand.”—Rev. 20:4.
Thus it was not due to any fanatical religious or revolutionary activities nor any meddling in politics that they were “executed with the ax.” It was because they were neutral as to the political situation in all its varied expressions and activities throughout the earth. They were for God’s kingdom as the only hope for mankind. Neither have the remaining ones of these Kingdom heirs in this twentieth century worshiped the United Nations organization for world peace and security.
Not ‘worshiping’ the political state or its “image,” the United Nations, would mean not transferring to these man-made agencies hope in and allegiance to God’s kingdom. Instead, these spiritual brothers of Christ continue to proclaim the Kingdom. They do not have the “mark upon their forehead and upon their hand.” That is, they do not have the identification as slaves of the state and do not lend an active hand in carrying on its worldly activities, often beastly. They do not run for political offices, or vote for political candidates. They refuse to share in its sanguinary warfare.
But these Christian witnesses to God’s sovereignty never interfere with the political state in these matters. They ‘pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar’ by complying with registration and tax laws and by obeying all the laws of the land that are not contrary to God’s laws as stated in the Bible. It is only when “Caesar” demands what belongs to God, namely, worship, devotion or anything that detracts from their acknowledgment of Jehovah’s sovereignty, that they must refuse, choosing to “obey God as ruler rather than men.” This brings about their symbolic, and sometimes their literal, ‘execution with the ax.’—Matt. 22:21; Acts 5:29.
This ‘execution with the ax’ is not one that they undergo because of their own will. They are not seeking persecution or martyrdom. Nevertheless, they know in advance that they are going to incur the world’s hatred by their bearing witness to Jesus as Christ and King and speaking about God as the rightful ruler of the universe (including our earth). They know they must follow Christ’s footsteps to a death of integrity to God, as was his.—1 Pet. 2:21.
RIGHTEOUS GOVERNMENT ASSURED
Can we not be absolutely certain of a just, righteous, equitable and merciful rule by such kings under Christ? Of them, the Bible says, “and no falsehood was found in their mouths; they are without blemish.” (Rev. 14:5) God is sure of them, and his judgment and discernment are perfect and infallible. He says that they are “holy,” which means they are thoroughly clean, righteous. (Rev. 20:6) The apostle Paul, after describing God’s bringing to completion his spiritual Israel, which composes the full body of 144,000 Kingdom heirs, exclaims: “O the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable his judgments are and past tracing out his ways are!”—Rom. 11:33.
Can we have at least a glimpse of the thousand-year reign? Yes, the Bible gives us a preview. In articles to follow we hope to present some of these good things as a foretaste.
In the meantime, by studying the Bible and by association with some of these Kingdom heirs remaining on earth today, along with their companions, you can even enjoy a “token” taste of what that righteous rule will do toward establishing true peace, unity and love among all mankind. Jehovah’s witnesses love this association, and we are confident that you will also. You are invited to attend meetings at their local Kingdom Hall to prove this matter for yourself.