‘Lights of the World’ for 1,900 Years
WHAT group of people has enlightened the world?
The scientists, some say. Books are written giving the history of science’s gradual uncovering of the mysteries of “nature.” And their discoveries have brought enlightenment in some respects. We know more about the structure of things—the universe, man’s body, the atom. We have more “conveniences,” faster communication and transportation.
But we have also the nuclear bomb, chemical and biological war weapons. We have a society built on an economy that would collapse without certain energy sources for electricity, travel, transportation. We have a polluted, ruined natural environment, because man does not have true enlightenment so as to use the discoveries in a way that benefits all mankind.
The question could well be asked, Is the world’s population happier by reason of science’s “advances” under human administration?
What about religion? Christendom’s religions have taken the lead in being a ‘light,’ its leaders being prominent among the ‘lights’ of this world. Yet do they give any real guidance to the people or the governments in this time when there are problems on every hand? Have they brought the people nearer to God and to the godlike qualities of love and peace?
WHO ARE THE TRUE ‘LIGHTS’?
What did Jesus Christ mean, then, when he said to those giving attention to his words: “You are the light of the world”? (Matt. 5:14) His apostles and disciples were certainly ‘lights’ during the first century. But who would follow after them as ‘lights’? Those who would follow the pattern of Jesus and his apostles. They would give light of understanding to the people about God and his purposes. They would bring people closer to God. Their commission was not to convert the entire world. But the good news of the kingdom of God that they proclaimed would bring peace to those hearing it with obedience, and would enable them to live happy lives now, with full happiness to come to them, and to mankind under that Kingdom rule. These light bearers would themselves have a purpose in life and would impart purpose to the lives of those hearing their message.
In the parable of the wheat and the weeds Jesus showed that there would be some down through the ages who would be living as true Christians. These would not be the prominent men of the world. (1 Cor. 1:26-28) They would be serving the true God, while at the same time there would be a host of false Christians holding themselves forth as ‘lights.’—Matt. 13:36-42.
These two classes, Jesus said, would continue, not clearly distinguished from each other, until the time of the “harvest,” which is “a conclusion of a system of things.” Then a distinct separation would be made. “At that time,” he said, “the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”—Matt. 13:43.
So, during that long period of more than 1,900 years since Christ’s ascension to heaven, God has been very selective. He has not been trying to save the world. The saving of all mankind who will obediently give response to God’s commands will be accomplished during Christ’s thousand-year reign over earth. During the past 1,900-year period God has been selecting those who will be kings and priests with Christ and who will rule during that thousand years to bring blessings to mankind. This kingly governing body will be a heavenly group and is restricted in number to 144,000 persons. (Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-4; 20:4, 6) To choose these from mankind over a 1,900-year period certainly has required selectivity. These selected ones during that 1,900 years have served as lights to those who heard with understanding and whose hearts were strongly desirous of serving Jehovah God. The understanding ones have, in turn, become members of that select group.
The parable of the “ten virgins” illustrates the course of those who have truly been “the light of the world.” They have been the ones who have accepted the obligation to do as Jesus said: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matt. 5:16) It therefore becomes evident who the “ten virgins” of the parable at Matthew 25:1-12 are.
The “virgins” being ten, a number representing perfection in earthly things, symbolize, as a class, all the Christians who are in line for or who profess to be in line for the heavenly kingdom in joint heirship with Jesus Christ. The parable began to have its fulfillment on Pentecost day of 33 C.E. How so? It was then that the first ones were spiritually begotten, placed in a position to become ‘heirs of God’ and “joint heirs with Christ.”—Rom. 8:17.
They are spiritual sons, but in the parable they are depicted as virgin girls. This is because they are in line to be, as a group or body, the “bride” of the great Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. (John 3:28-30; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:9-11; Eph. 5:23-27; compare Matthew 22:1-14.) The fulfillment of the parable continues down through the 1,900 years, down to and through the “harvest.”
There were five “discreet” virgins and five “foolish.” There being the same number of each denotes that all who started out had an equal opportunity and also indicates that there would not necessarily be more of one kind than another. The fact that five were “foolish” shows, however, that not all those setting out as “virgins” would prove worthy finally to be admitted to “the evening meal of the Lamb’s marriage.”—Luke 12:35-38.
THE “LAMPS” AND THE “OIL”
The virgins had lamps (as was the custom in those ancient weddings). They all knew that they would need these lamps burning right down to the end of the wedding procession, to identify them and to permit their access to the marriage feast. For this reason they would need oil enough to last until the bridegroom appeared, which might be hours. This means that Christ’s disciples would themselves be like lighted lamps. They would have to be identified by having and maintaining a true Christian personality and by thus shining as a light in this darkened world. (2 Cor. 4:4; Isa. 60:2) The apostle Paul pointed this out when he wrote to his fellow light bearers: “Keep doing all things free from murmurings and arguments, that you may come to be blameless and innocent, children of God without a blemish in among a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you are shining as illuminators in the world, keeping a tight grip on the word of life.”—Phil. 2:14-16.
What was symbolized by the “oil”? Well, what is the source of the light that Christians have? It is more than the “word of life” on which they must keep a “tight grip.” “Your word is a lamp to my foot, and a light to my roadway,” said the psalmist. (Ps. 119:105, 130) The symbolic “oil” includes also the spirit of God, which is essential for understanding God’s Word. Furthermore, God’s holy spirit produces fruitage, the fruits of the spirit such as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control. Such spiritual “oil” has illuminating power, promoting like Christian qualities in others.
The discreet virgins had oil in their receptacles as well as in their lamps. They wanted to be sure that, in case the bridegroom delayed longer than expected, they would not lose out on the opportunity to accompany the wedding procession and to enter in to the marriage feast. In the fulfillment this means that the “kingdom of the heavens” class has in its possession a supply both of God’s Word, with understanding, and of God’s holy spirit. The individual members of the virgin class receive a supply in conjunction with all the rest. They need an adequate supply to endure faithfully in this world as they go forth to meet the Bridegroom. They are filled with God’s enlightening Word and spirit. This “oil” that they need so much they obtain in abundance by continual study and association with their fellow “virgins” and by getting filled with God’s spirit. Also, they exert themselves vigorously in developing the Christian personality and engage zealously in the service of proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom to others. These “discreet” ones are the ones who “keep following the Lamb [Jesus Christ] no matter where he goes.”—Rev. 14:4.
This having a fullness of spiritual “oil” and its power to uphold the Christian as a Christlike personality is evidenced in our time by Christians with the heavenly hope who have undergone years of suffering in concentration camps and prisons, some having experienced many years in solitary confinement. Others have suffered other forms of testing. They have endured, faithful in whatever conditions they found themselves. What kept them spiritually alive and sound? The fact that they had used their opportunity to fill themselves with God’s Word and spirit when they were free and in a position to study God’s Word and to associate with his people. Also, they kept on praying to God to be “filled with spirit,” and God heard their prayers.—Eph. 5:18.
“WHILE THE BRIDEGROOM WAS DELAYING”
How long would the “virgins” have to wait for the Bridegroom? Some may have expected an earlier appearance—in fact, some ‘got tired and gave out in their souls’ when their personal expectations were disappointed. (Heb. 12:3) The Bridegroom’s appearance did not come with the end of the Jewish system of things at Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans in 70 C.E. And the aged apostle John, writing about 96 C.E., said as he was closing the Revelation account: “Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20) But the apostles John and Paul had foretold that, before Jesus’ presence in Kingdom power, the antichrist, the “man of lawlessness,” would flourish for a time.—1 John 2:18; 2 Thess. 2:1-3, 7, 8.
The situation came to be as foretold in the parable of the ten virgins: “While the bridegroom was delaying, they all nodded and went to sleep.” (Matt. 25:5) When the hypocritical Constantine the Great was “converted” to Christianity, he made professed Christianity the State Religion of the Roman Empire. Thereby it was made to appear that Christ was reigning through the Church and that Christ’s return was therefore unnecessary. The professed Christian bishops were asleep to Christian responsibility.
This religious situation seemed to parallel what Jesus foretold in the parable of the wheat and the weeds: “The kingdom of the heavens has become like a man that sowed fine seed in his field. While men were sleeping, his enemy came and oversowed weeds in among the wheat, and left.”—Matt. 13:24, 25.
Jesus went on, then, to describe the harvest that would take place at the time of his return. Today, along with the harvest of the true “sons of the kingdom,” Christ is performing another work, that of gathering a great crowd of “other sheep,” who will not be heavenly kings, not being invited to the heavenly marriage feast. These will remain on earth as the foundation for the “new earth” of righteous human society during the coming thousand-year period of blessing for humankind. Many persons today can get illumination from the true ‘lights of the world’ and be gathered with this “great crowd.”—John 10:16; Rev. 7:9-17.