How Would You Treat an Ambassador?
IN RECENT times we often hear of attacks on embassies and even the kidnapping or assassination of an ambassador because the people are displeased with that country or its policies. But in times past when there was relative peace between the nations, ambassadors were generally treated well.
However, there is an instance in ancient times where the royal “messengers” or envoys of a peaceful nation were treated shamefully. King David of Israel had made a friendly gesture by sending official representatives to King Hanun of Ammon. But Hanun showed gross disrespect for David by subjecting the envoys to great indignities. This treacherous act provoked a war that resulted in the near wiping out of the Ammonite nation.—1 Chron. 19:1–20:3.
Centuries later, a more flagrant instance was the treatment of Jehovah God’s Son, whom Jehovah sent as an act of loving-kindness to the Jewish nation. (John 8:18, 19, 49) Their leaders cruelly mistreated him and finally had him killed. This resulted in God’s casting off the Jewish nation as his chosen people and the destruction of their city Jerusalem with its temple, in 70 C.E., at the hands of the Roman armies.
But the treatment that they gave Jesus Christ was not enough for the opposing Jews. Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, they also shamefully mistreated those whom Christ sent as ambassadors, his anointed disciples, killing many of them. (2 Cor. 5:20) Though the people were incited to participate in these atrocities, the Jewish religious leaders were primarily to blame, because they deliberately kept the people in ignorance of God. Jesus told them: “You took away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not go in, and those going in you hindered!” (Luke 11:52) These leaders were selfishly afraid of losing their position of power. They said among themselves: “If we let [Jesus] alone this way, they will all put faith in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”—John 11:48.
WHY CHRIST’S AMBASSADORS HAVE BEEN HATED
It was not personal hatred that caused opposers among the Jews to persecute the first-century ambassadors of Christ. It was because these ambassadors declared and explained the kingdom of God to the people. They pointed out to the Jews, who thought that kingdom would be a Jewish earthly kingdom, that it is a heavenly government, that it will destroy all human governments and will bring in a “new earth,” a righteous human society. They showed that God’s requirement for life for individuals is that they make over their personalities according to God’s principles as set forth in the Bible. They must demonstrate love for their fellowman without distinction or prejudice. This exposed the selfish religious leaders and made them hate the Kingdom ambassadors.—2 Pet. 3:7, 12, 13; Eph. 4:22-24.
Today, anointed ambassadors of the kingdom of God would necessarily be proclaiming the same truths. It is good news to honest-hearted people, but incurs the enmity of many religious leaders. Due to propaganda against these ambassadors, many people are caused either to oppose or to pay no attention to the proclamation being made. In many cases the ambassadors of the Kingdom are insulted, persecuted or shown inhospitality.
However, if you knew that a person was actually an ambassador or an envoy of the kingdom of God, how would you treat him? Would you do things for him in something more than a mere humanitarian spirit? Would you not accord him special respect and attention, listening carefully to what he had to say? Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink on the ground that you belong to Christ, I truly tell you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Mark 9:41) Contrastingly, he said that some would do bad to his disciples on account of his name.—Matt. 24:9; John 15:20, 21.
HOW GOATLIKE ONES MANIFEST THEMSELVES
In the preceding issue of this magazine we discussed Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, focusing on the “sheep” and the reward of everlasting life given to them because of their good, hospitable treatment of Christ’s ambassadors. Who, then, are the “goats,” what reward do they receive, and why?—Matt. 25:31-46.
The “goats,” Jesus shows, are those people of “all the nations” who, different from the hospitable, loving “sheep,” give no favorable reception or aid to Christ’s ambassadors. They are shown in the parable to be called by Jesus “cursed” ones. They reply to Jesus’ condemnation because of the inhospitable attitude by saying: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you?”—Matt. 25:44.
Yes, they call him “Lord,” but it is in a hypocritical way if by this they mean that he is their Lord. Because, if they really loved him, they would love the truths about him and would want to see his kingdom come. (Matt. 6:10) Their excuse is of no value, for their actions belie their claim. A person does not have to see another one directly in person in order to decide whether to help him or to refuse him help. The question is, How does the individual treat a visible representative of Christ who has clearly shown that he truly represents Christ?
This is the point that Jesus makes in the parable, when the king answers the self-excusing “goats” at his left hand of disfavor: “Truly I say to you, To the extent that you did not do it to one of these least ones, you did not do it to me.”—Matt. 25:45.
It does not matter how unimportant one of Christ’s spirit-begotten, anointed “brothers” may be. As a matter of fact, none of Christ’s “brothers” are prominent in the political field or in the religious field of Christendom, for Christ’s true “brothers,” his ambassadors, are no part of this world just as Christ himself has never been a part of this world. (1 Cor. 1:26-31; John 15:19; 17:14, 16) The “goats” do not have to persecute these ambassadors, although some of them have kidnapped, imprisoned and killed these servants of Christ. Withholding help or hospitality to them, ignoring them, refusing to give any support to their work of proclaiming the Kingdom message, the “goats” make an intelligent decision on the issue. Actually they take a stand, in their hearts, against God’s Messianic kingdom, which the ambassadors proclaim, and therefore a stand against Christ, as revealed by their attitude and actions.—Compare Matthew 7:21-23.
REWARD TO THE “GOATS”
What, therefore, is the reward of these “goats”? Christ tells them: “Be on your way from me, you who have been cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.”—Matt. 25:41.
What is the “fire prepared for the Devil and his angels”? Is this everlasting conscious torment in a firelike element in the invisible realm? Someone may say, Surely it must be, for Revelation 20:10 says: “And the Devil who was misleading them was hurled into the lake of fire and sulphur, where both the wild beast and the false prophet already were; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
However, if a person gives closer consideration to this statement in Revelation he can see that it is in figurative or symbolic language. How? Well, the “wild beast” and the “false prophet” are hurled into the “lake of fire.” These are obviously not a literal beast and a single man, but are representative of organizations. (Rev. 17:8-14) Furthermore, the Bible itself goes on to explain: “And death and Hades were hurled into the lake of fire. This means the second death, the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:14) Death and Hades (mankind’s common grave) are abstract things, further showing that the “lake of fire” is symbolic. It represents absolute annihilation, permanent destruction, “the second death,” a death from which there is no recovery.
Moreover, Christ says that the “goats” will depart into everlasting “cutting-off.” (Matt. 25:46) The Greek word here used means, literally, “pruning.” The “goats,” by suffering everlasting death, “the second death,” are cut off from life in any realm everlastingly.
A DECISION WE ALL FACE
There is no question that Christ has ambassadors on earth today. The decision set before us to make is, Who are these ambassadors? Who are bringing us the good news of the Kingdom, telling us of its nearness and the blessings it will bring to the earth after destroying wickedness? And each of us can ask, What am I doing to promote knowledge of God? Do I myself serve as a representative of Christ by my words and righteous course of action? If not, then we must identify who is doing so. We must extend hospitality to them just as we would to the ambassadors of a highly respected king. We cannot ‘limp’ on two opinions.—1 Ki. 18:21.
You would welcome such an ambassador into your home. You would be highly concerned about the message he brought from his king or government. You would treat him with respect. The ambassadors of Christ have no ordinary message. It is news from the Creator of the universe and his King, Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is vital to consider what the ambassadors have to say, because it is more than a matter of respect. It reflects your attitude toward God and Christ, and therefore means life or death to you.
Hundreds of thousands of persons in this present time have treated these ambassadors with kindness, not primarily by giving them material help, but by standing alongside these ambassadors when they are mistreated by their enemies. (2 Cor. 1:6, 7; Phil. 4:14; Heb. 10:33) More than this, they have joined with the ambassadors in order to help them to get the good news proclaimed world wide. (Zech. 8:23) In doing so, these sheeplike ones have become envoys, companions of the ambassadors of the King, Jesus Christ. (Ps. 45:14, 15) Have you identified the true ambassadors and their companion envoys, and do you treat them with respect, knowing that to the extent that you do it to one of the least of Christ’s brothers, and to their loving sheeplike companions, you do it to Christ?