How Urgent Are Our Times?
“You will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my [Jesus’] name. But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.”—Mark 13:13.
1. What tribulation did Jesus foretell for God’s people, toward whom has this been fulfilled, and how?
AS PART of his stirring prophecy on “the conclusion of the system of things,” Jesus said: “Then people will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.” (Matt. 24:9) Toward what one people have these words been fulfilled in modern times? Why, toward the Christian witnesses of Jehovah! Of all religious groups, they stand alone as the ones who have been set upon by the Nazis, the Communists, the military dictatorships and even the democratic countries, so called, all around the earth.
2. How have Jehovah’s Witnesses in Africa faced up to the issue? (Ps. 37:39)
2 In recent years, the unwavering faith of the Malawian Witnesses in the face of killings, rapings, beatings and imprisonments has won the respect and admiration, not only of their spiritual brothers, but of freedom-conscious people everywhere. While the situation may have eased somewhat in Malawi, other African countries report growing persecutions.
One new nation has ordered all of its citizens to wear political badges. In another country, on the night of the Memorial, a false “brother” betrayed the congregation, so that police came and surrounded the meeting place, concentrating their forces, for some reason, near the rear entrance. When the alarm was sounded, the Witnesses found the front door unguarded, so that all but two were able to escape and scatter into the night. These two Christians were cruelly beaten, but their faith was unflinching and they gave a splendid witness in court.
In still another country, loyal Witnesses who refused to voice a patriotic slogan were beaten and driven from their villages. Some were told, mockingly, “You can go anywhere, even to your Jehovah.” Here it has become increasingly difficult to travel, and traveling overseers have been arrested. However, there is no lack of spiritual “food” in the prison camps. These beleaguered Witnesses have been anticipating even a share in this year’s “Victorious Faith” assemblies.
Another African country reports that 22 Witnesses were arrested, falsely accused of political activity, beaten terribly, stripped to their underclothes and imprisoned in this half-naked state for one month. In yet another land, three were beaten to death, and several others were sentenced to death on the neutrality issue; they have appealed this sentence. Also in an African country, a Coptic priest made lying accusations that Jehovah’s Witnesses are involved in Mideast politics, thus causing the imprisonment of 13 male and 20 female Witnesses, one of whom was pregnant and another having a small daughter with her.
3. How do Jehovah’s people demonstrate their faith?
3 Though reference here has been made particularly to recent events in Africa, many other countries on earth have been closing in on Jehovah’s Witnesses, so that regular preaching activity and the arranging of Christian assemblies have become more difficult. Missionaries have been expelled from a number of countries, and it becomes harder to send missionaries into new fields. It is exactly as Jehovah foretold through his prophet Jeremiah: “They will be certain to fight against you.” They are doing just that! But in the face of bitter propaganda and persecution, Jehovah’s people continue to give a thorough witness. They have full faith in Jehovah’s promise: “They will not prevail against you, for ‘I [Jehovah] am with you . . . to deliver you.’”—Jer. 1:19.
“AS THE DAYS OF NOAH WERE”
4. Why could Noah endure? (Jas. 1:2-4)
4 The patriarch Noah was one who lived through particularly trying times. His special work in preparing for the deluge lasted possibly through 60 years—about as long as our preaching of God’s established kingdom in modern times. Though “the earth came to be ruined in the sight of the true God and . . . filled with violence,” Noah could endure because he put his faith to work. Like Jehovah’s Witnesses of modern times, he continued to serve zealously as “a preacher of righteousness.”—Gen. 6:11; 2 Pet. 2:5.
5, 6. (a) What comparisons are to be noted between Noah’s day and our day? (b) In what should Christians become absorbed, and why?
5 However, the majority of the people back there were just like the world of mankind today. “They took no note until the flood came and swept them all away.” According to Luke’s version of these words of Jesus:
“They were eating, they were drinking, men were marrying, women were being given in marriage, until that day when Noah entered into the ark, and the flood arrived and destroyed them all.”
6 Do the above-quoted words of Jesus mean that it is wrong for Christians in these final days to eat, drink and marry? No, Jesus was not saying that. It is proper to enjoy good food and drink in moderation. Likewise, marriage is God’s arrangement for mankind. What Jesus was saying is that we should not regard these as the all-important activities of life, becoming absorbed in them to the point of crowding out spiritual interests. (1 Pet. 4:3; 1 Cor. 7:8, 29) Rather, we should plan our lives in such a way as to give first place to the grand work of ‘preaching this good news of the established kingdom as a witness,’ before the end comes.—Matt. 24:14.
“AS IT OCCURRED IN THE DAYS OF LOT”
7. What urgency arose in Lot’s day?
7 At the time when Abraham and Lot were serving as God’s witnesses on earth, Jehovah warned them of his judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. Not even 10 righteous men could be found there! As Jehovah’s angels prepared to bring the foretold destruction, Lot repeatedly urged the men who were engaged to his daughters: “Get up! Get out of this place, because Jehovah is bringing the city to ruin!” However, those prospective sons-in-law, much like persons of this immoral world today, passed the divine warning off as a mere joke. But there was no time to lose. “The angels became urgent with Lot, saying: ‘Get up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are found here, for fear you may be swept away in the error of the city!’”—Gen. 19:14, 15.
8. (a) What “error” resulted in destruction to Sodom and Gomorrah? (b) Why should this serve as a warning to us today?
8 What was that “error”? It included the sex perversions that are so much a part of life in many cities of this modern world, even to being glorified on stage and screen. “Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities about them . . . had committed fornication excessively and gone out after flesh for unnatural use.” Also, with no thought of God’s righteousness, “they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building.” They were completely absorbed in their own selfish way of life. And what happened to them? “It rained fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed them all.” Jesus warns that he will execute a like judgment when he is revealed, soon, as “the Son of man.”—Gen. 19:24-26; Luke 17:28-30; Jude 7.
9. What urgency is required of us now, and how may we find protection?
9 May we be like righteous Lot in giving urgency to Jehovah’s judgment message for our day. And let us not be like Lot’s wife, but, rather, guard against looking back with desire for the material advantages of this doomed world. (Luke 17:31, 32) Our becoming completely absorbed in doing God’s will for this day will serve as our protection. Remember, it was in connection with Lot’s deliverance that Peter said: “Jehovah knows how to deliver people of godly devotion out of trial, but to reserve unrighteous people for the day of judgment to be cut off.”—2 Pet. 2:6-9.
GIVING A ‘THOROUGH WITNESS’
10. (a) What urgency was there when Jesus and his apostles were on earth? (b) How, and for what purpose, did Jesus train his disciples?
10 When Jesus and his apostles were on earth, it was urgent that a thorough witness be given in that day of judgment. Jesus himself set the pattern for that work, “journeying from city to city and from village to village, preaching and declaring the good news of the kingdom of God.” The 12 apostles and others, including women, went along with him. For what purpose? It was in order that he might train them to build their lives around their service to God. Thus, they also would be able to share in sounding the warning about the coming destruction of the Jewish “system of things,” and in comforting the oppressed people. Further, they would be aided in putting on the Christian personality, showing forth in their lives the same righteous, loyal qualities that they had observed in their Master.—Matt. 9:35–10:15; Luke 8:1, 2; 9:1-6; 10:1, 13-15; Eph. 4:24.
11. How did the disciples show that they had learned their lesson well?
11 Those early disciples learned their lesson well. They poured themselves out in zealous Kingdom service, compassionately going among the people wherever they might find them—in the markets and other public places, in the synagogues (according to the custom of those days) and at their homes. Even when they were scattered by persecution, they continued right on, “declaring the good news of the word.”—Acts 5:42; 8:4; 16:13; 17:17.
12. What kind of witness was given in the days of the apostles, and with what result?
12 Toward the conclusion of many long years of zealous preaching, the apostle Paul could tell his fellow elders: “I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house. But I thoroughly bore witness both to Jews and to Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:20, 21) In connection with the urgent witness given by the apostles and their fellow workers, the words “thorough” and “thoroughly” occur repeatedly in the book of Acts. (Acts 2:40; 8:25; 10:42; 20:24; 23:11; 28:23) What was the outcome of that “thorough” witness? Congregations of believers sprang up and flourished wherever the “good news” was preached. And as traveling overseers visited these to encourage them in their service, the congregations were strengthened. They “continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.”—Acts 15:36–16:5.
13. What judgment did Jehovah execute in the first century, but why did the Christian congregation survive?
13 In fulfillment of the warning given by Jesus and his disciples, Jehovah in due course executed judgment on that “crooked generation” of Jews, the generation that had “killed the Chief Agent of life,” the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 2:40; 3:15) How did the Christian congregation fare—that small group that had been so urgent in obeying their Master’s command to get “this good news of the kingdom . . . preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness”? When the end did come, their active faith meant salvation for them. Their endurance had its reward.—Matt. 24:13-16.
WHERE ARE WE IN THE STREAM OF EVENTS?
14. By comparison, to what extent has the “good news” been preached today, and with what success?
14 Once again, at the climax of the age, the “good news” has been “preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Col. 1:23) But today the field for preaching embraces the entire “inhabited earth,” including the realms of the “king of the north” and the “king of the south,” as well as many other lands in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australasia and the islands of the sea. It could only be by Jehovah’s spirit that such a globe-encircling witness could be given in the short space of some 60 years. And still new ones keep flocking to Jehovah’s organization! The territory has been far more extensive than in apostolic days, when it took less than 40 years to sound the final warning to the dispersed Jewish people.
15. Why have “the four winds” of Revelation 7 been held back?
15 However, just where are we in the stream of events? Revelation chapter 7 tells us. Here, the apostle John “saw four angels standing upon the four corners of the earth, holding tight the four winds of the earth.” These are winds of destruction, for in due course they are to ‘harm the earth and the sea and the trees.’ First, though, the “slaves of our God” must be sealed in their foreheads. Back in 1914, at the time when ‘the kingdom of the world became the kingdom of their Lord [Jehovah] and of his Christ,’ these slaves yearned for the end to come, that they might be gathered to their Lord in heaven. But no—Jehovah still had a work for them to do here on earth. Also, they themselves had to be refined and made ready for their future priestly service in Christ’s kingdom of 1,000 years. So, the “four winds of the earth” were held back for a season.—Rev. 7:1-4; 11:15.
16. What other group has been favored by the angels’ ‘holding tight the winds,’ and what is their hope?
16 Out of his abundant mercy and loving-kindness, Jehovah has used these “slaves” of his spiritual Israel, “the Israel of God,” in a grand work on behalf of another group—“a great crowd . . . out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” After all the 144,000 members of spiritual Israel have entered into their service in the heavens, the “kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” must continue to rule over humankind here on earth. From the mid-1930’s, then, this “great crowd” has made its appearance, so that today more than two million persons look forward to serving continually as earthly subjects of the Kingdom. They are the nucleus of the “new earth,” a righteous society of mankind that will live forever under the sovereignty of Jehovah God. (Rev. 7:9, 10; 21:1, 3-5; 2 Pet. 3:13) However, the angels are still “holding tight the four winds of the earth.” Why?
17. For what reason do the angels continue to ‘hold back the winds’?
17 It can only be that Jehovah has further work for his witnesses to do here on earth. There are more of the “great crowd” to be gathered. The attendance of millions of persons at the celebration of the Memorial in recent years, together with the continued steady increase in Witnesses in many Asian lands, islands of the sea and Catholic countries of Europe, shows that the gathering work is not finished. It is urgent that all of Jehovah’s people apply themselves in his service clear through to the end of this wicked system.—Mark 13:10; Eph. 5:15, 16.
18. (a) What sifting appears now to be in progress? (b) Why should we pay close attention to Paul’s admonition at 2 Corinthians 13:5?
18 Also, just as there was a great sifting among the anointed remnant in the decade following 1914, it seems that now there is a sifting going on among some who profess to be of the “great crowd.” The words of the apostle Paul are particularly applicable to all of us in these critical times: “Keep testing whether you are in the faith, keep proving what you yourselves are.” (2 Cor. 13:5) Do we truly value our dedication to Jehovah—the very intimate relationship we have with him, and which has been made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice? Do we appreciate our unity with the Father and the Son in the grand work that we are privileged to share in at this hour? Are we serving out of genuine love for Jehovah and for our neighbor? Or, has our motive been just to ‘save our own skin’ through Har–Magedon’s battle? If we are of the “great crowd,” will we continue serving God “day and night” right through to the “great tribulation”? Or, will we let down our guard, permitting Satan to overwhelm us through the pleasures, the immoralities or the anxieties of life?
19. (a) Why can we be happy that the angels have ‘held tight the winds’ up until this hour? (b) As indicated by 2 Corinthians 13:11, how may we keep in step with the forward movement of God’s organization today?
19 The four angels will not always ‘hold tight’ the four winds of the earth. We can be happy that they have done so up until this hour, and that it will result in salvation for millions of mankind. But time is fast running out. We need to keep alive, alert, constantly moving forward with God’s organization on the earth. What a joy we have in being part of the only worldwide brotherhood that is at peace, and at unity in praising Jehovah’s name in these critical times! In order to keep in step, we may have to adjust our personal attitude or viewpoint at times. But let us always be ready humbly to do this, in order to serve with urgency and to continue in the joy that we share with all of God’s people. As Paul counseled: “Finally, brothers, continue to rejoice, to be readjusted, to be comforted, to think in agreement, to live peaceably; and the God of love and of peace will be with you.”—2 Cor. 13:11.
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‘THEY TAKE NO NOTE’ As in the days of Noah and of Lot, most people are so involved in the daily affairs of life that they ignore the urgency of the times