“The Keys of the Kingdom” and the “Great Crowd”
1. In view of Phillip’s final move to Caesarea, what questions arise about him regarding 36 C.E.?
IN THE year 36 C.E. a marked event in Christian history took place in Caesarea on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Whether Philip the evangelizer had settled there by that year we do not know for certain. If he had done so, then why was he not used in connection with a certain army officer of the Italian band of soldiers then stationed there? Philip had preceded the apostle Peter in Christian activity in Samaria, so why not now in Caesarea in 36 C.E.? The inspired Scriptures give us the answer.
2. When was the Mosaic Law covenant abolished, and yet for how long was preferential treatment to circumcised Jewry continued?
2 The Law covenant that Moses had mediated between Jehovah God and Israel at Mount Sinai in Arabia was abolished on the basis of the impalement of Jesus Christ, the descendant of Abraham and King David. That was three years and a half from the water baptism and spirit-anointing of Jesus back in 29 C.E. Nevertheless, Jehovah continued to give preferential treatment to the natural Jews and Samaritans also during this period for three years and a half more, to fulfill the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27a. This “week” or period of seven years terminated in the seventh lunar month (Tishri) of 36 C.E. From then on the Israelite descendants of Abraham would be put on the same spiritual level as the people of the non-Jewish nations, the uncircumcised Gentiles. After that no more preferential treatment to the Jews by the God of Abraham! How was this demonstrated in 36 C.E.?
3. (a) Where was the apostle Peter at this time, and why? (b) Why did Peter come to be criticized by the circumcised Jewish Christians at Jerusalem for his unusual action?
3 About this time, upon urgent request from the Christian congregation in the seaport city of Joppa, Peter had come and raised up the benevolent Jewish Christian Dorcas from the dead. There he stayed a few days with Simon the tanner. (Acts 9:36-43) At that time an uncircumcised Gentile was undesirable as an associate of a Jew, just as much so, indeed, as a person disfellowshiped from the congregation of God’s people. (Matt. 18:17) So, up to this time, the Jewish-Christian Peter had never voluntarily entered into the house of an uncircumcised Gentile. (This was doubtless true of the evangelizer Philip also.) Consequently, when, later, the circumcised Jewish Christians at Jerusalem heard that Peter had finally entered a Gentile home, they criticized him, saying that “he had gone into the house of men that were not circumcised and had eaten with them.”—Acts 11:3.
4. How did the Jewish Christian apostle Peter explain his feelings after he stepped into a Gentile home in Caesarea?
4 Even Peter, although he had been a Christian apostle for some years now, said to the householder into whose house in Caesarea he had hesitated to set foot: “You well know how unlawful it is for a Jew to join himself to or approach a man of another race.” (Acts 10:28, NW; Jerusalem Bible; The New English Bible) Gentile races were considered to be defiled or unclean.
5, 6. What facts did Peter set forth in defense of his criticized action in Caesarea?
5 In defense of himself, Peter had to state the facts to the apostles and other circumcised Jewish Christians at Jerusalem. What were the facts? These: That Peter had not initiated this action of his own accord. He had acted in obedience to Jehovah God.
6 When Peter was at the house of Simon the tanner in Joppa, God sent Peter a vision to make known that what God had now cleansed Peter should not keep on calling unclean. Then three men who were sent by the Italian centurion Cornelius of Caesarea called at the house to inquire about Peter. God now told this Jewish-Christian apostle to go with them, “not doubting at all, because I have dispatched them.” Six of the circumcised Jewish Christians of the Joppa congregation went along with Peter up the seacoast to Caesarea. The next day, when they entered the house of the Gentile centurion Cornelius, he explained that God’s angel had appeared to him and told him to send for Peter at Joppa, “and he will speak those things to you by which you and all your household may get saved.”—Acts 10:1-33; 11:14.
7. How far along did Peter get with his speech to the Gentiles in the house of Italian centurion Cornelius?
7 Unaware of what was about to happen, Peter proceeded to give the message about the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, his death and his resurrection from the dead by God’s almighty power. In his speech Peter got along as far as to say: “This is the One decreed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone putting faith in him gets forgiveness of sins through his name.”—Acts 10:34-43.
8. While Peter was yet speaking, what proof did God give that he was now admitting uncircumcised believing Gentiles into the spirit-begotten congregation?
8 At this point Jehovah God gave the proof that he was now admitting believing Gentiles, though uncircumcised, into the congregation of spirit-begotten Christians, for we read: “While Peter was yet speaking about these matters the holy spirit fell upon all those hearing the word. And the faithful ones that had come with Peter who were of those circumcised were amazed, because the free gift of the holy spirit was being poured out also upon people of the nations. For they heard them speaking with tongues and glorifying God.”—Acts 10:44-46.
9. In his account at Jerusalem, how did Peter describe the action of the holy spirit at Caesarea, and with what did he compare it?
9 When giving his own account of this at Jerusalem, Peter said: “But when I started to speak, the holy spirit fell upon them just as it did also upon us in the beginning [at Pentecost, 33 C.E.]. At this I called to mind the saying of the Lord, how he used to say, ‘John, for his part, baptized with water, but you will be baptized in holy spirit.’ If, therefore, God gave the same free gift to them as he also did to us who have believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should be able to hinder God?”—Acts 11:15-17.
10. What did Peter now command to be done with these uncircumcised Gentiles, and why?
10 So what did Peter now do? “Then Peter responded: ‘Can anyone [of the six Jewish Christians who accompanied Peter] forbid water so that these might not be baptized who have received the holy spirit even as we [circumcised Jewish Christians] have?’ With that he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”—Acts 10:46-48.
11. (a) From then on, the spirit-begotten Gentile believers were free to act in what capacity? Why? (b) How was the action of the holy spirit the same on three occasions, with three distinct groups?
11 Thus “God for the first time turned his attention to the [uncircumcised] nations to take out of them a people for his name.” (Acts 15:14) On this occasion, in the house of the uncircumcised centurion Cornelius in Caesarea, Peter used another of the “keys of the kingdom of the heavens,” the third key. From then on, the spirit-anointed disciples of Jesus could be witnesses of him “to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) What God had opened up by means of the key-holder Peter remained open for an earth-wide witness. In agreement with this, God’s holy spirit “fell upon” (Greek: epipípto) three distinct classes of believers, (1) on the baptized 120 disciples and, afterward, about 3,000 converted Jews, all at Jerusalem on Pentecost of 33 C.E.; (2) on the baptized Samaritans, but only after the arrival and services of the apostles Peter and John; and (3) on the believing Gentiles gathered in the house of Cornelius in Caesarea, in 36 C.E.—Acts 1:15; 2:1-4, 38, 41; 8:15-17; 10:44, 45; 11:15, 16.
OPENING UP A WAY TO THE “GREAT CROWD”
12. Since then Jehovah has been taking out what class from among whom?
12 Down through the centuries since then Jehovah has been taking out a “people for his name” from among circumcised Jews, circumcised Samaritans and uncircumcised Gentiles. (Amos 9:12) This people for Jehovah’s name was to number just 144,000, who were to be united with Jesus in his heavenly kingdom.—Rev. 7:4-8; 14:1-3.
13. What did Food for thinking Christians and The Divine Plan of the Ages show about natures and the salvations involved?
13 In September of 1881 the Watch Tower publication Food for Thinking Christians was issued. Later, in 1886, the book The Divine Plan of the Ages was issued. These two publications showed that the spiritual nature and the human or earthly nature are separate and distinct. Accordingly, the salvation of the spirit-begotten congregation of 144,000 to heaven would be different from that of redeemed humanity to life on a paradise earth. Yet, the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ would be basic to both salvations.
14. What did the public talk given in Los Angeles, California, on Sunday, February 24, 1918, emphasize?
14 On February 24, 1918, amid World War I, J. F. Rutherford as president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society delivered a public talk in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. It was entitled “Millions Now Living May Never Die.” After World War I the material of this astounding talk was published in book form. This presentation emphasized that there would be righteously disposed persons on earth who would be spared alive during the coming day of God’s wrath. They would survive into God’s new order and have the opportunity never to die off the earth transformed into a paradise.
15. What did the talk in 1923 at Los Angeles, on Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, set forth?
15 Again in Los Angeles, in 1923, a convention was held and the Society’s president talked on Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. By Scripture he established the fact that the symbolic “sheep” of this parable are those who now, during this “time of the end,” do good in various ways to Jesus’ spiritual or “born again” brothers. In reward for this such doers of good would be preserved through the coming battle of Armageddon, and the glorified “Son of man,” the heavenly King Jesus Christ, would usher them into the earthly realm of his kingdom of a thousand years. (Matt. 25:31-46) This brightened the earthly hopes for many sheeplike persons who did good to Christ’s “brothers” as if they were doing it directly to him.
16, 17. When the climax in this development of Bible understanding came 12 years later, why was it no ordinary occasion?
16 However, a climax of this development of Bible understanding came 12 years later. This proved to be no ordinary occasion in human history. The great economic depression was by then in its sixth year. The Roman Catholic “Holy Year” of 1933 had failed to bring the promised “peace and prosperity.” Due to clashes with the Ethiopian Empire, Fascist Italy was preparing for war and on October 3, 1935, Italian troops invaded the Empire. Adolf Hitler was in the third year of his dictatorship over Germany, and was savagely persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses. On October 4, 1934, he had been warned by hundreds of cablegrams from all over the earth that, if he did not desist from persecuting them, Jehovah would destroy both him and his Nazi party. But goatishly he determined to exterminate this “brood” of unpolitical Christians from the German Reich.
17 During 1935, America’s president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was running into difficulties in connection with the institution that he fathered, the NRA (National Recovery Administration), and the national government was yielding to the pressure of Catholic Action. Soviet Russia was under “strong man” rule by Joseph Stalin. Imperial Japan, as an aggressive opposer of Communism, was veering toward the ill-fated Triple Alliance with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, to form the Axis Powers. World War II was in the making!
18. Where did Jehovah’s Witnesses hold a convention in the spring of 1935, and what was the subject of the public talk?
18 Critical though governmental affairs world wide were in 1935, it proved to be an exceptionally thrilling time for Jehovah’s Witnesses. They held a convention in America’s national seat of government, Washington, D.C., on May 30 through June 3. The public lecture given on Sunday, June 2, was entitled “Government” and was radiocast into Great Britain, Europe, Africa and the islands of the sea.—See the issue of August 29, 1935, of The Golden Age.
19. On Friday afternoon, May 31, the members of what class were identified, and what was to be the experience of this class as regards the “great tribulation”?
19 Earlier, on Friday afternoon, May 31, a stirring address was delivered to the conventioners. Due to its importance, it was broadcast simultaneously over two radio stations. Sheeplike persons interested in everlasting life on an earth in a paradise state were especially invited to attend the convention. The interest of all the conventioners was captured by the theme misunderstood up till then, namely, the “great multitude” seen in vision by the apostle John according to Revelation 7:9-17, Authorized Version. To the particular delight of the visible and invisible audience, the members of that “great multitude” were identified. They are not a heaven-bound, “born again” class of Christians. They are the earthly “sheep” class of Jesus’ parable recorded in Matthew 25:31-46. They survive on earth and in this way “come out of the great tribulation.”—Rev. 7:14.
20. What commitment were those who wanted to be prospective members of the “great multitude” obliged to make, and, after publicly attesting to it, what were they not to expect the spirit to do?
20 These come under the obligation to commit themselves to Jehovah’s Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ. They show their commitment by “consecrating,” or dedicating, themselves to Jehovah through Christ. Scripturally such a dedication should be attested to by water baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the holy spirit. (Matt. 28:19, 20) So, if any desired to be prospective members of the “great multitude,” they should logically dedicate themselves now and symbolize their dedication by water baptism. (The Watchtower, August 15, 1934, p. 250, par. 34) It was not to be expected that, following their baptism, God’s spirit would ‘fall upon’ them and beget them to a heavenly life that they were not seeking.
21. By this disclosure, what were hundreds moved to do the next day, and into what “flock” did they stream?
21 The disclosure was electrifying, especially for those sheeplike ones who were longing for a definite understanding of their position in Jehovah’s arrangement. So they were galvanized into action by the identification of the “great multitude.” The following day, Saturday, June 1, was programmed so as to offer an opportunity for water baptism. Great was the joy of 840 candidates, most of whom were immersed with the hope of being classed by Jehovah with the prospective “great multitude.” It proved to be an outstanding baptismal event. It was as if the floodgates had been opened up, and throngs streamed through into a publicly confessed relationship with Jehovah, entering into the “one flock” of the Fine Shepherd to associate with his spiritual “brothers.”—John 10:16; Matt. 25:34.
22. (a) What “key had been used, and with what effect? (b) To what government was their attention directed next day, and for them it was theirs to hail as being what?
22 It was as if the “faithful and discreet slave” class had used a “key of knowledge” (Matt. 24:45-47; Luke 11:52) and had unlocked the door for prospective members of the “great multitude” to enter into wonderful privileges. Taking hold of these would work for them to “come out of the great tribulation” and enter into the cleansed earth under its new world government by Christ. Their attention was directed to that government on the following day by the public address on the subject “Government,” a subject so well adapted to the then existing world situation. To the large visible audience and to a vastly larger radio audience, the address gave early warning of the destruction impending over all the earthly governments of worldly men in God’s war at Armageddon. Furthermore, the address magnified Jehovah’s theocratic government by Christ as being the only hope for all mankind. This was the divine government for the “great multitude,” or the “great crowd,” to acclaim as their glorious hope!*
23. (a) By use of the “key of knowledge,” had the door to believers suitable for the heavenly kingdom been closed? (b) What may be given as evidence in this regard?
23 However, by such use of the “key of knowledge” had the door that admits suitable believers to the heavenly kingdom been simultaneously locked? No, for Jesus Christ is the One who has “the key of David” and he alone can shut such a door. Admittance was still possible to certain ones according to God’s will. As an evidence of this, certain members of the anointed remnant of Jehovah’s Witnesses were baptized in water in years subsequent to that momentous disclosure about the “great multitude” in the spring of 1935 and the publication of this disclosure in the issues of August 1 and 15, 1935, of the Watchtower magazine.—Rev. 3:7; Luke 11:52; Matt. 23:13.
24. (a) What will block the entry of further ones into the “one flock” under the Fine Shepherd? (b) In what capacity is the Shepherd admitting “sheep” into the “one flock”?
24 Only the outbreak of the “great tribulation” can block further entrance of humans into the ranks of the sheeplike ones who will make up the “great multitude,” or “great crowd.” (New World Translation) The way of escape from destruction with this doomed system of things will then be a lost opportunity for salvation. For all these years since 1935 the door into the Fine Shepherd’s “one flock” has stayed open. Reportedly, more than two million have gone in. The Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ, said: “I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7-9) As such, he is still admitting the friends of his spiritual “brothers” and separates them from the “goats” who will never survive the “great tribulation” and its “war” at Har–Magedon. All those who now want to, let them listen to the Fine Shepherd’s “voice” as it is now expressed through his spiritual “brothers” yet on earth. (John 10:16) O how grand their privilege is to enjoy the safety of the “one flock” under the “one shepherd”!
The hundreds of newly baptized witnesses joined in the response of the visible audience when the public speaker submitted a resolution at the close of his talk and said: “And now my good friends of this audience, of the invisible as well as the visible, I suggest everyone of you who desires a righteous government, who desires to see a government in which peace, prosperity and happiness shall come to all who obey, arise and say Aye.”
Concerning what followed this suggestion, the Washington newspaper Herald said:
“Like a tidal wave that mighty throng in and around the auditorium swept to its feet. Arms raised aloft, Jehovah’s witnesses at the top of their lungs shouted their affirmation. Windows in the auditorium rattled as the sound wave beat against them and the voice of the throng, police estimated, could easily have been heard for a mile.”
Similar scenes were enacted at the same moment in London, Belfast, Glasgow, Copenhagen and hundreds of other places in many parts of the earth.—The Golden Age, issue of June 19, 1935, p. 598; see also the Year Book of Jehovah’s Witnesses for 1936, p. 62, par. 3.