Sustained by the Millennial Hope
“Now from the fig tree learn the illustration: Just as soon as its young branch grows tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. Likewise also you, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the doors.”—Mark 13:28, 29.
1, 2. (a) What did a world leader say about war and peace? (b) But what hope did Jesus hold out? (Compare Luke 21:29-31.)
“IN THE age of the hydrogen bomb, there is no longer any meaningful distinction between global war and global suicide.” Thus spoke the president of the United States as he returned from signing the SALT Treaty with the Soviet Union. He indicated also that the world has been living in a “twilight peace,” faced always with the gloomy prospect of “a catastrophic nuclear war, a war that in horror and destruction and death would dwarf all the combined wars of man’s long and bloody history.” But will it come to global suicide? Let us examine what “the Son of man,” Jesus Christ, answers, according to the book of Mark.
2 In foretelling events, the “things happening” in our 20th century, Jesus Christ compared them to the fig tree when “its young branch grows tender and puts forth its leaves”—a proof that summer is at hand. (Mark 13:28, 29) This corresponds with Jesus’ coming to execute judgment. Then will follow “the thousand years,” during which the Devil will not mislead the nations anymore.—Rev. 20:2, 3.
3. (a) How has mankind been affected by the “things happening” referred to by Jesus? (b) How should Jesus’ disciples regard these events?
3 However, the “things happening” have not been pleasant. In prophesying about them, Jesus encourages us in these words: “When you hear of wars and reports of wars, do not be terrified; these things must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, there will be earthquakes in one place after another, there will be food shortages. These are a beginning of pangs of distress.” (Mark 13:4, 7, 8) So Jesus’ disciples have not been unduly perturbed about the fearsome happenings on earth since “the appointed times of the nations” ran out in 1914. (Luke 21:24-28) These are all an indication that Christ Jesus, the Son of man, “is near, at the doors,” and that his resurrected footstep followers will shortly reign as kings with him “for the thousand years.”—Matt. 24:33; Rev. 20:4.
“LOOK OUT FOR YOURSELVES”
4. Why have Jehovah’s Witnesses often suffered more than others, and what does Mark 13:9 say of this?
4 Along with many others of mankind, Jehovah’s Witnesses have suffered from these “pangs of distress.” At times they have been called upon to endure even more than others, for this is the period of time when the Devil is especially wrathful with those “who observe the commandments of God.” (Rev. 12:12, 17) Jesus speaks of this, saying: “As for you, look out for yourselves; people will deliver you up to local courts, and you will be beaten in synagogues and be put on the stand before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them.”—Mark 13:9.
5. In moving toward the millennial goal, what has been the experience of Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1914?
5 In the era following 1914, how true this has proved to be! Conscientious Bible students were hounded and persecuted by most nations participating in World War I. Waves of persecution engulfed, but failed to destroy, the German witnesses of Jehovah during the 1930’s and on into the 1940’s. During World War II, most nations of earth joined in a campaign of hate against Jehovah’s Witnesses. But despite their sufferings, the bright hope of the blessed millennial rule lay always before these Christians; and toward the happiness of that time they have continued to move forward.—Rev. 20:6.
6. (a) What “witness” have Jehovah’s people been required to give? (b) To what extent has Mark 13:10 been fulfilled in modern times?
6 To this day, Jehovah’s people are having to appear before judges and rulers in many lands, as “a witness to them.” This is because God’s servants give their primary allegiance to Christ’s kingdom, which Jesus himself described as being “no part of this world.” (John 18:36) It is also because they share zealously in the fulfillment of the following words of Jesus’ prophecy: “Also, in all the nations the good news has to be preached first.” (Mark 13:10) Has this been accomplished since 1914? Certainly it has! Not in mere human strength, but by the power of God’s spirit, Jehovah’s Witnesses have covered the earth with a campaign of preaching and disciple-making. Today more than two million Witnesses are proclaiming the millennial hope “to the extremities of the inhabited earth.”—Zech. 4:6; Rom. 10:18.
7. In what ways are Jehovah’s Witnesses experiencing the help of God’s dynamic energy? (Isa. 40:28-31)
7 By his dynamic energy God is sustaining his people wonderfully as they continue to meet up with the situations that Jesus further describes, saying: “But when they are leading you along to deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what to speak; but whatever is given you in that hour, speak this, for you are not the ones speaking, but the holy spirit is. Furthermore, brother will deliver brother over to death, and a father a child, and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death; and you will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my name.”—Mark 13:11-13.
8. How has “holy spirit” often aided God’s people when under stress?’
8 In these days of the fulfillment of Jesus’ “sign,” there have been many instances of Jehovah’s providing “holy spirit” and guidance when it has been most needed. (Mark 13:4) One of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a faithful traveling overseer, was recently arrested for preaching the “good news,” and his captors prepared to execute him. However, he protested that they must first give him a fair trial. When a trial was granted, he requested a court recorder. With the help of Jehovah’s spirit, the overseer gave a fine testimony concerning the Kingdom, quoting many scriptures. All of this was written into the court record. However, he was sentenced to death. But next he informed the court that the law granted him the right of appeal. So he was allowed to appeal his case on the basis of the written court record. The higher court reversed the decision, and set the traveling overseer free to continue his preaching of God’s kingdom. Holy spirit had helped him to gain the victory!—Compare Acts 4:13, 31; 5:32.
9. What problems have been met and overcome with regard to family members?
9 As Jesus foretold, unbelieving family members have risen up as persecutors. Betrayal of the Witnesses by their own rebellious children has taken place occasionally, as happened in a refugee camp in Africa. Also, in comparatively peaceful lands, Jehovah’s Witnesses have at times had to contend with bitter opposition from marriage mates or other family members. As they witness tactfully and try lovingly to help such opposers, all such Witnesses are sustained by the assurance that “he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.”—Mark 13:13; compare Mark 10:28-30; 1 Peter 3:1-4.
DISCERNING THE “DISGUSTING THING”
10. What question arises with regard to Mark 13:14?
10 All persons who yearn for the oncoming millennium are deeply involved in the fulfillment of Jesus’ next words: “However, when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation standing where it ought not (let the reader use discernment), then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains.” (Mark 13:14) What is this “disgusting thing”?
11. (a) How have God’s kingdom and the “disgusting thing” appeared in opposition? (b) Why is the United Nations “disgusting” from Jehovah’s viewpoint?
11 The “disgusting thing” stands in contrast to the “kingdom of our Lord [Jehovah God] and of his Christ,” which was born in the heavens in 1914. (Rev. 11:15–12:12) That kingdom is described prophetically as “pretty for loftiness” and “the perfection of prettiness.” (Ps. 48:2; 50:2) But the nations immediately began to rage against the Kingdom. (Ps. 2:1-6) Very soon they brought forth the League of Nations, later to reappear as the United Nations. In the Bible book of Revelation this international body is depicted as something truly “disgusting”—“a scarlet-colored wild beast . . . full of blasphemous names and [having] seven heads and ten horns.” (Rev. 17:3, 8) How “disgusting” it is from Jehovah’s viewpoint! For it has been lauded as the agency to bring in “peace and security”—something that only Christ’s glorious Kingdom rule can accomplish for mankind.—Isa. 9:6, 7; compare 1 Thessalonians 5:3.
12. How has Babylon the Great come into God’s disfavor, and what will be the result to her?
12 Who have made such boastful claims for this human agency? Outstandingly, the clergy of Christendom! In December 1918, the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America extolled the then-proposed League of Nations as “the political expression of the Kingdom of God on earth.” More recently, in 1965, Pope Paul VI proclaimed the United Nations to be “the last hope of concord and peace.” Down to this year 1979, popes and prelates continue to woo favors from the U.N. But where do these clergymen belong? They are tied in with a religious “harlot,” described in Revelation as “Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and of the disgusting things of the earth.” (Rev. 17:1, 3-6) As the world empire of false religion, this harlotrous “woman” plies her trade with the nations’ political leaders, as she declares her faith in the U.N. “beast,” assuming even to ‘sit as a queen’ atop that “beast” in giving it direction. (Rev. 18:7) But just as she appears to be ‘sitting pretty’ with her political “lovers,” the radical “ten horns” of that U.N. will come to ‘hate the harlot and make her devastated and naked,’ and desolate her completely.—Rev. 17:16.
13, 14. (a) Why should we now make sure that our ‘flight to the mountains’ is complete? (b) What evidence is there that many are still obeying the command at Revelation 18:4?
13 With the discerning eye of faith, Christians can even now see that “disgusting thing”—the U.N.—“standing where it ought not,” with “horns” threatening the so-called ‘holy realm’ of Christendom. (Mark 13:14; Matt. 24:15) The desolating of false religion draws near! She has miscalculated in placing her trust in this “disgusting” beast! As the reader discerns these things, what should he do? Jesus answers: “Begin fleeing to the mountains.”
14 Happily, “those in Judea” have not delayed their flight to Jehovah’s protective “mountains” outside that realm. Consequently, today, in 205 lands and territories around the globe, Jehovah’s Witnesses are warning of the early end of this system of things. They have heeded the voice out of heaven that says: “Get out of [Babylon the Great], my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues. For her sins have massed together clear up to heaven, and God has called her acts of injustice to mind.” (Rev. 18:4, 5) Jehovah’s people have made themselves “no part of the world.” (John 15:19) Thousands continue to flee, as shown by the total of 416,167 baptized in the three years following 1975.
AN URGENT SITUATION
15. How may we apply the counsel of Mark 13:15, 16 in our own lives?
15 Underlining the urgency at the “conclusion” of the system of things, Jesus goes on to say: “Let the man on the housetop not come down, nor go inside to take anything out of his house; and let the man in the field not return to the things behind to pick up his outer garment.” (Mark 13:15, 16) In Bible times, when disaster threatened, it would have been foolhardy for a man to descend the outer stairs from his roof chamber and enter the house to retrieve his possessions. Often his quickest way of escape would be across adjoining roofs. Also, a farmer, stripped down to work in his field, would jeopardize his chances of escape if he returned to pick up a fine outer garment. Likewise today, salvation is to be found in fleeing to God’s kingdom and continually placing Kingdom interests first—not in trying to salvage material things from a doomed world.—Compare Luke 9:62; 12:22-31; 17:31, 32.
16. (a) Who will find it very hard when the final “tribulation” strikes? (b) In contrast, what comforting expectation may God-fearing parents have?
16 Jesus next says: “Woe to the pregnant women and those suckling a baby in those days!” (Mark 13:17) It was hard—very hard—for such persons when the imperial army of Rome desolated Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E. And it will be a hard time for families that have ignored Jehovah’s provision for escape, when the final “tribulation” is on the earth. Happily, God-fearing parents who are striving to raise their little ones “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah,” can expect that obedient minors will come under family merit, which can mean salvation for them. (Eph. 6:4; compare 1 Corinthians 7:14.) But the way of survival will not be easy, as Jesus’ further words indicate:
17. (a) What may we expect of the “wintertime” of “tribulation”? (b) How may we act wisely now, and with what hope for the future? (Isa. 26:20, 21)
17 “Keep praying that [your flight] may not occur in wintertime; for those days will be days of a tribulation such as has not occurred from the beginning of the creation which God created until that time, and will not occur again. In fact, unless Jehovah had cut short the days, no flesh would be saved. But on account of the chosen ones whom he has chosen he has cut short the days.” (Mark 13:18-20) We, individually, may fail to “make it” if we delay flight during a favorable season like summer until the wintertime of “tribulation.” In these abnormal times, no one can expect to keep on living a normal life. The course of wisdom today is to flee to the side of God’s kingdom, and to stay there, expending oneself in a life of self-sacrifice on behalf of Kingdom interests. (Mark 8:34-36; Matt. 6:33) As we face up to the greatest of all tribulations, we can be thankful for Jesus’ assurance that Jehovah will “cut short the days” in order to save “flesh” devoted to him—that of the “chosen ones” who will later rule with Christ and that of the “great crowd” who form a nucleus of those who will live on earth during the millennium.—Rev. 5:9, 10; 7:4, 9-17.
18. How may we expect the “anguish of nations” to culminate? (Isa. 45:18)
18 After warning of “false Christs and false prophets,” many of whom have appeared in these final days, Jesus refers to fearsome sights in the heavens and to the “great power and glory” of his coming as the “Son of man,” when he executes judgment and gathers his own for salvation. (Matt. 24:24; Mark 13:26) No doubt, with food, fuel and other supplies failing, and the continued stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction, there will be intensification of the “anguish of nations, not knowing the way out . . . , while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.” (Luke 21:25, 26) Whether those nations will attempt the suicidal course of all-out nuclear warfare remains to be seen. But they can not, and will not, wipe mankind from the face of the earth! For the “chosen ones” and their companions there is the firm promise of deliverance.—Luke 21:28; Matt. 24:21, 22.
19. What may we expect to see in the near future?
19 Truly, the “pangs of distress” have brought much sorrow to mankind since ‘nation began to rise against nation’ in world war. (Mark 13:8) Yet Jesus assures us that, just as the approach of summer is to be recognized by the young leaves that the fig tree puts forth, so “these things happening” must soon reach their culmination with Christ’s coming to execute judgment. He says: “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Mark 13:21-27, 30, 31) Moreover, the Revelation that Jesus gave, later, to the apostle John, assures us that 1,000 years of God’s kingdom by Christ will follow the passing away of the Devil and all his works.—Rev. 20:2, 3; 1 John 3:8.
“KEEP ON THE WATCH”
20. (a) Why is it dangerous to grow drowsy at this time? (b) In line with Mark 13:34, 35, how may we show loyalty to our Master?
20 The closing words of Jesus’ great prophecy contain a strong warning for all of us. Some may have been lulled into drowsiness, or even into sleep, because the “Son of man” did not come to reckon with the nations at an expected date. How dangerous! Jesus counsels: “Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father. Keep looking, keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is.” Our not knowing that time provides strong reason for keeping wide-awake. Further, loyalty to our Master, demonstrated by our zealously preaching the “good news” concerning his arrival, requires constant wakefulness. “It is like a man traveling abroad that left his house and gave the authority to his slaves, to each one his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to keep on the watch. Therefore keep on the watch, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming.”—Mark 13:32-35.
21. In view of what promises should we “keep on the watch”?
21 When the “Son of man” arrives “suddenly,” therefore, to execute judgment, may he find us not sleeping but very active in doing our Father’s will. For we will be blessed if we have heeded Jesus’ words: “What I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.” (Mark 13:37) May we be sustained by Jehovah’s precious promises, on through the “tribulation” and into the splendid peace that will last for 1,000 years under God’s kingdom by Christ!—Rev. 20:1-6; 21:1-5.
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“Pangs of distress” for mankind started in 1914 and have intensified until now