Flee to God’s Kingdom!
1. In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, what can be noted relative to escape?
THE apostle Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, has some important things to say relative to escape. He covers two aspects: things to be observed and things to be avoided. In backing up his argument, he frequently quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures, with which his readers of that time—Jews who had become Christians—would be very familiar.
2. How did Paul compare God’s Son with the angels, this leading to what conclusion?
2 In the first chapter of Hebrews, Paul emphasizes the superior position of God’s Son over the angels. Then the apostle says: “That is why it is necessary for us [Christians] to pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved to be firm, . . . how shall we escape if we have neglected a salvation of such greatness in that it began to be spoken through our Lord [Jesus Christ] . . .?”—Heb. 2:1-4.
3. (a) The hope of salvation through Christ Jesus is better than what other hope, and in what ways? (b) What is coupled with this “better hope”? (c) There is what need, whether our hopes are heavenly or earthly?
3 The hope of salvation given through Jesus Christ is far better and greater than what was offered through the Law “transmitted through angels” at Mount Sinai. (Gal. 3:19) It is better because it is based on a “better covenant . . . legally established upon better promises,” a far better sacrifice (made “once for all time,” giving a “better hope”) and a superior priesthood, similar to that of Melchizedek. (Heb. 7:15-25; 8:6; 9:23-28) However, coupled with this “better hope” there is greater responsibility. Hence, there is the need to pay close attention and be careful so as to avoid any neglect, “that we may never drift away.” And while heavenly salvation is referred to here, similar responsibilities rest on those who have the hope of earthly salvation under God’s kingdom.
4. What does it mean to drift, and how would this apply to Christians?
4 How much effort is required to start drifting? None whatever. If we are on a river, whether in a boat or in the water, we just get carried downstream by the current. It is the same in real life. If we, as Christians, commence to drift, we go along with whatever influences may float our way, either externally or from inward inherited tendencies. We begin to lose appreciation for spiritual values. This can develop gradually and is to be guarded against. Otherwise, we would no longer be keeping “a firm hold on the real life” and would be in danger of losing life altogether. (1 Tim. 6:19) As Paul pointed out, how can we escape the final disastrous consequences if this neglectful attitude and course remain unchecked?
5. Against what dangerous condition of heart are we alerted by Paul’s further words to Hebrew Christians?
5 By the apostle’s further words to Hebrew Christians, we are alerted to an even more dangerous course. He wrote: “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God; but keep on exhorting one another each day, as long as it may be called ‘Today,’ for fear any one of you should become hardened by the deceptive power of sin.”—Heb. 3:12, 13.
6. (a) What is meant by “drawing away” from someone? (b) What causes a “drawing away from the living God,” and how can it be avoided?
6 To start drifting away requires no effort; but to commence “drawing away” from someone involves the taking of definite action. Though we may still be facing a person in an endeavor to retain his favor, yet we may begin to recede or retreat from him by taking backward steps. Why would anyone begin “drawing away from the living God”? The answer is: Due to a lack of faith. As the context shows, Paul is not speaking about a weak faith that has resulted from insufficient knowledge or incorrect understanding. Rather, he quotes the warning, “Do not harden your hearts.” That is what the fleshly Israelites did in the wilderness, although they had there seen Jehovah’s “works for forty years,” having enjoyed his constant miraculous provisions and protection. (Heb. 3:7-11) Hence, all true Christians today need continually to help and encourage one another so as to avoid taking backward steps due to becoming “hardened by the deceptive power of sin.” We should exhort one another to keep our faith alive. How? By works of faith. Remember, Abraham acted obediently in faith under severe test and thus “came to be called ‘Jehovah’s friend.’” We, as witnesses of Jehovah today, will win out only “if we make fast our hold on the confidence we had at the beginning firm to the end.”—Heb. 3:13, 14; Jas. 2:21-26.
7. Toward the end of his letter to the Hebrews, how does Paul show that the responsibility resting on Christians is greater than that placed on fleshly Israelites?
7 Toward the end of his letter to the Hebrews, Paul takes up the same line of argument as he did at Hebrews 2:1-4. He shows the greater responsibility resting on Christians, as compared with the ancient fleshly Israelites. However, he uses an even stronger expression and says: “For if they did not escape who begged off from him who was giving divine warning upon earth, much more shall we not [escape] if we turn away from him who speaks from the heavens.”—Heb. 12:25.
8, 9. (a) What is involved in turning away from someone, and, in spiritual matters, to what possible outcome can this lead? (b) How and why should we take these warnings to heart? (c) What will occur if we accept divine discipline?
8 To turn away from someone means deliberately to turn our back on that one and often indicates rejection. This was the attitude and course taken by the fleshly Israelites as a nation right down to Malachi’s time, when Jehovah said to them: “From the days of your forefathers you have turned aside from my regulations and have not kept them.” (Mal. 3:7) And if an anointed Christian, a spiritual Israelite, takes these progressively bad steps, what will be the outcome? There is grave danger that he will come into the category of those regarding whom Paul writes: “It is impossible as regards those who have once for all been enlightened, . . . but who have fallen away, to revive them again to repentance.” (Heb. 6:4-6) Of course, only Jehovah God and Christ Jesus can determine if a person has reached the point where it is impossible for him to be revived again to repentance.
9 We should take these warnings to heart. Loss of faith may begin with our allowing ourselves to take things for granted, showing a spirit of indifference, almost imperceptibly drifting away. One false step or attitude easily leads to another until we have gone too far, and we find we have fallen away to the point of no recovery. Before that happens Jehovah will no doubt subject us to some discipline, which Paul talks about in this same letter and which counsel we should wisely accept. Paul wrote to those Hebrew Christians: “You have entirely forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, neither give out when you are corrected by him; for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines; in fact, he scourges every one whom he receives as a son.’ . . . True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.”—Heb. 12:5-11.
10. Why should we never take a negative or pessimistic view of our spiritual brothers or even of ourselves?
10 From the foregoing, we should not conclude that Paul was taking a negative or pessimistic view of his spiritual brothers. Neither should we today look upon ourselves or others in the congregation in such a way. Even after the apostle told those Hebrew Christians that they had ‘become dull in their hearing’ and were ‘needing milk, not solid food’—and after sounding the warning about those who fall away beyond repentance—he says: “However, in your case, beloved ones, we are convinced of better things and things accompanied with salvation, although we are speaking in this way.” Paul then gives fine encouragement to “be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”—Heb. 5:11, 12; 6:4-6, 9-12.
ESCAPE FROM BABYLON
11. In what prophecy was Daniel inspired to foretell escape for God’s people?
11 A key factor in any escape is fleeing from a threatened place or situation and doing so with a sense of urgency. Is there a need to take such action today? Indeed there is. Having a direct bearing on the critical situation in which Christians now find themselves are these words that the prophet Daniel was inspired to write: “During that time Michael will stand up, the great prince who is standing in behalf of the sons of your people. And there will certainly occur a time of distress such as has not been made to occur since there came to be a nation until that time. And during that time your people will escape, every one who is found written down in the book.” (Dan. 12:1) Yes, Daniel’s people—actually the people of God—would escape. What a marvelous assurance!
12. (a) When did Jesus allude to that prophecy of Daniel? (b) When and in behalf of whom has Michael stood up and shown his power?
12 Pointing to a grand and major fulfillment in our day, “the time of the end,” Jesus alluded to those words when giving his great prophecy recorded in Matthew chapter 24. He said: “Then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” (Dan. 12:4; Matt. 24:21) Since 1914 C.E. Jesus Christ has been the heavenly prince, Michael, who has stood up and shown his power on behalf of God’s people of today. And who are they? Not fleshly Israelites, but the remnant of spiritual Israelites whose “circumcision is that of the heart by spirit, and not by a written code.”—Rom. 2:29.
13. Since when has the remnant of spiritual Israelites been called upon to make their escape from Babylon the Great, and what was their condition prior to that time?
13 However, particularly since 1919 C.E. has this faithful and purified remnant heeded the call: “Flee, then, you people, from the land of the north. . . . Hey there, Zion! Make your escape, you who are dwelling with the daughter of Babylon.” (Zech. 2:6, 7; Jer. 51:45) Prior to that date and during World War I, this remnant had been in bondage to Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion.
14. (a) Who are those “written down in the book”? (b) Do others escape destruction and, if so, who are they?
14 As Daniel was told, every one of this remnant is “found written down in the book.” They are part of “the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens.” (Heb. 12:23; see also Malachi 3:16.) Added to these who escape the destruction of the wicked, there is a “great crowd” not of spiritual Israel, but who are “foreigners” by comparison. Yet these, too, “love the name of Jehovah” and have become his loyal servants. With what prospects? Jehovah responds, saying: “I will also bring them to my holy mountain and make them rejoice inside my house of prayer.” These of the “great crowd” render God sacred service in his temple. They survive “the great tribulation” and are guided to “fountains of waters of life.”—Isa. 56:6, 7; Rev. 7:9-17.
15. What final warning is given about fleeing from Babylon the Great?
15 For confirmation of the foregoing prophecies, we read further in the last prophetic book of the Bible, addressed to God’s people of today. It gives a final warning concerning Babylon the Great, that false religious empire, in these words: “Get out of her 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. . . . In one day her plagues will come . . . and she will be completely burned with fire, because Jehovah God, who judged her, is strong.”—Rev. 18:4-8.
16. (a) Why can it be said that there is still time to escape destruction with Babylon the Great? (b) How can you be reckoned in with those whom God calls “my people”?
16 There is still time to escape! The warning to flee is being sounded with power and clarity. It is an urgent message that is being declared by Jehovah’s Witnesses. This time it is no mere house that is on fire. Rather, an entire “city” will be set ablaze. Once that fire is started, it will be too late to flee. Those who are Babylonians at heart do not and will not respond to the warning. But there is still opportunity for others to show that at heart they want to serve Jehovah God with loyalty to his kingdom under Christ Jesus. Thus they still have time to demonstrate that they can suitably be counted among those whom God calls “my people.” These are invited to become “other sheep,” making up part of the “one flock, [under] one shepherd.” (John 10:16) Happily, by your heartfelt service to Jehovah and loyalty to his kingdom you, too, can be reckoned in with God’s people.
FLEE TO GOD’S CITY—ZION
17. What provision has Jehovah made for those who escape?
17 As mentioned earlier, it is not only a matter of escaping from a place or situation where there is great danger. There is also the question of finding and being helped to a place of security. Has the great “Provider of escape” taken care of this? Has he warned his people to flee from the “city” about to be destroyed by fire, only to leave them wandering in a wilderness? Notice the answer given in his Word: “It must occur that everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will get away safe; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will prove to be the escaped ones, just as Jehovah has said, and in among the survivors, whom Jehovah is calling.”—Joel 2:32.
18. How does the ancient capital of Israel have a modern counterpart?
18 So the Bible tells of two cities—the one from which to flee and the one wherein we can find refuge with many others. The ancient capital of Israel, often spoken of as Zion, or Jerusalem, pictures the “heavenly Jerusalem,” God’s heavenly kingdom, represented on earth by the remnant of the “faithful and discreet slave” class of which Jesus spoke at Matthew 24:45-47. (Heb. 12:22) Jehovah inspired many of his faithful servants of old to give words of encouragement and guidance for all who flee to his kingdom.
19 Isaiah was one of these faithful servants, and he foretold a most joyful time, in these words: “Many peoples will certainly go and say: ‘Come, you people, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah . . . and he will instruct us about his ways, and we will walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion law will go forth, and the word of Jehovah out of Jerusalem.” Under that law and word they would learn how to live in peace and not “learn war anymore.”—Isa. 2:2-4; see also Zephaniah 2:3.
20 Later in his prophecy, Isaiah was inspired to give further details as to how this would be accomplished, saying: “In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: ‘We have a strong city. He sets salvation itself for walls and rampart. Open the gates, you men, that the righteous nation that is keeping faithful conduct may enter. The inclination that is well supported you will safeguard in continuous peace, because it is in you that one is made to trust. Trust in Jehovah, you people, for all times, for in Jah Jehovah is the Rock of times indefinite.”—Isa. 26:1-4.
21. How is a spiritual paradise invitingly described at Isaiah 61:4-11?
21 Toward the close of his prophecy, and widening out his vision to take in the whole land belonging to Zion, Isaiah described in glowing terms the restored spiritual paradise where all the escaped ones would find delightful activity in ‘rebuilding the long-standing devastated places.’ Not only would the spiritual Israelites take the lead in this, but it is stated that “strangers will actually stand and shepherd the flocks of you people, and the foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers.” Such prophecies speak loudly, not of a ‘narrow escape’ but of complete deliverance and liberation. Therefore, all of us can gladly join with the remnant of Jehovah’s faithful anointed “slave” in this expression of praise: “Without fail I shall exult in Jehovah. My soul will be joyful in my God.”—Isa. 61:4-11.
22. (a) On a personal level, what provision has been made for escape? (b) To get the benefit of this, what part must we play?
22 While you may agree that what we have considered thus far is true of God’s people as a whole, you may be wondering how it affects you personally. Are you in need of escape from one or more personal problems? Who is not? The old saying is true that, humanly speaking, life is but a short journey from the cradle to the grave. Is there no escape from bondage to sin and death? Interestingly, both sin and death are spoken of as kings, and both will be vanquished. (Rom. 5:14; 6:12) In writing to fellow Christians, the apostle Paul explains how the way of escape has been opened up, that is, “through the release by the ransom paid by Christ Jesus.” For “God set him forth as an offering for propitiation through faith in his blood.” (Rom. 3:24, 25) Yes, by exercising faith in that atoning sacrifice, we can come into God’s favor. Granted, we are still imperfect and daily need to request forgiveness of our sins. But our sinful tendencies need not and should not have free rein in our lives. Paul wrote: “Do not let sin continue to rule as king in your mortal bodies. . . . For sin must not be master over you.” To aid us in this respect, God has provided help through his Word and his faithful servants, as well as by his holy spirit.—Rom. 6:12-14; 8:11; Jas. 5:14, 15.
23. What grand prospect lies before us, and under whose kingship?
23 Also, beyond these “critical times hard to deal with” and when Satan’s “system of things” has been brought to a complete end, what a glorious prospect opens up before us! (2 Tim. 3:1; 2 Cor. 4:4) No more will sin and death rule as kings. Instead, escape into full and lasting freedom will be complete. When Christ’s joint heirs have entered into their heavenly reward, then “the creation itself [mankind] also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Christ Jesus “must rule as king until God has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.” What joy is ahead for all loyal escapees—for those who flee to God’s kingdom! All praise and thanks be to Jehovah, the grand “Provider of escape”!—Rom. 8:19-21; 1 Cor. 15:25, 26.
Anyone dwelling in the secret place of the Most High will procure himself lodging under the very shadow of the Almighty One. I will say to Jehovah: “You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God, in whom I will trust.”—Ps. 91:1, 2