Celebrating the Death of the Greatest Man Ever on Earth
“LOOK! The man!” Those words were said, not at the creation of the perfect man Adam in the garden of Eden more than 6,000 years ago. They were said, about 4,058 years later, of a man fully Adam’s equal. This man had been born miraculously to a Jewish virgin, Mary the daughter of Heli of Bethlehem. He, whose name was Jesus, was the Son of God, whose life had been transferred by God’s power from heaven. Paving the way for his return to heaven, he had been begotten of his heavenly Father’s spirit. This occurred right after he was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer, in the autumn of 29 C.E. There God spoke from heaven and declared the newly baptized Jesus to be his Son. John the Baptizer testified to this fact.—John 1:29-36.
Three and a half years later, on Passover day of the spring of 33 C.E., he was standing trial before the Roman governor of the province of Judea, Pontius Pilate. The Jewish court at the capital city of Jerusalem had tried him during the Passover night and had turned him over to the Roman governor for examination to have their own condemnation of him to death confirmed by the Roman authority. In fulfillment of Bible prophecy at Psalm 41:9, he had been betrayed into the hands of his Jewish enemies by one of his own 12 apostles, Judas Iscariot. Governor Pilate found Jesus innocent of the charges filed against him by the Jewish high court. He made this fact known to the crowd of Jews gathered outside the governor’s palace. Their hostile response was, “Impale him! Impale him!” Jesus’ head had been encircled with a crown of thorns, and a purple garment had been thrown over him by his Roman tormentors. In line with Jesus’ adornment, with a crown and purple raiment, Governor Pilate tried to appeal to the Jews, who had long ago been deprived of their kingdom, by crying out to them: “See! Your king!” Hypocritically, the Jews, led by their chief priests, yelled back: “We have no king but Caesar.”—John 19:5-15.
Later that same day Jesus’ death on an execution stake and the interment of his corpse in a garden tomb took place. Like the Passover lamb eaten by his apostles the night before, he had died, but not a bone of his body had been broken. (Ex. 12:46; Ps. 34:20) The faithful apostles had been put under obligation to celebrate his death annually on Passover day. After having fulfilled his own obligation under Jewish law of observing the Passover supper with his apostles, Jesus at once instituted among them something to commemorate his death. It came to be called the Lord’s Supper, or Evening Meal. The inspired account of Jesus’ instituting the new supper reads:
“As they continued eating [the Passover supper], Jesus took a loaf and, after saying a blessing, he broke it and, giving it to the disciples, he said: ‘Take, eat. This means my body.’ Also, he took a cup and, having given thanks, he gave it to them, saying: ‘Drink out of it, all of you; for this means my “blood of the covenant,” which is to be poured out in behalf of many for forgiveness of sins. But I tell you, I will by no means drink henceforth any of this product of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father.’ Finally, after singing praises, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”—Matt. 26:26-30.
In connection with the Passover supper, Jesus had dismissed the traitorous disciple, Judas Iscariot. So Jesus’ words did not apply to that unfaithful disciple when he said to the 11 remaining disciples: “I will by no means drink henceforth any of this product of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father.” (Matt. 26:29) Those words could not mean their being on earth and in the flesh as subjects of the Kingdom during the reign of the Messiah Jesus for 1,000 years. By that time they would long have been dead and would need a resurrection to human life on earth after the “war of the great day of God the Almighty” at Har–Magedon. (Rev. 16:14-16) However, that was not what Jesus meant in the case of such faithful disciples, like these 11. He meant their being in the heavenly kingdom with him by a resurrection from the dead to spirit life.
During the preceding year (32 C.E.), he had said to these disciples: “Your Father knows you need these things. Nevertheless, seek continually his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:30-32) The heavenly Father’s giving them the heavenly kingdom would involve a ‘covenant for the Kingdom,’ and to this the Lord Jesus referred when he said to the 11 faithful apostles in connection with the supper commemorating his death: “However, you are the ones that have stuck with me in my trials; and I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.”—Luke 22:28-30.
From this it is unmistakably clear that those partaking of that first celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal were in line for the heavenly kingdom with the glorified Lord Jesus Christ. Likewise, all later participants in the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal should be those who have the heavenly calling and whom Jesus Christ brings into the ‘covenant for the Kingdom.’
It was to Christians of this class that the apostle Paul sent his letter, about 22 years later (about 55 C.E.), in which letter he discusses both the Lord’s Supper and the resurrection of the dead, that is, “the first resurrection.” In his words to them he went on to say: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised up in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised up in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised up in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised up a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual one. . . . As the heavenly one is, so those who are heavenly are also. And just as we have borne the image of the one made of dust [Adam], we shall bear also the image of the heavenly one.”—1 Cor. 15:42-49; Rev. 20:5, 6.
However, before discussing the resurrection, the apostle Paul wrote about the annual celebration of the Lord’s Supper, saying: “For I received from the Lord that which I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was going to be handed over took a loaf and, after giving thanks, he broke it and said: ‘This means my body which is in your behalf. Keep doing this in remembrance of me.’ He did likewise respecting the cup also, after he had the evening meal [with the loaf], saying: ‘This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood. Keep doing this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.”—1 Cor. 11:23-26.
There was spiritual value in their thus “proclaiming the death of the Lord,” for they were in that way different from the natural Jews. Instead of annually celebrating the Passover supper and their deliverance from the oppressive land of Egypt, they would celebrate the death of the one who was symbolized, or typified, by the Passover lamb sacrificed down in Egypt. That ancient Passover lamb served in behalf of the deliverance of the natural Israelites from slavery in Egypt, but did not relieve them of the condemnation of sin. On the other hand, the death of the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” procures for the disciples of Jesus Christ release from the condemnation of sin and works for their deliverance from being a part of this worldly system of things, the antitypical Egypt. It also reminds the disciples of the basis for the new covenant, God’s arrangement by means of which he takes out of the world a people for his name, because Jesus Christ, the Greater Moses, is the mediator of this “new covenant.” (Jer. 31:31-33) It also reminds them of the ‘covenant for a kingdom,’ into which covenant they have been taken. They must never lose sight of the fact that they are called to that heavenly kingdom to be joint heirs with Jesus Christ, the descendant of King David, the “King of kings and Lord of lords.”—Rev. 19:16.
SHEEPLIKE OBSERVERS OF THE CELEBRATION
Today, near the end of this doomed system of things, there is only a remnant of Christ’s disciples who are heirs with him of the heavenly kingdom. But their annual Memorial celebration is of vital interest to a growing crowd of persons of all nationalities. These are very happy to get the invitation to attend the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal as celebrated by the remnant of spiritual Israelites, who are in the new covenant and also in the Kingdom covenant. These also have turned their backs on this Devil-controlled world and are marching along with the remnant of spiritual Israelites toward a better Promised Land, God’s new system of things under the kingdom of Jesus Christ and his 144,000 joint heirs. These were foreshadowed by the vast mixed multitude of non-Israelites that left demon-controlled Egypt on that first Passover night, throwing in their lot with the departing Israelites and taking up the worship of Jehovah God. (Ex. 12:38) This “vast mixed company” went through the Red Sea with the escaping Israelites and became witnesses of Jehovah’s deliverance of his people there and became sharers with them. Over this they too could rejoice!
The modern-day “vast mixed company” of companions of the remnant of spiritual Israelites were pictured by the numberless “great crowd” that the apostle John saw rejoicing at Jehovah’s spiritual temple. Having separated themselves from this contaminated old world, they were pictured as “dressed in white robes” and as having “palm branches in their hands.” Like the remnant of spiritual Israelites, they have unconditionally dedicated themselves to Jehovah God through his Lamb, Jesus Christ, and have symbolized this dedication by water baptism. They look forward to coming out of the “great tribulation” that lies just ahead for the doomed world, after which they will be able in a real sense to cry out joyfully: “Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9, 10) For the greatest of reasons, then, this “great crowd” would want to assemble with the spiritual remnant on the night for memorializing the death of that Lamb.
From the Memorial celebration in the spring of the year 1936, members of the “great crowd” have felt free to attend the observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal, although they have not partaken of the emblematic bread and wine.a Since the identification of members of the great crowd of Revelation 7:9-17 on May 31, 1935, at the Washington (D.C.) convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they have been specially invited by the anointed remnant to attend the Meal as observers. They have done so out of heartfelt appreciation for the ransom sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their not partaking has been no artificial, man-made limitation imposed upon them, but is in keeping with God’s Word.
Why is that true? It is because the Founder of the celebration set it up for observance by those with whom he made a covenant for the heavenly kingdom. Although dedicated and baptized, those of the “great crowd” recognize that they have not been taken into that covenant for the Kingdom. They are not spiritual Israelites, forasmuch as they have not been taken into the “new covenant,” which is made with spiritual Israelites through the Mediator Jesus Christ. They have not been begotten with the holy spirit that began to be poured out upon the 120 disciples at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost of 33 C.E. Figuratively speaking, they have not “died together with Christ” by giving up all future earthly prospects of life in a Paradise earth under God’s kingdom. They do not expect to be “buried” with Christ, that they may be “in the likeness of his resurrection.” So if they partook of the bread and the wine that primarily symbolize the fleshly body and the blood of Jesus Christ, they would be falsifying the fact that they are not in such arrangements with Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. For that reason they abstain from partaking of these emblems with the anointed remnant. However, their not partaking does not preclude their gaining everlasting life, for that comes through faith in Jesus Christ and the provision of the ransom sacrifice.—Rom. 6:4, 5; Col. 2:12, 20; 1 John 2:1, 2.
However, they, as members of the “other sheep,” have been gathered by the Fine Shepherd Jesus Christ, and they form “one flock” along with the remnant of the spiritual sheep who are in “this fold” of which Jesus spoke in John 10:16. They realize that their salvation to everlasting life on the promised Paradise earth is from God through this Fine Shepherd, to whose flock they now belong. How, then, could they ever neglect to pay their respects to Christ by not being present and observing the evening meal that he instituted in celebration of his death, by means of which this merciful salvation comes? They could not reasonably do so! They do not want to do so. As long as the celebration continues on earth by the remnant of the heirs of God’s heavenly kingdom, they recognize themselves to be under obligation to attend the Lord’s Evening Meal as observers. Even though in many localities there may be none of the remnant to partake of the emblems, Jehovah’s Witnesses want to arrange for the celebration out of the highest regard for what it signifies and to afford the opportunity for anyone attending, who might prove to be of the remnant, to partake of the emblems.
This year the Lord’s Evening Meal will be observed by Jehovah’s Witnesses after sundown of April 19, 1981. All persons desiring to attend in remembrance of the death of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, should get in touch with the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Persons not knowing the whereabouts of the local congregation may write the Watchtower Society for needed information.
“Christ our passover has been sacrificed. Consequently let us keep the festival . . . with unfermented cakes of sincerity and truth.”—1 Cor. 5:7, 8.
a See The Watchtower, April 15, 1936, p. 123, pars. 44, 46.