Christ’s Active Leadership Today
“I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”—MATTHEW 28:20.
1. In what way did Christ commit his “belongings” to his disciples?
WHEN Christ was about to leave his disciples and return to heaven in 33 C.E., he “committed to them his belongings.” This involved being “ambassadors substituting for Christ” and taking up the preaching work he had begun, extending it to “the most distant part of the earth.” Before leaving them, he had instructed them to “make disciples of people of all the nations.” Do we have evidence that he was attentive as to how they carried out this commission? Indeed we do!—Matthew 25:14; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19.
2. What shows that Christ was closely following the activities of first-century congregations?
2 Over 60 years after Christ ascended to heaven, he showed that he had been following intently the activities of Christian congregations on earth. In the revelation given to the apostle John, a member of the first-century governing body, Jesus Christ sent messages to seven congregations located in Asia Minor. To five of them he said: “I know your deeds.” And he showed that he was very familiar with what was going on within the other two, Smyrna and Pergamum. He gave specific encouragement and counsel to each congregation. There could be no doubt in their minds as to who was their active Leader.—Revelation 1:11; 2:1–3:22.
3. To whom were the seven messages really addressed, and what proves this?
3 Actually, those seven messages were not limited in their scope to the seven congregations in Asia. The fine counsel and the warnings they contained applied to all congregations, from the first century down into “the Lord’s day,” where we now are.* Christ’s eyes, likened to “a fiery flame,” have continually watched what has been going on within “all the congregations.”—Revelation 1:10; 2:18, 23.
The Master and His Slave
4. How did Christ “travel abroad” and then come back “after a long time”?
4 After having likened himself to “a man, about to travel abroad, [who] summoned slaves of his and committed to them his belongings,” Christ added: “After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.” (Matthew 25:14, 19) In 33 C.E. Christ “went his way to heaven,” where he was seated “at God’s right hand.” (1 Peter 3:22) “After a long time,” following his enthronement in 1914, Christ began ‘subduing in the midst of his enemies’ by hurling Satan and his demons down to the earth. (Psalm 110:1, 2; Revelation 12:7-9) Then he turned his attention to his slaves. The time had come for settling accounts with them. More than ever, he was their active Leader.
5. When did the time of accounting come, and how were the faithful rewarded?
5 The modern history of God’s people shows that this time of accounting came in 1918-19. The parable of the talents illustrates how the Master would settle accounts with the remnant of his anointed slaves. They would have to account individually for the way they had used his belongings, “each one according to his own ability,” or spiritual possibilities. Those who had been productive entered into the joy of their Master, who said to them: “You were faithful over a few things. I will appoint you over many things.”—Matthew 25:15, 20-23.
6. What did such faithful anointed Christians form collectively, and what did their Master commit to their care?
6 Such individual anointed Christians were found to be faithful ambassadors of the now reigning King, willing to make disciples for their Master. They were collectively found to be the “slave” of whom their Master had said: “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.”—Matthew 24:45-47.
7. (a) How have Christ’s “belongings” increased since 1914? (b) What shows that Christ is also the active Leader of the “other sheep”?
7 Christ’s “belongings” have become more numerous since 1914. He has been clothed with “kingly power,” involving increased authority and larger responsibilities. (Luke 19:11, 12) He first proceeded to gather in the remainder of “the sons of the kingdom,” the 144,000 anointed Christians “bought from among mankind” to become kings and priests with him in heaven. (Matthew 13:38; Revelation 14:1-4; 5:9, 10) Then, as historically manifested since 1935, he has been gathering in “a great crowd” of “other sheep” of whom he said: “Those also I must bring.” (Revelation 7:9, 10; John 10:16) Yes, he is the One who brings in these “sheep,” and he becomes their active Leader. Interestingly, the Greek text means literally, “And those it is necessary [for] me to lead.” How is he actively leading all his “sheep” today?
Overseers in Christ’s Right Hand
8, 9. (a) What vision did the apostle John receive? (b) What was pictured by the seven lampstands and the seven stars?
8 The apostle John, a member of the governing body of the early Christian congregation, received a vision in which he “saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands someone like a son of man . . . And he had in his right hand seven stars.” Jesus Christ explained to John: “As for the sacred secret of the seven stars that you saw upon my right hand, and of the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars mean the angels of the seven congregations, and the seven lampstands mean seven congregations.”—Revelation 1:12-20.
9 Commenting on this passage, the book “Then Is Finished the Mystery of God” states: “Are such ‘angels’ invisible ones? No. The apostle John received the entire Revelation from Jesus Christ by means of a heavenly angel, and it would be unreasonable for him to be writing back to angels in heaven, in invisible realms. They do not need the messages written to the seven congregations in Asia. The basic meaning of the title ‘angel’ is ‘messenger; message bearer.’ . . . As these seven symbolic stars are seen to be upon Jesus’ right hand, they are in his care and charge and under his direction, his ‘right hand’ of applied power being able to direct and protect them. . . . As the ‘seven lampstands’ in the visionary ‘Lord’s day’ pictured all the true Christian congregations in this present, real ‘Lord’s day’ since 1914 C.E., so the ‘seven stars’ symbolize all the spirit-begotten, anointed angellike overseers of such congregations of today.”*—Pages 102-4.
10. What increased “belongings” have been committed to the slave’s care?
10 These anointed overseers in Christ’s right hand are all a part of the collective “slave” whom He has appointed “over all his belongings.” Because the slave’s Master has himself been clothed with enlarged responsibilities since 1914, “all his belongings” must involve many more things for the slave than in the past. For one thing, as “ambassadors substituting for Christ,” the remnant are now ambassadors of a reigning King ruling over an established Kingdom. (2 Corinthians 5:20) They have been put in charge of all the spiritual things that belong to the Master on earth. They must serve in fulfillment of the prophecies that apply since the establishment of the Kingdom. This includes preaching “this good news of the kingdom . . . in all the inhabited earth for a witness.” (Matthew 24:14) More than ever, they must go on making “disciples of people of all the nations,” thus gathering in the unnumbered “great crowd.” (Matthew 28:19, 20; Revelation 7:9) Yes, these “desirable things of all the nations” are a part of Christ’s increased “belongings” on earth.—Haggai 2:7.
11. (a) What do these increased “belongings” necessitate? (b) Who is directing the work, and how?
11 All of this means more work for the collective “slave,” a larger field of activities, extending literally to “all the inhabited earth.” It also requires larger headquarters and branch facilities for supervising the work and for printing and distributing literature for preaching and personal study. As in the first century, this work is carried out under the active leadership of Jesus Christ, who is figuratively “in the midst of the lampstands,” or congregations. He directs them by means of anointed overseers, whom he holds symbolically “in his right hand.” (Revelation 1:13, 16) As in early Christian times, a group of these anointed overseers makes up the visible Governing Body of Christ’s congregation on earth. His “right hand” of applied power directs these faithful men as they supervise the Kingdom work.
By Means of the Spirit
12, 13. (a) In view of the great increase, what question arises? (b) How does Christ use the spirit to fill the need for overseers among his disciples on earth?
12 With the “other sheep” now numbering upwards of three million, organized into some 52,000 congregations, it is obvious that the anointed remnant need help in taking care of the Master’s earthly belongings. Fewer than 9,000, including many sisters, partake of the Memorial emblems, so there is not even one anointed overseer per congregation. Does this mean that Jesus Christ is not in charge of congregations where there is no spirit-begotten “angel,” or ‘star’?
13 By no means! As we have seen in the previous article, in the first century Christ actively led his congregation by means of the holy spirit. Today he uses the spirit-begotten members of the Governing Body to appoint overseers chosen from among the “other sheep.” These must meet the same requirements as anointed elders, as outlined in such scriptures as 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. These Scriptural qualifications were written under the direction of the holy spirit. Recommendations and appointments are made after prayer and under the guidance of the holy spirit. To such nonanointed elders Paul’s counsel applies with equal force: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers.”—Acts 20:28.
14. (a) How is the prophecy of Isaiah 32:1, 2 already being fulfilled? (b) How must all elders submit to Christ’s “right hand”?
14 Thus, in tens of thousands of congregations, the righteous reigning King Jesus Christ is using “other sheep” as “princes” to protect his “sheep” from spiritual wind, rainstorm, and drought. (Isaiah 32:1, 2) Like David of old, elders, whether of the anointed or the “other sheep,” pray to Jehovah: “Your spirit is good; may it lead me in the land of uprightness.” (Psalm 143:10) And Jehovah hears their prayer. By means of his Son, He grants them His spirit, and Jesus uses this means actively to lead his disciples on earth. Naturally, all elders must submit to Christ’s “right hand” of control, guidance, and direction, which he exercises by means of the spirit and the spirit-begotten members of the Governing Body.
By Means of Angels
15. What other means does Christ have at his disposal to lead his disciples on earth actively?
15 The previous article mentioned that angels were used in the first century to guide and deliver early Christians and help them in their preaching work. Would it be logical to think that our reigning King Jesus Christ no longer uses angels in actively leading his disciples today? Not only would it be illogical but it would also be unscriptural.
16, 17. What proof do we have that Christ uses angels in harvesting “the sons of the kingdom” and in gathering the “other sheep”?
16 According to Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds, harvesttime would come at “the conclusion of the system of things,” which began in 1914. During the harvest, “the sons of the kingdom” would be separated from “the sons of the wicked one.” Whom would the Master use to do the harvesting? “The reapers are angels.” Christ added: “The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness.” (Matthew 13:37-41) Christ uses angels to protect his brothers on earth.
17 But what about the “other sheep”? Does Christ use angels to gather them? Assuredly! His parable of the sheep and the goats says: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31, 32) Christ uses his angels in this separating work. Just as an angel directed the steps of Philip toward the Ethiopian eunuch, so there is abundant evidence today that Christ uses his angels to direct the steps of his Witnesses toward sheeplike ones. Many people have attested to the fact that they had prayed for help just before a Witness knocked at their door.—Acts 8:26, 27.
Complete Confidence in Christ’s Direction
18, 19. On the basis of what occurred in the first century, of what are we confident?
18 In the first century, circumstances did not always lend themselves to Christ’s using the governing body in Jerusalem to solve a specific problem. When Paul was isolated up in northern Asia Minor and needed to know which territory to open up next, Christ acted through the spirit. (Acts 16:6-10) Today Jehovah’s Witnesses are confident that any of their brothers who become temporarily isolated from the Governing Body because of persecution are still under Christ’s active leadership, by means of the spirit and angelic support.
19 Back in early Christian times, some decisions made by the governing body may have been hard to understand at the time. This was doubtless the case when Paul was sent back to Tarsus or when he was sent to the temple after his third missionary journey. (Acts 9:30; 21:23-25) Yet, Christ was actually behind such decisions. (Acts 22:17-21; 23:11) Today we can be confident that whatever Christ allows to occur among his disciples on earth has some lofty purpose behind it, even as in the first century.
20. Of what are we convinced, and what is our determination?
20 Thus, when we read in the Bible that Christ “is the head of the body, the congregation,” we are convinced that he is not a mere titular Head. (Colossians 1:18) We know, from experience, that he is a real, active Head. When we read the book of Acts and see how Christ directed matters among the early Christians, we can observe that he is using the same means today. We see evidence of Christ’s use of the holy spirit, angels, and “the faithful and discreet slave” and its Governing Body, to appoint spiritually qualified elders. Confident in Christ’s active direction of things, we are determined to go on “speaking the truth” and growing up by love “in all things into him who is the head, Christ.”—Ephesians 4:15.
For a full explanation of these seven messages and their application, see the book “Then Is Finished the Mystery of God,” chapters 7 to 14, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
The December 15, 1971, issue of The Watchtower clarified this point still further, stating: “Doubtless, not one individual elder, presbyter, overseer or shepherd, but the entire ‘body of elders’ was what the glorified Lord, Jesus Christ, called the ‘angel’ that was symbolized by a heavenly star. . . . The ‘body of elders’ (or presbytery) there at Ephesus was to act like a star in shedding heavenly, spiritual light upon the congregation over which the holy spirit had made them shepherds.”
Main Points to Recall
□ What proof do we have that Christ closely followed the activities of first-century congregations?
□ Whom did Christ appoint over all his “belongings,” and what do these include?
□ Who are symbolized by the seven stars in Christ’s right hand?
□ How does Christ use the holy spirit, angels, and the anointed Governing Body in leading his congregation today?
□ Why can we have complete confidence in Christ’s direction of things today?
[Box on page 20]
Tests that come because of wars, revolutions or outright persecution and official bans may make it impossible for you to carry on Christian worship in a fully organized manner. Circumstances may develop making it impossible to hold large congregation meetings. Contact with the branch office may temporarily be broken off. Visits by circuit overseers may be interrupted. New publications may not arrive. If any of these things happen to you, what should you do?
The answer is: Under the circumstances, do whatever you can, and as much as you can, in the way of pure worship. Personal study should be possible. Usually small groups of brothers can meet for study in homes. Publications studied in the past and the Bible itself can be used as a basis for meetings. Do not become excited or worried. Generally, in a short time some form of communication with responsible brothers will be established. The Governing Body seeks to find ways of getting in touch with the brothers.
But even if you find yourself isolated from all your Christian brothers, keep in mind that you are not isolated from Jehovah and his Son Jesus Christ.—Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry, page 168.
[Picture on page 17]
Christ is symbolically in the midst of the congregations, holding the overseers in his right hand