Hear What the Spirit Says to the Congregations
The information on pages 10 to 21 was presented at the Divine Justice District Conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses during 1988 as the opening talks of the symposium entitled “The Appointed Time Is Near.”
“Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations.”—REVELATION 3:22.
1. What words of Revelation are good news in this unhappy age, and what are the “prophecy” and “the appointed time” referred to?
SOME years ago a sociologist in the United States commented that people in that land had too much freedom but not enough happiness. People, he added, “find that happiness has escaped them. The paradise they promised themselves has proved empty.” In view of this, the words of the apostle John at Revelation 1:3 are good news, for he tells us how to find happiness. John wrote: “Happy is he who reads aloud and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and who observe the things written in it; for the appointed time is near.” The “prophecy” he is referring to is the one recorded in the book of Revelation. And “the appointed time” is the time when this Revelation prophecy must be fulfilled. John’s words have deep significance for us today.
2. What must John have been wondering as the first century drew to a close?
2 More than 60 years before he wrote the book of Revelation, John was present at Pentecost when the anointed Christian congregation was established. Now, in 96 C.E., that congregation had grown from its original 120 members to a large, international organization. But there had been problems. Just as Jesus, Paul, and Peter had warned, apostasies and sects were beginning to appear, and John must have wondered what the future held.—Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Peter 2:1-3.
3. Of what were the visions that John saw and recorded in Revelation a guarantee?
3 Imagine his happiness, then, when he received “a revelation by Jesus Christ, which God gave him, to show his slaves the things that must shortly take place.” (Revelation 1:1) In a series of magnificent visions, John saw that Jehovah’s purposes would be fulfilled and that the endurance of faithful Christians would be wonderfully rewarded. He also received messages from Jesus for seven congregations; these were, in effect, Jesus’ final direct counsel to Christians before His coming in Kingdom glory.
The Seven Congregations
4. (a) What is the responsibility of faithful Christian congregations? (b) What is implied by the fact that anointed elders are seen as seven stars in the right hand of Christ?
4 These seven congregations of anointed Christians were represented as seven lampstands, and the anointed elders within them were represented as seven stars in the right hand of Christ. (Revelation 1:12, 16) By this vivid image, John saw that faithful Christian congregations must be light bearers, like lighted lampstands in a darkened world. (Matthew 5:14-16) Jesus’ holding the elders in his right hand showed that he leads the elders, guiding and governing them.
5. To whom in John’s day were the messages to the seven congregations directed?
5 Jesus tells John: “What you see write in a scroll and send it to the seven congregations, in Ephesus and in Smyrna and in Pergamum and in Thyatira and in Sardis and in Philadelphia and in Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:11) These congregations really existed in John’s day, and we can be sure that when John finished writing Revelation, each congregation received a copy. But notice what Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible states about Revelation: “Hardly any other book in the N[ew] T[estament] is so well attested in the 2nd cent[ury].” This means that the book of Revelation was known and read not only by Christians in the seven congregations but by many others who wanted to study the words of the prophecy. Indeed, Jesus’ counsel was for all anointed Christians.
6, 7. (a) When do the words of Revelation primarily apply, and how do we know this? (b) Who today are represented by the seven stars and by the seven congregations?
6 But these messages to the seven congregations have an even wider application. At Revelation 1:10, John says: “By inspiration I came to be in the Lord’s day.” This verse is an important key to unlocking the understanding of Revelation. It indicates that it applies primarily to “the Lord’s day,” which began when Jesus became King in 1914. This understanding is confirmed by Jesus’ messages to the seven congregations. In them we find expressions such as these words to Pergamum: “I am coming to you quickly.” (Revelation 2:16; 3:3, 11) After 96 C.E., Jesus did not ‘come’ in any significant way until he was enthroned as King in 1914. (Acts 1:9-11) Then, in fulfillment of Malachi 3:1, he ‘came’ again in 1918, when he came to Jehovah’s temple to judge first the household of God. (1 Peter 4:17) He will ‘come’ once more, in the near future, when he “brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.”—2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8; Matthew 24:42-44.
7 With this in mind, we understand that the seven congregations picture all congregations of anointed Christians after 1914, and the seven stars represent all anointed elders in those congregations. Moreover, elders who are of the “other sheep” are also, by extension, in Jesus’ right hand of control. (John 10:16) And the counsel to the seven congregations applies in principle to all the congregations of God’s people today around the world, including those made up of Christians with an earthly hope.
8. What situation did Jesus find when he came to inspect professed Christians in 1918?
8 When Jesus came to inspect professed Christians in 1918, he found anointed Christians on earth trying hard to observe the words of the prophecy. Since the 1870’s they had been warning people of the importance of the year 1914. They had suffered much at the hands of Christendom during the first world war, and in 1918 their work virtually ceased when the leading officials of the Watch Tower Society were imprisoned on false charges. But their experiences at that time match the prophecies in Revelation to a marvelous degree. And their determination to heed Jesus’ words to the seven congregations identified them without a doubt as the only light-bearing Christians in this benighted world. Today, this remnant makes up a John class that lives to see and participate in the fulfillments of many parts of Revelation.
Counsel and Commendation
9, 10. The fulfillment of what words of Jesus has brought great happiness to modern-day Christians? Explain.
9 At Revelation 3:8, Jesus said to the congregation in Philadelphia: “I know your deeds—look! I have set before you an opened door, which no one can shut—that you have a little power, and you kept my word and did not prove false to my name.” Evidently, Christians in Philadelphia had been active, and now a door of opportunity was opening up for them.
10 The modern-day reality of this message made God’s people very happy. After their trialsome experiences in 1918, they were spiritually restored, and in 1919 Jesus opened a door of opportunity for them. They walked through that door when they accepted the commission to preach the good news of the Kingdom to all the nations. With Jehovah’s spirit upon them, nothing could hinder this work, and these faithful Christians had the great privilege of fulfilling a major feature of the sign of Jesus’ presence. (Matthew 24:3, 14) As a result of their faithful preaching activity, remaining ones of the 144,000 were called and anointed, and the “great crowd” was gathered in great numbers. (Revelation 7:1-3, 9) What joy this has brought to God’s people!
11. How did sectarians try to corrupt Jehovah’s organization in John’s day, and how have they done so in our own day?
11 Can anything rob them of this joy? Yes. For example, the elders in Pergamum, despite a fine record of endurance, were unable to keep the teaching of the sect of Nicolaus out of the congregation. (Revelation 2:15) Sectarianism was taking hold. Similarly, throughout these last days, some individuals have apostatized and tried to corrupt Jehovah’s organization. The elders as a whole have resisted them, but, sadly, certain ones have been misled. May we never allow apostates to rob us of our joy!
12. (a) What is a Balaam and a Jezebel influence? (b) Has Satan tried to introduce a Balaam or a Jezebel influence into the Christian congregation in modern times?
12 Jesus also warned the congregation in Pergamum against those “holding fast the teaching of Balaam.” (Revelation 2:14) What teaching was this? Someone in Pergamum was corrupting Christians there in the same way that Balaam corrupted the Israelites in the wilderness: by encouraging them “to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication.” (Numbers 25:1-5; 31:8) Jesus warned the congregation in Thyatira against “that woman Jezebel.” This woman too was teaching Christians “to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Revelation 2:20) Has Satan tried to introduce a Balaam or a Jezebel influence into the Christian congregation today? He certainly has, to the extent that almost 40,000 a year are disfellowshipped, most because of immorality. What a tragedy! Both Balaam-like men and Jezebel-like women have rebelled against the elders and tried to corrupt the congregation. May we resist such unclean influences with all our might!—1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 John 5:21.
13. (a) Describe Jesus’ disgust at lukewarmness. (b) Why were the Laodiceans lukewarm, and how can we avoid this weakness today?
13 At Revelation 3:15, 16, Jesus said to the congregation in Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or else hot. So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” What a graphic description of the disgust Jesus feels at lukewarmness! He continues: “You say: ‘I am rich and have acquired riches and do not need anything at all.’” Yes, materialism had seduced Christians in Laodicea. They were self-satisfied and apathetic. But Jesus said to them: “You do not know you are miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17) Do we want to be “miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked” in Jesus’ eyes? Of course not! So let us by all means fight against being materialistic or lukewarm.—1 Timothy 6:9-12.
Endure to the End
14. (a) What hardships were faced by the congregation in Smyrna? (b) What modern parallels are there to Smyrna’s experiences?
14 A congregation that was not lukewarm was that in Smyrna. To these Christians, Jesus said: “I know your tribulation and poverty—but you are rich—and the blasphemy by those who say they themselves are Jews, and yet they are not but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. Look! The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison that you may be fully put to the test, and that you may have tribulation ten days.” (Revelation 2:8-10) How this matches the experience of Christians today! Modern Christians, both anointed and other sheep, have also endured fierce opposition from today’s “synagogue of Satan,” Christendom. From the first world war until now, thousands of men, women, and children have been beaten, imprisoned, tortured, raped, or killed for refusing to compromise their integrity.
15, 16. (a) How can anointed Christians be happy despite suffering persecution? (b) What special rewards awaiting the other sheep help them to be happy also?
15 Do such experiences bring happiness? Not in themselves. But like the apostles, faithful Christians who endure trials experience a deep inner joy at having “been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of [Jesus’] name.” (Acts 5:41) And they stay happy whatever their enemies do to them because they know that the appointed time is near for their integrity to be rewarded, and the reward is truly great. Jesus said to Christians in Smyrna: “Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10) And to those in Sardis he said: “He that conquers will thus be arrayed in white outer garments; and I will by no means blot out his name from the book of life.”—Revelation 3:5.
16 True, these promises apply specifically to anointed Christians, reminding them of the prize of immortal heavenly life that awaits them. But those who are of the other sheep are also strengthened by these words. Jehovah has a reward prepared for them too, provided they are zealous and endure. They have the glorious prospect of inheriting everlasting life on a paradise earth under the Kingdom in the hands of Christ. There they will find the Paradise that people of this world will fail to find.
17. With what words did Jesus conclude each message, and what do his words mean for us today?
17 Jesus concluded each of his messages to the congregations with the words: “Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations.” (Revelation 3:22) Yes, we must hear and obey the words of the Chief Shepherd. We must shun uncleanness and apostasy, and we must maintain our zeal. Our receiving the reward depends on it. And when we consider the further information in Revelation, we are even more determined to do just that.
The Seals of the Scroll
18. (a) What does Jesus receive in the heavenly court? (b) What do the rides of three of the horsemen of Revelation chapter 6 mean for mankind living today?
18 In Re chapters 4 and 5, for example, John sees a wondrous vision of Jehovah’s celestial court. The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, is there, and he receives a scroll with seven seals. In Re chapter 6, Jesus opens six of the seven seals, one after the other. When the first is opened, a rider on a white horse is seen. He is given a crown and rides forth “conquering and to complete his conquest.” (Revelation 6:2) This is Jesus, the newly crowned King. When he began his victorious, kingly ride in 1914, the Lord’s day began. When the next three seals are opened, three more horses with their riders appear. These are frightening manifestations, representing human warfare, famine, and death by pestilence and other causes. They confirm Jesus’ great prophecy that his heavenly presence in royal power would be marked on earth by great wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and other disasters. (Matthew 24:3, 7, 8; Luke 21:10, 11) Truly, Christians must heed Jesus’ words to the seven congregations if they are to endure at such a time.
19. (a) During the presence of Christ, what reward is given to faithful anointed Christians who have already died? (b) What horrendous events are foreshadowed by the opening of the sixth seal, leading to what question?
19 At the opening of the fifth seal, an event in the invisible spirit realm is revealed. Anointed Christians who have died for their faith are each given a white robe. Evidently, with the presence of Christ now a reality, the heavenly resurrection has begun. (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; Revelation 3:5) Then the sixth seal is opened, and “the earth,” Satan’s earthly system of things, is shaken by a great earthquake. (2 Corinthians 4:4) “The heaven” of human rulership under Satan’s control is rolled up like an old scroll, ready to be thrown away. Terrified, rebellious humans cry out in despair to the rock-masses: “Fall over us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”—Revelation 6:13, 14, 16, 17.
20. Who is able to stand during the great day of the wrath of Jehovah and of the Lamb?
20 And who is able to stand? Why, Jesus has already answered that question. Those who “hear what the spirit says to the congregations” will stand in that great day of wrath. And to confirm this, John goes on to learn of the sealing of the last ones of the 144,000 and the gathering of a great crowd out of all nations to survive “the great tribulation.” (Revelation 7:1-3, 14) But now it is time for the seventh seal of the scroll to be opened and more dramatic visions to be shown to John and, through him, to us today. The following article discusses some of these.
Do You Remember?
□ What is the relationship between Jesus and the congregation elders?
□ What problems confronted the elders in Pergamum and Thyatira, and how have similar problems affected the congregations today?
□ What serious mistake did the Laodicean congregation make, and how can we avoid making a similar mistake today?
□ How have Christians had to endure in this 20th century, and what promises of Jesus have helped them to do so?
□ How can we avoid the despair and hopelessness that the nations will experience at Armageddon?
[Pictures on page 13]
Some of the faithful Christians who suffered in Nazi concentration camps
DÖW, Vienna, Austria