Flashes of Light in Apostolic Times
“Light itself has flashed up for the righteous one, and rejoicing even for the ones upright in heart.”—PSALM 97:11.
1. How do Jehovah’s Witnesses today resemble the early Christians?
HOW much we, as true Christians, appreciate the words of Psalm 97:11! ‘Light has flashed up’ for us repeatedly. Indeed, some of us have seen Jehovah’s flashing illumination for decades. All of this reminds us of Proverbs 4:18, which reads: “The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” In our appreciation for the Scriptures instead of tradition, we Witnesses of Jehovah resemble the early Christians. Their attitude can be clearly seen from the historical books of the Christian Greek Scriptures and from its letters, written under divine inspiration.
2. What were among the first flashes of light that Jesus’ followers received?
2 Among the first flashes of light the early followers of Jesus Christ received were those having to do with the Messiah. Andrew told his brother Simon Peter: “We have found the Messiah.” (John 1:41) Some time later, the Father in heaven enabled the apostle Peter to testify to that effect when he said to Jesus Christ: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”—Matthew 16:16, 17; John 6:68, 69.
Light on Their Preaching Commission
3, 4. After his resurrection, what enlightenment did Jesus give his followers regarding their future activity?
3 After his resurrection, Jesus Christ gave flashes of light regarding an obligation resting on all his followers. Most likely it was to the 500 disciples assembled in Galilee that he said: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 15:6) Thereafter, all followers of Christ were to be preachers, and their preaching commission was not to be limited to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:6) Nor were they to perform John’s baptism in symbol of repentance for forgiveness of sins. Instead, they were to baptize people “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit.”
4 Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, his 11 faithful apostles asked: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” Instead of answering that question, Jesus gave further instructions about their preaching commission, saying: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” Until then, they had been witnesses solely of Jehovah, but now they would also be witnesses of Christ.—Acts 1:6-8.
5, 6. What flashes of light did Jesus’ disciples receive at Pentecost?
5 Just ten days later, what brilliant flashes of light Jesus’ followers received! On the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., for the first time, they appreciated the significance of Joel 2:28, 29: “I [Jehovah] shall pour out my spirit on every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will certainly prophesy. As for your old men, dreams they will dream. As for your young men, visions they will see. And even on the menservants and on the maidservants in those days I shall pour out my spirit.” Jesus’ disciples saw the holy spirit, in the form of tongues as if of fire, resting on the heads of all of them—about 120 men and women—assembled in Jerusalem.—Acts 1:12-15; 2:1-4.
6 Also on the day of Pentecost, the disciples first understood that the words of Psalm 16:10 applied to the resurrected Jesus Christ. The psalmist had said: “You [Jehovah God] will not leave my soul in Sheol. You will not allow your loyal one to see the pit.” The disciples realized that those words could not have applied to King David, for his tomb was with them until that day. No wonder about 3,000 of those who heard this new light explained were so convinced that they got baptized that very day!—Acts 2:14-41.
7. What brilliant light did the apostle Peter receive during his visit to the Roman army officer Cornelius?
7 For many centuries, the Israelites appreciated what God had said about them: “You people only have I known out of all the families of the ground.” (Amos 3:2) So it was indeed a brilliant flash of light that the apostle Peter and those accompanying him to the house of the Roman army officer Cornelius received when the holy spirit for the first time descended upon uncircumcised Gentile believers. It is noteworthy that this was the only time that the holy spirit was given before baptism. But it had to be that way. Otherwise, Peter would not have known that these uncircumcised Gentiles were qualified for baptism. Fully appreciating the significance of this phenomenon, Peter asked: “Can anyone forbid water so that these [Gentiles] might not be baptized who have received the holy spirit even as we have?” Of course, nobody present could rightly object, and the baptism of these Gentiles therefore took place.—Acts 10:44-48; compare Acts 8:14-17.
No More Circumcision
8. Why did some early Christians find it difficult to let go of circumcision?
8 A further bright flash of truth appeared in connection with the question of circumcision. The practice of circumcision had its beginning in 1919 B.C.E. with Jehovah’s covenant with Abraham. God then commanded Abraham that he and all other males of his household were to get circumcised. (Genesis 17:9-14, 23-27) So circumcision became an identifying mark of the descendants of Abraham. And how proud they were of this practice! As a result, “uncircumcised” came to be a term of contempt. (Isaiah 52:1; 1 Samuel 17:26, 27) It is easy to see why certain early Jewish Christians wanted to retain this symbol. Some of them had quite a discussion with Paul and Barnabas about this matter. To settle it, Paul and others went to Jerusalem to consult the Christian governing body.—Acts 15:1, 2.
9. What flashes of light were revealed to the early governing body, as recorded in Acts chapter 15?
9 This time, it was not by means of an obvious miracle that those early Christians received the light that circumcision was no longer a requirement for Jehovah’s servants. Rather, they received that increased light by searching the Scriptures, looking to the holy spirit for guidance, and hearing the experiences of Peter and Paul regarding the conversion of uncircumcised Gentiles. (Acts 15:6-21) The decision was issued in a letter that read in part: “The holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.” (Acts 15:28, 29) The early Christians were thus set free from the command to practice circumcision and from the other requirements of the Mosaic Law. Hence, Paul could tell the Galatian Christians: “For such freedom Christ set us free.”—Galatians 5:1.
Light in the Gospels
10. What were some of the flashes of light revealed in Matthew’s Gospel?
10 There is no question that the Gospel of Matthew, written about 41 C.E., contains many flashes of light for the benefit of its readers. Comparatively few of the first-century Christians had personally heard Jesus expound his teachings. In particular, Matthew’s Gospel emphasized that the theme of Jesus’ preaching was the Kingdom. And how strongly Jesus had stressed the importance of having the right motive! What flashes of light there were in his Sermon on the Mount, in his parables (such as those recorded in Mt chapter 13), and in his great prophecy in Mt chapters 24 and 25! All of this was brought to the attention of the early Christians in Matthew’s Gospel account, written only some eight years after Pentecost 33 C.E.
11. What can be said about the content of the Gospels of Luke and Mark?
11 About 15 years later, Luke penned his Gospel. While much of it is similar to Matthew’s account, 59 percent is additional. Luke recorded six of Jesus’ miracles and more than twice that many of His illustrations not mentioned by the other Gospel writers. Apparently just a few years later, Mark wrote his Gospel, placing emphasis on Jesus Christ as a man of action, a miracle worker. While Mark mostly related events previously covered by Matthew and Luke, he did record one parable that they did not. In that illustration, Jesus likened the Kingdom of God to seed that sprouts, grows tall, and bears fruit gradually.*—Mark 4:26-29.
12. To what extent did John’s Gospel provide further enlightenment?
12 Then there was John’s Gospel, written more than 30 years after Mark wrote his account. What a stream of light John threw on Jesus’ ministry, particularly through many references to His prehuman existence! Only John provides the account of Lazarus’ resurrection, and he alone gives us many of Jesus’ fine remarks to his faithful apostles as well as his heartwarming prayer on the night of his betrayal, as recorded in Joh chapters 13 to 17. In fact, it is said that 92 percent of John’s Gospel is unique.
Flashes of Light in Paul’s Letters
13. Why have some looked upon Paul’s letter to the Romans as though it were a Gospel?
13 The apostle Paul was especially used to bring flashes of truth to Christians living in apostolic times. For instance, there is Paul’s letter to the Romans, written about 56 C.E.—approximately the same time that Luke wrote his Gospel. In this letter Paul highlights the fact that righteousness is imputed as a result of God’s undeserved kindness and through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul’s emphasis on this aspect of the good news has caused some to view his letter to the Romans as if it were a fifth Gospel.
14-16. (a) In his first letter to Christians in Corinth, what light did Paul shed on the need for unity? (b) What further light as to conduct does First Corinthians contain?
14 Paul wrote about certain matters that were troubling the Christians in Corinth. His letter to the Corinthians includes much inspired counsel that has benefited Christians down to our day. To begin with, he had to enlighten the Corinthians as to the mistake they were making in forming personality cults around certain individuals. The apostle set them straight, boldly telling them: “I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.”—1 Corinthians 1:10-15.
15 Gross immorality was being tolerated in the Christian congregation at Corinth. A man there had taken his father’s wife, thus practicing ‘such fornication as was not found even among the nations.’ Plainly, Paul wrote: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” (1 Corinthians 5:1, 11-13) That was something new for the Christian congregation—disfellowshipping. Another matter on which the Corinthian congregation needed enlightenment had to do with the fact that some of its members were taking their spiritual brothers to worldly courts in order to settle grievances. Paul strongly rebuked them for doing this.—1 Corinthians 6:5-8.
16 Still another matter that plagued the congregation in Corinth had to do with sex relations. In 1 Corinthians chapter 7, Paul showed that because of the prevalence of sexual immorality, it would be good for every man to have his own wife and every woman her own husband. Paul also showed that while single persons are able to serve Jehovah with less distraction, not all had the gift of singleness. And if a woman’s husband should die, she would be free to get married again but “only in the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 7:39.
17. What light did Paul shed on the teaching of the resurrection?
17 What flashes of light the Lord used Paul to shed on the resurrection! With what sort of body will anointed Christians be raised? “It is sown a physical body, it is raised up a spiritual body,” wrote Paul. No fleshly bodies will be taken to heaven, for “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom.” Paul added that not all anointed ones will sleep in death but that during Jesus’ presence some will be raised to immortal life instantly at death.—1 Corinthians 15:43-53.
18. What light regarding the future did Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians contain?
18 In his letter to Christians in Thessalonica, Paul was used to throw light on the future. Jehovah’s day would come as a thief in the night. Paul also explained: “Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them just as the pang of distress upon a pregnant woman; and they will by no means escape.”—1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3.
19, 20. What flashes of light did the Christians in Jerusalem and Judea receive in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews?
19 By writing his letter to the Hebrews, Paul passed on flashes of light to the early Christians in Jerusalem and Judea. How powerfully he showed the superiority of the Christian system of worship over the Mosaic system of worship! Instead of following the Law transmitted by angels, Christians have faith in a salvation first spoken of by God’s Son, who is far superior to such angelic messengers. (Hebrews 2:2-4) Moses was a mere attendant in the house of God. However, Jesus Christ presides over the entire house. Christ is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, having a position far superior to the Aaronic priesthood. Paul also pointed out that the Israelites were unable to enter into God’s rest because of a lack of faith and obedience, but Christians enter into it because of their faithfulness and obedience.—Hebrews 3:1–4:11.
20 Then, too, the new covenant is far superior to the Law covenant. As prophesied 600 years earlier at Jeremiah 31:31-34, those in the new covenant have God’s law written in their hearts and enjoy true forgiveness of sins. Instead of having a high priest who had to offer sacrifices yearly for his own sins and those of the people, Christians have as their High Priest Jesus Christ, who is without sin and who once and for all offered a sacrifice for sins. Instead of entering a holy place made by hands to present his offering, he entered heaven itself, there to appear before the person of Jehovah. Moreover, animal sacrifices under the Mosaic Law covenant could not completely take away sins, or they would not have been offered annually. But Christ’s sacrifice, offered once for all time, does take away sins. All of this sheds light on the great spiritual temple, in the courtyards of which the anointed remnant and the “other sheep” serve today.—John 10:16; Hebrews 9:24-28.
21 Space does not permit giving more examples, such as flashes of light found in the letters of the apostle Peter and those of the disciples James and Jude. But the foregoing should suffice to show that Psalm 97:11 and Proverbs 4:18 had striking fulfillments in apostolic times. The truth began to advance from types and shadows to fulfillments and realities.—Galatians 3:23-25; 4:21-26.
22. What happened after the death of the apostles, and what will the next article show?
22 After the death of Jesus’ apostles and the onset of the foretold apostasy, the light of truth burned very low. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-11) True to Jesus’ promise, however, after many centuries the Master returned and found “the faithful and discreet slave” giving the “domestics” their food at the proper time. As a result, Jesus Christ appointed that slave “over all his belongings.” (Matthew 24:45-47) What flashes of light followed? This will be discussed in the following article.
The ground here refers to the environment in which the Christian chooses to cultivate qualities of personality.—See The Watchtower, June 15, 1980, pages 18-19.
Do You Recall?
□ What Bible texts show that understanding of the truth is progressive?
□ What are some of the flashes of light recorded in the book of Acts?
□ What light is found in the Gospels?
□ Paul’s letters contain what flashes of light?