Part 2—Flashes of Light—Great and Small
“By light from you we can see light.”—PSALM 36:9.
1. What early effort was made to understand the symbolism of the book of Revelation?
THE Bible book of Revelation has intrigued Christians from early times. It provides a fine example of how the light of truth grows ever brighter. In 1917, Jehovah’s people published an explanation of Revelation in the book The Finished Mystery. It fearlessly exposed Christendom’s religious and political leaders, but many of its explanations were borrowed from various sources. Still, The Finished Mystery served to test the Bible Students’ loyalty to the visible channel Jehovah was using.
2. The article “Birth of the Nation” shed what light on the book of Revelation?
2 A striking flash of light shone on the book of Revelation with the publication of the article “Birth of the Nation” in The Watch Tower of March 1, 1925. It had been thought that Revelation chapter 12 described a war between pagan Rome and papal Rome, with the male child representing the papacy. But that article showed that Revelation 11:15-18 had a bearing on the meaning of chapter 12, indicating that it relates to the birth of God’s Kingdom.
3. What publications shed increased light on Revelation?
3 All of this led to a much clearer understanding of Revelation that came with the publication of Light, in two volumes, in 1930. Still more refinements appeared in “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules! (1963) and “Then Is Finished the Mystery of God” (1969). Yet, there was still more to learn about the prophetic book of Revelation. Yes, brighter light shone on it in 1988, with the publication of Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand! The key to this progressive enlightenment might be said to be the fact that the prophecy of Revelation applies in “the Lord’s day,” which began in 1914. (Revelation 1:10) The book of Revelation would therefore be understood more clearly as that day progressed.
“The Higher Powers” Clarified
4, 5. (a) How did the Bible Students view Romans 13:1? (b) What was later seen to be the Scriptural position regarding “the higher powers”?
4 A bright flash of light was seen in 1962 in connection with Romans 13:1, which says: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers [“superior authorities,” New World Translation].” (King James Version) The early Bible Students understood that “the higher powers” mentioned there referred to worldly authorities. They took this scripture to mean that if a Christian was drafted in wartime, he would be obligated to put on a uniform, shoulder a gun, and go to the front, to the trenches. It was felt that since a Christian could not kill a fellow human, he would be compelled to fire his gun into the air if worst came to worst.*
5 The Watchtower of November 15 and of December 1, 1962, shed clear light on the subject in discussing Jesus’ words at Matthew 22:21: “Pay back . . . Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” Relevant were the apostles’ words at Acts 5:29: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” Christians are subject to Caesar—“the higher powers”—only so long as this does not require that the Christian go contrary to God’s law. Subjection to Caesar was seen to be relative, not absolute. Christians pay back to Caesar only what does not conflict with God’s requirements. How satisfying it was to have clear light on that subject!
Flashes of Light on Organizational Matters
6. (a) To get away from the hierarchical structure prevalent in Christendom, what principle was adopted? (b) What was finally seen as the correct way for those having congregation oversight to be chosen?
6 There was the question of who should serve as elders and deacons in the congregations. To get away from the hierarchical structure prevalent in Christendom, it was concluded that these should be elected democratically by the vote of the members of each congregation. But increasing light contained in The Watchtower of September 1 and of October 15, 1932, showed that the Scriptures do not provide for elective elders. So these were replaced by a service committee, and a service director was chosen by the Society.
7. Flashes of light resulted in what improvements in the way servants in the congregation were appointed?
7 The Watchtower of June 1 and of June 15, 1938, contained flashes of light showing that the servants in the congregation were to be, not elected, but appointed, that is, appointed theocratically. In 1971 another flash of light showed that each congregation was not to be directed by just one congregation servant. Rather, each should have a body of elders, or overseers, assigned by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So by the increasing light over some 40 years, it became evident that elders as well as deacons, now known as ministerial servants, should be appointed by “the faithful and discreet slave,” through its Governing Body. (Matthew 24:45-47) This was in line with what took place in apostolic times. Men such as Timothy and Titus were appointed as overseers by the first-century governing body. (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:22; Titus 1:5-9) All of this is in striking fulfillment of Isaiah 60:17: “Instead of the copper I shall bring in gold, and instead of the iron I shall bring in silver, and instead of the wood, copper, and instead of the stones, iron; and I will appoint peace as your overseers and righteousness as your task assigners.”
8. (a) Increasing truth brought what improvements in the way the Society operated? (b) What are the committees of the Governing Body, and what are their respective spheres of activity or oversight?
8 There was also the matter of the operation of the Watch Tower Society. For many years the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses was synonymous with the board of directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, and matters were largely in the hands of its president. As shown in the 1977 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses (pages 258-9), in 1976 the Governing Body began to function with six committees, each assigned to care for certain aspects of the worldwide work. The Personnel Committee deals with personnel matters, including the interests of all who serve in the worldwide Bethel family. The Publishing Committee handles all secular and legal matters, such as property and printing. The Service Committee concerns itself with the witness work and supervises traveling overseers, pioneers, and the activities of congregation publishers. The Teaching Committee is responsible for congregation meetings, special assembly days, circuit assemblies, and district and international conventions as well as the various schools for the spiritual education of God’s people. The Writing Committee supervises the preparation and translation of publications in all forms, making sure that everything is in line with the Scriptures. The Chairman’s Committee cares for emergencies and other urgent matters.* Also in the 1970’s, branch offices of the Watch Tower Society began to be directed by a committee instead of an overseer.
Light Relating to Christian Conduct
9. How did the light of truth affect the relationship of Christians to the governments of the world?
9 Many flashes of light have pertained to Christian conduct. For instance, consider the matter of neutrality. A particularly bright flash of light beamed forth on this subject in the article “Neutrality” appearing in The Watchtower of November 1, 1939. How timely it was, coming just after the beginning of World War II! The article defined neutrality and showed that Christians must not get involved in political affairs or confrontations between nations. (Micah 4:3, 5; John 17:14, 16) This is a factor in their being hated by all the nations. (Matthew 24:9) The battles of ancient Israel provide no precedent for Christians, as Jesus makes plain at Matthew 26:52. Moreover, not one political nation today is a theocracy, ruled by God, as was ancient Israel.
10. What did flashes of light reveal as to how Christians should regard blood?
10 Light also shone on the sanctity of blood. Some Bible Students thought that the prohibition against the eating of blood, at Acts 15:28, 29, was limited to Jewish Christians. However, Acts 21:25 shows that in apostolic times this command was also applied to those of the nations who became believers. So the sanctity of blood applies to all Christians, as shown in The Watchtower of July 1, 1945. That means not just refusing to eat animal blood, as in blood sausage, but also abstaining from human blood, as in the case of blood transfusions.
11. What was seen regarding the Christian’s view of the use of tobacco?
11 As a result of increased light, habits at first merely frowned upon were later handled with appropriate gravity. An example of this was in connection with the use of tobacco. In Zion’s Watch Tower of August 1, 1895, Brother Russell directed attention to 1 Corinthians 10:31 and 2 Corinthians 7:1 and wrote: “I cannot see how it would be to God’s glory, or to his own profit, for any Christian to use tobacco in any form.” Since 1973 it has been clearly understood that no tobacco user can be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1976 it was clarified that no Witness could be employed in a gambling establishment and remain in the congregation.
12. (a) A flash of light revealed what about the number of keys of the Kingdom entrusted to Peter? (b) What were the circumstances when Peter used each key?
12 There has also been increased light on the number of symbolic keys Jesus gave to Peter. The Bible Students held that Peter received two keys that opened up the way for people to become Kingdom heirs—one for the Jews, used at Pentecost 33 C.E., and the other for the Gentiles, used first in 36 C.E. when Peter preached to Cornelius. (Acts 2:14-41; 10:34-48) In time, it was seen that there was a third group involved—the Samaritans. Peter used the second key when opening up the Kingdom opportunity to them. (Acts 8:14-17) Thus, the third key was used when Peter preached to Cornelius.—The Watchtower, October 1, 1979, pages 16-22, 26.
13. What did flashes of light reveal about the sheepfolds mentioned in John chapter 10?
13 From another ray of light, it was seen that Jesus referred not to just two but to three sheepfolds. (John, chapter 10) These were (1) the Jewish sheepfold of which John the Baptizer was the doorkeeper, (2) the fold of anointed Kingdom heirs, and (3) the fold of the “other sheep,” who have an earthly hope.—John 10:2, 3, 15, 16; The Watchtower, February 15, 1984, pages 10-20.
14. How did increased light clarify matters regarding the start of the antitypical Jubilee?
14 The understanding of the antitypical Jubilee also received some clarification. Under the Law, every 50th year was a grand Jubilee, in which things were restored to their original owners. (Leviticus 25:10) It was long understood that this foreshadowed the Thousand Year Reign of Christ. In more recent times, however, it was seen that the antitypical Jubilee actually began at Pentecost 33 C.E., when those receiving the poured-out holy spirit were set free from bondage to the Mosaic Law covenant.—The Watchtower, January 1, 1987, pages 18-28.
Increased Light on Terminology
15. What light was shed on the use of the word “plan”?
15 “The congregator sought to find the delightful words and the writing of correct words of truth.” (Ecclesiastes 12:10) These words might well be applied to our present subject, for light has shone not only on such important matters as doctrine and conduct but also on Christian terminology and its accurate meaning. For example, among the Bible Students, one of the most beloved publications was volume one of Studies in the Scriptures, entitled The Divine Plan of the Ages. However, in time, it was realized that God’s Word speaks only of humans as making plans. (Proverbs 19:21) The Scriptures never speak of Jehovah as planning. He does not need to plan. Whatever he purposes is sure to succeed because of his infinite wisdom and power, even as we read at Ephesians 1:9, 10: “It is according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself for an administration at the full limit of the appointed times.” So it was gradually seen that the term “purpose” is the more appropriate one when referring to Jehovah.
16. What was gradually seen to be the correct understanding of Luke 2:14?
16 Then there was the matter of getting a clearer understanding of Luke 2:14. According to the King James Version, it reads: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” It was seen that this did not express the correct thought, for God’s goodwill is not expressed toward the wicked. The Witnesses therefore viewed this as a matter of peace to men who were of goodwill toward God. So they kept referring to those interested in the Bible as persons of goodwill. But then it was understood that what was involved was goodwill, not on the part of men, but on the part of God. Thus, the New World Translation footnote on Luke 2:14 speaks of “men whom he [God] approves.” All Christians who are living up to their vow of dedication have God’s goodwill.
17, 18. What will Jehovah vindicate, and what will he sanctify?
17 Similarly, for a long time, Witnesses spoke of the vindication of Jehovah’s name. But had Satan called Jehovah’s name into question? For that matter, had any of Satan’s agents done so, as if Jehovah did not have a right to that name? No, not at all. It was not the name of Jehovah that was challenged and that needed to be vindicated. That is why the Watch Tower Society’s recent publications do not speak of Jehovah’s name as being vindicated. They speak of Jehovah’s sovereignty as being vindicated and of his name as being sanctified. This is in keeping with what Jesus told us to pray: “Let your name be sanctified.” (Matthew 6:9) Time and again, Jehovah said that he was going to sanctify his name, which the Israelites had not challenged but had profaned.—Ezekiel 20:9, 14, 22; 36:23.
18 Interestingly, in 1971, the book “The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah”—How? made this distinction: “Jesus Christ fights . . . for the vindication of Jehovah’s universal Sovereignty and for the glorification of Jehovah’s name.” (Pages 364-5) In 1973, God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached said: “The coming ‘great tribulation’ is the time for Almighty God Jehovah to vindicate his universal sovereignty and to sanctify his worthy name.” (Page 409) Then, in 1975, Man’s Salvation Out Of World Distress at Hand! stated: “The greatest event of universal history will then have been accomplished, the vindication of Jehovah’s universal sovereignty and the sanctification of his sacred name.”—Page 281.
19, 20. How can we show our appreciation for flashes of spiritual light?
19 How blessed Jehovah’s people are to be basking in all this spiritual light! In stark contrast, expressive of the spiritual darkness in which the leaders of Christendom find themselves is this statement by a clergyman: “Why sin? Why suffering? Why the devil? These are questions I want to ask the Lord when I get to heaven.” But Jehovah’s Witnesses can tell him why: Because of the issue of the rightfulness of Jehovah’s sovereignty and the question as to whether human creatures can maintain integrity to God in spite of the Devil’s opposition.
20 Through the years, flashes of light both great and small have been illuminating the pathway of Jehovah’s dedicated servants. This has been in fulfillment of such scriptures as Psalm 97:11 and Proverbs 4:18. But let us never forget that walking in the light means having appreciation for the increased light and living in harmony with it. As we have seen, this increased light involves both our conduct and our commission to preach.
In reaction to this view, The Watch Tower of June 1 and of June 15, 1929, interpreted “the higher powers” as being Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. It was primarily this position that was corrected in 1962.
The Watchtower of April 15, 1992, announced that selected brothers mainly of the “other sheep” were being assigned to assist the Governing Body committees, corresponding to the Nethinim of Ezra’s day.—John 10:16; Ezra 2:58.
Do You Recall?
□ What light has been shed on subjection to “the higher powers”?
□ Flashes of light have resulted in what organizational developments?
□ How has increased light affected Christian conduct?
□ Spiritual light has brought about what refinements in our understanding of certain Scriptural points?
[Picture Credit Line on page 25]
Keys on page 24: Drawing based on photo taken in Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution