Christian Witnesses With Heavenly Citizenship
“As for us, our citizenship exists in the heavens.”—PHILIPPIANS 3:20.
1. What wonderful purpose does Jehovah have regarding some humans?
INDIVIDUALS born as humans will reign as kings and priests in heaven, even over angels. (1 Corinthians 6:2, 3; Revelation 20:6) What an amazing truth that is! Yet, Jehovah purposed it, and he brings it about through his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Why does our Creator do such a thing? And how should knowledge of it affect a Christian today? Let us see how the Bible answers these questions.
2. What new thing did John the Baptizer announce that Jesus would do, and what was this new thing related to?
2 When John the Baptizer was preparing the way for Jesus, he announced that Jesus would do something new. The record says: “[John] would preach, saying: ‘After me someone stronger than I am is coming; I am not fit to stoop and untie the laces of his sandals. I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with holy spirit.’” (Mark 1:7, 8) Before that time, no one had been baptized with holy spirit. This was a new arrangement involving holy spirit, and it had to do with Jehovah’s about-to-be-revealed purpose to prepare humans for heavenly rulership.
3. What new things about the Kingdom of heaven did Jesus explain to Nicodemus?
3 In a secret meeting with a prominent Pharisee, Jesus revealed more about this divine purpose. The Pharisee, Nicodemus, came to Jesus at night, and Jesus said to him: “Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Nicodemus, who as a Pharisee must have studied the Hebrew Scriptures, knew something about the grand truth of the Kingdom of God. The book of Daniel prophesied that the Kingdom would be given to “someone like a son of man” and to “the people who are the holy ones of the Supreme One.” (Daniel 7:13, 14, 27) The Kingdom was to “crush and put an end” to all other kingdoms and to stand forever. (Daniel 2:44) Likely, Nicodemus thought that these prophecies would be fulfilled with regard to the Jewish nation; but Jesus said that to see the Kingdom, one had to be born again. Nicodemus did not understand, so Jesus went on to say: “Unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”—John 3:5.
4. For those born from holy spirit, how would their relationship with Jehovah change?
4 John the Baptizer had spoken of baptism with holy spirit. Now, Jesus adds that an individual must be born from holy spirit if he is to enter into the Kingdom of God. By this unique birth, imperfect men and women enter into a very special relationship with Jehovah God. They become his adopted children. We read: “As many as did receive [Jesus], to them he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith in his name; and they were born, not from blood or from a fleshly will or from man’s will, but from God.”—John 1:12, 13; Romans 8:15.
Children of God
5. When were the faithful disciples baptized with holy spirit, and what related operations of holy spirit occurred at the same time?
5 When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, holy spirit had already come upon Jesus, anointing him for his future kingship in God’s Kingdom, and God had publicly acknowledged Jesus as His Son. (Matthew 3:16, 17) Jehovah begot more spiritual children at Pentecost 33 C.E. Faithful disciples gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem were baptized with holy spirit. At the same time, they were born again from holy spirit to be God’s spiritual sons. (Acts 2:2-4, 38; Romans 8:15) Further, they were anointed with holy spirit with a view to a future heavenly inheritance, and they were sealed in an initial way with holy spirit as a token of the certainty of that heavenly hope.—2 Corinthians 1:21, 22.
6. What is Jehovah’s purpose regarding the heavenly Kingdom, and why is it fitting that humans should have a part in this?
6 These were the first imperfect humans chosen by God to enter into the Kingdom. That is, after their death and resurrection, they were to become part of the heavenly Kingdom organization that would rule over humans and angels. Jehovah purposes that by means of this Kingdom, his great name will be sanctified and his sovereignty vindicated before all creation. (Matthew 6:9, 10; John 12:28) How fitting that humans have a part in that Kingdom! Satan used humans when raising his first challenge against Jehovah’s sovereignty back in the garden of Eden, and now Jehovah purposes that humans will be involved in answering that challenge. (Genesis 3:1-6; John 8:44) The apostle Peter wrote to individuals chosen to rule in that Kingdom: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for according to his great mercy he gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance. It is reserved in the heavens for you.”—1 Peter 1:3, 4.
7. What unique relationship with Jesus is enjoyed by those baptized with holy spirit?
7 As adopted sons of God, these chosen Christians became brothers of Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:16, 17; 9:4, 26; Hebrews 2:11) Since Jesus proved to be the Seed promised to Abraham, these spirit-anointed Christians are an associate, or subsidiary, part of that Seed, which would confer a blessing upon believing mankind. (Genesis 22:17, 18; Galatians 3:16, 26, 29) What blessing? The opportunity of being redeemed from sin and reconciled to God and of serving him now and for eternity. (Matthew 4:23; 20:28; John 3:16, 36; 1 John 2:1, 2) Anointed Christians on earth point righthearted ones to this blessing by bearing witness to their spiritual brother Jesus Christ and to their adoptive Father, Jehovah God.—Acts 1:8; Hebrews 13:15.
8. What is the “revealing” of the spirit-begotten sons of God?
8 The Bible speaks of a “revealing” of these spirit-begotten sons of God. (Romans 8:19) Entering into the Kingdom as associate kings with Jesus, they share in destroying Satan’s world system of things. Afterward, for a thousand years, they help to channel the benefits of the ransom sacrifice to mankind and thus raise the human race to the perfection that Adam lost. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10; Revelation 2:26, 27; 20:6; 22:1, 2) Their revealing includes all of this. It is something that the believing human creation eagerly awaits.
9. How does the Bible refer to the worldwide body of anointed Christians?
9 The worldwide body of anointed Christians is “the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens.” (Hebrews 12:23) They are the first to benefit from Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. They are also “Christ’s body,” which shows their intimate relationship with one another and with Jesus. (1 Corinthians 12:27) Paul wrote: “Just as the body is one but has many members, and all the members of that body, although being many, are one body, so also is the Christ. For truly by one spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink one spirit.”—1 Corinthians 12:12, 13; Romans 12:5; Ephesians 1:22, 23; 3:6.
“The Israel of God”
10, 11. In the first century, why was a new Israel needed, and who made up this new nation?
10 For more than 1,500 years prior to Jesus’ coming as the promised Messiah, the fleshly nation of Israel was Jehovah’s special people. Despite constant reminders, the nation as a whole proved unfaithful. When Jesus appeared, the nation rejected him. (John 1:11) Thus, Jesus told the Jewish religious leaders: “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.” (Matthew 21:43) Recognizing that “nation producing [the] fruits [of the Kingdom]” is vital for salvation.
11 The new nation is the anointed Christian congregation, born at Pentecost 33 C.E. Its first members were Jewish disciples of Jesus who accepted him as their heavenly King. (Acts 2:5, 32-36) However, they were members of God’s new nation, not on the basis of their Jewish descent, but on the basis of faith in Jesus. Thus, this new Israel of God was something unique—a spiritual nation. When the majority of the Jews refused to accept Jesus, the invitation to be part of the new nation was extended to the Samaritans and then to the Gentiles. The new nation was called “the Israel of God.”—Galatians 6:16.
12, 13. How did it become clear that the new Israel was not just a sect of Judaism?
12 In ancient Israel, when non-Jews became proselytes, they had to submit to the Mosaic Law, and males had to symbolize this by getting circumcised. (Exodus 12:48, 49) Some Jewish Christians felt that the same should apply to non-Jews in the Israel of God. However, Jehovah had something different in mind. Holy spirit directed the apostle Peter to the home of the Gentile Cornelius. When Cornelius and his family responded to Peter’s preaching, they received holy spirit—even before they were baptized in water. This showed clearly that Jehovah had accepted these Gentiles as members of the Israel of God without demanding that they submit to the Mosaic Law.—Acts 10:21-48.
13 A number of believers found this hard to accept, and soon the whole matter had to be discussed by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. That authoritative body listened to testimony detailing how holy spirit had been active upon non-Jewish believers. Bible research showed that this was in fulfillment of inspired prophecy. (Isaiah 55:5; Amos 9:11, 12) A correct decision was arrived at: Non-Jewish Christians did not have to submit to the Mosaic Law. (Acts 15:1, 6-29) Thus, spiritual Israel was truly a new nation and not just a sect of Judaism.
14. What is implied by James’ calling the Christian congregation “the twelve tribes that are scattered about”?
14 In harmony with this, when writing to anointed Christians of the first century, the disciple James addressed his letter to “the twelve tribes that are scattered about.” (James 1:1; Revelation 7:3-8) Of course, citizens of the new Israel were not assigned to specific tribes. There was no division into 12 distinct tribes in spiritual Israel as there had been in fleshly Israel. Nevertheless, James’ inspired expression indicates that in Jehovah’s sight the Israel of God had completely replaced the 12 tribes of natural Israel. If a natural-born Israelite became part of the new nation, his fleshly descent—even if he was of the tribe of Judah or Levi—had no significance.—Galatians 3:28; Philippians 3:5, 6.
A New Covenant
15, 16. (a) How does Jehovah view non-Jewish members of the Israel of God? (b) On what legal basis was the new Israel established?
15 In Jehovah’s eyes, non-Israelite members of this new nation are full-fledged spiritual Jews! The apostle Paul explained: “He is not a Jew who is one on the outside, nor is circumcision that which is on the outside upon the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one on the inside, and his circumcision is that of the heart by spirit, and not by a written code. The praise of that one comes, not from men, but from God.” (Romans 2:28, 29) Many Gentiles responded to the invitation to be part of the Israel of God, and this development fulfilled Bible prophecy. For example, the prophet Hosea wrote: “I will show mercy to her who was not shown mercy, and I will say to those not my people: ‘You are my people’; and they, for their part, will say: ‘You are my God.’”—Hosea 2:23; Romans 11:25, 26.
16 If the spiritual Israelites were not under the Mosaic Law covenant, on what basis were they part of the new nation? Jehovah made a new covenant through Jesus with this spiritual nation. (Hebrews 9:15) When Jesus initiated the Memorial of his death, on Nisan 14, 33 C.E., he passed bread and wine to the 11 faithful apostles and said that the wine symbolized the “blood of the covenant.” (Matthew 26:28; Jeremiah 31:31-34) As related in Luke’s account, Jesus said that the cup of wine symbolized “the new covenant.” (Luke 22:20) In fulfillment of Jesus’ words, when the holy spirit was poured out at Pentecost and the Israel of God was born, the Kingdom was taken away from fleshly Israel and given to the new, spiritual nation. In place of fleshly Israel, this new nation was now Jehovah’s servant, composed of his witnesses.—Isaiah 43:10, 11.
17, 18. What descriptions are given in the book of Revelation of the glory that awaits anointed Christians?
17 What glory awaits those privileged to share in the heavenly calling! And what a delight it is to learn of the wonders that await them! The book of Revelation gives us thrilling glimpses of their heavenly inheritance. For example, at Revelation 4:4, we read: “Round about the throne [of Jehovah] there are twenty-four thrones, and upon these thrones I saw seated twenty-four elders dressed in white outer garments, and upon their heads golden crowns.” These 24 elders are anointed Christians, resurrected and now occupying the heavenly position Jehovah promised them. Their crowns and thrones remind us of their royalty. Think, too, of their wondrously high privilege of serving around Jehovah’s throne!
18 At Revelation 14:1, we catch another glimpse of them: “I saw, and, look! the Lamb standing upon the Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand having his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.” Here we see the limited number of these anointed ones—144,000. Their royal status is discerned in that they stand with Jehovah’s enthroned King, “the Lamb,” Jesus. And they are on heavenly Mount Zion. Earthly Mount Zion was the location of Jerusalem, Israel’s royal city. Heavenly Mount Zion represents the exalted position of Jesus and his joint heirs, who make up heavenly Jerusalem.—2 Chronicles 5:2; Psalm 2:6.
19, 20. (a) Of what heavenly organization will anointed Christians be a part? (b) Over what period of time did Jehovah select those whose citizenship would be in the heavens?
19 In harmony with this, the anointed in their heavenly glory are also spoken of as “New Jerusalem.” (Revelation 21:2) Earthly Jerusalem was “the city of the great King” and also the location of the temple. (Matthew 5:35) The heavenly New Jerusalem is the royal Kingdom organization through which the great Sovereign, Jehovah, and his appointed King, Jesus, now rule and in which priestly service is performed as rich blessings flow from Jehovah’s throne for the healing of mankind. (Revelation 21:10, 11; 22:1-5) In another vision John hears faithful, resurrected, anointed Christians referred to as ‘the Lamb’s wife.’ What a warm picture this paints of the intimacy they will enjoy with Jesus and of their willing subjection to him! Picture the joy in heaven when the last of them finally receives his heavenly reward. Now, at last, “the marriage of the Lamb” can take place! That royal heavenly organization will then be complete.—Revelation 19:6-8.
20 Yes, wonderful blessings are in store for those of whom the apostle Paul said: “As for us, our citizenship exists in the heavens.” (Philippians 3:20) For almost two thousand years, Jehovah has been selecting his spiritual children and preparing them for a heavenly inheritance. According to all the evidence, this work of selection and preparation is about complete. But there was more to follow, as revealed to John in his vision recorded in Revelation chapter 7. So now, another group of Christians demands our attention, and we will consider this group in the next article.
Do You Remember?
□ What are the different operations of the spirit upon those with a heavenly inheritance?
□ What intimate relationship do the anointed enjoy with Jehovah? with Jesus?
□ How is the congregation of anointed Christians described in the Bible?
□ On what legal basis was the Israel of God established?
□ What heavenly privileges await anointed Christians?
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Over a period of almost two thousand years, Jehovah chose those who would rule in the heavenly Kingdom