Stay in the “City of Refuge” and Live!
“He ought to dwell in his city of refuge until the high priest’s death.”—NUMBERS 35:28.
1. Who is the Avenger of blood, and what action will he soon take?
JEHOVAH’S Avenger of blood, Jesus Christ, is about to strike. With his angelic forces, this Avenger will soon take action against all who are unrepentantly bloodguilty. Yes, Jesus will serve as God’s Executioner during the rapidly approaching “great tribulation.” (Matthew 24:21, 22; Isaiah 26:21) Mankind will then be brought face-to-face with their bloodguilt.
2. What is the only true place of refuge, and what questions require answers?
2 The way to safety is to get on the road to the antitypical city of refuge and run for one’s life! If admitted to the city, a refugee would have to remain there, for it is the only true place of refuge. But you may wonder, ‘Since most of us have never killed anyone, are we really bloodguilty? Why is Jesus the Avenger of blood? What is the modern-day city of refuge? Can anyone ever safely leave it?’
Are We Really Bloodguilty?
3. What feature of the Mosaic Law will help us to see that earth’s billions share bloodguilt?
3 A feature of the Mosaic Law will help us to see that earth’s billions share bloodguilt. God laid upon the Israelites a joint responsibility for bloodshed. If someone was found slain and his murderer was unknown, judges had to measure the distance to surrounding cities to determine the nearest city. To clear away guilt, the elders of that apparently bloodguilty city had to break the neck of a young, unworked cow in an uncultivated torrent valley. This was done before Levite priests ‘because Jehovah chose them to dispose of disputes over violent deeds.’ The city’s elders washed their hands over the cow and said: “Our hands did not shed this blood, neither did our eyes see it shed. Do not set it to the account of your people Israel, whom you redeemed, O Jehovah, and do not put the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel.” (Deuteronomy 21:1-9) Jehovah God did not want the land of Israel to be polluted with blood or its people to carry joint bloodguilt.
4. Babylon the Great has what record of bloodguiltiness?
4 Yes, there is such a thing as joint, or community, bloodguilt. Consider the immense bloodguilt that rests upon Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. Why, she is drunk with the blood of Jehovah’s servants! (Revelation 17:5, 6; 18:24) Christendom’s religions claim to follow the Prince of Peace, but wars, religious inquisitions, and death-dealing crusades have made her bloodguilty before God. (Isaiah 9:6; Jeremiah 2:34) In fact, she must bear major guilt for the deaths of millions in the two world wars of this century. Therefore, the adherents of false religion as well as the supporters and participants in human warfare are bloodguilty before God.
5. How have some people been like the unintentional manslayer in Israel?
5 Some people have caused human death willfully or through carelessness. Others have taken part in collective killing, perhaps persuaded by religious leaders that this was God’s will. Still others have persecuted and killed servants of God. Even if we have not done such things, though, we share community responsibility for the loss of human life because we did not know God’s law and will. We are like the unintentional manslayer ‘who killed his fellowman without knowing it and who did not hate him formerly.’ (Deuteronomy 19:4) Such individuals ought to implore God for mercy and should run into the antitypical city of refuge. Otherwise they will have a fatal meeting with the Avenger of blood.
Jesus’ Vital Roles
6. Why can it be said that Jesus is mankind’s closest relative?
6 In Israel the avenger of blood was the victim’s nearest kinsman. To avenge all those killed in the earth and especially the slain servants of Jehovah, the present-day Avenger of blood would have to be a kinsman of all mankind. That role has been filled by Jesus Christ. He was born a perfect man. Jesus surrendered his sinless life in death as a ransom sacrifice, and after his resurrection to heaven, he presented its value to God for the sake of sinful Adam’s dying descendants. Christ thus became mankind’s Redeemer, our closest relative—the rightful Avenger of blood. (Romans 5:12; 6:23; Hebrews 10:12) Jesus is identified as a brother to his anointed footstep followers. (Matthew 25:40, 45; Hebrews 2:11-17) As heavenly King he becomes the “Eternal Father” of those who will benefit from his sacrifice as his earthly subjects. These will live forever. (Isaiah 9:6, 7) So Jehovah has fittingly appointed this Kinsman of mankind as the Avenger of blood.
7. As the great High Priest, what does Jesus do for humans?
7 Jesus is also a sinless, tested, sympathetic High Priest. (Hebrews 4:15) In that capacity he applies the merit of his sin-atoning sacrifice to mankind. The cities of refuge were set up “for the sons of Israel and for the alien resident and for the settler in the midst of them.” (Numbers 35:15) So the great High Priest first applied the merit of his sacrifice to his anointed followers, “the sons of Israel.” Now it is being applied to the ‘alien residents’ and ‘settlers’ in the antitypical city of refuge. These “other sheep” of the Lord Jesus Christ hope to live forever on earth.—John 10:16; Psalm 37:29, 34.
Today’s City of Refuge
8. What is the antitypical city of refuge?
8 What is the antitypical city of refuge? It is not some geographical location like Hebron, one of the six Levite refuge cities and home of Israel’s high priest. Today’s city of refuge is God’s provision for protecting us from death for violating his commandment about the sanctity of blood. (Genesis 9:6) Whether willful or unintentional, every violator of that command must seek God’s forgiveness and the cancellation of his sin through faith in the blood of the High Priest, Jesus Christ. Anointed Christians with heavenly hopes and the “great crowd” with earthly prospects have availed themselves of the benefits of Jesus’ sin-atoning sacrifice and are in the antitypical city of refuge.—Revelation 7:9, 14; 1 John 1:7; 2:1, 2.
9. How did Saul of Tarsus violate God’s commandment about blood, but how did he display a change of attitude?
9 Before he became a Christian, the apostle Paul had violated the commandment about blood. As Saul of Tarsus, he persecuted Jesus’ followers and even approved of their murder. “Nevertheless,” said Paul, “I was shown mercy, because I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith.” (1 Timothy 1:13; Acts 9:1-19) Saul had a repentant attitude, later proved by many works of faith. But more than faith in the ransom is required in order to enter the antitypical city of refuge.
10. How is it possible to obtain a good conscience, and what must be done to maintain it?
10 An unintentional manslayer could stay in one of Israel’s cities of refuge only if he could prove that he had a good conscience toward God with regard to bloodshed. To obtain a good conscience, we must exercise faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, repent of our sins, and change our course. We need to request a good conscience in a prayerful dedication to God through Christ, symbolizing this by water baptism. (1 Peter 3:20, 21) This good conscience allows us to attain a clean relationship with Jehovah. The only way to maintain a good conscience is to comply with God’s requirements and perform the work assigned to us in the antitypical city of refuge, even as refugees in the ancient refuge cities had to obey the Law and fulfill their work assignments. The principal work for Jehovah’s people today is that of declaring the Kingdom message. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) Doing that work will help us to be useful residents of the present-day city of refuge.
11. What must be avoided if we are to remain safely within today’s city of refuge?
11 To leave today’s city of refuge is to expose ourselves to destruction, for the Avenger of blood will soon go into action against all who are bloodguilty. This is no time to be caught outside this protective city or in a dangerous area near the outer edge of its pasture grounds. We would end up outside the antitypical city of refuge if we lost faith in the High Priest’s sin-atoning sacrifice. (Hebrews 2:1; 6:4-6) We also would not be safe if we adopted worldly ways, stood at the fringes of Jehovah’s organization, or deviated from our heavenly Father’s righteous standards.—1 Corinthians 4:4.
Freed From the City of Refuge
12. How long must formerly bloodguilty ones stay in the antitypical city of refuge?
12 An unintentional manslayer in Israel had to remain in a city of refuge “until the high priest’s death.” (Numbers 35:28) So how long must formerly bloodguilty ones stay in the antitypical refuge city? Until they no longer need the services of the High Priest, Jesus Christ. “He is able also to save completely those who are approaching God through him,” said Paul. (Hebrews 7:25) As long as any taints of sin and former bloodguilt continue, the services of the High Priest are needed so that imperfect humans can have a right standing with God.
13. Who are the present-day “sons of Israel,” and how long must they stay in the “city of refuge”?
13 Remember that the ancient cities of refuge were established for “the sons of Israel,” the alien residents, and the settlers. “The sons of Israel” are spiritual Israelites. (Galatians 6:16) They must stay in the antitypical city of refuge as long as they live on earth. Why? Because they are still in the imperfect flesh and therefore need the atoning merit of their heavenly High Priest. But when these anointed Christians die and are resurrected to spirit life in heaven, they no longer need the High Priest’s atoning services; they will forever have left the flesh and bloodguilt attached to it. Toward such resurrected anointed ones, the High Priest will have died in an atoning, protective capacity.
14. What else requires that those with heavenly prospects stay in today’s refuge city?
14 The very possession of human nature requires that those who will be heavenly “joint heirs with Christ” stay in the antitypical refuge city until they faithfully finish their earthly course in death. When they die, they will sacrifice human nature forever. (Romans 8:17; Revelation 2:10) Jesus’ sacrifice applies only to those having human nature. Hence, the High Priest dies toward those of spiritual Israel when they are resurrected as spirit creatures who will reside eternally in heaven as “sharers in divine nature.”—2 Peter 1:4.
15. Who are the modern-day ‘alien residents’ and ‘settlers,’ and what will the great High Priest do for them?
15 When will the High Priest “die” with regard to the modern-day ‘alien residents’ and ‘settlers,’ allowing them to leave the antitypical city of refuge? These members of the great crowd cannot come out of this refuge city immediately after the great tribulation. Why not? Because they will still be in their imperfect, sinful flesh and will need to remain under the High Priest’s protection. By availing themselves of his atoning services during his thousand-year kingship and priesthood, they will attain to human perfection. Jesus will then present them to God for a final, eternally decisive test of their integrity by the loosing of Satan and his demons for a little while. Because they pass this test with divine approval, Jehovah will declare them righteous. Thus they will reach the very fullness of human perfection.—1 Corinthians 15:28; Revelation 20:7-10.*
16. When will survivors of the great tribulation have no further need for the High Priest’s atoning services?
16 So, then, survivors of the great tribulation will have to maintain a good conscience by staying in the antitypical refuge city until the end of Christ’s Thousand Year Reign. As perfected humans, they will have no further need for the High Priest’s atoning services and will come out from under his protection. Jesus will then die to them as High Priest, for he will no longer need to act in their behalf with the cleansing blood of his sacrifice. At that time they will leave the antitypical city of refuge.
17. Why will it not be necessary for those resurrected during Christ’s Thousand Year Reign to enter the antitypical city of refuge and stay there?
17 Must those resurrected during Jesus’ Thousand Year Reign enter the antitypical city of refuge and remain there until the death of the high priest? No, because by dying they paid the penalty for their sinfulness. (Romans 6:7; Hebrews 9:27) Nevertheless, the High Priest will help them to reach perfection. If they successfully pass the final test after the Millennium, God will also declare them righteous with a guarantee of eternal life on earth. Of course, failure to comply with God’s requirements will bring condemnatory judgment and destruction upon any humans who do not pass the final test as integrity keepers.
18. Regarding Jesus’ kingship and priesthood, what will remain with mankind forever?
18 Israelite high priests eventually died. But Jesus “has become a high priest according to the manner of Melchizedek forever.” (Hebrews 6:19, 20; 7:3) So the cessation of Jesus’ office as a mediating High Priest toward mankind does not end his life. The good effects of his service as King and High Priest will remain with mankind forever, and humans will be eternally indebted to him for his having served in these capacities. Moreover, throughout eternity Jesus will take the lead in the pure worship of Jehovah.—Philippians 2:5-11.
Valuable Lessons for Us
19. What lesson concerning hatred and love can be learned from the provision of cities of refuge?
19 We can learn various lessons from the provision of cities of refuge. For instance, no manslayer with murderous hatred for his victim was allowed to dwell in a refuge city. (Numbers 35:20, 21) So how could anyone in the antitypical city of refuge allow hatred for a brother to develop in his heart? “Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer,” wrote the apostle John, “and you know that no manslayer has everlasting life remaining in him.” Let us therefore “continue loving one another, because love is from God.”—1 John 3:15; 4:7.
20. For protection from the Avenger of blood, what must those in the antitypical city of refuge do?
20 For protection from the avenger of blood, unintentional manslayers had to stay in a city of refuge and not stray beyond its pasture grounds. What about those in the antitypical city of refuge? For safety from the great Avenger of blood, they must not leave the city. Indeed, they need to guard against enticements to go to the edge of the pasture grounds, so to speak. They must be careful not to let love for Satan’s world develop in their hearts. This may call for prayer and effort, but their lives depend on it.—1 John 2:15-17; 5:19.
21. What rewarding work is being done by those in today’s city of refuge?
21 Unintentional manslayers in the ancient cities of refuge had to be productive workers. Similarly, the anointed “sons of Israel” have set a fine example as harvest workers and Kingdom proclaimers. (Matthew 9:37, 38; Mark 13:10) As ‘alien residents’ and ‘settlers’ in today’s refuge city, Christians with earthly prospects are privileged to do this lifesaving work alongside anointed ones still on earth. And what rewarding work this is! Those working faithfully in the antitypical city of refuge will escape eternal death at the hands of the Avenger of blood. Instead, they will derive eternal benefits from his service as God’s great High Priest. Will you stay in the city of refuge and live forever?
How Would You Answer?
□ Why can it be said that earth’s billions are bloodguilty?
□ What roles does Jesus Christ fill with regard to mankind?
□ What is the antitypical city of refuge, and how does one enter it?
□ When will people be freed from the antitypical refuge city?
□ What valuable lessons can we learn from the provision of cities of refuge?
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Do you know what vital roles are filled by Jesus Christ?