Living for Today or for an Eternal Future?
“We were saved in this hope.”—ROMANS 8:24.
1. What did the Epicureans teach, and how did that kind of philosophy affect some Christians?
THE apostle Paul wrote to Christians living in Corinth: “How is it some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12) Apparently, the poisonous philosophy of the Greek sage Epicurus had made some inroads among the first-century Christians. Thus Paul drew attention to the Epicurean teaching: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32) Disdaining any hope of a life after death, the philosopher’s followers believed that fleshly pleasure was the sole or chief good in life. (Acts 17:18, 32) Epicurean philosophy was self-centered, cynical, and ultimately degrading.
2. (a) Why was it so dangerous to deny the resurrection? (b) How did Paul strengthen the faith of Corinthian Christians?
2 This denial of the resurrection had profound implications. Paul reasoned: “If, indeed, there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised up. But if Christ has not been raised up, our preaching is certainly in vain, and our faith is in vain. . . . If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:13-19) Yes, without the hope of an eternal future, Christianity would be “in vain.” It would be without purpose. Little wonder, then, that under the influence of this pagan thinking, the Corinthian congregation had become a hotbed of problems. (1 Corinthians 1:11; 5:1; 6:1; 11:20-22) Paul, therefore, aimed to strengthen their faith in the resurrection. Using powerful logic, Scripture quotations, and illustrations, he proved beyond any doubt that the resurrection hope was not fiction but a reality certain of fulfillment. On this basis, he could urge his fellow believers: “Become steadfast, unmovable, always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in connection with the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 15:20-58.
“Keep on the Watch”
3, 4. (a) According to Peter, what dangerous attitude would engulf some during the last days? (b) Of what do we need to keep reminding ourselves?
3 Today, many have a pessimistic, live-for-today attitude. (Ephesians 2:2) It is as the apostle Peter predicted. He spoke of “ridiculers with their ridicule . . . saying: ‘Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.’” (2 Peter 3:3, 4) If true worshipers succumbed to such a view, they might become “inactive or unfruitful.” (2 Peter 1:8) Happily, that is not so with the majority of God’s people today.
4 It is not wrong to be interested in the coming end of the present wicked system. Recall the interest that Jesus’ own apostles showed: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” Jesus replied: “It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.” (Acts 1:6, 7) Those words carry the basic message that he had conveyed on the Mount of Olives: “You do not know on what day your Lord is coming. . . . At an hour that you do not think to be it, the Son of man is coming.” (Matthew 24:42, 44) We need to keep reminding ourselves about that counsel! Some may be tempted with the attitude, ‘Maybe I should just slow down a bit and take things more casually.’ What a mistake that would be! Consider James and John, the “Sons of Thunder.”—Mark 3:17.
5, 6. What lessons can we draw from the examples of James and John?
5 We know that James was an extremely zealous apostle. (Luke 9:51-55) Once the Christian congregation was established, he must have played an active role. But when James was still relatively young, Herod Agrippa I had him killed. (Acts 12:1-3) Do we think that James, seeing his life ending unexpectedly, felt sad that he had been so zealous, had exerted himself in his ministry? Hardly! Surely he was happy that he had spent the best years of his relatively short life in Jehovah’s service. Now, none of us can know whether our life might end unexpectedly. (Ecclesiastes 9:11; compare Luke 12:20, 21.) So it clearly is wise to keep at a high level our zeal and activity in serving Jehovah. That way we will maintain our good name with him and keep living with our eternal future in view.—Ecclesiastes 7:1.
6 There is a related lesson involving the apostle John, who was present when Jesus intensely urged, “Keep on the watch.” (Matthew 25:13; Mark 13:37; Luke 21:34-36) John took that to heart, serving with enthusiasm for many decades. In fact, it seems that he survived all the other apostles. When John was far advanced in years, able to look back on decades of faithful activity, did he view it as a mistake, a life misdirected or unbalanced? No, indeed! He was still eagerly looking to the future. When the resurrected Jesus said, “Yes; I am coming quickly,” John immediately replied, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20) John certainly was not living for the present, longing for a slow and calm ‘normal life.’ He was determined to keep serving with all his life and strength, whenever the Lord might come. How about us?
Foundations for Belief in Everlasting Life
7. (a) How was the hope of everlasting life “promised before times long lasting”? (b) How did Jesus shed light on the hope of eternal life?
7 Be assured that the hope of everlasting life is no man-made dream or fantasy. As Titus 1:2 says, our godly devotion is based on “a hope of the everlasting life which God, who cannot lie, promised before times long lasting.” It was God’s original purpose for all obedient humans to live forever. (Genesis 1:28) Nothing, not even the rebellion of Adam and Eve, can thwart this purpose. As recorded at Genesis 3:15, God immediately promised a “seed” that would undo all the harm inflicted on mankind. When the “seed” or Messiah, Jesus, arrived, he made the hope of eternal life one of his basic teachings. (John 3:16; 6:47, 51; 10:28; 17:3) By laying down his perfect life as a ransom, Christ obtained the legal right to bestow everlasting life on mankind. (Matthew 20:28) Some of his disciples, 144,000 in all, will live forever in the heavens. (Revelation 14:1-4) Thus some once-mortal humans will “put on immortality”!—1 Corinthians 15:53.
8. (a) What is “immortality,” and why does Jehovah grant it to the 144,000? (b) What hope did Jesus hold out for the “other sheep”?
8 “Immortality” means more than simply never dying. It involves “the power of an indestructible life.” (Hebrews 7:16; compare Revelation 20:6.) What, though, does God accomplish in granting such a remarkable gift? Recall Satan’s challenge that none of God’s creatures could be trusted. (Job 1:9-11; 2:4, 5) By granting the 144,000 immortality, God indicates his complete confidence in this group that has so outstandingly answered Satan’s challenge. But what of the rest of mankind? Jesus told the initial members of this “little flock” of Kingdom heirs that they would “sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 12:32; 22:30) This implies that others will receive everlasting life on earth as subjects of his Kingdom. While these “other sheep” are not given immortality, they do receive “everlasting life.” (John 10:16; Matthew 25:46) Everlasting life is thus the hope of all Christians. It is no fantasy but something solemnly promised by “God, who cannot lie,” and paid for with the precious blood of Jesus.—Titus 1:2.
In the Distant Future?
9, 10. What clear indications are there that we are near the end?
9 The apostle Paul foretold that “critical times hard to deal with” would indicate that we had arrived indisputably at “the last days.” As human society around us crumbles into a state of lovelessness, greed, self-gratification, and ungodliness, do we not realize that Jehovah’s day for executing his judgments on this wicked world system is fast approaching? As violence and hatred escalate, do we not see all around us the fulfillment of Paul’s further words: “Wicked men and impostors will advance from bad to worse”? (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13) Some may optimistically utter cries of “Peace and security,” but all prospects of peace will evaporate, for “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.” We have not been left in darkness as to the meaning of our times. So, “let us stay awake and keep our senses.”—1 Thessalonians 5:1-6.
10 Further, the Bible indicates that the last days are “a short period of time.” (Revelation 12:12; compare 17:10.) Most of that “short period” has apparently elapsed. Daniel’s prophecy, for example, accurately describes the conflict between “the king of the north” and “the king of the south” that has extended into this century. (Daniel 11:5, 6) All that is left to be fulfilled is the final attack of “the king of the north,” described at Daniel 11:44, 45.—See The Watchtower of July 1, 1987, and November 1, 1993, for a discussion of this prophecy.
11 There is also Jesus’ prediction that “this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses carry out their work in 233 lands, island groups, and territories. True, untouched territories still exist, and perhaps in Jehovah’s due time, a door of opportunity will open. (1 Corinthians 16:9) Still, Jesus’ words recorded at Matthew 10:23 are sobering: “You will by no means complete the circuit of the cities of Israel until the Son of man arrives.” While the good news will surely be announced throughout the earth, we will not in person reach all parts of the earth with the Kingdom message before Jesus “arrives” as Executioner.
12. (a) What ‘sealing’ is referred to at Revelation 7:3? (b) What is the significance of the diminishing number of anointed ones on earth?
12 Consider the text at Revelation 7:1, 3, which says that the “four winds” of destruction are held back “until after we have sealed the slaves of our God in their foreheads.” This is not referring to the initial sealing, which takes place when those of the 144,000 receive the heavenly calling. (Ephesians 1:13) It refers to the final sealing, when they are irrevocably identified as tried and faithful “slaves of our God.” The number of genuine anointed sons of God surviving on earth is greatly diminished. Furthermore, the Bible clearly states that it is “on account of the chosen ones” that the opening phase of the great tribulation will be “cut short.” (Matthew 24:21, 22) Most of those professing to be of the anointed are quite elderly. Again, would this not indicate that the end is close at hand?
A Faithful Watchman
13, 14. What is the responsibility of the watchman class?
13 In the meantime, we do well to heed the direction given by the ‘faithful slave.’ (Matthew 24:45) For over a hundred years, the modern-day “slave” has faithfully served as a “watchman.” (Ezekiel 3:17-21) The Watchtower of January 1, 1984, explained: “This watchman observes how events are developing on earth in fulfillment of Bible prophecy, sounds the warning of an impending ‘great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning’ and publishes ‘good news of something better.’”—Matthew 24:21; Isaiah 52:7.
14 Remember: It is a watchman’s job to call out “just what he sees.” (Isaiah 21:6-8) In Bible times a watchman would sound a warning even when the potential threat was too far in the distance to be clearly identified. (2 Kings 9:17, 18) False alarms surely occurred back then. But a good watchman would not hold back out of fear of embarrassment. If your house was on fire, how would you feel if the firemen failed to appear because they figured it might be a false alarm? No, we expect such men to respond quickly to any sign of danger! In a similar manner, the watchman class has spoken out as circumstances seemed to warrant doing so.
15, 16. (a) Why are adjustments in our understanding of prophecy made? (b) What can we learn from faithful servants of God who had a mistaken understanding of certain prophecies?
15 As events develop, though, our understanding of prophecy has become clearer. History shows that rarely, if ever, are divine prophecies fully understood before their fulfillment. God told Abram exactly how long his seed would be “an alien resident in a land not theirs,” namely, 400 years. (Genesis 15:13) Moses, however, offered himself as deliverer prematurely.—Acts 7:23-30.
16 Consider also the Messianic prophecies. In retrospect it seems crystal clear that the Messiah’s death and resurrection were foretold. (Isaiah 53:8-10) Yet, Jesus’ own disciples failed to grasp this fact. (Matthew 16:21-23) They did not see that Daniel 7:13, 14 would be fulfilled during Christ’s future pa·rou·siʹa, or “presence.” (Matthew 24:3) So they were almost 2,000 years off in their reckoning when they asked Jesus: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6) Even after the Christian congregation became well established, erroneous ideas and false expectations continued to crop up. (2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2) Though some occasionally had mistaken views, Jehovah undeniably blessed the work of those first-century believers!
17. What should be our view of adjustments in our understanding of Scripture?
17 Today’s watchman class has likewise had to clarify its views from time to time. Can anyone doubt, though, that Jehovah has blessed the ‘faithful slave’? Besides, viewed in context, are not most of the adjustments that have occurred relatively small? Our basic understanding of the Bible has not changed. Our conviction that we are living in the last days is stronger than ever!
Living for an Eternal Future
18. Why must we avoid living for today only?
18 The world may say, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,’ but this must not be our attitude. Why strive in vain for what pleasures you can get out of life now when you can work for an eternal future? That hope, whether of immortal life in heaven or of everlasting life on earth, is no dream, no fantasy. It is a reality promised by the God “who cannot lie.” (Titus 1:2) The evidence is overwhelming that the realization of our hope is near at hand! “The time left is reduced.”—1 Corinthians 7:29.
19, 20. (a) How does Jehovah view the sacrifices that we have made for the sake of the Kingdom? (b) Why must we live with eternity in view?
19 True, this system has already lasted longer than many thought it would. A few may now feel that had they known this before, they might not have made certain sacrifices. But one should not regret having done so. After all, making sacrifices is a fundamental part of being a Christian. Christians ‘disown themselves.’ (Matthew 16:24) Never should we feel that our efforts to please God have been in vain. Jesus promised: “No one has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not get a hundredfold now . . . and in the coming system of things everlasting life.” (Mark 10:29, 30) A thousand years from now, how significant will your job, house, or bank account seem? Still, the sacrifices you have made for Jehovah will be meaningful a million years from now—a billion years from now! “For God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work.”—Hebrews 6:10.
20 Let us, therefore, live with eternity in view, keeping our eyes, “not on the things seen, but on the things unseen. For the things seen are temporary, but the things unseen are everlasting.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) The prophet Habakkuk wrote: “The vision is yet for the appointed time, and it keeps panting on to the end, and it will not tell a lie. Even if it should delay, keep in expectation of it; for it will without fail come true. It will not be late.” (Habakkuk 2:3) How does ‘keeping in expectation’ of the end affect the way we carry out our personal and family responsibilities? Our next article will address these issues.
Points for Review
□ How have a few today been affected by the seeming delay of the end of this system of things?
□ What is the basis for our hope of everlasting life?
□ How should we view sacrifices that we have made for Kingdom interests?
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The global preaching work must be completed before the end comes