In the World but No Part of It
“Because you are no part of the world, . . . the world hates you.”—JOHN 15:19.
1. What relationship do Christians have with the world, yet how does the world view them?
ON HIS last night with his disciples, Jesus told them: “You are no part of the world.” Of what world was he speaking? Had he not said on an earlier occasion: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life”? (John 3:16) The disciples were clearly a part of that world because they were the first to exercise faith in Jesus for everlasting life. Why, then, did Jesus now say that his disciples were separate from the world? And why did he also say: “Because you are no part of the world, . . . on this account the world hates you”?—John 15:19.
2, 3. (a) Of what “world” were Christians to be no part? (b) What does the Bible say about the “world” of which Christians are no part?
2 The answer is that the Bible uses the word “world” (Greek, koʹsmos) in different ways. As explained in the preceding article, sometimes in the Bible “the world” refers to mankind in general. This is the world that God loved and for which Jesus died. However, The Oxford History of Christianity states: “The ‘world’ is also a term in Christian usage for something alienated from God and hostile to him.” How is this true? Catholic author Roland Minnerath, in his book Les chrétiens et le monde (Christians and the World), explains: “Taken in a derogatory sense, the world is thus seen as . . . the domain where powers hostile to God carry out their activity and that constitutes by its opposition to Christ’s victorious rule an enemy empire under Satan’s control.” This “world” is the mass of humanity that is alienated from God. True Christians are no part of this world, and it hates them.
3 Toward the end of the first century, John had in mind this world when he wrote: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world.” (1 John 2:15, 16) He also wrote: “We know we originate with God, but the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) Jesus himself called Satan “the ruler of this world.”—John 12:31; 16:11.
The Growth of World Powers
4. How did world powers come into existence?
4 The now existing world of mankind alienated from God began to develop shortly after the Flood of Noah’s day, when many of Noah’s descendants ceased worshiping Jehovah God. Prominent in the early days was Nimrod, a city builder and “a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah.” (Genesis 10:8-12) In those years much of this world was organized into small city-kingdoms, which from time to time formed coalitions and waged war on one another. (Genesis 14:1-9) Some city-kingdoms gained dominion over others to become regional powers. Some regional powers eventually grew to become great world powers.
5, 6. (a) What are the seven world powers of Bible history? (b) How are these world powers symbolized, and where does their power come from?
5 Following the pattern of Nimrod, the rulers of the world powers did not worship Jehovah, a fact reflected in their cruel, violent deeds. These world powers are symbolized in Scripture by wild animals, and through the course of the centuries, the Bible identifies six of them that had a powerful impact on Jehovah’s people. These were Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. After Rome, a seventh world power was prophesied to arise. (Daniel 7:3-7; 8:3-7, 20, 21; Revelation 17:9, 10) This proved to be the Anglo-American World Power, consisting of the British Empire with its ally the United States, which eventually eclipsed Britain in power. The British Empire began to develop after the last vestige of the Roman Empire finally disappeared.*
6 The seven successive world powers are symbolized in the book of Revelation by the heads of a seven-headed wild beast that emerges from the sea of restless humanity. (Isaiah 17:12, 13; 57:20, 21; Revelation 13:1) Who gives this ruling beast its power? The Bible answers: “The dragon gave to the beast its power and its throne and great authority.” (Revelation 13:2) The dragon is none other than Satan the Devil.—Luke 4:5, 6; Revelation 12:9.
The Coming Rule of God’s Kingdom
7. In what do Christians hope, and how does this affect their relationship to the governments of the world?
7 For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have prayed: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matthew 6:10) Jehovah’s Witnesses know that God’s Kingdom alone can bring real peace on earth. Being close observers of Bible prophecy, they are convinced that this prayer will soon be answered and that the Kingdom will shortly take charge of earth’s affairs. (Daniel 2:44) Their adherence to this Kingdom makes them neutral in the affairs of the governments of the world.
8. How do governments react to the rule of God’s Kingdom, as foretold in Psalm 2?
8 Some nations claim to observe religious principles. Still, in practice they ignore the fact that Jehovah is the Universal Sovereign and that he has enthroned Jesus as heavenly King with authority over the earth. (Daniel 4:17; Revelation 11:15) A prophetic psalm states: “The kings of earth take their stand and high officials themselves have massed together as one against Jehovah and against his anointed one [Jesus], saying: ‘Let us tear their bands apart and cast their cords away from us!’” (Psalm 2:2, 3) Governments accept no divine “bands” or “cords” that would limit their exercise of national sovereignty. Hence, Jehovah says to Jesus, his chosen King: “Ask of me, that I may give nations as your inheritance and the ends of the earth as your own possession. You will break them with an iron scepter, as though a potter’s vessel you will dash them to pieces.” (Psalm 2:8, 9) However, the world of mankind for which Jesus died will not be completely ‘broken.’—John 3:17.
Avoiding “the Mark” of the “Beast”
9, 10. (a) Of what are we warned in the book of Revelation? (b) What is symbolized by wearing ‘the mark of the beast’? (c) What marks do God’s servants accept?
9 The Revelation received by the apostle John warned that the world of mankind that is alienated from God would make increasing demands shortly before its end, putting “under compulsion all persons, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the slaves, that they should give these a mark in their right hand or upon their forehead, and that nobody might be able to buy or sell except a person having the mark.” (Revelation 13:16, 17) What does this mean? A mark in the right hand is an appropriate symbol of active support. What of the mark on the forehead? The Expositor’s Greek Testament states: “This highly figurative allusion is to the habit of marking soldiers and slaves with a conspicuous tattoo or brand . . . ; or, better still, to the religious custom of wearing a god’s name as a talisman.” Many humans by their actions and words symbolically wear this mark, identifying themselves as “slaves” or “soldiers” of the “beast.” (Revelation 13:3, 4) As to their future, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says: “The enemies of God allow the [mark] of the beast, the mysterious number which contains his name, to be stamped on their forehead and one hand. This gives them great opportunities of economic and commercial advance, but brings them under the wrath of God and excludes them from the millennial kingdom, Rev. 13:16; 14:9; 20:4.”
10 It takes more and more courage and endurance to resist pressure to receive “the mark.” (Revelation 14:9-12) Servants of God have such strength, however, and because of this, they are often hated and maligned. (John 15:18-20; 17:14, 15) Rather than bearing the mark of the beast, Isaiah said that they would symbolically write on their hand, “Belonging to Jehovah.” (Isaiah 44:5) Moreover, since they ‘sigh and groan’ over the detestable things done by apostate religion, they receive a symbolic mark on their forehead identifying them as being worthy to be spared when Jehovah’s judgments are executed.—Ezekiel 9:1-7.
11. Who grants permission for human governments to rule until God’s Kingdom comes to take over rulership of the earth?
11 God permits human governments to rule until the time for Christ’s heavenly Kingdom to take over completely the rulership of this earth. This divine toleration of political states is referred to by Professor Oscar Cullmann in his book The State in the New Testament. He writes: “The complex notion of the ‘provisional’ character of the State is the reason why the attitude of the first Christians toward the State is not unitary, but rather appears to be contradictory. I emphasize, that it appears to be so. We need only mention Romans 13:1, ‘Let every man be subject to the powers that be . . . ,’ alongside Revelation 13: the State as the beast from the abyss.”
The “Beast” and “Caesar”
12. What balanced viewpoint do Jehovah’s Witnesses have of human governments?
12 It would be incorrect to conclude that all humans in governmental authority are Satan’s tools. Many have proved themselves people of principle, such as the proconsul Sergius Paulus who is described in the Bible as “an intelligent man.” (Acts 13:7) Some rulers have courageously defended the rights of minorities, being guided by their God-given conscience even if they did not know Jehovah and his purposes. (Romans 2:14, 15) Remember, the Bible uses the word “world” in two contrasting ways: the world of mankind, which God loves and which we should love, and the world of humanity alienated from Jehovah, of which Satan is the god and from which we must stand apart. (John 1:9, 10; 17:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4; James 4:4) Thus, Jehovah’s servants have a balanced attitude toward human rulership. We are neutral in political matters since we serve as ambassadors or envoys of God’s Kingdom and our lives are dedicated to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20) On the other hand, we are in conscientious subjection toward those in authority.
13. (a) How does Jehovah view human governments? (b) How far does Christian subjection to human governments extend?
13 This balanced approach reflects Jehovah God’s own view. When world powers, or even tiny States, abuse their authority, oppress their people, or persecute those who worship God, they certainly merit the prophetic description of them as ferocious beasts. (Daniel 7:19-21; Revelation 11:7) However, when national governments serve God’s purpose in maintaining law and order in justice, he considers them to be his “public servants.” (Romans 13:6) Jehovah expects his people to respect human governments and be subject to them, but their subjection is not without limits. When men require of God’s servants things that are forbidden by God’s law or when they forbid things that God requires his servants to do, the latter follow the position adopted by the apostles, namely: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
14. How is Christian subjection to human governments explained by Jesus? by Paul?
14 Jesus said that his followers would have obligations both toward governments and toward God when he declared: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Matthew 22:21) The apostle Paul wrote under inspiration: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities . . . But if you are doing what is bad, be in fear: for it is not without purpose that it bears the sword; for it is God’s minister, an avenger to express wrath upon the one practicing what is bad. There is therefore compelling reason for you people to be in subjection, not only on account of that wrath but also on account of your conscience. For that is why you are also paying taxes.” (Romans 13:1, 4-6) From the first century C.E. until today, Christians have had to consider demands made by the State. They have needed to discern whether conformity to those demands would lead to compromise of their worship or whether such demands were legitimate and should be met conscientiously.
15. How do Jehovah’s Witnesses conscientiously pay back to Caesar what they owe?
15 The political “superior authorities” are God’s “minister” when they fulfill their God-approved role, which includes authority “to inflict punishment on evildoers but to praise doers of good.” (1 Peter 2:13, 14) Jehovah’s servants conscientiously pay back to Caesar what he legitimately demands in the way of taxes, and they go as far as their Bible-trained conscience will allow them to go in being “obedient to governments and authorities as rulers, . . . ready for every good work.” (Titus 3:1) “Good work” includes helping others, such as when catastrophe strikes. Many have testified to the kindness shown by Jehovah’s Witnesses toward fellow humans in these situations.—Galatians 6:10.
16. What good works do Jehovah’s Witnesses conscientiously perform for governments and fellow humans?
16 Jehovah’s Witnesses love their fellow humans and feel that the best good work they can do for them is to help them to come to an accurate knowledge of God’s purpose to bring about righteous “new heavens and a new earth.” (2 Peter 3:13) By teaching and practicing the high moral principles of the Bible, they are an asset to human society, saving many from delinquency. Jehovah’s servants are law-abiding and respectful toward government ministers, officials, judges, and city authorities, rendering honor to ‘those who call for honor.’ (Romans 13:7) Witness parents gladly cooperate with their children’s schoolteachers and help their children to study well, so that later these will be able to earn a living and not be a burden on society. (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12) Within their congregations, the Witnesses oppose racial prejudice and class distinctions, and they attach great importance to strengthening family life. (Acts 10:34, 35; Colossians 3:18-21) Therefore, by their actions, they show that accusations of their being antifamily or unhelpful to the community are false. Thus, the words of the apostle Peter prove true: “So the will of God is, that by doing good you may muzzle the ignorant talk of the unreasonable men.”—1 Peter 2:15.
17. How can Christians go on “walking in wisdom toward those on the outside”?
17 So while Christ’s genuine followers are “no part of the world,” they are still in the world of human society and must go on “walking in wisdom toward those on the outside.” (John 17:16; Colossians 4:5) As long as Jehovah allows the superior authorities to operate as his minister, we will show proper respect for them. (Romans 13:1-4) While remaining neutral as to politics, we pray respecting “kings and all those who are in high station,” particularly when these are called upon to make decisions that could affect freedom of worship. We will continue doing this “in order that we may go on leading a calm and quiet life with full godly devotion and seriousness,” so that ‘all sorts of men will be saved.’—1 Timothy 2:1-4.
See the book Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, chapter 35, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
□ Of which “world” are Christians a part, but of which “world” can they be no part?
□ What is symbolized by “the mark” of the “beast” on a person’s hand or forehead, and what marks do Jehovah’s faithful servants have?
□ What balanced viewpoint do true Christians have toward human governments?
□ What are some ways that Jehovah’s Witnesses contribute to the well-being of human society?
[Pictures on page 16]
The Bible identifies human governments both as God’s servant and as a wild beast
[Picture on page 17]
Because of showing loving concern for others, Jehovah’s Witnesses are an asset to their communities