Jehovah Prepares the Way
“This good news of the kingdom will be preached.”—MATTHEW 24:14.
1. What has been accomplished by the preaching work in both the first and the 20th centuries?
BECAUSE Jehovah is a God of love, it is his will that “all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) This has called for an international preaching and teaching campaign. In the first century, this preaching made the Christian congregation “a pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) Afterward came a long period of apostasy in which the light of truth became dim. In recent times, during “the time of the end,” “true knowledge” has again become abundant, bringing a Bible-based hope of everlasting salvation to millions.—Daniel 12:4.
2. What has Jehovah done in connection with the preaching activity?
2 Despite the unrelenting efforts of Satan to thwart God’s purpose, the preaching activity in both the first and the 20th centuries has met with amazing success. It calls to mind the prophecy of Isaiah. Concerning the return of Jewish exiles to Judah in the sixth century B.C.E., Isaiah wrote: “Let every valley be raised up, and every mountain and hill be made low. And the knobby ground must become level land, and the rugged ground a valley plain.” (Isaiah 40:4) Jehovah has also prepared and smoothed the way for the great preaching campaigns of both the first and the 20th centuries.
3. In what ways is Jehovah able to accomplish his purposes?
3 This does not mean that Jehovah directly influenced every development on earth in order to advance the preaching of the good news; nor does it mean that Jehovah exercised his foresight to know in precise detail everything that would occur. Granted, he is able both to foresee and to shape future events. (Isaiah 46:9-11) But he is also able to react to developments as they unfold. Like an experienced shepherd who knows both how to direct and how to protect his flock, Jehovah guides his people. He leads them toward salvation, protecting their spirituality and moving them to take advantage of situations and developments that promote the successful preaching of the good news worldwide.—Psalm 23:1-4.
A Difficult Assignment
4, 5. Why has the preaching of the good news been a challenging assignment?
4 As was the building of the ark in Noah’s day, the work of Kingdom preaching has been an enormous project—both in the first century and in modern times. The task of reaching all peoples with any message is difficult enough, but this task was especially challenging. In the first century, the disciples were relatively few. Their Leader, Jesus, had been executed as an alleged seditionist. The Jewish religion was well established. A magnificent temple stood in Jerusalem. Non-Jewish religions in the Mediterranean area were also well established, with temples and priesthoods. Similarly, as “the time of the end” began in 1914, the anointed Christians were few, and adherents to other religions claiming to serve God were many.—Daniel 12:9.
5 Jesus had warned his followers that they would be persecuted. He said: “People will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.” (Matthew 24:9) Added to such problems, particularly in “the last days,” Christians would find themselves amid “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) The magnitude of the work, the certainty of persecution, and the difficulty of the times have made the work of preaching challenging and difficult. Great faith has been needed.
6. What assurance of success did Jehovah give his people?
6 While Jehovah knew that there would be difficulties, he also knew that nothing would stop the work. Success was foretold in a well-known prophecy having a remarkable fulfillment in both the first and the 20th centuries: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth.”—Matthew 24:14.
7. How extensive was the preaching activity in the first century?
7 Filled with faith and holy spirit, God’s servants in the first century went forth to carry out their commission. Because Jehovah proved to be with them, they achieved success far beyond what they might have expected. By the time Paul wrote to the Colossians, about 27 years after the death of Jesus, he could say of the good news that it was “preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Colossians 1:23) Comparably, by the close of the 20th century, the good news is being preached in 233 lands.
8. Under what kind of circumstances have many embraced the good news? Give examples.
8 Millions have embraced the good news in recent decades. Many have done so under unfavorable circumstances—during periods of war, ban, and intense persecution. That was true also in the first century. On one occasion Paul and Silas were brutally beaten with rods and thrown into prison. What an unlikely situation in which to make disciples! Yet, Jehovah used the situation to do just that. Paul and Silas were released, and the jailer together with his family became believers. (Acts 16:19-33) Such experiences show that the good news cannot be silenced by those who oppose it. (Isaiah 54:17) Still, the history of Christianity has not been one of unrelenting adversity and persecution. Let us now focus on some favorable developments that have helped smooth the way for the successful preaching of the good news in both the first and the 20th centuries.
9, 10. How did Jehovah create expectation for the preaching of the good news in the first and the 20th centuries?
9 Consider the timing of the global preaching campaigns. As to the setting in the first century, the prophecy of the 70 weeks of years, found at Daniel 9:24-27, pinpointed the year when the Messiah was to appear—29 C.E. Though first-century Jews did not understand the exact timing of matters, they were in expectation, awaiting the Messiah. (Luke 3:15) The French Manuel Biblique states: “People knew that the seventy weeks of years fixed by Daniel were drawing to a close; nobody was surprised to hear John the Baptist announce that the kingdom of God had drawn near.”
10 What about the setting in modern times? Well, a monumental development was the enthronement of Jesus in heaven, which marked the beginning of his presence in Kingdom power. Bible prophecy shows that this took place in 1914. (Daniel 4:13-17) Anticipation of this event also caused some religious people in modern times to be filled with expectation. Expectation was evident also among the sincere Bible Students who began to publish this magazine in 1879 as Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. Thus, both in the first century and in modern times, religious expectations prepared the environment for the preaching of the good news.*
11. What religious foundations were laid to assist with the preaching of the good news?
11 Another factor that helped the work of Christians in both eras was that many people were familiar with the Sacred Scriptures. In the first century, Jewish communities were scattered throughout the surrounding Gentile nations. Those communities had synagogues where people regularly met to hear the Scriptures read and discussed. Thus, early Christians were able to build on the religious knowledge that people already had. (Acts 8:28-36; 17:1, 2) Early in our era, Jehovah’s people enjoyed a similar environment in many lands. The Bible was widely available throughout the realm of Christendom, especially in Protestant lands. It was read in many churches; millions owned a copy. The Bible was already in people’s hands, but they needed help to understand what they possessed.
The Benefits of Law
12. How was Roman law usually a safeguard in the first century?
12 Christian preaching has often benefited from governmental law. The Roman Empire dominated the first-century world, and its written laws had a profound influence on daily life. These laws provided safeguards, and the early Christians benefited from them. For example, Paul’s appeal to Roman law led to his release from prison and saved him from being flogged. (Acts 16:37-39; 22:25, 29) Reference to the provision of the Roman legal system helped to calm an angry mob in Ephesus. (Acts 19:35-41) Once, Paul was rescued from violence in Jerusalem because he was a Roman citizen. (Acts 23:27) Later, Roman law allowed him to make a legal defense of his faith before Caesar. (Acts 25:11) Though several of the Caesars ruled as tyrants, the laws in the first century usually allowed for “the defending and legally establishing of the good news.”—Philippians 1:7.
13. How has the preaching work in our time often benefited from law?
13 The same holds true in many lands today. Though there have been those who would ‘frame trouble by decree,’ written laws in most countries regard freedom of religion as a basic right. (Psalm 94:20) Recognizing that Jehovah’s Witnesses pose no threat to the social order, many governments have granted us legal recognition. In the United States, where much of the Witnesses’ printing has been done, existing laws have made it possible for the Watchtower magazine to be produced continuously for 120 years and to be read worldwide.
Periods of Peace and Tolerance
14, 15. How did relative social stability benefit the preaching activity in the first century?
14 The preaching activity has also benefited from periods of relative peace. Though Jesus accurately foretold that in the times involved ‘nation would rise against nation,’ there were intervals of stability that made possible intense Kingdom preaching. (Matthew 24:7) First-century Christians lived under the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace. One historian wrote: “Rome had so completely subjugated the peoples of the Mediterranean world that she ended for them ages of almost constant war.” This stability opened the way for early Christians to travel in relative safety throughout the Roman world.
15 The Roman Empire strove to unite peoples under its strong hand. This policy promoted not only travel, tolerance, and the exchange of ideas but also the concept of international brotherhood. The book On the Road to Civilization states: “The unity of the [Roman] Empire made the field [for Christian preaching] a favorable one. National barriers had been broken down. A Roman citizen was a citizen of the world. . . . Moreover, a religion that taught the brotherhood of man could be understood in a state which had developed the idea of universal citizenship.”—Compare Acts 10:34, 35; 1 Peter 2:17.
16, 17. What has motivated efforts to promote peace in modern times, and what conclusion have many people reached?
16 What of our time? The 20th century has seen the most destructive wars in history, and regional wars continue to rage in some lands. (Revelation 6:4) Yet, there have also been periods of relative peace. The major powers of the world have not battled one another in all-out war for more than 50 years. This situation has greatly helped in the preaching of the good news in those lands.
17 The horrors of 20th-century warfare have led many people to recognize the need for a world government. Fear of world war led to the formation of both the League of Nations and the United Nations. (Revelation 13:14) A proclaimed aim of both organizations has been the promoting of international cooperation and peace. People sensing such a need often respond favorably to the good news of the world government that will bring genuine and lasting peace—God’s Kingdom.
18. What attitude toward religion has favored the preaching work?
18 Though Christians have been ferociously persecuted at times, both the first and the 20th centuries have seen periods of religious tolerance. (John 15:20; Acts 9:31) The Romans freely adopted and adapted to the gods and goddesses of the people they conquered. Wrote Professor Rodney Stark: “In many respects Rome provided for a greater level of religious freedom than was seen again until after the American Revolution.” In modern times, people in many lands have become more open to other viewpoints, with the result that they have been willing to listen to the Bible message that Jehovah’s Witnesses bring.
The Role of Technology
19. How did early Christians make use of the codex?
19 Finally, consider how Jehovah has enabled his people to benefit from technological advances. Though early Christians did not live in an era of rapid technological advancement, one development they did make use of was the codex, or leaf-book. The codex replaced the cumbersome scroll. The book The Birth of the Codex states: “In contrast to the slow and piecemeal process by which the codex ousted the roll in secular literature, the Christian adoption of the codex seems to have been instant and universal.” This reference work also says: “So universal is the Christian use of the codex in the second century that its introduction must date well before A.D. 100.” The codex was easier to use than a scroll. Scriptures could be located faster. This surely helped the early Christians who, like Paul, not only explained the Scriptures but also ‘proved by references’ the things they were teaching.—Acts 17:2, 3.
20. How have God’s people made use of modern technology in the global preaching activity, and why?
20 The technological advances in our century have been astounding. High-speed printing presses have helped to make possible the simultaneous publication of Bible literature in scores of languages. Modern technology has speeded up the work of Bible translation. Trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes make it possible to transport Bible literature rapidly throughout the earth. Telephones and fax machines have made instant communication a reality. Through his spirit, Jehovah has moved his servants to put such technology to practical use to promote the spread of the good news worldwide. They are not using such developments out of a desire to know and employ whatever is the latest in this world. Instead, their first and foremost interest is what will help them to carry out their preaching commission most effectively.
21. Of what may we be confident?
21 “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth,” Jesus foretold. (Matthew 24:14) Just as early Christians saw a fulfillment of that prophecy, we today see such on a vast scale. Despite the enormity and difficulty of the work, during times favorable and unfavorable, amid changing laws and attitudes, in war and in peace, and amid all sorts of technological advances, the good news has been and is being preached. Does this not fill you with awe at Jehovah’s wisdom and amazing foresight? We may be absolutely sure that the preaching work will be completed according to Jehovah’s timetable and that his loving purpose will be accomplished to the blessing of the righteous. They will come to possess the earth and live on it forever. (Psalm 37:29; Habakkuk 2:3) If we harmonize our lives with Jehovah’s purpose, we will be among them.—1 Timothy 4:16.
For a more detailed explanation of these two Messianic prophecies, see the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, pages 36, 97, and 98-107, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Points for Review
□ Why has the preaching of the good news been a challenging assignment?
□ In what ways has the work of Christians benefited from governmental arrangements and relative social stability?
□ Jehovah’s blessing on the preaching work assures us of what future developments?