“Into All the Earth Their Sound Went Out”
“Make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit.”—MATTHEW 28:19.
1, 2. (a) What commission did Jesus give his disciples? (b) Why were first-century Christians able to accomplish so much?
SHORTLY before his ascension to heaven, Jesus gave his disciples a commission. He told them: “Make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) What a staggering task that was!
2 Just think! At Pentecost 33 C.E., about 120 disciples received the outpouring of holy spirit and began to fulfill that commission by telling others that Jesus was the long-hoped-for Messiah, through whom salvation could be gained. (Acts 2:1-36) How would such a small group reach “people of all the nations”? In human terms it was impossible, but “with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) The early Christians had the support of Jehovah’s holy spirit, and they had a sense of urgency. (Zechariah 4:6; 2 Timothy 4:2) Hence, within just a few decades, the apostle Paul could say that the good news was being declared “in all creation that is under heaven.”—Colossians 1:23.
3. What obscured the pure Christian “wheat” from view?
3 Throughout much of the first century, true worship continued to spread. However, Jesus had prophesied that the time would come when Satan would sow “weeds” and the true Christian “wheat” would be overshadowed for many centuries until harvesttime. After the death of the apostles, that came true.—Matthew 13:24-39.
Rapid Increase Today
4, 5. Starting in 1919, what work did anointed Christians begin to undertake, and why did that present a great challenge?
4 In 1919, it was time for the pure Christian wheat to be separated from the weeds. Anointed Christians knew that Jesus’ great commission still applied. They firmly believed that they were living in “the last days” and were aware of Jesus’ prophecy: “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.” (2 Timothy 3:1; Matthew 24:14) Yes, they knew that there was much work to be done.
5 Still, like the disciples in 33 C.E., those anointed Christians faced a huge challenge. There were merely a few thousand of them located in just a few countries. How could they possibly preach the good news “in all the inhabited earth”? Remember, the earth’s population had increased from perhaps 300 million in the time of the Caesars to nearly 2 billion after the first world war. And throughout the 20th century, it would continue to increase rapidly.
6. What progress had the spreading of good news made by the 1930’s?
6 Nevertheless, Jehovah’s anointed servants, like their first-century brothers, set about the task before them with full faith in Jehovah, and his spirit was with them. By the mid-1930’s, some 56,000 evangelizers had declared Bible truth in 115 lands. Already, much work had been done, but much more remained.
7. (a) What new challenge did anointed Christians face? (b) With the support of the “other sheep,” how has the gathering work progressed so far?
7 Then, a deeper understanding of the identity of the “great crowd” mentioned at Revelation 7:9 presented a new challenge and also promised those hardworking Christians help. An unnumbered crowd of “other sheep,” believers with an earthly hope, had to be gathered “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” (John 10:16) These would ‘render Jehovah sacred service day and night.’ (Revelation 7:15) That means that they would help in the preaching and teaching work. (Isaiah 61:5) Consequently, anointed Christians were thrilled to see the ranks of evangelizers expand by tens of thousands and then by millions. In the year 2003, a new peak of 6,429,351 shared in the preaching work—the vast majority of them of the great crowd.* Anointed Christians are grateful for this help, and the other sheep are grateful for the privilege of supporting their anointed brothers.—Matthew 25:34-40.
8. How did Jehovah’s Witnesses respond to the extreme pressures brought on during the second world war?
8 When the wheat class once again became evident, Satan waged bitter warfare against it. (Revelation 12:17) How did he react when the great crowd began to appear? With extreme violence! Can we doubt that he was behind the worldwide attack on true worship that occurred during the second world war? On both sides of the conflict, Christians came under great pressure. Many dear brothers and sisters suffered terrible trials, some dying for their faith. Still, they echoed the words of the psalmist: “In union with God I shall praise his word. In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:4; Matthew 10:28) Anointed Christians and other sheep, strengthened by Jehovah’s spirit, stood firm together. (2 Corinthians 4:7) As a result, “the word of God went on growing.” (Acts 6:7) In 1939, when war broke out, 72,475 faithful Christians reported sharing in the preaching work. However, the incomplete report for 1945, the year the war ended, revealed that 156,299 active Witnesses were spreading the good news. What a defeat for Satan!
9. What new schools were announced during World War II?
9 Clearly, the chaos of the second world war did not make Jehovah’s servants doubt that the preaching work would be accomplished. Indeed, in 1943, when the war was at its height, two new schools were announced. One, now called the Theocratic Ministry School, was to be conducted in all congregations to train individual Witnesses to preach and make disciples. The other, the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, was for the training of missionaries who would develop the preaching work in foreign lands. Yes, when the fires of war finally died down, true Christians were ready for increased activity.
10. How was the zeal of Jehovah’s people seen during 2003?
10 And what a marvelous job they have done! Trained in the Theocratic Ministry School, all—young and old, parents and children, even the infirm—have shared and continue to share in fulfilling Jesus’ great commission. (Psalm 148:12, 13; Joel 2:28, 29) In the year 2003, on average each month, 825,185 demonstrated their sense of urgency by sharing, temporarily or continuously, in the pioneer service. In that same year, Jehovah’s Witnesses spent 1,234,796,477 hours talking to others about the good news of the Kingdom. Surely Jehovah is pleased with the zeal of his people!
In Foreign Fields
11, 12. What examples demonstrate the fine record of missionaries?
11 Over the years, graduates of Gilead and, more recently, graduates of the Ministerial Training School have built up a magnificent record. In Brazil, for example, there were fewer than 400 publishers when the first missionaries arrived in 1945. These and the missionaries who followed them have worked hard alongside their zealous Brazilian brothers, and Jehovah has greatly blessed their efforts. How thrilling it is for any who remember those early days to see that Brazil reported a new peak of 607,362 in 2003!
12 Consider Japan. Before the second world war, there were about one hundred Kingdom preachers in that land. During the war, brutal persecution decimated their ranks, and by the end of the war, only a few Witnesses were still spiritually and physically alive. (Proverbs 14:32) Those few outstanding integrity-keepers were surely delighted in 1949 to welcome the first 13 Gilead-trained missionaries, and the missionaries quickly warmed to their enthusiastic, hospitable Japanese brothers. Over 50 years later, in the year 2003, Japan reported a peak of 217,508 publishers! Jehovah has indeed richly blessed his people in that land. There are similar reports from many other countries. Those able to preach in foreign territories have made a real contribution to the spread of the good news, so that in 2003 it was heard in 235 lands, islands, and territories around the world. Yes, the great crowd is coming out of “all nations.”
“Out of All . . . Tribes and Peoples and Tongues”
13, 14. In what way did Jehovah show the value of preaching the good news in “all . . . tongues”?
13 The first reported miracle after the disciples were anointed with holy spirit at Pentecost 33 C.E. was their talking in tongues to the assembled crowds. All those who heard them may have spoken an international tongue, perhaps Greek. Being “reverent men,” they were likely also able to understand the Hebrew services at the temple. But their attention was truly caught when they heard the good news in the language they learned at their mother’s knee.—Acts 2:5, 7-12.
14 Today, too, many languages are being used in the preaching work. The great crowd was prophesied to come out of not only nations but also “tribes and peoples and tongues.” In agreement with this, Jehovah prophesied through Zechariah: “Ten men out of all the languages of the nations will take hold, yes, they will actually take hold of the skirt of a man who is a Jew, saying: ‘We will go with you people, for we have heard that God is with you people.’” (Zechariah 8:23) Although Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer have the gift of tongues, they know the value of teaching in the languages of the people.
15, 16. How have missionaries and others taken up the challenge of preaching in local languages?
15 True, there are today a few very widely used languages, such as English, French, and Spanish. However, those who have left their homeland to serve in other countries try to learn the local languages so as to make the good news more accessible to those “rightly disposed for everlasting life.” (Acts 13:48) That can be difficult. When the brothers in the South Pacific nation of Tuvalu needed publications in their own tongue, one of the missionaries took up the challenge. Since no dictionary was available, he began building a glossary of Tuvaluan words. In time, the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth* was published in the Tuvaluan language. When missionaries arrived in Curaçao, there was no Bible literature and no dictionary in the local language, Papiamento. There was also wide disagreement on how the language should be written. Still, within two years of the arrival of the first missionaries, the first Christian Bible tract was published in that tongue. Today, Papiamento is one of the 133 languages in which The Watchtower is published simultaneously with English.
16 In Namibia the first missionaries could find no local Witness to help them translate. Moreover, one local language, Nama, lacked words for commonly used concepts, such as “perfect.” A missionary reports: “For translation I mainly used schoolteachers who were studying the Bible. Since they had little knowledge of the truth, I had to sit with them to make sure that each sentence was accurate.” Nevertheless, the tract Life in a New World was eventually translated into four Namibian languages. Today, The Watchtower is published regularly in Kwanyama and Ndonga.
17, 18. What challenges are being handled in Mexico and other countries?
17 In Mexico, the main language is Spanish. However, before the Spaniards arrived, many languages were spoken there, and a number are still in use. Hence, literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses is now produced in seven Mexican languages and also in Mexican Sign Language. The Maya Kingdom Ministry was the first dated publication in an American Indian language. Indeed, several thousand Maya, Aztecs, and others are to be found among the 572,530 Kingdom publishers in Mexico.
18 In recent times, millions have fled to foreign lands as refugees, or they have migrated for economic reasons. As a result, many countries now for the first time have sizable foreign-language fields. Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken up the challenge. In Italy, for example, there are congregations and groups in 22 languages besides Italian. To help brothers to preach to people who speak other languages, classes were recently organized to teach 16 languages, including Italian Sign Language. In many other countries, Jehovah’s Witnesses are making similar efforts to reach large immigrant populations. Yes, with Jehovah’s help, the great crowd is indeed coming out of many, many language groups.
“Into All the Earth”
19, 20. What words of Paul are being fulfilled in a remarkable way today? Explain.
19 In the first century, the apostle Paul wrote: “They did not fail to hear, did they? Why, in fact, ‘into all the earth their sound went out, and to the extremities of the inhabited earth their utterances.’” (Romans 10:18) If that was true in the first century, how much more is it true in our day! Millions—perhaps more than at any previous time in history—are saying: “I will bless Jehovah at all times; constantly his praise will be in my mouth.”—Psalm 34:1.
20 Moreover, the work is not slowing down. The number of Kingdom publishers keeps increasing. More and more time is spent in the preaching work. Millions of return visits and hundreds of thousands of Bible studies are conducted. And interest continues to manifest itself. Last year, a new peak of 16,097,622 attended the observance of the Memorial of Jesus’ death. Clearly, there is still much to be done. May we continue to imitate the firm integrity of our brothers who have endured intense persecution. And may we display the zeal of all our brothers who since 1919 have spent themselves in Jehovah’s service. Let all continue to echo the chorus of the psalmist: “Every breathing thing—let it praise Jah. Praise Jah, you people!”—Psalm 150:6.
See the annual report on pages 18 to 21 of this magazine.
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Can You Explain?
• What task did the brothers begin to undertake in 1919, and why was it a challenge?
• Who were gathered in to support the preaching work?
• What record have missionaries and others serving in foreign lands compiled?
• What evidence can you quote to show that Jehovah is blessing the work of his people today?
[Chart on page 18-21]
2003 SERVICE YEAR REPORT OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES WORLDWIDE
(See bound volume)
[Pictures on page 14, 15]
The chaos of the second world war did not cause Christians to doubt that the good news would be preached
Explosion: U.S. Navy photo; others: U.S. Coast Guard photo
[Pictures on page 16, 17]
The great crowd would come out of all tribes and tongues