“A Witness to All the Nations”
“You will be witnesses of me . . . to the most distant part of the earth.”—ACTS 1:8.
1. When and where did the disciples first hear the prophecy recorded at Matthew 24:14?
JESUS’ words recorded at Matthew 24:14 are so familiar that many of us know them by heart. And what a truly remarkable prophecy it is! Imagine what the disciples must have thought when they first heard it! The year was 33 C.E. The disciples had been with Jesus for about three years, and now they had come with him to Jerusalem. They had seen his miracles and had listened to his teachings. Though they delighted in the precious truths that Jesus had taught them, they were well-aware that not all shared their delight. Jesus had powerful and influential enemies.
2. What dangers and challenges would the disciples face?
2 On the Mount of Olives, four disciples sat with Jesus, listening intently as he spoke of the coming dangers and challenges that they would face. Earlier, Jesus had told them that he would be killed. (Matthew 16:21) Now he made it clear that they too would experience brutal opposition. “People will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you,” he said. “And you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.” That was not all. False prophets would mislead many. Others would be stumbled and would betray and hate one another. Still others, in fact “the greater number,” would allow their love for God and for his Word to cool off.—Matthew 24:9-12.
3. Why are Jesus’ words found at Matthew 24:14 truly stunning?
3 It was against such a negative backdrop that Jesus made a statement that must have caused the disciples to marvel. He said: “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) Yes, the work that Jesus began in Israel—to “bear witness to the truth”—would continue and expand to global proportions. (John 18:37) What a truly stunning prophecy! To extend that work to “all the nations” would be challenging; to do so in the face of “hatred by all the nations” would be nothing short of miraculous. The accomplishment of this immense task would magnify not only Jehovah’s supremacy and power but also his love, mercy, and patience. In addition, it would give his servants an opportunity to show their faith and devotion.
4. Who were told to carry out the work of witnessing, and what comfort did Jesus impart?
4 Jesus left his disciples in no doubt that they had on their hands a monumental work. Before his ascension to heaven, Jesus appeared to them and said: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Of course, others would soon join them. Still, the disciples were few in number. How comforting it must have been to know that God’s powerful holy spirit would empower them to accomplish this divine assignment!
5. What did the disciples not know about the witnessing work?
5 The disciples knew that they were to preach the good news and “make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) But they did not know how thorough a witness would be given, and they did not know when the end would come. Neither do we. These are matters for Jehovah alone to determine. (Matthew 24:36) When the witness is given to Jehovah’s satisfaction, he will bring an end to this wicked system of things. Only then will Christians discern that the preaching work has been accomplished to the extent Jehovah purposed. Those early disciples could hardly have envisioned the magnitude of the witness that would be given in this time of the end.
The Witness in the First Century
6. What happened at Pentecost 33 C.E. and shortly thereafter?
6 In the first century, the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work produced astounding results. On the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., about 120 disciples were in an upper room in Jerusalem. God’s holy spirit was poured out upon them, the apostle Peter gave a stirring talk explaining the meaning of this miracle, and some 3,000 became believers and were baptized. That was only the beginning. Despite the determined efforts by religious leaders to crush the preaching of the good news, “Jehovah continued to join to [the disciples] daily those being saved.” Soon, “the number of the men became about five thousand.” After that, “believers in the Lord kept on being added, multitudes both of men and of women.”—Acts 2:1-4, 8, 14, 41, 47; 4:4; 5:14.
7. Why was the conversion of Cornelius a significant development?
7 The year 36 C.E. saw another significant development—the conversion and baptism of Cornelius, a Gentile. In directing the apostle Peter to this God-fearing man, Jehovah indicated that Jesus’ command to “make disciples of people of all the nations” was not limited to Jews in various lands. (Acts 10:44, 45) What was the reaction of those taking the lead? When the apostles and older men in Judaea discerned that the good news was also to be taken to those of the nations—non-Jews—they glorified God. (Acts 11:1, 18) Meanwhile, the preaching work continued to bear fruit among the Jews. Some years later, possibly about 58 C.E., there were in addition to Gentile believers “many thousands of [Jewish] believers.”—Acts 21:20.
8. How does the good news affect individuals?
8 Though numerical increase among first-century Christians is impressive, never should we forget the individuals whom the figures represent. The Biblical message they heard was powerful. (Hebrews 4:12) It dramatically changed the lives of those embracing it. Individuals cleaned up their lives, put on the new personality, and became reconciled to God. (Ephesians 4:22, 23) The same is true today. And those accepting the good news all have the marvelous prospect of living eternally.—John 3:16.
Fellow Workers With God
9. What privilege and responsibility did the early Christians recognize that they had?
9 The early Christians did not take credit for what was being accomplished. They recognized that their work as ministers was supported by “power of holy spirit.” (Romans 15:13, 19) Jehovah was the one responsible for spiritual growth. At the same time, those Christians knew that they had the privilege and responsibility of being “God’s fellow workers.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9) Consequently, in harmony with Jesus’ admonition, they exerted themselves vigorously in the work they were assigned to do.—Luke 13:24.
10. What efforts did some early Christians make to give a witness to all nations?
10 As “an apostle to the nations,” Paul journeyed thousands of miles on land and sea, establishing many congregations in the Roman province of Asia and in Greece. (Romans 11:13) He also traveled to Rome and possibly even to Spain. Meanwhile, the apostle Peter, entrusted with “the good news . . . for those who [were] circumcised,” traveled in the other direction to serve in Babylon, an important center of Judaism at that time. (Galatians 2:7-9; 1 Peter 5:13) Among the many others who labored in the work of the Lord were such women as Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Another woman, named Persis, is said to have “performed many labors in the Lord.”—Romans 16:12.
11. How did Jehovah bless the efforts of the disciples?
11 Jehovah richly blessed the efforts of those and other zealous workers. Less than 30 years after Jesus foretold that there would be a witness to all the nations, Paul wrote that the “good news” had been “preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Colossians 1:23) Did the end then come? In a sense, yes. It came upon the Jewish system of things in the year 70 C.E. when Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem along with the temple. Yet, Jehovah had determined that a far greater witness would be given before he would bring an end to Satan’s global system of things.
The Witness Given Today
12. How did the early Bible Students understand the command to preach?
12 During the latter part of the 19th century, after a long period when religious apostasy prevailed, pure worship was reestablished. The Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, well understood the command to make disciples in all the earth. (Matthew 28:19, 20) By the year 1914, there were about 5,100 who actively participated in the preaching activity, and the good news had reached some 68 lands. However, those early Bible Students did not grasp the full significance of Matthew 24:14. By the late 19th century, the Bible, which contains the good news, or gospel, had been translated and printed by Bible societies in many languages and distributed around the world. Thus, for some decades, the Bible Students reasoned that a witness to the nations had already been given.
13, 14. What clearer understanding of God’s will and purpose was presented in a 1928 issue of The Watch Tower?
13 Gradually, Jehovah gave his people a clearer understanding of his will and purpose. (Proverbs 4:18) The Watch Tower of December 1, 1928, said: “Can we say that [the] circulation of the Bible accomplished the foretold preaching of the gospel of the kingdom? Decidedly no! In spite of this Bible distribution it is still necessary for God’s little band of witnesses in the earth to print literature explaining God’s [purpose] and to call upon the homes where these Bibles have been placed. Otherwise the people would be left in ignorance as to the setting up of the Messianic government in our day.”
14 That issue of The Watch Tower further stated: “In 1920, . . . Bible Students came to a correct understanding of our Lord’s prophecy contained in Matthew 24:14. They then realized that ‘this gospel’ which was to be preached in all the world for a testimony to the Gentiles or all nations, was not a gospel of a kingdom yet to come but a gospel to the effect that the Messianic King has begun his reign over earth.”
15. How has the witnessing work expanded since the 1920’s?
15 That “little band of witnesses” in the 1920’s did not remain little. In the decades to come, “a great crowd” of “other sheep” was identified and began to be gathered. (Revelation 7:9; John 10:16) Today, there are 6,613,950 proclaimers of the good news in 235 lands of the earth. What a marvelous fulfillment of prophecy! Never before has “this good news of the kingdom” been preached on such a large scale. Never before have there been so many faithful servants of Jehovah on earth.
16. What was accomplished in the past service year? (See chart on pages 27-30.)
16 Together, this vast throng of Witnesses have been busy during the 2005 service year. Over a billion hours were spent in proclaiming the good news in 235 lands. Millions of return visits were made, and millions of Bible studies were conducted. This work has been accomplished by Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have freely given of their time and resources to share God’s Word with others. (Matthew 10:8) By means of his powerful holy spirit, Jehovah continues to empower his servants to accomplish his will.—Zechariah 4:6.
Working Hard to Give a Witness
17. How are Jehovah’s people responding to Jesus’ words about preaching the good news?
17 Though nearly 2,000 years have passed since Jesus said that the good news would be preached, the zeal that God’s people have for the work has not diminished. We know that by our endurance in doing what is fine, we reflect Jehovah’s qualities of love, mercy, and patience. Like him, we do not desire any to be destroyed but desire that people repent and become reconciled to Jehovah. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20; 2 Peter 3:9) Aglow with God’s spirit, Jehovah’s Witnesses zealously continue to proclaim the good news to the ends of the earth. (Romans 12:11) As a result, people everywhere are accepting the truth and conforming to Jehovah’s loving direction. Consider a few examples.
18, 19. What experiences can you relate of some who responded favorably to the good news?
18 Charles was a farmer in western Kenya. In 1998 he sold over 18,000 pounds [8,000 kg] of tobacco and was awarded a certificate that named him the Best Tobacco Farmer. At that time, he began to study the Bible. Soon he came to realize that a person involved in tobacco production violates Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor. (Matthew 22:39) Upon concluding that ‘the best tobacco farmer’ was really ‘the best killer,’ Charles sprayed his tobacco plants with poison. He progressed toward dedication and baptism and is now a regular pioneer and a ministerial servant.
19 There is no doubt that Jehovah is rocking the nations by means of the global witness being given, and the desirable things—people—are coming in. (Haggai 2:7) Pedro, who lives in Portugal, entered a seminary when he was 13 years old. His goal was to become a missionary and to teach the Bible. After a short time, however, he left the seminary because the Bible received so little attention in his classes. Six years later found him studying psychology at a university in Lisbon. He lived with his aunt, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who encouraged him to study the Bible. At that point, Pedro was not sure that God existed, nor could he decide whether to have a Bible study or not. He spoke to his psychology professor about indecisiveness. The professor said that psychology teaches that people who cannot make decisions tend to be self-destructive. At that, Pedro resolved to have a Bible study. He was recently baptized and is now conducting Bible studies of his own.
20. Why may we rejoice that a witness to the nations is being given on such a vast scale?
20 We still do not know to what extent a witness will be given to the nations, nor do we know the day and hour when the end will come. We only know that it will be soon. We rejoice that the preaching of the good news on such a vast scale is but one of the many indications that the time is near for God’s Kingdom to replace human governments. (Daniel 2:44) With each passing year, millions are being given an opportunity to respond to the good news, and this glorifies our God, Jehovah. May it be our determination to remain faithful and along with our brothers worldwide to keep busy in the work of bearing witness to all the nations. By doing so, we will save both ourselves and those who listen to us.—1 Timothy 4:16.
Do You Remember?
• Why is Matthew 24:14 such a remarkable prophecy?
• What efforts did early Christians make in preaching, and with what results?
• How did the Bible Students come to understand the need to bear witness to all the nations?
• In considering the activity of Jehovah’s people in the past service year, what impresses you?
[Chart on page 27-30]
2005 SERVICE YEAR REPORT OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES WORLDWIDE
(See bound volume)
[Map/Pictures on page 25]
Paul traveled thousands of miles on land and sea to preach the good news
[Picture on page 24]
Jehovah directed Peter to witness to Cornelius and his family