Things From Which We Must Flee
“You offspring of vipers, who has intimated to you to flee from the coming wrath?”—MATT. 3:7.
1. What are some Bible examples of fleeing?
WHAT do you think of when you hear the word “flee”? Some may see in their mind’s eye the handsome young man Joseph fleeing from the immoral grasp of Potiphar’s wife. (Gen. 39:7-12) Others might think of Christians who fled from Jerusalem in the year 66 C.E., obeying Jesus’ warning: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then . . . let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw.”—Luke 21:20, 21.
2, 3. (a) What was the import of John the Baptist’s criticism of the religious leaders? (b) How did Jesus strengthen the warning that John had given?
2 The examples mentioned above involved fleeing in a literal way. Today, for true Christians in almost every land around the globe, there is an urgent need to flee in a figurative way. John the Baptist used the word “flee” in such a sense. Among those coming to see John were self-righteous Jewish religious leaders who felt no need to repent. They looked down on the common people who were getting baptized in symbol of repentance. Fearlessly, John exposed those hypocritical leaders: “You offspring of vipers, who has intimated to you to flee from the coming wrath? So then produce fruit that befits repentance.”—Matt. 3:7, 8.
3 John was not speaking of a physical flight. He was warning of a coming judgment, a day of wrath; and he put the religious leaders on notice that if they were to escape during that day, they would need to produce fruit that proved their repentance. Later, Jesus fearlessly denounced the religious leaders—their murderous attitude showed that their real father was the Devil. (John 8:44) Strengthening John’s earlier warning, Jesus called them “offspring of vipers” and asked: “How are you to flee from the judgment of Gehenna?” (Matt. 23:33) What did Jesus mean by “Gehenna”?
4. What did Jesus mean by “Gehenna”?
4 Gehenna was a valley area outside the walls of Jerusalem where rubbish and the carcasses of dead animals were burned. Jesus used Gehenna as a symbol of eternal death. (See page 27.) His question about escaping from Gehenna showed that those religious leaders as a class were fit for everlasting destruction.—Matt. 5:22, 29.
5. Historically, how did what John and Jesus warned about work out?
5 The Jewish leaders compounded their sins by persecuting Jesus and his followers. Later, as John and Jesus had warned, God’s day of wrath came. In that case, “the coming wrath” was centered on one particular locale, Jerusalem and Judea, so it could have been possible to flee in a literal way. The wrath was expressed when Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed by Roman armies in 70 C.E. That “tribulation” was greater than anything Jerusalem had ever experienced. Many were killed or taken captive. This pointed to a greater destruction that awaits many professed Christians and those of other religions.—Matt. 24:21.
A Future Wrath From Which to Flee
6. What began to develop in the early Christian congregation?
6 Some among the early Christians turned apostate and gained followers. (Acts 20:29, 30) While Jesus’ apostles were living, they acted as “a restraint” against such apostasy, but after they died, many false Christian sects developed. Today, there are hundreds of conflicting religions in the realm of Christendom. The Bible pointed to the rise of Christendom’s clergy, describing them collectively as “the man of lawlessness” and “the son of destruction . . . whom the Lord Jesus will do away with . . . and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his presence.”—2 Thess. 2:3, 6-8.
7. Why does the expression “man of lawlessness” fit Christendom’s clergy?
7 Christendom’s clergy are lawless in that they have misled millions by promoting teachings, holidays, and behavior contrary to the Bible. Like the religious leaders whom Jesus condemned, the modern-day worshippers who are part of “the son of destruction” face destruction with no hope of a resurrection. (2 Thess. 1:6-9) What, though, awaits people who have been misled by Christendom’s clergy and by clerics of other forms of false religion? To answer this question, let us consider events that followed an earlier destruction of Jerusalem, in 607 B.C.E.
“Flee Out of the Midst of Babylon”
8, 9. (a) Jeremiah had what prophetic message for Jews captive in Babylon? (b) After the conquest of Babylon by the Medes and the Persians, what sort of fleeing became possible?
8 The prophet Jeremiah foretold the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in 607 B.C.E. He said that God’s people would be carried into captivity but would be restored to their homeland after “seventy years.” (Jer. 29:4, 10) For Jews captive in Babylon, Jeremiah had an important message; they were to stay uncontaminated by the false religion that was practiced in Babylon. Thus they would be ready to return to Jerusalem and restore pure worship when the set time arrived. This happened soon after the Medes and the Persians conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.E. Persian King Cyrus II issued a decree for the Jews to return and rebuild Jehovah’s temple in Jerusalem.—Ezra 1:1-4.
9 Thousands of Jews seized this opportunity and returned. (Ezra 2:64-67) In doing so, they fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophetic command that in their case involved fleeing in one sense, getting away to another location. (Read Jeremiah 51:6, 45, 50.) Circumstances did not permit all the Jews to make the long trip back to Jerusalem and Judah. Those remaining in Babylon, such as the aged prophet Daniel, could have God’s blessing, provided they wholeheartedly supported pure worship centered in Jerusalem and remained separate from Babylonian false worship.
10. “Babylon the Great” is responsible for what sort of “disgusting things”?
10 Today, billions of humans are involved in various forms of false religion that can be traced back to ancient Babylon. (Gen. 11:6-9) Collectively, those religions are designated as “Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and of the disgusting things of the earth.” (Rev. 17:5) False religion has a long history of supporting the political rulers of this world. Among “the disgusting things” that she bears responsibility for are the many wars that have resulted in hundreds of millions being “slaughtered on the earth.” (Rev. 18:24) Additional “disgusting things” include acts of pedophilia and other forms of sexual immorality committed by clergymen and tolerated by the church authorities. Is it any wonder that Jehovah God will soon rid this earth of false religion?—Rev. 18:8.
11. Until Babylon the Great is destroyed, true Christians have what obligation?
11 True Christians, who know this, have an obligation to warn members of Babylon the Great. One way they do so is by distributing Bibles and related literature published by “the faithful and discreet slave,” whom Jesus appointed to provide spiritual “food at the proper time.” (Matt. 24:45) When individuals show an interest in the Bible’s message, arrangements are made to help them by means of a Bible study. Hopefully, they will see the need to “flee out of the midst of Babylon” before it is too late.—Rev. 18:4.
Flee From Idolatry
12. How does God view the veneration of images and idols?
12 Another disgusting practice common in Babylon the Great is the veneration of images and idols. God calls them “disgusting things” and “dungy idols.” (Deut. 29:17) All who want to please God must avoid idolatry, in harmony with God’s statement: “I am Jehovah. That is my name; and to no one else shall I give my own glory, neither my praise to graven images.”—Isa. 42:8.
13. We need to flee from what subtle forms of idolatry?
13 God’s Word also exposes subtle forms of idolatry. For example, it calls covetousness “idolatry.” (Col. 3:5) To covet means to desire what is forbidden, such as another person’s possessions. (Ex. 20:17) The angel who became Satan the Devil developed a covetous desire to resemble the Most High and to be worshipped. (Luke 4:5-7) This led him to rebel against Jehovah and to seduce Eve into coveting something God had forbidden. In a sense, Adam also committed idolatry by allowing his selfish desire for his wife’s companionship to be more important than obedience to his loving heavenly Father. In contrast, all who want to flee God’s day of wrath must give him exclusive devotion and resist any such covetousness.
“Flee From Fornication”
14-16. (a) Why was Joseph such a good moral example? (b) What should we do if we experience unclean sexual desire? (c) How can we succeed in fleeing from fornication?
14 Read 1 Corinthians 6:18. When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, he literally fled from her. What a fine example he set for Christians, both single and married! Clearly, Joseph’s conscience had been molded by earlier indications of God’s thinking. If we want to obey the command to “flee from fornication,” we will avoid things that might arouse sexual desire for someone other than our mate. We are told: “Deaden . . . your body members . . . as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of those things the wrath of God is coming.”—Col. 3:5, 6.
15 Notice that “the wrath of God is coming.” Many in the world develop improper sexual desires and succumb to them. Hence, we Christians need to pray for God’s help and holy spirit so that unclean sexual desires do not control us. In addition, studying the Bible, attending Christian meetings, and sharing the good news with our neighbors will help us to “keep walking by spirit.” Thus we “will carry out no fleshly desire at all.”—Gal. 5:16.
16 Certainly, if we view pornography, we will not be “walking by spirit.” Similarly, every Christian needs to guard against reading, watching, or listening to sexually arousing material. Paralleling that, it is wrong for God’s “holy people” to find any pleasure in joking about such matters or discussing them among themselves. (Eph. 5:3, 4) We thereby show our loving Father that we really want to escape his coming wrath and live in the righteous new world.
Flee From “the Love of Money”
17, 18. Why must we flee from “the love of money”?
17 In his first letter to Timothy, Paul highlighted principles that should govern Christian slaves, some of whom may have expected material advantages because of having Christian owners. Others may have tried to use what was holy for selfish gain. Paul warned against “thinking that godly devotion is a means of [material] gain.” The root of the problem may have been “the love of money,” which can have a bad effect on anyone, rich or poor.—1 Tim. 6:1, 2, 5, 9, 10.
18 Can you think of Bible examples of individuals whose relationship with God was damaged by “the love of money” or the love of nonessential things that money can buy? (Josh. 7:11, 21; 2 Ki. 5:20, 25-27) Paul urged Timothy: “You, O man of God, flee from these things. But pursue righteousness, godly devotion, faith, love, endurance, mildness of temper.” (1 Tim. 6:11) Heeding that advice is vital for all who want to survive the coming day of wrath.
“Flee From the Desires Incidental to Youth”
19. All youths need what?
19 Read Proverbs 22:15. The foolishness in the heart of a youth can easily lead him or her astray. Something that can help to counter this is Bible-based discipline. Many Christian youths whose parents do not share their faith seek to find and apply principles set out in the Bible. Others benefit from the wise advice of spiritually mature ones in the congregation. Regardless of who gives Bible-based counsel, submitting to it can lead to happiness both now and in the future.—Heb. 12:8-11.
20. How can youths find help to flee from wrong desires?
20 Read 2 Timothy 2:20-22. Many a youthful heart lacking beneficial discipline has fallen prey to foolish ways, such as a competitive spirit, covetousness, fornication, the love of money, and the pursuit of pleasure. These reflect “desires incidental to youth,” from which the Bible urges us to flee. Fleeing requires that a Christian youth guard against unwholesome influences, wherever they might surface. Especially helpful is the divine advice to pursue godly qualities “along with those who call upon the Lord out of a clean heart.”
21. What wonderful promise did Jesus Christ make about his sheeplike followers?
21 Whether we are young or old, refusal to listen to people who try to mislead us shows that we want to be counted among Jesus’ sheeplike followers who “flee from . . . the voice of strangers.” (John 10:5) Escaping God’s day of wrath, however, requires more of us than just fleeing from harmful things. We must also pursue qualities that are positive. The next article will consider seven of these. We have good reason to look into this further, for Jesus makes this wonderful promise: “I give [my sheep] everlasting life, and they will by no means ever be destroyed, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”—John 10:28.
How Would You Answer?
• Jesus gave what warning to religious leaders?
• What dangerous situation do millions face today?
• From what subtle forms of idolatry must we flee?
[Pictures on page 8, 9]
What do you think of when you hear the word “flee”?