“You were once not a people, but now you are God’s people.”—1 PET. 2:10.
1, 2. What change took place at Pentecost 33 C.E., and who became members of Jehovah’s new people? (See opening image.)
PENTECOST 33 C.E. was a milestone in the history of Jehovah’s people on earth. A radical change took place. On that day, by means of his spirit, Jehovah brought forth a new nation—spiritual Israel, “the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:16) For the first time since the days of Abraham, God’s people would no longer be identified by the fleshly circumcision of their males. Instead, regarding each member of that new nation, Paul wrote: “His circumcision is that of the heart by spirit.”—Rom. 2:29.
2 The first members of God’s new nation were the apostles and over a hundred other disciples of Christ who had met together in an upper room in Jerusalem. (Acts 1:12-15) These received the outpouring of the holy spirit, which made them spirit-begotten sons of God. (Rom. 8:15, 16; 2 Cor. 1:21) This gave proof that the new covenant had gone into operation, mediated by Christ and validated by his blood. (Luke 22:20; read Hebrews 9:15.) These disciples thus became members of Jehovah’s new nation, his new people. Holy spirit enabled them to preach in the different languages spoken by the Jews and proselytes who had come to Jerusalem from throughout the Roman Empire to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Weeks, or Pentecost. These people heard and understood in their own tongue “the magnificent things of God” preached by the spirit-begotten Christians.—Acts 2:1-11.
THE NEW PEOPLE OF GOD
3-5. (a) What did Peter tell the Jews on the day of Pentecost? (b) What successive steps contributed to the growth of Jehovah’s new nation during the early years of its existence?
3 Jehovah used the apostle Peter to take the lead in opening up the way for Jews and proselytes to become members of this newborn nation, the Christian congregation. On the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly told the Jews that they must accept Jesus, the man they had “fastened to a stake,” because “God made him both Lord and Christ.” When the crowd asked what they should do, Peter replied: “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the free gift of the holy spirit.” (Acts 2:22, 23, 36-38) That day, some 3,000 people were added to the new nation of spiritual Israel. (Acts 2:41) Afterward, the zealous preaching of the apostles continued to bear more fruit. (Acts 6:7) The new nation was growing.
4 Later, the preaching work was extended to the Samaritans, with good success. Many were baptized by the evangelizer Philip, but they did not immediately receive the holy spirit. The governing body in Jerusalem sent the apostles Peter and John to these Samaritan converts, and “they laid their hands on them, and they began to receive holy spirit.” (Acts 8:5, 6, 14-17) Hence, these Samaritans also became spirit-anointed members of spiritual Israel.
5 In 36 C.E., Peter was again used to extend to others entrance into the new nation of spiritual Israel. This occurred when he preached to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his relatives and friends. (Acts 10:22, 24, 34, 35) The Bible record states: “While Peter was still speaking . . . , the holy spirit came upon all those [non-Jews] hearing the word. And the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the free gift of the holy spirit was being poured out also on people of the nations.” (Acts 10:44, 45) Thus, membership in the new nation of spiritual Israel was now extended to believers who were uncircumcised Gentiles.
“A PEOPLE FOR HIS NAME”
6, 7. In what ways were members of the new nation to act as “a people for [Jehovah’s] name,” and to what extent did they do so?
6 At a meeting of the governing body of first-century Christians held in 49 C.E., the disciple James stated: “Symeon [Peter] has related thoroughly how God for the first time turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name.” (Acts 15:14) This new people bearing Jehovah’s name would include both Jewish and non-Jewish believers. (Rom. 11:25, 26a) Later, Peter wrote: “You were once not a people, but now you are God’s people.” Peter outlined their mission by stating: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the One who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2:9, 10) They were to sound forth the praises of the One they represented and publicly glorify his name. They were to be courageous witnesses for Jehovah, the Universal Sovereign.
7 As had been true of fleshly Israel, members of spiritual Israel were the ones Jehovah called “the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” (Isa. 43:21) Exposing all the false gods that were being worshipped at that time, those early Christians boldly proclaimed that Jehovah is the one true God. (1 Thess. 1:9) They bore witness to Jehovah and to Jesus “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the most distant part of the earth.”—Acts 1:8; Col. 1:23.
8. What warning did the apostle Paul give to God’s people in the first century?
8 An intrepid member of the first-century “people for [Jehovah’s] name” was the apostle Paul. Standing before pagan philosophers, he boldly defended the sovereignty of Jehovah, “the God who made the world and all the things in it, being, as he is, Lord of heaven and earth.” (Acts 17:18, 23-25) Toward the end of his third missionary journey, Paul warned members of God’s name people: “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30) This foretold apostasy had clearly manifested itself by the end of the first century.—1 John 2:18, 19.
9. With regard to the “people for [Jehovah’s] name,” what happened after the death of the apostles?
9 After the death of the apostles, that apostasy blossomed and produced the churches of Christendom. Far from proving to be “a people for [Jehovah’s] name,” apostate Christians have even removed the divine name from many of their translations of the Bible. They have adopted pagan rituals and have dishonored God by their unscriptural dogmas, their “holy wars,” and their immoral conduct. Thus, for centuries, Jehovah had just a sprinkling of faithful worshippers on the earth but no organized “people for his name.”
REBIRTH OF GOD’S PEOPLE
10, 11. (a) What did Jesus foretell in his parable of the wheat and the weeds? (b) How was Jesus’ parable fulfilled after 1914, and with what result?
10 In his parable of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus foretold the spiritual nighttime that would result from the apostasy. He said that “while men were sleeping,” the Devil would oversow with weeds the field where the Son of man had sown wheat seeds. Both would grow together until “the conclusion of the system of things.” Jesus explained that “the fine seed” represents “the sons of the Kingdom” and that “the weeds” are “the sons of the wicked one.” During the time of the end, the Son of man would send forth his “reapers,” the angels, to separate the symbolic wheat from the weeds. The sons of the Kingdom would be gathered. (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43) How did this come about, and what bearing does it have on Jehovah’s having a people on earth?
11 “The conclusion of the system of things” began in 1914. During the war that broke out that year, the few thousand anointed Christians, “the sons of the Kingdom,” were in spiritual captivity to Babylon the Great. In 1919, Jehovah delivered them, making a clear distinction between them and “the weeds,” or imitation Christians. He gathered “the sons of the Kingdom” into an organized people, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Will a land be brought to birth in one day? Or will a nation be born all at once? Yet, as soon as Zion went into labor, she gave birth to her sons.” (Isa. 66:8) Zion, Jehovah’s organization of spirit beings, brought forth her spirit-anointed sons and organized them into a nation.
12. How have the anointed shown themselves to be “a people for [Jehovah’s] name” today?
12 Just like the early Christians, the anointed “sons of the Kingdom” were to be witnesses of Jehovah. (Read Isaiah 43:1, 10, 11.) As such, they would stand out as different by their Christian conduct and by their preaching “this good news of the Kingdom . . . for a witness to all the nations.” (Matt. 24:14; Phil. 2:15) In this way, they have brought many, in fact millions, into a righteous standing before Jehovah.—Read Daniel 12:3.
“WE WANT TO GO WITH YOU”
13, 14. To worship and serve Jehovah acceptably, what must those who are not spiritual Israelites do, and how was this foretold in Bible prophecy?
13 We have seen in the preceding article that in ancient Israel, foreigners could worship Jehovah acceptably, but such foreigners had to associate with Jehovah’s covenant people. (1 Ki. 8:41-43) Similarly today, those who are not spiritual Israelites must associate with Jehovah’s people, “the sons of the Kingdom”—Jehovah’s anointed Witnesses.
14 The flocking of many humans to worship Jehovah with his people in this time of the end was foretold by two ancient prophets. Isaiah prophesied: “Many peoples will go and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will instruct us about his ways, and we will walk in his paths.’ For law will go out of Zion, and the word of Jehovah out of Jerusalem.” (Isa. 2:2, 3) Likewise, the prophet Zechariah foretold that “many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek Jehovah of armies in Jerusalem and to beg for the favor of Jehovah.” He depicted them as “ten men out of all the languages of the nations” who, symbolically speaking, would take hold of the robe of spiritual Israel, saying: “We want to go with you, for we have heard that God is with you people.”—Zech. 8:20-23.
15. In what work do the “other sheep” “go with” the spiritual Israelites?
15 The “other sheep” “go with” the spiritual Israelites in the work of preaching the good news of the Kingdom. (Mark 13:10) They become a part of God’s people, “one flock” with the anointed, under “the fine shepherd,” Christ Jesus.—Read John 10:14-16.
FIND PROTECTION WITH JEHOVAH’S PEOPLE
16. How will Jehovah bring about the final phase of the “great tribulation”?
16 After the destruction of Babylon the Great, there will be an all-out assault on Jehovah’s people, and at that time we will need to be under the protection that Jehovah will provide for his servants. Since this attack will trigger the final part of the “great tribulation,” it is Jehovah himself who will set the stage and choose the moment for this showdown. (Matt. 24:21; Ezek. 38:2-4) At that time, Gog will attack “a people regathered from the nations,” Jehovah’s people. (Ezek. 38:10-12) That attack will be the signal for the execution of Jehovah’s judgments against Gog and his hordes. Jehovah will magnify his sovereignty and sanctify his name, for he says: “I will certainly . . . make myself known before the eyes of many nations; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah.”—Ezek. 38:18-23.
17, 18. (a) When Gog attacks Jehovah’s people, what instructions will they receive? (b) If we want Jehovah’s protection, what must we do?
17 When Gog begins the assault, Jehovah will tell his servants: “Go, my people, enter your inner rooms, and shut your doors behind you. Hide yourself for a brief moment until the wrath has passed by.” (Isa. 26:20) At that crucial time, Jehovah will give us lifesaving instructions, and the “inner rooms” might well be connected with our local congregations.
18 If, therefore, we wish to benefit from Jehovah’s protection during the great tribulation, we must recognize that Jehovah has a people on earth, organized into congregations. We must continue to take our stand with them and remain closely associated with our local congregation. With all our hearts, may we join the psalmist in proclaiming: “Salvation belongs to Jehovah. Your blessing is upon your people.”—Ps. 3:8.