When were God’s people held captive by Babylon the Great?
That spiritual captivity lasted from the second century C.E. to 1919. Why is this adjusted view warranted?
All the evidence indicates that this captivity ended in 1919 when anointed Christians were gathered into the restored congregation. Consider: God’s people were tested and refined during the years following the establishment of God’s Kingdom in the heavens in 1914.a (Mal. 3:1-4) Then, in 1919, Jesus appointed “the faithful and discreet slave” over God’s cleansed people to give them spiritual “food at the proper time.” (Matt. 24:45-47) This was the year that God’s people started to return to their God-given spiritual estate. It was also the time when they were released from symbolic captivity to Babylon the Great. (Rev. 18:4) But when did that captivity actually begin?
For a number of years, we explained that this captivity began in 1918 and involved a brief period of time when God’s people came under the control of Babylon the Great. For example, The Watchtower of March 15, 1992, stated: “Yet, as God’s ancient people were taken into Babylonian captivity for a time, in 1918 Jehovah’s servants came into a measure of bondage to Babylon the Great.” However, further research has shown that this captivity began much earlier than 1918.
For example, let us consider one of the prophecies that foretold this captivity and release of God’s people. It is recorded at Ezekiel 37:1-14. In a vision, Ezekiel sees a valley filled with bones. Jehovah explains to Ezekiel that these bones represent “the whole house of Israel.” In its larger fulfillment, this restoration prophecy applies to “the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:16; Acts 3:21) Next, Ezekiel sees the bones come to life and become a large army. What a fitting way to describe the spiritual resurrection of God’s people that culminated in the events of 1919! But what does this vision reveal to us concerning the length of time involved?
First, we note that the bones are described as either “dry” or “very dry.” (Ezek. 37:2, 11) This indicates that those to whom the bones belonged had been dead for a very long time. Second, the restoration is described as a gradual process, not something that happens suddenly. Initially, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and “the bones began to come together, bone to bone.” Then, “sinews and flesh” were added. Next, the bones, sinews, and flesh were covered with skin. Eventually, “breath came into them, and they began to live.” Finally, Jehovah settled the revived people on their land. All of this would take time.—Ezek. 37:7-10, 14.
The captivity of the ancient nation of Israel lasted a long time. It began in 740 B.C.E. with the fall and exile of many from the ten-tribe northern kingdom. Then, in 607 B.C.E., Jerusalem was destroyed and people of the southern kingdom of Judah were also taken into exile. This period of captivity ended in 537 B.C.E. when a remnant of the Jews returned to rebuild the temple and reestablished pure worship in Jerusalem.
With these Scriptural details in mind, it becomes clear that the captivity of God’s people to Babylon the Great must have been much longer than the events of 1918-1919. The captivity parallels the time when the symbolic weeds would grow together with the wheatlike “sons of the Kingdom.” (Matt. 13:36-43) That growing season refers to the period during which genuine Christians were greatly outnumbered by apostates. The Christian congregation, in effect, was held captive by Babylon the Great. That captivity began sometime in the second century C.E. and continued until the cleansing of the spiritual temple in the time of the end.—Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thess. 2:3, 6; 1 John 2:18, 19.
During that extended period of spiritual captivity, the clergy and their political associates, who were desirous of maintaining their power, kept the Word of God from the people under their control. At times, it was a crime to read the Bible in a common language. Some people who did so were even burned at the stake. Any who expressed an opinion contrary to what the clergy taught were dealt with harshly, thus stifling any attempts to spread the light of the truth.
What about the second development, the restoration? When and how did that occur? This spiritual restoration work was a gradual process. It was accompanied by “a rattling sound” during the centuries leading up to the time of the end. Although false religious teachings held sway for the most part, some faithful individuals stood up in behalf of true worship to the extent that they were able to do so. Some of them endeavored to produce Bibles in the languages of the common people. Others declared the truths that they had discovered in the pages of God’s Word.
Then, in the late 1800’s, Charles Taze Russell and his associates worked zealously to restore Bible truths. It was as if symbolic flesh and skin were starting to be put on spiritual skeletons. Zion’s Watch Tower and other publications helped honesthearted ones to discover spiritual truths. Later, such tools as the “Photo-Drama of Creation” in 1914 and the book The Finished Mystery in 1917 also strengthened God’s people. Finally, in 1919, God’s people were given life, spiritually speaking, and were settled in their new spiritual land. As time has progressed, this remnant of anointed ones has been joined by those with an earthly hope, and together they have become “an extremely large army.”—Ezek. 37:10; Zech. 8:20-23.b
Given these facts, it becomes clear that God’s people went into captivity to Babylon the Great with the growth of the apostasy in the second century C.E. This was a dark period of time, similar to what the ancient Israelites experienced while in exile. How happy we can be, though, that after God’s people experienced centuries of spiritual oppression, we are living in the time when “those having insight will shine . . . brightly” and “many will cleanse themselves” and they “will be refined”!—Dan. 12:3, 10.
Did Satan physically take Jesus to the temple when tempting him?
Put simply, we cannot be certain whether Jesus actually stood in the temple or he did so only by means of a vision. At times, both possibilities have been presented in our publications.
Consider first what the Bible record says. In his Gospel account of this event, the apostle Matthew was inspired to write: “Then the Devil took him [Jesus] along into the holy city, and he stationed him on the battlement [“parapet; highest point,” ftn.] of the temple.” (Matt. 4:5) Luke’s parallel account puts it this way: “He then led him into Jerusalem and stationed him on the battlement of the temple.”—Luke 4:9.
In the past, our publications have reasoned that this event may not have happened literally. For example, in the issue of March 1, 1961, The Watchtower explained: “It does not seem reasonable to place a literal construction on all that appears in the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Certainly there is no mountain from which one could be shown ‘all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.’ So too, we must reasonably conclude that Satan did not literally, bodily, physically, take Jesus ‘along into the holy city’ and station him ‘upon the battlement of the temple.’ Such was not at all necessary for the temptation to have force.” However, in subsequent issues of this journal, we have observed that Christ’s complying with Satan’s request could have resulted in Jesus’ suicide.
Some have stated that, as a non-Levite, Jesus was not authorized to stand on top of the temple sanctuary. So it was assumed that Jesus may have been ‘taken along’ to the temple by means of a vision. That is similar to what happened centuries earlier to the prophet Ezekiel.—Ezek. 8:3, 7-10; 11:1, 24; 37:1, 2.
However, if this temptation occurred only in the form of a vision, the following questions arise:
Was the temptation real or imaginary?
If the other temptations were efforts to lure Jesus into carrying out physical actions such as turning literal stones into bread or performing a real act of worship before Satan, would not this temptation have been similar—requiring Jesus physically to jump from the temple?
On the other hand, if Jesus did stand physically on the battlement of the temple, other questions arise:
Did Jesus violate the Law by standing on top of the sanctuary?
How did Jesus get from the wilderness to Jerusalem?
Further research helps us to see some possibilities that may answer these last two questions.
First, Professor D. A. Carson notes that the Greek word hi·e·ron’, translated “temple” in both accounts, “probably refers to the entire complex, not the sanctuary itself.” So Jesus would not necessarily have had to stand on top of the sanctuary itself. He could have stood, for example, on the southeastern corner of the temple area. From that location, there was a drop of some 450 feet (137 m) to the floor of the Kidron Valley. The southeast structure had a flat roof with a parapet and was the highest in the temple. The ancient historian Josephus stated that if a person stood there and looked down, he “would become dizzy” because of the height. As a non-Levite, Jesus would have been allowed to stand in that location, and his doing so would not have caused any commotion.
But how could Jesus have been taken along to the temple when he was in the wilderness? The basic answer is that we cannot know for certain. The brief description of the temptations does not state how long a period was involved or where Jesus was in the wilderness. We cannot rule out the possibility that Jesus may have walked back to Jerusalem, even though doing so may have taken some time. The account does not specifically say that Jesus remained in the wilderness throughout the time of the temptations. Rather, it merely says that he was taken into Jerusalem.
What, though, of the temptation wherein Jesus was shown “all the kingdoms of the world”? Obviously, he did not literally see all the kingdoms; there is no literal mountain from which all of them can be seen. So Satan may have used some sort of vision to show these to Jesus, similar to the way a projector and a screen can be used to show someone pictures of various places on earth. However, although a vision may have been used, the “act of worship” would have been real, not imaginary. (Matt. 4:8, 9) It could be argued, then, that the temptation to jump off the battlement of the temple involved a real action with real consequences—adding a greater seriousness to this temptation than would be the case were it a mere vision.
The fact is, as stated at the outset, we cannot be dogmatic about this matter. Hence, we cannot rule out the possibility that Jesus actually went to Jerusalem and stood on the battlement of the temple. But one thing we can be sure about is that these temptations were real and that Jesus gave a conclusive answer to the Devil in each case.
b Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Revelation 11:7-12 each speak of a spiritual restoration that took place in 1919. However, the prophecy in Ezekiel foretold the eventual spiritual restoration of all of God’s people after an extremely long period of captivity. On the other hand, the prophecy in Revelation refers to the spiritual rebirth of a small group of anointed brothers who have taken the lead after a relatively short period of forced inactivity.