“[Jehovah] called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”—1 PET. 2:9.
1. Describe the events that occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem.
IN 607 B.C.E., a massive Babylonian army under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar II invaded the city of Jerusalem. Regarding the bloodbath that followed, the Bible says: “[Nebuchadnezzar] killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary; he felt no compassion for young man or virgin, old or infirm. . . . He burned down the house of the true God, tore down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its fortified towers with fire, and destroyed everything of value.”—2 Chron. 36:17, 19.
2. What warning of Jerusalem’s impending destruction did Jehovah give, and what would happen to the Jews?
2 The destruction of Jerusalem should have come as no surprise to its inhabitants. For years, God’s prophets had warned the Jews that if they continued to disregard God’s Law, they would be delivered into the hands of the Babylonians. Many Jews would die by the edge of the sword; any who escaped death would likely have to spend the rest of their lives in exile in Babylon. (Jer. 15:2) What was life like for exiles there? Does the Babylonian captivity find a parallel in Christian times? If so, when?
LIFE IN EXILE
3. How did exile in Babylon differ from the slavery the Israelites had experienced in Egypt?
3 What the prophets had foretold came to pass. Through Jeremiah, Jehovah advised the future exiles to accept their new situation and make the most of it. He said: “Build houses [in Babylon] and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their fruit. And seek the peace of the city to which I have exiled you, and pray in its behalf to Jehovah, for in its peace you will have peace.” (Jer. 29:5, 7) Those who submitted to the will of God lived a relatively normal life in Babylon. Their captors allowed them to administer their own affairs to some extent. The exiles even had freedom to move about the country. Babylon was a center of trade and commerce in the ancient world, and documents that have been unearthed indicate that many Jews learned the art of buying and selling there, while others became skilled craftsmen. Some Jews even became prosperous. Exile in Babylon was nothing like the slavery in Egypt that the Israelites had experienced centuries before.—Read Exodus 2:23-25.
4. Besides rebellious Israelites, who were affected by captivity in Babylon, and what limitations were placed on their ability to worship God acceptably?
4 Although the material needs of the exiled Jews were being met, what of their spiritual needs? Jehovah’s temple with its altar had been destroyed, and the priesthood was no longer functioning in an organized manner. Among the exiles were faithful servants of God who had done nothing deserving of punishment, but they had to suffer along with the rest of the nation. Nevertheless, they did what they could to observe God’s Law. For example, in Babylon, Daniel and three of his companions—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—abstained from foods that were forbidden to Jews. And we know that Daniel maintained regular communication with God in prayer. (Dan. 1:8; 6:10) Still, under a pagan administration, it was impossible for a God-fearing Jew to do everything the Law required.
5. What hope did Jehovah give his people, and why was this promise remarkable?
5 Would the Israelites ever again be able to worship God in a completely acceptable way? At the time, it seemed most unlikely that they would. Babylon never released its captives. That policy, however, did not take Jehovah God into account. He had promised that his people would be liberated, and so they were. God’s word of promise never fails.—Isa. 55:11.
IS THERE A MODERN-DAY PARALLEL?
6, 7. Why is it appropriate for us to clarify our understanding of the modern-day Babylonian captivity?
6 Have Christians ever experienced anything comparable to the Babylonian captivity? For many years, this journal suggested that God’s modern-day servants entered into Babylonian captivity in 1918 and that they were released from Babylon in 1919. However, for the reasons that we shall outline in this article and in the one following, a reexamination of the subject was necessary.
7 Consider: Babylon the Great is the world empire of false religion. Thus, in order to be subject to Babylonian captivity in 1918, God’s people would have had to become enslaved to false religion in some way at that time. The facts show, however, that in the decades leading up to World War I, God’s anointed servants were actually breaking free from Babylon the Great, not becoming enslaved to it. While it is true that the anointed were persecuted during the first world war, the tribulation they experienced was caused mainly by the secular authorities, not by Babylon the Great. So it does not really seem that Jehovah’s people entered into captivity to Babylon the Great in 1918.
BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY—BUT WHEN?
8. Explain how genuine Christianity came to be corrupted. (See opening picture.)
8 At Pentecost 33 C.E., thousands of Jews and proselytes were anointed with holy spirit. These new Christians became “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.” (Read 1 Peter 2:9, 10.) The apostles kept careful watch over the congregations of God’s people as long as they lived. However, especially after the death of the apostles, men arose who spoke “twisted things” in order to “draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:30; 2 Thess. 2:6-8) Many of these men had responsible positions in the congregations, serving as overseers and later as “bishops.” A clergy class was taking shape, although Jesus had said to his followers: “All of you are brothers.” (Matt. 23:8) Prominent men who were enamored of the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato introduced false religious ideas, gradually replacing the pure teachings of God’s Word.
9. Describe how apostate Christianity received the backing of the Roman State and what resulted.
9 In 313 C.E., this apostate form of Christianity was granted legal recognition by the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine. From that time on, Church and State began working hand in hand. For example, after the Council of Nicaea, Constantine, who was present at the council, ordered Arius, a dissenting priest, into exile because Arius refused to acknowledge Jesus as God. Later, under Emperor Theodosius I (379-395 C.E.), the Catholic Church, as the contaminated form of Christianity came to be known, became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Historians refer to pagan Rome as having been “Christianized” in the fourth century. The truth is that by that time an apostate form of Christianity had joined the pagan religious organizations of the Roman Empire as members of Babylon the Great. Even so, a small number of anointed wheatlike Christians were doing their best to worship God, but their voices were being drowned out. (Read Matthew 13:24, 25, 37-39.) They truly were in Babylonian captivity!
10. On what basis could sincere people question church teachings during the first few centuries of our Common Era?
10 Still, for the first few centuries of our Common Era, many people could read the Bible in either Greek or Latin. They were thus in a position to compare the teachings of God’s Word with the dogmas of the church. On the basis of what they read in the Bible, some among them rejected the unscriptural creeds of the church, but it was dangerous—even fatal—to express such opinions openly.
11. How did the Bible come to be under the control of the clergy?
11 In time, Bible languages fell into disuse by the masses, and the church opposed efforts to translate God’s Word into the common tongues. As a result, only the clergy and some other educated people could read the Bible for themselves, although not all of the clergy could read and write well. Any dissent from what the church taught was severely punished. Faithful anointed servants of God had to meet together in discreet groups—if they could meet at all. As was the case in the earlier Babylonian exile, the anointed “royal priesthood” could not function in an organized way. Babylon the Great held the people in a viselike grip!
THE LIGHT BEGINS TO APPEAR
12, 13. What two factors contributed to a slight loosening of the grip of Babylon the Great on the people? Explain.
12 Would true Christians ever be free to worship God openly and acceptably? Yes! Glimmers of spiritual light began to penetrate the darkness, thanks to two important factors. The first was the invention in the mid-15th century of a printing press that used movable type. Before printing was brought to the Western world, the Bible was painstakingly copied by hand. Copies of the Bible were rare and expensive. It has been said that it would take ten months for a skilled copyist to produce just one handwritten copy of the Bible! In addition, the materials on which the copyists wrote (vellum or parchment) were costly. In contrast, using a press and paper—a more practical alternative—a skilled printer could produce 1,300 pages per day!
13 The second notable factor was the decision by a few courageous men at the dawn of the 16th century to translate God’s Word into the languages spoken by the common people. Many translators undertook this work at the risk of their lives. The church was horrified. A Bible in the hands of a God-fearing man or woman could be a dangerous weapon—or so the church leaders feared! And as the Bible became available, people did read it. As they read, they asked questions: ‘Where in God’s Word is there mention of purgatory? of paid masses for the dead? of popes and cardinals?’ From the point of view of the church, this was an outrage. How dare the multitudes question church leaders! The church fought back. Men and women were condemned for heresy because they rejected teachings of the church, some of which were based on the pagan philosophies of Aristotle and Plato—men who lived before Jesus Christ was born. The church handed down the death sentence; the State carried it out. The goal was to discourage people from reading the Bible and questioning the church. For the most part, the scheme worked. Nevertheless, a few brave souls refused to be cowed by Babylon the Great. They had now had a taste of God’s Word—and they wanted more! The stage was being set for a future deliverance from false religion.
14. (a) What conditions contributed to a greater understanding of Bible truth in the late 1800’s? (b) Describe Brother Russell’s quest for the truth.
14 Many who thirsted for Bible truth fled to countries where the influence of the church was less pervasive. They wanted to read and study and converse with one another without being told what to think. It was in one such country, the United States, that Charles Taze Russell and a few associates began their systematic study of the Bible in the late 1800’s. Initially, Brother Russell’s goal was to ascertain which of the prevailing religions was teaching the truth. He had carefully compared the teachings of many different religions, even non-Christian religions, with what the Bible says. He soon realized that not one of those religions completely adhered to God’s Word. At one point, he met with a number of local clergymen in hopes that these men would accept the truths that Russell and his associates had discovered from the Bible and teach them to members of their congregations. The clergymen were not interested. The Bible Students would have to face the facts: There could be no partnership with those determined to hold on to false religion.—Read 2 Corinthians 6:14.
15. (a) When did Christians come under the yoke of Babylon the Great? (b) What questions remain for the next article to answer?
15 Thus far we have seen that true Christians came into Babylonian captivity soon after the death of the last of the apostles. However, a number of questions arise: What additional evidence is there that in the decades leading up to 1914, the anointed were actually breaking free from Babylon the Great, no longer being enslaved by her? Is it true that Jehovah was displeased with his servants because they had slowed down in their preaching activity during World War I? And did some of our brothers during that period compromise their Christian neutrality and thereby incur Jehovah’s displeasure? Finally, if Christians went into bondage to false religion from the second century C.E. onward, when did they get freed? Excellent questions these. They will be answered in the next article.