When were God’s people captives, or prisoners, of Babylon the Great?
This started sometime after the year 100 and ended in 1919. Why is this adjustment to our understanding necessary?
All the evidence shows that in 1919, anointed Christians were freed from Babylon the Great and were gathered into a cleansed congregation. Think about this: Immediately after God’s Kingdom began ruling in the heavens in 1914, God’s people were tested and gradually cleansed of false worship.* (See footnote.) (Malachi 3:1-4) Then in 1919, Jesus appointed “the faithful and discreet slave” to give “food at the proper time” to God’s cleansed people. (Matthew 24:45-47) In that same year, God’s people were released from symbolic captivity to Babylon the Great. (Revelation 18:4) But when did God’s people become captives?
In the past, we explained that God’s people became captives of Babylon the Great for a short time beginning in 1918. The Watchtower of March 15, 1992, said that just as the Israelites were taken captive to Babylon, in 1918 Jehovah’s servants became captives of Babylon the Great. But more research shows that God’s people became captives many years before 1918.
The prophecy at Ezekiel 37:1-14 foretold that God’s people would become captives and would later be released. Ezekiel had a vision of a valley filled with bones. Jehovah said: “These bones are the whole house of Israel.” (Verse 11) This applied to the nation of Israel and would later apply to “the Israel of God,” who are the anointed. (Galatians 6:16; Acts 3:21) In the vision, the bones came to life and became a large army. This described the way that God’s people were released from Babylon the Great in 1919. But how does this prophecy show that they were captives for a long time?
First, Ezekiel noticed that the bones of the dead people were “very dry.” (Ezekiel 37:2, 11) This means that the people had been dead for a very long time. Second, Ezekiel saw that the dead came back to life gradually, not suddenly. He heard “a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones began to come together, bone to bone.” Then, he saw “sinews and flesh come on them.” Next, skin covered the flesh. Later, “breath came into them, and they began to live.” Finally, after the people came back to life, Jehovah gave them their land to live on. All of this would take time.—Ezekiel 37:7-10, 14.
Just as this prophecy foretold, the Israelites were captives for a long time. Their captivity began in the year 740 before Christ when the ten tribes of Israel, the northern kingdom, were forced to leave their land. Later, in the year 607 before Christ, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the other two tribes, the southern kingdom of Judah, were also forced to leave their land. Then, in the year 537 before Christ, the captivity ended when a small number of Jews returned to rebuild the temple and to worship Jehovah again in Jerusalem.
So all these details show that anointed Christians must have been captives of Babylon the Great for a long time, not just from 1918 to 1919. Jesus also referred to this long period of time when he said that false Christians, the weeds, would grow together with “the sons of the Kingdom,” the wheat. (Matthew 13:36-43) During that time period, there were only a few true Christians. Most of those who said that they were Christians accepted false teachings and became apostates. That is why we can say that the Christian congregation was held captive by Babylon the Great. This captivity began sometime after the year 100 and continued until God’s spiritual temple was cleansed in the time of the end.—Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 6; 1 John 2:18, 19.
During those hundreds of years, church leaders and political leaders wanted to keep people under their control. For example, people were not allowed to have a Bible or to read the Bible in a language they could understand. Some who read the Bible were even burned at the stake. And those who spoke against what church leaders taught were severely punished. It was almost impossible for anyone to learn the truth or teach it to others.
We also learn from Ezekiel’s vision that God’s people came back to life and were released from false religion gradually. So when did this start to happen, and how? The vision mentions “a rattling sound.” This started to happen in the last few hundred years before the time of the end. During those years, there were some faithful individuals who wanted to find the truth and serve God even though they were surrounded by false teachings. They studied the Bible and did all they could to tell people what they were learning. Others worked hard to translate the Bible into languages that people understood.
Then, near the end of the 1800’s, it was as if flesh and skin were coming on the bones. Charles Taze Russell and his friends worked hard to find Bible truth and serve Jehovah. They also helped others to understand the truth by using Zion’s Watch Tower and other publications. Later, the “Photo-Drama of Creation” in 1914 and the book The Finished Mystery in 1917 helped Jehovah’s people to strengthen their faith. Finally, in 1919, it was as if his people were given life and a new land. Since then, those who have the hope of living forever on earth have joined the anointed. They all worship Jehovah, and together they have become “an extremely large army.”—Ezekiel 37:10; Zechariah 8:20-23.*—See footnote.
So it is clear that God’s people became captives of Babylon the Great after the year 100. This is the time period when many people became apostate by accepting false religious teachings and rejecting the truth. For many years, it was very difficult to serve Jehovah, just as it was for the Israelites when they were prisoners. But today the truth is being preached to everyone. How happy we are that we are living in the time when “those having insight will shine . . . brightly”! Many can now “cleanse themselves,” “be refined,” and accept true worship!—Daniel 12:3, 10.
When Satan tried to tempt Jesus, did he actually take Jesus to the temple, or did he show the temple to Jesus in a vision?
We do not know for sure how Satan showed the temple to Jesus.
The Bible writers Matthew and Luke both wrote about what happened. Matthew said that “the Devil took” Jesus to Jerusalem and “stationed him on the battlement of the temple,” that is, the “highest point” of the temple. (Matthew 4:5; footnote) Luke said that the Devil “led him into Jerusalem and stationed him on the battlement of the temple.”—Luke 4:9.
In the past, our publications said that Satan may not have physically taken Jesus to the temple when he tried to tempt him. The Watchtower of March 1, 1961, compared this to when Satan tried to tempt Jesus by showing him all the kingdoms of the world from a high mountain. It said that there is no mountain that is high enough for someone to be able to see all the kingdoms of the world. The Watchtower then said that in the same way, Satan probably did not physically take Jesus to the real temple. However, later articles in The Watchtower said that if Jesus had jumped off the temple, he could have been killed.
Some say that since Jesus was not a Levite, he would not have been allowed to stand on top of the temple sanctuary. So they say that Satan must have tried to tempt Jesus using a vision. Hundreds of years earlier, Ezekiel was also taken to a temple in a vision.—Ezekiel 8:3, 7-10; 11:1, 24; 37:1, 2.
But if Jesus was taken to the temple in a vision, some may wonder:
Would Jesus really have felt tempted to jump off the temple?
The other times Satan tried to tempt Jesus, he asked Jesus to turn real stones into real bread and wanted Jesus to do a real act of worship to him. So is it possible that Satan also wanted Jesus to jump off the real temple?
But if Satan did not use a vision and took Jesus to the real temple, then some may wonder:
Did Jesus break the Law by standing on top of the temple sanctuary?
How did Jesus get from the wilderness to the temple in Jerusalem?
Let us consider some additional information that will help us answer these last two questions.
Professor D. A. Carson wrote that the Greek word for “temple” used in Matthew and Luke probably referred to the entire temple area and not just to the sanctuary, an area where only Levites were allowed to go. The southeastern corner of the temple area had a flat roof that was the highest in the temple. Jesus could have been placed on that roof. The distance from that point to the bottom of the Kidron Valley was about 140 meters (450 feet). The historian Josephus said that this area was so high that if a person stood there and looked down, he “would become dizzy.” Even though Jesus was not a Levite, he could have stood there and nobody would have objected.
But how could Jesus get from the wilderness to the temple in Jerusalem? We do not know for sure. The Bible simply says that Jesus was taken to Jerusalem. It does not say how far Jesus was from Jerusalem or how long he was tempted by Satan. So it is possible that Jesus walked to Jerusalem, even though this may have taken a long time.
When Satan showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world,” he probably used a vision, because it is not possible to see all these kingdoms from any mountain on earth. This may have been similar to the way we can use a movie screen to show someone pictures of other parts of the world. Satan may have used a vision, but he actually wanted Jesus to bow down and worship him. (Matthew 4:8, 9) So when Satan took Jesus to the temple, it is possible that he actually wanted Jesus to risk his life by jumping off the temple. But Jesus rejected him. How much more of a temptation this would have been than if Jesus had only been tempted in a vision!
So it is possible that Jesus actually went to Jerusalem and stood on the highest point of the temple. Of course, as was said at the beginning of this article, we do not know for sure exactly how Satan showed the temple to Jesus. But we can be sure that Satan kept trying to get Jesus to do something wrong and that each time, Jesus firmly rejected him.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Revelation 11:7-12 each speak about something that happened in 1919. The prophecy at Ezekiel 37:1-14 refers to all of God’s people returning to true worship in 1919 after a very long time of captivity. But Revelation 11:7-12 refers to the reviving in 1919 of a small group of anointed brothers who have taken the lead among God’s people. Those brothers had not been allowed to be active for a period of time.