“[Jehovah] called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”—1 PETER 2:9.
1. What happened during the destruction of Jerusalem?
IN THE year 607 before Christ, King Nebuchadnezzar II and his huge Babylonian army attacked the city of Jerusalem. The Bible says that the king killed the young men with a sword. “He felt no compassion for young man or virgin, old or infirm.” In the end, “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 Chronicles 36:17, 19.
2. What warning did Jehovah give, and what would happen to the Jews?
2 The Jews should not have been surprised at the destruction of Jerusalem. For many years, God had sent prophets to warn the people that if they continued to disobey him, they would be attacked by the Babylonians. Many Jews would be killed by the sword, and those who survived would likely live in exile in Babylon. (Jeremiah 15:2) What was it like to live in exile? Did something similar to the Babylonian captivity ever happen to Christians? If so, when?
LIFE IN EXILE
3. How was life as exiles in Babylon different from life as slaves in Egypt?
3 Jehovah had told the Jews that when they were taken into exile, they were to accept their new situation and live their lives as best they could. He told them through Jeremiah: “Build houses 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.” (Jeremiah 29:5, 7) The Jews who followed Jehovah’s instructions lived an almost normal life in exile. The Babylonians allowed the Jews to handle most of their own affairs and to travel around the country freely. At that time, Babylon was a center for business. Ancient documents show that while in exile, many Jews learned the art of buying and selling and became good craftsmen. Some Jews even became rich. Life in exile was not as difficult as life had been for the Israelites who were slaves in Egypt hundreds of years before.—Read Exodus 2:23-25.
4. Along with the unfaithful Jews, who else had to suffer, and why were they not able to do everything the Law required?
4 Some of the Jewish exiles were faithful servants of God. Even though they had done nothing wrong, they had to suffer along with the rest of the nation. The Jews had what they needed materially, but how could they worship Jehovah? The temple and the altar had been destroyed, and the priesthood could not work in an organized way. But faithful Jews did what they could to follow God’s Law. For example, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to eat foods forbidden for the Jews. And the Bible says that Daniel regularly prayed to God. (Daniel 1:8; 6:10) Still, because they were ruled by a pagan nation, it was impossible for faithful Jews to do everything the Law required.
God’s promises always come true!
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 that time, it may have seemed impossible because Babylon never released its captives. But Jehovah God had promised that his people would be freed, and they eventually were. God’s promises always come true!—Isaiah 55:11.
WERE CHRISTIANS EVER CAPTIVES TO BABYLON?
6, 7. Why is it necessary for us to adjust our understanding?
6 Have Christians ever experienced anything similar to that Babylonian captivity? For many years, The Watchtower said that faithful Christians went into Babylonian captivity in 1918 and were freed from Babylon in 1919. However, in this article and the next, we will learn why it is necessary to adjust our understanding.
Long before World War I, God’s anointed servants were separating themselves from false religion
7 Think about this: Babylon the Great is the world empire of false religion. And God’s people did not become slaves to false religion in 1918. It is true that during that time, the anointed were persecuted. But their persecution was caused mostly by governments, not by false religion. Long before World War I, God’s anointed servants were actually separating themselves from false religion. So it does not really seem that Jehovah’s people entered into captivity to Babylon the Great in 1918.
WHEN WERE GOD’S PEOPLE IN BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY?
8. What happened after the apostles died? (See opening picture.)
8 At Pentecost in the year 33, thousands of new Christians were anointed with holy spirit. These became “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.” (Read 1 Peter 2:9, 10.) The apostles carefully watched over the congregations as long as they lived. However, particularly after the apostles died, some men in the congregations started to teach false ideas and wanted to draw the disciples away from the truth. These men loved the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato and started teaching their ideas instead of the truth from God’s Word. (Acts 20:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8) Many were prominent men and overseers in the congregations. So even though Jesus had said to his followers, “All of you are brothers,” a clergy class was starting to form.—Matthew 23:8.
Faithful anointed Christians were like the wheat that Jesus talked about, and they did their best to worship God
9. Describe how apostate Christianity began working with the Roman government. What was the result?
9 In the year 313 after Christ, Emperor Constantine ruled over the pagan Roman Empire and made this apostate form of Christianity a legal religion. After that, the Church began working closely with the Roman government. For example, Constantine held a meeting with religious leaders, which became known as the Council of Nicaea. After that meeting, the emperor sent a priest named Arius into exile because he refused to believe that Jesus is God. Later, Theodosius became the Roman emperor, and the Catholic Church became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Historians say that pagan Rome became “Christian” during the time of Emperor Theodosius. But the truth is that by that time, apostate Christians had accepted pagan teachings, so they had already become part of Babylon the Great. However, there were still some faithful anointed Christians. They were like the wheat that Jesus talked about. These faithful ones were doing their best to worship God, but few were listening to what they had to say. (Read Matthew 13:24, 25, 37-39.) They truly were in Babylonian captivity!
10. Why did people start questioning the church?
10 For the first few hundred years after Christ, many people could still read the Bible in either Greek or Latin. They could compare the teachings of God’s Word with the teachings of the church. When some people learned that the church’s teachings were false, they rejected them. But it was dangerous to tell others their opinion, and they could even be killed for doing so.
11. How was the church able to control the Bible?
11 As time passed, few people spoke Greek or Latin. And church leaders did not allow God’s Word to be translated into the common languages of the people. As a result, only the clergy and some other educated people could read the Bible for themselves, and even some of the clergy could not read or write well. Anyone who did not agree with what the church taught was severely punished. Faithful anointed Christians had to meet together in small private groups, and some were not able to meet at all. Similar to the Jewish Babylonian exiles, the anointed “royal priesthood” could not worship in an organized way. Babylon the Great had strict control over the people!
THERE WERE REASONS FOR HOPE
12, 13. What two reasons gave true Christians hope of freedom? Explain.
12 Would true Christians ever be free to worship God openly and acceptably? Yes! There was some hope, for two important reasons. The first was the invention of a printing press with movable type. Before it was invented about the year 1450, the Bible had to be copied by hand, which was not easy. It could take ten months for a skilled person to make just one copy of the Bible! Also, the copyists wrote on parchment, or material made of animal skin. As a result, there were very few copies of the Bible, and those were very expensive. However, with a printing press and paper, a skilled person could print more than 1,300 pages each day!
13 The second reason was the translation of the Bible. About the year 1500, a few courageous men translated God’s Word into languages spoken by the common people. They did this work even though they knew they could be killed for it. The church leaders were horrified. Why? Because they were afraid that when sincere men and women read the Bible in their own language, they would start to ask such questions as: ‘Where in the Bible is the teaching of purgatory? Where does the Bible say that a person must pay a priest to have a mass for the dead? Where does the Bible speak about popes and cardinals?’ Many of the church’s false teachings were based on the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato, men who lived hundreds of years before Christ. The church leaders were angry when people questioned them. Men and women who rejected their teachings were sentenced to death. Church leaders wanted to stop people from reading the Bible and asking questions, and in most cases, that is what happened. But a few brave people refused to be controlled by Babylon the Great. They had found the truth from God’s Word, and they wanted to know more! Freedom from false religion was getting closer.
A few courageous men translated God’s Word into languages spoken by the common people
14. (a) What did people who wanted to study the Bible do? (b) Describe Brother Russell’s search for truth.
14 Many people wanted to read and study the Bible and talk about what they had learned. They did not want church leaders to tell them what they should believe. So they fled to countries where they were free to study the Bible. One of these countries was the United States. There, by 1870, Charles Taze Russell and a few others had started a deep study of the Bible. At first, Brother Russell wanted to find out which religion was teaching the truth. He carefully compared the teachings of many so-called Christian religions, and even non-Christian religions, with what the Bible says. He soon realized that not a single one of those religions completely followed God’s Word. At one point, he spoke with the leaders of several local churches. Brother Russell hoped that they would accept the truths that he and his group had found from the Bible and teach those truths to their congregations. But the religious leaders were not interested. The Bible Students soon learned that they could not worship God along with those who were part of false religion.—Read 2 Corinthians 6:14.
15. (a) When did true Christians come into Babylonian captivity? (b) What questions will be answered in the next article?
15 In this article, we have learned that true Christians came into Babylonian captivity soon after the last of the apostles died. However, we still need to learn the answers to the following questions: How do we know that the anointed were actually breaking free from Babylon the Great during the years before 1914? Is it true that Jehovah was not pleased with his servants because they had slowed down in their preaching activity during World War I? Did some of our brothers during that time compromise their Christian neutrality and lose Jehovah’s favor? Finally, if Christians went into captivity to false religion after the apostles died, when did they get free? These are excellent questions, and they will be answered in the next article.