Flashes of Light in Apostolic Times
“Light itself has flashed up for the righteous one, and rejoicing even for the ones upright in heart.”—PSALM 97:11.
1. How do Jehovah’s Witnesses today resemble the early Christians?
HOW much we, as true Christians, appreciate the words of Psalm 97:11! ‘Light has flashed up’ for us repeatedly. Indeed, some of us have seen Jehovah’s flashing illumination for decades. All of this reminds us of Proverbs 4:18, which reads: “The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” In our appreciation for the Scriptures instead of tradition, we Witnesses of Jehovah resemble the early Christians. Their attitude can be clearly seen from the historical books of the Christian Greek Scriptures and from its letters, written under divine inspiration.
2. What were among the first flashes of light that Jesus’ followers received?
2 Among the first flashes of light the early followers of Jesus Christ received were those having to do with the Messiah. Andrew told his brother Simon Peter: “We have found the Messiah.” (John 1:41) Some time later, the Father in heaven enabled the apostle Peter to testify to that effect when he said to Jesus Christ: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”—Matthew 16:16, 17; John 6:68, 69.
Light on Their Preaching Commission
3, 4. After his resurrection, what enlightenment did Jesus give his followers regarding their future activity?
3 After his resurrection, Jesus Christ gave flashes of light regarding an obligation resting on all his followers. Most likely it was to the 500 disciples assembled in Galilee that he said: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 15:6) Thereafter, all followers of Christ were to be preachers, and their preaching commission was not to be limited to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:6) Nor were they to perform John’s baptism in symbol of repentance for forgiveness of sins. Instead, they were to baptize people “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit.”
4 Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, his 11 faithful apostles asked: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” Instead of answering that question, Jesus gave further instructions about their preaching commission, saying: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” Until then, they had been witnesses solely of Jehovah, but now they would also be witnesses of Christ.—Acts 1:6-8.
5, 6. What flashes of light did Jesus’ disciples receive at Pentecost?
5 Just ten days later, what brilliant flashes of light Jesus’ followers received! On the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., for the first time, they appreciated the significance of Joel 2:28, 29: “I [Jehovah] shall pour out my spirit on every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will certainly prophesy. As for your old men, dreams they will dream. As for your young men, visions they will see. And even on the menservants and on the maidservants in those days I shall pour out my spirit.” Jesus’ disciples saw the holy spirit, in the form of tongues as if of fire, resting on the heads of all of them—about 120 men and women—assembled in Jerusalem.—Acts 1:12-15; 2:1-4.
6 Also on the day of Pentecost, the disciples first understood that the words of Psalm 16:10 applied to the resurrected Jesus Christ. The psalmist had said: “You [Jehovah God] will not leave my soul in Sheol. You will not allow your loyal one to see the pit.” The disciples realized that those words could not have applied to King David, for his tomb was with them until that day. No wonder about 3,000 of those who heard this new light explained were so convinced that they got baptized that very day!—Acts 2:14-41.
7. What brilliant light did the apostle Peter receive during his visit to the Roman army officer Cornelius?
7 For many centuries, the Israelites appreciated what God had said about them: “You people only have I known out of all the families of the ground.” (Amos 3:2) So it was indeed a brilliant flash of light that the apostle Peter and those accompanying him to the house of the Roman army officer Cornelius received when the holy spirit for the first time descended upon uncircumcised Gentile believers. It is noteworthy that this was the only time that the holy spirit was given before baptism. But it had to be that way. Otherwise, Peter would not have known that these uncircumcised Gentiles were qualified for baptism. Fully appreciating the significance of this phenomenon, Peter asked: “Can anyone forbid water so that these [Gentiles] might not be baptized who have received the holy spirit even as we have?” Of course, nobody present could rightly object, and the baptism of these Gentiles therefore took place.—Acts 10:44-48; compare Acts 8:14-17.
No More Circumcision
8. Why did some early Christians find it difficult to let go of circumcision?
8 A further bright flash of truth appeared in connection with the question of circumcision. The practice of circumcision had its beginning in 1919 B.C.E. with Jehovah’s covenant with Abraham. God then commanded Abraham that he and all other males of his household were to get circumcised. (Genesis 17:9-14, 23-27) So circumcision became an identifying mark of the descendants of Abraham. And how proud they were of this practice! As a result, “uncircumcised” came to be a term of contempt. (Isaiah 52:1; 1 Samuel 17:26, 27) It is easy to see why certain early Jewish Christians wanted to retain this symbol. Some of them had quite a discussion with Paul and Barnabas about this matter. To settle it, Paul and others went to Jerusalem to consult the Christian governing body.—Acts 15:1, 2.
9. What flashes of light were revealed to the early governing body, as recorded in Acts chapter 15?
9 This time, it was not by means of an obvious miracle that those early Christians received the light that circumcision was no longer a requirement for Jehovah’s servants. Rather, they received that increased light by searching the Scriptures, looking to the holy spirit for guidance, and hearing the experiences of Peter and Paul regarding the conversion of uncircumcised Gentiles. (Acts 15:6-21) The decision was issued in a letter that read in part: “The holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.” (Acts 15:28, 29) The early Christians were thus set free from the command to practice circumcision and from the other requirements of the Mosaic Law. Hence, Paul could tell the Galatian Christians: “For such freedom Christ set us free.”—Galatians 5:1.
Light in the Gospels
10. What were some of the flashes of light revealed in Matthew’s Gospel?
10 There is no question that the Gospel of Matthew, written about 41 C.E., contains many flashes of light for the benefit of its readers. Comparatively few of the first-century Christians had personally heard Jesus expound his teachings. In particular, Matthew’s Gospel emphasized that the theme of Jesus’ preaching was the Kingdom. And how strongly Jesus had stressed the importance of having the right motive! What flashes of light there were in his Sermon on the Mount, in his parables (such as those recorded in Mt chapter 13), and in his great prophecy in Mt chapters 24 and 25! All of this was brought to the attention of the early Christians in Matthew’s Gospel account, written only some eight years after Pentecost 33 C.E.
11. What can be said about the content of the Gospels of Luke and Mark?
11 About 15 years later, Luke penned his Gospel. While much of it is similar to Matthew’s account, 59 percent is additional. Luke recorded six of Jesus’ miracles and more than twice that many of His illustrations not mentioned by the other Gospel writers. Apparently just a few years later, Mark wrote his Gospel, placing emphasis on Jesus Christ as a man of action, a miracle worker. While Mark mostly related events previously covered by Matthew and Luke, he did record one parable that they did not. In that illustration, Jesus likened the Kingdom of God to seed that sprouts, grows tall, and bears fruit gradually.*—Mark 4:26-29.
12. To what extent did John’s Gospel provide further enlightenment?
12 Then there was John’s Gospel, written more than 30 years after Mark wrote his account. What a stream of light John threw on Jesus’ ministry, particularly through many references to His prehuman existence! Only John provides the account of Lazarus’ resurrection, and he alone gives us many of Jesus’ fine remarks to his faithful apostles as well as his heartwarming prayer on the night of his betrayal, as recorded in Joh chapters 13 to 17. In fact, it is said that 92 percent of John’s Gospel is unique.
Flashes of Light in Paul’s Letters
13. Why have some looked upon Paul’s letter to the Romans as though it were a Gospel?
13 The apostle Paul was especially used to bring flashes of truth to Christians living in apostolic times. For instance, there is Paul’s letter to the Romans, written about 56 C.E.—approximately the same time that Luke wrote his Gospel. In this letter Paul highlights the fact that righteousness is imputed as a result of God’s undeserved kindness and through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul’s emphasis on this aspect of the good news has caused some to view his letter to the Romans as if it were a fifth Gospel.
14-16. (a) In his first letter to Christians in Corinth, what light did Paul shed on the need for unity? (b) What further light as to conduct does First Corinthians contain?
14 Paul wrote about certain matters that were troubling the Christians in Corinth. His letter to the Corinthians includes much inspired counsel that has benefited Christians down to our day. To begin with, he had to enlighten the Corinthians as to the mistake they were making in forming personality cults around certain individuals. The apostle set them straight, boldly telling them: “I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.”—1 Corinthians 1:10-15.
15 Gross immorality was being tolerated in the Christian congregation at Corinth. A man there had taken his father’s wife, thus practicing ‘such fornication as was not found even among the nations.’ Plainly, Paul wrote: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” (1 Corinthians 5:1, 11-13) That was something new for the Christian congregation—disfellowshipping. Another matter on which the Corinthian congregation needed enlightenment had to do with the fact that some of its members were taking their spiritual brothers to worldly courts in order to settle grievances. Paul strongly rebuked them for doing this.—1 Corinthians 6:5-8.
16 Still another matter that plagued the congregation in Corinth had to do with sex relations. In 1 Corinthians chapter 7, Paul showed that because of the prevalence of sexual immorality, it would be good for every man to have his own wife and every woman her own husband. Paul also showed that while single persons are able to serve Jehovah with less distraction, not all had the gift of singleness. And if a woman’s husband should die, she would be free to get married again but “only in the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 7:39.
17. What light did Paul shed on the teaching of the resurrection?
17 What flashes of light the Lord used Paul to shed on the resurrection! With what sort of body will anointed Christians be raised? “It is sown a physical body, it is raised up a spiritual body,” wrote Paul. No fleshly bodies will be taken to heaven, for “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom.” Paul added that not all anointed ones will sleep in death but that during Jesus’ presence some will be raised to immortal life instantly at death.—1 Corinthians 15:43-53.
18. What light regarding the future did Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians contain?
18 In his letter to Christians in Thessalonica, Paul was used to throw light on the future. Jehovah’s day would come as a thief in the night. Paul also explained: “Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them just as the pang of distress upon a pregnant woman; and they will by no means escape.”—1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3.
19, 20. What flashes of light did the Christians in Jerusalem and Judea receive in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews?
19 By writing his letter to the Hebrews, Paul passed on flashes of light to the early Christians in Jerusalem and Judea. How powerfully he showed the superiority of the Christian system of worship over the Mosaic system of worship! Instead of following the Law transmitted by angels, Christians have faith in a salvation first spoken of by God’s Son, who is far superior to such angelic messengers. (Hebrews 2:2-4) Moses was a mere attendant in the house of God. However, Jesus Christ presides over the entire house. Christ is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, having a position far superior to the Aaronic priesthood. Paul also pointed out that the Israelites were unable to enter into God’s rest because of a lack of faith and obedience, but Christians enter into it because of their faithfulness and obedience.—Hebrews 3:1–4:11.
20 Then, too, the new covenant is far superior to the Law covenant. As prophesied 600 years earlier at Jeremiah 31:31-34, those in the new covenant have God’s law written in their hearts and enjoy true forgiveness of sins. Instead of having a high priest who had to offer sacrifices yearly for his own sins and those of the people, Christians have as their High Priest Jesus Christ, who is without sin and who once and for all offered a sacrifice for sins. Instead of entering a holy place made by hands to present his offering, he entered heaven itself, there to appear before the person of Jehovah. Moreover, animal sacrifices under the Mosaic Law covenant could not completely take away sins, or they would not have been offered annually. But Christ’s sacrifice, offered once for all time, does take away sins. All of this sheds light on the great spiritual temple, in the courtyards of which the anointed remnant and the “other sheep” serve today.—John 10:16; Hebrews 9:24-28.
21 Space does not permit giving more examples, such as flashes of light found in the letters of the apostle Peter and those of the disciples James and Jude. But the foregoing should suffice to show that Psalm 97:11 and Proverbs 4:18 had striking fulfillments in apostolic times. The truth began to advance from types and shadows to fulfillments and realities.—Galatians 3:23-25; 4:21-26.
22. What happened after the death of the apostles, and what will the next article show?
22 After the death of Jesus’ apostles and the onset of the foretold apostasy, the light of truth burned very low. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-11) True to Jesus’ promise, however, after many centuries the Master returned and found “the faithful and discreet slave” giving the “domestics” their food at the proper time. As a result, Jesus Christ appointed that slave “over all his belongings.” (Matthew 24:45-47) What flashes of light followed? This will be discussed in the following article.
The ground here refers to the environment in which the Christian chooses to cultivate qualities of personality.—See The Watchtower, June 15, 1980, pages 18-19.
Part 1—Flashes of Light—Great and Small
“The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.”—PROVERBS 4:18.
1. Why has the truth been revealed gradually?
IT IS proof of divine wisdom that, in keeping with Proverbs 4:18, the revealing of spiritual truths has taken place gradually by means of flashes of light. In the preceding article, we saw how this text was fulfilled in apostolic times. If the large body of Scriptural truth had been revealed all at once, it would have been both blinding and confusing—much like the effect of coming out of a dark cave into brilliant sunlight. Moreover, gradually revealed truth strengthens the faith of Christians in a continuous way. It makes ever brighter their hope and ever clearer the pathway they are to tread.
“The Faithful and Discreet Slave”
2. Jesus indicated that he would use whom to bring spiritual light to his followers, and of whom does that instrumentality consist?
2 In apostolic times Jesus Christ saw fit to use supernatural means to give his followers the earliest flashes of light. We have two examples of this: Pentecost 33 C.E. and the conversion of Cornelius in 36 C.E. Subsequently, Christ has seen fit to use a human agency, even as he foretold: “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.” (Matthew 24:45-47) This slave could not be just one individual because he was to provide spiritual food from when the Christian congregation began at Pentecost until the Master, Jesus Christ, came to make an accounting. The facts indicate that this faithful and discreet slave class comprises all anointed Christians as a group on earth at any given time.
3. Who were included among the first members of the slave class?
3 Who were included among the first members of the faithful and discreet slave class? One was the apostle Peter, who heeded Jesus’ command: “Feed my little sheep.” (John 21:17) Other early members of the slave class included Matthew, who wrote the Gospel bearing his name, and Paul, James, and Jude, who penned inspired letters. The apostle John, who recorded the book of Revelation, his Gospel, and his letters, was also a member of the faithful and discreet slave class. These men wrote in keeping with Jesus’ commission.
4. Who are the “domestics”?
4 If all the anointed as a group, no matter where on earth they live, are members of the slave class, who are the “domestics”? They are the same anointed ones but considered from a different viewpoint—as individuals. Yes, as individuals they would be of the “slave” or they would be “domestics,” depending on whether they were dispensing spiritual food or partaking of it. To illustrate: As recorded at 2 Peter 3:15, 16, the apostle Peter makes reference to Paul’s letters. When reading them, Peter would be as one of the domestics feeding on the spiritual food provided by Paul as a representative of the slave class.
5. (a) What happened to the slave during the centuries after the apostles? (b) What developments took place in the latter half of the 19th century?
5 In this regard, the book God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached stated: “As to just how the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ class existed and served down through the centuries after the death of the apostles of the Master Jesus Christ, we do not have a distinct historical picture. Apparently one generation of the ‘slave’ class fed the next succeeding generation thereof. (2 Timothy 2:2) But in the latter half of the nineteenth century there were God-fearing persons who loved the spiritual food of the Holy Bible and who desired to feed on it . . . Bible study classes . . . were formed and progressed in the understanding of the fundamental truths of the Sacred Scriptures. The sincere unselfish ones among these Bible students were eager to share these vital portions of spiritual food with others. They had the faithful spirit of the ‘slave’ appointed to give the ‘domestics’ the needed spiritual ‘food at the proper time.’ They were ‘discreet’ in discerning that it was then the right and proper time and what were the best means for serving the food. They endeavored to serve it.”—Pages 344-5.*
Early Flashes of Light in Modern Times
6. What fact stands out prominently in connection with the gradual revealing of truth?
6 One fact that stands out prominently in connection with those Jehovah used to bring this gradual increase of spiritual light is that they took no credit to themselves. The attitude of C. T. Russell, first president of the Watch Tower Society, was that the Lord was pleased to use their humble talents. Regarding epithets his enemies were prone to use, Brother Russell strongly made it known that he had never met a “Russellite” and that there was no such thing as “Russellism.” All credit went to God.
7. What evidence did Brother Russell and his coworkers give that they were indeed associated with the faithful and discreet slave?
7 Judging by the results, there can be no doubt that Jehovah’s holy spirit was directing the endeavors of Brother Russell and those associated with him. They gave evidence of being identified with the faithful and discreet slave. Though many clergymen of the time professed to believe that the Bible was God’s inspired Word and that Jesus was the Son of God, they subscribed to false, Babylonish doctrines, such as the Trinity, the immortality of the human soul, and eternal torment. In keeping with Jesus’ promise, it truly was due to the holy spirit that the humble efforts of Brother Russell and his associates caused truth to shine forth as never before. (John 16:13) Those anointed Bible Students gave proof that they were indeed part of the faithful and discreet slave class, whose commission it is to provide spiritual food for the Master’s domestics. Their efforts were a great aid in the gathering of the anointed ones.
8. What basic facts regarding Jehovah, the Bible, Jesus Christ, and the holy spirit did the Bible Students clearly understand?
8 It is remarkable to see how greatly Jehovah, by means of holy spirit, favored these early Bible Students with flashes of light. To begin with, they firmly established that the Creator exists and that he has the unique name Jehovah. (Psalm 83:18; Romans 1:20) They saw that Jehovah has four cardinal attributes—power, justice, wisdom, and love. (Genesis 17:1; Deuteronomy 32:4; Romans 11:33; 1 John 4:8) These anointed Christians clearly established that the Bible is God’s inspired Word and is the truth. (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17) Further, they held that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was created and that he gave his life as a ransom for all mankind. (Matthew 20:28; Colossians 1:15) The holy spirit, far from being a third person of a Trinity, was seen to be God’s active force.—Acts 2:17.
9. (a) What truths did the Bible Students have clear as to man’s nature and the destinies held out in the Bible? (b) What other truths did Jehovah’s servants see clearly?
9 The Bible Students clearly saw that man does not have an immortal soul but is a mortal soul. They realized that “the wages sin pays is death,” not eternal torment, there being no such place as a burning hell. (Romans 5:12; 6:23; Genesis 2:7; Ezekiel 18:4) Moreover, they clearly saw that the evolution theory is not only unscriptural but utterly without factual basis. (Genesis, chapters 1 and 2) They also discerned that the Bible holds out two destinies—a heavenly one for the 144,000 anointed footstep followers of Christ and a paradise earth for an unnumbered “great crowd” of “other sheep.” (Revelation 7:9; 14:1; John 10:16) Those early Bible Students recognized that the earth abides forever and will not be burned up, as taught by many religions. (Ecclesiastes 1:4; Luke 23:43) They also learned that Christ’s return would be invisible and that he would then execute judgment on the nations and usher in an earthly paradise.—Acts 10:42; Romans 8:19-21; 1 Peter 3:18.
10. What truths did the Bible Students learn regarding baptism, a clergy-laity distinction, and the Memorial of Christ’s death?
10 The Bible Students learned that Scriptural baptism is not a matter of sprinkling infants but that in keeping with Jesus’ command at Matthew 28:19, 20, it is the immersion of believers who have been taught. They came to see that there is no Scriptural basis for a clergy-laity distinction. (Matthew 23:8-10) On the contrary, all Christians are to be preachers of the good news. (Acts 1:8) The Bible Students appreciated that the Memorial of Christ’s death should be observed just once each year, on Nisan 14. Moreover, they saw that Easter is a pagan holiday. In addition, those anointed ones were so confident that God was backing their work that they never took up collections. (Matthew 10:8) From earliest times, they understood that Christians must live by Bible principles, which includes cultivating the fruitage of God’s holy spirit.—Galatians 5:22, 23.
Increasing Flashes of Light
11. What light shone on the Christian’s commission and on Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats?
11 Particularly since 1919 have Jehovah’s servants been blessed with increasing flashes of light. What a bright flash of light shone at the 1922 Cedar Point convention as J. F. Rutherford, the Watch Tower Society’s second president, drove home the point that the prime obligation of Jehovah’s servants is to “advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom”! The very next year, bright light shone on the parable of the sheep and the goats. It was seen that this prophecy was to be fulfilled in the present Lord’s day, not in the future during the Millennium as previously thought. During the Millennium, Christ’s brothers would not be sick, nor would they be imprisoned. Besides, at the end of the Millennium, Jehovah God, not Jesus Christ, will do the judging.—Matthew 25:31-46.
12. What flash of light was there regarding Armageddon?
12 In 1926 another brilliant flash of light revealed that the war of Armageddon was not to be a social revolution, as Bible Students once thought. Rather, it would be a war in which Jehovah will demonstrate his power so clearly that all people will be convinced that he is God.—Revelation 16:14-16; 19:17-21.
Christmas—A Pagan Holiday
13. (a) What light was shed on Christmas celebrations? (b) Why were birthdays no longer celebrated? (Include footnote.)
13 Shortly thereafter, a flash of light caused the Bible Students to stop celebrating Christmas. Before that time Christmas had always been celebrated by the Bible Students worldwide, and its celebration at Brooklyn headquarters was a very festive occasion. But then it was discerned that the observance of December 25 was actually pagan and was chosen by apostate Christendom to make it easier to convert pagans. Moreover, it was found that Jesus could not have been born in the winter, since at the time of his birth, shepherds were grazing their flocks in the fields—something they would not have been doing at night in late December. (Luke 2:8) Rather, the Scriptures indicate that Jesus was born about October 1. The Bible Students also realized that the so-called wise men who visited Jesus about two years after his birth were pagan magi.*
A New Name
14. Why did the name Bible Students not do justice to Jehovah’s people?
14 In 1931 a bright flash of truth revealed to those Bible Students a fitting Scriptural name. Jehovah’s people had understood that they could not accept any of the nicknames that others had given them, such as Russellites, Millennial Dawnists, and “no hellers.”* But they also began to appreciate that the name that they themselves had taken—International Bible Students—did not do them justice. They were far more than just Bible students. Besides, there were ever so many others who were students of the Bible but who had nothing in common with the Bible Students.
15. What name did the Bible Students adopt in 1931, and why is it appropriate?
15 How did the Bible Students come to have a new name? For years The Watch Tower had been making the name of Jehovah prominent. Therefore, it was most appropriate that the Bible Students should adopt the name found at Isaiah 43:10: “‘You are my witnesses,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘even my servant whom I have chosen, in order that you may know and have faith in me, and that you may understand that I am the same One. Before me there was no God formed, and after me there continued to be none.’”
Vindication and the “Great Crowd”
16. Why could the restoration prophecies not apply to the natural Jews’ return to Palestine, but to whom do they apply?
16 In the second volume of Vindication, published by the Watch Tower Society in 1932, a flash of light revealed that the restoration prophecies recorded by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other prophets did not apply (as once thought) to the fleshly Jews, who were returning to Palestine in unbelief and with political motivations. Rather, these restoration prophecies, which had a minor fulfillment when the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity in 537 B.C.E., had their major fulfillment in spiritual Israel’s deliverance and restoration beginning in 1919 and in the resultant prosperity in the spiritual paradise enjoyed by Jehovah’s true servants today.
17, 18. (a) In time, through a flash of light, what was shown to be Jehovah’s chief purpose? (b) What flash of light regarding Revelation 7:9-17 occurred in 1935?
17 In time, flashes of light revealed that Jehovah’s chief purpose was, not the salvation of creatures, but the vindication of his sovereignty. The most important theme of the Bible was seen to be, not the ransom, but the Kingdom, for it will vindicate Jehovah’s sovereignty. What a flash of light that was! Dedicated Christians were no longer primarily concerned with their getting to heaven.
18 In 1935 a bright flash of light revealed that the great crowd mentioned at Revelation 7:9-17 was not a secondary heavenly class. It had been thought that the ones mentioned in those verses were some of the anointed who had not been fully faithful and so were standing before the throne instead of sitting on thrones reigning as kings and priests with Jesus Christ. But there simply is no such thing as being partially faithful. One is either faithful or unfaithful. So it was seen that this prophecy referred to the numberless great crowd from all nations who are now being gathered and whose hopes are earthly. They are “the sheep” of Matthew 25:31-46 and the “other sheep” of John 10:16.
The Cross—Not a Christian Symbol
19, 20. Why can the cross not be a symbol of true Christianity?
19 For many years the Bible Students made the cross prominent as a symbol of Christianity. They even had a “cross-and-crown” pin. According to the King James Version, Jesus asked his followers to take up their “cross,” and many came to believe that he was executed on a cross. (Matthew 16:24; 27:32) For decades this symbol also appeared on the cover of the Watch Tower magazine.
20 The book Riches, published by the Society in 1936, made clear that Jesus Christ was executed, not on a cross, but on an upright pole, or stake. According to one authority, the Greek word (stau·rosʹ) rendered “cross” in the King James Version “denotes, primarily, an upright pale or stake. [It is] to be distinguished from the ecclesiastical form of a two beamed cross. . . . The latter had its origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz.” Far from being idolized, the instrument on which Jesus was impaled should be viewed with revulsion.
21. What will be considered in the following article?
21 There are further examples both of great flashes of light and of those that might be considered small. For a discussion of these, please see the following article.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
In time, it was seen that if the most important birth that ever took place could not be celebrated, we should not celebrate any birthday. Besides, neither the Israelites nor the early Christians celebrated birthdays. The Bible mentions only two birthdays, one of Pharaoh and the other of Herod Antipas. Each celebration was marred by an execution. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays because these observances have pagan origins and tend to exalt the ones having a birthday.—Genesis 40:20-22; Mark 6:21-28.
This was a mistake made by a number of Christendom’s denominations. Lutheran was a nickname that enemies of Martin Luther gave his followers, who then adopted it. Likewise, the Baptists adopted the nickname that outsiders had given them because they preached baptism by immersion. Somewhat similarly, Methodists adopted a name given them by an outsider. Concerning how the Society of Friends came to be called Quakers, The World Book Encyclopedia says: “The word Quaker was originally meant as an insult to Fox [the founder], who told an English judge to ‘tremble at the Word of the Lord.’ The judge called Fox a ‘quaker.’”
Part 2—Flashes of Light—Great and Small
“By light from you we can see light.”—PSALM 36:9.
1. What early effort was made to understand the symbolism of the book of Revelation?
THE Bible book of Revelation has intrigued Christians from early times. It provides a fine example of how the light of truth grows ever brighter. In 1917, Jehovah’s people published an explanation of Revelation in the book The Finished Mystery. It fearlessly exposed Christendom’s religious and political leaders, but many of its explanations were borrowed from various sources. Still, The Finished Mystery served to test the Bible Students’ loyalty to the visible channel Jehovah was using.
2. The article “Birth of the Nation” shed what light on the book of Revelation?
2 A striking flash of light shone on the book of Revelation with the publication of the article “Birth of the Nation” in The Watch Tower of March 1, 1925. It had been thought that Revelation chapter 12 described a war between pagan Rome and papal Rome, with the male child representing the papacy. But that article showed that Revelation 11:15-18 had a bearing on the meaning of chapter 12, indicating that it relates to the birth of God’s Kingdom.
3. What publications shed increased light on Revelation?
3 All of this led to a much clearer understanding of Revelation that came with the publication of Light, in two volumes, in 1930. Still more refinements appeared in “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules! (1963) and “Then Is Finished the Mystery of God” (1969). Yet, there was still more to learn about the prophetic book of Revelation. Yes, brighter light shone on it in 1988, with the publication of Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand! The key to this progressive enlightenment might be said to be the fact that the prophecy of Revelation applies in “the Lord’s day,” which began in 1914. (Revelation 1:10) The book of Revelation would therefore be understood more clearly as that day progressed.
“The Higher Powers” Clarified
4, 5. (a) How did the Bible Students view Romans 13:1? (b) What was later seen to be the Scriptural position regarding “the higher powers”?
4 A bright flash of light was seen in 1962 in connection with Romans 13:1, which says: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers [“superior authorities,” New World Translation].” (King James Version) The early Bible Students understood that “the higher powers” mentioned there referred to worldly authorities. They took this scripture to mean that if a Christian was drafted in wartime, he would be obligated to put on a uniform, shoulder a gun, and go to the front, to the trenches. It was felt that since a Christian could not kill a fellow human, he would be compelled to fire his gun into the air if worst came to worst.*
5 The Watchtower of November 15 and of December 1, 1962, shed clear light on the subject in discussing Jesus’ words at Matthew 22:21: “Pay back . . . Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” Relevant were the apostles’ words at Acts 5:29: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” Christians are subject to Caesar—“the higher powers”—only so long as this does not require that the Christian go contrary to God’s law. Subjection to Caesar was seen to be relative, not absolute. Christians pay back to Caesar only what does not conflict with God’s requirements. How satisfying it was to have clear light on that subject!
Flashes of Light on Organizational Matters
6. (a) To get away from the hierarchical structure prevalent in Christendom, what principle was adopted? (b) What was finally seen as the correct way for those having congregation oversight to be chosen?
6 There was the question of who should serve as elders and deacons in the congregations. To get away from the hierarchical structure prevalent in Christendom, it was concluded that these should be elected democratically by the vote of the members of each congregation. But increasing light contained in The Watchtower of September 1 and of October 15, 1932, showed that the Scriptures do not provide for elective elders. So these were replaced by a service committee, and a service director was chosen by the Society.
7. Flashes of light resulted in what improvements in the way servants in the congregation were appointed?
7 The Watchtower of June 1 and of June 15, 1938, contained flashes of light showing that the servants in the congregation were to be, not elected, but appointed, that is, appointed theocratically. In 1971 another flash of light showed that each congregation was not to be directed by just one congregation servant. Rather, each should have a body of elders, or overseers, assigned by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So by the increasing light over some 40 years, it became evident that elders as well as deacons, now known as ministerial servants, should be appointed by “the faithful and discreet slave,” through its Governing Body. (Matthew 24:45-47) This was in line with what took place in apostolic times. Men such as Timothy and Titus were appointed as overseers by the first-century governing body. (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:22; Titus 1:5-9) All of this is in striking fulfillment of Isaiah 60:17: “Instead of the copper I shall bring in gold, and instead of the iron I shall bring in silver, and instead of the wood, copper, and instead of the stones, iron; and I will appoint peace as your overseers and righteousness as your task assigners.”
8. (a) Increasing truth brought what improvements in the way the Society operated? (b) What are the committees of the Governing Body, and what are their respective spheres of activity or oversight?
8 There was also the matter of the operation of the Watch Tower Society. For many years the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses was synonymous with the board of directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, and matters were largely in the hands of its president. As shown in the 1977 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses (pages 258-9), in 1976 the Governing Body began to function with six committees, each assigned to care for certain aspects of the worldwide work. The Personnel Committee deals with personnel matters, including the interests of all who serve in the worldwide Bethel family. The Publishing Committee handles all secular and legal matters, such as property and printing. The Service Committee concerns itself with the witness work and supervises traveling overseers, pioneers, and the activities of congregation publishers. The Teaching Committee is responsible for congregation meetings, special assembly days, circuit assemblies, and district and international conventions as well as the various schools for the spiritual education of God’s people. The Writing Committee supervises the preparation and translation of publications in all forms, making sure that everything is in line with the Scriptures. The Chairman’s Committee cares for emergencies and other urgent matters.* Also in the 1970’s, branch offices of the Watch Tower Society began to be directed by a committee instead of an overseer.
Light Relating to Christian Conduct
9. How did the light of truth affect the relationship of Christians to the governments of the world?
9 Many flashes of light have pertained to Christian conduct. For instance, consider the matter of neutrality. A particularly bright flash of light beamed forth on this subject in the article “Neutrality” appearing in The Watchtower of November 1, 1939. How timely it was, coming just after the beginning of World War II! The article defined neutrality and showed that Christians must not get involved in political affairs or confrontations between nations. (Micah 4:3, 5; John 17:14, 16) This is a factor in their being hated by all the nations. (Matthew 24:9) The battles of ancient Israel provide no precedent for Christians, as Jesus makes plain at Matthew 26:52. Moreover, not one political nation today is a theocracy, ruled by God, as was ancient Israel.
10. What did flashes of light reveal as to how Christians should regard blood?
10 Light also shone on the sanctity of blood. Some Bible Students thought that the prohibition against the eating of blood, at Acts 15:28, 29, was limited to Jewish Christians. However, Acts 21:25 shows that in apostolic times this command was also applied to those of the nations who became believers. So the sanctity of blood applies to all Christians, as shown in The Watchtower of July 1, 1945. That means not just refusing to eat animal blood, as in blood sausage, but also abstaining from human blood, as in the case of blood transfusions.
11. What was seen regarding the Christian’s view of the use of tobacco?
11 As a result of increased light, habits at first merely frowned upon were later handled with appropriate gravity. An example of this was in connection with the use of tobacco. In Zion’s Watch Tower of August 1, 1895, Brother Russell directed attention to 1 Corinthians 10:31 and 2 Corinthians 7:1 and wrote: “I cannot see how it would be to God’s glory, or to his own profit, for any Christian to use tobacco in any form.” Since 1973 it has been clearly understood that no tobacco user can be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1976 it was clarified that no Witness could be employed in a gambling establishment and remain in the congregation.
12. (a) A flash of light revealed what about the number of keys of the Kingdom entrusted to Peter? (b) What were the circumstances when Peter used each key?
12 There has also been increased light on the number of symbolic keys Jesus gave to Peter. The Bible Students held that Peter received two keys that opened up the way for people to become Kingdom heirs—one for the Jews, used at Pentecost 33 C.E., and the other for the Gentiles, used first in 36 C.E. when Peter preached to Cornelius. (Acts 2:14-41; 10:34-48) In time, it was seen that there was a third group involved—the Samaritans. Peter used the second key when opening up the Kingdom opportunity to them. (Acts 8:14-17) Thus, the third key was used when Peter preached to Cornelius.—The Watchtower, October 1, 1979, pages 16-22, 26.
13. What did flashes of light reveal about the sheepfolds mentioned in John chapter 10?
13 From another ray of light, it was seen that Jesus referred not to just two but to three sheepfolds. (John, chapter 10) These were (1) the Jewish sheepfold of which John the Baptizer was the doorkeeper, (2) the fold of anointed Kingdom heirs, and (3) the fold of the “other sheep,” who have an earthly hope.—John 10:2, 3, 15, 16; The Watchtower, February 15, 1984, pages 10-20.
14. How did increased light clarify matters regarding the start of the antitypical Jubilee?
14 The understanding of the antitypical Jubilee also received some clarification. Under the Law, every 50th year was a grand Jubilee, in which things were restored to their original owners. (Leviticus 25:10) It was long understood that this foreshadowed the Thousand Year Reign of Christ. In more recent times, however, it was seen that the antitypical Jubilee actually began at Pentecost 33 C.E., when those receiving the poured-out holy spirit were set free from bondage to the Mosaic Law covenant.—The Watchtower, January 1, 1987, pages 18-28.
Increased Light on Terminology
15. What light was shed on the use of the word “plan”?
15 “The congregator sought to find the delightful words and the writing of correct words of truth.” (Ecclesiastes 12:10) These words might well be applied to our present subject, for light has shone not only on such important matters as doctrine and conduct but also on Christian terminology and its accurate meaning. For example, among the Bible Students, one of the most beloved publications was volume one of Studies in the Scriptures, entitled The Divine Plan of the Ages. However, in time, it was realized that God’s Word speaks only of humans as making plans. (Proverbs 19:21) The Scriptures never speak of Jehovah as planning. He does not need to plan. Whatever he purposes is sure to succeed because of his infinite wisdom and power, even as we read at Ephesians 1:9, 10: “It is according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself for an administration at the full limit of the appointed times.” So it was gradually seen that the term “purpose” is the more appropriate one when referring to Jehovah.
16. What was gradually seen to be the correct understanding of Luke 2:14?
16 Then there was the matter of getting a clearer understanding of Luke 2:14. According to the King James Version, it reads: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” It was seen that this did not express the correct thought, for God’s goodwill is not expressed toward the wicked. The Witnesses therefore viewed this as a matter of peace to men who were of goodwill toward God. So they kept referring to those interested in the Bible as persons of goodwill. But then it was understood that what was involved was goodwill, not on the part of men, but on the part of God. Thus, the New World Translation footnote on Luke 2:14 speaks of “men whom he [God] approves.” All Christians who are living up to their vow of dedication have God’s goodwill.
17, 18. What will Jehovah vindicate, and what will he sanctify?
17 Similarly, for a long time, Witnesses spoke of the vindication of Jehovah’s name. But had Satan called Jehovah’s name into question? For that matter, had any of Satan’s agents done so, as if Jehovah did not have a right to that name? No, not at all. It was not the name of Jehovah that was challenged and that needed to be vindicated. That is why the Watch Tower Society’s recent publications do not speak of Jehovah’s name as being vindicated. They speak of Jehovah’s sovereignty as being vindicated and of his name as being sanctified. This is in keeping with what Jesus told us to pray: “Let your name be sanctified.” (Matthew 6:9) Time and again, Jehovah said that he was going to sanctify his name, which the Israelites had not challenged but had profaned.—Ezekiel 20:9, 14, 22; 36:23.
18 Interestingly, in 1971, the book “The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah”—How? made this distinction: “Jesus Christ fights . . . for the vindication of Jehovah’s universal Sovereignty and for the glorification of Jehovah’s name.” (Pages 364-5) In 1973, God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached said: “The coming ‘great tribulation’ is the time for Almighty God Jehovah to vindicate his universal sovereignty and to sanctify his worthy name.” (Page 409) Then, in 1975, Man’s Salvation Out Of World Distress at Hand! stated: “The greatest event of universal history will then have been accomplished, the vindication of Jehovah’s universal sovereignty and the sanctification of his sacred name.”—Page 281.
19, 20. How can we show our appreciation for flashes of spiritual light?
19 How blessed Jehovah’s people are to be basking in all this spiritual light! In stark contrast, expressive of the spiritual darkness in which the leaders of Christendom find themselves is this statement by a clergyman: “Why sin? Why suffering? Why the devil? These are questions I want to ask the Lord when I get to heaven.” But Jehovah’s Witnesses can tell him why: Because of the issue of the rightfulness of Jehovah’s sovereignty and the question as to whether human creatures can maintain integrity to God in spite of the Devil’s opposition.
20 Through the years, flashes of light both great and small have been illuminating the pathway of Jehovah’s dedicated servants. This has been in fulfillment of such scriptures as Psalm 97:11 and Proverbs 4:18. But let us never forget that walking in the light means having appreciation for the increased light and living in harmony with it. As we have seen, this increased light involves both our conduct and our commission to preach.
In reaction to this view, The Watch Tower of June 1 and of June 15, 1929, interpreted “the higher powers” as being Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. It was primarily this position that was corrected in 1962.