1, 2. In what sense did Jesus prove to be a wise guide?
IMAGINE that an experienced guide is leading you on a tour of a wondrous and beautiful city. The city is new to you and to those with you, so you hang on to the guide’s every word. At times, you and your fellow tourists wonder excitedly about some of the city’s features that you have not yet seen. When you ask your guide about such things, however, he withholds his comments until key moments, often just when a certain sight is coming into view. In time, you grow ever more impressed with his wisdom, for he tells you what you need to know right when you need to know it.
2 True Christians are in a situation similar to that of the tourists. We are eagerly learning about the most wondrous of cities, “the city having real foundations,” the Kingdom of God. (Heb. 11:10) When Jesus was on earth, he personally guided his followers, leading them to a deeper knowledge of that Kingdom. Did he answer all their questions and tell them everything about that Kingdom at once? No. He said: “I still have many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them now.” (John 16:12) As the wisest of guides, Jesus never burdened his disciples with knowledge that they were not prepared to handle.
3, 4. (a) How has Jesus continued to teach faithful people about God’s Kingdom? (b) What will we consider in this chapter?
3 Jesus spoke the words recorded at John 16:12 on the final night of his earthly life. After his death, how would he continue to teach faithful people about God’s Kingdom? He assured his apostles: “The spirit of the truth . . . will guide you into all the truth.” * (John 16:13) We may think of the holy spirit as a patient guide. The spirit is Jesus’ means of teaching his followers whatever they need to know about God’s Kingdom—right when they need to know it.
4 Let us consider how Jehovah’s holy spirit has been guiding sincere Christians into greater knowledge about that Kingdom. First, we will consider our understanding of when God’s Kingdom began to rule. Then, we will examine the identity and hopes of the Kingdom’s rulers and its subjects. Finally, we will see how Christ’s followers gained a clearer understanding of what loyalty to the Kingdom requires.
Understanding a Pivotal Year
5, 6. (a) The Bible Students held what mistaken views about the establishment of the Kingdom and the harvest? (b) Why should such mistaken views not cast doubt on whether Jesus was guiding his followers?
5 As we saw in Chapter 2 of this book, the Bible Students spent decades pointing out that the year 1914 would be significant in fulfilling Bible prophecy. However, at that time they believed that Christ’s presence had begun in 1874, that he had begun to rule in heaven in 1878, and that the Kingdom would not be fully set up until October 1914. The harvest would extend from 1874 to 1914 and would culminate in the gathering of the anointed to heaven. Do mistaken ideas such as these cast doubt on whether Jesus was guiding those faithful ones by means of holy spirit?
6 Not at all! Think again of our opening illustration. Would the premature ideas and eager questions of the tourists cast doubt on the reliability of their guide? Hardly! Similarly, although God’s people sometimes try to work out details of Jehovah’s purpose before it is time for the holy spirit to guide them to such truths, it is clear that Jesus is leading them. Thus, faithful ones prove willing to be corrected and humbly adjust their views.—Jas. 4:6.
7. God’s people were blessed with what flashes of spiritual light?
7 In the years following 1919, God’s people were blessed with more and more flashes of spiritual light. (Read Psalm 97:11.) In 1925, a landmark article appeared in The Watch Tower, entitled “Birth of the Nation.” It laid out convincing Scriptural evidence that the Messianic Kingdom had been born in 1914, fulfilling the prophetic picture of God’s heavenly woman giving birth, as recorded in Revelation chapter 12. * The article further showed that the persecution and trouble that came upon Jehovah’s people during those war years were clear signs that Satan had been hurled down from heaven, “having great anger, knowing that he has a short period of time.”—Rev. 12:12.
8, 9. (a) How did the importance of God’s Kingdom come to the fore? (b) What questions will we consider?
8 How important is the Kingdom? In 1928, The Watch Tower began to stress that the Kingdom was more important than personal salvation by means of the ransom. Indeed, it is by means of the Messianic Kingdom that Jehovah will sanctify his name, vindicate his sovereignty, and carry out all his purposes regarding mankind.
9 Who would rule with Christ in that Kingdom? Who would be the earthly subjects of that Kingdom? And what work should occupy Christ’s followers?
The Harvest Work Focuses on the Anointed
10. What have God’s people long understood about the 144,000?
10 Decades before 1914, true Christians already understood that 144,000 faithful followers of Christ would rule with him in heaven. * Those Bible Students saw that the number was literal and that it began to be filled back in the first century C.E.
11. How did prospective members of Christ’s bride progress in knowledge about their earthly assignment?
11 What, though, were those prospective members of Christ’s bride assigned to do while they were yet on the earth? They saw that Jesus had emphasized the preaching work and had connected it to a period of harvest. (Matt. 9:37; John 4:35) As we noted in Chapter 2, for a time they held that the harvest period would last 40 years, climaxing with the gathering of the anointed to heaven. However, because the work continued after 40 years elapsed, more clarification was needed. Now we know that the harvest season—the season for separating wheat from weeds, faithful anointed Christians from imitation Christians—began in 1914. The time had come to focus attention on the gathering of the remaining number of that heavenly class!
12, 13. How have Jesus’ illustrations of the ten virgins and of the talents been fulfilled in the last days?
12 From 1919 onward, Christ kept guiding the faithful and discreet slave to emphasize the preaching work. He had made that assignment in the first century. (Matt. 28:19, 20) He also indicated what qualities his anointed followers would need in order to fulfill that preaching commission. How so? In his illustration of the ten virgins, he showed that the anointed would have to remain watchful, spiritually alert, if they were to reach their ultimate goal of sharing in the great wedding feast in heaven, when Christ would be united with his “bride” of 144,000. (Rev. 21:2) Then, in his illustration of the talents, Jesus taught that his anointed servants would be diligent in carrying out the preaching work he had entrusted to them.—Matt. 25:1-30.
13 The anointed have proved to be both vigilant and diligent during this past century. Without fail, their watchfulness will be rewarded! However, would the great harvest work be limited to gathering the rest of Christ’s 144,000 corulers?
The Kingdom Gathers Its Earthly Subjects!
14, 15. What four different groups were discussed in The Finished Mystery?
14 Faithful men and women have long been intensely curious about the “great crowd” (“great multitude,” King James Version) mentioned at Revelation 7:9-14. Not surprisingly, before it was Christ’s time to reveal the identity of this large group, much that was said on the subject veered wide of the clear, simple truths we know and love today.
15 In 1917, the book The Finished Mystery asserted that there are “two degrees or kinds of Heavenly salvation, and two degrees or kinds of earthly salvation.” Who made up the four groups of people with those different hopes for salvation? First, there were the 144,000, who would rule with Christ. Second, there was the great multitude. Back then, the idea was that these were nominal Christians who were still in the churches of Christendom. They had a measure of faith but not enough to take a firm stand of integrity. Therefore, they would be given lesser positions in heaven. As to the earth, it was thought that a third group, the “ancient worthies”—such faithful ones as Abraham, Moses, and others—would have positions of authority over the fourth group, the world of mankind.
16. What flashes of spiritual light came in 1923 and in 1932?
16 How did holy spirit guide Christ’s followers to the understanding that we cherish today? It happened progressively, through a series of flashes of spiritual light. As early as 1923, The Watch Tower drew attention to a group with no heavenly aspirations who would live on earth under Christ’s reign. In 1932, The Watchtower discussed Jonadab (Jehonadab), who attached himself to God’s anointed Israelite King Jehu to support him in the war against false worship. (2 Ki. 10:15-17) The article said that there was a class of people in modern times who were like Jonadab, adding that Jehovah would take this class “through the Armageddon trouble” to live here on the earth.
17. (a) In 1935, what brilliant flash of spiritual light came? (b) How were faithful Christians affected by the new understanding of the great multitude? (See the box “A Great Sigh of Relief.”)
17 In 1935 came a brilliant flash of spiritual light. At the convention held in Washington, D.C., the great multitude was identified as an earthly class, the same as the sheep in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. (Matt. 25:33-40) The great multitude would be among the “other sheep,” of whom Jesus said: “Those too I must bring in.” (John 10:16) When the speaker, J. F. Rutherford, asked: “Will all those who have the hope of living forever on the earth please stand?” more than half the audience rose to their feet! “Behold!” he declared. “The great multitude!” Many were deeply moved to understand at last their hope for the future.
18. How have Christ’s followers focused their efforts in the ministry, and with what result?
18 Ever since then, Christ has guided his people to focus their efforts on gathering the prospective members of this great crowd that will emerge, alive and safe, from the great tribulation. At first, the ingathering did not seem impressive. Brother Rutherford once even commented: “It looks as if the ‘great multitude’ is not going to be so great after all.” Of course, we now know how greatly Jehovah has blessed the harvest since then! Under the guidance of Jesus and the holy spirit, both the anointed and their companions of the “other sheep” have become just what Jesus foretold—“one flock” serving together under “one shepherd.”
19. How can we have a part in enlarging the great crowd?
19 The vast majority of faithful people will live forever in an earthly paradise, governed by Christ and his 144,000 corulers. Is it not a pleasure to contemplate the way Christ has guided God’s people to such a clear Scriptural hope for the future? What a privilege we have to share that hope with those we meet in the ministry! Let us be as active as our circumstances will allow so that the great crowd will continue to swell in numbers, raising an ever greater shout of praise to Jehovah’s name!—Read Luke 10:2.
What Loyalty to the Kingdom Requires
20. Satan’s organization is composed of what elements, and how is Christian loyalty involved?
20 As God’s people continued to learn about the Kingdom, they also needed to grasp fully what it means to be loyal to that heavenly government. In this regard, in 1922, The Watch Tower pointed out that there are two organizations at work, Jehovah’s and Satan’s, with Satan’s being made up of commercial, religious, and political elements. Those who are loyal to God’s Kingdom under Christ must not compromise their loyalty through improper involvement with any aspect of Satan’s organization. (2 Cor. 6:17) What does that mean?
21. (a) How has the faithful slave warned God’s people about big business? (b) In 1963, what did The Watchtower reveal about “Babylon the Great”?
21 The spiritual food from the faithful slave has consistently exposed the corruption of big business and has warned God’s people not to give in to its rampant materialism. (Matt. 6:24) Likewise, our publications have kept the spotlight focused on the religious part of Satan’s organization. In 1963, The Watchtower clearly showed that “Babylon the Great” represented not only Christendom but also the whole world empire of false religion. Thus, as we will see more fully in Chapter 10 of this book, God’s people in every land and culture have been helped to “get out of her,” cleansing themselves of all false religious practices.—Rev. 18:2, 4.
22. During World War I, how did many of God’s people understand the exhortation of Romans 13:1?
22 What, though, about the political part of Satan’s organization? Could true Christians take part in the wars and conflicts of the nations? During World War I, the Bible Students generally understood that Christ’s followers should have no share in killing their fellow humans. (Matt. 26:52) However, for many, the exhortation found at Romans 13:1 to be obedient to “the superior authorities” meant that they should join the army, wear soldiers’ uniforms, and even bear arms; however, when asked to kill the enemy, they should shoot into the air.
23, 24. What was our understanding of Romans 13:1 during World War II, and to what more accurate view were Christ’s followers guided?
23 Just as World War II was erupting in 1939, The Watchtower featured an in-depth discussion of neutrality. The article showed clearly that Christians would have no part at all in the wars and conflicts of the nations of Satan’s world. What timely guidance! Christ’s followers were thus protected from the horrific bloodguilt that clung to the nations in that war. Beginning in 1929, however, our publications had also reasoned that the superior authorities of Romans 13:1 were not the secular rulers at all, but Jehovah and Jesus. A more accurate understanding was still needed.
24 The holy spirit guided Christ’s followers to just such a view in 1962, when landmark articles on Romans 13:1-7 were published in the November 15 and December 1 issues of The Watchtower. Finally, God’s people grasped the principle of relative subjection that Jesus had revealed in his famous words: “Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar but God’s things to God.” (Luke 20:25) True Christians now understand that the superior authorities are the secular powers of this world and that Christians must be subject to them. However, such subjection is relative. When the secular authorities ask us to disobey Jehovah God, then we answer as did the apostles of old: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) In Chapters 13 and 14 of this book, we will learn more about how God’s people have put the principle of Christian neutrality into action.
25. Why do you appreciate the guidance of the holy spirit in understanding God’s Kingdom?
25 Think of all that Christ’s followers have been taught about the Kingdom over this past century. We have learned when God’s Kingdom was established in heaven and how important it is. We have a clear picture of the two hopes offered to faithful people, the heavenly hope and the earthly hope. And we know how to demonstrate our loyalty to God’s Kingdom while being in relative subjection to worldly authorities. Ask yourself, ‘Would I know any of those precious truths if Jesus Christ had not guided his faithful slave on earth to grasp them and then to teach them?’ What a blessing to have Christ and the holy spirit guiding us!
^ par. 3 According to one reference work, the Greek word for “guide” in that verse means “to show the road.”
^ par. 7 Before then, it was thought that the vision pointed to a war between pagan Rome and papal Rome.
^ par. 10 In June 1880, Zion’s Watch Tower suggested that the 144,000 would be fleshly Jews converted by 1914. However, later in 1880, an understanding was published that more closely corresponds to the one we have held consistently since then.