When Jesus shocked the crowds, and apparently his disciples, with his speech about their needing to eat his flesh and drink his blood, only a few remained. Those few faithful ones hadn’t understood the meaning of his words any more than the rest had, but they stuck with him giving as their sole reason, “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life, and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:68, 69
Jesus’ listeners were not coming out of false religion. They were not pagans whose faith was based on legend and mythology. These were the chosen people. Their faith and form of worship had come down from Jehovah God through Moses. Their law had been written by the very finger of God. Under that law, to ingest blood was a capital offence. And here is Jesus telling them that they will not only have to drink his blood, but eat his flesh as well, in order to be saved. Would they now leave their divinely ordained faith, the only truth they had ever known, to follow this man asking them to perform these repugnant acts? What a leap of faith it must have been to stick with him under those circumstances.
The apostles did so, not because they understood, but because they recognized who he was.
It is also evident that Jesus, the wisest of all men, knew exactly what he was doing. He was testing his followers with the truth.
Is there a parallel of this for God’s people today?
We have no one who speaks only the truth as Jesus did. There is no infallible individual or group of individuals who can lay claim to our unconditional faith as Jesus could. So it may seem that the words of Peter can find no modern-day application. But is that truly the case?
A number of us who have been reading and contributing to this forum have undergone our own crisis of faith and have had to decide where we will go. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we refer to our faith as the truth. What other group in Christendom does that? Sure, they all think they have the truth to one degree or another, but truth isn’t really that important to them. It isn’t pivotal, as it is for us. A question that is often asked when we meet a fellow witness for the first time is, “When did you learn the truth?” or “How long have you been in the truth?” When a witness abandons the congregation, we say he has “left the truth”. This may be seen as hubris by outsiders, but it goes to the heart of our faith. We value accurate knowledge. We believe the churches of Christendom teach falsehood, but the truth has set us free. Additionally, we are increasingly taught that that truth has come down to us via a group of individuals identified as the “faithful slave” and that they are appointed by Jehovah God as his channel of communication.
With such a posture, it is easy to see how difficult it has been for those of us who have come to the realization that some of what we held to be core beliefs have no foundation in scripture, but are actually based on human speculation. So it was for me when I came to see that 1914 was just another year. I had been taught since childhood that 1914 was the year the last days began; the year the gentile times ended; the year Christ began ruling from heaven as king. It was and continues to be one of the distinguishing features of Jehovah’s people, something which sets us apart from all other religions claiming to be Christian. I had never even questioned it until recently. Even as other prophetic interpretations grew increasingly more difficult to reconcile with the observable evidence, 1914 remained Scriptural bedrock for me.
Once I was finally able to let it go, I felt great relief and a sense of excitement infused my Bible study. Suddenly, Scriptural passages that had seemed inscrutable by virtue of being forced to conform to that single false premise could be viewed in a new, free light. However, there was also a feeling of resentment, even anger, toward those who had kept me in the dark for so long with their unscriptural speculation. I began to feel what I had observed many Catholics experience when they first learned that God had a personal name; that there was no Trinity, purgatory nor Hellfire. But those Catholics and others like them, had somewhere to go. They joined our ranks. But where would I go? Is there another religion that even more closely conforms to Bible truth than we do? I am not aware of one, and I’ve done the research.
We have been taught all our lives that those that head up our organization serve as God’s appointed channel of communication; that the holy spirit feeds us through them. To come to the slowly dawning realization that you and other very ordinary individuals like yourself are learning Scriptural truths independently of this so-called channel of communication is startling. It causes you to question your very foundation of faith.
To give one tiny example: we have recently been told that the “domestics” spoken of at Mt. 24:45-47 refer not only to the anointed remnant on earth, but to all true Christians. Another piece of “new light” is that the appointment of the faithful slave over all the master’s belongings did not occur in 1919, but will happen during the judgment that precedes Armageddon. I, and many like me, came to these “new understandings” many years ago. How could we have got it right so long before Jehovah’s appointed channel did? We do not have more of his holy spirit than they, do we? I don’t think so.
You can see the quandary I, and many like me, have been facing? I am in the truth. That is how I have always referred to myself as a Jehovah’s Witness. I hold the truth as something very dear to me. We all do. Sure, we don’t know everything, but when a refinement in understanding is called for, we embrace it because truth is paramount. It trumps culture, tradition, and personal preference. With such a stance as this, how can I get on the platform and teach 1914, or our latest misinterpretation of “this generation” or other things that I have been able to prove from Scripture are wrong in our theology? Isn’t that hypocritical?
Now, some have suggested that we imitate Russell who abandoned the organized religions of his day and branched out on his own. In fact, a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in various lands have done that very thing. Is that the way to go? Are we being unfaithful to our God by staying within our organization even though we no longer hold to every doctrine as gospel? Each one must do what his or her conscience dictates, of course. However, I return to Peter’s words: “Whom shall we go away to?”
Those who have started their own groups have all vanished into obscurity. Why? Perhaps we can learn something from the words of Gamaliel: “…if this scheme or this work is from men, it will be overthrown; but if it is from God, YOU will not be able to overthrow them…” (Acts 5:38, 39)
Despite the active opposition from the world and its clergy, we, like the first century Christians, have flourished. If those who had ‘gone away from us’ were being blessed by God in the same way, they would have multiplied many times over, while we would have diminished. But that hasn’t been the case. It is not easy being a Jehovah’s Witness. It’s easy to be a Catholic, Baptist, Buddhist, or whatever. What do you really have to do to practice almost any religion today? What do you have to stand for? Are you required to get in the face of opposers and proclaim your faith? Engaging in the preaching work is hard and it is the one thing that every group departing from our ranks drops. Oh, they may say that they will continue the preaching, but in no time at all, they cease.
Jesus didn’t give us many commands, but those he did give us must be obeyed if we are to have the favor of our King, and preaching is one of the foremost. (Ps. 2:12; Mat. 28:19, 20)
Those of us who remain Jehovah’s Witnesses despite no longer accepting every teaching that comes down the pike do so because, like Peter, we have recognized where Jehovah’s blessing is being poured out. It is not being poured out on an organization, but on a people. It is not being poured out on an administrative hierarchy, but on individuals of God’s choosing within that administration. We have stopped focusing on the organization and its hierarchy and instead have come to see the people, in their millions, upon whom Jehovah’s spirit is being poured out.
King David was an adulterer and a murderer. Would a Jew in his day have been blessed by God if he had gone off to live in another nation because of the way the God-anointed king was behaving? Or take the case of a parent who lost a son or daughter in the scourge that killed 70,000 because of David’s ill-considered census. Would Jehovah have blessed him for leaving God’s people? Then there’s Anna, a prophetess filled with holy spirit, rendering sacred service day and night despite the sins and oppressions of the priests and other religious leaders of her day. She had nowhere else to go. She stayed with Jehovah’s people, until it was his time for a change. Now, undoubtedly she would have joined herself to Christ had she lived long enough, but that would be different. Then she would have had “somewhere else to go”.
So my point is that there is no other religion on earth today that even comes close to Jehovah’s Witnesses, despite our errors in interpretation and at times our conduct. With very few exceptions, all other religions feel justified in killing their brothers in times of war. Jesus didn’t say, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have the truth among yourselves.” No, is it love that marks the true faith and we do have it.
I can see some of you raising a hand of protest because you know or have personally experienced a distinct lack of love within our ranks. That existed in the first century congregation as well. Just consider Paul’s words to the Galatians at 5:15 or James’ warning to the congregations at 4:2. But those are exceptions—albeit far too numerous it seems these days—that merely go to show that such individuals, though claiming to be Jehovah’s people, are giving evidence by their hatred of their fellow man that they are children of the Devil. It is still easy to find many loving and caring individuals within our ranks through whom God’s holy active force is constantly at work, refining and enriching. How could we leave such a brotherhood?
We do not belong to an organization. We belong to a people. When the great tribulation starts, when the rulers of the world attack the Great Harlot of Revelation, it is doubtful that our organization with its buildings and printing presses and administrative hierarchy will remain intact. That’s okay. We won’t need it then. We will need each other. We will need the brotherhood. When the dust settles from that worldwide conflagration, we will look for the eagles and know where we must go to be with those upon whom Jehovah continues to pour his spirit. (Mt. 24:28)
As long as the holy spirit continues in evidence upon the worldwide brotherhood of Jehovah’s people, I will count it a privilege to be one of them.