[This article has been contributed by Alex Rover]
Might certain inhabitants of the destroyed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah live in paradise earth?
What follows is a taste of how the Watchtower answered that question:
1879 – Yes (wt 1879 06 p.8)
1955 – No (wt 1955 04 p.200)
1965 – Yes (wt 1965 08 p.479)
1967 – No (wt 1967 07 p.409)
1974 – Yes (awake 1974 10 p.20)
1988 – No (revelation climax p.273)
1988 – Maybe (Insight Volume 2, p.984)
1988 – No (wt 1988 05 p.30-31)
1989 – No (1989 edition of Live Forever, p.179)
2014 – Maybe (wol.jw.org indexes Insight Volume 2 – current light)
Perhaps you notice that for an astonishing 76 years the answer was initially ‘Yes’. Incidentally the Watchtower used to teach during much of the same period that all faithful Christians have a heavenly hope. The doctrinal struggle we witness in the latter part of the last century is in effect clearly related to Jehovah’s Witnesses abandoning the truth about our hope.
After all, if all good Christians deserve to live on earth, there is no room left for those evil Sodomites. What merit do they have to receive mercy, if we work so hard to be holy and acceptable to God?
We can’t even show mercy to those who are disfellowshipped because as Jehovah’s Witnesses we think of them as already dead. And our neighbors who rejected the Watchtower magazines recently are likely as good as dead, except for the small chance that Jesus sees something in their hearts we missed in our blindness.
But restore our understanding to the truth that all Christians have the heavenly hope, and our viewpoint toward the world changes:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
Let’s re-examine the Scriptures so we may correct our thinking and learn to love our enemies as we consider the topic of Mercy to the Nations.
Finding the worthy
As Jesus sent out his twelve, he paired them and instructed them to preach that ‘the kingdom of heaven is near’. After warning them not to venture into Samaritan towns and Gentile regions, he gave them power to cure the sick, raise the dead and to cast out demons. Thus, the Jews would not just hear their words, but would see physical evidence that they were indeed prophets of Jehovah God.
Today, our ministry is void of such amazing powers. Imagine if we could go door-to-door and heal cancer and heart disease, or even raise up the dead! Yet Jesus did not instruct his twelve to perform mass miracle works; instead they were to examine who was worthy:
Whenever you enter a town or village, find out who is worthy there and stay with them until you leave. As you enter the house, give it greetings. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. – Matthew 10:11-13
The worthiness of the household would be linked to whether or not they ‘welcomed them’ or ‘listened to the message’. What’s amazing about these words is that Jesus simply required a basic human decency of welcoming a visitor and showing respect by listening to the message.
In my years of full time ministry I have to say that by and large, most people are not rude and if they have some time, they will entertain a conversation. Of course it’s rare someone will agree to everything I have to say, but here is a clear difference between me and my first-century brothers: Today, when a person shows worthiness by listening, I can’t heal their back-pain or resurrect their mother! Suppose I could perform these kinds of miracles? I imagine that those good people would stand in line to accept my message!
We are quick to judge others simply by the fact they don’t accept everything we say as truth, even without offering them miracles as proof!
It is clear that we need a correction in our thinking.
Sodom and Gomorrah
What Jesus says about Sodom and Gomorrah is most revealing:
And if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your message, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or that town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than for that town! – Matthew 10:14-15
Notice the condition for judgment over the entire town or region: “if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your message”. This is equivalent to saying: “if not a single person will welcome you or listen to your message”. Can we say that in our ministry in any given town or region, we have never found anyone who welcomes us or hears our message?
Now let’s go back in time and apply the conversation between our Lord and Abraham to the previous passage:
What if there are fifty godly people in the city? Will you really wipe it out and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty godly people who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing – to kill the godly with the wicked, treating the godly and the wicked alike! Far be it from you! Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right? So the Lord replied, “If I find in the city of Sodom fifty godly people, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” – Genesis 18:24-26
Abraham then pleaded with the Lord that if only 10 man could be found, the city would be saved, and it was agreed upon. But in the end, only one family could be found, and the angels led this family to safety because Jehovah would never kill the godly with the wicked.
How was Lot and his household proven worthy? The details surrounding this may astonish us! Just like the two apostles that would come to a home, two angels came to his home.
1. Lot welcomed them
“Here, my lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house. Spend the night and wash your feet. Then you can be on your way early in the morning.” – Genesis 19:2a
2. The two visitors performed a miracle
Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, from the youngest to the oldest, with blindness. The men outside wore themselves out trying to find the door. – Genesis 19: 11
3. Lot listened to their message
Compare Genesis 19:12-14.
4. Still Lot was not fully convinced, for he hesitated
When Lot hesitated, the men grabbed his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters because the Lord had compassion on them. – Genesis 19:16a
So when we analyze what occurred here, Lot was saved based on two things: he welcomed them and listened to their message. While not fully convinced, the Lord showed compassion on them and decided to save them anyway.
If there had been only nine more men like Lot, Jehovah would have spared the entire city on behalf of them!
What does this teach us about how we view the preaching work today? In light of the millions who have not witnessed any miracle, yet welcomed Christians to their home and respectfully listened to the message, could our almighty God not show compassion?
The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns were destroyed as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire [or: destruction]. (Jude 1:7)
About these cities, Jesus made an astonishing revelation:
For if the miracles done among you had been done in Sodom, it would have continued to this day. – Matthew 11:23b
Jesus here reveals that at least 9 more men would have repented in case Sodom had witnessed the same miracles of Jesus, and the entire city would not have been destroyed in that case!
Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin were worse than Sodom, Tyre and Sidon, for these Jewish cities had witnessed Jesus’ miracles and did not repent. (Matthew 11:20-23) And for those individuals in Sodom who have been destroyed but might have repented under different circumstances, there remains a coming day of judgment. (Matthew 11:24)
About Tyre and Sidon, Jesus said:
If the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. – Matthew 11:21b
This brings us to Jonah. When he declared to the people of Nineveh that God would destroy them for their wickedness, the entire city repented in sackcloth and ashes. (Jonah 3:5-7)
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. – Jonah 3:10
When Jesus will manifest himself with great signs in heaven, all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation. (Matthew 24: 22) This brings to mind the scenario of Jeremiah 6:26:
O daughter of my people,
put on sackcloth and roll in ashes;
mourn as for an only son,
A lamentation most bitter.
We know that when Jesus returns, a judgment will follow. But when he finds people in deep mourning and beating themselves with lamentation, in sackcloth and ashes, he will undoubtedly show mercy to many.
Mercy is undeserved
God is not obligated to forgive. It is done by undeserved grace alone, and his forgiveness should never be taken for granted. Compare the words of Ezra:
I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. [..]
What happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant like this. [..]
Jehovah, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence. – Ezra 9:6,13,15
More than welcoming a brother or sister of Christ and listening to their message is required to become heirs of the kingdom of heaven: one has to take up their torture stake and follow Christ fully. As Ezra put it, to stand “in God’s presence” we need cleansing from our sin. This can only come through Christ.
Those who did believe will serve in God’s tabernacle before the throne and the Lamb, and have the privilege to guide any resurrected repentant ones and all the tribes of the earth to righteousness, shining as brightly as the stars that illuminate the sky, in their white linen robes.
Blessed are you who have not seen any miracles but have believed! Show love and mercy to the people of the nations today, as our Father has shown mercy to us when he adopted us as his children. Let us do away with our old personality and thinking and put on the mind of Christ as we learn to love the whole world.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. – Matthew 7:1
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32