Fear can be a good thing. Or it can be bad. It can motivate us in the right way, or it can be paralyzing or tempt us into a fatal compromise. Jesus spoke of both kinds of fear when he said the following:
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his lord. It is enough for the disciple to become as his teacher, and the slave as his lord. If people have called the householder Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household so? Therefore do not fear them; for here is nothing covered over that will not become uncovered, and secret that will not become known. What I tell you in the darkness, say in the light; and what you hear whispered, preach from the housetops. And do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Do not two sparrows sell for a coin of small value? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore have no fear: You are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:24-31
Jesus provided his disciples with a sterling example of unflinching courage in the face of opposition. He always fearlessly stood up for the truth, even when doing so before the Jewish Sanhedrin meant certain death. He is, therefore, the perfect example of one whose fear of God allowed no room for fear of man. And even though he was put to death, his fear of God was rewarded by a nearly instantaneous resurrection. Hence, those who killed Jesus’ body could not affect his eternal destiny.
God demonstrated that he had numbered every hair on Jesus’ head – meaning that Jehovah was intimately aware of Jesus personally, as well as his distressing situation, and Jehovah was capable and willing to fully restore him from the death sentence that had been imposed upon him. In telling his disciples every hair of their head was numbered by God, Jesus was not promising them that they would not die, as some might suppose. Quite the contrary, in fact. By pointing out that God is aware when even an insignificant sparrow perishes, Jesus was assuring his followers that Jehovah would be cognizant of the death of every Christian who might be called upon to follow Christ’s footsteps all the way to Sheol itself.
Jehovah’s Witnesses should have some depth of appreciation for why God allows some of his dear children – who “are worth more than many sparrows” to the tender-hearted Jehovah – to be killed by the enemy. God is not indifferent to such sufferings and sacrifices. He allows it in order to provide answers to the great issues Satan raised in Eden and in connection with Job, in which the Devil has accused all of God’s children of being selfishly motivated to serve God and being unwilling to suffer for the cause of God. The Devil uses our natural fear of death to try to make us cower and shrink from serving God in order to prove his contention.
Jesus’ words of encouragement to have no fear are especially important for Christians living at this time. That is because we are facing the sudden terrors associated with the conclusion of the system of things; the so-called time of the end and all that goes with it.
The Lord specifically exhorted Christians not to give way to terror and fear during the period immediately preceding the end of this wicked world, saying: “You are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course, believe that the beginning pangs of distress were originally felt in 1914 with the beginning of World War One. But it must be pointed out that it is merely called a “world war” because many nations of the world fought in it; however, the battlefield was largely confined to Europe – France in particular. Realistically, there was very little reason for persons in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific to fear for their personal welfare – unless they were unfortunate enough to have been shipped overseas to Flanders Field or some similar battlefield. It should, therefore, be apparent that the terror-inducing “beginning pangs of distress” Jesus foretold was not WWI.
That should also be evident from the fact that the prophecy of the conclusion describes a kind of terror that mankind has never before experienced – a heart-stopping terror that will cause mankind to swoon in shock. Jesus went on to say: “Also, there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out because of the roaring of the sea and its agitation, while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
For decades Jehovah’s Witnesses were led to believe that the nations have been in anguish, not knowing the way out, since 1914. As recently as the March 1st, 1992, issue of the Watchtower, just 14 years ago, the Society stated:
“In our 20th century, we have seen “on the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out . . . while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.”
Apparently, though, the nations have found a way out of the supposed all-consuming anguish that commenced in 1914. At least the world has succeeded in muddling through to the present; and rather than society being characterized as being “faint out of fear,” it would seem that the dominate spirit, as least in the Western world, is that of apathy and unconcern for the future. The Watchtower has in recent years unceremoniously shifted the prophecy’s fulfillment to the future.
What did Jesus mean when he said the “powers of the heavens will be shaken”? The April 1st, 1990, Watchtower states the following:
'"The powers of the heavens will be shaken,’ Jesus continues. He thus indicates that the physical heavens will take on a foreboding appearance. The heavens will not simply be the domain of birds, but they will be filled with warplanes, rockets, and space probes. The fear and violence will exceed anything experienced in previous human history.”
Please note that Jesus did not say the heavens would be shaken; nor did he say that the mid-heavens, that is to say the atmospheric heavens would be shaken; but rather, he foretold that the “powers of the heavens will be shaken.” What are these “powers” of the heavens?
Elsewhere in scripture the apostle Paul identified the powers of the heavens as the demonic principalities that reside in the heavenly places, referring to them as the unseen governments and authorities that rule the world.
When Jesus was on earth these same ruling authorities spoke to Jesus through their human proxies – expressing fear and anxiety over the possibility of their being prematurely ordered into a dungeon-like place of confinement. No doubt that simmering fear of their judgment and eventual death will become a full blown panic attack when they and their leader, Satan, are violently hurled down from the highest heaven to the lower regions of the spirit realm, to the vicinity of our tiny earth, in advance of their being incarcerated for a thousand years. That is when the present ruling powers of the heavens will indeed be firmly shaken. The demons themselves will be stricken with the terror of Jehovah, administered through the invincible powers given to Christ at the coming of his kingdom in full power and authority. No wonder mankind will also be seized with terror; the very gods of this evil world will themselves be in the grip of fear and fury at the coming of Christ.
The 24th chapter of Isaiah speaks of the judgment upon the powers of the heavens: “And it must occur in that day that Jehovah will turn his attention upon the army of the height in the height, and upon the kings of the ground upon the ground. And they will certainly be gathered with a gathering as of prisoners into the pit, and be shut up in the dungeon; and after an abundance of days they will be given attention.”
The setting of Jehovah’s judgment upon the demonic “army of the height in the height” is the betrayal and despoiling of Jehovah’s nation, which corresponds to the situation Jesus said would arise during the conclusion when brothers would betray one another and deliver up God’s chosen ones to be put to death. This helps us appreciate why Jesus emphasized how vital it would be not to give in to fear.
What did Jesus mean when he foretold that the nations would be in anguish “because of the roaring of the sea and its agitation”? According to the Watchtower Jesus was referring to the literal oceans covering the planet, under which prowl dozens of submarines with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles capable of “roaring” up from the ocean at any given moment to obliterate any city on earth. However, in numerous places in prophecy the turbulent sea is used to symbolize the nations of the world that cover the earth.
For example, Isaiah 17:12-14 states: “Ha for the commotion of many peoples, who are boisterous as with the boisterousness of the seas! And for the noise of national groups, who make a din just like the noise of mighty waters! The national groups themselves will make a din just like the noise of many waters. And He will certainly rebuke it, and it must flee far away and be chased like the chaff of the mountains before a wind and like a thistle whirl before a storm wind. At evening time, why, look! there is sudden terror. Before morning—it is no more. This is the share of those pillaging us, and the lot belonging to those plundering us.”
The prophecy of Isaiah foretelling a great commotion of the national groups – likened to the fear-inspiring confusion of a tempest-blown sea – parallels the 2nd Psalm, which associates the coming of Christ with the nations being thrown into tumult. The “commotion of many peoples” is simply another way of saying the nations will be in tumult. It is also reasonable to conclude that the “anguish of nations” due to “roaring of the sea and its agitation” parallels the tumult foretold in Psalms and the “noise of national groups” mentioned in Isaiah.
The problem is that the Watchtower has assigned three different fulfillments for three prophecies that are essentially foretelling the exact same thing. Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the 2nd Psalm was fulfilled in 1914. But in their commentary on Isaiah the Society claims that the nations are in turmoil and that Jehovah’s Witnesses are presently being pillaged and plundered. And in the past few years the Society has “adjusted” their interpretation of the “roaring of the sea” so as to apply to the future.
Since the evidence is lacking that the 2nd Psalm has already been fulfilled, and since the foretold tumult of nations is a direct result of Christ being given his kingdom, it is one more proof that Christ’s kingdom did not come to power in 1914. The great upheaval of nations is still future and will undoubtedly coincide with the outbreak of the next world war – a war that has the potential to see the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction on a large scale.
When the United States was in the grip of the Great Depression and the Second World War was looming, President Franklin Roosevelt assured Americans that there was nothing to fear except fear itself. There is much truth in that saying. But Jesus did not say that there was nothing to fear. Just the opposite; Jesus foretold that there would be fearful sights from heaven and the nations would faint with fright. What will prevent Christians from becoming terrified?
Jesus’ example can be tremendously encouraging. Just knowing that Jesus conquered the world by his faith can empower us to face the terrifying times ahead. And the fact that God foretold these things, too, can allay the fear of the unknown. And knowing that even though the nations may become tumultuous like a raging sea, Psalms 65:7 says of Jehovah: “He is stilling the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves and the turmoil of the national groups.”