They strengthened the disciples, encouraging them to remain in the faith and saying: “We must enter into the Kingdom of God through many tribulations.”
At first, that statement might seem strange. After all, the prospect of going through “many tribulations” would seem distressing, not encouraging. How is it, then, that Paul and Barnabas “strengthened the disciples” with a message that pointed to more tribulation? We can find the answer if we look carefully at Paul’s words. He did not simply say: “We must endure many tribulations.” Rather, he said: “We must enter into the Kingdom of God through many tribulations.” So Paul strengthened the disciples by emphasizing the positive result of a faithful course. That reward was no mere illusion. Indeed, Jesus stated: “The one who has endured to the end will be saved.” If we endure, we will have a reward. As Paul noted, though, we will face many tribulations in the meantime.
Knowing the issues at stake is vital. Since God is a loving heavenly Father who blesses and protects his children, he must have a good reason for allowing us to be persecuted and go through many tribulations. And, of course, he does. As we know it has to do with the Devil’s slanderous contention that no one will be true to God if they are pressured or threatened with death.
Jesus was the focal point of the controversy. That is why the holy spirit led the newly anointed Christ into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. And it is why Jehovah ultimately allowed Satan to inflict the most torturous death imaginable upon his son. As followers of Christ we are obligated to follow his course, and if persecution and or even death comes as a result — so be it. It is a privilege to be able to weigh in on the issue, so-to-speak.
Paul certainly suffered many things for the sake of Christ. Probably no one has suffered as much as he. As a counter to the baseless accusations of the “superfine apostles” in the 11th chapter of 2 Corinthians Paul said that he “suffered countless beatings, and experienced many near-deaths. Five times I received 40 strokes less one from the Jews, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I experienced shipwreck, a night and a day I have spent in the open sea; in journeys often, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own people, in dangers from the nations, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers among false brothers, in labor and toil, in sleepless nights often, in hunger and thirst, frequently without food, in cold and lacking clothing.”
Paul could speak with authority —it is only through many tribulations that we must enter the Kingdom of God. Yet, it is as the Watchtower states, the suffering is not the main focus —it is the reward.
However, are Jehovah’s Witnesses best served by putting such things that may befall us completely out of our minds?
There was a sister I knew. She had three young daughters. Naturally, she was very protective of them. And like every parent, she worried about their future. She once asked a visiting circuit overseer if we could expect to be persecuted or even killed during the tribulation. His reply to her was that not a single Christian would perish during the world’s worst time of calamity. No doubt that was what she wanted to hear.
And it is understandable that a circuit overseer would express that sort of cocksureness. After all, it has been over a half century since Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted in America or Europe —excluding the witnesses who suffered behind the Iron Curtain up until the fall of the USSR. Circuit overseers and other brothers who oversee districts and branches and zones, and Bethel brothers and the Governing Body, have certainly never faced the kind of hardships Paul enumerated. All their needs are cared for.
If we are honest we will admit that the present hierarchy of overseers —particularly the Bethel elders —better fit the description of the Corinthian elders who lived like honored kings —far above all the messy, bloody business Paul lived. Concerning those brothers Paul wrote the following: “Are you already satisfied? Are you already rich? Have you begun ruling as kings without us? I really wish that you had begun ruling as kings, so that we also might rule with you as kings. For it seems to me that God has put us the apostles last on exhibition as men condemned to death, because we have become a theatrical spectacle to the world, and to angels and to men. We are fools because of Christ, but you are discreet in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in dishonor. Down to this very hour we continue to hunger and thirst and to be poorly clothed and to be beaten and to be homeless and to toil, working with our own hands. When insulted, we bless; when persecuted, we patiently endure; when slandered, we answer mildly; we have become as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things, until now.”
Paul’s reference to being “a theatrical spectacle to the world and to angels” speaks to the aforementioned issue between Jehovah and Satan concerning our integrity.
“PEOPLE WILL DELIVER YOU UP”
Certainly Jehovah’s Witnesses in modern times have made many appearances on the world’s stage, particularly during the Nazi Holocaust. But what about now? It is inconceivable that the curtain will come down on this world without Jehovah’s Witnesses taking centerstage for the grand finale.
Concerning that final act, Jesus said: “As for you, look out for yourselves; people will deliver you up to local courts, and you will be beaten in synagogues and be put on the stand before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them. Also, in all the nations the good news has to be preached first. But when they are leading you along to deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what to speak; but whatever is given you in that hour, speak this, for you are not the ones speaking, but the holy spirit is. Furthermore, brother will deliver brother over to death, and a father a child, and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death; and you will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my name. But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.”
The context of Jesus’ remarks in the 13th chapter of Mark has to do with what comes after nation rises against nation. And after the good news is preached. In other words, after the Watchtower-centered phase of the work is finished. Then, just as the original Messiah stood before Pilate and Herod, then Christ will appear before governors and kings vicariously, through his brothers. They will not need a lawyer to speak for them. They will not need a Bible. They won’t have to study up beforehand. The holy spirit will speak through them at the time they will shine as brightly as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.
As far as the circuit overseer’s assurance that not a single Christian will perish, Jesus indicated otherwise when he said: “brother will deliver brother over to death.” The coming breakdown of civilization will also fracture the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Under financial hardship and government repression the faithless will betray the very brothers whom they presently sit next to in their kingdom halls. Even family members will betray one another. No doubt the simmering resentment of a swelling number of disfellowshipped JW’s and others whose hearts are not in it will leave them open to becoming pawns of Satan when Jehovah removes his protective barrier.
Such will be the final act before the curtain comes down. Are you ready to take the stage?