Though you do not see him now, yet you exercise faith in him.
When we become disciples of Christ, we embark on a journey. That journey can lead us to life, whether in heaven or on earth. Jesus said: “The one who has endured to the end will be saved.” Yes, if we stick to a life course of faithfulness, we can come in line for salvation. Along the way, however, we must be careful not to get distracted or lost. How can we stay on course on our journey? Our Exemplar, Jesus, led the way. His journey was recorded in the Bible. By studying that record, we learn what Jesus is like. We can come to love him and exercise faith in him. Recall that the apostle Peter said that Jesus left us a model for us to follow his steps closely. If we carefully follow his steps, we will reach “the goal” of our faith—salvation.
Not all of Jesus’ original disciples were literal footstep followers, like the apostles or the extended entourage of disciples, like the 70 whom Jesus dispatched to preach the Kingdom. Unlike the apostles who simply dropped everything and literally followed Jesus in his ministry, Jesus had secret disciples, who, because of their circumstance were afraid to reveal themselves as disciples.
One such secret disciple was Nicodemus. Another was Joseph of Arimathea. Both men were reputable members of the ruling body of the Jews —the Sanhedrin. Of Joseph of Arimathea the book of Mark states that he was waiting on the Kingdom.
Nicodemus approached Jesus at night, no doubt so as to avoid being seen. And he confessed that no one could do the things Jesus did unless he was sent by God. It was to Nicodemus that Jesus spoke of his having come down from heaven and of being born again from the water and the spirit.
It was Nicodemus who spoke up when his fellow Pharisees condemned Jesus, saying to them: “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” —John 7:51
Although Nicodemus may have appeared to be cowardly, when Jesus was put to death and all of his apostles fled and hid, Nicodemus, along with Joseph of Arimathea, stepped forward. Joseph courageously approached Pilate and asked him for the body of Christ, which the two secret disciples then properly prepared for burial and placed in a tomb. Had the murderous Sanhedrin had their way they would have probably tossed Jesus’ body into the trash heap of Gehenna.
Moments before Jesus was arrested he told his disciples that in order for the scripture to be fulfilled the shepherd must be struck and the sheep scattered. And most assuredly, the scripture was fulfilled when Christ was arrested and put to death and the disciples fled in fear. Although just hours earlier Peter adamantly boasted he would die for his Lord, before the morning sun rose Peter three times denied that he ever knew Jesus —just as Jesus said he would.
The death of Christ completely waylaid the disciples. Although Jesus had repeatedly told them he was going to be handed over to the older men and put to death, they couldn’t understand. That is why upon after his resurrection and appearances to them on one occasion he rebuked them as being senseless and slow in heart to believe all the things the prophets spoke. Yes, for them following Jesus took some major twists and turns and required that they humbly submit to Jesus’ scathing rebuke.
One prophecy to which Jesus was referring that had to be fulfilled is found at Zechariah 13:7, which states: “‘O sword, awake against my shepherd, against the man who is my companion,’ declares Jehovah of armies. ‘Strike the shepherd, and let the flock be scattered; and I will turn my hand against those who are insignificant.”’
The interesting thing about the prophecy that Jesus said had to be fulfilled is that the surrounding context of related prophecy has nothing to do with what took place in the first century. It is a prophecy related to the end of Satan’s world. As part of the same judgment Zechariah 13:4 states: “In that day each of the prophets will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies; and they will not wear an official garment of hair in order to deceive. And he will say, ‘I am no prophet. I am a man cultivating the soil, because a man bought me when I was young.’ And if someone asks him, ‘What are these wounds between your shoulders?’ he will answer, ‘Wounds I received in the house of my friends.’”
The apostles who were scattered, of whom Jesus said were slow to believe the prophets, certainly did not claim to be prophets. However, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses do claim to be prophets. No, not in the sense of the inspired prophets of old, but the Governing Body have assumed the mantle of the prophets by claiming to be the mouthpiece of a modern-day Jeremiah class, Ezekiel class, and a Micah class, etc. Their interpretation of prophecy —virtually all of which is tied to 1914 —is regarded by Jehovah’s Witnesses as The Truth.
It is deemed to be out of the question that Jesus’ presence could manifest itself in the future. According to the Watchtower another world war is out of the question, even as the nuclear powers of the world are feverishly preparing for that very thing. This is why Jesus’ future presence will result in the so-called prophet class becoming ashamed of the fraudulent visions they have promoted. (For a more complete consideration of the prophecy of Zechariah see the article The Coming Fall of the House of God.)
And because Bethel exerts total control over the spiritual lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses —like a shepherd over a flock —the coming of Christ will result in the organizational shepherd being struck and the sheep being scattered on a massive scale.
How will it be possible to follow Christ then? In a word —by faith. Those with faith will go forward into a new reality. Perhaps even some members of Sanhedrin-like Governing Body will prove themselves to be like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and step forward. Others who may be considered as insignificant now may show extraordinary faith then.
There are a growing number of Jehovah’s Witnesses who are aware that Jesus did not begin ruling the world in 1914. Like Jesus’ secret disciples in the first century, they too are waiting for the Kingdom to come.