QUESTION: What did Jesus mean when he said to his disciples that “they will lay their hands on you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” (Luke 21:12-13 ESV) What was it that Jesus was trying to get his disciples to understand and appreciate? Finally, what is the modern-day parallel that we should expect to see, since this is to happen “before all these things” which are to come…?
ANSWER: When Jesus walked through the land of Galilee and invited certain men to become his followers they did not know very much about who they were following or what purpose they might serve. They were just humble country folk — fishermen, farmers. Jesus himself was a carpenter. He was not a priest or even a ranking officer of the Nazarene synagogue.
Even though the apostles were with Jesus during the entirety of his three and one half-year ministry, and he had sent them out to preach and even gave them power to expel demons and cure every sort of infirmity, they were still timid and fearful of the Jewish religious establishment. The disciples were also laboring under the delusion that the kingdom of God that Jesus commanded them to preach had drawn near was going to immediately come to power. Even though he told them straightforwardly they could not grasp that Jesus was going to be killed and resurrected and return to heaven, and if they were to be faithful to their calling they would have to follow in his footsteps.
So, on the occasion when the disciples privately approached Jesus on the Mount of Olives and asked him to explain his remarks about the temple being thrown down Jesus forewarned them of what was to come upon them. It must have also been hard for them to believe that they would one day stand before great rulers and deliver God’s message.
However, there is a discrepancy in the gospels as to the timing of these matters. Below is a comparison of the three accounts.
Matthew: “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. Then people will hand you over to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be hated by all the nations on account of my name.”
Mark: “For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in one place after another; there will also be food shortages.These are a beginning of pangs of distress. As for you, look out for yourselves. People will hand you over 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. And when they are taking you to hand you over, do not be anxious beforehand about what to say; but whatever is given you in that hour, say 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 hated by all people on account of my name. But the one who has endured to the end will be saved.”
Luke: “Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another food shortages and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs. But before all these things happen, people will lay their hands on you and persecute you, handing you over to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and governors for the sake of my name. It will result in your giving a witness. Therefore, resolve in your hearts not to rehearse beforehand how to make your defense, for I will give you words and wisdom that all your opposers together will not be able to resist or dispute. Moreover, you will be handed over even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all people because of my name. But not even a hair of your heads will perish. By your endurance you will preserve your lives.”’
In Matthew and Mark it states that the persecution will come after the initial phase of war, famine and pestilence. However, Luke states: “But before all these things happen…” – presumably, including nation rising against nation, etc.
So, which is correct? The answer is, they both are — that is, when we take into consideration that Jesus’ prophecy was intended to have a dual fulfillment.*
Originally the apostles and 120 disciples were transformed when the holy spirit was poured out upon them on the day of Pentecost. They were no longer backward people of the earth (am-haarets), but ambassadors of Christ.
The transformation was particularly evident in Peter, whom Jesus had assigned to handle the keys of the kingdom. Whereas, just a few days before Peter fearfully denied even knowing Jesus, and moments before the spirit was poured out they were behind locked doors in the Upper room, fearful of the Jews. But there Peter stood before the Jewish Sanhedrin fearlessly denouncing them for having murdered Jesus.
Some time later Stephen, who was full of Jehovah’s spirit, was disputing with the Jews and they could not hold their own against him, as Jesus had also foretold. As a result the enraged Jews murdered him. And on that day a great persecution broke out, so that all the Christians in Jerusalem fled — all except the apostles. No doubt as part of the persecution Christians were expelled from the synagogues too, as Jesus had also forewarned.
But the point is, their giving a witness to the Jewish leaders and the persecution that came upon them occurred before Judah became embroiled in civil strife — before the great famine occurred, and before the Romans began a campaign to put down the insurrection.
Of note, Luke’s gospel account was written from the perspective of a journalist who interviewed eyewitnesses many years after the fact. And no doubt Peter had already given his spirit-inspired witness to the Sanhedrin, Stephen and the apostle James had been martyred and perhaps even Paul had stood before the Roman governor, Festus. So, from his standpoint many of the things Jesus prophesied had already occurred; hence, before the wars, famines and earthquakes, etc.
True, the other two gospel writers did not compile their records until much later. But more than likely Matthew, and perhaps even Mark, were personally with Jesus on the Mount of Olives. So, their perspective was from that immediate standpoint — before any of the things Jesus foretold had come about.
Whatever the case, as regards the grander fulfillment with the return of Christ, obviously the span of verses in question pose a problem for Jehovah’s Witnesses. How so? Because regardless of which gospel perspective we take, there was no persecution of the Bible Students leading up to 1914, when supposedly the words of Jesus were fulfilled in nation rising against nation. And since 1914 Jehovah’s Witnesses have not experienced the sort of persecution about which Jesus forewarned, whereby, family members hand them over to be put to death, brothers betray and hate each other; nor have Jehovah’s Witnesses stood before governors, kings or presidents and given them a witness.
As I have pointed out in numerous articles, Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot at this time truthfully say that they have seen all the things Christ foretold that will indicate he is at the door. Basically, the Watchtower has recanted most of the things they used to teach had been fulfilled. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses used to believe that during the Cold War men were faint with fear in expectation of the things coming upon the world, but no longer. And, of course, the Society has never acknowledged that any aspect of the prophecy under consideration here has or ever will have any relevance for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Just as the apostles and original disciples were blind to the outworking of God’s purpose prior to the outpouring of holy spirit on Pentecost, so too, Jehovah’s Witnesses are blind to the reality of the future coming of Christ. The leadership are fittingly described in prophecy as being drunk — inebriated with their own supposed superior position and knowledge.
As an example of their abject blindness to reality, the Governing Body routinely states, ad nauseam, that the next aspect of prophecy to be fulfilled will be the destruction of organized religion by the United Nations and that Jehovah’s Witnesses are going to be casual bystanders to the event.