Jesus began preaching and saying: “Repent, for the Kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.”—Matt. 4:17.
Jesus taught his disciples to do the same work. He told them: “You will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The early followers of Christ definitely understood what was required of them. At Antioch in Pisidia, for example, Paul and Barnabas boldly told their Jewish opposers: “It was necessary for the word of God to be spoken first to you. Since you are rejecting it and do not judge yourselves worthy of everlasting life, look! we turn to the nations. For Jehovah has commanded us in these words: ‘I have appointed you as a light of nations, for you to be a salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 13:14, 45-47) Since the first century, the earthly part of God’s organization has been making known his provision for salvation.
Immediately after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and the anointing spirit of Jehovah descended upon him in the form of a dove, the holy spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After 40 days, Jesus returned to Galilee and it was then that he took up his ministry with the rousing declaration: “Repent, for the Kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.”
In what sense had the Kingdom of the heavens drawn near back then?
Upon his anointing Jesus became the Messiah —the Christ. And as a descendant of David (the linage of the Judean king having been carefully preserved for a thousand years) Jesus was also an heir to the throne of Israel, thus, the presumptive king. However, because Jesus was born again as a spirit son of God upon his resurrection his right to the throne was transferrable to the heavens —making the kingdom of David the Kingdom of the heavens and the capitol Jerusalem, heavenly Mount Zion —fulfilling David’s prophetic Psalm concerning the Christ: “Jehovah declared to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.’ Jehovah will extend the scepter of your power out of Zion, saying: ‘Go subduing in the midst of your enemies.’”
Those who heeded the exhortation and repented became preachers of the very same message. And so Jesus sent them out by twos declaring that the Kingdom of God has drawn near. But all of those disciples, including the apostles, were laboring under a massive misconception about the very nature of the Kingdom. Even though Jesus repeatedly referred to it as the Kingdom of the heavens his disciples erroneously thought that Jesus was going to set up some sort of earthly organization. And they imagined the Kingdom was going to instantly display itself. It was only after Jesus was executed and resurrected into the heavens that they were able to grasp that the Kingdom of the heavens really is heavenly —not earthly.
Nevertheless, Jesus’ initial message regarding the Kingdom having drawn near was valid since those who believed became anointed too and were welcomed into the congregation of Christ, which, itself, is to become the Kingdom that will rule over the earth, even as Jesus promised the faithful of Thyatira, and by extension all the congregations: “And to the one who conquers and observes my deeds down to the end, I will give authority over the nations, and he will shepherd the people with an iron rod so that they will be broken to pieces like clay vessels, just as I have received from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations.’”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are in a similar position relative to the Kingdom of the heavens. With the appearance of the International Bible Students a new generation of Kingdom heirs came on the scene, making the same appeal in effect, to repent, as the Kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.
But like the original apostles and disciples Jehovah’s Witnesses are saddled with a massive misconception about the nature of the Kingdom. Instead of supposing the Kingdom is going to instantly display itself, the Watchtower’s message is that the Kingdom is already ruling, that Jesus’ enemies have already been put under him as a stool for his feet. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been persuaded to believe that the Watchtower is the very embodiment of the Kingdom, making the Kingdom of the heavens an earthly organization. And just as the apostles could not conceive of Jesus being put to death, Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot fathom the Watchtower being in error on something as crucial as the timing and nature of the parousia. But, alas, it is very wrong.
Just as it took the repeated rebukes of the resurrected Christ to dispel the erroneous thinking of the apostles, so too, the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses will only be brought to their proper senses by the terror of the now-looming global war. Then the rebuke of God in the prophecy of Joel will be most fitting:
Wake up, you drunkards, and weep!
Wail, all you wine drinkers,
Because the sweet wine has been taken from your mouths.
For a nation has come up into my land, mighty and without number.
Its teeth are the teeth of a lion, and its jaws are those of a lion.
It has devastated my vine and turned my fig tree into a stump,
Stripping them completely bare and tossing them aside,
Leaving their twigs white.
Wail as a virgin wearing sackcloth does
For the bridegroom of her youth.