For many decades the Society has taught Jehovah’s Witnesses that the calling and choosing of the 144,000-member bride of Christ ended in 1935. (Actually, by applying the parable of the wise and foolish virgins to the 1914-1919 period the Watchtower even inadvertently implies that the door to the marriage feast was closed way back then. Ironically, virtually all the present members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses were anointed post 1935.) Consequently, as a result of that erroneous teaching the current mindset within the organization is that anyone who now professes a heavenly calling is viewed with skepticism, suspicion and even disdain—as if they are less worthy of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness then the older, exalted anointed brothers.
When we consider how Jehovah has been dealing with his people during the ‘harvest period,’ it seems evident that the heavenly calling in general was completed about the year 1935, when the hope of the “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9-17 was properly understood to be an earthly one. WT 2-15-82 Para 15
Some professing a heavenly hope are even intimidated to the point of hiding their own anointing by not publicly partaking of the symbol of their calling when the emblems of the Lord’s Evening meal are passed. Remarkably, the situation today among the prospective heirs of Christ’s kingdom exactly mirrors the condition of the ancient Corinthian congregation—only in reverse now.
Consider more closely Paul’s writings to the Corinthians. In the 4th chapter of 1st Corinthians, Paul sarcastically asked the brothers the following rhetorical questions: “You men already have your fill, do you? You are rich already, are you? You have begun ruling as kings without us, have you?”
In contrast, Paul stated that he and the apostles were like men appointed to death, stating: “And I wish indeed that you had begun ruling as kings, 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 appointed 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 in good repute, but we are in dishonor. Down to this very hour we continue to hunger and also to thirst and to be scantily clothed and to be knocked about and to be homeless and to toil, working with our own hands. When being reviled, we bless; when being persecuted, we bear up; when being defamed, we entreat; we have become as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things, until now.”
To fully understand why Jehovah allows his beloved chosen ones to experience all manner of hardship, as did the apostles, we must appreciate the great issues that Jehovah is intent on definitively settling. According to the accusation of the Accuser, God’s loyal servants are only serving him out of self-interest.
As presented in the book of Job, Satan contends that if enough pressure is brought to bear upon us we will deny God. So, it is in direct response to the Slanderer’s challenge that God allows various difficulties and persecutions to fill up the full measure of the sufferings of the Christ among the body of Christ. That is why Paul referred to the apostles as being on exhibition as a theatrical spectacle before men and angels because the settlement of the grand issue is of universal importance.
For most Christians, the persecutions come primarily from outside the congregation. For others, though, the persecutions of the Christ come from their own brothers! In Paul’s day though, not all of the brothers suffered equally. Apparently prominent Corinthian brothers had it relatively easy. They not only enjoyed comfort and prosperity, but they also were highly esteemed in the congregation. They lived relatively trouble-free lives as if they had already begun to reign with Christ as kings over the world.
It is a similar situation today. Many of the elderly brothers of the anointed enjoy the esteem and respect of all in the organization. Unlike the apostles, the Governing Body especially and other anointed members of the Bethel establishment, live like kings. Brother Fred Franz, a near-lifelong member of the Bethel family, even once boasted that no one in the world lived better than he did—citing his world travels and other privileges. He innocently said that out of appreciation of Jehovah’s blessing upon him; yet, by his own admission he seemed to be saying—Corinthian-like—that he had his fill already as a ruling king of the kingdom.
At any rate, it poses quite a contrast with the persecutions and travails that Paul endured. Consequently, the Governing Body and old-time anointed are “discreet in Christ”—being virtually synonymous in the minds of Jehovah’s Witnesses with the revered faithful and discreet slave—while younger, newly anointed brothers and sisters, are looked down upon as mere fools, and worse.
The older anointed brothers are considered to be spiritual towers of strength, applying to themselves Isaiah’s prophecy of being “big trees of righteousness”; while the younger anointed are viewed as mere puny saplings and unwanted interlopers.
Like the kingly Corinthians, the older anointed brothers “are in good repute,” being spoken of in reverential tones by Jehovah’s Witnesses; while the newly anointed brothers and sisters are in dishonor—being scoffed at and whispered about; some even being hounded from the congregations by unloving elders and family members. The recently anointed sons and daughters of Jehovah are indeed the “offscouring.” The older anointed brothers, speaking through the instrumentality of the Watchtower, have even subtly set the stage for this particular act of the modern “theatrical spectacle”; specifically, for their younger anointed brethren to be persecuted. Consider this comment taken from the February 15, 1982,Watchtower, which says:
“As to the possibility of being a born again replacement at this late hour, understandably only a very few of these remaining anointed ones are likely to forfeit their heavenly calling by becoming unfaithful. Their ranks have by now been thinned by death to only a few thousand. If it becomes necessary to replace one, whom would Jehovah call? Jesus said of those invited to be his apostles: ‘You are the ones that have stuck with me in my trials.’ Logically, Jehovah would select someone who had been associated for many years and who had displayed endurance and loyalty under trial, rather than someone who had only recently become a baptized disciple of Jesus and perhaps was yet unproved in many respects. This is not said dogmatically or to provide a basis for judging anyone’s personal claim, but to help newly associated ones to avoid being presumptuous and to be sure of Jehovah’s manner of dealing with them.” (Paragraph 16)
While there is no question that some who insist on partaking at the Memorial are being presumptuous, it seems though that the Watchtower is also being presumptuous in telling Jehovah his business; and in so doing, despite the disclaimer of not “judging anyone’s personal claim,” has promoted certain assumptions as to the sort of person that Jehovah may choose. In spite of the lateness of the hour, is it really “logical”that Jehovah would only select someone who is considered to be wise and strong? Paul told the Corinthians that “God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame; and God chose the ignoble things of the world and the things looked down upon, the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are, in order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God.”
The Watchtower’s “logic” runs directly counter to the apostle’s revelation of Jehovah’s intent and purpose. If God were to restrict his selection to those who have “been associated for many years and who had displayed endurance and loyalty under trial,” would not that in effect be saying that such persons were somehow more deserving of God’s undeserved kindness? Might they have reason to boast that God selected them because of some personal merit as faithful other sheep? But who on earth can boast of being worthy of being called to rule with Christ in heaven?
For a fact, being a relatively young anointed person in the present environment among Jehovah’s Witnesses presents such persons with unique tests of faith and loyalty. And no doubt that is why Jehovah has allowed for such climate to develop, so that the sufferings of the entire body of Christ may be complete. There was, of course, no imposing Watchtower Society in the 1st century. Today, though, the “strong things” and the “things that are,” which are due to be brought to nothing, might well include the superfluous “visible organization” and all the institutional trappings, attitudes and assumptions of the lofty Watchtower Society. Newly anointed brothers and sisters seem to be intended by God to play a vital role in Jehovah’s purpose to humble all flesh from boasting in his sight.
“FINALLY, ABOUT THE ELEVENTH HOUR”
Contrary to the Watchtower’s assumptions about any newly anointed persons at this late hour being mere replacements for unfaithful ones, Jesus gave an illustration concerning 11th hour workers that is most relevant today. Matthew 20:1-15 reads: “For the kingdom of the heavens is like a man, a householder, who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the workers for a denarius a day, he sent them forth into his vineyard. Going out also about the third hour, he saw others standing unemployed in the marketplace; and to those he said, ‘you also, go into the vineyard, and whatever is just I will give you.’ So off they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour and did likewise. Finally, about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day unemployed?’ They said to him, ‘Because nobody has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘you too go into the vineyard.’” “When it became evening, the master of the vineyard said to his man in charge, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, proceeding from the last to the first.’ When the eleventh-hour men came, they each received a denarius. So, when the first came, they concluded they would receive more; but they also received pay at the rate of a denarius. On receiving it they began to murmur against the householder and said, ‘These last put in one hour’s work; still you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat!’ But in reply to one of them he said, ‘Fellow, I do you no wrong. You agreed with me for a denarius, did you not? Take what is yours and go. I want to give to this last one the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I want with my own things? Or is your eye wicked because I am good?’ In this way the last ones will be first, and the first ones last.”
How does the Watchtower explain Jesus’ illustration?
According to the Watchtower Society, the illustration originally applied to the Pharisees. They were supposedly the ones who worked all day and “bore the burden of the day.” The 11th-hour workers supposedly represent the apostles. By extension, the Watchtower also applies the parable to Christendom. The clergy were supposedly hired early in the day and since 1919 the anointed represent the 11th-hour workers.
But, was Jesus’ illustration really intended to apply to Pharisees or the clergy? Let us reason on that question. Jesus began his illustration by saying: “For the kingdom of the heavens is like…“ As with many other parables, Jesus was illustrating some feature of God’s kingdom. Now the question: Were the Pharisees ever invited to become workers in God’s Kingdom? No. Not according to Jesus! The 23rd chapter of Matthew records where Jesus told the Pharisees to their faces: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men; for you yourselves do not go in, neither do you permit those on their way in to go in.”
Furthermore, how can it reasonably be said that the Pharisees “bore the burden of the day,” as the first workers in the vineyard? Again, according to Jesus, the Pharisees “bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.”
Since Jesus Christ plainly said the Pharisees had no sharing in the Kingdom of God, neither could they by any stretch of scripture fit the pattern of those who labored in God’s vineyard. The Watchtower’s interpretation also contains another glaring fault. According to the parable, the murmuring workers were not denied their rightful wage. The master said to them: “You agreed with me for a denarius, did you not? Take what is yours and go.” So, in the illustration, both the early hires and the 11th hour hires received the exact same wage. But, how could it possibly be reasoned that the Pharisees and apostles received the same kingdom wage? It is not reasonable, nor is it scriptural. And by extension, neither is it reasonable or scriptural to apply the illustration of the discontented workers to the clergy of Christendom or identify the anointed brothers from 1919 as the 11th-hour workers.
However, the illustration applies most fittingly to the modern development of Jehovah’s organization. The workers hired in the first hour are the older anointed and Governing Body. They have indeed tirelessly worked in the field all day, as it were. The 11th-hour workers in the illustration symbolize those anointed most recently and perhaps those yet to be anointed in the immediate future.
True to the parable, there is no question but that the older anointed brothers resent the fact that newer anointed persons receive the same wage as they; even though the newly anointed have only done a fraction of the work. By the Watchtower’s own words, the Governing Body has stated that if God is going to do any more ‘hiring’ he will choose someone who has already spent a considerable amount of time in Jehovah’s service and not some (undeserving) new disciple. No doubt the resentment already in evidence will become even more pronounced when the master actually begins to pay the wage. That is when the first become last and the last first. What does that mean?
“BUT MANY FIRST WILL BE LAST”
As pointed out above, all the workers receive the same wage regardless of the amount of work they have done. Similarly, both the first and the last are rewarded. But, those who were hired first will be paid last and vice versa. The Watchtower teaches that the first that become last are completely excluded from the Kingdom. But is that correct? Again, not according to Jesus.
It is worth taking note of the fact that Jesus foretold that many first will be last and the last first on more than one occasion. For example, immediately preceding the parable of the 11th-hour workers Jesus had an interchange with his apostles at Matthew 19:25-30, where we read: “Then Peter said to him in reply: ‘Look! We have left all things and followed you; what actually will there be for us?’ Jesus said to them: ‘Truly I say to you, In the re-creation, when the Son of man sits down upon his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also yourselves sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone that has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive many times more and will inherit everlasting life. But many that are first will be last and the last first.’”
Let the reader take note of the fact that the judgment of the first becoming last and vice-versa takes place during the time when God’s Kingdom actually begins to rule. And in the context of Jesus’ remarks, the judgment is rendered among the very ones who will rule with Christ.
Obviously, the Pharisees will not be with Christ in the re-creation and so they cannot possibly be the first who become last. On another occasion, Jesus also connected the judgment of the first becoming last to his own disciples. At Luke 13:24-30, Jesus exhorted his disciples: “Exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to get in but will not be able, when once the householder has got up and locked the door, and you start to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Sir, open to us.’ But in answer he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will start saying, ‘We ate and drank in front of you, and you taught in our broad ways.’ But he will speak and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Get away from me, all you workers of unrighteousness!’ There is where your weeping and the gnashing of your teeth will be, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves thrown outside. Furthermore, people will come from eastern parts and western, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And, look! there are those last who will be first, and there are those first who will be last.”
Jesus’ usage of the expression “there is where your weeping and gnashing of your teeth will be” is elsewhere used in connection with the judgment upon the sons of the Kingdom who are judged as evil slaves. For example, Matthew 8:11-12 reads: “But I tell you that many from eastern parts and western parts will come and recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens; whereas the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the darkness outside. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.”
In connection with the final separation of the righteous and wicked in the kingdom of God Jesus also said: “That is how it will be in the conclusion of the system of things: the angels will go out and separate the wicked from among the righteous and will cast them into the fiery furnace. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.”
Also, Jesus gave an illustration relating how an inappropriately attired marriage guest is thrown out of the marriage feast itself. “When the king came in to inspect the guests he caught sight there of a man not clothed with a marriage garment. So he said to him, ‘Fellow, how did you get in here not having on a marriage garment?’ He was rendered speechless. Then the king said to his servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the darkness outside. There is where his weeping and the gnashing of his teeth will be.’”
Far from the Watchtower’s teaching that the faithful slave has already passed the test and been blessed with his reward, Jesus’ many illustrations show that some of the invited guests – the anointed – will prove unworthy during the final judgment and be thrown out of God’s kingdom. And as respects those who ultimately are approved: “There are those last who will be first, and there are those first who will be last.”
BENJAMIN’S FIVE-FOLD PORTION
The long-running Genesis drama of Joseph and his brothers provides an interesting pattern that seems to harmonize with the judgment of the first becoming last and the last first. The 12 apostles of Jesus are obviously patterned after the 12 sons of Jacob. So, the connection of spiritual Israel to fleshly Israel is self-apparent.
In the story of Joseph, even though Joseph was the second to the youngest son of Jacob due to the fact that he miraculously became the virtual sovereign of the first world power, typifies how Jesus will eventually be given all the kingdoms of the world. The fact that Joseph’s jealous brothers sold him into slavery and he came to be wrongly imprisoned because of his brothers’ heartlessness, symbolizes how Jesus was made to pay the penalty of death for his brothers and joint-heirs in the Kingdom. And like Christ, in the Genesis drama, Joseph prepared a place of salvation for his brothers. Or as Joseph himself worded it: “Because for the preservation of life God has sent me ahead of you.”
The famine that overtook Egypt, as well as Canaan where Jacob and his sons were dwelling pictures the tribulation and hardships that are yet to come upon the present world—as a prelude to the revelation of Jesus Christ. In the drama, the 10 brothers go down to Egypt to buy foodstuffs from Pharaoh. Unbeknownst to them, Joseph is now the Chief Food Administrator of the entire nation.
The fact that Joseph was ministering to his brothers, even though they did not recognize him, symbolizes how Jesus will unexpectedly “come alongside” (parousia) and minister to his faithful slaves during the conclusion.
Now, here is where it really gets interesting. After ordering his brothers to fetch Benjamin and bring him down to Egypt, who by that time was the youngest of the family—the last as it were—Joseph spread a banquet for the eleven. Not coincidentally, this is exactly what Jesus promises to do when his parousia commences. Luke 12:37 says: “Happy are those slaves whom the master on arriving finds watching! Truly I say to you, He will gird himself and make them recline at the table and will come alongside and minister to them.”
As the 11 brothers are gathered for the banquet, they seat themselves according to their rank, with the oldest at the head of the table, on down to young Benjamin at the farthest end. However, to the astonishment of the older brothers, when Joseph serves them he breaks protocol and serves Benjamin five times the portions of his older brothers. The account in the 43rd chapter of Genesis reads: “And they were seated before him, the firstborn according to his right as firstborn and the youngest according to his youngness; and the men kept looking at one another in amazement. And he kept having portions carried from before him to them, but he would increase Benjamin’s portion five times the size of the portions of all the others. So they continued banqueting and drinking with him to the full.”
Afterward, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, assures them of his love for them and makes provisions for them to permanently move their families down to Egypt for the duration of the famine. This well pictures how Jesus will gather all of his spiritual brothers and after refining them he will reveal himself to them in all of his glory and take them into his heavenly abode.
The point is, as respects the first becoming last and the last first, Benjamin typifies the young, newly anointed sons of God today, and perhaps those of tomorrow too—the 11th-hour workers of Jesus’ parable.
At the commencement of the actual parousia, Jehovah’s blessing will be upon the Benjamin-class in fivefold measure. While unforeseeable at the moment, we may expect the 11th-hour workers to receive the enlightening spirit, causing them to shine as brilliantly as the sun in the Kingdom, perhaps before those who appear to be pillars presently.
The older anointed will be astonished, as were Benjamin’s older brothers; but they will have to acknowledge Jehovah’s blessing upon “Benjamin”—even as Joseph specifically blessed Benjamin at Genesis 43:29. “When he raised his eyes and saw Benjamin his brother, the son of his mother, he went on to say: ‘Is this your brother, the youngest one of whom you have spoken to me?’ And he added: ‘May God show you his favor, my son.’”
Just as Joseph’s five-fold blessing upon the youngest brother was intended as a rebuke of the older brothers for their heartlessness and jealously in selling him into slavery, so too, Christ’s intent to make some of those first last and the last first is intended to humble and unify the sons of the Kingdom living then.
Referring to all anointed believers as a human body, Paul beautifully illustrated how the weakest members of the body are to receive the greatest honor from Jehovah. At 1st Corinthians 12:19-26 Paul wrote: “If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now they are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand: ‘I have no need of you’; or, again, the head cannot say to the feet: ‘I have no need of you.’ But much rather is it the case that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary, and the parts of the body which we think to be less honorable, these we surround with more abundant honor, and so our unseemly parts have the more abundant comeliness, whereas our comely parts do not need anything. Nevertheless, God compounded the body, giving honor more abundant to the part which had a lack, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it; or if a member is glorified, all the other members rejoice with it.”
Ultimately, all glory goes to Jehovah, whose will is that those who have been honored first shall be last to receive honors at the coming of Christ; when he gives “honor more abundant to the part which had the lack” by making the last first and the first last.