TRANSITIONING TO THE KINGDOM OF THE HEAVENS
"THAT ONE MUST KEEP ON INCREASING"
November 18, 2013
In the gospel of the Apostle John, we read of an account where the disciples of John the Baptist were worried that Jesus was having greater success in his ministry than was John.
“So they came to John and said to him: ‘Rabbi, the man who was with you across the Jordan, about whom you bore witness, see, this one is baptizing, and all are going to him.’”
– John 3:26
But John was not worried. He understood that it was the Father’s will that Jesus have greater success, and he rejoiced because of it.
“In answer John said: ‘A man cannot receive a single thing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness that I said, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent ahead of that one.” Whoever has the bride is the bridegroom. But the friend of the bridegroom, when he stands and hears him, has a great deal of joy on account of the voice of the bridegroom. So my joy has been made complete.”
– John 3:27-29
Then the Bapitzer famously said:
“That one must keep on increasing, but I must keep on decreasing.”
– John 3:30
What humility on John’s part! Yes, John understood that the Father had given all things into the hands of the Son, Christ Jesus, and while John served to prepare the people for the Son, everlasting life is given to those who exercise faith in the Son.
“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. The one who exercises faith in the Son has everlasting life; the one who disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.”
– John 3:35-36
Even though this is an historical account of events that occurred in the 1st century, this account has interesting parallels in our day. It is an example of how ‘the things written beforehand’ can serve as instruction and give hope to us who are living in this 21st century (Romans 15:4), especially the little nation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But before we get into the meat of this article, we want to clarify the difference between prophetic interpretations and parallels.
Prophetic Interpretations and Parallels
Prophetic interpretations concern specific events that were foreordained to occur, or certain people or entities that were foreordained to exist and act in a certain way; whereas parallels arise from an examination of parables or historic accounts. Parallels demonstrate the law of cause and effect. Making a parallel does not establish foreordained events or people, but they illustrate what can happen when similar events occur or when certain people act in a certain way. They are prophetic only in the sense that one will reap what one has sown. (Galatians 6:7)
Because prophecies and parables are often mistaken for one another, prophetic interpretations and parallels are also wrongly interchanged. A good example of how a parable that was intended to be a parallel, or pattern, has been mistaken for a prophecy is the Parable of the Faithful and Discreet Slave where Jesus said:
“Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on coming finds him doing so! Truly I say to you, he will appoint him over all his belongings.”
– Matthew 24:45-47
This parable is construed by some as a prophecy that foretells the coming of a certain class of individuals who will be given all of the belongings of Christ Jesus. But really, this parable is to be used as a parallel, or pattern, of the outcome to those who act in the manner described in the parable. They will reap what they have sown. In other words, it is not a message foreordaining a particular person or group for a specific work; it is an assurance to all that if they are faithful and discreet, they will be rewarded.
Turning historical events or parables into prophecies has lead many people into improper pride and undue self-importance. For example, when a religious organization considers itself the modern day counterpart of the nation of Israel, it will fashion itself according to the ways of the nation of Israel and apply all of the prophecies about Israel to itself. It will see itself as a so-called ‘chosen nation,’ specifically selected and foreordained to exist, and especially favored by God.
When one looks at such a religious organization, it does indeed seem to fit Bible prophecy, whether good or bad. But the similarity does not arise because of being foreordained. It arises because the organization chooses to imitate and mimic the ancient nation. And by mimicking Israel, the law of cause and effect requires that such a modern counterpart undergo the same experiences and the same outcome as the nation it models itself after.
This is good news to those organizations, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have chosen this fatal course because such an imitation nation can get off the treadmill, stop copying ancient Israel and thereby avoid the negative outcome ancient Israel suffered. Notwithstanding many opinions to the contrary, such organizations are not foreordained to suffer the same consequences, the same judgment or the same demise! Their future outcome is in their own hands. By their own actions, they get to decide their own fate.
We feel it is important to make clear this distinction between a prophetic interpretation and a parallel because this article draws certain parallels between first century Christianity and modern day Christianity, and we want it to be clear that we are not proposing prophetic interpretations, we are merely discussing apparent parallels and potential outcomes.
As a whole, modern day Christianity has not progressed much further along than the 1st century Christians who were just coming out of Judiasm. Like the sluggish slave of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), most of Christianity has chosen to ‘hide what was given them in the ground’ rather than ‘do business’ and increase its value and meaning. For example, some continue to hold onto the ‘old wine’ of backward ideas of a woman’s second place status in religion. (See Spiritual Equality of Women and Spiritual Equality of Women - Part II where we refute these ideas). Some hold so closely to 1st century mores that they refuse modern appliances or modern dress. Many reject technological advances and scientific discoveries in favor of outdated, ignorant and superstitious presumptions. Some even label everything current or modern as ‘evil works of the Devil.’ Such individuals, and the religions they belong to, are afraid to restate Jesus’ message to a modern world, in a modern vernacular, with a modern application, taking into consideration modern discoveries, lest they be punished somehow. It seems they, too, view the master Jesus as an ‘exacting’ or ‘demanding’ man.
Such Christians continue to turn back to the Jewish system of worship as a way to explain how to worship God and why it is acceptable to exercise faith in Jesus. These are the elementary things that were necessary for a people who were just introduced to spiritual truth. But, as Paul wrote, those babes were expected to advance and grow byusing what was given:
“We have much to say about him, and it is difficult to explain, because you have become dull in your hearing. For although by now you should be teachers, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God, and you have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. For everyone who continues to feed on milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness, for he is a young child. But solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their powers of discernment trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”
– Hebrews 5:11-14
Since Christianity finds itself in a time warp, it is quite easy to draw parallels between 1st century events and modern day circumstances as a way to first understand ourselves and then to advance spiritually. And we can begin where the Christian writings began, in the 1st century with the one ‘crying out in the wilderness.’ (John 1:23)
The One Crying Out in the Wilderness
Long before the arrival of Christ, the prophet Isaiah prophesied that one would appear first who would prepare the way for Christ. That prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist:
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God: Just as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “(Look! I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.) A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of Jehovah! Make his roads straight.’”
John’s preparation exhorted the nation to repent and return to the true worship of Jehovah, as represented in the Mosaic Law, to avoid the ‘coming wrath.’ (Luke 3:7) Many Jews came to him at his station at the Jordan river and confessed their sins in order to ‘make their roads straight.’ And they were baptized in water as a symbol of their repentance.
“John the Baptizer was in the wilderness, preaching baptism in symbol of repentance for forgiveness of sins. And all the territory of Judea and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, openly confessing their sins.”
– Mark 1:4-5
John made it clear that his ministry was not the ministry that would save the world. It was a ministry only to prepare the Jewish nation to receive the Savior – the Son of God – who would bring the real saving message. John was only a prophet who fashioned himself after another prophet – the prophet Elijah who was known to wear similar garb. (2 Kings 1:8)
“Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he was preaching: “Someone stronger than I am is coming after me, the lace of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with holy spirit.”
– Mark 1:6-8
In time, Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized in water, not for repentance, but as a sign of national solidarity so that he would more readily be received by his people and carry out his work:
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, in order to be baptized by him. But the latter tried to prevent him, saying: “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you, and are you coming to me?” Jesus replied to him: “Let it be this time, for in that way it is suitable for us to carry out all that is righteous.” Then he quit preventing him.”
– Matthew 3:13-15
After Jesus was baptized in water, the Father made known His approval of Jesus as the Son of God:
“After being baptized, Jesus immediately came up from the water; and look! the heavens were opened up, and he saw God’s spirit descending like a dove and coming upon him. Look! Also, a voice from the heavens said: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.”
– Matthew 3:16-17
Shortly after baptizing Jesus, John was arrested. Thereafter, Jesus began preaching more openly starting in his home city of Galilee. Unlike John who preached repentance to avoid wrath, Jesus preached repentance and glad tidings of salvation in the Kingdom of the Heavens:
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, preaching the good news of God and saying: “The appointed time has been fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent, and have faith in the good news.”
– Mark 1:14-15
Jesus’ message of good news was having a greater effect on the Jewish people than John’s message, so much so that it disturbed John’s disciples as stated in the opening paragraphs. But as John told them, it is the Father’s will that the number of those following Jesus would increase and the number of those following John would decrease (John 3:30), including many of John’s followers who turned to following Jesus after John’s beheading. (Mark 6:30-31)
Before John’s death, Jesus explained to the crowds that John was a rugged man with a strong message. He was prophesied to appear, but his message was not the message of salvation in the kingdom of the heavens.
“While these were on their way, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed being tossed by the wind? What, then, did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft garments? Why, those wearing soft garments are in the houses of kings. Really, then, why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and far more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Look! I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way ahead of you!’”
– Matthew 11:7-10
John was a great man, but he was only familiar with a ministry of repentance to avoid God’s wrath. All those since John’s imprisonment who heard Jesus’ message were not looking merely at repenting to avoid wrath. They were repenting so as to pursue the Kingdom of the Heavens.
“Truly I say to you, among those born of women, there has not been raised up anyone greater than John the Baptist, but a lesser person in the Kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of the heavens is the goal toward which men press, and those pressing forward are seizing it. For all, the Prophets and the Law, prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is ‘Elijah who is to come.’ Let the one who has ears listen.”
– Matthew 11:11-15
Yes, John the Baptist was the last prophet of the Law – the Law that served as a tutor leading to Jesus. (Galatians 3:23-25) Once Jesus arrived, he fulfilled the Law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17) and brought the Jewish religious system to an end. (Romans 10:4) From that time on, man was to turn away from the mundane, earthly ideas about God and religion, and pursue their true inheritance in the Kingdom of the Heavens. (Romans 8:16-17)
A Parallel Crier
When we look at many modern day Christian sects, we see parallels between their activities and those of John the Baptist. But the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses are strikingly similar such that a review of their activities can serve as a clear example to others of what John meant when he said ‘that one must go on increasing.’ (John 3:30)
Probably without their even realizing it, Jehovah’s Witnesses have become ‘like John’ in their personal presentation, the content of their message, the nature of their activities, and the status of their members. For example, John fashioned himself after the prophet Elijah – wearing Elijah’s customary garment of hair with a leather belt. (2 Kings 1:8) Likewise, Jehovah’s Witnesses historically fashion themselves after several of the ancient Hebrew prophets calling themselves the ‘Jeremiah class,’ the ‘Isaiah class,’ the ‘Jehu Class,’ the ‘Jonadab class,’ and, yes, even the ‘Elijah class.’
Like John who came proclaiming a need for repentance and returning to the ways of Jehovah in order to avoid His wrath, so have Jehovah’s Witnesses. They certainly acknowledge Christ, but their message is an cry to return to the worship of Jehovah to avoid being destroyed at Armageddon. In every way, their emphasis is on Jehovah as the one to whom we should look to for salvation, even taking on His name as His Witnesses.
As in John’s day, there is certainly a need for people to turn away from sin and get back to the basics of productive and effective social interaction as delineated in the Law of Moses. Before one can begin the spiritual path, they must have a recognition of what sin is and how to do God’s will to the best of their ability. This recognition can come from examining the history of the ancient nation of Israel – a people devoted to Jehovah who were counseled on the best and highest way of living for their time. Unless we stop murdering, stealing, lying, coveting, and things like these, we cannot receive or heed the guidance of the Spirit of Truth. This is fundamental.
Like John, the Witnesses baptize their converts in water as symbolic of repentance. It wipes the slate clean as to past sins and gives them a fresh start before God in preparation for the Christ.
“John baptized with the baptism in symbol of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is in Jesus.”
– Acts 19:4
Every Witness knows, when they undergo the water baptismal rite with the Watchtower organization, they are undergoing only the baptism of repentance. As with John, neither the Watchtower organization, nor any other Christian organization, has the authority to baptize with spirit. The spirit baptism comes from another source – a greater and stronger source – one ‘whose sandals none are worthy to even untie.’ (Mark 1:8)
The Witnesses do not believe that their baptism is accompanied by a bestowal of the spirit. They do not believe their baptism places them in the covenant for a kingdom. They do not believe their baptism allows them to participate in the Memorial Supper. They do not believe their baptism makes them sons of God. And they do not believe their baptism places them on the path to the heavenly kingdom. Clearly, the baptisms conducted by the Watchtower Society are ‘the baptisms of John,’ as was the case with a few of the disciples in Ephesus:
“In the course of events, while Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland parts and came down to Ephesus, and found some disciples; and he said to them: ‘Did you receive holy spirit when you became believers?’ They said to him: ‘Why, we have never heard whether there is a holy spirit.’ And he said: ‘In what, then, were you baptized?’ They said: ‘In John’s baptism.’ Paul said: ‘John baptized with the baptism in symbol of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they got baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands upon them, the holy spirit came upon them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”
– Acts 19:1-6
Accordingly, like John, their message is not the message of salvation; but it is a message that prepares the way for salvation. Many of those who were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses are awaking to their true inheritance as a result of hearing the true good news of the kingdom – the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man with the heavenly career ahead of them.
“Now I say that as long as the heir is a young child, he is no different from a slave, although he is the lord of all things, but he is under supervisors and stewards until the day set ahead of time by his father. Likewise, we too, when we were children, were enslaved by the elementary things of the world. But when the full limit of the time arrived, God sent his Son, who was born of a woman and who was under law, that he might release by purchase those under law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
– Galatians 4:1-5
As they awaken, they individually undergo the baptism of the spirit – the baptism into Christ’s death:
“Consequently, what shall we say? Shall we continue in sin, that undeserved kindness may abound? Never may that happen! Seeing that we died with reference to sin, how shall we keep on living any longer in it? Or do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
– Roman 6:1-3
“Therefore we were buried with him through our baptism into his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised up from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also should likewise walk in a newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection; because we know that our old personality was impaled with him, that our sinful body might be made inactive, that we should no longer go on being slaves to sin. For he who has died has been acquitted from his sin.”
– Romans 6:4-7
These awakened sons of God first underwent the water baptism of John as did their Lord, Jesus of Nazareth. For, as Jesus said:
“Let it be this time, for in that way it is suitable for us to carry out all that is righteous.”
– Matthew 3:15
This is not to say that these sons of God are equal to the Son of God Christ Jesus; but they are adequate ‘substitutes for Christ’ in terms of promoting and furthering his message as ambassadors of the heavenly kingdom. (2 Corinthians 5:20) As these baptized Witnesses receive the baptism of the spirit, they gain the approval of the Father, as did the Christ. (Matthew 3:17) And from that point on, they preach Jesus’message of salvation into the Kingdom of the Heavens, and serve as anointed witnesses of Jesus, with the Father’s blessing and direction. (See You Will Be Witnesses of Me for further discussion of this issue.)
“But you will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you, and 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
“While he was still speaking, look! a bright cloud overshadowed them, and look! a voice out of the cloud said: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved. Listen to him.”
– Matthew 17:5
The transition from the preparatory message of repentance to the true message of salvation has been gradual among Jehovah’s Witnesses, and nearly came to a halt around 1935 when certain ones in their leadership sought to return to the old wine of John’s message of repentance in service of Jehovah. That blockage is gradually breaking down as more and more of our brothers and sisters ‘press forward to the Kingdom of the heavens and actually seize it!’ (Matthew 11:7-15)
Jesus said about John:
“Truly I say to you, among those born of women, there has not been raised up anyone greater than John the Baptist, but a lesser person in the Kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.”
– Matthew 11:11
We say about Jehovah’s Witnesses: There is no organization on the planet who is better poised and able to spread the true good news of the kingdom of the heavens ‘to the most distant parts of the earth.’ They have an impressive apparatus for disseminating the true Kingdom message. They have branches all over the world, and millions of trained volunteer preachers and teachers. They already possess sufficient printing facilities and skilled operators and administrators. Yet, because their leadership has thus far rejected the good news as Jesus taught it, even the least organized Christian sect that is pursuing the Kingdom of the Heavens is greater than they are! Our brothers and leaders among Jehovah’s Witnesses need to realize the absolute importance of Jesus and his role in their salvation. He is greater than John, and he is the one to whom the Father has given all authority. (Matthew 28:18) As Jesus said to the 1st century Jews:
“Men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it, because they repented at what Jonah preached. But look! something more than Jonah is here. The queen of the south will be raised up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. But look! something more than Solomon is here.”
– Matthew 12:41-42
Nevertheless, we see great hope. We are very happy to see more and more of Jehovah’s Witnesses picking up their torture stakes and following the Christ. (Matthew 16:24) Elders, Circuit Overseers, District Overseers, Pioneers and others are aligning themselves to be a part of the body of Christ as sons of God. (Colossians 1:24) They have chosen to enter the race for life. (Hebrews 12:1) They have chosen to drink of the cup and eat of the loaf. (Matthew 26:26-29) They have chosen to undergo the baptism into Christ’s death; they have chosen to be transferred from death to life, into ‘the kingdom of the son of his love!’ (Colossians 1:13)
Truly, as our brothers awaken to their true inheritance, those ‘belonging to John’ are decreasing, while those ‘belonging to Christ’ are increasing! (John 3:30)
Let Them Go On Increasing
Examining this parallel should help our brothers and sisters among Jehovah’s Witnesses to wake up to the challenge set before them. They are doing a great work, but only a preparatory one. Now they must take the greater step and enter the race for the real life in the heavenly kingdom. (1 Timothy 6:19) They should now be able to see who they are and where they are in the stream of time, and then, they should to make the adjustment – transferring from the water baptism and ministry of John to the spirit baptism and ministry of Christ Jesus.
Their leadership, the Governing Body, must humbly step back as did John the Baptist, and allow the sons of the kingdom – the ‘substitutes for Christ’ – to ‘keep on increasing’ unhindered, unencumbered, and even with their blessings. Like John, their ‘joy can be made complete’ in this change. (John 3:29) And better yet, they should encourage those who have been baptized ‘only as to John’ to pass over into heavenly life and receive the true baptism so that their number will continue decreasing until our entire association of brothers belong to the Christ with the view to everlasting life in the heavens. Imagine what good could be accomplished worldwide if this excellent apparatus was used to further the authority of Jesus Christ! Imagine how quickly we could bring the end to sorrow, suffering and pangs of distress! (For a further discussion, see the series Bringing Heaven Down.)
While this examination focused on the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the parallel can apply to many other Christian associations who continue straddling the fence in their worship where only a select individual or group is considered ‘the anointed,’ while all the rest are members or parishioners. This type of division in the body of Christ must cease if we are to move forward as a family in faith and ‘bring heaven down.’ We must recognize that all who join us in worship are equal sons of God and members of the body of Christ.
“You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in union with Christ Jesus.”
– Galatians 3:26-28
We must all turn away from mundane hopes, and secondary positions, and grab hold to the real life as heirs of the Kingdom of the Heavens.
Just as the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses must step back and accept as equals all members of the congregation, so must all other Christian faiths.
“But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your Teacher, and all of you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One. Neither be called leaders, for your Leader is one, the Christ. But the greatest one among you must be your minister. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
– Matthew 23:8-12
To the extent that any of us have fallen short of this divine requirement, let us make the adjustment. No need to cry over spilled milk. If we can turn our associations around into a true spiritual brotherhood, then nothing will have been lost. The time that has passed will have allowed for repentance, correction, and eventually the doing of God’s will:
“We know that God makes all his works cooperate together for the good of those who love God, those who are the ones called according to his purpose.”
– Romans 8:28
Let each individual use this parallel to awaken to their true standing before God and pass over into the ‘kingdom of the son of his love.’ And in doing so, let those who view themselves as just friends of God, or mere members of a church, or followers of men, go on decreasing; while the sons of the heavenly kingdom must keep on increasing.
And as always, we welcome your comments.