“And pray ye that your flight come not to be in the winter, neither on a sabbath” (Matthew 24:20. All scriptures from RVIC unless otherwise noted).
by Len Griehs
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Jeremy Rifkin, author and American economic and social theorist, observed the following: “We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else’s home, and therefore obliged to
make our behavior conform with a set of pre-existing cosmic rules. It is our creation now, we make the rules, we establish the parameters of reality, we create the world, and because we do,
we no longer feel beholden to outside forces. We no longer have to justify our behavior, for we are now the architects of the universe. We are responsible for nothing outside ourselves,
for we are the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever.”
In the final years of the Gospel Age Harvest, changing social, religious, political, and financial environments offer temptations for the New Creature that did not exist in the early years of the Harvest. Revelation outlines a slow decline in the systems of Babylon when Jesus returns and begins to pour out seven plagues upon it.
“After these things I saw another angel coming down out of heaven, having great authority; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried with a strong voice, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, and is become a habitation of demons, and a hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and
hateful bird. For by the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen; and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth waxed rich by the power
of her wantonness. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come forth, my people, out of her, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues: for her sins have reached even unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities” (Revelation 18:1-5).
Perhaps the most pertinent of these systems is established religion. Recent Pew Research estimates that only 36 percent of the U.S. population attends church. One finds there little, if
any, discussion of consecration or the heavenly call. Instead, attendees hear a mix of social and political messages — calls to either support or upset governments, pray for prosperity, or
welcome immoral practices of all kinds. Many who attend churches do so for business or social purposes only. True followers of Jesus will find a lack of spiritual food there (Matthew 24:28). Even worse, a consecrated follower of Jesus
may be tempted by unscriptural practices. Let us consider some of these temptations that have emerged as the Gospel Age Harvest wanes.
The words “Pagan” and “Paganism” come from the Latin paganus, meaning “country dweller.” Paganism is characterized by a connection and reverence for nature, seeing the divine in the whole of life and the universe: every tree, plant, animal, and object in addition to mankind itself. Paganism centers upon the
familiar and the tangible. To the pagan, Jehovah God is not relevant but is replaced by that which He created.
Paul says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NAS).
True Christians live by faith, believing in a greater power than nature or oneself. Jehovah, our God, is the source for our being and our guidance. He is the creator of all nature, and its power, majesty, and beauty reflect the glory of God (Psalms 19:1-3). Our Christian walk is one of certainty and focus. As the Gospel
Harvest closes, ideas emerging from Paganism become more widely held: whatever one thinks is right is acceptable; however one worships, the path leads to the same end. Christians must
hold to the scriptural principle that only Jesus can provide the way to true salvation (John 14:6). His way of life and his principles must become ours if we are to be more than overcomers (Luke 9:23).
Mollie Hemingway wrote in The Federalist, “This new religion has fervent adherents and strict dogma, but it’s also true that the doctrines are still being formed. Now that marriage has
been redefined away from sexual complementarity, the project to redefine the sexes themselves is moving forward.” Hedonism was first proclaimed in ancient Greece, arguing that the pursuit of pleasure and good feelings are the primary goals of human life. A hedonist strives to maximize pleasure while enduring pain, achieving happiness by finally gaining ultimate pleasure. (See Wikipedia.)
Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians, “If after the manner of men I fought with beasts at Ephesus, what doth it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). Paul’s words addressed those in Corinth who had brought their Greek background into Christianity, teaching that there was no reward beyond this life, and thus no resurrection of the dead (verse 12, Acts 17:32). The prophet Isaiah had warned the inhabitants of Jerusalem against lack of preparation for an impending invasion by mocking their attitude of “Let us eat and drink … for tomorrow we shall die” (Isaiah 22:13).
This same expression is found in Solomon’s writings, and is often misinterpreted as his advice. “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to
eat, and to drink, and to be joyful: for that shall abide with him in his labor all the days of his life which God hath given him under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8:15). Is Solomon advocating a
hedonistic lifestyle here? Surely not! Just prior to this verse, he observed that the righteous are often mistreated and punished as if they were wicked. This is a “vanity” (according to Strong’s, something transitory and unsatisfactory), and Solomon’s response was to say, “We should be thankful for our lot in life, whatever it is. We should eat our food, drink our wine, and
be happy” (verse 15).
Paul states this same principle: “but having food and covering we shall be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8). Paul writes to the
Corinthians that receiving the grace of God should produce a life “in pureness, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in kindness, in a holy spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report;
as deceivers and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich;
as having nothing, and yet possessing all things (2 Corinthians 6:9-10).
During the 1950s, prosperity theology first came to prominence as part of the Pentecostal movement in the United States. However, it likely had its origins in the New Thought movement beginning in the 19th century (several references are given to this movement in the Watchtowers of the late 1800s). Such preaching figured prominently in 1980s’ televangelism. Finally, it was adopted by influential preachers at the turn of the twenty-first century and has since spread throughout the world.
Though initially focused on achieving mental and physical health, “New Thought” teachers such as Charles Fillmore made material success a major emphasis of the movement. Fillmore founded Unity with his wife in 1889 and became known as an American religious mystic due to his spiritualist interpretations of Scripture. By the 20th century, many of these concepts had saturated American popular culture and had become common features of self-help literature and popular psychology (see
The culture of success — inside and outside of Christianity — has emerged as one of the greatest enemies of Christian sacrifice at the end of this age. The belief that material wealth
is the source of happiness has caused many followers of Jesus to leave the narrow way of sacrifice. Jesus said, “For where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). He advised those followers who heard him, not to store up treasures on earth, but to seek God and righteousness (Matthew 6:33). While God can and sometimes does use those with material wealth (which belongs to him anyway!) to accomplish his purpose, one who prays to have such treasure is in danger of having a heart as dark and cold as a metal bank vault. Contentment with the lot God sees fit to put in our way will result in a heart that overflows with joy and peace.
In 70 AD, the destruction of Jerusalem brought all earthly treasure-seeking to an end for those such as the rich young man who could not part with his wealth (Mark 10:17-31).
The events described in Revelation show us that when the Gospel harvest is ended, treasures on earth will be valueless. There will then be no more opportunity to reap the benefits of
sowing heavenly riches — winter will be upon the earth.
Influence of the Fallen Angels
“For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Paul here identifies the characteristics and domain of fallen angels: they are numerous, powerful, wicked, and clever.
We should not be deceived into thinking the fallen angels are simply mischievous or interested in haunting houses. While they are morally corrupt, they possess enormous intelligence. They can easily identify and attack the weak spots in a Christian’s armor and wait for an opportunity to penetrate into all aspects of their lives. This is why Paul urges us in the next verses to put on the entire spiritual suit of armor.
The Christian’s battle is not fought against other humans, who are flesh and blood. If we fight for a worldly cause, if we take up an activity to oppose those who purvey immoral principles, or if we enlist in a campaign against unjust government leaders, we are opening up our lives to these deceivers possessing great
powers to divert us from our sole purpose, viz., to commit our lives wholly to Jehovah and follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We must recognize that the current leadership in the world is being unwittingly duped by powerful spiritual forces that they know little about. Although they are morally culpable for their choices, they are also in the service of evil powers that influence them in ways they do not realize. Satan’s purpose at this time is to preserve the present evil world, to prevent the completion of Jesus’ elect Church, and to destroy Israel, God’s earthly people.
Those spiritual forces that follow him are the executors of that purpose.
Jude 6 says that the judgment time of these beings begins with Jesus’ return: “And angels that kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, he hath kept in everlasting
bonds under dark gloom unto the judgment of the great day.” During the harvest period, these angels who sinned in the days of Noah (Genesis 6) by taking for themselves wives of the daughters of Adam, gain an ability to influence until the four winds of Revelation are loosed (Revelation 7) in the climax of Armageddon.
As with Satan’s lie to Eve, “Ye shall surely not begin to die … and ye shall be as God to know good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5), deception is the primary tool used by these angels. Their power is greater than any earthly one, and if not for Jehovah’s shield, the elect could not withstand their deception (Matthew 24:24). The early Gospel Age Harvest deceptions were characterized by mediums, Spiritism, and Occultism, but at the end of the
Harvest, it is much more likely that these powers work through the technological, impersonal, tools of our day.
Humans operate in a four-dimensional world — length, width, depth, and time. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein contemplated more dimensions. Einstein’s theory of relativity has led to the description of at least six other dimensions. We do not know how these dimensions operate but it is likely that those in the spirit world can move freely through them. This is the reason Paul says that we must equip ourselves with spiritual armor to withstand the assaults from the evil forces within that world.
“Wherefore take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take ye the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which spirit is the word of God: with all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:13-18).
Divisions and Separations
As 1916 began, Christ’s ransom and the restitution hope for mankind were being preached far and wide. About eight million volumes of “Studies in the Scriptures” had already been circulated worldwide, colporteurs were distributing them on every continent, and Pastor Russell’s sermons were published weekly in over a thousand newspapers. A month before he died on a train near Pampa, Texas, Pastor Russell had written in the Watch Tower, “We imagined that the harvest work of gathering the church would be accomplished before the end of the Gentile Times; but nothing in the Bible so said. … We rejoice and have the pleasure each day of showing forth the praises of him
who hath called us out of darkness into his most marvelous light; and we delight in seeing how others are being benefitted and made to rejoice” (Reprint 5950, “The Harvest Is Not Ended”).
However, immediately after Pastor Russell died, J.F. Rutherford seized headship and opposed those who maintained the spirit of Pastor Russell. The so-called “Seventh Volume” of “Studies in the Scriptures” was published in July 1917 (suggesting that the Gospel Age Isaac Newton, Scientist and Bible Student Harvest period was to end in the spring of 1918), and it was used to distract attention from simultaneously firing the majority of the Board of Directors. (A board of directors hires or fires the president, not the other way around.)
A series of publications ensued from various sides, including:
Harvest Siftings (August 1917, by Rutherford); Light After Darkness (September 1917, by the ousted board members); Harvest Siftings No. 2 (October 1917, by Rutherford); Harvest Siftings Reviewed (November 1917, by P.S.L. Johnson);
Facts for Shareholders (November 1917, by the ousted board members).
The movement was fractured. Many running for the prize of the high calling were misled into following the Watchtower and its president. Some drifted away. Others considered it a good exercise in following conscience towards their Lord and associated with one another outside their former fellowship.
At this time in the Harvest, one must not be persuaded to lose the vision found in Habakkuk 2:2: “And Jehovah answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon the tablets, that he may run that readeth it.” The Bible Student movement revived the pure doctrine of the early church, the “faith once delivered unto the saints” — a faith which had almost been exterminated by a successive series of secular philosophies.
A worldwide witness was given and the work of gathering the wheat left the hearts of faithful believers greatly refreshed. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a
witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14) is the harvest call, and was the motivation behind the association of believers in the early harvest. Is it still appropriate today? “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we
have sealed the servants [Greek: bondservants] of our God on their foreheads” (Revelation 7:3). The fragmentation of the Truth Movement since the days of Pastor Russell brings a temptation to ally oneself within certain circles of fellowship, and thus jeopardize the spirit of the early harvest which brought fellow believers together in a common purpose. That purpose was to send out the message, gather the fruit, and assemble together in the bonds of love as long as there are true believers in bondage to error waiting to be enlightened and freed from the bondage to error in Christendom.
The theme text spoken in Jesus’ final discourse was based on Jeremiah 8:20: “The harvest is past, the summer [ingathering of summer fruits] is ended, and we are not saved.” Jesus warns that a winter flight means one has missed the opportunity of being part of the bride of Christ. Let us equip ourselves as Paul directs,
and like Job, rely on Jehovah’s hedge around us (Job 1:10) to protect us during these final days. Jesus said that the most important commandment is to love God with all that we are —
heart, mind, soul, strength (Mark 12:29-31).
As Jesus’ disciples, we demonstrate our loyalty and self-sacrificing allegiance to him by following his command: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his
cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).