“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone as the sun, and his outer garments became brilliant as the light.”– Matthew 17:2-
Since the appointed times of the nations clearly do not relate to the original destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon there is simply no validity in the Watchtower’s seven-times chronological formula anchored to 607 BCE. It is also demonstrably not true that the harvest of the kingdom wheat and the incineration of the weeds has already been accomplished or that the judgment of the spiritual house of God took place in 1918. .
It is not a case of obstinate disbelief or ridiculing the reality of the presence of Christ on the part of men bereft of the truth. Rejecting what is untrue is not an act of apostasy. No one should accept the Society’s 1914 doctrine based merely upon the sagacity of the “faithful slave” in other doctrinal matters that are beyond dispute. Determining whether any doctrine is true or false is simply a matter of honestly reasoning upon the Scriptures—as the Watchtower occasionally admonishes—and putting to the test that which is put forth as inspired expressions. And doing so in this instance leads to the inescapable conclusion that the Watchtower’s 1914 parousia proclamation is false.
In view of such a massive miscalculation and the blind insistence on the part of the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses on retaining such a grievous error for so long, not only must the 1914 time frame of the parousia be rejected, but the very nature of an invisible parousia itself must be reconsidered as well—or what C.T. Russell succinctly defined as the “object and manner of our Lord’s return.”
To the point: It is emphatically stated here that nowhere in the Scriptures is it either implicitly or explicitly stated that the “manner of our Lord’s return” will be exclusively invisible to human eyes. It is an unquestioned religious dogma that has for too long passed as genuine Bible truth among Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The case will be made in this chapter for a visible manifestation. After all, Jesus has always been invisibly present with his followers, as is implied by the statement: “Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” The parousia must, therefore, be something profoundly more significant than Christ merely being with his followers in spirit, as he has always been since his departure, which essentially is all the Watchtower’s invisible parousia doctrine amounts to.
The sacred secret that must eventually come to light is that Jesus will visibly show himself to the chosen ones on earth during the actual day of our Lord. Indeed, the parousia must culminate in nothing less than the glorious manifestation of Jesus Christ before the sons of the kingdom. Surely, the mere prospect of such an encounter ought to stir all those with the heavenly hope. But what is the scriptural basis for that bold assertion?
PAROUSIA, EPIPHANEIA AND APOKALYPSIS
There are three different Greek words that are used in conjunction with Jesus’ second coming. As is known, “parousia” means “presence” and has been consistently rendered as such in the New World Translation. Parousia appears in the Greek Scriptures 13 times outside of the Gospel in connection with Christ (Parousia is also used in a commonplace way, such as the parousia of Paul among the brothers).
Another related Greek word is “epiphaneia,” from whence the English word “epiphany” is derived. Epiphaneia occurs eight times in connection with Christ and is used not only with reference to the time Jesus visibly appeared on earth as a man, as well as his post-resurrection materializations, but more commonly it is used with respects to his parousia. Epiphaneia literally means an “appearance,” and as is obvious, Jesus became visibly manifest to his disciples in the first century in a variety of ways. But epiphaneia also carries the connotation of “brightness,” being derived from the Greek verb “epiphaino,” which means, “to shine forth”—suggesting a glorious, brilliant appearance, even a rapturous epiphany for the observer of the appearance.
Epiphaneia is consistently translated in the New World Translation as “manifestation.”
For example, at 2 Thessalonians 2:8 Paul wrote of the “epiphaneia [of his] parousia,” or “the manifestation of his presence”—alternatively translated as “the brightness of his coming” in the King James Version.
Another related Greek term is “apokalypsis,” which is transliterated as “apocalypse”—meaning the uncovering, revelation or disclosure of something previously hidden. It may also mean a literal manifestation or visible appearance. The New World Translation renders apokalypsis as “revelation.” Apokalypsis occurs in the Christian Greek Scriptures 18 times, but not always in reference to the revelation of Jesus Christ. There are also derivations of apokalypsis, such as “apokaluptetai,” which is translated into English as “revealed”; and also “apokaluyin”— translated as “revealing.”
With these terms in better focus, since Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus’ parousia has already begun, what does the Watchtower presently teach as regards the manifestation and revelation of Jesus Christ? Surprisingly, precious little.
Although there are dozens of references to and explanations of the Greek word “parousia” in Watchtower literature, there have only been a couple of instances in the past half century where the Society even offhandedly mentioned the related Greek term epiphaneia. No special importance is attached to either the manifestation or the revelation of Jesus, since the revelation and the day of Jesus Christ are believed to have already begun in 1914. By their misapplication, omission, lack of clarity, or simply their non-emphasis on the meaning of the epiphaneia and the apokalypsis, the Watchtower has relegated what is clearly presented in the Bible as the glorious appearance and unveiling of Christ into a non-event—a mere figment of the Society’s parousia phantasm.
A vital question to consider, though, is when in relation to the parousia is the epiphaneia and the apokalypsis? And is there a substantive difference between the presence, the manifestation and the revelation of Christ?
As is sometimes the case with the Watchtower, they actually hold two contradictory opinions. For example, the following statement appeared in the February 15, 1955, issue of the Watchtower Magazine declaring the epiphaneia to have already occurred in 1918:
“Having cleared his enemies out of heaven Christ next turned his attention to his followers on earth, both those sleeping in death and those living, to proceed with his epiphaneia, or “manifestation.” The physical facts indicate that, just as Christ came to the Jewish temple three and a half years after he came as the Messiah, so in 1918, three and a half years after his presence began, he came to his spiritual temple for judging and rewarding.”
Of course, the Watchtower cannot produce any “physical facts” in support of the lame assertion that Christ invisibly manifested himself in 1918. No doubt that is why the Society has quietly walked away from that untenable and absurd position (without renouncing their erroneous view), so that now they teach that the manifestation will take place when Jesus destroys Christendom; again, though, without attaching any special significance to the underlying meaning of epiphaneia. Essentially, the Society teaches that the parousia progresses through three vague stages, starting with an invisible presence and nebulous revelation and concluding with an invisible and indistinct manifestation.
But the question thinking Jehovah’s Witnesses should consider is this: Is it reasonable that an ongoing invisible presence ought to culminate in an invisible manifestation or an invisible unveiling of what is hidden? The answer should be obvious to anyone willing to honestly reason upon the facts presented. In reality, the invisible presence/manifestation/revelation doctrine has provided a shroud for mere mischief-makers to work their magic upon trusting Christians.
Another important question to consider is what justification is there for dividing “the day of the Lord” into three phases? Do the Scriptures speak of the parousia, the epiphaneia and the apokalypsis as being three distinct stages? And if so, does the parousia unfold over decades or even centuries before culminating in the epiphaneia? It should not be that difficult to determine the answers. What follows is a selection of relevant verses (in no particular order) pertaining to the presence, manifestation and revelation of Christ as they appear in the inspired epistles.
“For what is our hope or joy or crown of exultation—why, is it not in fact you?—before our Lord Jesus at his presence?” — 1 Thessalonians 2:19
“On the contrary, go on rejoicing forasmuch as you are sharers in the sufferings of the Christ, that you may rejoice and be overjoyed also during the revelation of his glory.” — 1 Peter 4:13
“Moreover, may the Lord cause you to increase, yes, make you abound, in love to one another and to all, even as we also do to you; to the end that he may make your hearts firm, unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the presence of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” — 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
“I give you orders that you observe the commandment in a spotless and irreprehensible way until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. This manifestation the happy and only Potentate will show in its own appointed times…”— 1 Timothy 6:13-15
“In this fact you are greatly rejoicing, though for a little while at present, if it must be, you have been grieved by various trials, in order that the tested quality of your faith, of much greater value than gold that perishes despite its being proved by fire, may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” — 1 Peter 1:6-8
“So that you do not fall short in any gift at all, while you are eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also make you firm to the end, that you may be open to no accusation in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” — 1 Corinthians 1:7-8
“Exercise patience, therefore, brothers, until the presence of the Lord. Look! The farmer keeps waiting for the precious fruit of the earth, exercising patience over it until he gets the early rain and the late rain. You too exercise patience; make your hearts firm, because the presence of the Lord has drawn close.” — James 5:7-8
“So now, little children, remain in union with him, that when he is made manifest we may have freeness of speech and not be shamed away from him at his presence.” — 1 John 2:28
“I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is destined to judge the living and the dead, and by his manifestation and his kingdom…” — 2 Timothy 4:1
“For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive. But each one in his own rank: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who belong to the Christ during his presence.” — 1 Corinthians 15:22-23
“To you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God…” — 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8
“Instructing us to repudiate ungodliness and worldly desires and to live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things, while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of the Savior of us, Christ Jesus…” — Titus 2:12-13
“Hence brace up your minds for activity, keep your senses completely; set your hope upon the undeserved kindness that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” — 1 Peter 1:13-14
Reasoning on the Scriptures, although in some instances there do appear to be subtle distinctions, it is also more readily apparent that the presence, manifestation and revelation of Jesus are otherwise virtually interchangeable terms. That is evident by reason of the fact that the intended meaning of the writings of Peter, Paul, James and John would not be substantially altered if the words parousia, epiphaneia and apokalypsis and their corresponding English counterparts were transposed.
For example, at 1 Peter 1:13-14 Christians are exhorted to be faithful and active until the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” But Paul exhorted Titus to faithfully wait for the “glorious manifestation” of Jehovah and his Christ. However, James encourages the brothers to patiently wait for the parousia as the end goal, as Paul did also at 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13. And at 1 John 2:28, the grandfatherly apostle exhorts the children of God to remain in union with Jesus until “he is made manifest” so as not to “be shamed away at his presence,” making no differentiation at all between his being made manifest and his presence.
In all instances cited, the parousia, the epiphaneia and the apokalypsis are presented as the ultimate goal—the Journey’s End as regards the Christian’s sojourn in response to the heavenly calling. But if the parousia were to commence, say, a century before the epiphaneia or the apokalypsis, then the parousia would hardly be the end of our hope, as it is portrayed in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Phrasing it another way, if the hope of Christians is only “until the presence of the Lord,” as James wrote, why is it that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been patiently waiting long after the presence of Christ is assumed to have begun; meanwhile, entire generations have come and gone and still there has been no manifestation or revelation of Christ in all this time?
“UNTIL THE DAY OF JESUS CHRIST”
Reasoning further on these matters—at Philippians 1:6 Paul referred to “the day of Jesus Christ” in relation to the completion of a work that began in the first century. In context the apostle wrote: “For I am confident of this very thing, that he who started a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Of course, the first century Christians in Philippi to whom Paul addressed his letter will not be alive on earth during the day of Jesus Christ. The “good work” that was started by Jesus and carried on by the apostles and original disciples and which has continued down through the centuries up until the present moment, will continue on only “until the day of Jesus Christ.” This indicates that the day of Jesus is the completion of the work of building and developing the world-ruling congregation of holy ones. In view of the foregoing, it ought to be apparent that Christian evangelism and the calling and choosing of the sons of the kingdom will not characterize the day of Jesus Christ; rather, the day of the Lord is the complete accomplishment and subsequent cessation of that work.
That being the case, although the apostolic writings do not directly connect the parousia and the day of Jesus Christ, as indicated in the previously cited verses in connection with the presence of Christ, the parousia is also portrayed as the complete culmination of the Christian era—not merely another drawn-out phase of evangelizing and disciple-making.
However, the writings of the apostle Paul do make a connection between the revelation of Jesus and “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” At 1 Corinthians 1:7-9 Paul wrote: “While you are eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also make you firm to the end, that you may be open to no accusation in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into a sharing with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
To emphasize the point, the verse above shows that Christians are to be made “firm to the end”—“the end” being variously described as both the revelation of Jesus and the day of Jesus. However, in the previously afore-cited verse at 1 Thessalonians 3:13, Paul similarly exhorts the brothers to remain unblamable and firm to the end; but instead of using the expression “apokalypsis” or “day of Jesus Christ” the apostle used “parousia” instead. Again, this indicates that the terms are more or less interchangeable and that the day of Jesus Christ is the termination of the long period when Christians with the heavenly hope will no longer be under scrutiny as to their worthiness of attaining to their calling.
The presence, revelation or manifestation of Christ will mean that Christians are no longer required to wait in faith; the parousia is when those who have been “called into a sharing” with the Son of God will at that time either be rejected as unfaithful or be fully accepted into the kingdom of heaven, and hence—“open to no accusation in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Since Satan the Devil is “the accuser of our brothers,” who “accuses them night and day” before Jehovah up until he is forever banished from the face of God and forcibly hurled down from heaven, the “day of Jesus Christ” must commence after the Accuser is thrown down to the earth and that is why the chosen ones are no longer open to any further accusations by the Devil—because he will no longer have access to heaven to accuse them before God.
Even given the fact that there is not any significant difference between the Greek terms discussed, what Scriptural proof is there that the heavenly Christ will at some point become visibly manifest to mere earthlings?
“AS IF TO ONE BORN PREMATURELY”
After Jesus was resurrected from the dead he first manifested himself to Mary and lovingly charged her to stop clinging to him until he returns to the Father; commanding her to tell Peter and the disciples that he was alive and that he would soon reveal himself to them also. In that respect Jesus was present with them although not immediately visible to all of his followers. But gradually over the course of the forty days he was on earth prior to his ascension Jesus visibly manifested his presence to them in various ways.
First he appeared as a stranger to two disciples walking upon the road and engaged them in conversation only to rebuke them as senseless and slow to believe the prophets. Next he suddenly appeared before a gathering of disciples in a room with the doors locked and again in another gathering with Thomas present, whom Jesus also rebuked for his disbelief. At John 21:1 the apostle John wrote of yet another appearance, using the Greek term “epiphaneia,” saying: “After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; but he made the manifestation in this way.”
On the occasion of that manifestation Jesus kindly reproved Peter for having thrice denied him. The common theme of each appearance during Jesus’ 40 day post-resurrection parousia was that he used each occasion to reprove, instruct, exhort and strengthen his disciples. Finally, Jesus manifested himself before a large group of his disciples on the occasion when he was taken up to heaven. But that was not the last epiphaneia of Christ.
Evidently Paul was the last person to actually see Jesus. Paul explained it to the Corinthians, writing: “For I handed on to you, among the first things, that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, yes, that he has been raised up the third day according to the Scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that he appeared to upward of five hundred brothers at one time, the most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep in death. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles; but last of all he appeared also to me as if to one born prematurely.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
Not only was Paul the last human to see Jesus, but he is the only man to have seen Christ after his ascension to the Father. Mary, Cephas and the apostles, as well as the five hundred who saw their Lord ascend into the heavens, all saw Jesus manifested in the flesh, even as Jesus assured them on several occasions that he was flesh. However, Paul did not see a materialized, human-appearing Jesus. Paul saw a great flash of divine light—glimpsing the transfigured Christ as he presently exists in the spirit dimension. For a certainty, he had contact with the most glorious creation in the universe! As a result of that close encounter with the divine Paul was stunned and blind and for three days he neither ate nor drank.
What is the significance of Paul describing the experience as if he had been born prematurely? The Watchtower explains it by saying that Paul received a preview of heavenly life. But is that reasonable? John received a vision of heavenly life, even seeing in vision Jehovah and Jesus and the 144,000 standing upon a heavenly Mount Zion, yet the apostle John did not describe the experience of receiving the Revelation as being born prematurely. It is noteworthy that Paul’s encounter was not an inspired dream or vision—as was John’s revelatory vision. Paul saw the Lord, even as he stated at 1 Corinthians 9:1, when he asked: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”
In view of the fact that Jesus appeared to Saul/Paul but the men who were accompanying him apparently did not see the sight and so were not struck blind by the glory of Jesus’ manifestation, the experience serves as a preview, not of the ultimate heavenly reward, but of the epiphaneia that will take place during the parousia. Paul experienced beforehand what the chosen ones on earth will experience during the intimate manifestation of Jesus Christ in glory.
In that respect it was as though Paul was born prematurely. The chosen ones will be “born” in the sense that they will at that point become fully born again, in that, they will then become glorified in connection with Jesus. It will be nothing less than the glorious unveiling of the new creation. Paul also wrote to the Colossians regarding the future manifestation of born again sons in connection with Christ, saying: “For you died, and your life has been hidden with the Christ in union with God. When the Christ, our life, is made manifest, then you also will be made manifest with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3-4)
“AND HE WAS TRANSFIGURED BEFORE THEM”
Consider what Jesus had to say at Luke 9:26-27 concerning his arrival in the kingdom of God: “For whoever becomes ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of man will be ashamed of this one when he arrives in his glory and that of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truthfully, There are some of those standing here that will not taste death at all until first they see the kingdom of God.”
“Some of those standing here,” to whom Jesus was speaking, proved to be Peter, James and John. About a week after Jesus spoke those words he took his three apostles to the top of an unnamed mountain and the account says: “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone as the sun, and his outer garments became brilliant as the light. And, look! there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, conversing with him.” (Matthew 17:2-3)
The illustrious transfiguration prefigured Christ coming in his kingdom—as Jesus said: “when he arrives in his glory.” By means of the transfiguration the apostles “saw” the reality of the kingdom of God in a vivid vision.
Years later Peter wrote about the significance of the occurrence, saying: “No, it was not by following artfully contrived false stories that we acquainted you with the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it was by having become eyewitnesses of his magnificence. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when words such as these were borne to him by the magnificent glory: ‘This is my son, my beloved, whom I myself have approved.’ Yes, these words we heard borne from heaven while we were with him in the holy mountain.”
Peter testifies that the transfiguration had to do with “the power and presence (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The apostle further wrote concerning it: “Consequently we have the prophetic word made more sure; and you are doing well in paying attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and a daystar rises, in your hearts.”
Peter’s writings establish the transfiguration as the centerpiece of God’s prophetic word. That is because the ultimate realization of the prophetic vision during the parousia will accomplish the complete enlightenment of Christ’s congregation. That is why Peter likens God’s prophetic word to “a lamp shining in a dark place.” According to the illustration, when Christ’s presence becomes a reality the darkness of night will give way to the “dawn”; at which point it will no longer be necessary to keep “paying attention” to the “lamp shining in a dark place.” During the dawn of the kingdom “a daystar rises” in the hearts of anointed Christians—meaning, they will have finally gained the reward of complete enlightenment and admittance into the heavenly kingdom.
Now, the question: If Christ’s presence commenced in 1914, does that mean that the “dawn” has already arrived and all surviving Christians are now spiritually illuminated from within by the figurative daystar that Christ causes to arise in their hearts? Incredibly, the Watchtower answers in the affirmative. The April 1, 2000, Watchtower makes the following fantastic assertion:
“The Daystar has already risen!…How blessed we are to know that in 1914, Jesus Christ, the Daystar, rose in all the universe and began to fulfill the transfiguration vision! Jehovah’s Daystar is now on the scene, ready to carry out God’s purpose in further fulfillment of the transfiguration—‘the war of the great day of God the Almighty’…Until that grand day, let us keep on walking in divine light by paying attention to God’s prophetic word.”
While artfully contrived and convincing to many, the Watchtower’s teaching utterly fails to take into account the basic meaning of the simple illustration that Peter used. The apostle was contrasting the darkness of night with the precious light of day. Whereas, just as in literal nighttime people light lamps to see their way through the darkness, however, when the sun arises at dawn it is no longer necessary to use a lamp for illumination.
In the apostle’s illustration the prophetic Word of God, of which the vision of the transfiguration is the keystone, serves as a figurative lamp—guiding Christians through this world’s spiritual darkness “until day dawns.” Christ’s radiant presence will be like the glowing aurora of new day. The radiance of the dawning of the kingdom will then transcend even the very light of God’s prophetic word—precluding the continued groping by the figurative lamplight of prophecy.
That is what is symbolized by the daystar rising “in your hearts.” The risen daystar within the hearts of the sons of the kingdom symbolizes their complete enlightenment—an illumination that cannot by any means be attained through even the most diligent Bible study—but can only proceed from personally experiencing the transcendent brightness of the presence and manifestation of Jesus Christ. Apparently “the kings from the rising of the sun” (Revelation 16:12) are the sons of the dawn in whose hearts arise the daystar. And as will be discussed further on, the rising daystar within the hearts of the sons of the kingdom will result in their shining as brightly as the sun—just as did Christ during his transfiguration.
Peter’s illustration of the night giving way to the dawn harmonizes with the facts already presented, providing additional proof that the realization of the transfiguration is the end of a Christian’s faith—not the beginning of another epoch during which Christians must faithfully wait for another day of Jesus to dawn.
To emphasize the point, Bible prophecy is only intended to lead Christians to Christ, but once Jesus Christ arrives in his glory—like the blessed sun of a new day—the light of prophecy will have completely accomplished its intended purpose—being eclipsed by the illumination of the Christ himself. Consequently, if the parousia had actually become a reality in 1914 it would obviate the need to continue to pay attention to God’s prophetic Word.
Even though the transfiguration was merely a vision, the significance of the transfiguration revelation is that Peter, James and John became “eyewitnesses of his magnificence.” And as Peter later stated, the purpose of their seeing the vision was so that they might acquaint their brothers with “the power and presence (parousia) of our Lord Jesus.”
The implications of the fact that the three apostles figuratively became awestruck eyewitnesses to Christ’s very presence cannot be understated. The ultimate realization of the transfiguration will mean that the anointed followers of Christ on earth who experience the actual parousia and epiphaneia will become eyewitnesses of Christ. They will literally see him, even as the apostles were privileged to see his magnificence in the resplendent vision!
Perhaps more profound in its implications though—as awesome as the prospect of a visible manifestation of Christ may be—the epiphaneia is not solely a matter of the glorious revelation of Jesus. The sacred secret tied up with the seed of the promise, is that the sons of God are also destined to become manifest in glory—shining forth along with Christ before their heavenly resurrection.
The apostle John, who was also favored as one of the “eyewitnesses of his magnificence” on the mountain later wrote of the manifestation of Jesus and that “we shall see him just as he is,” writing at 1 John 3:2-3— “Beloved ones, now we are children of God, but as yet it has not been made manifest what we shall be. We do know that whenever he is made manifest we shall be like him, because we shall see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope set upon him purifies himself just as that one is pure.”
Of course, it is understood that all of the chosen ones will see Jesus Christ and become as he is when they are united with him in heaven. But if Christians “will be made manifest with him in glory,” to whom will they become manifest?
Returning to the harvest illustration momentarily, Jesus concluded his parable of the wheat and weeds by saying: “There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be. At that time the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Since the case has already been made against the notion that the harvest has already taken place, the weeping and gnashing of teeth on the part of those who are to be put out of the kingdom has to be a future event. That being the case, then, what must it mean—“the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their father”?
The Watchtower, of course, persists in the absurdity that the righteous ones began to shine like the brilliance of the sun in 1919. But if that is true what evidence is there that the spiritual condition of the International Bible Students appreciably changed then? Were not the International Bible Students still laboring under the delusion that the parousia had begun in 1874? And the falsity of the present 1914 schema aside, if the Bible Students had actually begun shining as brightly as the sun back then should it not be expected that they would at least have had a clearer understanding of the parousia and the kingdom? As Bethel well knows, it would be more than a decade after the time when the Bible Students supposedly began to shine like the sun before the present doctrine regarding the expulsion of Satan and Christ’s kingdom coming to power in 1914 took its present form.
Not only that, since the time Jesus encouraged his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount to let their light shine before men, those who seek to follow Christ have served as shining lights in this spiritually darkened world. Paul also described Christians as shining illuminators. And yet at no time did Jesus or the apostles say that the early disciples were shining as brightly as the sun in Jehovah’s kingdom. There is, after all, a considerable difference in magnitude between the luminosity of the flickering flame of an oil lamp and the brilliance and intensity of the sun in the heavens. Furthermore, there is sound reason to believe the act of shining as brightly as the sun is not merely a metaphor for the spiritual light cast by Christians.
For a certainty, the righteous ones shining as brightly as the sun does not come about as a result of reading Watchtower literature or even the Bible. The phenomenon of their becoming like solar luminaries will be accomplished when Jesus reveals himself to the chosen ones and infuses them with Jehovah’s spirit, bringing about their metamorphic transformation. It will be an actual physical, visible phenomenon, which will accompany the revealing of the sons of God. Indeed, did not the apostles point to the future, to a special event when Christians would become glorified in connection with Christ? And did not Jesus’ face literally shine as the sun during the transfiguration? If anointed Christians are to be glorified in connection with the presence of Christ there must be a similar phenomenon.
Paul wrote of the “revealing” (apokaluyin) of the sons of the kingdom at Romans 8:18-19: “Consequently I reckon that the sufferings of the present season do not amount to anything in comparison with the glory that is going to be revealed in us. For the eager expectation of the creation is waiting for the revealing of the sons of God.”
If Christ and his fellow sons of God are to be made manifest and revealed in glory to suffering “creation,” that is, to mere humans on earth, and yet prior to the time of the unveiling the sons of God who are in the flesh are said to be “hidden with Christ,” their glorious manifestation as the chosen ones must be a supernatural display.
Surprisingly, the Watchtower tentatively agrees. In writing of the revelation of the sons of God in the September 15, 1998, issue:
“The remnant of the anointed “sons of God” must first be ‘revealed.’ What will this involve? In God’s due time, it will become evident to the other sheep that the anointed have been finally “sealed” and glorified to reign with Christ. The resurrected “sons of God” will also be ‘revealed’ when they share with Christ in destroying Satan’s wicked system of things.”
How might it “become evident to the other sheep that the anointed have been finally sealed and glorified”? The article does not say. However, the Bible gives some indication how this will come about.
In the third chapter of 2 Corinthians Paul recounted the occasion when Moses had come down from the mountain after having met with Jehovah and received the law of the covenant and his very face “emitted rays”—like the sun. Aaron and the older men who were waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain became so startled at the appearance of his face that they at first fled from him. For some time afterwards Moses wore a veil over his face when speaking with the Israelites, but he removed it when he spoke with Jehovah.
Paul, though, described all the ministers of the new covenant as though they possessed the same glory as Moses, saying of Christians: “And all of us, while we with unveiled faces reflect like mirrors the glory of Jehovah, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, exactly as done by Jehovah the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Of course, Paul and his fellow ministers of the new covenant did not literally emit rays of light from their faces, as did Moses. However, Paul was not merely an apostle to first century Christians. Since the word of God is alive in all ages, for all time, it is as though Paul lives now too.
To illustrate the matter, when discussing the resurrection Paul referred to himself as “we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord…” But Paul is no longer among the living. He will not be alive on earth when the parousia begins. But that he spoke of himself as among the living at that time speaks to the fact that much of Paul’s writings are prophetic. It is as though Paul is alive during the parousia, explaining it.
Since the purpose of the new covenant is to produce a royal seed for the eventual blessing of all the nations, it would be especially appropriate for the ministers of the new covenant to be revealed in glory at such a time as the new covenant accomplishes its intended purpose, which is to bring into existence the new creation.
And indeed, that the new covenant is terminated with the arrival of Christ is evident by the fact that Paul said that the Lord’s evening meal of unleavened bread and wine, which serve as the emblems of the new covenant, would only be partaken of until such time as “he arrives.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)
Obviously, the revealing of the sons of God can only take place in connection with the revelation (apokalypsis) and manifestation (epiphaneia) of Jesus himself. And since the sons of God are yet to be glorified in connection with the manifestation of Jesus, the actual realization of the phenomenon—when, “we with unveiled faces reflect like mirrors the glory of Jehovah”—will take place when the curtain is lifted and the sons of God are revealed in all their glory as true sharers in the glory of Jesus Christ himself.
Whereas, Jesus will personally manifest himself to the chosen ones, the manifestation of Christ to the expectant creat ion will be through the glorified holy ones after the harvest has been accomplished, as they then “shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
“HIS FACE WAS AS AN ANGEL’S FACE”
A similar sensational spectacle as occurred with Moses’ face emitting rays took place in the first century in connection with the martyrdom of Stephen. The account in Acts serves as a powerful portent, in that, it occurred shortly after Pentecost when the apostle Peter announced that the prophecy of Joel had been fulfilled and that the last days had begun. However, the prophecy of Joel will find its ultimate fulfillment during the last days of the world—the conclusion of the system—the harvest. That is when the spirit will be poured out in its fullest measure upon the then-sealed sons and daughters of Jehovah; that is when they will see the prophetic visions and dreams with full spiritual comprehension.
With that in mind, Stephen is said to have been full of holy spirit in performing powerful works and portents and that none of the Jews in opposition to Christianity could hold their own against him in debate. In that respect he typifies the glorified sons of the kingdom. Significantly, as a result of his powerful witness before the disbelieving Jews, Stephen was hauled before the Sanhedrin—the same court that had earlier condemned Jesus to death. The account says: “And as all those sitting in the Sanhedrin gazed at him, they saw that his face was as an angel’s face.”
After Stephen recounted to them God’s dealings with Israel, he scathingly condemned the court as the murders of the Son of God. The account relates: “Well, at hearing these things they felt cut to their hearts and began to gnash their teeth at him. But he, being full of holy spirit, gazed into heaven and caught sight of God’s glory and of Jesus standing at God’s right hand, and he said: ‘Look! I behold the heavens opened up and the Son of man standing at God’s right hand.’ At this they cried out at the top of the voice and put their hands over their ears and rushed upon him with one accord. And they went on casting stones at Stephen as he made appeal and said: ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’”
No one really knows what an angel’s face may look like. The account in Acts gives no description whatsoever. But given the fact that angels are superhuman creatures who dwell in the heavenly realm and bask in the radiance of the unapproachable light emanating from the throne of Jehovah, it is understood that the Jews beheld in Stephen’s face a marvelous sight of divine luminescence. However, that did not restrain them from murdering him.
After Stephen gave his final witness to the killers of Christ he then beheld in vision the very glory of Jehovah in heaven and Jesus at his right hand. In other words, he had an epiphany. He saw the manifestation (epiphaneia) of both Jehovah and Christ. The Jews before him, however, did not see the appearance. Although the glorious revelation came after Stephen’s face had already taken on the radiance of an angel’s face, it still serves as a portent in connection with the glorification of the sons of God after they become eyewitnesses to the manifestation of Christ.
It is also significant that the account says the enraged Jews “began to gnash their teeth at him.” This may signify that the rejected sons of the kingdom, those weed-like sons of the wicked one who claim to be spiritual Jews, who are yet destined to weep and gnash their teeth when Jesus’ powerful angels bind them in bundles as a prelude to their destruction, will, in Judas-like fashion betray the true sons of God into death. Just as the Jews who killed Christ became filled with madness and jealousy when condemned by Stephen after his epiphany, so too, apostate Jehovah’s Witnesses will surely play an active role in the persecution and martyrdom of the sons of God after they have been revealed.
Another portent exists in that Jesus foretold that during the conclusion Christians would be moved by the holy spirit to boldly speak before officialdom as a final witness to them—just as Stephen was full of spirit when speaking before the Jewish high court. Stephen’s powerful witness and martyrdom serves as a portent of the final condemnatory message that will be delivered by the two anointed witnesses as a prelude to their being called up to heaven.
Also, the fact that Stephen pleaded with the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit at that very moment portends how the martyred holy ones will be resurrected instantaneously in the spirit—“in the twinkling of an eye, ”as Paul described it. Stephen realized, of course, that he was not going to be resurrected into heaven at that moment. And, indeed, the account says that he fell asleep in death after uttering those last words.
But the glorified sons of God who will shine as brightly as the sun during the conclusion will have the unspeakable privilege of having Jesus receive their spirit into the heavenly realm the instant they are killed.
Finally, since proponents of the nonsensical notion that Jesus is God often point to the account in Acts when Stephen addressed Jesus directly as a “proof text” to show that Jesus occupies the place of God and is not merely a mediator between God and men, a word is in order. Given the fact that the martyrdom of Stephen is a portentous drama foreshadowing the epiphaneia and the first resurrection, and as already noted, the return of Christ to gather his chosen ones marks the conclusion of Christ’s mediation of the new covenant, it ought to be apparent that once Jesus becomes manifest to the chosen ones and in turn the sons of God are themselves revealed to creation—as figuratively took place when Stephen’s face shown as an angel’s face—their relationship with Jesus changes. At that point Jesus will no longer serve as their mediator. He will become their peer—albeit, he will always be their firstborn older brother. The revealed sons of God will then have direct access to Jehovah, just as Christ has always had, and as was portrayed by the fact that Stephen directly beheld the glory of Jehovah with Jesus at his right hand.
This is the full significance of their being called the brothers of Christ and it is also why the treatment given them after they become fully accepted as the adopted sons of God will ultimately determine whether the peoples of the nations are judged to be sheep or goats.