A Brief History of the Watchtower Doctrine
A correct understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death lies at the very heart of the evangelical Christian faith. Paul tells us that when he first arrived inCorinthhe decided to know nothing except, “Jesus Christ and him impaled” 1 Cor.2:2. (All biblical quotations are from the New World Translation unless otherwise stated.) Although all groups claiming to be Christian would assent to the statement that Jesus died for us, there are significant differences in the way this is understood.
Since it’s first issue, the Watchtower magazine has claimed to be, “a special advocate of the ransom” (Jehovah’s Witnesses Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom [jv], 1993, p.620) It’s founder Charles Russell had previously been co-editor of the Adventist magazine, ‘Herald of the Morning’ along with N.H. Barbour of Rochester, New York, a former follower of William Miller. In 1879 Russell formally ended this association when Barbour published an article in the Herald in which he rejected the “substitutionary value of Christ’s death.”(jv, p.47) It is enlightening to read some of Russell’s earliest writings to see what he understood by this phrase, and to observe the way in which those views have developed in the years since then. The following quotations from his 1886 book, “The Divine Plan of the Ages”, accurately represent what he taught about the ransom until his death in 1916.
One redeemer was quite sufficient in the plan which God adopted, because only one had sinned, and only one had been condemned. Others shared his condemnation…One unforfeited life could redeem one forfeited life and no more. The one perfect man, “the man Christ Jesus,” who redeems the fallen Adam (and our losses through him) could not have been a ransom for all under any other circumstances than those of the plan which God chose. – p.132
As many as have shared death on account of Adam’s sin will have life-privileges offered to them by our Lord Jesus, who died for them and sacrificially became Adam’s substitute before the broken law and thus gave himself a ransom for all. – p.156.
In Russell’s view then, Jesus was a substitute for Adam. His perfect life was given to redeem Adam’s, and therefore the rest of believing mankind were released from the effects of his condemnation. On page 150 of the same book he also said:
The ransom for all given by the man Christ Jesus does not give or guarantee everlasting life or blessing to any man. But it does guarantee to every man another opportunity or trial for life everlasting.
This understanding of the ransom was retained by the Watchtower Organisation (colloquially known as “The Society”) for many years. Joseph Rutherford, Russell’s successor, continued to teach that Jesus’ life was exchanged for that of Adam’s. Jesus’ death was presented almost as a mere technicality that was only necessary to realise the value of His life. In Rutherford’s book, “The Harp of God”, published in 1921, he used an illustration concerning three men, John, Charles, and Mr. Smith. John is in prison unable to pay a $100 fine. His brother Charles has no money but does have time and energy. It is argued that, just as Charles’ strength could not help John directly, neither could Jesus’ life redeem Adam. So Charles works for Mr. Smith to turn his energy into cash which he uses to free John. Similarly:
Jesus must reduce his perfect humanity to a purchasing value, which we may call merit, and which merit or purchasing value would be sufficient for the payment of Adam’s debt and release Adam and his offspring from that judgement. In order to provide this price it was necessary for Jesus to die. – p.142
“By dying he reduced his perfect life to an asset that might thereafter be used to release Adam and his offspring from death. – p.140
In 1939 however, more than sixty years after the first issue of The Watchtower and just a couple of years before his death, Rutherford made a slight but significant adjustment to the official doctrine of the ransom. It was explained in a lengthy chapter in the book “Salvation.” In the second paragraph he stated:
The judgement entered against Adam was just, it must stand forever.
From the beginning, the Society’s understanding of the ransom had hinged on the equivalence between Jesus and Adam. Mankind’s salvation depended on Jesus’ life being used to redeem Adam’s. As Russell had stated, “One unforfeited life could be used to redeem one forfeited life and no more”. If now, Adam’s life was not to be redeemed then how could the rule of, “soul for soul” (Ex.21:23), that had been so pivotal in the Organisation’s teaching up to this time, be retained? After quoting 1 Tim.2:6 Rutherford explained:
This text does not say or mean that Adam was or is ransomed, but does mean that the human perfection once possessed by the perfect man Adam (and which human perfection carried with it the right to life, which life and right thereto were forfeited by the wilful disobedience of Adam) is purchased or bought back or ransomed for Adam’s offspring, who were prevented from receiving that life and right thereto by reason of Adam’s sin – p.176.
The emphasis then was still on the value of Jesus’ life rather than the significance of His death. But rather than, Adam, it was now “human perfection” and a “right to life” that Jesus had redeemed. The following points from the same chapter are also of interest:
Jesus Christ paid over a thing exactly similar to that which Adam forfeited; therefore the life of the man Jesus, which he gave up is a price exactly corresponding to the life of Adam.
He can bestow life on only such of Adam’s race as meet the required rules made by Jehovah – p.179
The ransom sacrifice would benefit.. the worthy ones of Adam’s offspring; and by worthy ones meaning those who follow God’s rules. – p.178
The suffering of Jesus had nothing to do with the purchase price of mankind, but it was by his suffering that he learned obedience. – p.182
Despite this subtle shift in doctrine the essential elements of Russell’s teaching still remained. Jesus death simply made it possible for humans, whose predicament was entirely Adam’s fault, to be given a clean slate. They then had opportunity to prove themselves worthy of eternal life by keeping God’s rules.
This amended explanation of the ransom has remained essentially unchanged to this day. In recent years the basic bible-study textbooks, “The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life” (1968), “You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth” (1982), and “Knowledge that Leads to Everlasting Life” (1995), have all emphasised the same main points in their treatment of the ransom:
1. Mankind’s fundamental problem is inherited imperfection from Adam.
2. The solution hinges on the principle of “soul for soul”.
3. Jesus perfect human life purchased the life that Adam lost.
Whatever truth there is in these statements, it would seem fair to say, that they amount to a rather dispassionate and legalistic view of the subject. It appears as if our involvement is, at most, indirect and impersonal. By way of illustration, if you were to ask both a lawyer and a bride about the significance of a wedding you would likely receive very different answers. Similarly it is enlightening to compare the teachings of Rutherford, a lawyer by profession, with the very intimate perspective that early Christians had of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Old Testament Context
Bible writers use a variety of terms to describe the meaning of Jesus’ death. They liken it to, a purchase (Gal.3:13); a deliverance (1 Pet.1:18,19); a ransom (Rom.3:24); a means of reconciliation (Col.1:20); the atonement day offering (Heb.9:7,12); and a propitiatory sacrifice (1 Jhn.4:10). Their beliefs were informed not only by the teachings of Jesus, but also by Old Testament prophecies. As the Watchtower rightly observed, “They understood Christ’s death to fulfil the scriptures, that is prophecies such as Ps.22 and Isa.53 in the Hebrew scriptures or Old Testament.” (The Watchtower, 15 December 1991, p.5) In the two articles that follow this statement however, these texts receive no more attention than a passing reference to a single verse. In fact, the detailed description of the sufferings of the messiah in Isaiah 53 were crucial to the understanding of the early church:
“Truly our sicknesses were what he himself carried and as for our pains he bore them. But we ourselves accounted him as plagued, stricken by God and afflicted. But he made him sick [or.-“it was the Lords’ will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” (NIV)] If you will set his soul as a guilt offering he will see his offspring…the righteous one my servant will bring a righteous standing to many people, and their errors he himself will bear…it was with the transgressors that he was counted in, and he himself carried the very sin of many people and for the transgressors he proceeded to interpose.”
The picture that Isaiah describes here is unmistakable. The Messiah, although blameless, was to be punished for our transgressions. He was to take our sins upon Himself and accept the penalty that was due for them in His own body. There is not so much as a hint in the prophecy that Jesus was to suffer for Adam’s sin; the blame is clearly laid at our feet for His death. He died, not only for us, but also because of us.
This concept of substitutionary or vicarious punishment had been familiar to the nation of Israel for centuries prior to Isaiah’s day. On the annual day of atonement, in an event that prefigured the death of Jesus, the High Priest laid his hand on the head of an unblemished goat and confessed the sins of the people over it. The blood of the goat was then poured out on behalf of the nation. It was with this heritage and against this background, that the apostles interpreted the death of Jesus, guided by the same Holy Spirit that had inspired the ancient prophets.
That the atonement day was indeed a type of Jesus’ sacrifice is explained at length in Hebrews 9. It culminates in the statement that, “Jesus put sins away through the sacrifice of himself…the Christ was offered once for all time to bear the sins of many” (Heb.9:26,28)
Similarly the apostle Peter quoted directly from Isa.53 in his first letter when he said, “He committed no sin nor was deception found in his mouth…He himself bore our sin in his own body upon the stake that we may be done with sins and live to righteousness…And by his stripes you were healed.” (1 Pet.2:22,24)
Later in his letter Peter wrote, “Christ died once for all time concerning sins a righteous person for unrighteous ones that he might lead you to God.” (1 Pet.3:18) Unmistakably, Peter believed that Jesus took our place, bearing the punishment for our sins. Like the author of Hebrews, Peter makes no mention of Adam when explaining the meaning of Jesus’ sacrificial death.
Perhaps the most explicit statement of all is made by Paul in his second letter to Corinth when he says. “As substitutes for Christ we beg become reconciled to God. The one who did not know sin he made to be sin for us that we might become God’s righteousness by means of him.” (2 Cor.5:20,21) This truth is staggering. No wonder Jesus, a man of unmatched courage, faced His death with the anguish that is so apparent in the gospels. In a very real sense He bore the whole world on His shoulders. Through identifying with our sins He experienced the exclusion from fellowship with His Father that climaxed in the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” (Matt.27:46)
From just these few texts it is apparent that, contrary to Rutherford’s assertion, Jesus’ suffering actually had everything to do with our redemption. He was both our representative and our substitute in bearing our sins and our punishment. A fuller explanation of how this was accomplished, as revealed in Paul’s letter to Rome, reveals significant insights into the thinking of early Christians on this subject.
Our Need of Forgiveness
The good news that Paul proclaims in the Book of Romans begins with a chilling assessment of the human condition, culminating in the assertion that, “There is not a righteous man, not even one.” (3:10) We must avoid the trap of trying to qualify this unpleasant conclusion; Paul has nothing to offer us in mitigation. We like to comfort ourselves with comparisons to others, and we imagine that God views us more favourably. The problem is we are looking in the wrong direction for a comparison. It is like a man sitting on his roof, looking down at his neighbours, and boasting that he is closer to the stars than they are. Only a person who is not focused on God’s holiness could take any pride in their own supposed goodness. The law given through Moses was summarised by Jesus as the command to love God with our whole being, and our neighbour as ourselves. This law has made “transgressions manifest” (Gal.3:19) by demonstrating just how ungodly and sinful we all are, “so that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become liable to God for punishment.” (Rom.3:19)
There are two phrases, commonly used in the Watchtower Society’s literature, which I believe lack scriptural basis. God’s Word makes frequent reference to our sin, but not to our “imperfection”. Of course we were born imperfect, but never does the Bible imply that this reduces our culpability. Similarly the Bible knows of no such concept as “Adamic sin”. Nobody would argue that homosexuality, extortion, fornication, drunkenness, idolatry and theft could be dismissed as Adamic sin or imperfection, and yet Paul says that these are among the very things for which Jesus died. (c.f. 1 Cor.6:9-11) It is true that there are degrees of sin but the penalty for all sin is death. So it is a fatal mistake to imagine that if we avoid the really obvious ones and try hard to do good things, especially religious things, God will simply overlook our “imperfection”. Whether our sins are manifest as adultery and violence or as immoral thoughts and a critical spirit, we are all guilty in “the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting” (Heb.4:13), and equally deserving of punishment.
If that seems harsh, then once again it is because we are looking in the wrong direction for our standard. Indeed the sin of self-righteousness is an obstacle to our accepting forgiveness. Only if we accept the true extent of our guilt as God sees it, can we accept the provision for our salvation as He offers it. We must get hold of the truth that there is a price to be paid for our sins. While it is true that God “does not take delight in the death of someone wicked”, it would be a mistake to think of God as being like a kindly magistrate who hands down a penalty apologetically, because He is obliged to do so. God will punish sin, not because He is under obligation to anything else, as if justice had some personal existence to whom God must answer, but because it is His nature to condemn unholiness. It is abundantly clear that God does not view us as innocent victims. He cares passionately about our sin; it is offensive to Him.
“He that exercises faith in the Son has everlasting life. He that disobeys the Son will not see life but the wrath of God remains on him.” (Jhn.3:36)
It is you God made alive though you were dead in your trespasses and sins…Yes among them we all at one time conducted ourselves in harmony with the desires of the flesh doing the things willed by the flesh and we were naturally children of wrath even as the rest.” (Eph.2:1,3)
Indeed you who were once alienated and enemies because your minds were on works that were wicked, he has now again reconciled by means of that ones fleshly body through his death.” (Col.1:21,22)
There seems to be a feeling that is pervasive in the Organisation, even if mostly unspoken, that individual Witnesses have been called by Jehovah because He saw qualities in them that made them somehow better than the world in general. Commenting on some affable acquaintance or relative it is often said that they would make a good Witness. Any such unbiblical notion must be thoroughly repudiated as something opposed to the gospel. The idea of personal merit is alien to the evangelical Biblical view of salvation and presents an insurmountable barrier to our accepting God’s free gift. All are without excuse, “storing up wrath…on the day of wrath and of the revealing of God’s righteous judgement.” (2:5) When we accept this as a truth that applies not only to others but also ourselves are we ready to understand the good news that Paul explains in the rest of his letter.
The real issue that Christ’s death deals with then, is not our desire for everlasting life, but our sin that separates us from a holy God. We were created for fellowship with Him, but instead we are alienated from Him by our sin. Our physical death is only a symptom of this fundamental problem. Primarily it was not life that we needed to be bought for us, it was forgiveness that we needed to be obtained for us.
This point cannot be over-emphasised. The focus of all the Society has had to say about the ransom is the material blessings that Adam lost for his posterity, the perfect health, the paradise earth and so on. The message that has been preached concerns these physical things. But a desire for perfect life in paradise, and a willingness to make significant changes in order to obtain it, is no indication at all of a person’s repentance or desire for reconciliation with God. The good news that Jesus commissioned His followers to preach was not about the imminent restoration of a paradise earth. Just before his ascension he said, “In this way it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from among the dead on the third day, and on the basis of his name repentance for forgiveness of sins would be preached in all the nations starting out from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46,47) Paul’s speech in the synagogue at Antioch also stated the substance of the good news explicitly:
“Let it therefore be known to you, brothers, that through this One a forgiveness of sins is being published to you; and that from all the things from which you could not be declared guiltless by means of the law of Moses, everyone who believes is declared guiltless by means of this One.” (Acts 13:38-39)
Reading through the New Testament, it seems clear that when Bible writers refer to the good news, they have in mind the forgiveness and reconciliation that has been made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice. That is why they can use the expressions, “the good news of the kingdom”, and ,”the good news about Jesus” interchangeably. Of course the blessings that result, and will result, from being reconciled to God are greater than we can imagine but to pass quickly over the supreme blessing of forgiveness and emphasise the material rewards is to completely miss the point.
Returning now to Romans Paul goes on to explain exactly how Christ’s death obtained our forgiveness:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and it is as a free gift that they are being declared righteous by his undeserved kindness through the release by ransom paid by Christ Jesus. God set him forth as an offering for propitiation through faith in his blood. This was in order to exhibit his own righteousness because he was forgiving the sins that occurred in the past while God was exercising forbearance, so as to exhibit his own righteousness in this present season, that he might be righteous even when declaring righteous the man who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom.3:23-26)
In these verses, surely some of the most significant in the New Testament, Paul first restates our universal guilt. Then he says that Jesus obtained our release by paying a ransom. Of all the words listed earlier that describe the meaning of Jesus’ death, this is the one that the Society use almost exclusively. Virtually every article ever written on the subject asserts that the ransom rests on the principle of, “life for life”, where the value of Jesus’ perfect human life is used to purchase, “the life that Adam lost”. But Paul is not inspired to make any such connection in this definitive explanation of the subject; or elsewhere for that matter. Instead he says that the ransom was paid as “an offering for propitiation”. When the significance of propitiation is acknowledged then everything else the Bible says about the meaning of Jesus’ death is more clearly understood.
The apostle John also uses this word in his letter, “And he is a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, and yet not for ours only but also for the whole worlds” (1 Jhn.2:2); and again “The love is in this respect not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jhn.4:10)
As we have already seen, we are naturally objects of God’s wrath because of our sin. If God failed to demonstrate that wrath by punishing sin then He could rightly be accused of moral indifference, His own righteousness would be impugned. However, rather than display that wrath on us, as we justly deserve, He sent forth His own Son, who as our substitute and representative took on Himself both our sins and our punishment. In this way God can forgive our sins and view us favourably, or propitiously, without compromising His own holiness. As Paul says, he was thus able to “exhibit his own righteousness”, God “set (Jesus) forth as an offering for propitiation.” For all eternity He only has to point to the very public exhibition of Jesus’ suffering and death to answer once and for all any suggestion that He does not care passionately about sin. As Paul concludes this section of scripture, God could thus “be righteous even when declaring righteous the man who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom.3:26)
It is in this context that Jesus’ death is described as a ransom. The Greek word ‘lytron’, which basically means to loose, was commonly used to describe the price that was paid to release slaves or prisoners of war. The meaning of this imagery is easily understood without any reference to Adam. We were in captivity to sin with no future save the certainty of God’s wrath and condemnation. Jesus provided the price or ransom to deliver us from this predicament by taking our place so that we could go free.
The idea, so often stated in Watchtower literature, that Jesus’ life could ransom only one other; that is, the perfect life that Adam lost, is I believe without Scriptural foundation, and has the effect of reducing the most wonderful Bible truth to a dry, legalistic, equation. Since no Bible writer makes any connection between the doctrine of the ransom and the principle of “soul for soul” (Ex.21:23), surely it is the height of presumptuousness to imagine we have discovered something that they all missed. In fact Jesus specifically contradicted such a notion when He said that He had come “to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matt.20:28) As we saw earlier this was visibly demonstrated on the annual day of atonement when Jehovah accepted the life of an unblemished goat as a suitable, if temporary, substitute for the whole nation, in order to demonstrate His condemnation of their sin, and as a type of the propitiatory sacrifice of His Son.
Adam’s Fault or Ours?
What though about the two scriptures that do refer to Adam’s part in mans predicament? As always the context is vital to a correct understanding. The first of these is at Rom.5:12, “That is why, just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”
Just as nobody begins to read a letter halfway through, so too it is a mistake to begin interpreting Paul’s presentation of the atonement in the middle of the fifth chapter. His assertion that all men are culpable for their sins and thus under God’s wrath could hardly be clearer in the first part of his book, and he has proclaimed the solution to be Jesus’ propitiatory sacrifice on our behalf. What he goes on to say must be seen in this context of what has gone before. It is illogical to read into this verse anything that undermines what he has already argued for so forcefully, by implying that it was in fact Adam’s fault and we are not entirely responsible for our sin after all.
When we look carefully at this verse however, we find that it does not imply any shifting of blame. Paul says only that sin entered the world through Adam. He does not say that Adam was the source or originator of our predicament, but simply that sin gained entry to the human race through our first ancestor. He then makes a surprising statement that is easily overlooked. He says that death spread to all men “because they had all sinned.” This clause is in the past tense, referring back to that first sin in the garden of Eden. In other words the whole human race, as yet unborn, was counted as having shared in the transgression of our representative Adam.
It is easy for us, with the wisdom of hindsight, to sit in self-righteous judgement. Of course the Bible makes no attempt to minimise the wilfulness of Adam’s sin, and neither should we, but why do we proudly assume that we are better than he was? Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to assume that we were just very unfortunate to have had such a selfish forefather. But who can claim that given the same circumstances, with exactly the same God-given genetics, education, environment, association, knowledge and experience that they would not have behaved as he did? We today, have seen the results of rebellion, we have experienced the ill effects of sin in all it’s horror, and yet we still fail daily to put obedience to God before our own will. We are credited as sharing in Adam’s actions, being as he was a perfect example of the human race. Since God is omniscient, and perfect in judgement we do well to humbly accept both His verdict and His provision for our reconciliation without any excuses or shifting of blame. Indeed unless we do, reconciliation remains an impossibility.
So while in the verses that follow (13-21), Paul sees a parallel between the one transgression bringing condemnation to all men, and one act of justification bringing righteousness to all, in no way does he minimise our personal responsibility in the process. Such an interpretation would require reading into these verses that which cannot be read out of them and ignoring the four chapters that precede them.
The one other place where Paul makes a connection between Jesus and Adam is at 1 Cor.15:21,22 & 45, “For since death is through a man, resurrection of the dead is also through a man. For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive…It is even so written, the first man Adam became a living soul. The last Adam became a life giving spirit.”
Here again Paul makes the point that death came through Adam. In our natural state, which Paul refers to as being “in Adam”, we are all under condemnation and faced with the certainty of death. In fact, elsewhere, Paul views death not just as a future event but as a present reality for those who are still sons of Adam. “Furthermore it is you God made alive though you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” (Eph.2:1) “Furthermore, though you were dead in you trespasses…God made you alive together with him. He kindly forgave us all our trespasses.” (Col.2:13) By taking our place Jesus “tasted death for every man.”(Heb.2:9) That is, everyone putting faith in Him is freed from condemnation. God views them as being, no longer part of Adam’s dying race, but of a new humanity or “new creation”, with Jesus as their head.
In his second letter to Corinth Paul returns to this theme. “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation…all things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ…The one who did not know sin he made to be sin for us that we might become God’s righteousness by means of him.” (2 Cor.5:17,18 & 21) So in calling Jesus “the last Adam”, Paul is not rewriting his whole teaching about the atonement. In the verse quoted above Paul makes such an explicit statement about how our salvation was accomplished it is shocking. He says that Jesus was “made to be sin for us”. We may find the idea that Jesus became sin, our sin, at the hour of his death, in order that the penalty for that sin may be paid for by His suffering, difficult to come to terms with. It is alien to the thinking of all Witnesses. Our pride will be deeply offended by it; but we cannot escape by inventing our own theories.
So again when seen in context, this reference to Adam does not imply any interpretation of the ransom other than that of Jesus’ propitiatory sacrifice as our substitute and representative.
We cannot receive God’s forgiveness until we are convinced of our need for it. But we cannot genuinely repent if we feel in our heart that our sins are not entirely our own fault. If our answer to the question, “why did Jesus die?” is, “because Adam sinned,” rather than, “because I am a sinner,” then we have completely missed the point. The difference was clearly demonstrated by an illustration that was used in the 1995 book “Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life”, at the time of writing the latest of the Society’s basic bible study textbooks.
It was as though our first parents had squandered a vast fortune, plunging themselves into a pit of debt. Adam and Eve passed that debt on to their offspring. Because we were not born perfect and sinless, every one of us is sinful and dying. When we get sick or say something hurtful that we wish we could take back, we are experiencing the effects of our inherited debt-human imperfection. (Romans 7:21-25) Our only hope lies in regaining what Adam lost. However, we cannot earn perfect human life. Since all imperfect humans commit sin, all of us earn death, not life.-Romans 6:23 – p.64.
The Knowledge book then goes on to liken Jesus death to the paying off of this inherited debt. This kind of illustration was nothing new. An article in a 1991 Watchtower was even more explicit.
To illustrate: Imagine a large factory with hundreds of employees. A dishonest factory manager bankrupts the business; the factory closes its doors. Hundreds are now out of work and unable to pay their bills. Their marriage mates, children, and, yes, creditors all suffer because of that one man’s corruption! Then along comes a wealthy benefactor who pays off the company’s debt and reopens the factory. The cancellation of that one debt, in turn, brings full relief to the many employees, their families, and the creditors. But does the original manager get to share in the new prosperity? No, he is in prison and thus permanently out of his job! Similarly, the cancellation of Adam’s one debt brings benefits to millions of his descendants-but not to Adam. – The Watchtower, 15 February, 1991.
Although we would undoubtedly be grateful under such circumstances we would also be entitled to a certain amount of self-justification. After all it was not our fault; the problem was not of our own making. We may stoically accept the consequences, but not the blame. If on the other hand the debt was really ours then the situation would be totally different. If we had squandered our money on reckless living we would expect to incur the wrath of our creditors. Then if somebody came along and paid off our debt our gratitude would be immeasurable.
The difference between these two scenarios is greater than may at first be apparent. If we try to imagine our feelings in each case we can see how incomparable they are. If we had inherited the debt, it would be very unfair for our creditors to be wrathful with us. If it was our own debt, their wrath would be totally justified. Although in one case we did nothing to deserve having our debt paid off for us, in the other, it was the exact opposite of what we deserved. In one we would be relieved that an unfair situation had been rectified, but in the other, we would be totally humbled and devoid of any sense of self-righteousness.
In the light of the biblical evidence there can surely be no doubt about which of these actually illustrate what Jesus has done on our behalf. The way that the ransom has been taught by the Society for more than a century will no doubt engender feelings of genuine gratitude, but the good news that the Bible presents involves us so intimately in Jesus’ suffering it ought to move us to worship:
“The Lamb that was slaughtered is worthy to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing. And every creature that is in heaven and on earth and underneath the earth and on the sea, and all the things in them, I heard saying, ‘To the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing and the honour and the glory and the might forever and ever.’ And the four living creatures went saying, ‘Amen!’and the elders fell down and worshipped.” (Rev.5:12-14)
A doctrine that provides us with a excuse for our sin is diametrically opposed to the gospel. It is only when we grasp that Jesus did not just die for the sins of the world, or even less for Adam’s sins, but for our own sins for which we are fully culpable, that we can begin to understand the good news of the kingdom, We cannot receive forgiveness as long as we go on blaming Adam and excusing our sin as “imperfection”. As King David said, “The sacrifices to God are a broken spirit, a heart broken and crushed you will not despise.” (Ps.51:17)
It is undeniably true that sin and death came through Adam, and that Jesus provided the means by which we may get life, these facts are not in dispute. As will hopefully be clear by now the issue is how Jesus’ death accomplishes this, and more importantly, the true extent of our personal involvement in His death. This is not merely an academic debate; doctrine affects our thinking and, in turn, our conduct. Consideration of two implications of the Society’s understanding of the doctrine of the ransom will demonstrate it’s impact in practical terms.
By Faith Alone
Firstly, God’s forgiveness is described many times in the Bible as a free gift. We can only receive that forgiveness if we are prepared to receive it as such. Our reconciliation with God was bought at great price by Jesus. Since He paid in full for us, there is nothing left for us to contribute to our salvation. We read in John 3:16 that “God loved the world so much, that he gave his only begotten Son in order that every one believing in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” In this verse, as in more than twenty others, the New World translation renders “believe” as “exercise faith” although the Interlinear makes clear that “believe” is the correct translation. Similarly, when the jailer at Philippi asked Paul and Silas what he must do to get saved, they answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will get saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
This gets to the very heart of what is unique about the good news. All other religions teach, either blatantly or subtly, that we can qualify for the approval of the deity by our own effort. If only we can be good enough, and especially if we work hard at performing religious duties then we may be among the chosen. But this is the very antithesis of the good news. It cuts straight through all outward pretence and exposes how totally unworthy we all are. Then it reveals that Jesus has already obtained the solution for us, a solution that would otherwise have remained beyond our grasp no matter how hard we may have tried. It is a supremely humbling message that does not appeal to our pride as many other religions do. If we were required to do anything to merit our salvation, however small, we would have reason to boast, but we are offered no such face-saving option. All we are asked to do is believe and humbly accept God’s free gift.
This is a theme that appears a number of times in Paul’s letters.
“By this undeserved kindness indeed you have been saved by faith, and this not owing to you it is God’s free gift. No it is not owing to works in order that no man should have grounds for boasting.” (Eph.2:8,9) “Where then is the boasting? It is shut out. Through what law? That of works? No indeed but through the law of faith.” (Rom.3:27)
It has been claimed that Paul is referring here only to the necessity of keeping the Mosaic law. But that would imply that we can boast about contributing to our own salvation, just not about keeping the Jewish law. Such a position is obviously inconsistent with Paul’s words. He is at pains to make clear that God gets all the credit from start to finish for our salvation. There is not one thing left for us to contribute. Anything we would attempt to add, would take away from what Jesus has already done and call into question the sufficiency of his sacrifice. Here then is the power of the good news. It is despicable to those who are proud or self-righteous. But it attracts the meek in the same way as they were drawn to Jesus in person.
Of course belief involves more than mere academic acceptance. To illustrate, we may say we “believe” in horoscopes in the sense that we have no doubt about their existence and popularity. But that is different from ;”believing” in them in the sense of trusting their predictions. So too, believing in Jesus involves not just assenting to the facts, but accepting our need for Him as our personal saviour. As long as we go on trusting in our own merit we have not yet believed.
It is also true that genuine faith will inevitably be demonstrated by works. How could anyone who has been convicted of their own sinfulness and the enormity of what God has done for them fail to be moved to live in a way that would please him? John said, “By this we have the knowledge that we have come to know him, namely if we continue observing his commandments.” (1 Jhn.2:3) James also makes clear that there is no such thing as genuine faith that is not demonstrated by works: “Indeed as the body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (Jas.2:26) This is not saying that works are an additional requirement to faith for salvation as the Watchtower repeatedly states and implies. We do not perform works in order to qualify for God’s approval, but there will always be tangible evidence of genuine faith. To illustrate, if someone is suffering from a severe bout of flu, forcing themselves to get out of bed and go for a long walk will not kill the virus. If however the person claimed to be cured, and yet constantly declined to get out of bed there would be reasonable grounds to doubt the genuineness of their recovery. So too James rightly challenged those who claimed to have saving faith but whose life showed no evidence of it.
Earlier we quoted C.T. Russell who said that the ransom only procured a second chance for mankind, the opportunity for a trial for life. (Divine Plan pp.130 & 150) Effectively this continues to be the Society’s position. The ransom is viewed as having dealt with Adam’s sin, but the rest is up to us. Some may object to this statement but, whatever the position is in theory, every Witness knows the feeling of anxiety about whether their meeting attendance record, field service report and so on, would be good enough should Armageddon come tomorrow. Such concerns are fuelled by comments in the Society’s literature. For example the article, “Invest now in a secure future”, having described the physical blessings of the kingdom, said
“Remember though, that you must work hard to receive these blessings. It will cost you time and effort.” – The Watchtower, 1 January 1984, p.6.
Similarly the article, “You can live forever in paradise on earth-but how”, (The Watchtower, 15 February 1983, p.12) listed four requirements;
1. Taking in knowledge.
2. Obeying God’s laws.
3. Identifying and joining God’s organisation.
4. Preaching the “good news”.
That, in the Society’s view, our salvation must be secured by works was confirmed in the article, “Living today for an eternal future”:
Now, none of us know whether our life may end unexpectedly. So it is clearly wise to keep at a high level our zeal and activity in serving Jehovah. That way we will maintain our good name with him and keep living with our eternal future in view. – The Watchtower, 15 August 1997, p.13.
Many quotations of this kind can be found in any Watchtower volume, and similar sentiments are frequently heard from the platform. When the implications of these statements are thought through, surely we must conclude that they contradict evangelical Bible teaching. If the picture described by the Watchtower was correct, imagine the scene immediately after Armageddon as zealous Witnesses emerge from the dust. Every one would have substantial grounds for boasting about their salvation. They would have no doubt that their own hard work, involving a huge investment of time and effort had played a significant part in their survival. Whether or not an individual would boast is not the issue, there would be proper grounds for boasting which is a direct contradiction of Scripture. Any teaching that credits an individual with a share in their own salvation takes that same measure of credit away from Jesus and reduces the good news to the same level as the teaching of a myriad other religions.
Whether our actions are motivated by appreciation for a salvation that we have received as a free gift, or by a fear of losing our good name with God and the hope of eternal life, may make little difference to what we actually do. If a person has genuine faith then of course they will want to go on growing in their knowledge of God. They will want to spend time with others who also belong to Him. They will want to worship Him, obey Him and tell others about Him. These things are the symptoms of faith, but they can all too easily be used as it’s substitute.
There are two common traits of those who are still trusting in their own merit. Either it results in a self-righteous spirit or in a feeling of hopelessness. When someone is unable to sustain the high level of zeal and activity that is demanded, it results all too often in despondency and even depression. In contrast, an accurate understanding of the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice leads both to humility and a sense of peace:
“Come to me all you who are toiling and loaded down and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.” – Matt.11:28-30.
Benefits of the Ransom Applied Now
Only a correct Scriptural understanding of the good news reveals to us not just the future benefits, but also the present blessings we are offered by means of Jesus’ sacrifice. Returning again to Paul’s letter to the Romans, we read “Therefore, now that we have been declared righteous as a result of faith let us enjoy peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom.5:1)
To be “declared righteous”, or justified, is one of those phrases we read often the Bible but may easily miss the significance of. It is a term that draws it’s imagery from the law court. Since Jesus “bore our sins in his own body upon the stake” (1 Pet.2:24), and paid the penalty that was due for them, as far as God is concerned, we no longer have any sin to answer for. Since our sins have been paid for in full, God as judge, declares us to be righteous. Righteousness is credited, or imputed, to us in spite of our actual merit.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Christians will gradually become more Christ-like. This process the Bible calls sanctification. Happily for us, God does not wait for this to happen before completely removing the barrier that our sin presents to our relationship with Him. As soon as we put faith in Jesus as our personal Saviour and Lord, our debt is paid. Since He is a just judge God will not demand payment twice for the same debt, first from Jesus and then from us. That is why Paul could say, “Therefore those in Christ Jesus have no condemnation.” (Rom.8:1; Interlinear) And Jesus could tell Nicodemus, “He that believes in him is not to be judged.” (Jhn.3:18; Interlinear)
Perhaps what makes this Bible teaching so difficult for many to accept is that it seems to make our salvation too easy. It can be hard to believe that God’s acceptance of us can be so complete and final. In our heart we know that we are unworthy of such assurance, but that is exactly the point. Our peace with God is “through our Lord Jesus Christ”, not through our own effort. And we must remember that it was by no means obtained easily. It cost us nothing, but it cost the Son of God His life.
The Society teach that not everyone who puts faith in Jesus is declared righteous to the same extent. It describes the majority of believers as having only, “a degree of righteousness” credited to them, as having a “relatively righteous standing” before God, and of being counted as righteous “compared to mankind in general.” (See The Watchtower, 1 December 1985, p.17).
Bible writers know of no such half-hearted generosity on God’s part. Either we are forgiven or we are not. Either we are declared righteous in God’s eyes or we are not. Being righteous compared to mankind in general will not reconcile us to God. That would leave us like the man on the roof mentioned earlier, closer to the stars than his neighbours, but still light years removed from his goal. Indeed the very notion of having a “relatively righteous standing” before God is nonsensical. It is comparable to describing a woman as being relatively pregnant. If we have “a degree of righteousness” credited to us then we are still marred by a degree of sin, which God must condemn and punish, and therefore we remain alienated from him.
Jesus did not just bear some of our sins: He bore all of them. The “great crowd” of Revelation 7 are said to have, “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” not relatively clean compared to mankind in general. The “sheep” of Jesus’ parable at Matt. 25:31-46 are referred to as the “righteous ones” who depart “into everlasting life”, not as the relatively righteous who qualify for a second chance.
The Bible uses the analogy of adoption to illustrate the relationship with God that Jesus’ death makes possible. It is one of the first things that John tells us in his gospel. “As many as did receive him, to them he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith (“believing”; Interlinear) in his name, and they were born, not from blood, or from a fleshly will or from man’s will, but from God.” (Jhn.1:12,13)
When God accepts us and declares us righteous, He does so in full knowledge of all our weaknesses and limitations. Unlike human friendship God’s love is never fickle or capricious, it is loyal and unchanging. Although sadly it is not always so, the best human illustration of this kind of unconditional acceptance is the relationship between a parent and child. A good parent will never disown their offspring. Their love, forgiveness, comfort and protection is not dependant on how well the child performs, it is inherent in the nature of the relationship. Even when a child goes seriously astray like the prodigal son of Jesus’ parable, the good father remains ready to joyfully welcome him home and restore him without reservation.
This is the way that God loves and accepts those who put faith in his Son. Without Jesus we are, at best like slaves, always trying desperately to be good enough to merit the master’s approval. Always uncertain, even on a good day, if tomorrow’s mistake will result in our rejection. But a son, on the other hand, is assured of his father’s love. He works because he in turn loves his father, and wants to please him. It is this difference that Paul describes at Romans 8:15, “You did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons by which spirit we cry out Abba, Father.”
There are, by the Bible’s reckoning, only two sorts of people. Everybody begins as the same sort; children of Adam or, “in Adam”. In this state they are, under “condemnation” (Rom.5:18), “alienated” from, and “enemies” of God (Col.1:21), “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), under the “authority of darkness” (Col.1:13), walking in “accord with the flesh” (Rom.8:4), “slaves of sin” (Rom.6:17), and “dead in their trespasses” (Eph.2:1&5).
This is not the Bible’s description of an especially depraved person but of the normal human condition from God’s perspective. It matters not at all that we may not feel guilty or under condemnation, God’s inspired word says emphatically that we are.
The other sort of person is, “in Christ”. These are, “declared righteous” (Rom.5:1), “reconciled to God” (Rom.5:10), “born of God” (1 Jhn.5:1) or “born again” (Jhn.3:3), “beloved children” of God (Eph.5:1), “transferred into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love” (Col.1:13), indwelled by “God’s Spirit” (Rom.8:9), part of a “new creation” (2 Cor.5:17), and “alive together with the Christ” (Eph.2:5).
The difference between these two groups is not that the latter are more worthy, or that they try harder to be good, nor that they naturally have more interest in spiritual matters or an ability to read and understand the Bible. It is simply that they have put faith in God’s provision for their salvation. They have humbly abandoned their attempts to earn His favour and trusted in Jesus as their Saviour. For someone to feel that these blessings could not apply to them because they are not worthy is for that person to miss the point of the good news. Nobody is good enough, that is exactly the point at which the gospel begins.
We cannot pick and choose which of the above descriptions of those who belong to God apply to us, and which ones do not. We cannot for example be reconciled to God, but not be a “new creation”. (see 2 Cor.5:16-19) We cannot be “beloved children” of God, but not be “born of God”. We cannot draw a line between calling God “Father”, and calling him, “Abba, Father”. If we have not been adopted then we are not His children, He is not our Father, and we have no right to call Him such at all. If we are His children then we are also joint heirs with Christ. If we are “in harmony with the Spirit” then “God’s Spirit truly dwells” in us, but if we do not have the Holy Spirit then we do “not belong to” Christ. (See Rom.8:9-17) Only if we are “led by the Spirit” can we produce the “fruitage of the Spirit”. But again, if we are, then we can cry out “Abba Father” and we are adopted as sons of God and joint heirs with Christ. (See Gal.4:6,7;5:16-24)
The teaching that God’s promise of adoption as sons applies only to a small minority of those who put faith in Jesus is an especially pernicious doctrine. Being “anointed” or “born again”, is not simply a technical label that distinguishes a person as having a heavenly calling as opposed to an earthly one. It is a description of the life that can be enjoyed by all who have been forgiven and reconciled with God. It has to do, not with where God wants us to spend eternity, but whether or not we are reconciled to him now, and therefore have any eternity to look forward to at all.
It is clear from his first letter that John did not view being born again as something that applied only to a few Christians. He says that, “Everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born from God.” (1 Jhn.5:1) And later in the same letter he wrote, “See what sort of love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God, and such we are.” (1 Jhn.3:1)
It is taught by the Society that those who died prior to Pentecost have a different destiny to believers since then, and that all but a tiny “remnant” of those alive today have the same hope as faithful ones of ancient times. The Scripture that is often used to support this view is Jesus’ words at Matt.11:11. “Truly I say to you people, among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist; but a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.”
These words of Jesus have to be read in the wider context of His teaching about the kingdom. Earlier, while in the city of Capernium, He had been struck by the faith of a gentile army officer. Addressing the crowd that was following him he said, “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.” (Matt.8:11,12) Contrary to the teaching of the Watchtower Society then, these three faithful men who died many centuries before Jesus, will be in the kingdom of the heavens. So belief that John the Baptist and others will not be there simply because they died too soon clearly lacks scriptural foundation. When read in context it can be seen that Jesus had in mind, not John’s future destiny but his present prophetic role. “The law was given through Moses, undeserved kindness and the truth came to be through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)
Going back again to Paul’s letter to Rome, we find that he uses the example of Abraham to illustrate how it is that God declares those who have faith to be righteous. To argue that Abraham was not declared righteous in the same way, or to the same extent as Christians, as the Watchtower attempts to do – “Yes, due to his faith, Abraham was declared righteous as a friend of Jehovah, not as a son with the right to perfect human life or to kingship with Christ” – The Watchtower, 1 December 1985 – cannot be sustained in the light of chapters three and four of Romans. Paul explains explicitly and at length that Abraham is the model of the way all are justified by faith. He says, “He is the father of us all.” (v.16)
Of course this raises the question of how God could forgive the sins of those who lived in the past before Jesus provided the means of reconciliation. Paul deals with this specifically in chapter three where he says that, “God set [Jesus] forth as an offering for propitiation through faith in his blood. This was in order to exhibit his own righteousness because he was forgiving the sins that occurred in the past while God was exercising forbearance, so as to exhibit his own righteousness in this present season, that he might be righteous even when declaring righteous the man who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom.3:23-26) Jesus’ death was an event in which God demonstrated or exhibited His righteousness once for all time. It does not matter whether a person lived centuries before Jesus or after Him. Jesus carried the sins of us all and everyone having faith is declared righteous on the same basis.
To divide people into those with a heavenly hope and those with an earthly one is not a Biblical concept. “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell” (2 Pet.3:13), but that does not mean that God has selected some for heaven and some for earth. In the sermon on the mount Jesus began by making the nine statements known as the beatitudes, in which he declares certain types of people to be happy or blessed, and in each case he makes a promise concerning their future. (Matt.5:3-12) It is clear that Jesus is painting a composite picture of all those who belong to Him, not a list from which individual statements could be chosen and applied to individuals at random. Among the promises that Jesus makes are, “the kingdom of the heavens belong to them”, “they will inherit the earth”, “they will see God” and “they will be called sons of God.” If we are part of Christ’s body then we all have the same hope as Paul reminded the congregation at Ephesus. “One body there is, and one Spirit, even as you were called in the one hope to which you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph.4:4-6) Since Jesus will keep all of His promises we can conclude that seeing God, and inheriting the earth, are not mutually exclusive destinies.
There is much we do not know about the future and Christians hold different views on the details of eschatology. The book of Revelation seems to describe a scenario where heaven and earth are no longer separated in the way they are at present. It speaks about those who were bought by the blood of Jesus, “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” who are to “rule as kings upon the earth.” (Rev.5:9,10) The last three words in this verse translate the Greek phrase, “epi-tes-ges”. The N.W.T. renders this “over the earth”, but it can be seen from Society’s own “Kingdom Interlinear” that this is not an accurate translation. Actually this same Greek phrase occurs another thirteen times in the book of Revelation alone and every time apart from this one, the N.W.T renders it correctly, “on the earth”. It is not actually necessary to think in terms of them reigning as kings over others. In the same way as God gave Adam dominion over all creation, redeemed mankind will fulfil this original purpose. The Bible has much to say about our reconciliation with God and our eternal salvation but relatively little on the details of the new heavens and earth. This should alert us to it’s lesser importance. Of greater significance is the false teaching that not all who have faith can enjoy the same blessings of reconciliation and adoption that Jesus’ death made possible.
There are many more related questions that naturally come to mind at this point but they take us too far from the theme of this essay. The main point is that it is wrong to begin with a theory that in the end there will be two separate destinies for those who are redeemed, and then on that basis, to deny almost all of the blessings that come through faith in Jesus to one of those groups.
The forgiveness and reconciliation that Jesus’ death makes possible is the ultimate expression of God’s love. When a legalistic understanding of the ransom impinges on our relationship with God it is not simply a theological technicality. At this present time it denies more than five million people the opportunity to accept Jesus as their personal saviour. While it is for God alone to judge the motives of any who are responsible for teaching error, Paul’s warning to the Galatians is sobering, “If we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond what we declared to you as good news let him be accursed.” (Gal.1:8)
The Root of the Problem
There is probably no Bible truth that exists in isolation from all others. Errors normally stem from, or lead to, other errors. This would certainly be the case with the crucial teaching that is the subject of this essay. Not only has an unscriptural understanding of the ransom led to other teachings that deny the blessings of the gospel to millions, but equally it came about in the first place, at least partly, because of an earlier and even more fundamental mistake.
Previously we referred to the incident that led C.T. Russell breaking off his association with his ‘Adventist’ colleague N.H. Barbour. Below is an extract from the article that Barbour wrote under the heading “The Atonement.” It is taken from the August 1878 issue of the magazine “Herald of the Morning”.
The doctrine of substitution, that is, punishing the innocent in place of the guilty, is unscriptural, and obnoxious to all our ideas of justice , or of right and wrong….Let us look at the monstrous doctrine of substitution in all it’s naked deformity. I do wrong, and the Judge of all the earth has made a law that if some other being suffers for it, I may go free. ‘For without the shedding of blood there is no remission.’ Let me illustrate; My son is a very wicked boy, he deserves severe chastisement, but I shrewdly hit upon the plan of substitution; I say to my boy, or to one of the servants, when James bites his sister, you catch a fly, stick a pin through it’s body and impale it to the wall, and I’ll forgive James. This illustrates the doctrine of substitution with the lamb. But, says one, if the substitute is willing to take the punishment to the full extent, then that is right. Very well, my wife is a good woman, had rather suffer any time, than have her boy suffer, I’ll flog her when he does wrong. I do not wonder that men shrug their shoulders, when told that Christ died to appease the wrath of God towards offending sinners. (jv. p.620)
To his credit Russell responded vigorously by publishing an article in the very next issue in which he defended the doctrine of substitution. However he had exactly the same problem as Barbour. The idea of an innocent third party suffering at the hands of an angry God for the sins of someone else is obnoxious, indeed it is a pagan notion. Barbour’s solution was to try to refute the irrefutable by denying the doctrine of substitution. Russell, on the other hand, tried to retain substitution but applied it only to Adam as we have seen in detail above. Rutherford depersonalised Russell’s teaching, turning it into the legalistic transaction that continues to be the position of the Watchtower.
What each of them failed to understand was that Jesus was not a third party. It was not comparable to a parent impaling a fly for the misdemeanours of his son, it was comparable to a judge taking the consequences of the culprit’s crimes upon Himself. Both Barbour and Russell started with the premise that Jesus was part of God’s creation, and from that perspective the wonder of the atonement is destroyed. The doctrine of the ransom is inextricably linked with that of the deity of Jesus. If Jesus is anything less than God then the doctrine of the ransom is arguably, just as ugly as Barbour suggests. If however Jesus is Himself God, just as His Father is God, then the fact that He put aside His majesty to suffer the consequences of His own judgement in our place is the most beautiful truth imaginable. Isaiah’s words about the way Jesus would suffer for the transgressions of others are impossible to accept in isolation from an acceptance of Jesus’ deity; “he was being pierced for our transgressions, he was being crushed for our errors. The chastisement meant for our peace was upon him and because of his wounds there has been a healing for us…Jehovah himself has caused the error of us all to meet up with that one…Because of the transgression of my people he had the stroke…But Jehovah himself took delight in crushing him,” (Isa.53) The early Christians’ view of the person of Jesus deserves to be re-examined therefore in the light of it’s practical application in this context.
I believe that the fact that a truth which is so clearly expressed in the Bible can remain almost invisible to people who are known as ‘Bible Students’ underlines the danger of putting human authority above that of the inspired Scriptures. On the night before his death Jesus promised his disciples that he would send them, “the Spirit of the truth, he will guide you into all the truth,” (Jhn.16:13) In harmony with this promise John reminded the early church, “As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (1 Jhn.2:27) NIV.
By going back to the Bible in faith and humility, the picture of God suffering for the sins of His own undeserving creation, and offering forgiveness freely to all who believe, emerges vividly as the centrepiece of the Biblical narrative. It is a truth that needs to be understood correctly and as soon as it is, it has the power to transcend knowledge and change our lives forever.