As we ponder the actions and attitudes of Bible records, we may readily come to the conclusion that some of the best and most prominent of Jews and Christians have had their faith sorely tried at times – even to the extent that they found it difficult to believe the direct plain statement of God Himself.
MOSES – THE EMANCIPATOR
As instance Moses, when he was told, “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:10,11) Passing by the remainder of Chapter Three, we come now to Ex. 4:1: “Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.” This translation is misleading in its first clause – “they will not believe me.” Moses in this instance is typical of our Lord’s return in 1874 to deliver spiritual Israel and to establish the Kingdom; and the conversation between God and Moses is typical of the Second Advent preparations. Therefore, we cannot believe that Jesus would tell God that the people will not believe; rather, the correct translation should be, “They may not believe me.”
It is written of Moses that he was “the meekest [most leadable, most teachable] man in all the earth” (Num. 12:3), so we should not assume that he would make bold contradiction when God spoke to him. However, we cannot but make reasonable allowance for Moses here. For the first forty years of his life he had lived in the King’s palace in Egypt – at that time a formidable military power among the nations; whereas, the Israelites had no military equipment whatever. Thus, Moses would readily consider his mission impossible of performance. Humanly speaking, this certainly was a reasonable conclusion on his part, because the Jews were then slaves – subdued and unwarlike. This was a far cry from the time that Joseph was prime minister in Egypt – at which time Jacob and his entire household were received into the royal friendship and hospitality of Pharaoh. But at the time of Moses’ mission there had arisen a “Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.” (Ex. 1:8)
And God, wishing to increase his courage and his confidence, then proceeded to give Moses the three miraculous signs of the rod turned into serpent, then back to rod again; of Moses’ hand becomes leprous, then restored to its former health; and third, the water of the river would be turned into blood. (Ex. 4:1-9) But Moses continued, “I am not eloquent... slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (v. 10), however, upon God’s insistence, he went to Egypt as he had been instructed. And in due course he brought Israel out of Egypt “with high hand,” and across the Red Sea and away from the pursuing Egyptian army; then fully convinced that God could and would perform whatever He promised.
It is stated of Moses that he was probably the grandest character that ever lived; and his experience aforegoing should convince all of us that God will never tell any of us to do anything that we cannot do. Yet God’s experience with Moses had to be repeated several times in subsequent years. Jeremiah answered substantially as did Moses, “I cannot speak, for I am a child.” (Jer. 1:6) In addition, in this he was typical of Brother Russell in the early harvest. He also concluded that he did not have the capacity to proclaim the Harvest message, but he, too, eventually learned that he did have the talents required for the job, and he certainly accomplished his mission in an excellent manner.
A great failing of some of God’s most laudable servants is that they often expected the wrong thing at the right time or the right thing at the wrong time. Also, on occasion they failed to comprehend the right thing at the right time when it was presented to them. This was pronouncedly true of the Jews at the First Advent. “He came to His own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:11) “They knew not the time of their visitation.” (Luke 19:44) He was indeed the “light of life”; but “the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:5) But of those that did receive Him, their understanding of what was going on was very vague and confused until they were enlightened by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Pertinent to the above is the experience of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, as recorded in Luke 24:13–31. When the risen Lord joined them on the way there, the conversation speedily turned to the death of Jesus three days before; and one of them said, “We had trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.” (v.21) But now they were much confused. Their timing was right in that Jesus was the Messiah, but they were completely wrong in what they expected at that time; and this improper expectation had placed a great strain on their faith when Jesus failed to do what they had expected Him to do then. On the way to Emmaus Jesus had said unto them, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken.”
Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? Even after they were convinced that Jesus had been raised a spirit being, they were still much confused, as note their question to Him just before He finally left them to go to Heaven: “Lord wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
JOHN THE BAPTIST
By way of introduction, Jesus had said of John, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” (Matt. 11:11) It will be recalled that John was only six months older than Jesus, which means he was probably engaged in his ministry at Jordan for six months before Jesus came to be immersed by him. However, as boys and young men they had grown up together, probably had discussed their various destinies, because we may take it for granted (although the Bible does not specifically say so) that their mothers had told them the words that the respective angels had told them (Luke 1:11–64); and it seems this had thoroly convinced John that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Therefore, he immediately exclaimed, as Jesus was approaching him, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me comes a man which is in advance of me: for he is my superior.” (John 1:29-30, Dia.)
Thus, when John was preaching repentance to the Jews, it would seem he stressed that the Messiah was soon to appear; and that would undoubtedly prod the Jews to expiate any known violations of the Law, because the nation from the least to the greatest was thoroughly imbued with the thought that the Messiah would someday appear. Yet, as firmly as John was convinced at Jordan, having seen the spirit “descending from heaven like a Dove, and it abode upon him” (v. 32), he later began seriously to doubt his own statement regarding Jesus, because he sent “two of his disciples to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” (Luke 7:19) At that time John was sitting in prison awaiting execution by Herod; but he, along with the Jews in general, were expecting the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel when the Messiah would appear. In line with this, we now quote a major portion of an article to be found in Reprints 2620 (April 15, 1900):
“While Jesus was performing many miracles, making numerous disciples, and meeting with comparatively little opposition, things were going very differently with his cousin, John the Baptizer. Yet this was only in accordance with what John himself had prophesied, saying ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ John was in prison about 120 miles from where Jesus was laboring so successfully. To be shut up in a dark dungeon of the kind usual at that time, and to have our Lord proceeding with his work, and raising no voice of protest on his behalf, and exercising none of his mighty power for his deliverance, probably seemed very strange to John – especially in view of his expectations respecting the work of the Messiah – that he would be a great earthly general and king, in harmony with the general Jewish expectations.
“We see how readily John might have permitted doubts and fears to enter his mind... He might have lost all faith in God’s providential dealings in the past, and all heart and hope for the present and future... This is indicated in his sending two of his disciples to Jesus, to make the inquiry, and also in the character of the inquiry. He does not say, Is this whole matter a farce, and are we deluded? but on the contrary his question was a sound one, and expresses the conviction that thus far the Lord has been leading, and that the only doubt in the prophet’s mind was whether or not, as he was the forerunner of Jesus, Jesus in turn, greater than he, might be the forerunner of someone else still greater and yet to come. And strictly speaking, this was exactly the case, for Jesus in the flesh was indeed the forerunner and preparer of the way before the still greater glorified Christ of the Second Advent, who will accomplish the great and wonderful things foretold by all the holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:21-23).
“Our Lord, it will be noticed, did not answer John’s question directly – he did not say there was not another coming and still greater work than that which he was performing, but he did give John to understand distinctly that the work he was doing was the very work which had been foretold in the prophets, and the proper thing to be done at that time. While John’s messengers were with Jesus a number of miracles were performed in their sight, and Jesus sent them back to John with instructions that they bear witness to him of the work of the Lord progressing in his hands, and to say to John that while the opportunities to stumble at Jesus, his work and his words, were many, and while many would stumble at these, as the prophet had declared (Isa. 8:14), yet a special blessing would rest upon all who would not stumble, but whose faith in the Lord would continue despite various disappointments of expectation respecting his work and their fulfillment’s, through misapprehension of the lengths and breadths and the heights and depths of the Divine Plan, which, as the heavens are higher than the earth, were higher than human conception could have foreseen. For instance, what Jew could have thought for a moment of the still higher than Jewish expectations of the kingdom of the spiritual kingdom class to be selected first before the establishment of the earthly kingdom...
“All of the Lord’s faithful servants need to remember the same lessons which were thus forcefully impressed upon John: they need to remember that when sometimes matters turn out very differently with themselves than what they had expected, when they receive injuries, reproaches and oppression, as the rewards of faithfulness to duty and to truth, it does not mean that God has forgotten them, nor that they were misled in their previous service to the Lord; nor does it mean that the Lord has changed his plan; nor that he is careless or indifferent respecting their condition. True, their first thought should be whether or not present unfavorable conditions are in the nature of chastisements or the results of any misdoing on their part, or failures to serve the Lord in his own way, but if they find their course to be harmonious with the Divine will and word they should at once rest their faith upon the Lord, and conclude that God knows better than they how to manage his own work.
Then while thankful to be used in that work for a time – perhaps for the good of others, or perhaps for their own training in the school of experience, and in the learning of lessons of patience and of faith... The question arises, Was John imprisoned because of officiousness, or because of trying to mind Herod’s business. Perhaps he was imprisoned because of his faithfulness in discharge of that duty. Was it right or was it wrong for him to reprove the King, and to say to him that it was not lawful for him to take as his wife his Brother Philip’s wife? There is no question that Herod was in the wrong, and that John’s expression on the subject was a correct one, and that Herod was living in adultery, but the question is, Was this any of John’s business? Did he need to meddle with the King’s affairs, and thus get himself into trouble? And if it was John’s duty to reprove Herod on this subject, was it not the duty of our Lord Jesus to have done the same, in addition to have uttered a protest against the imprisonment of John and in general to have raised a great hubbub over the injustice being done by the wicked ruler? If John were right in this matter, was our Lord Jesus wrong in not following the same course? If Jesus was right in not following John’s course in reproving Herod, does it prove that John erred in giving the reproof?
“We answer that our Lord’s conduct is certainly to be considered as above reproach, since ‘in him was no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth’; but this does not prove guile and sin on John’s part in following a different course. We are to remember that in many respects John and his ministry differed widely from our Lord and his ministry. For instance, the uncouth skin-girdle which John wore was very different from the seamless robe which the Lord wore; and the Scriptures call attention to the fact that John lived a very abstemious life, ‘neither eating nor drinking’ ordinary food, but practicing a continual fasting or self-denial as respects these comforts, while our Lord Jesus came ‘both eating and drinking,’ attended wedding feasts and banquets made in his honor. The lesson is that these grand characters each fulfilled his own mission, according to the Divine arrangement, but that they had different missions. John’s mission was pre-eminently to reprove and reform and we are to understand that as a prophet he was supernaturally guided in respect to the various features of the course that he took. Our Lord’s mission, on the contrary, was a different one; he was gathering to himself those whom John’s ministry served to arouse to righteousness and to zeal to know and do the Lord’s will.”
We may have warm sympathy with John for his doubts that Jesus was the Messiah, because John – in common with the entire Jewish nation – was expecting a great leader who would relieve them from the Roman yoke, yet there was nothing in Jesus’ ministry to indicate such action: He even ordered them to pay tribute to Caesar. (Matt. 22:15–21) “...He hath no form nor comeliness... no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isa. 53:2)
“THIS MOSES” – ANOTHER TYPE
“When the people saw that Moses delayed coming down out of the mount [where God was giving him the ten commandments on the two tables of stone], the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what has become of him.” (Ex. 32:1)
The setting in this Chapter of Exodus types the happenings of the Gospel Age shortly after the Apostles passed out of the picture. It had its antitypical beginning in the third epoch of the Gospel-Age Church in the Pergamos period (Rev. 2:12), which spanned the years between 313 and 799 AD, at the beginning of which the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great embraced Christianity.
It is well to inject here a little of the history of this Emperor. His acceptance of Christianity is closely associated with his rise to power. After his victory over Licinius in 324, he wrote that he had come from the farthest shores of Britain as God’s chosen instrument for the suppression of impiety... aided by the divine power of God, he had come from the shores of the ocean to bring peace and prosperity to all lands.
He also fought the battle of the Milvian Bridge in the name of the Christian God, having received instructions in a dream to paint the Christian monogram on his troops’ shields. Eusebius tells of a vision by Constantine, in which the Christian sign appeared in the sky with the legend, “In this sign conquer.” These stories may be somewhat fabricated and politically motivated, although this meant very little in a time when Greek or Roman expected that political success followed from religious piety. Thus, it was not unusual, that Constantine would seek divine help for his claim for power, and divine justification for his success in gaining his goals. However, the historian places much more stress upon Constantine’s subsequent development of his new “Christian” religious alliance to quite an extreme personal commitment to the Christian faith.
By 313 he had already donated to the Bishop of Rome the imperial property of the Lateran, where a new cathedral, the Basilica Constantiniana, soon rose. It was in these early years of his reign that he began issuing laws conveying upon the church and its clergy fiscal and legal privileges and immunities from civic burdens. He commented that the Christian clergy should not be distracted by secular offices from their religious duties – “for when they are free to render supreme service to the Divinity, it is evident that they confer great benefit upon the affairs of state.” From the foregoing it is easy to understand why the church from 313 to 719 is styled the Pergamos period, because the word Pergamos means “earthly elevation”; and it was during this period that great temporal strides were made with the help of various Roman emperors. It was in 539 that Justinian also made great concessions to the church, thus in that year, beginning the 1260 years of papal exaltation and eventual political supremacy.
It was in May 325 that Constantine personally opened the Council of Nice with an address to that assembly. At that Council there was great debate over the Trinity; but the subject was really over the Emperor’s head, so he described it as a subject that was fostered only by excessive leisure and academic contention – that the point at issue was trivial. The Council was held just twenty years after Constantine came to power; and he was finally persuaded by the general assembly to banish Arius and two of his supporters from the Roman Empire, at which time the three of them went to North Africa and developed a thriving Christian colony there. Those three had contended that there is but “one God.” As we study the 32d Chapter of Exodus it is easy to understand the similarity of what occurred there to what happened in the antitype – in the Pergamos period from 313 to 799.
The strong hope and belief of the Apostolic Age was that our Lord would soon return to claim His bride and establish the Kingdom for which He had taught them to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth.” This belief found much encouragement at the Sea of Tiberias, as recorded in the 21st Chapter of John’s Gospel. There Jesus was prodding Peter over the three times he had denied Jesus on the night before He died. In that conversation Jesus told him that he would come to a violent end, upon which Peter pointed to “that disciple that Jesus loved” (the Apostle John) and asked the question, “Lord, what shall this man do?” This finds a much clearer translation in the Diaglott: “Lord, what of this man?” To which Jesus answered, “If I wish him to abide till I come, what is it to thee?” Verse 23 continues: “This report, therefore, went out among the brethren, that that disciple would not die; but Jesus did not say to him, ‘that he shall not die’; but if I wish him to abide till I come, what is it to thee.”
Jesus had charged the disciples with the duty of hoping and watching for His return, but He had not told them how long that would be. If He had told them that it would be almost two thousand years before He came again, no doubt many of them would have quit. The Jewish Harvest had long been completed; and He had not returned. The second epoch – the Smyrna period of nearly 250 years had also come and gone, but He had not returned. Thus, it was easy to conclude that He intended to remain in Heaven – not come back to earth at all. Very early in the Pergamos period, the doubts and misgivings of many throughout Christendom now become accepted as fact. The people appealed to the hierarchy and the priests to provide them with some powerful substitutes for what they had expected in the Kingdom (“make us gods”). To prepare ways for them to go (“go before us”), saying that, while Jesus had brought them out of bondage to sin and error in Satan’s empire (“brought us up out of the land of Egypt”), yet they were at a loss to account for His whereabouts, condition and non-return (“we know not what is become of him”).
The hierarchy and the priests (antitypical Aaron – Ex. 32:2) told the people to do what the priests knew was a violation of their Divine understanding of the Lord’s Word. It implied surrender of the Truth and its perversion to error held by their churches, movements, powers and qualities. They were also told to bring these understandings into the control of the hierarchy and the priests. Thus, the priests took those proper understandings into their charge and changed them to error. The hierarchy, at that time claimed apostolic succession; arrogated to themselves the custodianship of doctrine and practice and in their arrogance perverted both and then elaborated them in great detail and subtlety by their keen minds.
From the year 100 (right after the death of the Apostle John) to 325 AD was a period of the rise of sectarianism and fundamental error, including union of the Church with the Roman Empire. When Constantine accepted Christianity, he brought with him many of the abominable practices of pagan Rome. Following are the main errors of doctrine and practice that constituted the antitypical golden calf (Ex. 32:4-6): The Church consisting of all professed Christians visibly organized under the hierarchy, must convert the world and reign over it 1000 years before Christ’s return (post-Millennialism). Augmenting this thought, the abomination eventually came to the full when Charlemagne (probably born in 742; died 814) forced most of the Christian world in Europe to combine into one super state, after which – in 799 – he invited the Church to dominate in civil as well as religious affairs, thus beginning the Holy Roman Empire. This arrangement continued for 1000 years to 1799, completing the supposed 1000-year reign of Christ, which history has now proven to be a counterfeit reign; and it accomplished just the reverse of what the real 1000-year reign will accomplish when it comes fully into power.
Other errors, which arose during or shortly after that time were the Trinity; Christ the God-man, the Spirit a person, worship of Mary, the saints as mediators, and of their relics and images. Also there arose purgatory, the mass for the sins of the living and dead, for release from Purgatory, celibacy of the priests, monasticism, a gorgeous ritual, asceticism; excessive penances, secularization of the Church and professed Christians, persecution of dissenters, church made a civil power, forced conversion, etc. After establishing each of their errors the priests declared it to be a part of the creed of true Christians, as distinct from the alleged errors – actually truths that they displaced. Thus they displaced God’s true Plan and set up another – a counterfeit plan. They also began to agitate for a special mode of religious exercise, which they claimed to be for the Lord: they embellished the religious service with singing and entertainment by special talented persons. (This same procedure accounts for much of the success of “successful” evangelists even in our time.) Speedily forgotten are the words of Jesus, “The kingdom of heaven cometh not with outward show.” (Luke 17:20, Dia.)
They made and kept vows according to their new religious creed and practices. They also entered into a thorough union of state and church, which had its beginning shortly after Constantine publicly espoused Christianity, and began to overthrow in war the heathen party in 313 AD. It was at Nice in 325 that the Apostles’ Creed was formulated, the same being repeated in many churches every Sunday even to this day.
The evils of doctrine and practice that appeared during the Pergamos period – from 313 to 799 – were gradually enlarged and solidified during the epochs that followed. The Truth and its arrangements as first taught by Jesus and the Apostles were gradually very much changed or completely lost.
The Holy Roman Empire may be said to have its official beginning in 799, but in subsequent years (during the Thyatira and Sardis periods), it increased greatly in prominence and power so that the true followers of Christianity were almost completely submerged.
Their number was comparatively very small and often impoverished; they were forced to seek refuge in the catacombs to avoid detection and great persecution. In anticipation of this situation, the Apostle John wrote concerning the fifth epoch of the Church – “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” The general Christian morale at that time was at very low ebb. The large majority displayed very little of the sublime characteristics that had been taught by Jesus and the Apostles; and this condition is graphically typified in Ex. 32:25: “Moses saw that the people were naked [devoid of Christian qualities]; for Aaron [typical of the priesthood] had made them naked to their shame.”
Much of the same condition exists today, with quite a few claiming to be “in the truth,” but they are not “of the truth.” (John 18:37) We are living in that “evil day” (Eph. 6:13), when “Perilous times shall come” upon the Household of Faith. People are very much confused over the different religious views being taught in our day; and they are more likely to accept any hocus-pocus rather than accept the Truth. “They will not endure sound doctrine... they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” They are “Ever learning, and never able to come to knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim. 4:3,4; 3:7) However, those who are “of the truth” will hear His voice. (18:37) Our Lord asked: “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith [Truth] on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) – intimating it would be scarce.
However, during the time of the Thyatira and Sardis periods of the Church great progress was made in military might and power to persecute all dissenters. It was during this time that the nominal Church – for it was Christian in name only – decided to institute a crusade to wrest the Holy Land from the terrible Turk. It could be said there were seven crusades in all, the first of which was known as the People’s Crusade, and began with papal support in 1095. It ended in complete failure, as did all the following ones. The second began in 1146; also defeated.
The City of Jerusalem was completely subdued in 1187; and Richard the Lion-hearted of England tried to recapture it, but failed to do so. About this time the church members were urged to take the “Crusade Vow,” which would obligate them to join expeditions to the Holy Land. However, if the one making the vow later reconsidered, or could not go for some special reason, he could hire someone to go in his place, the price for such substitution depending upon the ability of the person to pay. This was somewhat akin to the sale of indulgences, which was prevalent in Luther’s time.
Then there were a couple of children’s crusades, the first of which was led by a boy named Stephen, who claimed Jesus had appeared to him in a vision. He believed the Holy Land would more readily be recaptured by love rather than by military might. He gathered around him about 30,000 children; but they fell prey to disreputable merchants, who shipped them to the slave markets in North Africa. Then in Germany a ten-year-old boy named Nicholas gathered about 20,000 boys; but they also were sold to the slave markets of the East.
The various efforts to do what was thought to be God’s will, but were proven by time itself to have been nothing but “strong delusions” (2 Thes. 2:11), were prompted largely by the doubts and misgivings of so-called Christians, who thought the Lord was not moving fast enough. Such situations occurred repeatedly after the work of most of the reformers. The first of these occurred after the Apostles died. They gave the Church complete instruction, and had it completely organized for the work it should do (See Eph. 4:11-13); but one of the proofs of human depravity is the rise of corruption after a season of good development in most human movements.
Not only was this true after the Apostles had died, but it was also true of just about every reform movement of the entire Gospel Age. The Lutheran Church today bears little resemblance to the one Luther started; this is true of John Wesley, William Miller, and especially so here in the end of the Age, when new groups sprang up like mushrooms. Every system of error has some good in it; otherwise no one would believe it. This is even true of the Mormon religion, which is probably the most extreme of all the fanatical sects. Of all the Truth groups it is our firm belief there are many good Christians in all of them, with many doing excellent work in “preaching the Word.” To his own Lord each man must stand or fall, so we do not attempt to pass judgment upon individuals in general. Thus we speak here of systems – and not of individuals.
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Prov. 4:7); and “In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:6)
(By John J. Hoefle, Reprint No. 382, 1997)