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NINETEEN hundred years ago a group of persons tried to live in the past. By so doing they deprived themselves of great blessings. Who were they?
They were persons who claimed to be Christians, but were really trying to make an apostate fusion religion of Christianity and Judaism. They were Judaizers. They taught that Gentiles who became Christians should be circumcised "according to the custom of Moses" in order to be saved. Indeed, some such persons felt that it was necessary to teach new believers to observe the Mosaic law.—Acts 15:1-5.
The Judaizers were overly conscious of the fact that for more than 1,500 years God had dealt exclusively with the Jewish people. During that time anyone from another nation who wanted to become a worshiper of Jehovah needed to become a proselyte, or convert, to Judaism. Such a person would be ‘circumcised and charged to observe the law of Moses,’ which is just what the Judaizers wanted to do with the new Christian disciples.
However, with the establishing of the Christian congregation, there was a change. It was no longer necessary to be a Jew or a Jewish proselyte in order to serve God. Nor should this change have come as a surprise. As the Christian apostle Paul pointed out, Jehovah had foretold as much through his ancient prophets. "It is as he says also in Hosea," Paul observed: "Those not my people I will call ‘my people.’"—Rom. 9:25; Hos. 2:23.
It required faith for a first-century Jew to become a Christian—faith in what Jehovah’s prophecies said about his gathering people of the nations, as well as natural Jews. It required humility for Jewish Christians to acknowledge that birth as a Jew no longer automatically made one a member of God’s people. The Judaizers did not have such faith or humility. They tried to cling to the past, and so lost out on marvelous blessings. In what way?
By overestimating the importance of being a physical Jew, they failed to appreciate what is meant by being a spiritual Jew. At that time the way was open for persons to become members of "the Israel of God"—spiritual Israel. (Gal. 6:15, 16) The Israel of God consists of 144,000 persons whom the Bible describes as being in heaven with Jesus Christ, a glorious prospect!—Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5.
Today it is no longer difficult for people to imagine Christians’ going to heaven to be with Christ Jesus. For many hundreds of years the churches of Christendom have been teaching that all good church members go to heaven. So, today, they teach that all Christians are spiritual Israelites.
Such a teaching leaves unanswered a number of basic Bible questions. For example, Paul told members of spiritual Israel that "if you belong to Christ, you are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise." (Gal. 3:29) What was that promise? It was the promise that God gave Abraham long ago that he would have a "seed" and that "by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves due to the fact that you have listened to my voice."—Gen. 22:18.
So the question arises, If the spiritual Israelites make up Abraham’s "seed," who are the "nations" that get a blessing? No doubt those "nations" would include resurrected persons who lived before Christ. But is that all? Do the Scriptures indicate that all the Christians living at the time when the promises are fulfilled would be spiritual Israelites? To the contrary!
Consider what is foretold in the prophetic book of Revelation, chapter 7. The first eight verses of this chapter describe the sealing of 144,000 persons representing "every tribe of the sons of Israel." There is no question that these are spiritual Israelites. Then what?
"After these things I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands. And they keep on crying with a loud voice, saying: ‘Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’"—Rev. 7:9, 10.
Are these latter persons Christians? Obviously, since they are approved by God and owe their salvation to his Lamb, Jesus Christ.
Are they spiritual Israelites? Clearly they are not, since they are described as coming out of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues, after John describes the sealing of the 144,000 members of spiritual Israel. Thus, it is evident that not all Christians today are spiritual Israelites.
That many Christians are not spiritual Israelites should not be a surprise. Jesus himself predicted such a development in his well-known parable of the fine shepherd. In his parable Jesus spoke of a fold, or pen, for a smaller flock, and of a much larger flock, comprised of these and also of his "other sheep."
It was after discussing at length the sheep that "go in and out" of the fold, that Jesus went on to say: "And I have other sheep‘ which are not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd." (John 10:8, 16) What did Jesus mean by "other sheep, which are not of this fold"?
Jesus was describing a large flock, some members of which lived in the "sheepfold" and some members of which did not. All the sheep belonged to the same enlarged flock, but not all of them lived in the fold. The flock could be quite large—indefinite as to size—but only a limited number of sheep could fit inside the fold, which was typically a stone pen with walls of definite length and height.—John 10:1-9.
Many people today believe that all Christians must be spiritual Israelites, just as the ancient Judaizers believed that all Christians had to be literal Jews or proselytes. The major denominations of Christendom all teach this way. So they explain Jesus’ parable to mean that the first Christian disciples were from inside the "fold" of Judaism, and later disciples, the "other sheep," were taken from outside that "fold," being Gentiles. Then, according to the churches of Christendom, both the "sheep" inside the "fold" and the "other sheep" became spiritual Israelites with a heavenly hope.
While this may sound plausible, it overlooks a key feature of Jesus’ illustration. Jesus indicated that there would continuetobe sheep inside the "fold" as well as "sheep" outside it in his enlarged flock. Nowhere does the parable indicate that the "other sheep" are somehow jammed into the small "fold," or pen. Nor does the parable indicate that the fold itself was destroyed so that there would no longer be a difference between the sheep formerly inside it and the "other sheep." Jesus’ comment that the sheep would go "in and out" of the pen and "find pasturage" indicates that the pen was a permanent arrangement. It represents the continuing arrangement of the Abrahamic covenant, not that of the Law covenant, which God took "out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake." (Col. 2:14) But not all of the flock would have access to the pen. As Today’sEnglishVersion puts it, "There are other sheep which belong to me that are not in this sheep pen," though they, too, "bless themselves" through faith and obedience.
If the fold, or pen, represents an ongoing distinction between two classes of Christians, then it cannot represent the difference between Jews and Gentiles, because that distinction is abolished in the spirit-begotten "little flock." (Luke 12:32) As Paul put it: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one person in union with Christ Jesus."—Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:15.
The only ongoing distinction between two classes of Christians would be the distinction between spiritual Jews and those who are not such. This is the same as the distinction between Abraham’s "seed" and the "nations" who would be blessed by it. It is the same as the distinction between the 144,000 members of spiritual Israel, mentioned in Revelation chapter 7, and the limitless "great crowd" of persons from all the nations mentioned right afterward.
Just as the early Judaizers did not want to admit that a person could serve God without being a Jew or a proselyte, today’s "Judaizers" do not want to admit that a person can serve God without being a spiritual Jew. They say that all Christians must be anointed as Kingdom heirs. Yet since 1935 millions of "other sheep" have been serving God faithfully, despite the ridicule and sometimes the persecution of modern-day "Judaizers," including the members and clergy of Christendom.
These "other sheep" are Christians. They put full faith in Christ’s ransom sacrifice and follow his footsteps. Yet they have no desire to go to heaven. Although the Bible indicates that God’s spirit bears witness to members of spiritual Israel that they have a heavenly hope, it bears no such witness to the "other sheep." (Rom. 8:15-17) The existence of such faithful Christians who have no heavenly hope cannot be explained if all Christians are going to heaven, as Christendom claims. But they do exist, over 2,000,000 in number, and produce the fruitage of God’s holy spirit in abundance, although that same spirit does not tell them they are going to heaven.—Gal. 5:22, 23.
In the first century it took real courage to accept the teaching of the apostle Paul and admit that one who was not a Jew or proselyte could be a Christian. Few people believed as Paul did. The Jews could till 70 C.E. point to their temple in Jerusalem in their endeavor to "prove" that they were still God’s organization. Or if that did not convince people, they could resort to outright persecution, as they often did.—Acts 9:23; 14:19; 20:3; 23:12-15.
Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses alone are pointing out from the Scriptures that persons can be Christians without being spiritual Jews. As in the first century, these Christians are few in number, comparatively speaking, and often unpopular. Christendom, which claims that all her members are spiritual Jews, can boast of her size, her wealth, her many temples, and so try to prove that she is God’s organization. When that fails, she can resort to outright persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as she has often done.
If you have been raised to believe that you are going to heaven because you are a member of a church of Christendom, then you are in a position very similar to that of a Jew who might have heard the preaching of the apostle Paul. But do you have the humility and faith needed to consider closely what Jehovah’s Witnesses are pointing out from the Bible? That is to say, are you humble enough to serve God, even though you are not of the "little flock" of spiritual Israelites? If so, you can put yourself in line for the wonderful blessings that "all nations of the earth" are to receive shortly through Jesus Christ and the "little flock"!—Gen. 22:18.