I met with my Jehovah’s Witness elder friend for the first time this year. Although I enjoyed our break during the holidays, I was looking forward to meeting with him again. From the look on his face, I wasn’t so sure about him. When he walked into the restaurant, he had a sour expression and looked to me like a grumpy squash from the Plants vs. Zombies game. I almost laughed out loud, but kept my thoughts to myself. I don’t think he would have appreciated the comparison.
It didn’t take too long before he became his usual, jovial self… in a grumpy sort of way. Perhaps his mood is from the weather. We’ve had temperatures below freezing and that is not normal for South Texas. It has been drizzling all day too so it was a damp, cold instead of a dry one. We chatted for close to an hour before we got into the Teach book. We were both pretty busy during the holiday season so we took turns telling each other about all of our activities since we met three weeks ago.
We picked up where we left off in the study book. My friend read paragraph 11 from chapter three. “Jesus never doubted that Satan is the ruler of this world. In some miraculous way, Satan once showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” Satan then promised Jesus: “All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.” (Matthew 4:8, 9; Luke 4:5, 6) Think about this. Would that offer have been a temptation to Jesus if Satan was not the ruler of these kingdoms? Jesus did not deny that all these worldly governments were Satan’s. Surely, Jesus would have done that if Satan was not the power behind them.”
KW: Jesus would have done what?
JW: He would have denied that Satan was in the position to offer him all of the kingdoms of the world. If Satan wasn’t the ruler of the world then Jesus would have said that Satan was not in the position to offer him anything. But since Jesus didn’t challenge that, it shows that Satan was really the ruler of the world.
KW: I don’t think so.
I’ve never noticed this before, but the book does not record Jesus’ response to Satan. I asked about it and we both went to Matthew 4:8-9. Jesus’ response is in verse 10. My friend started explaining how Jesus responded as we looked at the passage. He reread the passage in context including verse 10 which reads in the NWT, “Then Jesus said to him: “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.’”
KW: I see that there are two things Jesus could have responded to and He chose to respond to the greater issue. Just because Satan offers you something, I don’t necessarily believe him. I wouldn’t put it past Satan to lie since he is the father of lies. He could say, “I’ll give you all these kingdoms,” when he really doesn’t even have control over them. Just because he makes the claim, doesn’t mean it is true and fact that Jesus didn’t challenge the claim doesn’t mean Jesus believed the claim.
Jesus didn’t address the kingdoms, He addressed the issue of worship. Satan is saying two things; “I’ll give you the kingdoms” and “worship me.” Which of the two would be more of an offense, that Satan would lie about having kingdoms or that he would want to be worshiped?
My friend didn’t want to answer the question as we have talked about this issue before.
JW: Let’s read the next paragraph too. I think they go together.
After he read paragraph 12, he wanted to look up one of the passages reference there, John 16:11. I got the impression that he was trying to look at as many things as possible which he thought supported his view in hopes of sidetracking me onto another topic or passage. Jehovah’s Witnesses often use this tactic to avoid uncomfortable questions. I decided to let him run this course for a bit before I redirected him back to where he does not want to go.
JW: John 16:11 says that the ruler of this world has been judged. If God is the ruler of this world, why would Jesus say that the ruler has been judged?
KW: Jesus said these words during His earthly ministry, right? I don’t think Satan would be called the ruler now. I’m thinking of Matthew 28:18 where Jesus says that all authority has been given to Him. If Jesus has all authority now, then how can Satan be ruling the world?
He again avoided the question.
JW: What about Revelation 12:9 which says that the dragon was hurled down to the earth when he then gives the world a hard time?
KW: Sure, that doesn’t mean he is ruling the world though. He is just making a mess out of it, which I think we both agree on that. He is definitely involved and he is a problem, but to say that Satan is ruling the world now, I don’t quite see that. Getting back to Matthew four…
Yep. He still didn’t want to go there. He interrupted me and asked;
JW: If Satan is not the ruler of the world, then who is?
KW: Jesus said He has all authority.
JW: So, if people want to make peace, why is it so hard to make World peace?
KW: I don’t see that how that question has anything to do with who is ruling the world.
JW: All these governments, they get together and talk. The U.N., their goal is World peace and they have been trying for years. If God was really ruling the world, then wouldn’t you expect to see better results?
KW: That is if God is actively involved in establishing peace. I see what you are saying. I believe God allows Satan to be on a leash.
My Witness friend was having trouble understanding how God could allow Satan to cause so much trouble in the world, and yet still be in control. His argument was that men cannot establish peace because Satan is in control. If God was in control, then it would be much easier for men to establish peace. I didn’t think of this at the time, but if his definition of “God being in control” is true, then why would men need to establish peace at all? And if Satan is really in control, then why is there any peace at all?
As I am sitting at my desk and writing this, I’ve come up with an interesting question. I’m not sure I’ll run it past my Jehovah’s Witness friend any time soon, but we’ll see. Here is the question. Should God allow Satan to have a free will? If yes, why? If not, why not? That is something to chew on for awhile. Anyway, back to my discussion.
We talked about Job and how God allowed Satan to intervene in his life, but did set a limit. We also talked about how there will be people at the end of the millennial reign who will side with Satan in the last war. Where do those people come from? They’ve been here all along. Even though Satan will be bound for 1,000 years, there will still be people choosing to do evil things.
My Witness friend spoke about the idea that during the 1,000 years, mankind will work their way towards perfection and will be able to do so because Satan will not be a constant influence. I reminded him that I am a pretty good sinner on my own. I don’t need the influence of Satan to get me to do bad things. I was trying to get him to see that the World’s problems are not because of Satan alone, but because we as humans continue to disobey God.
By opening up and being transparent about my own sin, it allows him to be honest with himself. Since Satan can’t be everywhere at the same time, there must be another answer as to why there are so many problems in this world. The biggest problem with humanity is… humanity. As we continued to talk about world problems, I again made mention of the confrontation between Jesus and Satan in Matthew four.
KW: I understand what you are saying and I understand the argument made in paragraphs 10-11, but just because Satan says something doesn’t mean I am going to believe it. And just because Jesus didn’t specifically address that one thing doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true.
JW: It is the other verses though that support that thought. If you look at 1 John 5:19…
He was trying to divert me away from my argument again. As we were both going to the above passage I told him there was a funny story that I wanted to tell him once we were done looking at the verse. It was a true story that I thought was a perfect example of what Jesus was doing in Matthew 4:10 by addressing Satan’s desire to be worshipped and ignoring his claim about being able to give the kingdoms of the world to Jesus. My friend read the verse when he got to it.
JW: “We know that we originate with God, but the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” Obviously the wicked one is Satan the devil. It doesn’t say it right out, but if you put one and one together, you know who it is talking about.
KW: Sure. Satan has power in the world…
JW: (Interrupting) I’m not saying that everything that every tragic event is attributed to him, but if you put that in context with what it says in Revelation 12:9– “So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.” Verse 12 says that he only has a short period of time in this world. This is right in line with the idea that he is the ruler of this world. He exercises power over the earth.
KW: Again, I understand what you are saying and I understand verses like this, but I would not use Matthew 4:10 to prove it. Let me tell you that funny story and then I’ll get back to this.
I was talking with a Mormon one time and told him that I’ve never met a Mormon who knows that they are forgiven. He responded, “I know one.” I said, “Who?” He answered, “Jesus!” Jesus was a Mormon and He was forgiven!”
I sat back to watch the expression on my Witness friend’s face. I waited to see what his response was going to be.
JW: How was Jesus forgiven?
I was very pleased that my friend understood the greater problem with what this Mormon said. I have told that story many times and most Christians balk at the idea of Jesus being a Mormon instead of recognizing that this Mormon was implying that Jesus sinned. I excitedly told him;
KW: That is the point! That is what I said! I’ve told many people the story about that conversation with the Mormon and the vast majority of them respond by saying, “Jesus wasn’t a Mormon!” They are more indignant of the claim that Jesus was a Mormon and miss the greater issue that Jesus never sinned. When I asked the Mormon in the conversation, “Of what was He forgiven?” He thought about it for a bit and said, “That’s a good point.”
There are two issues which could be addressed, was Jesus a Mormon or did He need to be forgiven? Most people choose the lesser of the two issues and would argue that Jesus wasn’t a Mormon when the greater issue is that Jesus wasn’t forgiven for anything because He never sinned. By correcting the greater issue, my statement is still true, “I’ve never met a Mormon who knows they are forgiven.”
This is how I see the conversation between Jesus and Satan in Matthew chapter four. Satan claims that he will give the whole world to Jesus if He worships him. Jesus didn’t bother with the lesser issue of whether or not Satan rules the whole world. Instead He correctly points out that worship is only directed towards God.
JW: I know, I know. I would consider this a supporting argument rather than the main argument. There is no verse which says, “Satan is the ruler of this world,” but the verses we looked at if you put things together then I can see that Satan is pulling strings behind the scenes.
KW: I see your what you are saying, but my question would be, how can you have all authority and not be the ruler? How could Jesus have all authority over the earth and not be the ruler of the world?
My friend said nothing for a full 10 seconds. That might not seem like a very long period of time, but when you are speaking with a Jehovah’s Witness elder who often presents himself as someone who has all of the answers, that is a long time to be silent.
JW: We believe that Jesus already rules in heaven.
KW: Right, but Matthew 28:18 says that He has all authority in heaven and on earth. So whatever authority Jesus has in heaven, He has that same authority here on earth.
JW: You still can’t argue that. Think about the Lord’s prayer. We pray for God’s kingdom to come. Jesus is in heaven and He is the king of that kingdom. We also pray for His will to be done on earth. So we can’t say that what is happening on earth is what Jesus wants it to be like.
KW: That is why He tells us to pray for that it happen.
JW: Basically, Jesus is not exercising His full authority just yet.
KW: So you are saying that Jesus is really the main authority, but He is not exercising all of it because He is allowing Satan to do his thing?
KW: That I can agree with.
My Witness friend looked very pleased. He extended a hand-shake across the table and laughed as he said;
JW: Hey, there’s something we agree on!
We both laughed and I was relieved that we actually made some ground. It was very short-lived though because he immediately followed up by saying;
JW: Also, with the Trinity, I think we are closer than you think.
You’ve got to be kidding me. We just agreed on something and he brings up the one subject that he hates to discuss. He hates it so much that he has threatened to discontinue our conversations if the conversation gets to uncomfortable for him.
KW: Oh, we’re not going to go there again are we?
JW: Not now.
He said it with such a humorous quip that we both continued laughing. I went back the being relieved.
JW: No, it’s just that I think we have more in common than you realize.
KW: I guess we’ll revisit that…
JW: In due time.
KW: In due time.
I know the Trinity is bothering him and I also know that he is doing a great deal of studying about it so it was satisfying to hear that he wants to talk about it again, but know that the time is not right yet. I am curious though about why he thinks we are not that far apart. I look forward to that future conversation. My witness friend went back to Matthew 4:10.
JW: As I said, and this is just my personal opinion, there really is no way for us to know what Jesus would have or would not have said in certain circumstances. You might think that He would challenge Satan’s claim, you could say that, but there is really no way of knowing for sure.
KW: I’m just skittish about the idea of believing something Satan says.
We got back into the Teach book and covered a couple more paragraphs. When we got to a new section in chapter three, my friend made note of that fact that he has never before spoken to a Christian who believes that mankind will spend eternity with God on earth. Do I believe Christians will go to heaven when we die? Yes, but I do not believe we will stay there.
He wanted to know more about what I believed. I was pleased that he wanted to know so that he could understand and not so that he can refute me. We have come a long way in our discussions. He brought up Daniel 2:44 and wanted to know my view of the end times. I agreed that the statue in this passage speaks of Man’s kingdoms which will one day come to an end because of the kingdom of God. I explained;
KW: I’ll give you an explanation, and I know we don’t agree on a lot of these issues, but I’ll answer the question in a broad sense.
KW: I believe that Jesus will literally come back to this earth, physically, and will set up His kingdom on earth. He will reign from Jerusalem for 1,000 years, then Satan will be let loose for one last time to try and deceive the nations. There will be a final battle and then those who side with Satan will cast together with Satan into the lake of fire. God will be with Mankind literally on this earth forever.
JW: That is not what people in generally believe.
I explained how different denominations hold different views of the end times, but that those differences do not affect our salvation. He had some questions about specifics and I did my best to answer him. I think I intrigue him because he keeps telling me that he’s never talked to someone who believes like I do. I’m pretty sure that he has talked to Christians with similar beliefs, but perhaps they aren’t as familiar with how to communicate effectively to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Regardless, he feels safe to ask me questions because he is genuinely curious.
He got out a piece of paper and a pen and drew a timeline explaining different parts of the Watchtower view and asked how I interpreted those same ideas. I continued to get him to clarify his views so that I can refer back to them when I give my answer. I am already familiar with what the Watchtower teaches, but he doesn’t know that. By allowing him to explain it all to me, I can then refer back to it in future conversations. We glossed over topics like, soul sleep, the immortality of the soul, hell, the grave and the heavenly hope. At one point he mentioned how Jehovah recreates people from His memory. I questioned that a bit and told him that I would store that idea in my memory for a later conversation.
As we were discussing his timeline, the subject of hell came up. My Witness friend got this goofy look on his face, like he know what he was going to say next was going to shock me. He grinned and proudly proclaimed;
JW: I believe I’m going to hell.
KW: And you smile?
I started laughing because of the irony. He laughed too because he thought he knew what I was thinking. I knew what he meant by it, that everyone dies and goes to the common grave of mankind, but I didn’t let on that I understood that. I allowed him to explain it.
Side note: One of the biggest mistakes Christians make when trying to witness to Jehovah’s Witnesses is to tell the Witness just about everything they know about Watchtower beliefs. This leads to suspicion on their part and often robs the Christian of opportunities to keep the conversation going. Most Christians I know usually talk to Witnesses for about a month before the Witness decides to stop meeting with them.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not interested in having their faith challenged so if you come across like you know all about their theology, yet you are not a Witness, they will soon come to the conclusion that you are not teachable, regardless of whether or not you are. If you allow the Witness to teach you, even if it is information you already know, the conversation will last much longer.
My wife and a friend have been meeting with the same Witnesses for three years by using this technique. Long term conversations give many more opportunities to preach the gospel. Also, you just might learn a bit more about what the Watchtower teaches if you listen. I have learned plenty of things during the nine months I have met with my Witness friend.
Getting back to our discussion, I continued to laugh and stated;
KW: That is going to be an interesting image stuck in my head. You telling me with a smile on your face that you are going to hell.
He started laughing too because he understood how any normal person would react to that statement. He started looking up something on his phone about hell and explained how people are nonexistent after death. I asked;
KW: How can there be a literal place for non-existent beings?
JW: It’s not really a place where you can go to visit.
KW: So, then there is no hell.
He kept looking on his phone for something. I’m not sure if he wanted to avoid the question or if he was genuinely searching for something on his phone. I decided to let it go. We agreed to stop our study and eat lunch together. We told jokes and talked about other people he is studying with. From the sounds of it, there is only one other person with whom he meets and that has been just recently.
It was a good meeting and I am glad to be back in contact with my friend. Please pray for him and his family.