“…if this scheme or this work is from men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is from God, YOU will not be able to overthrow them. . .” (Ac 5:38, 39)
These words were spoken by Gamaliel, the man who instructed Saul of Tarsus who later became the apostle Paul. Gamaliel was standing before the Sanhedrin discussing what to do with a pestilent sect of Jews who were proclaiming Jesus as the resurrected son of God. While they heeded the words of their esteemed colleague on this occasion, the men occupying that exalted chamber, that supreme court of Jewish justice, also imagined that their work was from God and so could not be overthrown. Their nation had been established 1,500 years before by miraculous delivery from servitude in Egypt and had been endowed with divine law through the mouth of God’s prophet, Moses. Unlike their forefathers, these leaders were loyal to the Law of Moses. They did not engage in idolatry as the men of former times had done. They were the approved of God. This Jesus had predicted that their city and its temple would be destroyed. What nonsense! Where else in all the earth was the one true God, Jehovah, worshipped? Could one go to pagan Rome to worship him, or to the pagan temples in Corinth or Ephesus? Only in Jerusalem was true worship practiced. That it could be destroyed was utterly ridiculous. It was inconceivable. It was impossible. And it was less than forty years away.
It follows that even when a work is from God and cannot be overthrown by outside forces, it can be corrupted from within so that it is no longer ‘from God’, at which point it is vulnerable and can be overthrown.
This lesson from the nation of Israel is one to which Christendom should pay heed. But we are not here to talk about all the thousands of religions on earth today that claim to be Christian. We are here to talk about one in particular.
Is there a correlation of attitude between Jehovah’s Witnesses today and the Jewish leaders of the first century?
What did the Jewish leaders do that was so bad? Scrupulously obey the Law of Moses? Hardly seems like a sin. True, they added many additional laws. But was that so bad? Was it such a sin to be overly strict in the observance of law? They also put many burdens on the people, telling them how to conduct themselves through every aspect of life. That’s a lot like what Jehovah’s Witnesses do today, but again, is that a real sin?
Jesus said that those leaders and that nation would pay for all the blood spilt from the killing of the first martyr, Abel, right down to the last. Why? Because they had not yet finished spilling blood. They were about to kill the anointed one of God, his only Son. (Mt 23:33-36; Mt 21:33-41; John 1:14)
Yet the question remains. Why? Why would men who were so strict about keeping God’s law that they tithed even the spices they used, engage in such a flagrant violation of law so as to murder the innocent one? (Mt 23:23)
Obviously, thinking you are the one true religion on earth is no guarantee that you cannot be overthrown; nor is salvation granted because you give scrupulous obedience to those you view as God’s appointed leaders None of that counted for the first century nation of Israel.
What about truth? Does having the truth or being in the truth ensure your salvation? Not according to the apostle Paul:
“. . .But the lawless one’s presence is according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents 10 and with every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing, as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth that they might be saved.” (2Th 2:9, 10)
The lawless one uses unrighteous deception to mislead “those who are perishing” as a retribution, not because they do not have the truth. No! It is because they do not love the truth.
No one has all the truth. We have partial knowledge. (1Co 13:12) But what we do need is a love for truth. If you truly love something, you will give up other things for that love. You may have a cherished belief, but if you find out it is false, your love for truth will cause you to abandon the false belief, no matter how comfortable, because you want something more. You want the truth. You love it!
The Jews didn’t love truth, so when the embodiment of truth stood before them, they persecuted him and killed him. (John 14:6) When his disciples then brought them the truth, they persecuted and killed them as well.
How do Jehovah’s Witnesses respond when someone brings them the truth? Do they receive that one openly, or do they refuse to listen, to discuss, to reason? Do they persecute the individual to the extent the law of the land permits, cutting him off from family and friends?
Can Jehovah’s Witnesses honestly say they love truth when they are presented with irrefutable evidence of it and yet continue teaching falsehood under the disclaimer, “We should wait on Jehovah”?[i]
If Jehovah’s Witnesses love truth, then it follows that their work is from God and cannot be overthrown. However, if they are like the Jews of Jesus’ day, they may well be deceiving themselves. Remember that that nation was from God originally, but deviated and lost divine approval. Let us do a brief review of the religion that calls itself “Jehovah’s People” to see if there is a parallel.
As a Jehovah’s Witness, born and raised, I believed we were unique among Christian religions. We did not believe in the Trinity, but in one God, whose name is Jehovah.[ii] His son was our King. We rejected the immortality of the human soul and Hellfire as a place of eternal punishment. We rejected idolatry and did not participate in war nor in politics. We alone, in my eyes, were active in declaring the Good News of the Kingdom, telling the world about the prospect they had to live forever in an earthly paradise. For these and other reasons, I believed we had the markers of true Christianity.
Over the past half century, I have discussed and debated the Bible with Hindu, Muslim, Jew, and pretty much any major or minor subdivision of Christendom you’d care to name. Through practice and a good knowledge of Scriptures gained from the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I debated the Trinity, Hellfire and the immortal soul—the latter being the easiest to win against. As I grew older, I tired of these debates and would usually cut them short by playing my trump card up front. I’d ask the other person if members of their faith fought in wars. The answer was unvaryingly ‘Yes’. To me, that destroyed the underpinnings of their faith. Any religion that was willing to kill their spiritual brethren because their political and religious rulers told them to could not originate from God. Satan was the original manslayer. (John 8:44)
For all of the foregoing reasons, I came to believe that we were the only true religion on earth. I realized that perhaps we had some things wrong. For instance, our ongoing redefinition and final abandonment in the mid-1990s of the “this generation” doctrine. (Mt 23:33, 34) But even that wasn’t enough to cause me to doubt. To me, it wasn’t that we had the truth so much as that we loved it and were willing to change an old understanding when we found out it was wrong. This was the defining mark of Christianity. Besides, like the Jews of the first century, I could see no alternative to our form of worship; no better place to be.
Today, I realize that many of the beliefs that are unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be supported in Scripture. Nevertheless, I continue to believe that of all the various Christian denominations, theirs is closest to the truth. But does that matter? The Jews of the first century were closer to the truth by miles than any other religion of the day, yet they alone were obliterated off the map, they alone endured God’s wrath. (Luke 12:48)
What we’ve already seen is that love of truth is what counts with God.
True Worship Reestablished
For those who hate Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is de rigueur to find fault with every aspect of the faith. This ignores the fact that while the Devil has been oversowing the field with weeds, Jesus continues to plant wheat. (Mt 13:24) I am not suggesting that Jesus only plants wheat within the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After all, the field is the world. (Mt 13:38) Nevertheless, in the parable of the wheat and weeds, it is Jesus who sows first.
In 1870, when Charles Taze Russell was only 18 years old, he and his father established a group to study the Bible analytically. It appears they were engaged in an exegetical study of Scripture. The group included two Millerite Adventist ministers, George Stetson and George Storrs. Both were familiar with the failed prophetic chronology of William Miller who used a 2,520-year time period based on Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 4:1-37 to arrive at a time for Christ’s return. He and his followers believed it would be 1843 or 1844. This failure caused considerable disillusionment and loss of faith. Reportedly, young Russell rejected prophetic chronology. Perhaps this was due to the influence of the two Georges. Be that as it may, their study group helped to re-establish true worship by rejecting as unscriptural the widespread doctrines of the Trinity, Hellfire and the immortal soul.
The Enemy Appears
The devil does not rest on his hands, however. He will sow weeds where he can. In 1876, Nelson Barbour, another Millerite Adventist came to the attention of Russell. He was to have a profound influence on the 24-year-old. Nelson convinced Russell that Christ returned invisibly in 1874 and that in two more years, 1878, he would come again to resurrect his anointed ones who had passed away. Russell sold his business and devoted all his time to the ministry. Reversing his previous stand, he now embraced prophetic chronology. This turn of events was due to a man who only a few years later was to publicly deny the value of Christ’s ransom. While this would cause a rift between them, the seed was sown that would cause deviation.
Of course, nothing happened in 1878 but by this time Russell was fully invested in prophetic chronology. Perhaps if his next prediction for the advent of Christ had been 1903, 1910 or some other year, he might have finally got over it, but unfortunately, the year he arrived at coincided with the greatest war ever fought to that time. The year, 1914, surely seemed to be the start of the great tribulation he had predicted. It was easy to believe that it would merge into the Great War of God the Almighty. (Re 16:14)
Russell died in 1916 while the war still raged on, and J. F. Rutherford—despite the dictates of Russell’s will—worked his way into power. In 1918, he predicted—among other things—that the end would come on or before 1925.[iii] He needed something, because peace is the bane of the Adventist, whose faith seems to depend on worsening world conditions. Thus was born Rutherford’s famous “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” campaign in which he predicted that earth’s inhabitants would survive Armageddon which would likely come on or before 1925. When his predictions failed to come true, about 70% of all the Bible Student groups affiliated with the legal corporation known as the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society pulled away.
At that time, there was no “Organization” per se. There was only an international affiliation of independent Bible Student groups subscribing to the publications of the Society. Each decided what to accept and what to reject.
At the beginning, there was no punishment meted out to any who chose not to fully agree with Rutherford’s teachings.
“We would have no quarrel with any one who wants to seek truth through other channels. We would not refuse to treat one as a brother because he did not believe the Society is the Lord’s channel.” (April 1, 1920 Watchtower, page 100.)
(Of course, today, this would be grounds for disfellowshipping.)
Those who remained loyal to Rutherford were slowly brought under centralized control and given a name, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rutherford then introduced a doctrine of dual salvation, wherein the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses were not to partake of the emblems nor consider themselves children of God. This secondary class were subservient to the anointed class—a clergy/laity distinction came into being.[iv]
At this point we should take note that the Society’s second great prophetic failure came about 50 years after the first.
Then, in the late 1960s, a book was released titled, Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God. In it, the seed was sown for the belief that the return of Christ would likely occur in or around 1975. This resulted in rapid growth in the ranks of JWs up to 1976 when the average number of publishers reached 2,138,537. After that, came a few years of decline, but there was no repeat of the huge falling-away that occurred from 1925 to 1929.
A Pattern Emerges
There seems to be a 50-year cycle evident from these failed predictions.
- 1874-78 – Nelson and Russell proclaim a two-year advent and the start of the first resurrection.
- 1925 – Rutherford expects the resurrection of the ancient worthies and the start of Armageddon
- 1975 – The Society predicts the likelihood that the millennial reign of Christ will start.
Why does this seem to happen every 50 years or so? Possibly because enough time has to elapse for those who were disillusioned in the prior failure to die off, or for their numbers to dwindle to the point that their warning voices are ignored. Remember, Adventism is fueled by the belief the end is just around the corner. A true Christian knows the end could come at any time. An Adventist Christian believes it will come in his lifetime, likely within the decade.
Still, believing that an event is very close is different from making a public declaration that it will come in a particular year. Once you’ve done that, you can’t move the goal posts without looking the fool.
So why do it? Why do obviously intelligent men make predictions that go against the Bible’s clearly stated injunction that we cannot know the day or hour?[v] Why risk it?
The Fundamental Question of Rulership
How did Satan seduce the first humans away from an idyllic relationship with God? He sold them on the idea of self-rule—that they could be like God.
“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Ge 3:5 KJV)
When a plan works, Satan doesn’t abandon it, and this one has continued to work down through the ages. When you look at organized religion today, what do you see? Don’t confine yourself to Christian religions. Look at them all. What do you see? Men governing men in the name of God.
Make no mistake: All organized religion is a form of human rulership.
Perhaps this is why atheism is on the rise. It isn’t that men have found reasons in science to doubt the existence of God. If anything, scientific discoveries make it even harder than before to doubt God’s existence. No, the vehemence of atheists denying God’s existence has little to do with God and everything to do with men.
There was a debate at Biola University held on April 4, 2009 between the university’s Professor William Lane Craig (a Christian) and Christopher Hitchens (a reknown atheist) on the question: “Does God Exist?” They quickly got off the main topic and began debating religion when in a moment of splendid honesty, Mr. Hitchens released this little gem:
“…we’re talking about an authority which would give other humans the right to tell me what to do in the name of God.” (See video at the 1:24 minute mark)
When Jehovah established the nation of Israel, each man did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25) In other words, there were no leaders telling them how to live their lives. This is divine rulership. God tells each one what to do. No men are involved in the chain of command above other men.
When Christianity was established, one link, the Christ, was added to the chain of command. What 1 Corinthians 11:3 describes is a family arrangement not a man-made governmental hierarchy. The latter is from Satan.
The Bible condemns the rulership of men. It is allowed, tolerated for a time, but it is not God’s way and will be abolished. (Ec 8:9; Je 10:23; Ro 13:1-7; Da 2:44) This would include religious rulership, often the most stringent and controlling rulership of all. When men presume to speak for God and tell other men how to live their lives, demanding of these ones unquestioning obedience, then they are stepping on hallowed ground, territory that belongs only to the Almighty. The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were such men and they used their authority to get the people to murder the Holy One of God. (Acts 2:36)
When human leaders feel they are losing their hold over their people, they often use fear as a tactic.
Is History about to Be Repeated?
There is reason to believe that the 50-year cycle of failed advent predictions is about to be repeated, though not in the same way as before.
In 1925, Rutherford did not have a tight grip on the various Bible Student groups. Additionally, all the publications were authored by him and carried his name. The predictions were therefore very much seen as the work of one man. Additionally, Rutherford went too far—for instance, he purchased a 10-bedroom Mansion in San Diego to house the resurrected Patriarchs and King David. So the breakaway following the 1925 debacle was more about rejecting the man than rejecting the tenets of the faith. Bible Students continued to be bible students and worship as before, but without the teachings of Rutherford to go by.
Things were different in the 1970s. By then all the loyal Bible Student groups were centralized into a single Organization. Also, there was no central figure equivalent to Rutherford. Knorr was the president, but the publications were written anonymously, and were then thought to be the output of all the anointed on earth. Creature worship—such as experienced under Rutherford and Russell—was viewed as unchristian.[vi] To the average Jehovah’s Witness, ours was the only game in town, so 1975 was passed off as a well-intentioned miscalculation, but not something that would cause us to question the validity of the Organization as God’s chosen people. Essentially, most accepted that we’d made a mistake and it was time to move on. Besides, we still believed the end was just around the corner, undoubtedly before the end of the 20th century, because the generation of 1914 was getting older.
Things are very different now. This isn’t the leadership I grew up with.
JW.Org—The New Organization
When the turn of the century, and indeed, the millennium, came and went, Witness fervor began to diminish. We no longer had the “generation” calculation. We lost our anchor.
Many believed the end was now a long way off. Despite all the talk about serving God out of love, Witnesses are motivated by the belief that the end is very near and only by remaining inside the organization and working hard on its behalf can salvation be hoped for. Fear of losing out is a major motivating factor. The power and authority of the Governing Body is based on this fear. That power was now dwindling. Something had to be done. Something was done.
First, they started by resurrecting the generation doctrine, dressed up in the new clothes of two overlapping generations. Then they laid claim to even greater authority, appointing themselves in Christ’s name as his Faithful and Discreet Slave. (Mt 25:45-47) Next, they began to put their teachings as that slave on a par with God’s inspired word.
I remember, quite clearly, sitting in the stadium of the 2012 District Convention with a heavy heart while listening to the talk “Avoid Testing Jehovah in Your Heart”, where we were told that to doubt the teachings of the Governing Body was equivalent to putting Jehovah to the test.
This theme continues to be taught. Take, for instance, this latest article from the September 2016 Watchtower – Study Edition. The title is: “What is ‘the word of God’ that Hebrews 4:12 says ‘is alive and exerts power’?”
A careful read of the article shows that the Organization considers Hebrews 4:12 to apply not only to the Bible, but to their publications as well. (Bracketed comments added to clarify the real message.)
“The context shows that the apostle Paul was referring to the message, or expression of God’s purpose, such as we find in the Bible.” [“such as” indicates a non-exclusive source]
“Hebrews 4:12 is often cited in our publications to show that the Bible has power to change lives, and it is perfectly proper to make that application. However, it is helpful to view Hebrews 4:12 in its broad context. [“However”, “broad context” are used to indicate that while it can refer to the Bible, there are other applications to consider.]
“…we have happily cooperated with and continue to cooperate with God’s revealed purpose.” [One cannot cooperate with a purpose. That is nonsensical. One cooperates with another. Here, the implication is that God is revealing his purpose not through the Bible, but through his organization and the “word of God” exercises power in our lives as we cooperate with the Organization as it reveals God’s purpose to us.]
With the creation of JW.org, the logo has become the identifying mark of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The broadcasts focus all our attention on the central governing authority. The leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses has never been as powerful as it is now.
What will they do with all this power?
The Cycle Repeats?
Seven years before the failed 1925 prediction, Rutherford began his millions-will-never-die campaign. The fervor of 1975 began in 1967. Here we are nine years shy of 2025. Is anything significant about that year?
The leadership will not likely fixate on a year again. However, they don’t really need to.
Recently, Kenneth Flodin, a Helper to the Teaching Committee, gave a video presentation on JW.org in which he rebuked those using the latest generation doctrine to calculate when the end would come. He came up with a year 2040 which he discounted because “there’s nothing, nothing, in Jesus’ prophecy that suggests those in the second group alive at the time of the end would all be old, decrepit and close to death.” In other words, there is no way it could be as late as 2040.
|Name||Year Born||Current Age in 2016|
|Anthony Morris III||1950||66|
By 2025, the average age of the Governing Body will be 77. Now remember, this group will not be “old, decrepit, and close to death” at the time of the end.
Something Worse than 1925 or 1975
When Rutherford said the end would come in 1925, it didn’t require his listeners to do anything specific. When the Society began to talk about 1975, again, no specific demands were made of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sure, many sold homes, took early retirement, moved to where the need was great, but this they did based on their own conclusions and motivated by encouragement from the publications, but no specific commandments were issued from leadership. No one was saying “You have to do X and Y, or you will not be saved.”
The Governing Body have elevated their directives to the level of God’s Word. Now they have the power to make demands of Jehovah’s Witnesses and apparently that is precisely what they plan to do:
“At that time, the life-saving direction that we receive from Jehovah’s organization may not appear practical from a human standpoint. All of us must be ready to obey any instructions we may receive, whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not.” (w13 11/15 p. 20 par. 17)
The Governing Body is telling its flock to be prepared to unquestioningly obey “life-saving direction” that may very well seem impractical and strategically unsound. “Listen, Obey, and be blessed.”
We had an inkling of what the direction might include at this year’s Regional Convention.
On the last day, we saw a video about fear of man. There we learned that the message of the good news will change to one of judgment and if we are afraid to participate, we’ll miss out on life. The idea is that we will be told by the Governing Body that we have to pronounce a hard message of condemnation, like massive hailstones falling from heaven. Unlike 1925 or 1975 where you could choose to believe the prediction or not, this time action and commitment will be required. There will be no backing down from this one. No way to shift the blame to the flock.
It Is Unlikely that They Would Do This!
Perhaps you feel, being a reasonable human being, that there is no way they would stick their neck out like this. Yet that is exactly what they have done in the past. Russell and Barbour in 1878; Russell again in 1914, though the failure was obscured by the war. Then there was Rutherford in 1925, and then Knorr and Franz in 1975. Why would intelligent men risk so much based on speculation? I do not know, though I do believe that pride has a lot to do with it. Pride, once unleashed, is like a big dog dragging its hapless master to and fro. (Pr 16:18)
The Governing Body have started down a path driven by pride, inventing a bogus interpretation of the generation, declaring themselves the appointed slave of Christ, foretelling that life-saving instruction will come only through them and that “the word of God” is his purpose revealed through them. Now they tell us that they will be commanding us to embark on a new mission, a proclamation of judgment before the nations. They have already gone too far down this road. Only humility can pull them back from the brink, but humility and pride are mutually exclusive, like oil and water. Where one enters, the other is displaced. Add to this the fact that Witnesses are desperate for the end. They are so eager for it that they’ll believe almost anything the Governing Body says if couched in the proper terms.
A Moment of Sane Reflection
It is easy to get caught up in the fervor, perhaps reasoning that this idea of a condemnatory judgment message is what Jehovah wants us to do.
If you begin to feel that way, stop and consider the facts.
- Would our loving Father use as his prophet an organization that for the last 150 years has an unbroken record of failed predictions? Look at every prophet he has ever used in Scripture. Was even one of them a false prophet all his life, before finally getting it right?
- This judgment message is based on an antitypical prophetic application not made by the Scriptures themselves. The Governing Body has disavowed such things. Can we trust someone who breaks their own rules? (w84 3/15 pp. 18-19 pars. 16-17; w15 3/15 p. 17)
- Changing the message of the Good News, even under the authority of the Apostles or an angel from heaven will result in a curse from God. (Galatians 1:8)
- A real judgment message just before the end would indicate the end is very near which contradicts Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:42, 44.
A Warning, not a Prediction
In anticipating these developments, I’m not engaging in a prediction of my own. In fact, I hope I’m wrong. Perhaps I’m reading the signposts incorrectly. I certainly do not wish this on my brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, the current trend is strong, and it would be unconscionable to anticipate the possibility and not give warning.
[i] What this oft-repeated phrase really means is, ‘We should wait on the Governing Body to change things, if and when they choose to.’
[ii] ‘Jehovah’ is a translation introduced by William Tyndale in his Bible translation. We also recognized that other names, like the transliteration ‘Yave’ or ‘Yahweh’, were legitimate alternatives.
[v] “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming….On this account, you too prove yourselves ready, because the Son of man is coming at an hour that you do not think to be it.” (Mt 24:42, 44)
“So when they had assembled, they asked him: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” 7 He said to them: “It does not belong to you to know the times or seasons that the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.” (Ac 1:6, 7)
[vi] W68 5/15 p. 309;