If you are a long-time reader of our publications, you likely have encountered the odd interpretation that left you scratching your head. Sometimes things just don’t make sense leaving you to wonder if you’re seeing things correctly or not. Most of our understanding of Scripture is beautiful and distinguishes us from the modern mythology and at times, downright silliness of most religions in Christendom. Our love for truth is such that we refer to ourselves as having come into the Truth or being in the Truth. It is more than a system of beliefs for us. It is a state of being.
Therefore, when we encounter an awkward interpretation of Scripture such as our previous understanding of many of Jesus’ Kingdom-of-the-heavens parables, it makes us uncomfortable. Recently, we revised our understanding of many of these. What a relief that was. Personally, I felt like a man who has been holding his breath too long, and was finally allowed to exhale. The new understandings are simple, consistent with what the Bible actually says, and therefore, beautiful. In fact, if an interpretation is awkward, if it leaves you scratching your head and muttering a soft “Whatever!”, it is likely a good candidate for revision.
If you have been following this blog, you no doubt will have noticed that a number of the explanations being advanced which contradict the official position of Jehovah’s people are the result of altering the long-held premise that the presence of Christ began in 1914. Believing that as an unquestionable truth has forced many a doctrinal square peg into a prophetic round hole.
Let’s examine one more example of this. We’ll start by reading Mt. 24:23-28:
(Matthew 24:23-28) “Then if anyone says to YOU, ‘Look! Here is the Christ,’ or, ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will give great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones. 25 Look! I have forewarned YOU. 26 Therefore, if people say to YOU, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; ‘Look! He is in the inner chambers,’ do not believe it. 27 For just as the lightning comes out of eastern parts and shines over to western parts, so the presence of the Son of man will be. 28 Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
Given that our current understanding of Mt. 24:3-31 indicates that these events follow a chronological sequence, it would seem logical that the events of verses 23 through 28 would follow on the heels of the great tribulation (the destruction of false religion – vs. 15-22) and precede the signs in the sun, moon and stars as well as that of the Son of Man (vs. 29, 30). In line with this reasoning, verse 23 starts off with “then” indicating that it follows the great tribulation. In addition, since all of the events described by Jesus from verses 4 to 31 are part of the sign of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things, it is only logical that the events described in verses 23 to 28 are part of that same sign. Finally, all the events detailed from verse 4 to 31 are included in “all these things”. That would have to include vs. 23 to 28. “All these things” occur within a single generation.
A logical and Scripturally consistent as all that seems, it is not what we teach. What we teach is that the events of Mt. 24:23-28 occurred from 70 C.E. to 1914. Why? Because verse 27 indicates that the false prophets and false Christs precede the “presence of the Son of man” which we hold to have taken place in 1914. Therefore, to support our interpretation of 1914 as the start of Christ’s presence, the false prophets and false Christs cannot be part of the chronological order consistent with the other elements of Jesus’ prophecy. Nor can they form part of the sign of Christ’s invisible presence nor of the conclusion of the system of things. Nor can they form part of “all these things” that identify the generation. Why then would Jesus have anachronistically included these events in his prophecy of the Last Days?
Let us consider our official understanding of these verses. The May 1, 1975 Watchtower, p. 275, par. 14 says:
AFTER THE TRIBULATION ON JERUSALEM
14 What is recorded in Matthew chapter 24, verses 23 through 28, touches on developments from and after 70 C.E. and on into the days of Christ’s invisible presence (parousia). The warning against “false Christs” is not simply a repetition of verses 4 and 5. The later verses are describing a longer time period—a time when such men as the Jewish Bar Kokhba led a revolt against the Roman oppressors in 131-135 C.E., or when the much later leader of the Bahai religion claimed to be Christ returned, and when the leader of the Doukhobors in Canada professed to be Christ the Savior. But, here in his prophecy, Jesus had warned his followers not to be misled by the claims of human pretenders.
15 He told his disciples that his presence would not be simply a local affair, but, since he would be an invisible King directing his attention to earth from the heavens, his presence would be like the lightning that “comes out of eastern parts and shines over to western parts.” So, he urged them to be farsighted like the eagles, and to appreciate that true spiritual food would be found only with Jesus Christ, to whom they should gather as the true Messiah at his invisible presence, which would be in effect from 1914 onward.—Matt. 24:23-28; Mark 13:21-23; see God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached, pages 320-323.
We contend that the “then” that opens verse 23 refers to events following 70 C.E.—the minor fulfillment—but not to the events following the destruction of Babylon the Great—the major fulfillment. We cannot accept that it follows the major fulfillment of the great tribulation because that comes after 1914; after Christ’s presence has begun. So while we contend that there is a major and minor fulfillment to the prophecy, that is with the exception of vs. 23-28 which have only one fulfillment.
Does this interpretation fit with the facts of history? In answer, we cite the revolt lead by the Jewish Bar Kokhba as well as the claim of the leader of the Bahai religion and that of the Canadian Doukhobors. These are put forward as examples of false Christs and false prophets that perform great signs and wonders that have the potential of misleading even the chosen ones. However, not historical evidence if provided from any of these three examples to demonstrate the fulfillment of the words that there would be great signs and wonders. Where any of the chosen ones even around during these three incidents so as to be misled?
We continue to hold to this position and failing the publication of something contrary, it remains our teaching to this day.
21 Jesus did not end his prophecy with mention of false prophets performing deceptive signs during the long period before ‘the appointed times of the nations would be fulfilled.’ (Luke 21:24; Matthew 24:23-26; Mark 13:21-23) – w94 2/15 p. 13
Now consider the following. When Jesus gave his prophecy recorded in Mt. 24:4-31, he said that all these things would occur within a single generation. He makes no attempt to exclude verses 23 to 28 from this fulfillment. Jesus also provides his words at Mt. 24:4-31 as the sign of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things. Again, he makes no attempt to exclude verses 23-28 from this fulfillment.
The only reason—the only reason—we treat these words as an exception is because not to do so calls our belief in 1914 into question. It may be that it is already in question. (Was 1914 the Start of Christ’s Presence?)
What if those verses are in fact a part of the prophesy of the Last Days, as they appear to be? What if they are also in chronological order? What if they are part of “all these things” as stated? All of that would be consistent with an unbiased reading of Mt. 24.
If that is the case, then we have a warning that following the destruction of false religion, false Christs and false prophets will arise to fill the “spirituality vacuum” that must result from the complete absence of the institution of religion. The unprecedented events of the attack on Babylon the Great will make the claims of such ones all the more believable. Will the demons, then stripped of their major weapon in the fight against Jehovah’s people, resort to performing great signs and wonders to lend credibility to these false Christs and false prophets? Certainly, the post-great tribulation climate will be ripe for such deceitful ones.
Going through the greatest tribulation of human history will require endurance that is difficult to contemplate at this juncture. Will our faith be so tested that we actually may be tempted to follow after a false Christ or false prophet? Hard to imagine, yet…
Whether our current interpretation is correct, or whether it must be discarded in the face of realities not yet beheld is something that only time will thoroughly resolve. We must wait and see. However, to accept the conclusion of this post requires that we accept Jesus’ presence as a yet-future event; one that coincides with the appearance of the sign of the Son of man in the heavens. The beauty of that is that once we do, many other doctrinal square pegs disappear. Awkward interpretations can be revisited; and simple, let-the-Scriptures-mean-what-they-say understandings will start to fall into place.
If the presence of Christ is indeed a future event, then in the confusion that follows the world wide destruction of false religion, we will be looking for it. We must not be deceived by false Christs and false prophets, no matter how persuasive they may be. We will fly with the eagles.