[Originally published on April 22 of this year, this is a re-posting (with some additions) of a review of the second study article in the July 15 issue of The Watchtower which explains our new understanding of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and weeds.]
Before continuing, please open the article to page 10 and take a good look at the illustration at the top of that page. Do you notice anything missing? If not, here’s a hint: Concentrate on the third panel of the illustration.
There are nearly eight million people missing and unaccounted for! The weeds are the imitation Christians mixed in with the wheat—anointed Christians. According to our official teaching, the wheat number only 144,000. So in the harvest there are two types of Christians, anointed Christians (wheat) and imitation or false Christians (weeds). And the millions of “other sheep” whom we claim are not anointed but have the hope of living on earth, what of them? Surely Jesus wouldn’t ignore such a large group of true followers?
This highlights the first flaw in our interpretation. We used to say that this parable applied to this secondary group by extension. Of course, there is no basis for a “by extension” application of this or any other of the kingdom-of-God-is-like parables, but we had to say something to explain away the discrepancy. However, we do not even make that attempt in this article. So millions are completely excluded from its fulfillment. How nonsensical!
Let us analyze the key points.
“However, since they were overgrown by weedlike Christians, we do not know for certain who belonged to the wheat class…”
We often like to classify things in our interpretations. Hence we make reference to the “evil slave class”, or the “bride class”, or in this case, the “wheat class”. The problem with this policy is that it promotes the idea that the fulfillment is on a class or group level rather than on individuals. You may feel this is a negligible distinction, but in fact it has led us to some awkward blind-alley interpretations, as we are about to see yet again. Suffice it to say at this point that changing the application of this parable’s weeds and wheat to a weed class and wheat class is done without any scriptural foundation.
Paragraph 5 & 6
The application of Mal. 3:1-4 is correctly made to the time of Jesus. However, the subsequent paragraph speaks of “the larger fulfillment”. This is one of a number of “just believe” moments in this issue’s study articles. From a Beroean perspective, this is alarming evidence of a growing trend of late that requires us as Witnesses to simply accept without question something we are being taught by the Governing Body.
Malachi’s prophecy was fulfilled in the First Century, in part when Jesus entered Jehovah’s place of true worship, the temple in Jerusalem, and forcibly cleared out the money changers. He did this on two occasions: The first, only six months after becoming the Messiah; and the second, 3 ½ years later at his final Passover on Earth. We are not told why he didn’t do this cleansing of the temple during the two intervening Passovers, but we can assume that it wasn’t necessary. Perhaps his initial cleansing and subsequent status among the people kept the money changers from coming back until three years had passed. We can be sure that had they been there during the second and third Passovers, he would not have turned a blind eye to their ongoing transgression. In any case, these two actions were seen by all and became the talk of the nation. His temple cleansing was visible to faithful follower and bitter enemy alike.
Is that the case with the “larger fulfillment”? The antitypical Jerusalem with her temple is Christendom. Did something visible to friend and foe alike happen in Christendom in 1914 to indicate that Jesus had returned to the temple? Something to surpass First Century events?
[As we continue this discussion, we have to ignore the elephant in the room, namely that the entire premise of the article is contingent on the acceptance of 1914 as the start of Christ’s invisible presence. There is no scriptural basis for this premise as we have shown in numerous posts in this forum. However, we will be instructive if we accept it provisionally for the sake of our continued analyze of the reasoning in this article.]
In an attempt to prove Malachi’s prophecy was fulfilled from 1914 to 1919, we are first told that some Bible Students were disheartened because they hadn’t gone to heaven during that period. That is true, but what does this have to do with the inspection and cleansing that Jesus was supposedly performing at that time? Many more were disheartened from 1925 to 1928 when Rutherford’s prediction that the resurrection had already happened proved false. (2 Tim. 2:16-19) Reportedly, many more left the Society over that debacle then left due to the failed predictions surrounding 1914. Therefore, why isn’t that time period included in the inspection and cleansing? No explanation is given.
To show how bad that period was, we can turn to page 337 of Your Will Be Done on Earth.
We stopped publishing the memorial attendance figure after 1926, possibly to avoid further embarrassment and discouragement. However, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, pages 313 and 314, the memorial attendance in 1928 was only 17,380. Quite a drop from the 90,434 of just three years earlier.
One report says the preaching activity from 1914 to 1918 dropped by 20%. (See jv chap. 22 p. 424) Well, there was a world war on. That does tend to put a crimp in one’s preaching style, doesn’t it? If that drop was an indication of Jesus’ cleansing, then what was he doing from 1925 to 1928 when the memorial attendance dropped by not 20% but 80%? There was no war on then. So why the drop? Was it due to a lack of patience as suggested in our publications or was it rather that many were disillusioned by false hope as a result of an indiscreet and presumptuous false teaching? Which time period merited a cleansing, if there was to be one at all? More important, what is our basis for saying there is any parallel in our day with Jesus’ chasing of the money changers out of the temple? No parallel, no cleansing. No cleansing, then the rest of the argument is moot.
Next, we are told that there was opposition arising from within the organization. Four of the seven directors rebelled against the decision to have brother Rutherford take the lead. These four left Bethel and that resulted in “a cleansing indeed”, according to the article. The implication is that they left voluntarily and as a result we were able to proceed without the contaminating influence of what we until recently called “an evil slave class.”
Since this is brought up as proof of an inspection and cleansing performed by Jesus and his Father from 1914 to 1919, we have a duty to search out the facts and verify that “these things are so”.
In August, 1917 Rutherford published a document called Harvest Siftings in which he explained his position. The key issue was his desire to assume complete control over the Society. In his defense he stated:
“For more than thirty years, the President of THE WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY managed its affairs exclusively, and the Board of Directors, so-called, had little to do. This is not said in criticism, but for the reason that the work of the Society peculiarly requires the direction of one mind.” [italics ours]
Rutherford, as president, didn’t want to answer to a Board of Directors. To put it in modern JW terminology, Judge Rutherford didn’t want a “governing body” to direct the work of the Society.
Besides a 7-member board of directors, The Will and Testament of Charles Taze Russell called for an editorial body of five members to direct the feeding of God’s people, which is exactly what the modern day Governing Body claims to do. He named the five members of this envisioned committee in his will, and added an additional five names when replacements were called for. Two of the ousted directors were on that replacement list. Farther down the list was Judge Rutherford. Russell also directed that no name or author be attached to published material and gave additional instructions, stating:
“My object in these requirements is to safeguard the committee and the journal from any spirit of ambition or pride or headship…”
The four “rebellious” directors were concerned that Judge Rutherford, following his election as president, was manifesting all the signs of an autocrat. They wanted to remove him and appoint someone else who would respect the direction of Brother Russell’s will.
From the WT article we are led to believe that once these directors were ousted; that is, once Jesus had cleansed the organization, the way was open for Jesus to appoint the faithful slave to feed the flock. From the last article in this issue we are told that “the slave is made up of a small group of anointed brothers who are directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food during Christ’s presence….that slave has been closely identified with the Governing Body…”
Is that what happened? Did the supposed cleansing resulting in part by the ousting of these four directors clear the way for the editorial committee that Russell had envisioned and willed to take place? Did it clear the way for a governing body of anointed brothers to oversee the feeding program; to be appointed at the faithful and discreet slave in 1919? Or were the worst fears of Brother Russell and the four ousted directors realized, with Rutherford becoming the sole voice of the brotherhood, putting his name on the publications as author, and setting himself up as the so-called appointed channel of communication of Almighty God to the brotherhood?
Shall we let history and our own publications provide the answer? Take, as but one example, this photo from The Messenger of Tuesday, July 19, 1927 where Rutherford is called our “generalissimo”.
The word “generalissimo” is an Italian word derived from generale, plus the superlative suffix -issimo, meaning “utmost, to the highest grade”. Historically this rank was given to a military officer leading an entire army or the entire armed forces of a nation, usually only subordinate to the sovereign.
The removal of the editorial committee was finally achieved in 1931. This we learn from the sworn testimony of no less a witness than brother Fred Franz:
[The following is an excerpt from the libel trial brought against Judge Rutherford and the Society by Olin Moyle.]
Q. Why did you have an editorial committee up to 1931?
A. Pastor Russell in his will specified that there should be such an editorial committee, and it was continued down till then.
Q. Did you find that the editorial committee was in conflict with having the journal edited by Jehovah God, is that it?
Q. Was the policy in opposition to what your conception of an editing by Jehovah God was?
A. It was found on occasions that some of these on the editorial committee were preventing the publication of timely and vital, up-to-date truths and thereby hindering the going of those truths to the people of the Lord in his due time.
By the Court:
Q. After that, 1931, who on earth, if anybody, had charge of what went in or did not go in the magazine?
A. Judge Rutherford.
Q. So he in effect was the earthly editor-in-chief, as he might be called?
A. He would be the visible one to take care of that.
By Mr. Bruchhausen:
Q. He was working as God’s representative or agent in running this magazine, is that correct?
A. He was serving in that capacity.
If we are to accept that a cleansing took place from 1914 to 1919, then we must accept that Jesus cleared the way for Judge Rutherford to have his way and that this man who dissolved the editorial committee in 1931 and set himself up as the sole authority over the anointed—their generalissimo—was appointed by Jesus to be his Faithful and Discreet slave from 1919 until his death in 1942.
“’The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things,’ said Jesus. (Matt. 13:39) That harvest season began in 1914.”
Again we have a “just believe” statement. No Scriptural support is provided for this statement. It is simply stated as fact.
“By 1919, it became evident that Babylon the Great had fallen.”
If it became evident, then why is no evidence presented?
This is where our redefinition of the weeds and wheat from individual Christians into classes gets us into interpretive trouble. Classifying the weeds as all other Christian religions allows us to say the weeds were gathered in 1919 when Babylon fell. There was no need for the angels to pluck individual stocks. Anyone in those religions was automatically a weed. Yet, what evidence is presented that this weed harvest happened in 1919? That 1919 is the year that Babylon the great fell?
We are told the preaching work is the evidence. As the article itself admits, in 1919, “Those taking the lead among the Bible Students began to stress the importance of sharing personally in the Kingdom preaching work.” Still, it wasn’t until 1927 that all witnesses were expected to engage in the door-to-door preaching work. So the fact that we stressed the door-to-door preaching work for all kingdom publishers in 1919 was enough to bring about the fall of Babylon the great? Again, where do we get this from? What Scripture has led us to this conclusion?
If, as we claim, the harvest of the weeds was completed in 1919 and they were all gathered into bundles ready to be burned during the great tribulation, then how are we to explain that everyone alive at that time has since passed on. The weeds of 1919 are all dead and buried, so what are the angels going to throw into the fiery furnace? The angels are told to wait until the harvest which is a conclusion of a system of things (“the end of an age”). Well, the system of things didn’t end for the generation of 1914, yet they are all gone, so how could that have been the “harvest season”?
Here is perhaps the biggest problem we have with this whole interpretation. Even the angels are not able to accurately identify the wheat and weeds until the harvest. Yet we are presuming to say who the weeds are, and we are declaring ourselves to be the wheat. Isn’t that a bit presumptuous? Shouldn’t we be letting the angels make that determination?
Paragraph 13 – 15
Matt. 13:41, 42 says, “The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness, 42 and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace. There is where [their] weeping and the gnashing of [their] teeth will be.”
Is it not clear from this that the sequence is, 1) they are cast into the fire, and 2) while in the fire, they weep and gnash their teeth?
Why then, does the article reverse the order? In paragraph 13 we read, “Third, weeping and gnashing” and then in paragraph 15, “Fourth, pitched into the furnace”.
The attack on false religion will be a fiery tribulation. That process will take time. So at first glance, there seems to be no basis for reversing the order of events; but there is a reason, as we’ll see.
It is distressing to sincere truth seekers when we make a statement that is patently contrary to what is plainly stated in scripture. Matthew 24:29 says “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…” after which it goes on to describe events that precede Armageddon; events that precede what is next described in the texts cited in paragraph 14: “During the great tribulation, after all organized false religion has been destroyed, former adherents will run for cover but will find no secure pace to hide. (Luke 23:30; Rev. 6:15-17)”
How can “former adherents” run for cover during the great tribulation if that tribulation has already ended with the destruction of “all organized false religion”? For this to be true, the tribulation would have to continue right on through to the completion of Armageddon, but that is not what Matthew 24:29 describes.
Paragraph 16 & 17
We interpret the shining brightly to mean the heavenly glorification of the anointed. This interpretation is based on two things. The phrase “at that time” and the use of the preposition “in”. Let’s analyze both.
From paragraph 17 we have, “The phrase ‘at that time’ evidently refers to the event that Jesus had just mentioned, namely, the ‘pitching of the weeds into the fiery furnace.’” (Note to reader: a word search in the WT Library will reveal that “evidently” is a keyword frequently used when we are engaging in unfounded speculation.) In this case, we are reversing the order of events Jesus described to fit with our preconception that Armageddon is part of the great tribulation. Paragraph 15 has just explained that the fiery furnace refers to “their total destruction during the final part of the great tribulation”, i.e., Armageddon. It’s hard to weep and gnash your teeth if you’re already dead, so we reverse the order. They weep and gnash the teeth when religion is destroyed (Phase one of the great tribulation) and then are destroyed by fire at Armageddon—phase two.
The trouble is that Jesus’ parable is not about Armageddon. It is about the kingdom of the heavens. The Kingdom of the heavens is formed before Armageddon starts. It is formed when the ‘last of God’s slaves is sealed’. (Rev. 7:3) A comparison of verses 29 and 31 of Matthew 24 makes it clear that the completion of the work of gathering (the angelic harvesting) occurs after the great tribulation but before Armageddon. There are many “Kingdom of the heavens is like” parables in the 13th chapter of Matthew. The wheat and the weeds is but one of them.
- “The kingdom of the heavens is like a mustard grain…” (Mt. 13:31)
- “The kingdom of the heavens is like leaven…” (Mt. 13:33)
- “The kingdom of the heavens is like a treasure…” (Mt. 13:44)
- “The kingdom of the heavens is like a traveling merchant…” (Mt. 13:45)
- “The kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet…” (Mt. 13:47)
In each of these, and others not included in this list, he is talking about earthly aspects of the work of selecting, gathering, and refining the chosen ones. The fulfillment is earthly.
Likewise his parable of the wheat and the weeds starts with the words, “The kingdom of the heavens…” (Mt. 13:24) Why? Because the fulfillment has to do with the selection of the Messianic seed, the sons of the kingdom. The parable ends with the completion of that task. These are not selected from the world, but from his kingdom. “The angels collect from his kingdom all things causing stumbling and persons…doing lawlessness”. All those on earth claiming to be Christian are in his kingdom (the new covenant) just like all the Jews in Jesus’ day were in the old covenant. The destruction of Christendom during the great tribulation will be the fiery furnace. Not all individuals will die then, otherwise, how can they weep and gnash their teeth, but all false Christians will cease to exist. While individuals will survive the destruction of Babylon the great, the false practice of Christianity will cease to exist with the demise of all organized religion. (Rev. 17:16)
There is, therefore, no need to reverse the order of Jesus’ words. (It’s never a good thing to play with Jesus’ words.)
What about the second reason for believing the “shining brightly” occurs in the heavens? Does the preposition “in” require us to view this as indicative of a physical location? If so, then we have all the proof we need that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will go to heaven, although this is currently contrary to our teaching.
“But I tell YOU that many from eastern parts and western parts will come and recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens;” (Mt. 8:11)
The fact is that the fulfillment of Mt. 13:43 may very well be literal, but it also may be figurative. Consider this use of a figurative location for the Kingdom of the heavens employed by Jesus:
(Luke 17:20, 21) . . .But on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them and said: “The kingdom of God is not coming with striking observableness, 21 neither will people be saying, ‘See here!’ or, ‘There!’ For, look! the kingdom of God is in YOUR midst.”
If Mt. 13:43 is fulfilled as we state in this article, then no one on earth will be able to confirm it, as the fulfillment will be in heaven, far removed from human eyes. Was that what Jesus intended to convey?
We seem to feel the need to have all the answers in our publications. The fact is, we don’t. Still, there’s nothing wrong with speculating. For example, I could speculate that the fulfillment of Mt. 13:43 comes thus:
At the time that the weeds and wheat are identified to the world, the wheat will shine brightly in the sense that all will know who the true Christians, God’s chosen one, really are. These are the ones that Jesus judges as his faithful and discreet slave. Others are judged as an evil slave, the weeds, because both Mt. 13:42 and Mt. 24:51 use the same phraseology in describing both as ‘weeping and gnashing their teeth’. These weep and gnash their teeth as seeing those they have persecuted now exalted by God to a favored status. But there are others who are not described either as faithful and discreet nor as evil. These ones are beaten with many or few strokes. (Luke 12:47, 48) Are these the sheep described in Mt. 25:31-46 who by virtue of kind acts to Jesus’ brothers making up the faithful steward get life? Or will that group be made up of others? Will these form the “people gathered together out of the nations, [one] that is accumulating wealth and property, [those] who are dwelling in the center of the earth” that Ezekiel describes as being attacked right before Armageddon? (Eze. 38:12)
Who can say?
It’s all just speculation. We’ll have to wait for the reality to know. Like we said, speculation is fun and relatively harmless. It only causes problems when we insist others treat our speculation as interpretation, which belongs only to God. Unfortunately, anything printed in our publications is not regarded as speculation, but official doctrine, and any questioning of it is dealt with most harshly.
We know from the interpretation that Jesus gave us that the wheat are true Christians, the sons of the kingdom; and the weeds are false Christians. We know the angels determine which is which and that this is done during the conclusion of the system of things. We know the weeds suffer a horrible punishment while the sons of the kingdom shine brightly in God’s kingdom.
Why did Jesus speak this parable? What can we take from it? One, we can set a personal goal to strive to be among the wheat, to be among the sons of the kingdom. Two, knowing that the weeds would continue amongst the wheat right up to the end, and that they would be difficult to distinguish from the wheat, we can take heart that even though we are suffering evil in the congregation, it is not because Jehovah has abandoned us, but rather that the weeds are still having their day, but their day will end.
(2 Corinthians 11:15) . . .It is therefore nothing great if his ministers also keep transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness. But their end shall be according to their works.
(1 Peter 4:12) . . .Beloved ones, do not be puzzled at the burning among YOU, which is happening to YOU for a trial, as though a strange thing were befalling YOU.
(Matthew 7:21-23) . . .Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. 22 Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ 23 And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew YOU! Get away from me, YOU workers of lawlessness.
As for the rest, we’ll just have to wait and see.