With presumptuousness the prophet spoke it.
You must not get frightened at him. (Deut. 18:22)
It is a time honored truth that one of the best ways for a human ruler to control a population is to keep them in fear. In totalitarian regimes, people are afraid of the ruler because of the military. In freer societies that won’t do, so an outside threat is needed to keep people in fear. If people are afraid of something, they can be induced to surrender their rights and resources to those who promise to take care of them. By creating a State of Fear, politicians and governments can hold on to power indefinitely.
During the decades of the Cold War, we were kept in fear of the Red Menace. Billions, if not trillions were spent ‘to keep us safe.’ Then the Soviet Union quietly went away and we needed something else to fear. Global terrorism raised its ugly little head, and people gave up even more rights and freedoms—and significant amounts of capital—in the cause of protecting ourselves. Of course, there were other things along the way to add to our worries, and enrich and empower savvy entrepreneurs. Things like global warming (now termed the less friendly “climate change”), the so-called AIDS epidemic and economic collapse; to name a few.
Now, I am not trivializing the threat of nuclear war, global pandemics or the horrific blight of terrorism. The point is that unscrupulous men have exploited our fears of these real problems to their own advantage, often exaggerating the threat or causing us to see a threat where none exists—WMDs in Iraq being one of the more blatant examples. The average Joe can’t cope with all these worries, so if someone tells him, “Just do what I tell you and give me the money I need, and I’ll take care of it all for you.”…well, Joe Average will do just that, and with a big smile on his face.
The worst thing for any ruling elite is a happy, secure and peaceful society; one with no worries. When people have time on their hands and no anxiety to cloud their minds, they start to—and this is the real threat—reason for themselves.
Now I have no desire to get into a political debate, nor am I suggesting a better way for humans to rule other humans. (The only successful way for humans to be governed is for God to do the governing.) I merely state this historical pattern to highlight an exploitable failing of sinful humans: The readiness to surrender our will and our freedom to another when we are made to feel afraid.
This is the focus of our theme text from Deuteronomy 18:22. Jehovah knew that a false prophet would need to depend on inspiring fear in his listeners so that they would listen to and obey him. His message would invariably be: “Listen to me, obey me, and be blessed”. The problem for the listener is that this is the same thing that the true prophet says. When the Apostle Paul warned the crew that their ship would be lost if they didn’t follow his counsel, he was speaking under inspiration. They didn’t obey and so they suffered the loss of their ship. In reproving them, he said “Men, YOU certainly ought to have taken my advice [Lit. “have been obedient to me”] and not have put out to sea from Crete and have sustained this damage and loss.” (Acts 27:21) Interestingly, the word we translate as ‘advice’ here is the same word used at Acts 5:29 where it is rendered ‘obey’ (“We must obey God as ruler rather than men”). Since Paul was speaking under inspiration, the crew were not listening to God, not obeying God, and therefore were not blessed.
An inspired utterance needs to be obeyed. An uninspired one…not so much.
Paul had the advantage of being a true prophet because he spoke under inspiration. The false prophet speaks of his own initiative. His only hope is that his listeners will be fooled into believing he speaks under inspiration and therefore will obey him. He depends on the fear he is inspiring in them; fear that if they do not heed his direction, they will suffer dire consequences.
That is the hold and power of the false prophet. Jehovah warned his people of old not to allow themselves to be frightened by the presumptuous false prophet. This command of our heavenly Father is as valid and timely today as it was thirty five hundred years ago.
Virtually all human government depends on this ability to induce fear in the populace so that it can rule. In contrast, our Lord Jesus rules based on love, not fear. He is completely secure in his position as our King and needs no such exploitive tricks. Human leaders, on the other hand, are plagued by insecurity; the fear that their subjects will stop obeying; that they may one day wise up and overthrow their leaders. So they need to distract us by planting fear of some outside threat—a threat from which only they are capable of protecting us. To rule, they must maintain a State of Fear.
What does this have to do with us, you may ask? As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we have Christ as our ruler, so we are free of this malady.
It is true that Christians do have only one leader, the Christ. (Mat. 23:10) Since he rules with love, should we see someone coming in his name, but using the tactics of a state of fear to rule, we should be very wary. The warning of Deuteronomy 18:22 should ring in our ears.
Recently, we were told that our salvation will depend on “the life-saving direction that we receive from Jehovah’s organization [read: the Governing Body] which 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)
This is a truly remarkable assertion. Yet in making it, we do not point to any Bible text that foretells such an event nor the use of the Governing Body as inspired transmitters of the word of God. Since the Bible gives no indication that Jehovah will use this method to provide any life-saving instruction that may be needed—assuming more is needed than what we already have—one must assume that these men have received a divine revelation. How else could they know this eventuality will take place? Yet they make no claim to such. Still, if we are to believe this will be the case, then that would mean they will receive inspired instruction in the future. Essentially, they have been told by some method that does not involve an inspired revelation that they will be given an inspired revelation. And we had better be prepared for it and listen up good, or we are all going to die.
It follows therefore that we had better quash any doubts we may have, ignore any inconsistencies or disparities we may see in what we are taught, and just knuckle down and comply with all the direction we get, because to do otherwise risks being removed from the Organization. If we are on the outside, we won’t get the instructions we’ll need to be saved when the time comes.
Again, please note that there is nothing in the inspired word of God to communicate to his people that key piece of survival intelligence. We just have to believe it because those in authority are telling us it is so.
A State Of Fear.
Now we must add to this strategy the release of the January 15 The Watchtower. In the final study article, “Let Your Kingdom Come”—But When?” we come across a discussion of our latest understanding regarding the meaning of “this generation” as recorded at Matthew 24:34. On pages 30 and 31 in paragraphs 14 to 16 a refinement has been added.
If you’ll recall, our teaching on this changed in 2007. We were told that it referred to the small, distinct group of anointed Christians, the remnant of the 144,000 still on earth. This, despite the fact that only ten years earlier we were assured that “many scriptures confirm that Jesus did not use “generation” with regard to some small or distinct group, meaning…only his loyal disciples….” (w97 6/1 p. 28 Questions from Readers)
Then in 2010 we were informed that the meaning of generation had been determined to refer to two distinct groups of anointed Christians whose lives overlapped—one group living during the events of 1914 who would not survive to see Armageddon and another group born long after 1914 who would. These two groups would be bound together into a single generation by virtue of having overlapping lifetimes. That such a definition of the word “generation” is not to be found in any dictionary or lexicon of either English or Greek seemed not to have bothered the architects of this brave, new term. Nor, more significantly, does the fact that the concept of this super-generation is nowhere to be found in Scripture.
The fact that we have misinterpreted the meaning of the term on the periodic basis of roughly once per decade starting in the 1950s is one of the reasons that many thinking Witnesses are having trouble with this latest definition. Among these, a mounting mental disquiet stems from the realization that this latest definition is a mere contrivance, and a transparent one at that.
I have found that most of the faithful deal with the cognitive dissonance this gives rise to by using a classic denial tactic. They don’t want to think about it and they don’t want to talk about it, so they simply ignore it. To do otherwise would take them down a road they are not prepared to travel.
The Governing Body must be aware of this situation, because they have specifically dealt with the issue in both our last circuit assembly and district convention programs. Why not simply admit we don’t know what it means; but that when it is fulfilled, its meaning will become clear? The reason is that they need to interpret the prophecy this way to continue bolstering our state of fear. Essentially, the belief that “this generation” indicates the end is very near, possibly less than five or ten years away, helps keep everyone in line.
For a time back in the 1990s it looked like we had finally abandoned this strategy. In the June 1, 1997 The Watchtower on page 28 we clarified the most recent change in understanding by explaining that “it did give us a clearer grasp of Jesus’ use of the term “generation,” helping us to see that his usage was no basis for calculating—counting from 1914—how close to the end we are.”
Given this, it is all the more reprehensible that we are now returning to the strategy of utilizing Jesus prophecy to attempt to ‘calculate—counting from 1914—how close the end is’.
The latest refinement as explained in the January 15 The Watchtower is that only Christians already anointed with spirit in 1914 could constitute the first part of the generation. In addition, only from the time of their anointing could the second group overlap the first.
So being generous and saying that the first group of our two-part generation was 20 years old at baptism, then they must have been born in 1894 latest. (All Bible Students as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called were anointed with holy spirit at their baptism prior to 1935) That would make them 90 years old in 1984. Now the second group only counts if they were already anointed when their lives overlapped with the first. The second group, unlike the first, were not spirit anointed at baptism. Usually those who are anointed now are older upon receiving the nod from on high. Again, let’s be very generous and say that all of the current 11,000 claiming to be of the anointed, really are. Let’s also be generous and say they are anointed at the average age of 30. (A little young, perhaps, since it would be more likely Jehovah would choose older more tested individuals given he now has millions of candidates to choose from, but we’re trying to be generous in our calculation, so we’ll leave it at 30.)
Now let’s say that half of the 11,000 received that anointing on or before 1974. That would provide a 10-year overlap with the first generation (assuming a significant number lived past the age of 80) and would represent a median birth year of 1944. These people are now approaching 70 years of life. This means there are not many years left for this system of things.[i] Five to ten would be a safe bet, with as much as twenty pushing the envelope. Remember, there are only about 5,000 people making up this generation still alive. How many will still be around in ten more years? How many still have to be alive for it to remain a generation and not just a garden party?
(An interesting aside to this new refinement is that it puts 2, possibly 3, of the 8 members of the Governing Body outside the timeframe to make them part of the generation. Geoffrey Jackson was born in 1955, so unless he was anointed at the age of 21, he’s outside our timeframe. Mark Sanderson was only born in 1965, so he’d have to have received the anointing of holy spirit at age 10 to qualify. Anthony Morris (1950) and Stephen Lett (1949) are on the borderline. It would depend when they were anointed.)
So our latest definition which applies the term “generation” as used at Mt. 24:34 exclusively to the anointed must now exclude even some of them as not part of the generation.
Barely a decade and a half ago we stated that “many scriptures” proved that the generation could not be a small, distinct group of humans, and that it wasn’t intended to allow us to calculate from 1914 just how close the end was. Now we’ve abandoned both those teachings, without even bothering to show how the “many scriptures” referenced back then no longer apply.
Perhaps they are opening the year 2014 with this reaffirmation of 1914 and all things relating to it because it marks a century since the last days supposedly began. Perhaps they fear we are beginning to doubt them. Perhaps they fear their authority is being threatened. Or perhaps they fear for us. Perhaps they are so sure of the pivotal role 1914 plays in the outworking of Jehovah’s purpose that they are making this effort to again instill fear in us, fear of doubting them, fear of missing out on the prize by drifting away from the Organization, fear of losing out. Whatever the case, teaching made-up definitions and contrived prophetic fulfillments cannot be the way approved of by our God and Father nor by our Lord Jesus.
In case some are saying that we are naysayers, acting like those depicted in 2 Peter 3:4, let us be clear. We do expect Armageddon and we most certainly do expect the promised presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whether that comes in three months, three years, or thirty years should make no difference in our alertness nor our preparedness. We are not serving for a date, but for all time. We are wrong to attempt to know the “times and seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction”. We have ignored that injunction repeatedly during my lifetime, first in the 1950s, then after a redefinition, in the 1960s, then after another redefinition, in the 1970s, then after yet another redefinition in the 1980s, and now in the 21st century we are doing it again.
“And in case you should say in your heart: “How shall we know the word that Jehovah has not spoken?” 22 when the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true, that is the word that Jehovah did not speak. With presumptuousness the prophet spoke it. You must not get frightened at him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)