[Analysis of the article on page 10 of the October 1, 2014 Watchtower]
If you are reading this, it is likely you just received—possibly from a Jehovah’s Witness who visits you regularly—a copy of the October 1, 2014 Watchtower. The article on page 10 attempts to prove from Scripture that Jesus has been ruling invisibly from heaven for over a century. This belief, held by close to eight million Jehovah’s Witnesses, may seem remarkable to you given the apparent lack of any observable supporting evidence. Nevertheless, if you go by the article, there appears to be ample evidence in scripture to support this belief.
I should state before going further than I am a practicing Jehovah’s Witness and have been all my life. I believe that we understand many things correctly from the Scriptures, but like all other Christian denominations, we have some things wrong. Some important things wrong. The belief in the prophetic importance of 1914 is one of them. Therefore, in good conscience, I will not be offering the October Watchtower in the door-to-door preaching work.
It is important when examining anything others teach you about God’s Word that you exercise your own critical thinking. This is the instruction God gives us. (Hebrews 5:14; 1 John 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:21)
The article is presented in the pleasant, non-confrontational manner of two people having a friendly chat. The voice of the Jehovah’s Witness is played by Cameron, while the householder is Jon. Cameron’s reasoning is convincing on the surface. However, does it bear up well under more careful scrutiny? Let us see.
First let me say that I can’t shake the suspicion that this article is written more for those placing it then for the public at large. It lays no background before launching into the “proof”, so only one already familiar with our teaching will be able to follow it readily. To fix that, I’ll explain that the belief that Jesus began to rule invisibly in heaven is rooted in our interpretation of one prophecy in Daniel chapter 4. The historical setting is that the Jews had been taken into exile by Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar and now were enslaved. The king had a dream involving an immense tree that was cut down and lay dormant for a period of “seven times”. Daniel interpreted the dream and it was fulfilled during the lifetime of king Nebuchadnezzar. It is this dream that serves as the basis for our interpretation involving 1914. Eventually, that king died and his son replaced him on the throne. Then, many years later, his son was overthrown and killed by the invading armies of the Medes and Persians. This sequence is important to bear in mind for it will serve to show that the article starts out by misleading the reader.
Let’s get down to it. In the second column of page 10, Jon makes the valid point that in reading the prophecy of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, there is no mention of 1914. Cameron counters with the idea that “even the prophet Daniel didn’t understand the full meaning of what he was inspired to record!” Technically accurate, since he recorded a number of prophecies and by his own admission didn’t understand all of them. However, this statement is misleading as it is made in the context of one specific prophecy, one which Daniel did fully understand. This is evident from a simply reading of Daniel 4:1-37. The prophetic fulfillment is fully explained.
Nevertheless, we believe there is a secondary fulfillment, one we claim he didn’t understand. However, we have no right to make that claim until we can prove it; but instead of doing that, Cameron pushes off from this misleading statement to add, “Daniel didn’t understand because it was not yet God’s time for humans to discern completely the meaning of the prophecies in the book of Daniel. But now, in our time, we can understand them fully.” [Boldface added]
Using the internet it takes only minutes to learn that we, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, have changed our interpretation of Daniel’s prophecies many times. Therefore it is a very bold statement to make so publicly that we “now can understand them fully”. However, putting that aside for the moment, let’s examine whether the premise just given in the article is even truthful. We need proof, and the article attempts to provide it by quoting Daniel 12:9: “The words are to be kept secret and sealed up until the time of the end.”
The implication is that the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was kept secret, sealed up until our time. Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe the time of the end is synonymous with “the last days” and we believe the last days began in 1914.
But do the words of Daniel 12:9 apply to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream?
According to Insight on the Scriptures – Volume I (p. 577) published by the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, the book of Daniel covers an 82-year span of time. Do God’s words at Daniel 12:9 apply to all the prophetic writings over that period? Based on the context of that verse, we must honestly answer in the negative, for verse 9 is an answer to Daniel’s own question from the previous verse: “O my lord, what will be the outcome of these things?” What things? The things he’d just seen in visions as described in chapters 10 through 12 were received long after he interpreted the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, in the third year of Cyrus of Persia. (Da 10:1)
Let’s revisit our timeline. Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. It is fulfilled in his lifetime. He dies. His son takes the throne. His son is overthrown by the Medes and the Persians. Then during the rule of Darius the Mede and Cyrus of Persia, Daniel has a vision and at the end of it asks, “What is the outcome of these things?” He is then told that it’s not for him to know. Daniel wasn’t asking about some possible secondary fulfillment to a prophecy he’d delivered decades early. He wanted to know what all the strange symbols meant in the vision he’d just finished seeing. There are two reasons for trying to apply Daniel 12:9 to the prophecy of the immense tree. One is to provide the excuse for our interpretation and the other is to attempt to get around God’s law as stated as Acts 1:6, 7. (More on that later.)
That the article should start out with such a misleading misapplication is troubling and should move us to extra caution as we look at the remaining explanation.
On page 11 at the top of the second column, Cameron says, “In a nutshell, the prophecy has two fulfillments.” When asked how we know that, he refers to Daniel 4:17, “so that people living may know that the Most High is ruler in the kingdom of mankind and that he gives it to whomever he wants.” [Boldface added]
I think we can agree that by removing the king of the ruling world power from the throne and then restoring it to him, Jehovah God was making the point that men rule only at his pleasure, and he can remove or appoint anyone he wants when he wants. It is an easy leap from there to the idea that when Jehovah wants to appoint his Messiah as king, he’ll do so and no one will stop him. This much is easy to derive from the prophecy and is in keeping with the central theme of the Book of Daniel which involves aspects of God’s kingdom.
However, is there also a basis to conclude the prophecy is given to provide us with a means to foreknow when the Kingdom comes? That is the gist of our belief. However, to get there, yet another leap must be made. Cameron says, “In the second fulfillment of the prophecy, God’s rulership would be interrupted for a period of time.” (p. 12, col. 2) What rulership? The rulership over the kingdom of mankind.
To explain what this interruption consists of, Cameron next explains that the kings of Israel represented God’s rulership. So the rulership was interrupted in 607 B.C.E. and was reinstated in 1914 based on a calculation of the length of the seven times. (We’ll wait for the follow-up Watchtower article in this series before looking into dates.)
Did you notice the inconsistency?
Daniel 4:17 speaks about God’s rulership over “the kingdom of mankind”. This rulership was interrupted. If true, then applying it to the lineage of Israelite kings makes Israel into “the kingdom of mankind”. That is quite a leap, is it not? Consider, God ruled over Adam and Eve. They rejected his ruldership, so his kingdom over mankind was interrupted. Then—if we accept Cameron’s logic—his kingdom was reinstated over mankind when he began ruling the nation of Israel. This occurred during the time of Moses hundreds of years before the first King (Saul) sat on the Israelite throne. So his kingdom didn’t need the presence of an earthly king. If the dominion of Babylon constituted an interruption in God’s rulership over the Israelites, then so did the years they spent during the pre-King time of the judges when they were ruled by the Philistines, the Amorites, the Edomites and others. God’s kingdom was interrupted then restarted multiple times by this reasoning.
Doesn’t it make more sense to conclude that when God says he can appoint anyone he wants over the kingdom of mankind, he means just that—not some subset of mankind like one branch of Abraham’s descendants, but all of mankind? Does it not also follow that his rule over the kingdom of mankind was interrupted when the first man—the first Adam—rejected it? From this we can see that the interruption will end when the last Adam, Jesus, takes kingly power and conquers the nations. (1 Corinthians 15:45)
To accept Cameron’s arguments thus far, we must assume that Daniel 4:1-37 has two fulfillments, something not stated in the Bible. All the other prophecies in Daniel have only one fulfillment, so this premise is not even consistent with the rest of his writings. Next, we must assume that the secondary fulfillment involves a time calculation. Then to settle on a date, we have to assume that by “kingdom of mankind” God really meant “the kingdom of Israel”.
There are many other assumptions that are required, but we’ll hold off on exposing those until next month’s article comes out. For now, let’s address one final one: Cameron quoted Daniel 12:9 (“The words are to be kept secret and sealed up until the time of the end.”) making the point that only now can we (Jehovah’s Witnesses) fully understand these words. Why is that important? Why not believe that the first century Christians who received miraculous gifts of the holy spirit, were taught by Jesus and his apostles, and wrote the final books of the Bible could also understand it? The answer is to be found at Acts 1:6,7:
“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)
We have to explain how this injunction does not apply to us, so we misapply Daniel 12:9 to the prophecy in chapter 4 which occurred decades earlier, instead of restricting it to the vision Daniel wrote about in that very context in chapters 10 through 12. Any serious Bible student should hear alarm bells when he or she is being asked to accept a speculative statement based on a scriptural misapplication to get around a clearly stated prohibition from God.
Why are we trying so hard to prop up a fanciful interpretation now stretched incredibly thin after 100 years of disconfirmation? We’ll get to that in our next article.