[From ws7/16 p. 7 for September 5-11]
“You do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”—Mt 24:42
Paternalism is often characteristic of any organization, religious or otherwise, that grows in power and scope. Slowly, control over even minor aspects of one’s life is exercised. To ensure compliance to even trivial rules, obedience is equated with survival. Disobedience means death.
For years, the Governing Body has asked Witnesses to take their seats when the 10-minute musical prelude begins. This allows everyone to be seated in time for the opening prayer. However, this is no longer sufficient. Now there is a countdown and all are supposed to be seated before the music starts and then quietly listen to the “beautiful music of the Watchtower orchestra”.
The question for paragraph 1 of this week’s study directs us to look at the opening picture (see above) while asking us to, “Illustrate why it is important to be aware of what time it is and what is happening around us.”
So why is this scenario important? It is, after all, only a musical prelude. The closing sentence of paragraph 1 explains:
“That scenario may help us appreciate the “countdown” for a much greater event, one that calls for us to be keenly aware of what is coming in the near future. And what event is that?” – par. 1
The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is seriously telling us that being aware of their countdown for the musical prelude at conventions will help us to “keep on the watch” for the coming day of the Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory!
This may well seem silly to some—not to mention, paternalistic—but let’s overlook that for the moment and notice that the opening paragraph starts with a countdown: “FIVE, four, three, two, one!” Then it links that countdown to another “’countdown’ for a much greater event.”
(I feel compelled to stop here to remark on this stunning example of overstatement. Calling the return of Christ a “much greater event” than a regional convention musical prelude is like calling a 100-megaton thermonuclear explosion a much greater event than a burp.)
Paragraph 2 explains that we do not know the day or hour that the Lord is coming, which would seem to conflict with the idea of a countdown. A countdown is used to coordinate the tasks of many teams working toward a single event. A rocket launch is likely the first example that comes to mind. Everybody knows about the countdown and has constant access to the timing, otherwise, it would serve no purpose. Jesus describes his coming as likened to that of a thief in the night. He never likens it to a countdown.
So by the end of only the second paragraph, the reader has two seemingly contradictory ideas implanted. No one knows when Jesus is coming, but there is a countdown and he’s “coming in the near future.”
At this point, some might counter that the article never states we know the timing of the countdown. Paragraph 4 states that only Jehovah, and likely Jesus, know when the countdown reaches zero. Fair enough. This countdown has been going on for at least the past two thousand years, so why is it being emphasized here? Why speak about a countdown if we are not privy to the time on the countdown clock?
The reason is that even though the WT admits that only Jehovah and Jesus know the precise time on the countdown clock, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been given special insight into where we are on the countdown sequence. We may not know where the second hand is exactly, but we sure do know where the hour hand is, and we’ve a pretty good idea where the minute hand is pointing as well.
That is why paragraph 1 can speak of a countdown which paragraph 4 says only God knows about while in the same breath stating with certainty that the zero hour is in “the near future”.
Paragraph 3 continues with the theme by saying:
“As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we take seriously Jesus’ warning. We know that we are living deep in “the time of the end” and that there cannot be much time left before the “great tribulation” begins!” – par. 3
This message echoes words spoken by Russell and Rutherford, and they were not even the first to use them. In fact, we can trace end-of-time predictions which have a direct theological lineage to Jehovah’s Witnesses of today back almost 200 years!
During my lifetime I’ve heard variations on the words cited above from paragraph 3 many times. Here’s one from 1950.
“Now is the time to live and work as Christians, especially now, for the final end is near.” (w50 2/15 p. 54 par. 19)
In my twenties, we were told the countdown would likely end around 1975.
“From our Bible study we have learned that we are living deep in the “time of the end.”” (w72 4/1 p. 216 par. 18)
Let’s be clear. No one is saying we shouldn’t be watchful. Jesus said we should be on the watch and that is the end of the matter. But the type of date-based watchfulness the Organization is pushing on us is not what Jesus had in mind. He knew that the disappointment it inevitably engenders can be harmful to one’s spirituality.
How can the Governing Body make the assertion that Jesus is returning in the near future? Signs! We have signs!
“We see distressing wars, increasing immorality and lawlessness, religious confusion, food shortages, pestilences, and earthquakes taking place around the world. We know that a phenomenal Kingdom-preaching work is being accomplished by Jehovah’s people everywhere.” – par. 3
Just last year The Watchtower had this to say:
“Today, world conditions keep getting worse.” (w15 11/15 p. 17 par. 5)
I’ve heard many friends parrot these words. Closing their minds to the reality surrounding us, they see a continually worsening world condition despite abundance evidence to the contrary.
Before going on, we should clarify something. We need to remove a premise all Witnesses accept as gospel, but which does not appear in the Bible. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that we would be able to calculate how close to the end we are based on worsening world conditions. In fact, a case could be made for the exact opposite. Jesus said:
“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 24:44)
If worsening world conditions have caused Christians throughout time to expect the arrival of Jesus, yet he comes when we do not think he is coming, it follows that worsening world conditions are an anti-sign.
I’m not suggesting for a minute we treat them that way. In fact, looking for a sign is a sign in itself—a sign of a wicked generation.
“. . .“Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 In reply he said to them: “A wicked and adulterous generation keeps on seeking for a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Joʹnah the prophet.” (Mt 12:38, 39)
Nevertheless, to demonstrate the lengths to which the Governing Body is willing to go in order to maintain the state of anxious expectation needed to compel unswerving obedience from the flock in their care, let us examine the “signs” indicating the end is near.
Let’s start with the “distressing wars” we are supposed to be seeing. These would have to be distinguishable from the wars we’ve seen for the last two thousand years. Remember, these are supposed to be indicative of “worsening world conditions”, so we’re looking for an increase here.
How odd then that the facts indicate we are currently experiencing one of the most war-free times of history.
What about earthquakes? Statistically, there has been no increase in earthquakes. What about pestilences. We saw the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) in the mid-1300s which is reportedly the worst pestilence of all times. The Spanish Influenza of 1918-1919 killed more people than World War I. But since then, we’ve made great strides in medicine and disease control. Malaria, Tuberculosis, Polio, SARS, ZIKA, these are contained and controlled. In short, what we have are pestilence non-starters. Such international cooperation hardly seems like a candidate sign of “worsening world conditions.”
I’m no scientist. I’m no scholar. I’m just a man with a computer and access to the internet, yet I’ve researched all this in a matter of minutes. So one wonders what is happening at JW.org world headquarters among the writing staff.
Of course, even if wars were getting worse, and we were seeing an increase in food shortages, pestilences, and earthquakes, that would not be a sign of the end. Quite the opposite. Jesus, knowing how easily humans get spooked, and how ready we are to read a sign into anything, told us not to be misled by such things.
“YOU are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that YOU are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet.” (Mt 24:6)
It seems that with the bettering of world conditions, the Organization is getting desperate and is inventing new signs. The article suggests that “increasing immorality and lawlessness, as well as religious confusion” are signs the end is very near.
“Religious confusion” as sign the end is near? What exactly is that, and where does the Bible speak of it as a sign?
Perhaps the most interesting “sign” they advance as proof of the nearness of Jesus’ return is the “phenomenal Kingdom-preaching work…being accomplished by Jehovah’s [Witnesses] everywhere.” “Everywhere” is misleading as Witnesses do not preach to over half of the world’s population. Apparently, standing on the street silently beside a cart displaying literature (no Bibles), or going to doors where few are home and showing a video once or twice a morning, or exhibiting numerical growth that doesn’t even keep up with the world population growth rate is deemed as a phenomenal! (Yet another example of the writer’s capacity for gross overstatement.) Of course, Witnesses believe that no other Christian religion is preaching about the kingdom, a misconception that could be easily debunked if Witnesses were only willing to disregard the injunction of the Governing Body against using the internet for Bible research.
Counting Down the Time
“We know that every convention session has a precise time to start. However, try as hard as we might, we cannot pinpoint the exact year, much less day and hour, when the great tribulation will begin.” – par. 4
Given the history of the organization I’ve grown old serving, it would be more accurate had they rephrased this to read: “…we cannot pinpoint the exact century, nor decade, nor year…”
The resurrection of the 20th century generation doctrine fiasco into the current overlapping-generations doctrine has breathed new life into the apocalyptic expectations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We are lead to believe that the current generation of Governing Body members will be around to see the end. (See the article: They’re Doing It Again.)
Turning a blind eye to all the organization’s failures of last century to predict the nearness of the end, the writer feels confident in saying “we cannot pinpoint the exact year”, inferring that the exact decade is another thing entirely. This is a new generation. The majority of Witnesses alive today did not see all the failures of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. History is ripe for the repeating.
The purpose of this subtitle is to reassure us that Jehovah hasn’t changed and that the end will come and will not be late. (Ha 2:1-3)
Why is such a reassurance necessary?
Likely for a reason not mentioned in the next section.
Beware of Being Distracted from Your Watchfulness
This subtitle lists three ways that we can become distracted from Christian watchfulness. It should list four. The fourth is the effect of false expectations and presumably the reason for the previous subtitle’s point about not doubting Jehovah will bring the end.
The Bible says:
“Expectation postponed is making the heart sick…” (Pr 13:12)
Knowledge of this Bible truth is why Jesus did not expect us to tie our watchfulness to date-based calculations and why he gave us no mechanism for doing so.
Could it be that the Organization is itself responsible for thousands of Christians losing their watchful state, even to the point of becoming agnostic or atheist? Are the Organization’s failed pronostications themselves the reason that so many active Jehovah’s Witnesses need to be reassured that the end will not be late?
“Satan blinds people’s minds through the world empire of false religion. What have you detected in your conversations with others? Has the Devil not already “blinded the minds of the unbelievers” about the coming end of this system of things and the fact that Christ is now ruling God’s Kingdom?” – par. 11
According to the Governing Body, it is Satan the Devil who has blinded the minds of unbelievers about “the fact that Christ is now ruling God’s Kingdom!”
If you care to click this link, then move to the “Categories” listing, click on “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and then select the 1914 subtitle, you’ll see many articles examining the 1914 doctrine from every direction. Check out 1914 – What’s the Problem?, 1914 – A Litany of Assumptions, and Was 1914 the Start of Christ’s Presence? as three examples of how false that doctrine proves to be.
Since the 1914 invisible presence is a false teaching, it makes no sense that the Devil would hide it from anyone. It plays right into his hand. Getting millions to believe in 1914, serves to establish that year as the start of the last days. With that in place, the idea that the length of the last days can be calculated using the generation of Matthew 24:34 follows as night does day. The decade-by-decade failure of that interpretation throughout most of the 20th century would inevitably lead to disillusionment and in the best case scenario—from Satan’s perspective—cause a great falling way from Christ.
Through every decade of my life, that doctrine was re-explained to allow for a recalculation that moved the end seven to ten years farther down the road. Decade after decade of failure until finally we saw the end of the doctrine in the mid-1990s. Most were confused, but some of us heaved a great sigh of relief. So it was with considerable dismay that we witnessed the resurrection of the doctrine toward the end of the first decade of the new century. This year, it has been officially used again to determine how long the generation is and approximately when it will end. The current members of the Governing Body are part of the second generation that overlaps the first. As such, most will still be alive when Christ returns, and will supposedly not even be that old nor decrepit. We’re back to a countdown. (See the article: They’re Doing It Again.)
A soldier on an ancient battlement was there to keep on the watch, even during times when there was no imminent threat. He might go through his whole tenure of military service and never once sound the alarm. This should be the state of Christians. It is a state of awareness that is sustainable throughout one’s lifetime.
However, what if the soldier is told the enemy is going to appear within the month, and it doesn’t? What if he’s then told it will appear within the next month, and again it doesn’t? What if this goes on and on? Inevitably, his spirit will tire out. The increased anxiety level resulting from the supposition that a threat is imminent is not psychologically sustainable. Either the soldier will eventually lose faith in his commanders and let down his guard when it really counts, or the ongoing stress of artificially heightened awareness will affect his mental and physical health.
Jesus wouldn’t do that to us. So why does the Organization feel obliged to? Simply put, it is a control mechanism.
During times of peace, with the population dwelling in security, people have time to examine things; things like their leaders. Generally speaking, leaders don’t like to be scrutinized. So maintaining a state of fear is optimal for controlling the population. It could be the Cold War, the Communist menace, global warming, international terrorism…or the imminent end of the world. Whatever the threat is, when in fear, people rally behind their leaders. People just want to feel safe and protected.
A few years back, the Governing Body did away with the Book Study arrangement. The reasons given didn’t make sense. (High fuel costs, additional travel time.) It has become evident that the reason was control. Small groups that are not under the watchful eye of the entire body of elders might begin to deviate from the doctrines of the Governing Body. Control! Recently, we were treated to a video extolling the “integrity” of a brother who put his family through many months of privation just so he wouldn’t miss the WT Study of his own congregation, even though he could have easily attended the Study at a neighboring congregation. Control! In this study article, we are expected to be in our seats before the start of musical prelude—which undermines the whole purpose of a musical prelude—so we can listen quietly to the music the Governing Body has prepared for us. We are told that learning to be obedient in this little thing will help us survive Armageddon. Control!
We may have doubts about the Governing Body, but if we are caused to believe that our salvation depends on them and the end is only a few short years away, we can swallow our doubts and wait. If we reason this way, we are acting out of fear, rather than being motivated by a love of truth and fellow man. Ultimately, being motivated by fear will affect our attitude, our conduct, our whole personality.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love throws fear outside, because fear exercises a restraint. Indeed, he that is under fear has not been made perfect in love.” (1Jo 4:18)