Bible Study – Chapter 2 Par. 23-34
True Christians are willing and eager to make known the Kingdom of God; thus preaching is a major element in their life. In Russell’s day, his books were distributed by Bible Students called colporteurs. While not common today, this word of French origin was used often during the 19th century to refer to “a peddler of books, newspapers, and similar literature”, specifically of a religious nature. So the name was well chosen for those who peddled Russell’s publications. Paragraph 25 describes the work of one such individual.
“Charles Capen, mentioned earlier, was among them. He later recalled: “I used maps made by the United States Government Geological Survey to guide my covering the territory in Pennsylvania. These maps showed all the roads, making it possible to reach all sections of each county on foot. Sometimes after a three-day trip through the country taking orders for the books in the Studies in the Scriptures series, I would hire a horse and buggy so that I could make the deliveries. I often stopped and stayed overnight with farmers. Those were the preautomobile days.” – par. 25
So apparently these individuals didn’t go simply with the Bible in hand to spread the good news of the Kingdom. Instead, they sold religious literature featuring one man’s interpretation of Scripture. Here is what Russell himself thought of his seminal work Studies in the Scriptures:
“On the other hand, if he [the reader] had merely read the SCRIPTURE STUDIES with their references, and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light at the end of the two years, because he would have the light of the Scriptures.” (WT 1910 p. 148)
While many did this with the best of motives, they were also able to support themselves on the profits made. This continued to be the case well into the twentieth century. I remember one missionary confiding to me back in my youth how during the Depression, pioneers did better than many because of the profits they made in selling the literature. Often people didn’t have cash, so they would pay in produce.
Zealous Christians have preached the good news of the Kingdom for the past 2,000 years. So why does the Organization focus only on the work of a few hundred individuals selling Pastor Russell’s literature?
“Would true Christians have been prepared for Christ’s reign if they had not been taught the importance of the preaching work? Assuredly not! After all, that work was to become an outstanding feature of Christ’s presence. (Matt. 24:14) God’s people had to be prepared to make that lifesaving work the central feature of their lives….’Do I make sacrifices in order to have a full share in that activity?’” – par. 26
Witnesses believe this work is a do-or-die feature of Christ’s presence, even though the Bible speaks of the preaching work preceding the presence of Christ. (Matthew 24:14) Because Witnesses believe that Christ’s presence began in 1914—a belief they alone hold—they take the view that they alone are fulfilling Matthew 24:14. This requires us to accept that the good news of the Kingdom of Christ has not been preached for most of the past 2,000 years, but only began to be preached since Russell’s day. Of course, Matthew 24:14 says nothing about Christ’s presence. It only states that the Good News already being preached when those words were written by Matthew would continue to be preached to all nations before the end.
The false belief that people who don’t respond to the preaching of the Witnesses will die for all eternity at Armageddon is a powerful motivator to get members to make huge sacrifices for the sake of this Witness-style of preaching.
God’s Kingdom Is Born!
“Finally, the momentous year 1914 arrived. As we discussed at the outset of this chapter, there were no human eyewitnesses to the glorious events in heaven. However, the apostle John was given a vision that described matters in symbolic terms. Imagine this: John witnesses “a great sign” in heaven. God’s “woman”—his organization of spirit creatures in heaven—is pregnant and gives birth to a male child. This symbolic child, we are told, is soon to “shepherd all the nations with an iron rod.” Upon its birth, though, the child is “snatched away to God and to his throne.” A loud voice in heaven says: “Now have come to pass the salvation and the power and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ.””—Rev. 12:1, 5, 10. – par. 27
1914 would have been momentous if the events attributed to it by JWs actually did occur. But where is the evidence? Without proof, what we have amounts to nothing more than mythology. (Pagan religions are based on mythology. We would never want to imitate such belief systems.) The study this week provides no such evidence, but it does provide interpretation of the highly symbolic vision John had about the birth of God’s Kingdom.
The “woman” in that vision is said to represent God’s heavenly organization of spirit creatures. What’s the basis for that interpretation? Nowhere does the Bible refer to the Angels as a heavenly organization? Nowhere does the Bible refer to all of Jehovah’s spirit sons as His woman? Nevertheless, to give the publishers their due, let’s try to make this work.
Revelation 12:6 says, “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God and where they would feed her for 1,260 days.” If this woman represents Jehovah’s heavenly organization of spirit creatures, we can substitute the real thing for the symbol and restate this: “And all God’s spirit creatures fled into the wilderness, where God’s spirit creatures had a place prepared by God and where they would feed God’s spirit creatures for 1,260 days.”
Who are the “they” that feed all of God’s spirit creatures for 1,260 days, and why do all of the angels have to flee to this place prepared by God? After all, by this time according to John’s vision, Satan and the demons have been thrown out of heaven by a portion of God’s spirit creatures under the command of Michael the Archangel.
Let’s continue inserting the real thing for the symbol to see how this plays out.
“But the two wings of the great eagle were given to all of God’s spirit creatures, so that they might fly into the wilderness to their place, where they are to be fed for a time and times and half a time away from the face of the serpent. 15 And the serpent spewed out water like a river from its mouth after all of God’s spirit creatures, to cause them to be drowned by the river.” (Re 12:14, 15)
Given that Satan is now confined to the earth, far removed from God’s heavenly organization consisting of all this spirit creatures, how is the serpent (Satan the Devil) able to threaten them with drowning?
Paragraph 28 teaches us that Michael the Archangel is Jesus Christ. Yet, the book of Daniel describes Michael as being one of the foremost princes. (Da 10:13) That would mean he had peers. This doesn’t fit with what we understand of “the Word of God” who was unique and thus without peer. (John 1:1; Re 19:13) Add to this line of reasoning, the fact that as Michael, Jesus would be an angel, albeit an exalted one. This flies in the face of what Hebrews says at chapter 1 verse 5:
“For example, to which one of the angels did he ever say: “You are my son; I, today, I have become your father”? And again: “I myself shall become his father, and he himself will become my son”?” (Heb 1:5)
Here, Jesus is being contrasted with all of God’s angels, set apart as something different.
Nevertheless, if Jesus were in heaven at the time for the Devil’s ouster, surely he would have been the one to lead the charge against Satan. We are left to conclude that either the Organization is right about Michael being Jesus, despite the evidence of Daniel, or that Jesus wasn’t in heaven at the time of this war.
Paragraph 29 engages in yet more of the revisionist history that we’ve seen already in previous reviews. Quoting Revelation 12:12, the reader is led to believe that WWI was the result of the devil being ‘cast down to earth having great anger and bringing woe upon the earth and the sea.’ The fact is that the Bible Students have never quite been sure when the devil was cast down.
1925: Ousting of the devil 1914, but continued on after that:
The time must come when Satan’s world must end, and when he is ousted from heaven; and the Scriptural proof is that the beginning of such ousting took place in 1914. (Creation 1927 p. 310).
1930: Ousting happened sometime between 1914 and 1918:
The exact time of Satan’s falling from heaven is not stated, but manifestly it was between 1914 and 1918, and was afterwards revealed to God’s people. (Light 1930, Vol. 1, p. 127).
1931: Ousting definitely happened in 1914:
(…) that the time has come, as God declares, when Satan’s rule shall for ever end; that in 1914 Satan was cast out of heaven down to the earth; (The Kingdom, the Hope of the World 1931 p. 23).
1966: Ousting ended in 1918:
This resulted in Satan’s complete defeat by 1918, when he and his wicked forces were ejected from the heavenly realm to be cast downward into the vicinity of the earth. (The Watchtower September 15, 1966 p. 553).
2004: Ousting was completed in 1914:
So Satan the Devil is the guilty troublemaker, and his ouster from heaven in 1914 has meant “woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.” (The Watchtower February 1, 2004 p. 20).
One thing that makes all of this chronological vacillation meaningless is the fact that the publications have consistently set the date for Christ’s enthronement at October 1914. Since the Organization teaches that his first act as King was to cast Satan down to the earth, we can be sure that the ouster could not have occurred prior to October of that year.[i] The Bible says that being cast down caused the devil great anger and thus brought considerable woe to the earth. Thus, Witnesses have long used the start of World War I as visible proof of the invisible establishment of Christ’s Kingdom in the heavens. This has long been the linchpin of JW doctrine that World War I marks 1914 as the start of the Last Days and the starting point for the measurement of the generation of Matthew 24:34.[ii] If the period between 1914 and 1918 had been as peaceful as the previous five years (1908-1913) there would have been nothing for the Bible Students under Russell and Rutherford to hang their theological hat on. But fortunately to them—or perhaps unfortunately for them—we had a really big war then.
But there’s a problem with all this. A really big problem if one cares to look and ponder.
The War started in early July with the Battle of the Somme. Add to that the historical fact that the nations of Europe had been engaged in an arms race for the previous ten years, and the idea that the whole thing was caused because the devil was angry at being thrown out of heaven evaporates like dew before the morning sun. According to JW theology, Satan was still in heaven when the War started.
An Alternate Interpretation
Perhaps you’re wondering what the application of Revelation 12 is, since the JW 1914 fulfillment doesn’t jibe with historical events. Here are some facts to ponder in making this determination for yourself.
Christ became king and sat at God’s right hand in 33 C.E. (Acts 2:32-36) However, he did not immediately go to heaven upon his resurrection. In fact he wandered the earth for about 40 days, during which time he preached to the spirits in prison. (Acts 1:3; 1Pe 3:19-20) Why were they in prison? Could it be because they had been thrown down from heaven and confined to the vicinity of the earth? If so, then who did the ousting, since Jesus was still on earth? Would it not fall then to one of the foremost angelic princes, someone like Michael? It would not be the first time he’d contended with demonic forces. (Da 10:13) Jesus was then taken to heaven to sit at God’s right hand and wait. That would certainly fit with what Revelation 12:5 describes. So then, who is the woman of Revelation 12:1? Some suggest the nation of Israel, while others suggest it is the Christian congregation. It is often easier to know what something is not than what it is. One thing we can be sure of is that Jehovah’s spirit creatures in heaven do not fit the bill.
A Time of Testing
There are times when the manner in which the organization revises history involves not so much a retelling of events as an exaggeration of them. Such is the case with what is stated in paragraph 31.
“Malachi foretold that the refining process would not be easy. He wrote: “Who will endure the day of his coming, and who will be able to stand when he appears? For he will be like the fire of a refiner and like the lye of laundrymen.” (Mal. 3:2) How true those words proved to be! Beginning in 1914, God’s people on earth faced a succession of major tests and hardships. As World War I raged, many Bible Students experienced vicious persecution and imprisonment.” – par. 31
By some estimates, there were only 6,000 Bible Students around the globe who were affiliated with Russell in some way. So the phrase “many Bible Students” has to be tempered by that number. There were other conscientious Christians outside of the ranks of Russell’s Bible Students who stood their ground and were persecuted for not taking up arms against their fellow man. But does that mean Malachi 3:2 was being fulfilled?
We know that Malachi 3 was fulfilled in the first century because Jesus himself says so. (Mt 11:10) Given Malachi’s prophecy, when Jesus came in the first century, we would expect that part of his ministry was a refining work. From that refining, the gold and silver would come out, and the dross would be discarded. This proved to be the case. He demolished all his opposers in the most public way, showing them up for exactly what they were. Then as a result of this refining process, a small group were saved while the majority were done away with by the sword of Rome. If we compare that to what happened between 1914 and 1918, we can see that the organization is trying to make a molehill into a mountain by claiming a similar refining process was going on during those years for the Bible students. In fact, the refining work Jesus began has continued down through the centuries. By this, the wheat is differentiated from the weeds.
Viewing History through a Prism
Reading the final three paragraphs of the study, one would come to believe that people were giving undue prominence to Pastor Russell, but that Rutherford put an end to such creature worship and would not accept nor encourage it for himself. One would also assume that Rutherford was Russell’s named successor and that apostates tried to wrest the Organization from him for their own ends. These ones were resisters (like Satan) who fought against the “progressive revelation of truth”. One might also believe that many stopped serving God because of their disillusionment at the failure of chronological predictions to come true.
The facts of history reveal another view—a clearer view—of what actually transpired. (Remember, this was all supposed to be part of Jesus’ acting as a refiner so that he could choose, in 1919, his Faithful and Discreet Slave. – Mt 24:45-47)
The Will and Testament of Charles Taze Russell called for an editorial body of five members to direct the feeding of God’s people, something akin to the modern day Governing Body. He named the five members of this envisioned committee in his will, and J. F. Rutherford wasn’t on that list. Those named were:
WILLIAM E. PAGE
WILLIAM E. VAN AMBURGH
HENRY CLAY ROCKWELL
E. W. BRENNEISEN
F. H. ROBISON
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…”
“To safeguard the committee…from any spirit of…headship”. A lofty ambition, but one which lasted only a few months, before Judge Rutherford had himself established as the head of the Organization. Creature worship continued and expanded under this rule. We must remember that “worship” is the word used to render the Greek proskuneó which means “to bend the knee” and refers to one doing obeisance to another, submitting to the will of that one. Jesus showed proskuneó when he prayed on the Mount of Olives for the cup to be removed from him, but then added: “Yet not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36)
This photo was taken from The Messenger of Tuesday, July 19, 1927 where Rutherford is called our “generalissimo” (foremost general or military leader). It is but one example of the prominence which he sought and got from the Bible students that followed him. Rutherford also authored all the books that were published during his tenure as president and took full credit for them, ensuring his name was in each one. While the God’s Kingdom Rules book would have us believe that creature worship was done away with after 1914, the historical evidence is that it expanded and flourished.
The book would also have us believe that there was apostasy in the organization. History shows that the four “rebellious” directors were concerned that Judge Rutherford, following his election as president, was manifesting all the signs of an autocrat. They were not trying to remove him, but wanted to impose restrictions on what the president could do without getting the approval of the executive committee. They wanted a governing body as per Russell’s will.
Rutherford, unwittingly, confirmed what these men feared to be the case in the document he published to attack them called Harvest Siftings.
“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.”
As for the allegation that many left Jehovah, this is yet another example of the historical facts being skewed. Witnesses are taught to believe that leaving the organization is equivalent to leaving Jehovah. Many did break away from the organization, because of the conduct and teachings of Rutherford. A Google search using the words “Rutherford stand fast” will reveal that whole associations of Bible students broke away because they felt Rutherford was compromising the neutrality of the organization.
As for the allegation that many fell away because they were disillusioned over the failure of certain expectations based on Russell’s prophetic chronology, that is not entirely accurate. It is true that many expected to go to heaven in 1914, but when that failed to happen they placed hope in the teaching that the First World War would evolve into Armageddon. How can we explain the phenomenal growth in the 10 years following 1914 up to 1925 when a reported 90,000 partook of the emblems. This is a result of Rutherford’s campaign “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” which predicted the end would come in 1925. This is what the book, God’s Kingdom Rules, calls the “progressive revelation of truth”. When ‘progressively revealed truth” turned out to be the wild imaginings of one man, many did fall away. By 1928, the number or partakers counted as associating with Rutherford’s Organization had fallen to around 18,000. However, we should not assume that these ones fell away from God, but rather from the teachings of Rutherford. The idea that Jehovah and the organization are synonymous (leave one, leave the other) is yet another lie perpetrated to keep people obedient to the teachings and commands of men. It would seem that the whole purpose of the book we are currently studying is to that very end.
Until next week….
[ii] “Then Jehovah would enthrone Jesus as King over the world of mankind. That happened in October 1914, marking the beginning of “the last days” of Satan’s wicked system.” (w14 7/15 p. 30 par. 9)