[Most of the work and research that has gone into this article is the result of the efforts of one of our readers who, for reasons we can all understand, has chosen to remain anonymous. My sincere thanks go out to him.]
(1 Th 5:3) “Whenever it is they are saying peace and security, then sudden destruction is to be instantly on them, just like birth pains on a pregnant woman, and they will by no means escape.”
As Jehovah’s Witnesses, our current interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:3 is that there is going to be some sort of worldwide proclamation of “peace and security” that signals true Christians to the nearness of the “sudden destruction” of this world’s system of things. This will begin with the demolition of false religion referred to in Revelation as “Babylon the Great.”
In this year’s Regional Conventions, this topic is generating a lot of interest. We are told that “whenever they are saying peace and security”, the Great Tribulation will be imminent and that we should keep in expectation for some special life-saving message from the Governing Body. (ws11/16 p.14)
Is that line of reasoning the correct interpretation of this verse, or is it possible the verse has another meaning? Who is it that says, “peace and security?” Why did Paul add, “you are not in darkness?” And why did Peter warn Christians to ‘be careful not to be misled?’ (1 Th 5:4, 5; 2 Pe 3:17)
Let us begin by reviewing a sampling of what has been repeatedly taught in our publications for many decades:
(w13 11/15 pp. 12-13 pars. 9-12 How Can We Maintain “a Waiting Attitude”?)
9 In the near future, the nations will say “peace and security!” If we are not to be caught off guard by this declaration, we need to “stay awake and keep our senses.” (1 Th 5:6)
12 “What role will the leaders of Christendom and of other religions play? How will the leaders of various governments be involved in this proclamation? The Scriptures do not tell us.…”
(w12 9/15 p. 4 pars. 3-5 How This World Will Come to an End)
“…However, just before that day of Jehovah begins, world leaders will be saying “Peace and security!” This may refer to one event or to a series of events. Nations may think that they are close to solving some of their big problems. What about the religious leaders? They are part of the world, so it is possible that they will join the political leaders. (Rev. 17:1, 2) The clergy would thus be imitating the false prophets of ancient Judah. Jehovah said about them: “They [are] saying, ‘There is peace! There is peace!’ when there is no peace.”—Jer. 6:14, 23:16, 17.
4 No matter who will share in saying “Peace and security!” that development will indicate that Jehovah’s day is to begin. Paul could therefore state: “Brothers, you are not in darkness, so that that day should overtake you as it would thieves, for you are all sons of light.” (1 Th 5:4, 5) Unlike mankind in general, we discern the Scriptural significance of current events. How exactly will this prophecy about saying “Peace and security!” be fulfilled? We must wait and see. Therefore, let us be determined to “stay awake and keep our senses.”—1 Th 5:6, Zep 3:8.
(w10 7/15 pp. 5-6 par. 13 What Jehovah’s Day Will Reveal)
13 The cry “Peace and security!” will not fool Jehovah’s servants. “You are not in darkness,” wrote Paul, “so that that day should overtake you as it would thieves, for you are all sons of light and sons of day.” (1 Th 5:4, 5) So let us stay in the light, far away from the darkness of Satan’s world. Peter wrote: “Beloved ones, having this advance knowledge, be on your guard that you may not be led away with them [false teachers within the Christian congregation]”
Since no corroborating scriptures are provided to support this understanding, we must consider this as a completely unsupported eisegetical interpretation, or to put it another way: the personal opinion of men.
Let’s examine this verse exegetically to see what Paul really meant.
In conjunction with this statement, he also said:
“Brothers, you are not in darkness, so that that day should overtake you as it would thieves, for you are all sons of light.” (1 Th 5:4, 5)
Note: regarding this “darkness”, the last cited article adds:
“…be on your guard that you may not be led away with them [false teachers within the Christian congregation]—2 Pet. 3:17.” (w10 7/15 pp. 5-6 par. 13)
Who Are “They”?
Who are “they”? Who are the ones crying “peace and security”? The nations? The world rulers?
The WT Library publications equate the words of the apostle Paul, “whenever they are saying peace and security”, with the ancient words of Jeremiah. Was Jeremiah referring to world rulers?
Some Bible commentators suggest that the apostle Paul likely had the context of Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s writings in mind.
(Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11) And they try to heal the breakdown of my people lightly (*superficially), saying, [a delusionary belief] ‘There is peace! There is peace!’ When there is no peace.’
(Jeremiah 23:16, 17) This is what Jehovah of armies says: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are deluding you. The vision they speak is from their own heart, Not from the mouth of Jehovah. 17 They are saying again and again to those who disrespect me, ‘Jehovah has said: “You will enjoy peace.”’ And to everyone who follows his own stubborn heart they say, ‘No calamity will come upon you.’
(Ezekiel 13:10) All of this is because they have led my people astray by saying, “There is peace!” when there is no peace. When a flimsy partition wall is built, they are plastering it with whitewash.
Notice, these people were being influenced by false prophets. What Jeremiah was saying is that the people—God’s unbelieving, wayward people—were superficially led to believe they were at peace with God, because they chose to believe the false prophet. Consider Paul’s words: “Whenever they are saying, “peace and security”. Who are the “they” he refers to? Paul did not say they were the nations or world rulers acting in concert with religious leaders. No. Rather, staying within the harmony of Scripture, it would seem he was referring to the self-deluded, self-proclaimed, self-righteous Christians who are being spiritually misled, and therefore walking in darkness. (1Th 5:4)
It is analogous to the Jews in spiritual darkness in 66-70 C.E. Those trusting in their false prophets were due to receive Jehovah’s sudden judgement. Why? For believing the idea that He would not destroy what amounted to their holy ‘hide outs’, their “inner rooms”, that is, Jerusalem and the temple. Therefore, they had no compunction about proclaiming peace and security with God.
One is reminded of the biblical principle recorded at Proverbs 1:28, 31-33:
(Proverbs 1:28, 31-33) 28 At that time they will keep calling me, but I will not answer, They will eagerly look for me, but they will not find me… 31 So they will bear the consequences of their way, And they will be glutted with their own counsel. 32 For the waywardness of the inexperienced will kill them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them. 33 But the one listening to me will dwell in security and be undisturbed by the dread of calamity.”
Note that it was their failure to lean on God rather than men that brought about their demise. Writing before that destruction, Paul’s timely reminder that these ones would be crying out, “peace and security!”, gave sincere Christians the forewarning they needed not to be taken in by false prophets proffering false hopes.
(w81 11/15 pp. 16-20 ‘Stay Awake and Keep Your Senses’)
“Let us not sleep on as the rest do but, let us stay awake and keep our senses.”—1 Th 5:6.
WHEN Jesus foretold the destruction of Jerusalem in his generation, he stated: “These are the days for meting out justice, that all the things written may be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:22) In 70 C.E., God’s righteous execution of judgment came against those [Jews] who had profaned his name, broken his laws and persecuted his servants. Similarly, God’s righteous execution of judgment against this present wicked system of things is soon to come, once again demonstrating that all the things written in Bible prophecy are sure to be fulfilled. And ‘that judgment will come with shocking suddenness to “those” who are unprepared, for the Bible states: “Whenever it is that “they” are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them.”—1 Th 5:2, 3.
It was about 50 C.E. when the apostle Paul’s successful preaching to the Thessalonians brought them under fiery persecution and tribulation from the Jewish religious leaders. Prompted by holy spirit and God’s providence, Paul makes the pronouncement, “whenever it is that they are saying peace and security…” (1 Th 5:3) That was 20 years before the great tribulation and complete destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, including the Jewish religious system. So, who specifically, are “they” that are saying “peace and security?” It would appear that in the historical context, it would be the wayward inhabitants of Jerusalem with their false prophets that Paul had in mind. They were the ones crying peace and security, shortly before sudden destruction came upon them.
Referring to it as “the cry of peace and security” as the publications do, leads one to think it is a single noteworthy proclamation and as such represents a sign Christians can look to. But Paul does not use the phrase “the cry of”. He refers to it as an ongoing event.
So, how do our public instructors draw a parallel to the prophesy regarding the so-called cry of peace and security with that first-century generation, and the conclusion of this system of things?
Consider this reference from the November 15, 1981 The Watchtower (p. 16):
3 “…Note that those who are not awake spiritually are caught “unawares,” [as in Noah’s day] for that “day” comes upon them “suddenly,” “instantly,” in just the same way that “sudden destruction is to be instantly upon” those who are saying “Peace and security!”
5 Jesus … likened spiritually ‘unaware’ persons to those in Noah’s day who “took no note until the flood came and swept them all away….With good reason did Jesus say: “Remember the wife of Lot.”
6 … In addition, there is also [the example] of the first-century Jewish nation. Those religious Jews felt that they were worshiping God sufficiently…”
Note: As this Watchtower article shows, the Jews were misled by their false teachers as to their personal relationship with God: ‘There is peace! There is peace!’ When there is no peace.’ (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11.) The point at issue in this review is: it is not the nations of the world that proclaim some irresistible message of peace and security. No. That statement is directly attributed to the false prophet who misled the people with a delusional message about their personal relationship with God—their peace and security—in essence saying, ‘to be saved all you need to do is obey our directives, for we are God’s prophet.’
Witnesses like to call Israel, Jehovah’s first earthly organization. Well, consider the situation back then.
(w88 4/1 p. 12 pars. 7-9 Jeremiah—Unpopular Prophet of God’s Judgments)
8 “… the Jewish religious leaders were lulling the nation into a false sense of security, saying, “There is peace! There is peace!” when there was no peace. (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11) Yes, they were fooling the people into believing that they were at peace with God. They felt that there was nothing to worry about, for they were Jehovah’s saved people, possessing the holy city and its temple. But is that how Jehovah viewed the situation?
9 Jehovah commanded Jeremiah to take a position in full public view at the gate of the temple and deliver His message to the worshipers who entered there. He had to tell them: “Do not put your trust in fallacious words, saying, ‘The temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah they are!’… It will certainly be of no benefit at all.” The Jews were walking by sight, not by faith, as they boasted in their temple.”
Since all things were written for our instruction, if we recognize that it is not the nations that declare peace and security, but the false prophets, then what instruction do we glean for our benefit? Could it be that in a similar manner many are being deluded by fallacious words today about the great tribulation? How about the promised, life-saving, coded words of special instruction from the Organization—God’s Prophet?
“Thus Jehovah’s earthly channel of communication is identified. The earthly channel is either a prophet or a collective prophetlike organization.” (w55 5/15 p. 305 par. 16)
From the prophetic shadows to the actual realities we observe that this God-provided channel for Christians is the collective congregation of anointed ones who serve as a prophetlike organization. (w55 5/15 p. 308 par. 1)
Unlike the prophecies or forecasts of men, which are at best only educated guesses, the prophecies of Jehovah are from the mind of the One who created the universe, the One powerful enough to direct the course of events to fulfill his word. Jehovah’s prophecies are in his Word, the Bible, available to all persons. All have opportunity, if they desire, to take heed and sincerely seek understanding of them. Those who do not read can hear, for God has on earth today a prophetlike organization, just as he did in the days of the early Christian congregation. (Acts 16:4, 5) He designates these Christians as his “faithful and discreet slave.” (w64 10/1 p. 601 par. 1, 2)
Today, the “interior rooms” of the prophecy likely have to do with the tens of thousands of congregations of Jehovah’s people around the world. Such congregations are a protection even now, a place where Christians find safety among their brothers, under the loving care of the elders. (w01 3/1 p. 21 par. 17)
At that time, the life-saving direction that we receive from Jehovah’s organization 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)
The Organization has a 140-year-long record of failed prophetic revelations. Yet they tell us that our survival depends on obedience to them; that our very lives will depend on following without question whatever direction they provide to us in the future. They say this is the way to true peace and security!
How to Prepare Ourselves
19 How can we prepare ourselves for the earthshaking events that are to come? The Watchtower stated some years ago: “Survival will depend on obedience.” Why is that so? The answer is found in a warning from Jehovah to the captive Jews living in ancient Babylon. Jehovah foretold that Babylon would be conquered, but what were God’s people to do to prepare themselves for that event? Jehovah stated: “Go, my people, enter your inner rooms, and shut your doors behind you. Hide yourself for a brief moment until the wrath has passed by.” (Isa. 26:20) Note the verbs in this verse: “go,” “enter,” “shut,” “hide”—all are in the imperative mood; they are commands. The Jews who heeded those commands would have stayed in their houses, away from the conquering soldiers out in the streets. Hence, their survival depended on obeying Jehovah’s instructions.
20 What is the lesson for us? As in the case of those ancient servants of God, our survival of coming events will depend on our obedience to Jehovah’s instructions. (Isa. 30:21) Such instructions come to us through the congregation arrangement. Therefore, we want to develop heartfelt obedience to the guidance we are receiving.
(kr chap. 21 p. 230)
Putting our trust in men for salvation violates the rule given to us by God found at Psalm 146:3—
“Do not put your trust in princes Nor in a son of man, who cannot bring salvation.” (Ps 146:3)
Let us not repeat the errors of the past. Paul warned the Thessalonians that those saying “peace and security” would experience sudden destruction. When the Jews of Jesus’ day repeated the behaviour of those from Jeremiah’s time, they believed their leaders, their false prophets, and missed out on escaping.
“But when Roman armies that had been surrounding Jerusalem withdrew in the year 66 C.E., the overconfident Jews did not “begin fleeing”. Having turned the Roman army’s retreat into a rout by attacking its rear guard, the Jews felt no need to flee [as Jesus had warned and instructed]. They believed that God was with them, and they even coined new silver money bearing the inscription “Jerusalem the Holy.” But the inspired prophecy of Jesus showed that Jerusalem no longer was holy to Jehovah. (w81 11/15 p. 17 par. 6)
Note this commentary from the ESV Bible:
(1 Th 5:3) ‘peace and security’. Possibly an allusion to imperial Roman propaganda or (perhaps more likely) to Jer. 6:14 (or Jer. 8:11), where similar language is used of a delusional sense of immunity from divine wrath. — [A false sense of ‘peace and security’ …with God]
Adam Clarke’s Commentary adds this for our consideration:
(1 Th 5:3) [For when they shall say, Peace and safety] This points out, very particularly, the state of the Jewish people when the Romans came against them: and so fully persuaded were they that God would not deliver the city and temple to their enemies, that they refused every overture that was made to them.”
As those commentaries, including the 1981 Watchtower show, the Jews were fully convinced by their false prophets that if they hid themselves within the protective walls of Jerusalem and God’s Temple (the inner-rooms) God would save them from the great tribulation soon to befall their revered city. As Clarke’s Commentary says: “…so fully persuaded were they that God would not deliver the city and temple to their enemies that they refused every overture that was made to them.” They believed their salvation was assured if they obediently listened to those claiming to be Jehovah’s prophets and took refuge together within the sacred city of the temple of Jehovah God. (Ezra 3:10)
For many of us, this will not be enough. We want to know how we will be saved, and in the absence of that, just who will be the one to lead us to salvation. So the idea that an established Governing Body has this all in hand can be very appealing. However, that is the sure way to perdition, unless you want to believe that Jehovah got it wrong by what he tells us at Psalm 146:3.
Rather than rely on men, we must have faith in the one true channel of communication that the Father has provided to us, Jesus Christ. He assures us that his chosen ones will be protected. How, is not important. All we need to know is that our salvation is in very good hands. He tells us:
“And he will send out his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from one extremity of the heavens to their other extremity.” (Mt 24:31)
“But that only applies to the anointed”, some will object. “What about us as the other sheep?”
This article—Who are the Other Sheep?—shows that the other sheep are the chosen ones. Matthew 24:31 applies to the other sheep as well as to Jewish Christians.
The Other Sheep doctrine as taught by the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society has as its purpose to create a class of Christian wholly dependent on a higher class—the anointed—for their salvation. Since 2012, this “prophet class” has become the Governing Body which rules over the “other sheep class” by making them believe that their salvation depends on blind obedience to the leaders of the Organization.
It’s a very old scheme; one which has worked for thousands of years. But Jesus freed us of that if we are only willing to accept that freedom. He said: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Joh 8:31, 32) Why is it then that we are so willing to give up that freedom, just as the ancient Corinthians seemed to do?
“Since you are so “reasonable,” you gladly put up with the unreasonable ones. In fact, you put up with whoever enslaves you, whoever devours your possessions, whoever grabs what you have, whoever exalts himself over you, and whoever strikes you in the face.” (2 Co 11:19, 20)
The Governing Body, speaking in the name of Jehovah, has got its followers to labour for free, building up a real estate empire (whoever enslaves you) while they were absconding with all congregation savings worldwide (whoever grabs what you have) and then after getting them to build Kingdom halls for their own use, has sold them off and taken the money for themselves (whoever devours your possessions) all the while proclaiming themselves to be Christ’s chosen “faithful and discreet slave” (whoever exalts himself over you) and punishing with the greatest severity any who dissent (whoever strikes you in the face.)
Peter warns that “judgment starts with the house of God”. That house is the Christian congregation—at least those who proclaim themselves to be followers of Christ. When that judgment comes—likely in the form of attacks from governmental authorities as it did when Rome came against Jerusalem in 66-70 C.E.—the Governing Body will surely issue its predicted directive assuring its followers that their “peace and security” depends on following the instructions which ‘will not appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint’—because they won’t be. (1 Pe 4:17; Re 14:8; 16:19; 17:1-6; 18:1-24)
The question is, will we imitate the first-century Jews in Jerusalem when facing the might of Rome and obey our false prophets, or will we obey the instructions of our Lord Jesus and remain in his teaching with freedom and salvation in view?