Hello, my name is Eric Wilson, and this is the third in our series on the 24th chapter of Matthew.
I’d like you to imagine for a moment that you are sitting on the Mount of Olives listening to Jesus when he utters the following words:
“And this good news of the Kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Mt 24:14)
What would you, as a Jew of that time, have understood Jesus to mean by,
- This good news?
- All the inhabited earth?
- All the nations?
- The end will come?
If our first conclusion is that this must apply to us, aren’t we being just a wee bit egocentric? I mean, we didn’t ask the question, and we didn’t get the answer, so why would we think it applies to us unless, of course, Jesus explicitly says so – which incidentally he doesn’t.
Jehovah’s Witnesses not only think that this verse applies in our day, but also believe it applies only to them. They alone are charged to carry out this historic work. The lives of billions, literally everyone on earth, depend on how well they complete their mission. Its completion will signal the end of the world. And they will know when it is completed, because they have yet another message, a not-so-good-news message to preach. They believe they will be commissioned by God to pronounce a message of judgment.
The July 15, 2015 The Watchtower says on page 16, paragraph 9:
“This will not be the time to preach the “good news of the Kingdom.” That time will have passed. The time for “the end” will have come! (Matt. 24:14) No doubt… (Oh, the number of times I’ve read the words “no doubt” in The Watchtower only to suffer disappointment later.) No doubt, God’s people will proclaim a hard-hitting judgment message. This may well involve a declaration announcing that Satan’s wicked world is about to come to its complete end.”
This ostentatious destiny is being bestowed upon Jehovah’s Witnesses by God. At least, that is the conclusion they take based on this one little verse.
Do the lives of billions of people truly rest on accepting The Watchtower and Awake! magazines on a Saturday morning? When you walk by that cart on the street guarded by its silent sentries, without giving it a second glance, are you really condemning yourself to eternal destruction?
Surely a fate so dire would come with a warning label of some kind, or does God not care about us that much.
The three accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke which we are analysing all contain various common elements, while some less critical features are absent from one or two accounts. (For example, Luke is the only one who mentions the trampling of Jerusalem during the appointed times of the gentiles. Matthew and Mark leave this out.) Nevertheless, the really crucial elements, such as the warnings to avoid false prophets and false christs, are shared across all accounts. What about this supposedly life-and-death, end-of-the-world message?
What does Luke say on the subject?
Oddly enough, not a thing. He makes no mention of these words. Mark does, but all he says is “Also, in all the nations, the good news has to be preached first.” (Mr 13:10)
“Also…”? It is like our Lord is saying, “Oh, and by the way, the good news gets preached before all this other stuff happens.”
Nothing about, “You had better listen, or you’ll die.”
What did Jesus really mean when he said these words?
Let’s look at that list again.
It will be easier to figure it out if we start from the bottom and work upwards.
So the fourth item was: “And then the end will come.”
What end could he be referring to? He only mentions one end. The word is in the singular. They had just asked him for a sign so they would know when the end of the city with its temple would come. They would naturally assume that was the end he was speaking of. But for that to make sense, the good news would have had to be preached in all the inhabited earth, and to all the nations, and that didn’t happen in the first century. Or did it? Let’s not go jumping to any conclusions.
Moving to the third point: What would they have understood Jesus meant when referring to “all the nations”? Would they have thought, “Oh, the good news will be preached in China, India, Australia, Argentina, Canada, and Mexico?
The word he uses is ethnos, from which we get the English word, “ethnic”.
Strong’s Concordance gives us:
Definition: a race, a nation, the nations (as distinct from Israel)
Usage: a race, people, nation; the nations, heathen world, Gentiles.
So, when used in the plural, “nations”, ethnos, refers to the Gentiles, the pagan world outside of Judaism.
This is how the word is used throughout the Christian Scriptures. For example, in Matthew 10:5 we read, “These 12 Jesus sent out, giving them these instructions: “Do not go off into the road of the nations, and do not enter any Samaritan city;” (Mt 10:5)
The New World translation uses “nations” here, but most other versions render this as “Gentiles”. To the Jew, ethnos meant non-Jews, gentiles.
What about the second element of his statement: “all the inhabited earth”?
The word in Greek is oikoumené. (ee-ku-me-nee)
Strong’s Concordance explains its usage as “(properly: the land that is being inhabited, the land in a state of habitation), the inhabited world, that is, the Roman world, for all outside it was regarded as of no account.”
HELPS Word-studies explains it this way:
3625 (oikouménē) literally means “the inhabited (land).” It was “originally used by the Greeks to denote the land inhabited by themselves, in contrast with barbarian countries; afterward, when the Greeks became subject to the Romans, ‘the entire Roman world;’ still later, for ‘the whole inhabited world’ “.
Given this information, we could paraphrase Jesus’ words to read, “and this good news of the kingdom will be preached throughout the known world (the Roman Empire) to all the Gentiles before Jerusalem is destroyed.”
Did that happen? In 62 C.E., just four years before the first siege of Jerusalem and while he was imprisoned in Rome, Paul wrote to the Colossians speaking about “…the hope of that good news which YOU heard, and which was preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Col 1:23)
By that year, Christians had not reached India, or China, or the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Yet, Paul’s words are truthful within the context of the then known Roman world.
So, there you have it. The good news of the kingdom of the Christ was preached throughout the Roman world to all the Gentiles before the Jewish system of things came to its end.
That was simple, wasn’t it?
There we have a straightforward, unambiguous explanation for Jesus’ words that fits all the facts of history. We could end this discussion right now and move on, except for the fact that, as we’ve already stated, eight million Jehovah’s Witnesses think they are fulfilling Matthew 24:14 today. They believe this is an antitypical or secondary fulfillment. They teach that Jesus’ words had a minor fulfillment in the first century, but what we are seeing today is the major fulfillment. (See w03 1/1 p. 8 par. 4.)
What effect does this belief have on Jehovah’s Witnesses? It is like a life preserver. When they are faced with the hypocrisy of the Governing Body’s 10-year affiliation with the United Nations, they cling to it. When they see the groundswell of bad publicity surrounding decades of mishandling child sexual abuse, they hold on to it like a drowning man. “Who else is preaching the Good News of the Kingdom in all the earth?” they say.
It doesn’t really matter that they know they are not preaching to all the nations nor in all the inhabited earth. Witnesses are not preaching in the nations of Islam, nor are they effectively reaching the one billion Hindus on earth, nor are they making any appreciable difference in countries like China or Tibet.
Those are all facts easily overlooked. The key thing is that they believe only Witnesses are preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. No one else is doing that.
If we can show that this is not the case, then this bedrock of Witness theology crumbles. To do that, we have to understand the full breadth, and width, and height of this doctrine.
It originates in 1934. Three years prior, Rutherford took the 25% of Bible student groups still affiliated with his publishing company, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, and made them into a proper religious organization by giving them the name, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and centralizing the power to appoint elders at headquarters. Then, in a two-part article that ran in the August 1 and 15, 1934 issues of The Watchtower, he introduced a two-class system which permitted him to create a clergy and laity division like the churches of Christendom had. He did this by making use of unscriptural antitypical representations employing the cities of refuge of Israel, the relationship between the Israelite Jehu and the gentile Jonadab, as well as the parting of the Jordan river when the priests crossed with the ark of the covenant. (I have a detailed analysis of these articles on our web site. I’ll put a link to them in the description of this video.)
By this means, he created a secondary class of Christian called the Jonadab class otherwise known as the Other Sheep.
As proof, here is an extract from one of the final paragraphs of the two-part study—square brackets added:
“Be it noted that the obligation is laid upon the priestly class [the anointed] to do the leading or reading of the law of instruction to the people. Therefore, where there is a company [or congregation] of Jehovah’s witnesses…the leader of a study should be selected from amongst the anointed, and likewise those of the service committee should be taken from the anointed….Jonadab was there as one to learn, and not one who was to teach….The official organization of Jehovah on earth consists of his anointed remnant, and the Jonadabs [other sheep] who walk with the anointed are to be taught, but not to be leaders. This appearing to be God’s arrangement, all should gladly abide thereby.” (w34 8/15 p. 250 par. 32)
This created a problem however. The belief was that atheists, heathens, and false Christians who died prior to Armageddon would be resurrected as part of the resurrection of the unrighteous. The unrighteous come back still in their sinful state. They can only achieve perfection or sinlessness upon being declared righteous by God at the end of the thousand years. What resurrection hope did the Jonadabs or Other Sheep have? Exactly the same hope. They too would come back as sinners and have to work toward perfection by the end of the thousand years. So, what is to motivate a Jonadab or other sheep Jehovah’s Witness to make great sacrifices for the work if the reward he gets is no different from that of an unbeliever?
Rutherford had to offer them something which the wicked unbeliever wouldn’t get. The carrot was survival through Armageddon. But to make it really desirable, he had to teach that those killed at Armageddon would get no resurrection—no second chance.
This is essentially the JW equivalent of hell fire. The doctrine of hell fire has long been criticized by Jehovah’s Witnesses as antithetical to the love of God. How could a God of love torture someone forever and ever simply for refusing to obey him?
However, Witnesses fail to see the irony in promoting a belief that would have God eternally destroy an individual without providing him even a faint chance at redemption. After all, what chance does the 13-year-old child bride in Muslim and Hindu cultures have of ever knowing the Christ? For that matter, what chance does any Muslim or Hindu have of really understanding the Christian hope? I could go on with many more examples.
Nevertheless, Witnesses are content to believe that these ones will be killed by God with no resurrection hope, simply because they had the misfortune of being born to the wrong family or in the wrong culture.
It is crucial for the leadership of the Organization that all Witnesses believe this. Otherwise, what are they working so hard for? If non-witnesses are also going to survive Armageddon, or if those killed in that war receive a resurrection, then what’s it all about?
Yet, that is essentially the Good News that Witnesses preach.
From The Watchtower of September 1, 1989 page 19:
“Only Jehovah’s Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the “great crowd,” as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil.”
From The Watchtower of August 15, 2014, page 21:
“In effect, Jesus also conveys Jehovah’s voice to us as he directs the congregation through “the faithful and discreet slave.” [Read “Governing Body”] (Matt. 24:45) We need to take this guidance and direction seriously, for our everlasting life depends on our obedience.” (Brackets added.)
Let us think about this for a minute. To fulfill Matthew 24:14 the way the Witnesses interpret it, the good news has to be preached in all the inhabited earth to all the nations. Witnesses are not doing that. Not even close. Conservative estimates show that about three billion humans have never been preached to by a single Jehovah’s Witness.
Nevertheless, let’s put all that aside for the moment. Let’s assume that before the end the Organization will find a way to reach every man, woman, and child on the planet. Would that change things?
No, and here’s why. That interpretation only works if they are preaching the real good news that Jesus and the apostles preached. Otherwise, their efforts would be worse than invalid.
Consider Paul’s words to the Galatians on the matter.
“I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from the One who called you with Christ’s undeserved kindness to another sort of good news. Not that there is another good news; but there are certain ones who are causing you trouble and wanting to distort the good news about the Christ. However, even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond the good news we declared to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, I now say again, Whoever is declaring to you as good news something beyond what you accepted, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)
Of course, Witnesses are sure they alone are preaching the right, the correct, the true good news. Consider this from a recent Watchtower study article:
“So who really are preaching the good news of the Kingdom today? With full confidence, we can say: “Jehovah’s Witnesses!” Why can we be so confident? Because we are preaching the right message, the good news of the Kingdom.” (w16 May p. 12 par. 17)
“They are the only ones who preach that Jesus has been ruling as King since 1914.” (w16 May p. 11 par. 12)
Hold on! We’ve already proven that Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong about 1914. (I’ll put a link here to the videos that demonstrate this conclusion clearly from Scripture.) So, if that is a mainstay of their preaching of the good news, then they are preaching a false good news.
Is that the only thing wrong with the preaching of the good news of Jehovah’s Witnesses? No.
Let’s start with Armageddon. Their entire focus is on Armageddon. They believe Jesus will come and judge all humankind at that point and condemn everyone who is not a Jehovah’s Witness to eternal destruction.
What is this based on?
The word Armageddon only occurs once in the Bible. Just once! Yet they think they know all about what it represents.
According to reliable historical sources, the word was revealed to Christians toward the end of the first century long after the events recorded in the book of Acts. (I know the Preterists are going to disagree with me on this, but let’s leave that discussion for our next video.) If you read the book of Acts, you’ll find no reference to Armageddon. It is true that the message that the first century Christians preached in all the inhabited earth and to all the nations at that time was one of salvation. But it wasn’t salvation from a globe-spanning catastrophe. In fact, when you examine the only place the word Armageddon occurs in the Bible, you’ll see that it says nothing about all life being destroyed eternally. Let’s just read the Bible and see what it has to say.
“. . .They are, in fact, expressions inspired by demons and they perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the entire inhabited earth, to gather them together to the war of the great day of God the Almighty….And they gathered them together to the place that is called in Hebrew Armageddon.” (Re 16:14, 16)
You will notice that it is not every man, woman, and child that is brought to the war but the kings or rulers of the earth. This coincides with the prophecy found in the book of Daniel.
“In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. And this kingdom will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it alone will stand forever,” (Da 2:44)
Like any conquering power, Jesus’ purpose will not be to destroy all life but rather to annihilate any opposition to his rule whether it be political, religious, or institutional. Of course, anyone who fights against him right down to the lowliest of mankind will get what they deserve. All we can say is that there is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that every man, woman, and child on earth will be killed eternally. In fact, those that are killed are not explicitly denied the hope of a resurrection. Whether or not they are resurrected is something we cannot say for sure. To be sure, there is evidence that those that Jesus preached to directly as well as the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah will come back in the resurrection. So that gives us hope, but we simply should not go making any categorical statement on the matter. That would be rendering judgment and as such would be wrong.
Okay, so witnesses are wrong about the 1914 establishment of the kingdom as well as the nature of Armageddon. Are those the only two elements in their preaching of the good news that are false? Sadly, no. There is something far worse to consider.
John 1:12 tells us that all who exercise faith in the name of Jesus get “authority to become God’s children”. Romans 8:14, 15 tells us that “all who are led by God’s spirit are indeed God’s sons” and have “received a spirit of adoption”. This adoption makes Christians heirs of God who can inherit from their Father that which he has, everlasting life. 1 Timothy 2:4-6 tells us that Jesus is the mediator between God and men, a “ransom for all”. Nowhere are Christians referred to as God’s friends but only as his children. God has made an agreement or covenant with Christians, called the New Covenant. Nowhere are we told that the vast majority of Christians are excluded from this covenant, that in fact they have not covenant with God at all.
The good news that Jesus preached and that his followers took up and preached in all the inhabited earth prior to Jerusalem’s destruction was that all who believed in Christ could become the adopted children of God and share with Christ in the kingdom of the heavens. There was no secondary hope which they preached. Not alternate salvation.
Nowhere in the Bible do you find even a hint of a different good news telling people they will be declared righteous as friends of God but not children and will be resurrected still in a state of sin despite being declared righteous. Nowhere is there mention of a group of Christians who would not be included in the new covenant, would not have Jesus Christ as their mediator, would not have the hope of everlasting life immediately upon their resurrection. No where are Christians told to refrain from partaking of the emblems that represent the lifesaving flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If, upon hearing this, your first reaction is to ask, “Are you saying that everybody goes to heaven?” Or, “Are you saying there is no earthly hope?”
No, I’m not saying anything of the kind. What I’m saying is that the entire premise of the good news that Jehovah’s Witnesses preach is wrong from the ground up. Yes, there are two resurrections. Paul talked about a resurrection of the unrighteous. It is clear that the unrighteousness cannot inherit the kingdom of the heavens. But there are not two groups of righteous.
This is a very complex topic and one which I hope to deal with in great detail in a series of future videos. But just to quiet the concern that many might feel, let’s look at it very briefly. A thumbnail sketch, if you will.
You have billions of people throughout history who have lived in some of the most horrendous conditions imaginable. They have suffered trauma that most of us can’t even imagine. Even today, billions live in abject poverty or suffer from debilitating disease, or political oppression, or enslavement of various forms. How can any of these people have a reasonable and fair chance to know God? How can they ever hope to be reconciled back into the family of God? The playing field, so to speak, has to be levelled. All have to have a fair chance. Enter the children of God. A small group, tried and tested as was Jesus himself, and then given the authority and power not only to rule the earth and ensure justice but also to act as priests, so as to minister to those in need and assist all back to a relationship with God.
The good news is not about saving every man woman and child from a fiery death at Armageddon. The good news is about reaching out for those who will accept the offer to become an adopted child of God and who are willing to serve in that capacity. Once their number is complete, Jesus can bring the end of human rule.
Witnesses believe that only when they finish the preaching work can Jesus bring the end. But Matthew 24:14 was fulfilled in the first century. It has no fulfillment today. Jesus will bring the end when the full number of the chosen ones, the children of God, is complete.
The angel revealed this to John:
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those slaughtered because of the word of God and because of the witness they had given. They shouted with a loud voice, saying: “Until when, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, are you refraining from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer, until the number was filled of their fellow slaves and their brothers who were about to be killed as they had been.” (Re 6:9-11)
The end of human rulership comes only when the full number of Jesus’ brothers is filled.
Let me restate that. It is only when the full number of Jesus’ brothers is filled, that the end of human rulership comes. Armageddon comes when all the anointed children of God are sealed.
And so, now we arrive at the real tragedy that has resulted because of the preaching of the so-called good news preached by Jehovah’s Witnesses. For the past 80 years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have devoted billions of hours in an unwitting effort to push back the end. They go door-to-door to make disciples and tell them they cannot enter the kingdom as children of God. They are attempting to block the way in to the Kingdom of the heavens.
They are like the leaders of Jesus’ day.
“Woe to YOU, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because YOU shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men; for YOU yourselves do not go in, neither do YOU permit those on their way in to go in.” (Mt 23:13)
The good news that Witnesses preach is actually anti-good news. It is diametrically opposed to the message the first century Christians preached. It works against the purpose of God. If the end comes only when the full number of the brothers of Christ is achieved, then the efforts of Jehovah’s Witnesses to convert millions to a belief that they are not being called to be children of God is intended to frustrate that effort.
This was begun by J.F. Rutherford at a time when he claimed the holy spirit no longer directed the work, but that angels were communicating messages from God. What “angel” doesn’t want the seed of the women to come to power?
Now we can understand why Paul spoke so forcefully about this to the Galatians. Let’s read that again but this time from the New Living Translation:
“I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)
Matthew 24:14 has no modern fulfillment. It was fulfilled in the first century. Applying it to modern times has resulted in millions of people unwittingly working against the interests of God and the promised seed.
Paul’s warning and condemnation resonates as much now as it did in the first century.
I can only hope that all my former brothers and sisters within the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses will give prayerful consideration to how this warning affects them individually.
We will continue our discussion of Matthew 24 in our next video by analysing from verse 15 onward.
Thank you for watching and for your support.