Hello and welcome to Part 8 of our discussion of Matthew 24. Up to now in this series of videos, we’ve seen that everything Jesus foretold had its fulfillment in the first century. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses would disagree with that assessment. In fact, they focus on one phrase uttered by Jesus to support their belief that there is a major, modern-day fulfillment to the prophecy. It is a phrase found only in Luke’s account. Both Matthew and Mark fail to record it, nor it is found anywhere else in Scripture.
A single phrase, which is the basis for their doctrine of the 1914 invisible presence of Christ. How important is their interpretation of this single phrase? How important are wheels to your car?
Let me put it this way: Do you know what a linchpin is? A linchpin is a small piece of metal that passes through a hole in the axle of a vehicle, like a wagon or a chariot. It is what keeps the wheels from coming off. Here’s a picture showing how a linchpin works.
What I’m saying is that the phrase or verse in question is like a linchpin; seemingly insignificant, yet it is the only thing holding the wheel from coming off. If the interpretation given this verse by the Governing Body is wrong, the wheels of their religious belief fall off. Their chariot grinds to a halt. The basis for their belief that they are the chosen of God ceases to be.
I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. I’m speaking about Luke 21:24 which reads:
“And they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24 NWT)
You might think I’m exaggerating. How could an entire religion depend on the interpretation of this single verse?
Let me answer by asking you this: How important is 1914 to Jehovah’s Witnesses?
The best way to answer that is to think about what would happen if you took it away. If Jesus didn’t come invisibly in 1914 to sit on the throne of David in the kingdom of the heavens, then there is no basis for claiming the last days began in that year. There is also no basis for the overlapping generation belief, since that depends on the first part of that generation being alive in 1914. But it’s much more than that. Witnesses believe that Jesus began his inspection of Christendom in 1914 and by 1919, he had concluded that all other religions were false, and that only the Bible students that later became known as Jehovah’s Witnesses got divine approval. As a consequence, he appointed the Governing Body as his faithful and discreet slave in 1919 and they have been God’s sole channel of communication for Christians ever since.
All of that goes away if 1914 turns out to be a false doctrine. The point we are making here is that the entirety of the 1914 doctrine depends on a particular interpretation of Luke 21:24. If that interpretation is wrong, the doctrine is wrong, and if the doctrine is wrong, then there is no basis for Jehovah’s Witnesses to make their claim of being God’s one true organization on earth. Knock that one domino over and they all fall down.
Witnesses become just another group of well-meaning, but misguided believers following men rather than God. (Matthew 15:9)
To explain why Luke 21:24 is so critical, we have to understand something about the calculation used to arrive at 1914. For that, we need to go to Daniel 4 where we read of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great tree that was cut down and whose stump was bound for seven times. Daniel interpreted the symbols of this dream and foretold that King Nebuchadnezzar would go mad and lose his throne for a period of seven times, but then at the end of the time, his sanity and his throne would be restored to him. The lesson? No human can rule except by God’s permission. Or as the NIV Bible puts it:
“The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.” (Daniel 4:32)
However, Witnesses believe that what happened to Nebuchadnezzar prefigures something greater. They think it provides us with a way to calculate when Jesus would return as King. Of course, Jesus said that “no man knows the day nor hour.” He also said that ‘he’d return at a time they thought it not to be.’ But let us not ‘toy with the words of Jesus’ when we have this nifty little bit of math to guide us. (Matthew 24:42, 44; w68 8/15 pp. 500-501 pars. 35-36)
(For a detailed explanation of the doctrine of 1914, see the book, God’s Kingdom Has Approached chap. 14 p. 257)
Right off the bat, we encounter a problem. You see, to say that what happened to Nebuchadnezzar prefigures a greater fulfillment is to create what is called a typical/antitypical fulfillment. The book God’s Kingdom Has Approached states “this dream had a typical fulfillment upon Nebuchadnezzar when he became mad for seven literal “times” (years) and chewed grass like a bull in the field.”
Of course, the greater fulfillment involving Jesus’ alleged 1914 enthronement would be called an antitypical fulfillment. The problem with that is that recently, Witness leadership dismissed antitypes or secondary fulfillments as “going beyond what is written”. In essence, they are contradicting their own source of 1914.
Sincere Jehovah’s Witnesses have written in to the Governing Body asking whether this new light means that 1914 can no longer be true, since it depends on an antitypical fulfillment. In reply, the Organization tries to get around this inconvenient consequence of their “new light” by claiming that 1914 isn’t an antitype at all, but only a secondary fulfillment.
Oh yes. That makes perfect sense. They are not the same thing at all. You see, a secondary fulfillment is when something that happened in the past represents something that will happen again in the future; whereas an antitypical fulfillment is when something that happened in the past represents something that will happen again in the future. The difference is obvious to anyone.
But let’s given them that. Let them play with words. It will make no difference once we are through with Luke 21:24. It is the linchpin, and we are about to pull it out and watch the wheels fall off.
To get there, we need a little context.
Before Charles Taze Russell was even born, an Adventist named William Miller assumed that the seven times from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represented seven prophetic years of 360 days each. Given the formula of a day for a year, he added them up to get a time span of 2,520 years. But a time span is useless as a means to measure the length of anything unless you have a starting point, a date from which to count. He came up with 677 B.C.E., the year he believed King Manasseh of Judah was captured by the Assyrians. The question is, Why? Of all the dates that can be taken from the history of Israel, why that one?
We’ll come back to that.
His calculation took him to 1843/44 as the year Christ would return. Of course, we all know Christ didn’t oblige poor Miller and his followers petered away in disillusionment. Another Adventist, Nelson Barbour, took up the 2,520-year calculation, but changed the start year to 606 B.C.E., the year he believed Jerusalem was destroyed. Again, why did he think that event was prophetically significant? In any case, with a little bit of numeric gymnastics, he came up with 1914 as the great tribulation, but put the presence of Christ 40 years earlier in 1874. Again, Christ didn’t oblige by appearing that year, but no worries. Barbour was more astute than Miller. He simply changed his prediction from a visible return to an invisible one.
It was Nelson Barbour that got Charles Taze Russell all excited about Bible chronology. The date of 1914 remained the start year of the great tribulation for Russell and followers until 1969 when the leadership of Nathan Knorr and Fred Franz abandoned it for a future date. Witnesses continued to believe that 1874 was the start of Christ’s invisible presence until well into the presidency of Judge Rutherford, when it was moved to 1914.
But all of this—all of this—relies on a start year of 607 B.C.E. Because if you can’t measure your 2,520 years from a start year, you can’t get to your end date of 1914, can you?
What Scriptural basis did William Miller, Nelson Barbour and Charles Taze Russell have for their respective starting years? All of them used Luke 21:24.
You can see why we call it a linchpin scripture. Without it, there is no way to fix a starting year for the calculation. No starting year, no ending year. No ending year, no 1914. No 1914, no Jehovah’s Witnesses as God’s chosen people.
If you can’t establish a year from which to run your calculation, then the whole thing becomes a great big fairy tale, and a very dark one at that.
But let us not jump to any conclusions. Let’s take a hard look at how the Organization utilizes Luke 21:24 for their 1914 calculation to see if there is any validity to their interpretation.
The key phrase is (from the New World Translation): “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.”
The King James Version renders this: “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”
The Good News Translation gives us: “the heathen will trample over Jerusalem until their time is up.”
The International Standard Version has: “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the unbelievers until the times of the unbelievers are fulfilled.”
You might wonder, how on earth do they get a starting year for their calculation from that? Well, it requires some pretty creative jiggery-pokery. Observe:
The theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses postulates that when Jesus said Jerusalem, he wasn’t really referring to the literal city despite the context. No, no, no, silly. He was introducing a metaphor. But more than that. This was to be a metaphor that would be hidden from his apostles, and all the disciples; indeed, from all Christians down through the ages until Jehovah’s Witnesses came along to whom the true meaning of the metaphor would be revealed. What do Witnesses say Jesus meant by “Jerusalem”?
“It was a restoration of the kingdom of David, which had formerly held sway at Jerusalem but which had been overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon in 607 B.C.E. So what took place in the year 1914 C.E. was the reverse of what took place in 607 B.C.E. Now, once again, a descendant of David reigned.” (God’s Kingdom Has Approached, chap. 14 p. 259 par. 7)
As for the trampling, they teach:
“That meant a total of 2,520 years (7 × 360 years). For that long the Gentile nations held earth-wide domination. During all that time they had trampled on the right of God’s Messianic kingdom to exercise world rulership.” (God’s Kingdom Has Approached, chap. 14 p. 260 par. 8)
Therefore, the times of the gentiles refers to a time period that is 2,520 years in length, and which started in 607 B.C.E. when Nebuchadnezzar trampled on God’s right to exercise world rulership, and ended in 1914 when God took back that right. Of course, anyone can discern the sweeping changes in the world scene that took place in 1914. Before that year, the nations “trampled on the right of God’s Messianic kingdom to exercise world rulership.” But since that year, how very evident it has become that the nations are no longer able to the trample on the right of the Messianic kingdom to exercise world rulership. Yes, the changes are everywhere to behold.
What is their basis for making such claims? Why do they conclude that Jesus isn’t talking about the literal city of Jerusalem, but instead is speaking metaphorically about the restoration of the kingdom of David? Why do they conclude that the trampling applies not to the literal city, but to the nations trampling on God’s right to world rulership? Indeed, where do they get the idea that Jehovah would even allow the nations to trample on his right to rule through his chosen anointed one, Jesus Christ?
Doesn’t this whole process sound like a textbook case of eisegesis? Of imposing one’s own view onto Scripture? Just for a change, why not let the Bible speak for itself?
Let’s start with the phrase “times of the gentiles”. It comes from two Greek words: kairoi ethnos, literally “times of gentiles”. Ethnos refers to nations, heathens, gentiles—essentially the non-Jewish world.
What does this phrase mean? Normally, we’d look in other parts of the Bible where it is used to establish a definition, but we can’t do that here, because it does not appear anywhere else in the Bible. It is only used once, and even though Matthew and Mark cover the same answer given by our Lord to the disciples’ question, only Luke includes this particular expression.
So, let’s leave that for the moment and look at the other elements of this verse. When Jesus spoke of Jerusalem, was he speaking metaphorically? Let’s read the context.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that her desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country stay out of the city. For these are the days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. How miserable those days will be for pregnant and nursing mothers! For there will be great distress upon the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations. And Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:20-24 BSB)
“Jerusalem surrounded by armies”, “her desolation is near”, “get out of the city”, “stay out of the city”, “Jerusalem will be trampled“…is there anything here to suggest that after speaking so literally of the actual city, Jesus suddenly and inexplicably switches in the middle of a sentence to a symbolic Jerusalem?
And then there’s the verb tense Jesus uses. Jesus was a master teacher. His word choice was always extremely careful and on point. He did not make careless mistakes of grammar or verb tense. If the times of the Gentiles had begun over 600 years before, starting in 607 B.C.E., then Jesus would not have used the future tense, would he? He would not have said that “Jerusalem will be trampled”, because that would indicate a future event. If the trampling had been ongoing since the Babylonian exile as Witnesses argue, he would’ve correctly said “and Jerusalem will continue to be trampled on.” This would indicate a process that was ongoing and would continue into the future. But he did not say that. He spoke only of a future occurrence. Can you see how devastating this is to the doctrine of 1914? Witnesses need Jesus words to apply to an event that had already occurred, not one still to occur in his future. Yet, his words do not support such a conclusion.
So, what do “the times of the gentiles” mean? As I said, there is only one occurrence of the phrase in the entire Bible, so we’ll have to go with the context of Luke to determine its meaning.
The word for gentiles (ethnos, from which we get our English word “ethnic”) is used three times in this passage.
Jews are led captive into all the ethnos or gentiles. Jerusalem is trodden or trampled by the ethnos. And this trampling continues until the times of the ethnos is completed. This trampling is a future event, so the times of the ethnos or gentiles starts in the future and ends in the future.
It would seem, then, from the context that the times of the gentiles starts with the trampling of the literal city of Jerusalem. It is the trampling that is linked to the times of the gentiles. It would seem also that they can only trample on Jerusalem, because Jehovah God has permitted it by removing his protection. More than permitting it, it would appear that God is actively using the gentiles to carry out this trampling.
There is a parable of Jesus that will help us understand this better:
“. . .Once more Jesus spoke to them with illustrations, saying: “The Kingdom of the heavens may be likened to a king who made a marriage feast for his son. And he sent his slaves to call those invited to the marriage feast, but they were unwilling to come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Look! I have prepared my dinner, my bulls and fattened animals are slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the marriage feast.”’ But unconcerned they went off, one to his own field, another to his business; but the rest, seizing his slaves, treated them insolently and killed them. “The king grew wrathful and sent his armies and killed those murderers and burned their city.” (Matthew 22:1-7)
The King (Jehovah) sent his armies (the gentile Romans) and killed those who murdered his Son (Jesus) and burned their city (totally destroyed Jerusalem). Jehovah God appointed a time for the gentiles (the Roman army) to trample down Jerusalem. Once that task was completed, the time allotted to the gentiles ended.
Now you may have a different interpretation, but whatever that may be, we can say with a very high degree of certainly that the times of the gentiles did not start in 607 B.C.E. Why? Because Jesus was not talking about “the restoration of the Kingdom of David” which had ceased to exist centuries before his day. He was talking about the literal city of Jerusalem. Also, he wasn’t talking about a pre-existing period of time called the times of the gentiles, but a future event, a time that turned out to be over 30 years in his future.
Only by making up fictional connections between Luke 21:24 and Daniel chapter 4 is it possible to concoct a starting year for the 1914 doctrine.
And there you have it! The linchpin has been pulled. The wheels have come off the 1914 doctrine. Jesus did not start ruling invisibly in the heavens that year. The last days did not start in October of that year. The generation alive then is not part of a Last Days countdown to destruction. Jesus did not inspect his temple then and, therefore, could not have picked Jehovah’s Witnesses as his chosen people. And further, the Governing Body—i.e. J.F. Rutherford and cronies—was not appointed as the Faithful and Discreet Slave over all the material possessions of the Organization in 1919.
The chariot has lost its wheels. 1914 is a fanciful hoax. It is theological hocus-pocus. It has been used by men to gather followers after themselves by creating the belief they have arcane knowledge of hidden truths. It instills fear in their followers that keeps them loyal and obedient to the commands of men. It induces an artificial sense of urgency that causes people to serve with a date in mind and thus creates a works-based form of worship that subverts true faith. History has shown the enormous harm this causes. People’s lives get thrown out of balance. They make abysmal life-altering decisions based on the belief they can predict just how close the end is. Great disillusionment follows the disappointment of hopes not fulfilled. The price tag is incalculable. The despondency this induces upon realizing that one has been misled has even caused some to take their own lives.
The false foundation upon which the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses is built has crumbled. They are just another group of Christians with their own theology based on the teachings of men.
The question is, what are we going to do about it? Will we stay in the chariot now that wheels have come off? Will we stand and watch others pass us by? Or will we come to the realization that God gave us two legs to walk on and therefore we don’t need to ride in anyone’s chariot. We walk by faith—faith not in men, but in our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Thank you for your time.
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