“The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things, and the reapers are angels.”
– Jesus Christ –
With or without the seven-times chronology, Jehovah’s Witnesses are absolutely convinced that the time of the end and the foretold concluding harvest commenced in 1914. However, this chapter more closely examines some dearly held erroneous assumptions and the implications of a future harvest period. What is the harvest?
Jesus likened the Christian ministry to a harvest. At Matthew 9:36-38, Jesus spoke of the potential for ingathering great numbers of persons and the need for field workers, saying: “Yes, the harvest is great, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Master of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” According to Jesus’ illustration, the harvest was commencing back then.
However, in the 13th chapter of Matthew Jesus spoke of another harvest, one that would take place during the conclusion of the system. Specifically, Jesus stated: “The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things, and the reapers are angels.” So, it evident that Jesus employed the illustration of the harvest in a general way, to illustrate the work Christian ministers would do, but he also used the analogy in a very specific way to illustrate what would occur during the concluding judgment. The two illustrations differ in a very significant way: in the final harvest the reapers are angels, not Christian ministers.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, nonetheless, persist in believing that the angelic harvesters have already been dispatched into the field. That is in keeping with the Watchtower’s teaching that the scripturally delineated period of the conclusion of the system began in 1914. That is not to say that there is not abundant evidence that angels do oversee and direct Christian ministers; however, the question is whether or not the actual concluding harvest is already underway. Put another way, might the evangelizing work of Jehovah’s Witnesses more readily compare to the harvesting work the first century Christian disciples engaged in—as opposed to the concluding harvest? There are compelling reasons for believing that to be the case since many aspects of Jesus’ parable are simply not in evidence at this time.
For instance, Jesus stated quite clearly that the angels go out and first collect the weeds out from among the wheat. Jesus said: “Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the harvest season I will tell the reapers, First collect the weeds and bind them in bundles to burn them up, then go to gathering the wheat into my storehouse.”
The Watchtower’s interpretation of the illustration violates the simple sequence of events that Jesus outlined. In order to support the untenable notion that the harvest began in 1919 the Watchtower resorts to twisting Jesus’ words to say that the wheat are collected and separated from among the weeds. Carefully note the August 1, 1981, Watchtower comment:
“When, after 1914, did the Son of man “send forth his angels” to separate the “sons of the kingdom” from “the sons of the wicked one,” the imitation “wheat,” that is, “persons who are doing lawlessness” and who include the “man of lawlessness,” the religious leaders of counterfeit Christianity? The answer must correspond with the facts, and these show that it was in 1919 that the spirit-begotten, anointed “sons of the kingdom,” symbolized by the “wheat,” began to be freed from the “weeds,” or false Christians, that had overrun the religious field of mankind…”
Jesus was unambiguous in stating that the harvest is accomplished when the angels remove the wicked from among the righteous. However, the Watchtower’s present teaching of the parable assumes that the righteous “wheat” is first separated from among the weeds. Clearly, though, in the parable the harvester angels are said to accomplish a thorough cleansing by removing and destroying all corrupting influences from within Christ’s kingdom. Jesus went on to explain the meaning of the parable: “Therefore, just as the weeds are collected and burned with fire, so it will be in the conclusion of the system of things. The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness, and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be. At that time the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let him that has ears listen.”
In the illustration “his kingdom” can only represent Christ’s congregation. For example, Colossians 1:13 refers to Christians being delivered from the world of spiritual darkness and transferred by Jehovah “into the kingdom of the Son of his love.” The question is: If the weeds of the illustration represent the false Christians in Christendom, how could such individuals also be said to be in God’s kingdom? — Please note: Jesus said the weeds would be collected “out from his kingdom.”
Also, how could it possibly hold true that the angels have already removed “all things that cause stumbling and persons doing lawlessness” from Christ’s kingdom? How could such a thing have been accomplished in 1919? Surely Christ was not saying that he would dispatch his angels to clear the stumbling blocks and lawless individuals out of Christendom, was he? Furthermore, if the angels commenced the removal of such things from among the true sons of the kingdom back in 1919, why are there still enumerable stumbling blocks and persons doing lawlessness among Jehovah’s Witnesses up to this present moment?
As an example of a stumbling block, it is well known that beginning in the late 1960’s the Watchtower’s spokesmen began to cultivate the expectation among Jehovah’s Witnesses that Armageddon was going to commence in 1975, or thereabouts. In the ensuing years after that fiasco thousands of disillusioned Witnesses left the organization. For them the 1975 hysteria was a spiritually upending stumbling block. More recently the organization was forced by reality to drop the teaching that individuals from the generation of 1914 would still be alive to personally witness the end of the system. Again, untold numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been stumbled, perhaps even some from among the anointed sons of the kingdom.
Still more recently, the Watchtower’s hypocritical NGO affair has also proven to be a cause of stumbling for some of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is also the case that there are countless numbers of spiritually lawless individuals among Jehovah’s Witnesses—so much so that tens of thousands of immoral witnesses are disfellowshipped every year. And, of course, there are many other problems that afflict the congregations. So, how can it possibly be true that the angels have initiated the harvest that removes all evils from Christ’s kingdom? Are Jehovah’s powerful harvester angels really so ineffectual?
Also, if the harvest truly commenced in 1919 and supposedly all the false Christians were bundled up to be thrown in the fire back then, why is it that no such destruction has taken place yet? Instead, the entire generation of those presumed weed-like individuals have merely passed off the scene—evidently being replaced by a new bumper crop of weeds. Besides, sound reasoning insists that the concluding harvest is not conducted over decades, but is accomplished in a relatively short period from among an already gathered “crop.”
To appreciate what the harvest parable means it is helpful to consider what the apostle Paul had to say concerning these matters. At 1 Corinthians 3:9, the apostle wrote: “For we are God’s fellow workers. You people are God’s field under cultivation, God’s building.” In likening Christ’s congregation to a building under construction and a field under cultivation, Paul provided the means to understand Christ’s parable of the harvest. How so? Paul went on to illustrate the ongoing construction of “God’s building” by comparing each one’s contributions to various types of building materials, saying: “Now if anyone builds on the foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood materials, hay, stubble, each one’s work will become manifest, for the day will show it up, because it will be revealed by means of fire; and the fire itself will prove what sort of work each one’s is.”
The apostle recognized that both desirable and undesirable things were part of the anointed congregation, or kingdom of Christ, and both the inferior materials and the precious metals and stones would coexist in the same building, or organization, until the day of fire would put each one’s work to the proof. Some persons and things would remain and others would be consumed. The combustible materials (wood, hay and stubble) are comparable to the weeds of Jesus’ illustration. The reason Paul used the illustration in the first place was because some of the Corinthians were following men and had a tendency to form sects. Some were saying they belonged to Paul, some to Apollos and Cephas, and so on. The illustration Paul used was meant to show that even though such individuals were part of the congregation, if their faith was not build solidly upon the foundation of Christ then they were building with mere wood, hay and stubble and their work would not survive the fiery trials that lay ahead.
In another illustration, Paul similarly referred to the congregation as a large house that contains both honorable and dishonorable vessels. So the point is—as respects Christ’s illustration both the wheat and the weeds exist within the Christian congregation up until the day of fire. It means that the wheat and the weeds are not found scattered throughout the various denominations of Babylon the Great; but instead, the two sorts already coexist inside the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
That the wheat and the weeds are harvested from the same Christian organization is also apparent from the seven letters of Revelation; addressed to the seven congregations in the Lord’s day. Jesus’ counsel to the congregations plainly shows that some of the individual members within those congregations, even though anointed, do not necessarily meet with his approval and will not pass the test, unless they repent. For example, Christ said to the Sardis congregation: “Become watchful, and strengthen the things remaining that were ready to die, for I have not found your deeds fully performed before my God. Therefore, continue mindful of how you have received and how you heard, and go on keeping it, and repent. Certainly unless you wake up, I shall come as a thief, and you will not know at all at what hour I shall come upon you.”
It is particularly noteworthy that Jesus concluded each letter to the congregations by saying to them: “Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations.” Jesus also concluded his illustration of the wheat and the weeds with a nearly identical admonition, saying: “Let him that has ears listen.”
“THE KINGDOM OF THE HEAVENS IS LIKE A DRAGNET”
Another aspect to consider is that Jesus said that the weeds would experience “weeping and gnashing of their teeth.” What does that mean?
The expression “there is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be” was always used by Jesus to illustrate the condition of despair that the rejected ones would experience when they were put out of the kingdom. That specific phrase is never used in reference to the judgment upon the world in general. For instance, at Matthew 8:12 Jesus said: “Whereas the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the darkness outside. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.”
Likewise in the illustration of the wedding of the king’s son, which is clearly pictorial of the marriage of the Lamb, the man who was allowed entry into the wedding feast, but who was later found to be improperly attired, was consequently bound and thrown into the outer darkness, which is where his weeping and gnashing of teeth occurred.
Similarly, in the illustration of the faithful and discreet slave, the evil slave is said to weep and gnash his teeth when he is thrown out of God’s household upon Christ’s ultimate inspection. Moreover, the wicked and sluggish slave who misuses his master’s assets is destined to meet the same fate.
Jesus used the expression weeping and gnashing of teeth in yet one other illustration. In the context of the parable of the wheat and the weeds in the 13th chapter of Matthew, Jesus related a similar illustration, likening the kingdom of the heavens to a fisherman’s dragnet, saying: “Again the kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet let down into the sea and gathering up fish of every kind. When it got full they hauled it up onto the beach and, sitting down, they collected the fine ones into vessels, but the unsuitable they threw away. That is how it will be in the conclusion of the system of things: the angels will go out and separate the wicked from among the righteous and will cast them into the fiery furnace. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.”
What does the dragnet symbolize? According to the June 15, 1992, Watchtower, the dragnet symbolizes Christendom, as well as Christ’s true congregation. Hence, we read:
“So the dragnet represents an earthly instrument that professes to be God’s congregation and that gathers in fish. It has included both Christendom and the congregation of anointed Christians, the latter having continued to collect fine fish, under the invisible guidance of the angels…”
However, Jesus gave no indication that the dragnet symbolized the multitude of organizations that merely professed to be God’s congregation. He said: “the kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet.” That means that the dragnet represents God’s earthly congregation—not merely the Babel of institutions that may falsely claim to be such.
The Watchtower’s interpretation is inadequate in another way.
If the symbolic dragnet was figuratively hauled up onto beach and the foretold separation began back in 1919, as the Watchtower insists, that would mean that the judgment commenced then. Did not Jesus say that the unsuitable fish would be cast into the fiery furnace? Yet, almost everyone who lived back then has since passed away. Since there is to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous during the millennial reign of God’s kingdom, what purpose could possibly be served by the angels performing a separation of the righteous and the unrighteous when they are to be united in gravedom and then resurrected back to life on earth—or heaven in the case of anointed individuals?
Jesus’ parable of the dragnet illustrates a decisive, final separation that determines the everlasting destiny of those living at a definite point in time. As with the parable of the wheat and weeds, Jesus specified that the angels do the separating work—not merely men under angelic guidance, as the previously cited Watchtower asserted. Furthermore, if the unsuitable fish have not been cast into the fiery furnace, which they obviously have not, than neither have the suitable fish been gathered.
Bethel’s teaching and writing staff ought to find an answer to the question: How many decisive separations are there? That is the appropriate question in view of the fact that according to the Watchtower there are two harvest-like separations. One has supposedly been ongoing since 1919 and another is to occur in the future. But are the Watchtower’s teachings really that contradictory? Yes, unfortunately they are. Consider another excerpt taken from the 1992 issue of the Watchtower discussing the dragnet:
“You likely know that after 1919 the anointed remnant got busy in the preaching work in cooperation with the angels, who continued to use the symbolic dragnet to haul fish onto the beach, to separate the fine ones from the unsuitable ones. Statistics from that period show that the catch of fine fish for anointing with God’s spirit continued as the last ones of the 144,000 were gathered by the symbolic net. But by the mid-1930’s, the collecting of fine fish for anointing with holy spirit basically ended. Was the congregation of the anointed remnant then to discard the net, as it were, and simply sit idle, waiting for their heavenly reward? Not at all!”
According to the commentary above, the separating work has been ongoing since 1919. Nevertheless, in 1995 the Watchtower discarded the teaching that the sheep and the goats were being separated at this time. In the October 15th issue we read:
“We have long felt that the parable depicted Jesus’ sitting down as King in 1914 and since then making judgments—everlasting life for people proving to be like sheep, permanent death for the goats. But a reconsideration of the parable points to an adjusted understanding of its timing and what it illustrates. This refinement reinforces the importance of our preaching work and the significance of people’s response.”
What then does the parable illustrate? It illustrates a future judging and separating. And in proving their new position and “readjusted understanding” the Watchtower inadvertently contradicts and nullifies everything they have previously taught as to when the related parables of the wheat and weeds and the dragnet are fulfilled. The Watchtower continues:
“If we analyze Jesus’ activity in the parable, we observe him finally judging all the nations. The parable does not show that such judging would continue over an extended period of many years, as if every person dying during these past decades were judged worthy of everlasting death or everlasting life. It seems that the majority who have died in recent decades have gone to mankind’s common grave. The parable, though, depicts the time when Jesus judges the people of “all the nations” who are then alive and facing the execution of his judicial sentence.”
In other words, the parable points to the future when the Son of man will come in his glory. He will sit down to judge people then living. His judgment will be based on what they have manifested themselves to be. At that time “the distinction between a righteous one and a wicked one” will have been clearly established. The actual pronouncing and executing of judgment will be carried out in a limited time. Jesus will render just decisions based on what has become evident about individuals.”
On the one hand the Watchtower correctly reasons that the judging of the nations does not take place “over an extended period of many years.” In reaching that conclusion the Watchtower insightfully recognizes that the parable teaches that Jesus’ judgment comes immediately before the final “execution of his judicial sentence.” But contradictorily, the Watchtower also insists that the harvest judgment commenced nearly a century ago and is ongoing!
What can account for this maddening method of interpreting prophecy, whereby multiple meanings are contrived from obviously related texts? The only rational explanation for the Watchtower’s blatantly contradictory teachings is that they are determined to prop up the fallacy that Christ began ruling the world in 1914—no matter the cost to their credibility. The only reason that the parable of the wheat and weeds and the dragnet are attributed to 1919 is because Jesus indicated that those parables illustrate what is to occur during the conclusion of the system of things. If the Watchtower were to follow its own sound reasoning that is applied to the parable of the sheep and the goats they would be forced to admit that the conclusion of the system has not begun yet. That is evidently unacceptable to the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Apparently, Bethel is confident that most witnesses will not detect their interpretive legerdemain; and sadly, so far apparently very few have.
As regards the Watchtower’s interpretation, the irony is that the parable of the sheep and the goats situates the separating as taking place when Christ becomes king: Matthew 25:31 reads: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
In order to patch over yet another discrepancy the Watchtower explains the parable of the sheep and goats in terms of Christ sitting down on his judgment throne—not his kingly throne—as if there are two different occasions when Jesus is enthroned. But clearly there is only one final judgment and separation of the righteous and the wicked.
And Jesus foretold that it will occur unexpectedly, when the Lord arrives, and is accomplished over a relatively short period of time. At Matthew 24:40-42 Jesus said: “Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken along and the other be abandoned; two women will be grinding at the hand mill: one will be taken along and the other be abandoned. Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
“THE HARVEST OF THE EARTH IS THOROUGHLY RIPE”
To further establish the Bible’s teaching in this regard and in order to overturn the “strongly entrenched” dogma supporting 1914, Revelation chapter 14 situates the general harvest as occurring during the tribulation period. How so? As is discussed elsewhere in this publication, the opening of the sixth seal initiates earth-shaking events associated with what Christ called a great tribulation. However, the tribulation does not lead immediately into Armageddon. Instead, the seventh chapter of Revelation indicates that the angels intercede to hold back the four winds of God’s destructive judgment until all of the remaining 144,000 have been sealed. Jesus directly spoke of the same development when he said: “For then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again. In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.”
The holding back of the four winds parallels the cutting short of the tribulation on account of the chosen ones of the 144,000. Evidently the tribulation will be suspended so that the final sealing may be accomplished. That being the case, the 14th chapter of Revelation establishes the ordering of events after that final sealing. That is evident because the vision of 144,000 standing upon Mount Zion can only signify that Christ’s remnant has finally been sealed at that point, so that the kingdom is at last complete. Their standing upon Mount Zion with the Lamb of God parallels the wheat being gathered into the heavenly storehouse. Contrary to the assumptions of most of Jehovah’s Witnesses, God’s purpose has not reached that stage yet.
The vision of Revelation reveals that after the last of the 144,000 sons of the kingdom have been gathered into the storehouse, then the hour of judgment for the sheep and goats arrives. Thus, Revelation 14:6 reads: “And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, and he had everlasting good news to declare as glad tidings to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people, saying in a loud voice: ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of the judgment by him has arrived, and so worship the One who made the heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters.’”
Immediately after the harvest of the “things in the heavens” and the angelic announcement of divine judgment, then the “harvest of the earth” commences: “And another angel emerged from the temple sanctuary, crying with a loud voice to the one seated on the cloud: ‘Put your sickle in and reap, because the hour has come to reap, for the harvest of the earth is thoroughly ripe.’ And the one seated on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.”
The ordering of events in Revelation matches the sequence of developments Christ foretold would occur during the conclusion. The judgment begins first upon the prospective heirs of the kingdom. During his discussion of the sign of his presence and the conclusion of the system of things in the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew, Jesus gave a series of three parables to illustrate that very thing; namely, the illustration of the faithful and unfaithful slave; the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and the parable of the talents. After foretelling how the evil and sluggish slaves will be dismissed from God’s household, Christ next gave the illustration of the sheep and the goats, which has to do with the judgment of all the nations. It is reasonable to conclude that the sheep are those who render good to Christ’s brothers during the time of tumult and persecution that marks the judgment upon the house of God.