“But the most important date for all human creation is 1914, for that marked the greatest turning point in all human history…” -Watchtower, May 15, 1960 –
When confronted with the facts already presented concerning the falsity of the 1914 parousia doctrine, many of Jehovah’s Witnesses may be inclined to reason along lines similar to this: ‘Perhaps there are some aspects of the Watchtower’s 1914 doctrine that are not yet in focus, but surely the sign of Christ’s presence has been in evidence since 1914?’
This chapter will more closely examine the evidence presented. The central feature of the sign is very simple, as Jesus said: “For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.”.
There is no question that the First World War was the most destructive war in history—at least up until then. But, did the war of 1914 fulfill Jesus’ prophecy in a way that no other war can—or will? Is it possible that there could perhaps be another war in the future, one even more destructive than the 20th century’s two world wars, which, if accompanied by the other specified calamities, might serve as the actual sign of Christ’s return?
The Watchtower says no. The reasoning behind that is based on the assumption that because numerous nations now possess nuclear weapons and various other fiendish weapons of mass destruction, any future wars would be so destructive that the human race simply could not survive. And since the Bible assures us that the earth will not be destroyed and that people will live forever on the earth, for that reason another world war is deemed to be out of the question.For example, in the book Reasoning from the Scriptures, under the topic “Last Days,” the Watchtower offers this explanation to skeptical householders who might pose the possibility of a future war fulfilling the sign of Christ’s presence:
“Well, part of the sign given by Jesus involves war between nations and kingdoms. But what would happen today if fulfillment of the sign required that we wait until another all-out war were to break out between the superpowers? Such a war would leave few if any survivors. So, you see, God’s purpose that there be survivors indicates that we are now very close to the end of this old system.”
The Reasoning from the Scriptures also offers the additional reasoning:
“Matching world events to this prophecy is like matching a fingerprint to its owner. There will not be someone else with the identical print. Likewise, the pattern of events that began in 1914 will not be repeated in some future generation.”
But is the Watchtower’s reasoning sound? Can it positively be ruled out that the sign of Christ’s presence might not possibly display itself more convincingly in the future? That question is made all the more pertinent in view of the fact the Watchtower also teaches that prophecies cannot be understood before they are fulfilled.
In a backhanded sort of way the Watchtower contradicts its own reasoning. On the one hand, Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that the pattern set in 1914 definitely cannot be repeated in some future generation; yet, the Watchtower also admits that prophecies cannot be understood before they are fulfilled. But if prophecies cannot be understood in detail beforehand, how can it be said for certain that future developments will not surpass the scope and scale of the foretold events now associated with 1914? According to the Watchtower’s own writings we will have to wait and see how things develop in the future before we can confidently determine whether prophecies have been fulfilled or not.
The previously cited statement said that a war involving nuclear powers would “leave few if any survivors,” and for that reason it has been deemed impossible. But that type of scenario is exactly what Jesus was alluding to when he said that the tribulation would be of such severity that unless Jehovah intervened to cut it short no flesh would survive. Obviously, there is nothing that prevents the nations from engaging in another world war—even one many times more destructive than any previous wars. Needless to say, even a limited nuclear exchange would dwarf the catastrophe known as the First World War.
In the past the Watchtower has taught that Jesus’ prophecy concerning “fearful sights” and “great signs” from heaven, as well as men becoming “faint out of fear,” has already been fulfilled in the 20th century. Citing the fearsome weapons used during World War I, the Watchtower wrote as recently as October 1, 1988:
“World War I introduced terrible new weapons. From the heavens, airplanes and airships rained down bombs and bullets. Even more terrifying was the destruction that rained down on helpless civilians in World War II, including that of two atom bombs…Meanwhile, as foretold, “men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.” Crime, terrorism, economic collapse, chemical pollution, and radiation poisoning from nuclear power plants, together with the mounting threat of nuclear war, are all causes of “fear.”
But really, the canvas-winged airplanes of the 1914 era cannot even begin to compare to modern weaponry. Besides, those crude airplanes did not target civilian populations nor did they have the capability to do so; whereas, merely one sophisticated warplane today can carry more firepower than all of the weapons and munitions used in both world wars!
Furthermore, the anxiety people of the 20th century may have experienced concerning the future does not exactly appear to be what Jesus was describing when he foretold that men will “become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.” It is true that the world has lived in fear of nuclear war and other calamities, but becoming “faint out of fear” would seem to suggest a unique sort of knee-buckling terror in response to a catastrophic situation—not merely anxiety over the possibility.
Interestingly, since at least 1995 the Watchtower has quietly begun to reinterpret this feature of the sign concerning men becoming faint with fear, so as to apply it to the future. Now Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer consider the common anxiety society has been experiencing as being part of the sign of Christ’s presence. However, that presents the Watchtower with yet another interpretive dilemma. That is because according to Jesus’ prophecy, the fearful sights from heaven and men becoming faint with fright is a result of nation rising against nation in warfare. That is evidently why in the very next verse Jesus told his disciples: “But as these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.”
As what “things start to occur”? According to Jesus, wars and even reports of wars were going to induce terror. That is why Jesus exhorted his disciples not to give into fear, saying: “Furthermore, when you hear of wars and disorders, do not be terrified. For these things must occur first, but the end does not occur immediately.”
Jesus went on to enlarge upon the sign, foretelling that his disciples would see “fearful sights.” At Luke 21:10-11, Jesus said: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences and food shortages; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.”
The wars and disorders Jesus foretold are evidently also the primary cause of terror—perhaps culminating in fearful sights and great signs in the form of great billowing mushroom clouds boiling into the heavens. One thing is certain: Even the detonation of one thermonuclear weapon will induce in mankind a living terror never before experienced in all of history.
THE GENERATION THAT WILL NOT PASS AWAY
The most conspicuous deficiency of the Watchtower’s 1914 doctrine is the obvious fact that it has now been almost a century and virtually everyone who originally witnessed the events associated with the Great War of 1914 has long since passed away. However, up until 1995 the Watchtower fostered the belief among Jehovah’s Witnesses that some of the 1914 generation would still be alive to see the end. As recently as 1993, the Watchtower stated:
“Thus, all the features of the last days must take place within the lifetime of one generation, the generation of 1914. So some people who were alive in 1914 will still be alive when this system comes to its end. That generation of people is now very advanced in years, indicating that there is not much time left before God brings this present system of things to an end.”
The November 1, 1995, Watchtower endeavored to redefine a generation while still retaining the 1914 date. Because Jesus used the term “generation” in context with the wicked faithlessness of the Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses now believe that a “generation” has no connection to the duration of a group of people living at a specific time.
However, when Jesus pronounced sentence upon the faithless Jewish nation at Matthew 23:36, he said to them: “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” In the first century the generation that heard Jesus’ pronouncement did not pass away until they also saw the fulfillment of “all these things,” culminating with the destruction of Jerusalem.
According to Jesus, his disciples living at the time would personally see the sign of his presence. Jesus even provided an illustration to emphasize the point, saying: “Now learn from the fig tree as an illustration this point: Just as soon as its young branch grows tender and it puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. Likewise also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors.”
The pronoun “you” appears three times in the verse quoted. But, have you personally witnessed the events that took place in 1914? Has anyone now living personally witnessed all of the things Jesus foretold? Did Jesus merely intend for his disciples living at the time of his return to “see” the sign of his presence by reading history books or by word of mouth eyewitness accounts handed down from grandparents and great grandparents? If so, why did Jesus say, “when you see all these things”? According to the brochure quoted in the first part of this chapter, the Watchtower asserts that many people have personally seen the sign of Jesus’ presence. The article poses the question:
“Have you experienced the war destruction, the food shortages, or any of the great earthquakes that have plagued the earth since 1914? If so, you have been an eyewitness of “the sign” of “the time of the end” of this system of things.”
Honestly, though, how many people today have really “experienced” the sign of Christ’s presence? Most people living in the Western world have not personally experienced any of the things Jesus foretold. However, according to the Watchtower brochure entitled Does God Really Care About Us? the modern plagues of heart disease, AIDS and cancer are also a fulfillment of the sign. Here is what the Watchtower has stated:
“The Spanish influenza alone killed about 20,000,000 people following World War I—some estimates being 30,000,000 or more. AIDS has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and could take millions more in the near future. Each year millions of people die of heart ailments, cancer, and other diseases. Millions more die the slow death of hunger. Without a doubt the ‘horsemen of the Apocalypse’ with their wars, food shortages, and disease epidemics have been cutting down large numbers of the human family since 1914.”
But if the four horsemen of the Apocalypse have already commenced their deadly gallop, as is assumed, is it reasonable that the world’s population should be steadily increasing? Should not the population be dramatically reduced when the deadly prophetic horsemen are unleashed upon the world? For instance, during the time when the Black Death stalked the continent of Europe, the population of some regions was reduced by as much as 50%! Entire towns were completely wiped out by the deadly scourge. But, do the degenerate diseases of Western Civilization, such as cancer and heart disease, even pose the same kind of menace as the bubonic contagion of centuries past? Obviously not.
Furthermore, does it make any sense that a large part of the world’s population is being plagued by disease epidemics and famines of apocalyptic proportions when, according to the Watchtower, one of the major threats facing the more affluent nations today is obesity?
According to Revelation, a quarter of the earth’s population is destined to succumb to the combined ravages of the three apocalyptic horsemen: “And I saw, and, look! a pale horse; and the one seated upon it had the name Death. And Hades was closely following him. And authority was given them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with a long sword and with food shortage and with deadly plague and by the wild beasts of the earth.”
What does it mean that “the fourth part of the earth” is given over to the authority of Death? If words mean anything, particularly God’s words, the “fourth part” must evidently signify that approximately 25%, or about one-quarter of the world is destined to fall victim to the apocalyptic horsemen. Do the number of deaths attributed to the wars, famines, and pestilences of the 20th century approximate one-quarter of the earth’s population then?
In 1900 there were about 1.5 billion people on earth. There were about 8-9 million men killed during World War One and an additional 20-40 million unfortunate souls perished from the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. Apparently, there were no major famines during that same period. So, taking the high-end number of deaths from the Spanish Flu and rounding up the deaths from WWI to 10 million, for a combined total of 50 million, what percentage of 1.5 billion is 50 million?
That figure represents roughly 3% of the total population at that time— nowhere near one-fourth of the world’s population in 1914-19.
But what about taking into consideration all of the deaths from war, famine and pestilence during the 20th century, as the Watchtower does? For example, the Watchtower often states that the numerous wars of the past century claimed over 100 million lives. The problem with that approach is that the earth’s population is also expanding—now exponentially—in spite of the horrendous death toll of war, famine and pestilence.
So, if we take the 100 million figure and even add an additional 150 million to it for all sorts of untimely deaths, that hypothetical quarter of a billion dead still only represents roughly 4% of the present population, which now stands at over 6,700,000,000.
Is God’s Word exaggerating when it states that the four horsemen are given authority “over the fourth part of the earth”? Or given all that has been presented up to this point, is it more sensible to conclude that the sign of Christ’s presence has not appeared yet?
Just as the Watchtower cannot authoritatively assure us that there will not be another world war, neither can they validly discount the possibility that food shortages and pandemics may occur in the future on a scale never before experienced. For example, experts in the field of virology continue to issue dire warnings that the emerging Avian flu has the potential to sweep the globe and could possibly kill as many as a billion people. If even only a fraction of that number should fall victim, such a grim, worst-case scenario would far surpass the horrors of the Spanish Flu of 1918. And it is not out of the question that future pestilences may even be the result of manmade biological weapons.
“THEN PEOPLE WILL DELIVER YOU UP TO TRIBULATION”
If the First World War was the “beginning of pangs of distress” that Jesus had foretold, then the other facets of the sign of Christ’s presence ought to be in evidence also. Are they?
Another aspect of the sign of Christ’s presence is recorded at Matthew 24:9-14, which reads: “Then people will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name. Then, also, many will be stumbled and will betray one another and will hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and mislead many; and because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off. But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved. 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.”
There is no question but that in the past 100 years Jehovah’s Witnesses have been one of the most hated and maligned religious organizations in the world. The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the Nazis is well known. During the 1930’s and 40’s Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States were also subjected to waves of intense mob violence and harassment. Canadian witnesses were intensely persecuted as well, particularly in the French-speaking province of Quebec during the 1950’s.
More recently, during the 1970’s the government of Malawi sanctioned the vicious persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, resulting in thousands being driven from their homes, brutalized and killed. Jehovah’s Witnesses are presently being persecuted in numerous former Soviet countries. But do these persecutions, past and present, make up the sign of the conclusion of the system of things? After all, the original Christians were viciously persecuted at times too. Is it not possible that all of the persecutions up to this point have merely been a preview of what is to come?
Consider more closely the parallel account of Christ’s prophecy as it appears in Mark: “As for you, look out for yourselves; people will deliver you up to local courts, and you will be beaten in synagogues and be put on the stand before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them. Also, in all the nations the good news has to be preached first. But when they are leading you along to deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what to speak; but whatever is given you in that hour, speak this, for you are not the ones speaking, but the holy spirit is. Furthermore, brother will deliver brother over to death, and a father a child, and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death; and you will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my name. But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.”
Please note that Jesus said that the good news had to be preached first. “First,” before what? The good news is preached to the nations first before Christians are delivered up to the courts and rulers in order to give them a final witness. Have Jehovah’s Witnesses been placed on the stand before the governors and rulers of the world “for a witness to them”? True, some court cases involving the unjust persecution and banning of Jehovah’s Witnesses have attained national and even international prominence. The recent banning of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow is an example. But do such cases really fulfill the requirements of Christ’s prophetic sign? Remember, the Watchtower has compared the sign of Christ’s presence to a unique fingerprint. The question is, are past events an exacting match of what Christ foretold would happen?
Surely Jesus’ instructions to his followers not to be anxious about their legal plight and to “settle it in your hearts not to rehearse beforehand how to make your defense,” (Luke 21:14-16) rules out lawyers even being involved in behalf of the defense. Furthermore, do modern legal cases involving the Watchtower really allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to give a witness concerning the kingdom of God before government officials? Or is it more a case of legal wrangling between governments and Watchtower lawyers? In contrast with Christ’s counsel, what attorney would dare go to court without first carefully rehearsing beforehand how to make a defense for their client? Does the holy spirit speak to the governmental rulers through legal petitions filed by Watchtower attorneys? The pattern found in the Holy Scriptures indicates otherwise.
Jesus Christ, himself, once stood before the judgment seat of the Jewish high priest and King Herod, as well as before the Roman governor, Pilate, without having an attorney present. His defense was very simple. He spoke about the kingdom of God. Peter, James and John also gave a witness before the Jewish high court without having some attorney speak for them in the legalese of that day. Paul even appeared before Caesar in Rome in order to give a thorough witness concerning Christ’s kingdom.
But have rank and file Jehovah’s Witnesses ever appeared before high-ranking officials without being represented by lawyers and preparing a legal defense beforehand? While Jehovah’s Witnesses may assume that the underlying kingdom issue is paramount in such instances where the Watchtower’s lawyers seek legal redress for bannings and persecutions, still, what comparison is there to the bold witness given by Christ and the apostles?
Moreover, the persecutions of Jehovah’s Witnesses to date do not seem to approach the scale or severity that Christ was describing when he foretold: “Furthermore, brother will deliver brother over to death, and a father a child, and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.”
The familial betrayal of Christians is a significant feature of the sign of the conclusion of the system. If the time of the end really commenced in 1914, should not this characteristic of Christ’s prophecy be as prominent as the wars, famines and pestilences? Perhaps there were a few instances of Christian witnesses being betrayed into death by a family member during the Holocaust, but if there were such instances they were very rare.
However, the Hebrew prophecies point forward to a time when the Christian society will be shattered and spiritual brothers will turn upon one another in large numbers to have them put to death. For example, the entire seventh chapter of Micah has to do with the fall and subsequent restoration of Jehovah’s people during the conclusion. Specifically, Micah 7:2 says: “The loyal one has perished from the earth, and among mankind there is no upright one. All of them, for bloodshed they lie in wait. They hunt, everyone his own brother, with a dragnet.” Micah went on to say: “Do not put your faith in a companion. Do not put your trust in a confidential friend. From her who is lying in your bosom guard the openings of your mouth. For a son is despising a father; a daughter is rising up against her mother; a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his household.”
It might be difficult for Jehovah’s Witnesses to visualize the organization ever imploding upon itself, while brothers and sisters turn upon each other in ugly acts of treachery and betrayal; but it is also equally difficult for most people to imagine the present system ever violently collapsing. Yet, the prophets assure us that Jehovah is going to rock this world to its very foundation.
As for the spiritual condition of the organization, there is already a detectable spirit of disillusionment and waning zeal reflected among a growing number of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Meanwhile, many outsiders and ex-Witnesses consider the Watchtower Society to be a dangerous, brainwashed cult. The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in times past testifies as to how easily public sentiment can be inflamed, particularly during the hysteria of war. While the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses are content to unquestioningly follow the Watchtower at the moment, what happens when the Watchtower’s prophetic expectations are undeniably discredited by unanticipated developments? Then what?
“THEN, ALSO, MANY WILL BE STUMBLED”
It is well know, for instance, that the Watchtower has repeatedly stated that the great tribulation will commence when the United Nations suddenly destroys Babylon the Great—including all of Christendom. But the Scriptures simply do not support the Watchtower’s speculative interpretations. Even more disconcerting is that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been led to believe they will more or less be idle bystanders to God’s judgments. Contrary to the prevailing opinion that the organization will survive the end, Hosea foretells: “And I will put your mother to silence. My people will certainly be silenced, because there is no knowledge.” Now, the question posed here is: What will happen when Bethel is silenced at the critical juncture when Jehovah’s Witnesses look to their “mother” for guidance?
In the inevitable confusion and madness of war, famine, pestilence, financial collapse and the ultimate humiliation and desolation of the Watchtower Society, the presently simmering hatred and fear of Jehovah’s Witnesses will erupt into a frenzied persecution never before experienced. Jehovah’s Witnesses who blindly follow the Watchtower with no real attachment to Jehovah will likely become completely bewildered and confounded. Indeed, in the context of Micah’s prophecy concerning brothers being betrayed by brothers, the prophet says: “The day of your watchmen, of your being given attention, must come. Now will occur the confounding of them.”
Under conditions of a police state it does not require a great deal of imagination to envision the faithless cracking under pressure and betraying their former brothers and family members into death, as Christ forewarned when he said: “Then, also, many will be stumbled and will betray one another and will hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and mislead many…” Tragically, the Watchtower really has no insight into these vital matters. They would have Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the “many,” who “will be stumbled” and “betray one another,” are not even Christians. As many times as the Watchtower has cited the 24th chapter of Matthew they have rarely even offered a single word of commentary on the verses quoted above. Apparently it is considered an insignificant feature of the sign.
Another facet of the sign of Christ’s presence is an “increasing of lawlessness.” But what exactly was Jesus foretelling when he said: “Because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off”? The Watchtower has always maintained that the “increasing of lawlessness” has to do with an increase in crime of all sorts. There are a few problems with that interpretation.
The United States Bureau of Justice website for crime statistics indicates that for the last decade crime trends have been steadily decreasing—not increasing. There is no question that the 1960’s through the early 1990’s saw an increasing of crime of all sorts, but the trend has undeniably been reversed—at least in the United States, which is one of the most violent and lawless nations in the world. However, the word “lawlessness,” as it is used in the Scriptures, always pertains to religious hypocrisy and rebellion against God. Jesus used the word on three other occasions. On the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said he would say to the hypocrites who pretend to serve him: “And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
And in connection with the judgment upon the weed-like Christians, Jesus said: “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.” In judgment of the hypocritical Pharisees Jesus said: “In that way you also, outwardly indeed, appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
In each of the cited texts “lawlessness” was used in reference to spiritual corruption among those who claimed to serve God. It is apparent, then, Jesus was foretelling an increasing of hypocrisy and apostasy in his congregation as an aspect of the sign of his presence—not an increasing of criminal activity in the world. The cooling off of the love of many and the increasing of lawlessness must occur among those who formally loved God and were faithful to him.
In the Bible book of Mark, Jesus foretold: “In all the nations the good news has to be preached first.” Presently, Jesus’ words are understood to mean “first”—before the end of the system. That is because Jesus said in the often-quoted 24th chapter of Matthew: “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.”
Paradoxically,on the one hand, in the gospel of Matthew Jesus says the good news will be preached before the end, but in Mark he says it must be preached first—before the persecution and seemingly before “nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.”
That is made even more apparent in the 21st chapter of Luke, where Jesus said: “But before all these things people will lay their hands upon you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.” “Before all these things” is in reference to the wars, food shortages and fearful sights from heaven Jesus foretold in the previous verse. Could it be that the world-wide kingdom preaching work that has already been accomplished by Jehovah’s Witnesses and the persecutions suffered up to this point are preliminary to the actual appearance of the sign of Christ’s presence, but that during Christ’s presence a great final witness will be delivered—“and then the end will come”? There are sound reasons to believe that is true.
Consider the first century pattern, whereby, shortly after Jesus commenced his ministry he also trained and dispatched 70 disciples to herald the coming of the kingdom of God. It is noteworthy that the apostles and disciples only had a rudimentary grasp of what the kingdom of God actually was at that time. The apostles also assumed that the kingdom was going to begin ruling immediately. They believed that since Jesus was then physically present that the kingdom was going to instantly take over the world. We are informed at Luke 19:11 that Jesus gave them an illustration because “they were imagining that the kingdom of God was going to display itself instantly.”
Remarkably, though, Jesus still commissioned them to preach, in spite of their ignorance. But after Jesus’ resurrection the apostles and disciples had their minds fully opened to the real truth concerning God’s kingdom. And after the anointing spirit was poured out, the early Christians became an indomitable spiritual force that undertook to evangelize the entire Mediterranean world.
Jesus’ dealings with his first century congregation stand as a pattern. Jehovah’s Witnesses are in the same position relative to Christ’s coming as were the apostles before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just like the 70 disciples who were sent out to announce that God’s kingdom had drawn near, Jehovah’s Witnesses have raised awareness of vital spiritual matters concerning God’s kingdom. But, like the 70 who were sent out, Jehovah’s Witnesses are also laboring under various erroneous assumptions and premature expectations.
According to virtually every prophetic book in the Bible, the arrival of Christ will result in a massive sifting and refining of all Christians during a time of great distress. That is when the genuine sign of Christ’s presence will become evident. Afterwards there will be an outpouring of spirit and truth that will impel the chastised and humbled to embark on an intense preaching campaign that will serve to put the world on notice that the kingdom has finally arrived — “and then the end will come.”