This post is a review of the second study article in the July 15 issue of The Watchtower which explains our new understanding of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and weeds.
Before continuing, please open the article to page 10 and take a good look at the illustration at the top of that page. Do you notice anything missing? If not, here’s a hint: Concentrate on the third panel of the illustration.
There are eight million people missing and unaccounted for! The weeds are the imitation Christians mixed in with the wheat, anointed Christians. According to our official teaching, the wheat number only 144,000. So in the harvest there are two types of Christians, anointed Christians (wheat) and imitation or false Christians (weeds). And the eight million of us who we say are true Christians but not anointed? Where are we? Surely Jesus wouldn’t ignore such a large group?
This highlights the first flaw in our interpretation. We used to say that this parable applied to the group we call the “other sheep” by extension. Of course, there is no basis for a “by extension” application of this or any other of the “kingdom of God is like” parables, but we had to say something to explain away the discrepancy. However, we do not even make that attempt in this article. So millions are completely excluded from the fulfillment of this parable. It simply doesn’t make sense that Jesus would overlook such a large part of his flock. So in this, our latest reinterpretation of this parable, rather than dealing with a serious discrepancy, we have chosen to ignore it entirely. We are not off to a particularly auspicious start.
“However, since they were overgrown by weedlike Christians, we do not know for certain who belonged to the wheat class…”
We often like to classify things in our interpretations. Hence we make reference to the “evil slave class”, or the “bride class”, or in this case, the “wheat class”. The problem with this tendency is it promotes the idea of a fulfillment on a class or group level rather than on individuals. You may feel this is a negligible distinction, but in fact it has led us to some awkward blind alley interpretations, as we are about to see yet again. Suffice it to say at this point that changing the application of this parable’s weeds and wheat to a weed class and wheat class is done without any Scriptural foundation.
Paragraph 5 & 6
The application of Mal. 3:1-4 is correctly made to the time of Jesus. However, the subsequent paragraph speaks of “the larger fulfillment”. This is one of a number of “just believe” moments in this issue’s study articles. From a Beroean perspective, this is alarming evidence of a growing trend of late that requires us as Witnesses to simply accept without question something we are being taught by the Governing Body.
Malachi’s prophecy was fulfilled in the First Century, in part when Jesus entered Jehovah’s place of true worship, the temple in Jerusalem, and forcibly cleared out the money changers. He did this on two occasions: The first, only six months after becoming the Messiah; and the second, three years later at his final Passover on Earth. We are not told why he didn’t do this cleansing of the temple during the two intervening Passovers, but we can assume that it wasn’t necessary. Perhaps his initial cleansing and subsequent status among the people kept the money changers from coming back until three years had passed. We can be sure that had they been there during the second and third Passovers, he would not have turned a blind eye to their ongoing transgression. In any case, these two actions were seen by all and became the talk of the nation. His temple cleansing was visible to faithful follower and bitter enemy alike.
Is that the case with the “larger fulfillment”? The antitypical Jerusalem with her temple is Christendom. Did something visible to friend and foe alike happen in Christendom in 1914 to indicate that Jesus had returned to the temple? Something to surpass First Century events?
[As we continue this discussion, we have to ignore the elephant in the room, namely that the entire premise of the article is contingent on the acceptance of 1914 as the start of Christ’s invisible presence. However, the reasoning in this article rests entirely on that premise, so we will accept it provisionally so that we can continue with the discussion.]
In an attempt to prove Malachi’s prophecy was fulfilled from 1914 to 1919, we are first told that some Bible Students were disheartened because they hadn’t gone to heaven during that period. That is true, but what does this have to do with the inspection and cleansing that Jesus was supposedly performing at that time? Many more were disheartened from 1925 to 1928 when Rutherford’s prediction that the resurrection had already happened proved false. (2 Tim. 2:16-19) Reportedly, many more left the Society over that debacle then left due to the failed predictions surrounding 1914. Therefore, why isn’t that time period included in the inspection and cleansing? No explanation is given.
We are also told that the preaching work slowed during 1915 to 1916. One report says the preaching activity from 1914 to 1918 dropped by 20%. (See jv chap. 22 p. 424) However, we have seen the same happen in country after country throughout the Twentieth Century during times of war and economic hardship. During such difficult times, does Jesus expect us to continue at the same level of activity we achieved during times of peace and prosperity? Does a justifiable dip in preaching activity call for a cleansing work by Christ?
Indeed, how does any of this parallel his chasing of the money changers out of the temple?
Next, we are told that there was opposition arising from within the organization. Four of the seven directors rebelled against the decision to have brother Rutherford take the lead. These four left Bethel and that resulted in “a cleansing indeed”, according to the article. The implication is that they left voluntarily and as a result we were able to proceed without the contaminating influence of what we until recently called “an evil slave class.”
Since this is brought up as proof of an inspection and cleansing performed by Jesus and his Father from 1914 to 1919, we have a duty to search out the facts and verify that “these things are so”.
In August, 1917 Rutherford published a document called Harvest Siftings in which he explained his position. The key issue was his desire to assume complete control over the Society. In his defense he stated:
“For more than thirty years, the President of THE WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY managed its affairs exclusively, and the Board of Directors, so-called, had little to do. This is not said in criticism, but for the reason that the work of the Society peculiarly requires the direction of one mind.” [italics ours]
Rutherford, as president, didn’t want to answer to a Board of Directors. To put it in modern JW terminology, Judge Rutherford didn’t want a “governing body” to direct the work of the Society.
The Will and Testament of Charles Taze Russell called for an editorial body of five members to direct the feeding of God’s people, which is exactly what the modern day Governing Body does. He named the five members of this envisioned committee in his will, and added an additional five names when replacements were called for. Two of the ousted directors were on that replacement list. Farther down the list was Judge Rutherford. Russell also directed that no name or author be attached to published material and gave additional instructions, stating:
“My object in these requirements is to safeguard the committee and the journal from any spirit of ambition or pride or headship…”
The four “rebellious” directors were concerned that Judge Rutherford, following his election as president, was manifesting all the signs of an autocrat. They wanted to remove him and appoint someone else who would respect the direction of Brother Russell’s will.
From the WT article we are led to believe that once these directors were ousted; that is, once Jesus had cleansed the organization, the way was open for Jesus to appoint the faithful slave to feed the flock. From the last article in this issue we are told that “the slave is made up of a small group of anointed brothers who are directly involved in preparing and dispensing spiritual food during Christ’s presence….that slave has been closely identified with the Governing Body…”
Is that what happened? Did the supposed cleansing of these four directors clear the way for the editorial committee that Russell had envisioned and willed to take place? Did it clear the way for a governing body of anointed brothers to oversee the feeding program; to be appointed at the faithful and discreet slave in 1919? Or were the worst fears of Brother Russell and the four ousted directors realized, with Rutherford becoming the sole voice of the brotherhood, putting his name on the publications as author, and setting himself up as the so-called appointed channel of communication of Almighty God to the brotherhood?
Shall we let history and our own publications provide the answer? Take, as but one example, this photo from The Messenger of Tuesday, July 19, 1927 where Rutherford is called our “generalissimo”.
The word “generalissimo” is an Italian, from generale, plus the superlative suffix -issimo, meaning “utmost, to the highest grade”. Historically this rank was given to a military officer leading an entire army or the entire armed forces of a nation, usually only subordinate to the sovereign.
The removal of the editorial committee or governing body was finally achieved in 1931. This we learn from the sworn testimony of no less a witness than brother Fred Franz:Q. Why did you have an editorial committee up to 1931? A. Pastor Russell in his will specified that there should be such an editorial committee, and it was continued down till then. Q. Did you find that the editorial committee was in conflict with having the journal edited by Jehovah God, is that it? A. No. Q. Was the policy in opposition to what your conception of an editing by Jehovah God was? A. It was found on occasions that some of these on the editorial committee were preventing the publication of timely and vital, up-to-date truths and thereby hindering the going of those truths to the people of the Lord in his due time. By the Court: Q. After that, 1931, who on earth, if anybody, had charge of what went in or did not go in the magazine? A. Judge Rutherford. Q. So he in effect was the earthly editor-in-chief, as he might be called? A. He would be the visible one to take care of that. By Mr. Bruchhausen: Q. He was working as God’s representative or agent in running this magazine, is that correct? A. He was serving in that capacity. [This excerpt is from the libel trial brought against Rutherford and the Society by Olin Moyle.]
If we are to accept that a cleansing took place from 1914 to 1919, then we must accept that Jesus cleared the way for Judge Rutherford to have his way and that this man who dissolved the editorial committee in 1931 and set himself up as the sole authority over the anointed, was appointed by Jesus to be his Faithful and Discreet slave from 1919 until his death in 1942.
“’The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things,’ said Jesus. (Matt. 13:39) That harvest season began in 1914.”
Again we have a “just believe” statement. No Scriptural support is provided for this statement. It is simply stated as fact.
“By 1919, it became evident that Babylon the Great had fallen.”
If it became evident, then why is no evidence presented?
This is where our redefinition of the weeds and wheat from individual Christians into classes gets us into interpretive trouble. Classifying the weeds as all other Christian religions allows us to say the weeds were gathered in 1919 when Babylon fell. There was no need for the angels to pluck individual stocks. Anyone in those religions was automatically a weed. Yet, what evidence is presented that this weed harvest happened in 1919? That 1919 is the year that Babylon the great fell?
We are told the preaching work is the evidence. As the article itself admits, in 1919, “Those taking the lead among the Bible Students began to stress the importance of sharing personally in the Kingdom preaching work.” Still, it wasn’t until three years later in 1922 that we began to actually do this as a people. So the fact that we stressed the door-to-door preaching work for all kingdom publishers in 1919 was enough to bring about the fall of Babylon the great? Again, where do we get this from? What Scripture has led us to this conclusion?
If, as we claim, the harvest of the weeds was completed in 1919 and they were all gathered into bundles ready to be burned during the great tribulation, then how are we to explain that everyone alive at that time has since passed on. The weeds of 1919 are all dead and buried, so what are the angels going to throw into the fiery furnace? The angels are told to wait until the harvest which is a conclusion of a system of things (“the end of an age”). Well, the system of things didn’t end for the generation of 1914, yet they are all gone, so how could that have been the “harvest season”?
Here is perhaps the biggest problem we have with this whole interpretation. Even the angels are not able to accurately identify the wheat and weeds until the harvest. Yet we are presuming to say who the weeds are, and we are declaring ourselves to be the wheat. Isn’t that a bit presumptuous? Shouldn’t we be letting the angels make that determination?
Paragraph 13 – 15
Matt. 13:41 says, “(Matthew 13:41, 42) .?.?.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, 42?and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace. There is where [their] weeping and the gnashing of [their] teeth will be.”
Is it not clear from this that the sequence is, 1) they are cast into the fire, and 2) while in the fire, they weep and gnash their teeth?
Why then, does the article reverse the order? In paragraph 13 we read, “Third, weeping and gnashing” and then in paragraph 15, “Fourth, pitched into the furnace”.
The attack on false religion will be a fiery tribulation. That process will take time. So at first glance, there seems to be no basis for reversing the order of events; but there is a reason, as we’ll see.
Paragraph 16 & 17
We interpret the shining brightly to mean the heavenly glorification of the anointed. This interpretation is based on two things. The phrase “at that time” and the use of the preposition “in”. Let’s analyze both.
From paragraph 17 we have, “The phrase ‘at that time’ evidently refers to the event that Jesus had just mentioned, namely, the ‘pitching of the weeds into the fiery furnace.’” Now it becomes clear why the article reverses the sequence of events Jesus described. Paragraph 15 has just explained that the fiery furnace refers to “their total destruction during the final part of the great tribulation”, i.e., Armageddon. It’s hard to weep and gnash your teeth if you’re already dead, so we reverse the order. They weep and gnash the teeth when religion is destroyed (Phase one of the great tribulation) and then are destroyed by fire at Armageddon—phase two.
The trouble is that Jesus’ parable is not about Armageddon. It is about the kingdom of the heavens. The Kingdom of the heavens is formed before Armageddon starts. It is formed when the ‘last of God’s slaves is sealed’. (Rev. 7:3) Matthew 24:31 makes it clear that the completion of the work of gathering (the angelic harvesting) occurs after the great tribulation but before Armageddon. There are many “Kingdom of the heavens is like” parables in the 13th chapter of Matthew. The wheat and the weeds is but one of them.
- “The kingdom of the heavens is like a mustard grain…” (Mt. 13:31)
- “The kingdom of the heavens is like leaven…” (Mt. 13:33)
- “The kingdom of the heavens is like a treasure…” (Mt. 13:44)
- “The kingdom of the heavens is like a traveling merchant…” (Mt. 13:45)
- “The kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet…” (Mt. 13:47)
In each of these, and others not included in this list, he is talking about earthly aspects of the work of selecting, gathering, and refining the chosen ones. The fulfillment is earthly.
Likewise his parable of the wheat and the weeds starts with the words, “The kingdom of the heavens…” (Mt. 13:24) Why? Because the fulfillment has to do with the selection of the messianic seed, the sons of the kingdom. The parable ends with the completion of that task. These are not selected from the world, but from his kingdom. “The angels collect from his kingdom all things causing stumbling and persons…doing lawlessness”. All those on earth claiming to be Christian are in his kingdom (the new covenant), just like all the Jews—good and bad—in Jesus’ day were in the old covenant. The destruction of Christendom during the great tribulation will be the fiery furnace. Not all individuals will die then, otherwise, how can they weep and gnash their teeth, but all false Christians will cease to exist. While individuals will survive the destruction of Babylon the great, their Christianity—false as it may have been—will cease to exist. How can they claim to be Christians anymore with their churches in ashes. (Rev. 17:16)
There is, therefore, no need to reverse the order of Jesus words.
What about the second reason for believing the “shining brightly” occurs in the heavens? The use of “in” doesn’t require us to believe they will be physically in heaven at that point. Sure, it could be. However, consider that every use of the phrase, “the kingdom of the heavens”, that we have just seen in this chapter 13 of Matthew refers to the earthly selection of the chosen ones. Why would this single instance refer to the heavens?
Right now, do the chosen ones shine brightly? In our own minds, perhaps, but not to the world. We’re just another religion. They recognize we’re different, but do they recognize we are God’s chosen ones? Hardly. However, when all other religion is gone and we are the proverbial “last man standing”, they’ll be forced to change their view. We will be internationally recognized as God’s chosen people; otherwise, how could anyone explain our collective survival. Isn’t that precisely what Ezekiel was foretelling when he prophesied that the nations would recognize and come against “a people gathered together out of the nations, [one] that is accumulating wealth and property, [those] who are dwelling in the center of the earth”? (Eze. 38:12)
Let me clarify two things here. First, when I say “we”, I am including myself in that group. Not presumptuously, but hopefully. Whether or not I end up being part of the people Ezekiel prophesied about is something for Jehovah to decide. Second, when I say “we”, I do not mean Jehovah’s Witnesses as a class. If there is no wheat class then there is no “chosen ones” class. I do not see us surviving the great tribulation as an organization with all our administrative structures in place. Perhaps we will, but what the Bible speaks of are the “chosen ones” and the “Israel of God” and Jehovah’s people. Those left standing after the smoke of Babylon’s destruction clears will come together as a people and dwell in harmony as Ezekiel foretold and be recognized as those having Jehovah’s blessing. Then the nations of the earth, bereft of spirituality, will covet what they do not have and in a rage borne of jealousy attack that people—attack us. There I go again, including myself.
You might say, “That’s just your interpretation.” No, let us not elevate it to the status of an interpretation. Interpretation belongs to God. What I have placed here is merely speculation. We all like to speculate from time to time. It is in our nature. No harm done as long as we don’t pontificate and require others to accept our speculation as if it were an interpretation from God.
However, let’s now disregard this speculation of mine, and accept the “new understanding” that the use of the preposition “in” puts the anointed in heaven where they “shine as brightly as the sun”. There is an unexpected consequence to this new understanding from the Governing Body. For, if the mere inclusion of “in” in that phrase, puts them in heaven, what then of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? For Matthew uses the same preposition in speaking of them.
“But I tell YOU that many from eastern parts and western parts will come and recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens;” (Mt. 8:11)
There is so much wrong with this particular interpretation of the wheat and weeds that it is hard to know where to start. Why don’t we just stop interpreting Scripture? The Bible makes is very plain that such things are in God’s jurisdiction. (Gen. 40:8) We have been trying to interpret Scripture since Russell’s day and our record indicates without a doubt that we are very bad at it. Why don’t we just stop and go with what it written?
Take this parable as an example. We know from the interpretation that Jesus gave us that the wheat are true Christians, the sons of the kingdom; and the weeds are false Christians. We know the angels determine which is which and that this is done during the conclusion of the system of things. We know the weeds are destroyed and the sons of the kingdom shine brightly.
When these events actually take place, we’ll be able to look with our own eyes and we’ll see for ourselves how the weeds are burned in the metaphorical fire and how the sons of the kingdom shine brightly. It will be self-evident at that time. We won’t need someone to explain it to us.
What more do we need?