[This post was originally published on April 12, 2013, but given that this weekend we will be studying this first article of a series comprising one of our most controversial issues in some time, it seems appropriate to re-release it now. – Meleti Vivlon]
 

The long-awaited issue has arrived!  Since the revelations of last year’s annual meeting, witnesses worldwide have been awaiting The Watchtower issue which would make this new understanding of the faithful and discreet slave official, and provide a fuller explanation that would address many of the outstanding questions which the talks gave rise to.  What we have received for our patience is an issue brimming with new understandings.  Not one, but four study articles are provided to convey this bounty of interpretative revelations to us.  There is so much material  in this issue that to do it justice, we will issue four separate posts, one for each article.

As always, our goal is to “make sure of all things” and “hold fast to what it fine.”  What we look for in our research is the same as what the ancient Beroeans sought, to ‘see if these things are so’.  So we will look for Scriptural support and harmony for all of these new ideas.

Paragraph 3

To get the theological ball rolling, the third paragraph briefly discusses our old understanding of when the great tribulation started.  To fill in the blanks, 1914 wasn’t considered to be the start of Christ’s presence back then.  That was set at 1874.  We didn’t revise it to 1914 until much later.  The earliest reference we have found to date is a Golden Age article in 1930.  Considering that we apply Acts 1:11 to mean that only his faithful ones would see his return because it would be invisible and discernible only by those in the know, it would appear we failed at that, as it was fully 16 years after 1914 before we realized he had arrived in Kingdom power.

Paragraph 5

The article states: “These ‘pangs of distress’ correspond to what took place in Jerusalem and Judea from 33 C.E. to 66 C.E.”

This statement is made to preserve our belief in a dual fulfillment of Mt. 24:4-28.  However, there is no historical nor Scriptural evidence that there were “wars, and reports of wars, and earthquakes, pestilences, and famines in one place after another” during those years.  Historically, the number of wars actually went down during that time period due in part to the Pax Romana.  Nor were there indications of pestilences, earthquakes and famines in one place after another.  If there had been, then would not the Bible have recorded this remarkable fulfillment of prophecy?  In addition, if there were such proof, either in Scripture or from secular history, would we not want to furnish it here to support our teaching?

This is one of a number of instances in these articles where we make a categorical statement without providing any Scriptural, historical, nor even logical support.  We are merely supposed to accept the statement as a given; a fact or truth from an unimpeachable source.

Paragraph 6 & 7

Here we discuss when the great tribulation occurs.  There is a typical/antitypical relationship between the tribulation of the first century and our day.  However, our application of this creates some logical inconsistencies.

Before reading this, refer to the illustration on pages 4 and 5 of the article.

Here is a breakdown of where the logic from this article leads:

Great Tribulatoin Comparison

Can you see how the logic breaks down?  The first century great tribulation ends when the disgusting thing destroys the holy place.  However, when the same thing happens in the future, the great tribulation does not end.  Jerusalem is said to parallel Christendom, Christendom is gone before Armageddon.  Yet we say, “…we will witness Armageddon, the climax of the great tribulation, which parallels Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E.”  So it would appear that the Jerusalem of 66 C.E. (which isn’t destroyed) typifies Christendom which is destroyed, and the Jerusalem of 70 C.E. which is destroyed typifies the world at Armageddon.

Of course, there is an alternative explanation that doesn’t require us to jump through interpretive hoops, but this is not a place for additional speculation.   We’ll leave that for another time.

Here are the key questions we should be asking ourselves:  Is any proof provided for including Armageddon as a so-called “phase two” of the great tribulation?   Does this thought at least harmonize with Scripture?

A careful reading of the article reveals the answer to both questions is “No”.

What does the Bible actually say on the subject?

According to Mt. 24:29, the signs the precede  Armageddon come “after the tribulation of those days”.  So why do we contradict that plain declaration of our Lord and say these signs come during the great tribulation?  We arrive at our belief in a two-phase great tribulation based not on Scripture, but on human interpretation. We have concluded that Jesus words at Mt. 24:21 must apply to Armageddon.  From par. 8: “With the battle of Armageddon as its climax, that coming great tribulation will be unique—an event ‘such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning.’“  If Armageddon is a tribulation, then the flood of Noah’s day was also one.  The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, could be titled, “The tribulation on Sodom and Gomorrah.”  But that doesn’t fit, does it?  The word tribulation is used in the Greek Scriptures to refer to a time of testing and stress, and almost always applies to God’s people, not the wicked.  The wicked are not tested.  So Noah’s Flood,  Sodom and Gomorrah and Armageddon, were not and are not times of testing, but of destruction.  Arguably, Armageddon is the greatest destruction of all time, but Jesus wasn’t referring to destruction, but tribulation.

Yeah, but Jerusalem was destroyed and that was called the greatest tribulation of all time by Jesus.  Perhaps, but perhaps not.  The tribulation he predicted referred to Christians being required to travel, to abandon home and hearth, kit and kin on a moment’s notice.  That was a test. But those days were cut short so that come flesh could be saved.  They were cut short in 66 C.E., so the tribulation ended then.  Do you say you are cutting something short if you’re only going to start it up again?  So, what followed was the destruction in 70 C.E., not a revival of the tribulation.

Paragraph 8

The endnote indicates that we’ve abandoned the idea that some of the anointed might possibly live through Armageddon.  The endnote references a “Question from Readers” in The Watchtower of August 14, 1990 which asks, “Will some anointed Christians survive the “great tribulation” to live on earth”.  The article answers that question with these opening words: “Pointedly, the Bible does not say.”

EXCUSE ME?!

My apologies. That isn’t a very dignified reaction, but to be honest, it was my own visceral response at reading this.  After all, the Bible does say so and very pointedly.  It says: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…he will send forth his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather his chosen ones…” (Mt. 24:29, 31) How could Jesus have stated it any more clearly?  How could we have expressed any doubt or uncertainty as to the sequence of events he predicted?

At least now, we have it right.  Well, almost.  We say that they will be taken up—dare we use the term, “raptured ”—before Armageddon, but since we consider that to be phase two of the great tribulation, they still don’t live through it—at least not through all of it.  But just for a change, let’s go with what the Bible actually says and acknowledge that the anointed still alive after the tribulation ends will be raptured up.

Paragraph 9

This paragraph states, “…Jehovah’s people, as a group, will come out of the great tribulation.”

Why “as a group”?  All the Christians that left Jerusalem in 66 C.E. were saved.  Any Christians who stayed behind ceased being Christians due to their disobedience.  Look at all the destruction that Jehovah has brought throughout history. There is no one instance where some of his faithful ones were lost as well.  Collateral damage and acceptable losses are terms that apply to human, not divine warfare.  Saying we are saved as a group allows for the thought that individuals may be lost, but the group as a whole will survive.  That shortens Jehovah’s hand, does it not?

Paragraph 13

In paragraph 13 the conclusion is that Jesus “comes during the great tribulation”. This is so blatantly out of step with scripture it’s ridiculous. How much clearer could this passage be …

(Matthew 24:29, 30) “Immediately after the tribulation of those days… they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

This whole article is supposed to be an authoritative statement on timing (notice the emphasis on “when” in the title and the opening paragraphs).   Very well.  In Mt. 24:29 Jesus makes a clear statement on the timing of events.  Our teaching contradicts his statement.  Do we address the contradiction anywhere?  No.  Do we offer Scriptural support for our contradicting teaching to help the reader resolve the conflict?  No.  We again make an arbitrary assertion which the reader is supposed to accept unquestioningly.

Paragraph 14 (onwards)

Under the subheading “When Does Jesus Come?” we deal with a change in our understanding of the time of Christ’s arrival as it relates to the parables of 1) the faithful and discreet slave, 2) the virgins as the wedding feast, and 3) the talents.  We finally admit the obvious thing that all Christian commentators have known for years: that Christ’s coming is yet future. This is new light only for us. Every other major religion that claims to follow Christ has believed this for years.  This has an impact on our interpretation of the application of Prov. 4:18 which is so profound that we will deal with it in a separate post.

Paragraph 16-18

As stated above, a brief mention of the parable of the Discreet and Foolish Virgins is made here.  Our new understanding obliterates our previous interpretation of these parables which had everything being fulfilled from 1914 to 1919.  However, no new understanding is given here, so we await a revised interpretation.

Summary

It is our desire to be impartial and to review these articles dispassionately.  However, with fully half a dozen points of contention in the very first article of the four, it is a real challenge to do so. New understandings need to be taught with full Scriptural support.  Any apparent contradiction with Scripture needs to be explained and resolved.  Supporting statements should never be presented as accepted or established truth without ample corroboration from Scripture or the historical record.  The foregoing is all part of the “pattern of healthful words”, but it is a pattern we are not holding to in this article. (1 Tim. 1:13)  Let us see if we fare better in the subsequent articles.