[This article was contributed by Andere Stimme]

You can tell which house is mine, because it’s the only white house on our street.  And since it’s green, it blends in nicely with the foliage.

It’s easy to spot an inconsistency when the disagreeing data are close together.  When the conflicting details are farther apart in distance or context, however, the inconsistency is not so easily detected.  An example of the latter can be found in paragraph 7 of the article Preparing the Nations for “the Teaching of Jehovah” of the February 15, 2015 Watchtower:

In some ways, the first-century Roman world brought benefits to Christians. For instance, there was the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace. The vast Roman Empire imposed stability on people in its realm. At times, there were “wars and reports of wars,” as Jesus had foretold. (Matt. 24:6) Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and there were skirmishes on the frontiers of the empire. For about 200 years from the time of Jesus, however, the Mediterranean world was comparatively free of strife. One reference book states: ‘Never in human history had there been so long a span of general tranquility, and never again was peace to be maintained so steadily among so many people.’”

To see the inconsistency, we need to remember that the official position of Jehovah’s Witnesses on Jesus’ prophecies about the “conclusion of the system of things” (found at Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21) is that they have a dual fulfillment. Notice what the July 2013 study edition of The Watchtower says:

Upon further examination of Jesus’ prophecy, however, we perceived that a part of Jesus’ prophecy about the last days has two fulfillments. (Matt. 24:4-22) There was an initial fulfillment in Judea in the first century C.E., and there would be a worldwide fulfillment in our day.” (w13 7/15 p. 4 par. 4 “Tell Us, When Will These Things Be?”)

With regard to the initial, first-century fulfillment, the article “Questions from Readers” in the November 1, 1995 Watchtower has this to say:

We have often published evidence that many things Jesus foretold in this same discourse (such as wars, earthquakes, and famines) were fulfilled between his uttering the prophecy and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.” (w95 11/1 p. 31, emphasis added.)

As for the modern-day fulfillment, the recently-revised New World Translation, in the seventh of the introductory topics titled What does the Bible foretell about our day?“, gives the following reference:

When you hear of wars and reports of wars, do not be alarmed; these things must take place, but the end is not yet.” Mark 13:7 [Also, Matthew 24:6; Luke 21:9]

We should note, then, that this week’s Watchtower is a significant, if undeclared, adjustment. No longer is it claimed that “wars and reports of wars” increased in the 37 years between Christ’s death and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. By this way of looking at things, what Jesus was saying was, “with regard to wars and reports of wars, nothing out of the ordinary will happen”. Of course, if all Jesus meant by referring to “wars and reports of wars” is that, well, it would be business as usual, then it wasn’t much of a prophecy at all – certainly not one that you or I couldn’t make. This interpretation makes Jesus’ prophetic abilities sound like the vague foretellings of horoscopes.

This brings us back to the matter of consistency: On the one hand, we use this passage to show that there would be a marked increase in wars in the “worldwide fulfillment” (i.e. since 1914). On the other hand, we describe the “wars and reports of wars” of the first century as mere blips in a 200-year period of unprecedented peace.  Are we not equivocating in so doing? [i]

So, while we continue to hold on to a vague notion of a dual fulfillment, we seem to be abandoning any attempt to be specific and consistent in explaining how Jesus’ prophecies were fulfilled in the years between the time of Jesus’ death and the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. We cannot be sure why, but here’s something to think about: If our interpretation of the initial fulfillment were just as specific as that of the greater fulfillment, would we not run into problems with the generation mentioned at Matthew 24:34 (also Mark 13:30; Luke 12:32)? After all, if the first-century “generation” lasted only 37 years, is it not inconsistent for the end-times “generation” to last over a hundred years?

To be sure, Jesus’ prophecies regarding his ‘presence and the conclusion of the system of things’ had a fulfillment in the first century. However, attempts to unequivocally nail down which aspects of the prophecies have an exclusively first-century fulfillment, which ones have an exclusively end-times fulfillment and which aspects, if any, have a dual fulfillment, have thus far come up dry. Modesty should obligate us to admit that fact, instead of claiming to have it all worked out and then belying those claims through ambiguity and equivocation.

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[i] The following study article in the same magazine, “Jehovah Guides Our Global Teaching Work”, reveals inconsistency even within the “worldwide fulfillment”. In paragraph 7, it says: “Between 1946 and 2013…many countries enjoyed relative peace, and Jehovah’s people took advantage of that situation to proclaim the good news”. Here both an increase of wars and a preaching work facilitated by peace are taken to show that we are in the last days.