[From ws15/08 p. 14 for Oct. 5 -11]

“Even if it should delay, keep in expectation of it!” – Hab. 2:3

Jesus repeatedly told us to keep on the watch and be in expectation of his return. (Mt. 24:42; Lu 21:34-36) However, he also warned us about false prophets promoting false expectations. (Mt 24:23-28)

The first review question for this article is: “What reasons do we have for being confident that we are living in the last days?” (page 14)

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the last days began in 1914. That is what I believed until very recently.

Paragraph 2 states: “God’s present-day servants also keep in expectation, for prophecies about the Messiah are still undergoing fulfillment.”

Variations of this statement—that Messianic or Last Days prophecies are still being fulfilled—are made four times in this article, but we are never given specifics nor proof.

Why Keep in Expectation?

Paragraph 4 states: That in itself is a good reason to remain in expectation—Jesus told us to do so! In this regard, Jehovah’s organization has set an example. Its publications have consistently exhorted us to ‘await and keep close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah’ and to fix our hope on God’s promised new world.”

What kind of example has the Organization set with regard to keeping in expectation? Is it one we should esteem and emulate?  Perhaps not, since from Russell’s day a key feature of our faith has been setting up false expectations. For example, 1799 was held to be the start of the last days, with 1874 (not 1914) being the start of Christ’s invisible presence, and 1878 being the year of his heavenly enthronement, leaving 1914 as the date for Christ’s return and the start of the great tribulation. “This generation” was then believed to be about 36 years in length measuring from 1878 to 1914.  (The idea of overlapping generations would not become necessary for 140 years.)

When the First World War didn’t morph into Armageddon, the date was moved to 1925. Fifty years later, we were looking at 1975. Fifty years have passed since the publication of the book Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God, which gave birth to the euphoric 1975 expectation, and here we are looking ahead to yet another date in the mid-2020s.[i] (It is almost as if we have our very own version of the Jubilee festival.)  It has even been reported that some members of the Organization have spun the worldwide suspension of branch and RTO[ii] construction and the announced dismissal of countless Bethelites back into the field as evidence, not of financial shortsightedness, but of our being so close to the end that we don’t need these buildings anymore. (Lu 14:28-30)

Is this the type of expectation that Jesus was encouraging us to keep close in mind?

Paragraph 5 reinforces the false JW belief that we have been living during the invisible presence of Christ since 1914.

“And the multifeatured sign, which includes worsening world conditions and global Kingdom preaching, means that we are living in “the conclusion of the system of things.” – par. 5

“So we can expect that world conditions, bad as they are now, will continue to decline.” – par. 6

This is the JW version of Field of Dreams: “If you say it, they will believe.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have to believe things are getting worse and worse. Our theology does not support the idea of improving world conditions. The First World War, the worldwide Spanish Influenza, the Great Depression, and World War II were bad, but we have to believe that today things are even worse and that conditions will continue to decline.

We accept this without question. Yet if asked, do any of us yearn for the “better conditions” of the 1914 to 1949 era? How about Europe in the 20 years of recovery following WWII?  How about the United States of America during the Vietnam war and the unrest of the civil rights movement, or the oil crisis of the 1970s?  How about Central and South America from 1945 to the end of the twentieth century when civil strife, insurrection, and regional conflicts were the order of the day?  How about the world before Global trade opened borders?  Sure, we have terrorism now.  No one is saying that the world is a paradise.  But to say it is worse is to ignore the facts of history and evidence before our own eyes.

It seems that we have switched off our brains.

For example, we have this from paragraph 8:

“On the other hand, for the composite sign to serve its purpose, the fulfillment of it would have to be obvious enough to command the attention of those who have been obeying Jesus’ counsel to ‘keep on the watch.’” (Matt. 24:27, 42)

Those attending this week’s study will understand that the composite sign in question was what commanded the attention of Jehovah’s Witnesses (then Bible Students) to know that Jesus began ruling as king in 1914.

They will be wrong.

As late as 1929 Rutherford was still preaching that Christ’s invisible presence began in 1874.[iii] It wasn’t until 1933 that The Watchtower moved it to 1914.[iv] Based on what this Watchtower article alleges, we had been misreading the obvious composite sign for 20 years!

Ah, but it is even worse than that. We continued to believe that 1914 was also the start of the great tribulation. We didn’t abandon that belief until 1969. (I remember the part on the District Convention quite well.) So for 55 years we misread the obvious composite sign.

The fact is, Jesus told us not to be misled; not to take wars, famines and earthquakes as a sign of his presence. (Click here for a detailed analysis.) He tells us not to be misled by men telling us they’ve discovered where Jesus is; that his presence has arrived, but is hidden from everyone not in the know.

“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Christ,’ or, ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will perform great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones. 25 Look! I have forewarned you. 26 Therefore, if people say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.” (Mt 24:23-26)

How could he have worded this more plainly? Yet we continue to misconstrue his words. The above quote from paragraph 8 lists the next verse as a support text for the obviousness of the sign of Jesus’ presence.

“For just as the lightning comes out of the east and shines over to the west, so the presence of the Son of man will be.” (Mt 24:27)

Is there anything in nature more obvious than lightning flashing in the sky? It’s an interesting metaphor our Lord has chosen, is it not? You can even have your eyes closed when lightning flashes and the light still penetrates to the retina.

Now this Watchtower cites Matthew 24:27 as proof that the Organization saw the visible signs of Christ’s invisible presence in 1914, though somehow the world missed the flash. Yet, as we’ve just seen, it would be almost 20 years before they drew that conclusion. And it would be over half a century later before they realized that the great tribulation didn’t begin in 1914.

Do you need someone to tell you that lightning has flashed? That is the reason for Jesus’ use of this metaphor. We won’t need human interpreters to tell us when he arrives in Kingly power.   Our own eyes will see it. (Re 1:7)

Keeping on the Watch as Christ Instructed

It is highly unlikely that Jesus would have agreed with what paragraph 8 is saying, because it stands in stark contradiction of his words at Revelation 16:15:

“Look! I am coming as a thief. Happy is the one who stays awake and keeps his outer garments, so that he may not walk naked and people look upon his shamefulness.” (Re 16:15)

A thief does not provide signs of his coming; nor is a watchman expected to stay awake only when there are signs that the enemy is approaching. He is expected to stay awake precisely when there are no signs of an enemy approaching. Only in this way do the words of Matthew 24:42 (also cited in the paragraph 8) make any real sense.

“Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Mt 24:42)

There is a sign of Christ’s presence presented in Matthew 24 to be sure. Find it in verses 29 and 30. When we, and all the nations of the world, see those visible signs in the heavens, then everyone will know that Jesus has come and has begun to rule. That is what the sky lightning metaphor signaling the “presence of the Son of man” really means.

“Our expectations are based, not on a naive readiness to believe anything, but on solid Scriptural evidence” – par. 9

If you believe this statement to be true, then consider what follows.

A Blatant Misstatement

From paragraph 11:

Upon recognizing that Christ’s presence began in 1914, Jesus’ followers rightly prepared for a possible early arrival of the end. They did so by intensifying their Kingdom-preaching work.”

Our publications have often referred to this intensification of the preaching work which occurred following the famous “Advertise! Advertise! Advertise the King and his Kingdom” speech by J. F. Rutherford at the Cedar Point, Ohio convention in 1922. This was part of the “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” campaign which preached that the end was likely to arrive in 1925. We’ve just seen that Rutherford was then preaching that Christ’s presence began in 1874. (See footnote iii) Therefore, this statement is patently false, and the magazine’s publishers who consider themselves to be “in the truth” should issue a retraction.

It would appear that this statement is here in an attempt to mitigate the growing internet-born awareness among Jehovah’s Witnesses that 1925 was a marked year. This misstep is now painted as being “rightly prepared for a possible early arrival of the end”.

Dictators and despots have learned that if you keep repeating a lie, most people will eventually accept it as truth. The key is repetition with confidence.

“We can expect that Jehovah’s organization will continue to remind us that we should serve God with a sense of urgency. Such reminders are provided not merely to keep us busy in God’s service but to help us remain aware that the sign of Christ’s presence is now undergoing fulfillment.” – par. 15

Events on the world scene clearly indicate that Bible prophecy is now being fulfilled and that the end of this wicked system of things is imminent.” – par. 17

All told, this idea is repeated four times in this article alone, yet not once do the publishers offer proof. They don’t need to. We have been conditioned to believe. The power of this conditioning is evidenced by these words from one of our sisters:

“By preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom, we…can help to rescue persons from sure death in the coming world catastrophe.” – par. 16

We now go door-to-door or stand politely beside our cute carts carrying a huge burden.  On the one hand is a growing awareness by the public of a looming child abuse scandal paralleling that which continues to plague the Catholic Church.  On the other hand is a similar awareness that we have repeatedly failed to predict the end of times.  With this double burden hampering our message, we presume—presume—to state publicly to the world that Jehovah God is using us to rescue them from sure death. (James 3:11)

Perhaps we should be looking instead to apply Matthew 7:3-5 to ourselves.

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[i] Proof of this revived expectation can be seen in the September broadcast from tv.jw.org in which David Splane explains that those in the second group are getting older, showing pictures of deceased members of this group, and concluding that all the members of the current Governing Body are of this group and “some of us are showing our age.”

[ii] Regional Translation Offices. Just five months ago, Stephen Lett explained in an historic broadcast that 140 of these offices were being planned for construction around the world.

[iii] “The Scriptural proof is that the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 A.D.” – Prophecy by J. F. Rutherford, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1929, page 65.

[iv] “In the year 1914 that due time of waiting came to an end. Christ Jesus received the authority of the kingdom and was sent forth by Jehovah to rule amidst his enemies. The year 1914, therefore, marks the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of glory.” – The Watchtower, December 1, 1933, page 362