There can be no disputing that there has been organization-wide resistance to the latest interpretation of Mt. 24:34. Being faithful and obedient Witnesses, this has taken the form of a quiet distancing of ourselves from the doctrine. Most don’t want to talk about it. They feel it weakens their faith, so they would rather not even think about it, and just get on with the preaching work.
For an organization built on obedience to those taking the lead this is about as close as we come to a backlash. Still, it must be unsettling for those who are accustomed to unquestioning acceptance of any “new light” they choose to dispense to the rank and file. Evidence of this is seen in the recent circuit assembly part featuring a demonstration with a brother expressing doubt in the latest understanding of “this generation”. Further evidence that this is still an issue can be seen from this year’s district convention program (Friday afternoon sessions) where the generation doctrine was again referenced together with the exhortation to accept without question any new understandings that are published. Our very survival into the New World is tied to this unquestioning obedience to men.
Why has our understanding of Mt. 24:34 been such a problem for us over the decades? It’s a simple enough prophecy and one intended to reassure us, not cause a crisis of faith. So what has gone wrong?
That answer is simple and can be stated in a word, or rather, a year: 1914
Consider this: If you remove 1914 as the start of the Last Days, then when did they start? Jesus made no mention of a start year. According to what he actually said, all the signs from Mt. 24:4-31 must occur simultaneously for there to be a definitive time period we can accurately designate as the Last Days. Given that, we cannot say with any certainty that the Last Days began on a particular year. It would be like trying to measure the width of a fog. The start date is nebulous. (For more details on this, see “The Last Days, Revisited“)
For example, there is no doubt in my mind that we are now in the Last Days, because all the signs referred to in Mt. 24:4-14 are being fulfilled. However, I can’t tell you the year all these signs started to be fulfilled. I’m not even sure I could pinpoint the decade. So how do I accurately measure the length of the Last Days using Mt. 24:34. Simply put, I don’t. But that’s okay, because Jesus didn’t give us that reassurance as some sort of measuring stick.
Now can you see the problem we created for ourselves by defining October, 1914 as the month and year the Last Days officially began? With a definite year, we can and did calculate the approximate length of the time of the end. We stared with the idea that a generation is a 20-to-40-year period of time. That is an acceptable dictionary definition of the term. When that didn’t pan out, we lengthened it to the average lifespan of individuals who witnessed the events of that year. An valid secondary dictionary definition of the term. Of course, those individuals making up the generation would have to be old enough to understand what they were witnessing, so they would have been born around 1900. Still, that fit nicely with the date of 1975, so it seemed to reinforce that particular wrong-headed conjecture. When that failed and we were entering the 1980s with no end in sight, we again reinterpreted our definition of ‘generation’ to include anyone alive when the war started. So anyone born before October of 1914 would be part of the generation. With Ps. 90:10 giving us a Scriptural definition of the human lifespan, we “knew” that the generation would end between 1984 and 1994.
Jesus’ words about “this generation” cannot be wrong. However, he gave us no start date. We furnished that ourselves and now we’re stuck with it. So here we are almost 100 years after the start date with virtually all alive during 1914 now dead and buried and still no end in sight. So rather than abandoning our beloved date, we are inventing a brand new, completely unscriptural, definition for the word generation. And when the rank and file start to balk at having their credulity stretched to the breaking point, we come down hard on them, accusing them of “Testing Jehovah in Their Hearts” like the rebellious, complaining Israelites under Moses in the wilderness.
In my decades of life as a servant of Jehovah, I have come to have a new and deeper respect for Bible principles and commands, such as “you reap what you sow”; “bad associations spoil useful habits”; “do not go beyond the things that are written”; and many more. However, these can easily become clichés. We acknowledge them as true, but a part of us may always think there are exceptions to each and every rule. I’ve caught myself thinking that way in the past. That imperfect spark in all of us tends to think we know better; that we are the exception to the rule.
Not so. There are no exceptions and you cannot mock God. When we ignore clearly stated divine principles and injunctions, we do so at our peril. We will suffer the consequences.
This has proven to be the case with our ignoring of the clear injunction of Acts 1:7.
(Acts 1:7) . . .He said to them: “It does not belong to YOU to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction;
The footnote for “times or seasons” gives “appointed times” as an alternate rendering. The footnote for “jurisdiction” gives “authority” as a literal rendering. We are challenging Jehovah’s authority by trying to get knowledge of the appointed times. The cross references for this verse are also telling:
(Deuteronomy 29:29) “The things concealed belong to Jehovah our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons to time indefinite, that we may carry out all the words of this law.
(Matthew 24:36) “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.
We will, of course, answer that with regard to 1914, he has revealed these things to us in the last Days. Really? Where does the Bible say that would happen? And if that truly were so, then why all the pain and embarrassment that has resulted from our understanding of 1914?
(Proverbs 10:22) . . .The blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.
It is presumptuousness on our part to think that we can foreknow the dates Jehovah has hidden, even from his Son. For how much longer can we stretch this belief I don’t know, but we must surely be nearing the breaking point.