Recently, the study edition of the Watchtower has run a series of articles under the heading “From Our Archives”. This is an excellent feature which acquaints us with interesting elements from our modern-day history. These are very positive articles and as such are an encouragement. Of course not all aspects of our history are equally encouraging. Should we shy away from anything that is negative from the historical archives? There is an adage which goes, “Those who will not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” The history of Jehovah’s people in the inspired word of God is rife with examples that are negative. These are in place so that we can learn not only from good examples, but bad ones as well. We learn not only what to do, but what not to do.
Is there anything in our modern-day history that, like these Bible accounts, could serve as instruction; helping us to avoid a reoccurrence of some unwanted behavior?
Let us talk of what might be called the Euphoria of 1975. If you are young enough not to have lived through this period of our history, you may find this account enlightening. If you are closer to my age, it will surely bring back memories; some good, and perhaps some not so.
Everything began with the 1966 release of the book, Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God. I don’t know who wrote it, but the scuttlebutt is that it was authored by Br. Fred Franz, not that that should matter since the Governing Body is responsible for everything published. (It is of interest that after he died, there was a noticeable change in the tenor and content of Watchtower articles. There were far fewer of the articles that featured prophetic parallels or which extrapolated prophetic significance from Bible dramas. I should also say that I met brother Franz and liked him immensely. He was a little man with a huge presence and an outstanding servant of Jehovah God.)
Anyway, the relevant passage to our discussion is found on pages 28 and 29 of that book:
“According to this trustworthy Bible chronology, six thousand years from man’s creation will end in 1975, and the seventh period of a thousand years of human history will begin in the fall of 1975 C.E.”
So six thousand years of man’s existence on earth will soon be up, yes, within this generation.”
We believed that the millennial reign was the seventh (Sabbath) year of a series of one-thousand-year-long “days”. So since we knew the length of the seventh day and since there were seven one-thousand-year-long days in it—six, of man’s imperfection, and the seventh for the Millennial Sabbath—well, the math was easy. Of course, no one was actively proclaiming that the whole idea of six thousand-year-long days of imperfection had any support in the Bible. We based this speculation on the Bible verse that speaks of a day being like a thousand years for Jehovah. (Of course, the same verse also compares a day for God to an eight-hour guard watch, and the Bible says nothing about six days of human imperfection, but we conveniently ignored all that because we were –and still are—told that “independent thinking” is a bad thing. Besides, in all honesty, none of us wanted to believe it wasn’t true. We all wanted the end to be close, so what the Governing Body was saying just fed that desire very nicely.)
Adding to the support derived from this putative time calculation was the belief—equally unsubstantiated in Scripture—that each of the seven creative days is 7,000 years long. Since we are in the seventh creative day and since the last thousand years of that day correspond to the millennial reign, it must follow that the Christ’s Kingdom of a 1,000 years would begin at the end of 6,000 years of man’s existence.
If the book had left things at what is cited above, it might not have mushroomed as it did, but alas, it had more to say on the subject:
“So in not many years within our own generation we are reaching what Jehovah God could view as the seventh day of man’s existence.
How appropriate it would be for Jehovah God to make of this coming seventh period of a thousand years a Sabbath period of rest and release, a great Jubilee Sabbath for the proclaiming of liberty throughout the earth to all its inhabitants! This would be most timely for mankind. It would also be most fitting on God’s part, for, remember, mankind has yet ahead of it what the last book of the holy Bible speaks of as the reign of Jesus Christ over earth for a thousand years, the millennial reign of Christ. Prophetically Jesus Christ, when on earth nineteen centuries ago, said concerning himself: ‘For Lord of the Sabbath is what the Son of man is.’ (Matthew 12:8) It would not be by mere chance or accident but would be according to the loving purpose of Jehovah God for the reign of Jesus Christ, the ‘Lord of the Sabbath,’ to run parallel with the seventh millennium of man’s existence.”
In hindsight, it was presumptuous for us to have said what would be “appropriate” and “most fitting” for Jehovah God to do, but at the time, no one commented on these phrases. We were all too excited by the possibility that the end was only a few years away.
My wife recalls a discussion that ensued among some brothers and sisters following the release of the Oct. 15, 1966 Watchtower covering the convention of that year and the release of the book.
Here’s what got them so excited.
(w66 10/15 pp. 628-629 Rejoicing over “God’s Sons of Liberty” Spiritual Feast)
“To give aid today in this critical time to prospective sons of God,” announced President Knorr, “a new book in English, entitled ‘Life Everlasting—in Freedom of the Sons of God,’ has been published.” At all assembly points where it was released, the book was received enthusiastically. Crowds gathered around stands and soon supplies of the book were depleted. Immediately its contents were examined. It did not take the brothers very long to find the chart beginning on page 31, showing that 6,000 years of man’s existence end in 1975. Discussion of 1975 overshadowed about everything else. “
(w66 10/15 p. 631 Rejoicing over “God’s Sons of Liberty” Spiritual Feast)
THE YEAR 1975
“At the Baltimore assembly Brother Franz in his closing remarks made some interesting comments regarding the year 1975. He began casually by saying, “Just before I got on the platform a young man came to me and said, ‘Say, what does this 1975 mean? Does it mean this, that or any other thing?’” In part, Brother Franz went on to say: ‘You have noticed the chart [on pages 31-35 in the book Life Everlasting—in Freedom of the Sons of God]. It shows that 6,000 years of human experience will end in 1975, about nine years from now. What does that mean? Does it mean that God’s rest day began 4026 B.C.E.? It could have. The Life Everlasting book does not say it did not. The book merely presents the chronology. You can accept it or reject it. If that is the case, what does that mean to us? [He went into some length showing the feasibility of the 4026 B.C.E. date as being the beginning of God’s rest day.]
‘What about the year 1975? What is it going to mean, dear friends?’ asked Brother Franz. ‘Does it mean that Armageddon is going to be finished, with Satan bound, by 1975? It could! It could! All things are possible with God. Does it mean that Babylon the Great is going to go down by 1975? It could. Does it mean that the attack of Gog of Magog is going to be made on Jehovah’s witnesses to wipe them out, then Gog himself will be put out of action? It could. But we are not saying. All things are possible with God. But we are not saying. And don’t any of you be specific in saying anything that is going to happen between now and 1975. But the big point of it all is this, dear friends: Time is short. Time is running out, no question about that.
‘When we were approaching the end of the Gentile Times in 1914, there was no sign that the Gentile Times were going to end. Conditions on earth gave us no hint of what was to come, even as late as June of that year. Then suddenly there was a murder. World War I broke out. You know the rest. Famines, earthquakes and pestilences followed, as Jesus foretold would happen.
‘But what do we have today as we approach 1975? Conditions have not been peaceful. We’ve been having world wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences and we have these conditions still as we approach 1975. Do these things mean something? These things mean that we’re in the “time of the end.” And the end has to come sometime. Jesus said: “As these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.” (Luke 21:28) So we know that as we come to 1975 our deliverance is that much nearer.”
Admittedly, Franz doesn’t come right out and say that the end is coming in 1975. But after giving a speech worded this way with so much emphasis on a particular year, it would be disingenuous to suggest that he wasn’t adding a log or two to the fire. Maybe we could paraphrase that old Monty Python sketch. “1975! Significant! Nah! No way! (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean, know what I mean, say no more, say no more)
Now there was one note—and I stress “one note”—of caution published in the May 1, 1968 Watchtower:
(w68 5/1 pp. 272-273 par. 8 Making Wise Use of the Remaining Time)
“Does this mean that the year 1975 will bring the battle of Armageddon? No one can say with certainty what any particular year will bring. Jesus said: “Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows.” (Mark 13:32) Sufficient is it for God’s servants to know for a certainty that, for this system under Satan, time is running out rapidly. How foolish a person would be not to be awake and alert to the limited time remaining, to the earthshaking events soon to take place, and to the need to work out one’s salvation!”
But this was insufficient to stem the enthusiasm that was constantly being reinforced by public speakers, including Circuit Overseers on their visits and at assemblies as well as District Overseers and brothers giving parts on the District Convention platform. Besides, this same article undercut its own cautionary note with this little tidbit from the preceding paragraph:
(w68 5/1 pp. 272 par. 7 Making Wise Use of the Remaining Time)
“Within a few years at most the final parts of Bible prophecy relative to these “last days” will undergo fulfillment, resulting in the liberation of surviving mankind into Christ’s glorious 1,000-year reign.”
It was if we were suggesting that while no man may know the day or hour, we had a pretty good handle on the year.
True, there were those that remembered Jesus words that “no man knows the day or hour” and “at a time you think it not to be, the Son of man is coming”, but one didn’t speak up with such a groundswell of euphoric hype. Especially so when something like this is published:
(w68 8/15 pp. 500-501 pars. 35-36 Why Are You Looking Forward to 1975?)
“One thing is absolutely certain, Bible chronology reinforced with fulfilled Bible prophecy shows that six thousand years of man’s existence will soon be up, yes, within this generation! (Matt. 24:34) This is, therefore, no time to be indifferent and complacent. This is not the time to be toying with the words of Jesus that “concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt. 24:36) To the contrary, it is a time when one should be keenly aware that the end of this system of things is rapidly coming to its violent end. Make no mistake, it is sufficient that the Father himself knows both the “day and hour”!
36 Even if one cannot see beyond 1975, is this any reason to be less active? The apostles could not see even this far; they knew nothing about 1975.”
“Toying with the words of Jesus…”! Seriously! Those that were suggesting that we were making too much of the date of 1975 could now be put down as “toying with the words of Jesus”. The insinuation was that you were trying to dispel the proper sense of urgency we should all be feeling. I seems silly as we sit here almost 40 years later that such an attitude should be prevalent, but most of us were guilty of it. We got caught up in the hype and didn’t want to contemplate that the end might drag on. I was among this crowd. I remember sitting with a friend at the yearend holidays of 1970 contemplating the number of years left to us in this system of things. That friend is still alive, and now we are contemplating whether or not we’ll live to see the end of this system.
Mind you, the belief that 1975 held some special importance was not based solely on the Freedom in the Sons of God book and talks given by C.O.s and D.O.s. No sirree! The publications kept citing works by worldly experts that continued to reinforce the importance of 1975. I recall a book called Famine—1975 that drew some attention in our publications.
Then came 1969 and the release of the book The Approaching Peace of a Thousand Years which had this to say on pages 25 and 26
“More recently earnest researchers of the Holy Bible have made a recheck of its chronology. According to their calculations the six millenniums of mankind’s life on earth would end in the mid-seventies. Thus the seventh millennium from man’s creation by Jehovah God would begin within less than ten years.
In order for the Lord Jesus Christ to be ‘Lord even of the sabbath day,’” the speaker declared, “his thousand-year reign would have to be the seventh in a series of thousand-year periods or millenniums.” (Matt. 12:8, AV) That time is near at hand!”
I did a word search and each of these passages is reproduced separately and verbatim in three Watchtower articles of that time. (w70 9/1 p. 539; w69 9/1 p. 523; w69 10/15 p.623) So we got that information in the Watchtower study in 1969 and 1970 and then again in 1970 when we studied the book in our congregation Book Study. It seems pretty clear that we were being taught by the Governing Body that if Jesus was to be the “Lord of the Sabbath”, he had to bring the end by 1975.
This belief caused many brothers to change their life course.
(km 5/74 p. 3 How Are You Using Your Life?)
“Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.”
My father was one of these. He took early retirement and took the whole family to serve where the need was greater, taking my sister out of High School before she finished grade 11. Both he and my mother have long since passed on. Did we do wrong? Did we do the right thing for the wrong reason?
Jehovah is a loving God. He compensates for the error of men, and he blesses faithful servants. All that really matters is that we continue to serve him faithfully. So let’s not make an issue of the hardships some suffered as a consequence of being misled about the importance of 1975. On the other hand, we cannot deny the truth of the Bible when it says that “Expectation postponed is making the heart sick…” (Pro. 13:12) Many were sick at heart, became depressed, even left the truth. We could say that it was a test of faith and they failed it. Yes, but who imposed the test? Certainly not Jehovah, “for with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone.” Jehovah would not test us by using his “appointed channel of communication” to teach us a falsehood.
A young German brother who I knew in the late seventies told me that in 1976, while he was still in Germany, there was a nation-wide meeting. The hype in Germany had paralleled that over here and since nothing happened, there were a lot of disappointed German brothers and sisters who needed encouragement. The general buzz was that this meeting would be a big apology. However, there was no apology, in fact, the issue of 1975 wasn’t even raised. To this day, he feels resentment.
You see, it’s not that we were misled—which we were, though most of us went along quite willingly, it must be said in fairness. It is that there was no real acknowledgment of error on the part of the Governing Body. The effect was devastating for many. 1976 rolls around with no end and everyone is expecting something from the Society on the subject. Enter the July 15 Watchtower:
(w76 7/15 p. 441 par. 15 A Solid Basis for Confidence)
“But it is not advisable for us to set our sights on a certain date, neglecting everyday things we would ordinarily care for as Christians, such as things that we and our families really need. We may be forgetting that, when the “day” comes, it will not change the principle that Christians must at all times take care of all their responsibilities. If anyone has been disappointed through not following this line of thought, he should now concentrate on adjusting his viewpoint, seeing that it was not the word of God that failed or deceived him and brought disappointment, but that his own understanding was based on wrong premises.”
I can only imagine the flood of nasty correspondence this gave rise to. I recall many brothers who were very upset because it appears that the Governing Body was putting the blame on us. Whose “wrong premises” are they referring to? Where did we get the “understanding” about these “wrong premises”?
Some speculated that the Governing Body was afraid of being sued, so could not admit to any wrongdoing on their part.
That there must have been a lot of negative response to the statement from the July 15, 1976 Watchtower is evident from what was printed four years later:
(w80 3/15 pp. 17-18 pars. 5-6 Choosing the Best Way of Life)
“In modern times such eagerness, commendable in itself, has led to attempts at setting dates for the desired liberation from the suffering and troubles that are the lot of persons throughout the earth. With the appearance of the book Life Everlasting—in Freedom of the Sons of God, and its comments as to how appropriate it would be for the millennial reign of Christ to parallel the seventh millennium of man’s existence, considerable expectation was aroused regarding the year 1975. There were statements made then, and thereafter, stressing that this was only a possibility. Unfortunately, however, along with such cautionary information, there were other statements published that implied that such realization of hopes by that year was more of a probability than a mere possibility. It is to be regretted that these latter statements apparently overshadowed the cautionary ones and contributed to a buildup of the expectation already initiated.
6 In its issue of July 15, 1976, The Watchtower, commenting on the inadvisability of setting our sights on a certain date, stated: “If anyone has been disappointed through not following this line of thought, he should now concentrate on adjusting his viewpoint, seeing that it was not the word of God that failed or deceived him and brought disappointment, but that his own understanding was based on wrong premises.” In saying “anyone,” The Watchtower included all disappointed ones of Jehovah’s Witnesses, hence including persons having to do with the publication of the information that contributed to the buildup of hopes centered on that date.”
You will notice the use of the passive tense in paragraph 5. Not “We regret” or even better “We are sorry”, but “it is to be regretted”. The question arises, “Regretted by whom?” Again, there is a perceived shirking of personal responsibility.
Paragraph 6 introduces the thought that they, the Governing Body, really were accepting responsibility back in 1976. How so? Because the “anyone” included the group of “persons having to do with the publication of the information”. Still, we can’t even mention the Governing Body by name in this second, mishandled attempt at an apology.
The paragraph is attempting to say that no one and no group is to blame. We were all deceived by our own understanding based on the wrong premises that magically appeared out of nowhere. At the risk of sounding disrespectful, this is such a pathetic attempt at setting matters right that it would have been better to have not even made the attempt. It gave support to all those saying that the Governing Body was not accepting responsibility for its own mistakes.
A brother I know underwent emergency surgery a few years back. Unfortunately, the operating room to which he was taken had just been used to perform another emergency procedure. It had not been properly scrubbed. As a consequence, this brother developed not one but three different infections and almost died. The doctors involved together with the hospital administrator came to his room as he was recovering and freely admitted their error and humbly apologized. When I heard this, I was shocked. My understanding was that a hospital will never admit it is wrong for fear of being sued. This brother explained to me that they had changed their policy. In circumstances where they are clearly wrong, they have found it advantageous to openly admit to error and to apologize. They have found that people are less likely to sue in the circumstances.
It seems the idea that people only sue to get money is a misconception. Granted this is a significant reason to sue, but there is another reason people put themselves through the expense, trauma and uncertainty of a lengthy lawsuit. We all have an innate sense of justice, and we are all offended when something “just isn’t fair”. Even as young children, we recognize unfairness and are incensed by it.
Many have told me, and I personally concur with this viewpoint, that if the Governing Body would simply admit in humility and openness when they have made a mistake, we would happily accept the apology and willingly move on. The fact that they do not admit mistakes, or make such half-hearted and feeble attempts on the rare occasions that they do attempt an admission; coupled with the fact that they never apologize for any wrongdoing; just keeps feeding that part of our brain that cries out:
“But it’s just not fair!”