[This is a review of highlights from this week’s Watchtower study. Please feel free to share your own insights using the Comments feature of the Beroean Pickets Forum.]
As I read this week’s study article, I couldn’t shake a growing sense of irony. Perhaps you will notice it as well.
Par. 1-3: Summary – We must not be taken in by lies and misleading statements from the media and internet about Jehovah’s Witnesses. To counteract this tactic, we will consider what happened to those in Thessalonica and remember Paul’s counsel to them to not be quickly shaken from their reason.
Par. 5: “…some in that congregation [Thessalonica] had become “excited” about Jehovah’s day to the point that they believed that its arrival was then imminent.” So this is the reason that Paul is counseling them not to be ‘quickly shaken from their reason.’ It has nothing to do with misleading statements from outside the congregation, and everything to do with men within their midst leading them astray with false hope. The paragraph asks us to read 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2, so let’s do that now.
(2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2) However, brothers, concerning the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you 2 not to be quickly shaken from your reason nor to be alarmed either by an inspired statement or by a spoken message or by a letter appearing to be from us, to the effect that the day of Jehovah is here.
Paul here links the “day of Jehovah”[i] with the presence of Christ. We teach that the “day of Jehovah” is yet future, while the “presence of our Lord Jesus Christ” began a hundred years ago. Obviously, the first century Christians thought the two events were concurrent.[ii] Nevertheless, the Lord’s day did not begin then as they were led to believe. He tells then “not to be quickly shaken from your reason nor to be alarmed” by a spoken message or a letter appearing to be from us. We contend that Paul was a member of the first century governing body, so the “us” could be taken to be that august body.[iii] Therefore his counsel is for them to use their power of reason and not be deceived that the Lord’s day had arrived just because some in authority were saying so. In short, it was up to the individual Christian to figure this out, and not to blindly accept the teachings of another, no matter the source.
The irony of our making this argument will be evident to any long-time member of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nevertheless, it can’t hurt to refresh our memory.
w68 5/1 p. 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.
w69 10/15 pp. 622-623 par. 39 The Approaching Peace of a Thousand Years
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 a kind of double irony in light of the current Watchtower study, we again quote Paul’s words to the Thessalonians.
w80 3/15 pp. 17-18 pars. 4-6 Choosing the Best Way of Life
In the first century, for example, the apostle Paul found it necessary to write to Christians in Thessalonica in this fashion, as we read at 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3: “However, brothers, respecting the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we request of you not to be quickly shaken from your reason nor to be excited either through an inspired expression or through a verbal message or through a letter as though from us, to the effect that the day of Jehovah is here. Let no one seduce you in any manner, because it will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness gets revealed, the son of destruction.”
5 In modern times such eagerness, commendable in itself, has led [not, “led us”] 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 [not, “our comments”. It’s as if the book were speaking for itself] 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 [not, we 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 [not, “we published other statements”] that implied [“Implied!? Really??”] that such realization of hopes by that year was more of a probability than a mere possibility. It is to be regretted [not, “we regret”] that these latter statements apparently overshadowed the cautionary ones and contributed to a buildup of the expectation already initiated. [not, “that we 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 extensive use of the passive tense: “there were…”, “It is to be regretted…” and the implication that the error was due to some “persons having to do” with the publications. The organization embodied in its Governing Body takes no direct responsibility for anything that went on.
Besides leaving no doubt about how close the end was prior to 1975, we actually commended people for uprooting their lives to have a greater share in the ministry in the short time left for this system of things.
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.
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.
The half-hearted correction, made four years after this statement that the “anyone” included “some” responsible for publishing statements that got everyone “excited” that the day of Jehovah was here, didn’t really cut it with the rank and file. This was seen as a shifting of the blame onto those who had put their trust in the leadership of the Organization. We are still being exhorted to put our complete trust in those taking the lead in the Organization.
The “reason” of many brothers and sisters was shaken back then to the point of “selling homes and property” because the “day of Jehovah was here”. This was both spoken (from the convention platform) and written (in our publications).
True, the brothers now giving us this counsel were not personally responsible for this damning historical legacy. Have they learned from the lessons of the past? Back in 1980, they believed they had:
w80 3/15 p. 17 par. 4 Choosing the Best Way of Life
“We learn from our mistakes that it is necessary to be more careful in the future.”
Perhaps that generation had, but this new generation comprising the current Governing Body seems to be starting down the same path as their forbearers. The January 15, 2014 Watchtower provides a means to calculate the approximate length remaining in the last days. We seem to be returning to the 1960s and 1970s when we thought we could use our then-understanding of Matthew 24:34 to calculate the nearness of the end. In line with that thinking, the March Kingdom Ministry suggests the possibility that this might be our last memorial.
In line with the mentality that we know more than the first century Christians, we state in paragraph 5 of our study: “Those early Christians had only a limited understanding of the outworking of Jehovah’s purpose, even as Paul later acknowledged regarding prophecy: “We have partial knowledge and we prophesy partially; but when that which is complete arrives, that which is partial will be done away with.”” Are we to infer from this that present-day Christians do not have a limited understanding of the outworking of Jehovah’s purpose? Are we being led to believe that we now have “that which is complete”? This would be quite an inference based on our modern-day history of failed prophetic interpretations. (Perhaps some of our readers could find references to either confirm or deny this inference.)
Par. 6: “To set matters straight, Paul under inspiration explained that a great apostasy and “the man of lawlessness” were to appear before Jehovah’s day.” The judgment upon the “man of lawlessness” is brought because “they did not accept the love of the truth”. After making this statement, the paragraph asks us if we love truth. Of course we do! This is to be commended, for sure. However, how do we demonstrate our love of truth? The paragraph continues: “’Do I keep up-to-date with our present understanding as set out in the pages of this magazine and other Bible-based publications provided from the worldwide congregation of God’s people?’” So our love of truth is demonstrated by our unquestioning acceptance of every teaching handed down from the Governing Body through our publications.
The footnote to the paragraph states:
As we read at Acts 20:29, 30, Paul pointed out that from within the Christian congregations, “men [would] rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” History confirms that in time a clergy/laity distinction developed. By the third century C.E., “the man of lawlessness” was manifest, recognizable in the composite group of the clergy of Christendom.—See The Watchtower, February 1, 1990, pages 10-14.
It would be wise for us at this point to review what Paul tells the Thessalonians about the man of lawlessness.
“Let no one lead you astray in any way, because it will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness gets revealed, the son of destruction. 4 He stands in opposition and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits down in the temple of God, publicly showing himself to be a god.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4)
So the man of lawlessness is known by the following characteristics.
1) He doesn’t love truth.
This doesn’t mean that teaching falsehood makes one the man of lawlessness. It is the lack of love of truth that defines him. A true Christian can be in error, but when shown the truth he will adopt it and reject the lie. A false Christian—a man of lawlessness—will hold on to the lie even in the face of overwhelming Scriptural evidence to the contrary.
2) He speaks twisted things.
The man of lawlessness twists the meaning of Scripture to suit his purposes. When found out, he shifts the blame to others, but does not take responsibility himself.
3) He lords it over others.
The clergy/laity distinction is evidence of this. The man of lawlessness sets himself up over others. He creates a two-class system so that while claiming all Christians are equal, it becomes evident that some are more equal than others.
4) He sits in the seat of God.
By claiming to speak for God, he allows no others to challenge his word, for to do so is to challenge God. Those under him must accept whatever he says as truth. All who would object or who would point out his error are persecuted, forced into silence by the power and authority he wields.
It is easy for us to point at the Catholic Church and others of her ilk and say that they meet all of these identifying marks. The question is, do we also, even to some degree, fit the bill? Jehovah is the judge. For us as individuals, the identification of the “man of lawlessness” is crucial only so that we can avoid getting seduced by him, led astray, and lose our reason.
There is much more in this week’s study, but I’ll leave it here and look forward to the comments that others will contribute to the discussion.
[i] Or, “day of the Lord”
[ii] For more information on the reason for this difference between first century understanding and that expounded by our publications, see Are You Able to Separate Scripture from Doctrine, or read the posts on this site under the category “The Presence of Christ”.