Are you studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or are you no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or perhaps you are a Witness who is considering leaving the religion? Whatever your circumstances, do you assume that the Witnesses are probably right about the nearness of Armageddon (the “Apocalypse”) because of the unstable world conditions? If you do, then the following information could be for you.
In this essay, I will be making some strong assertions about the belief in a soon-to-come destruction of the wicked at Armageddon, but keep an open mind, and, later, try to do some of the suggested research to broaden out your knowledge of the subject. This is an important topic for you to fully examine because what you believe about a soon-to-come Apocalypse will affect not only your emotional state, but how you spend the rest of your life.
Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” However, not meaning to disparage Jesus’ words, I believe that accurate “information” sets us free from wondering what the “truth” is.
C. T. Russell, founder, Watch Tower Inc. and Bible Students (later Jehovah’s Witnesses)
If you research Charles Taze Russell’s writings, you’ll find that his intention was not to start a new religion but to share relevant Biblical thoughts with the “Elect” (those who would go to heaven mentioned in the Bible book of Revelation numbering 144,000), about harmonizing the chronology pointing to the “last days.” In fact, in July of 1879, the opening words of Russell’s new journal, Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, discussed the “last days.”
(Russell taught that Christ returned invisibly in 1874 and was present ruling in his heavenly kingdom gathering and then guiding a small number of his chosen “elect” on the earth. Please note the word, “Presence,” not “Coming” at the end of the title of Russell’s new journal.)
Until his death in 1916, Russell continued to talk about the nearness of the Apocalypse and stressing the date 1914 for the occurrence of heavenly events that would affect the earth’s population bringing trouble the likes never seen before. World War I began in that year, but it did not lead up to Armageddon as Russell hoped.
Approximately fifteen years after Russell’s death, his followers took the name Jehovah’s Witnesses and became known for their insistence that mankind was living in the “last days” before Armageddon, even going so far as saying in 1940 that “Armageddon is just ahead.”
1975 was also an important date in the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses when they said in 1968 that by 1975 the majority of people living in 1968 will be alive when Armageddon breaks out. In addition, that same year the Watchtower asked the question will the “battle of Armageddon be over by autumn of 1975?” In 1969 the Watchtower said the “world has very little time left.” However, the “world” in 1975 didn’t experience Armageddon and now thirty-nine years later, Armageddon has not become a reality.
From the mid-1920s, a man by the name of Frederick Franz, born in 1893, assumed the role as the “oracle” or “visionary” that came up with most of Jehovah’s Witnesses interpretive religious ideas. He went blind in the early 1980s and completely senile later that same decade. He died in 1992 at the age of 99. It was Franz that came up with the 1975 dogma that Jehovah’s Witnesses proclaimed far and wide as “truth” without any proof at all. The failure of that prediction caused over 500,000 Witnesses to abandon their religion. Many Witness leaders blamed Franz.
When I was part of the Watch Tower’s Writing Department staff, I examined Franz’s vast personal library in his office. The bookshelves contained scores of old worn books that discussed religious topics. Nine years later, after my association with the Witnesses ended, I began a research project on the subject under consideration and realized that Franz basically took information from those old books on his bookshelves and redeveloped 15th to the 19th century religious ideas about the “last days” and branded them as “new truths” under the guise of “progressive revelation,” just like the founder of the Bible Student movement, C. T. Russell, did before him.
The Second President
During the 1920s and 30s, the second president of Watch Tower, Inc., Joseph H. Rutherford, published yearly books dubbed “The Rainbow Series.” Each book was the same size and shape but had a cover with a different bright color. They primarily focused on the “last days” and the soon-to-come “Great battle of Armageddon” which Rutherford said his generation would see.
Because of material and documents I found in Franz’s office file cabinet, I have long contended that he (Franz) heavily contributed to the ideas found in Rutherford’s books on these subjects.
For the most part, the ideas in the Rainbow Series books were repudiated in the 1990s by the modern-day organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses and termed “old light.” These changes have continued as Jehovah’s Witnesses’ leaders try to reinvent their apocalyptic teachings to attract a new group of believers.
Jewish and Pagan Teachings
After Armageddon is over, Apocalypticism as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses includes living forever in a cleansed earth restored during 1,000 years to a paradise. Since this was also a Jewish teaching that’s why there are scriptures about a new earth or a new world of righteousness written by Jews found in the Old Testament.
Leroy Froom wrote in Prophetic Faith of our Fathers, Vol. 1: “Just as Jewish Christians inherited these traditional apocalyptic conceptions, so Gentile Christians found them the easier to accept because of their widespread former pagan beliefs in a golden age to come, marked by happiness and plenty. Even the thousand-year length of the period was often based by Christians on an assumed six-thousand-year duration of the world, which not only was Jewish-apocalyptic but was traceable as well in paganism. The Etruscans in Italy and Zoroastrian Persians believed that the human race was to last six thousand years. And some scholars would find evidence of Persian influence on the Jewish apocalyptic and Talmudic writing, in which the six millenniums of the world, followed by an epochal change, are paralleled with the six days of creation and the Sabbath, as in the Slavonic Enoch.
“From the Jews this idea passed on to the Christians, who certainly could have found no such information in the simple Bible record. This very concept of six thousand years has given rise to periodic time settings for the world’s end that have characterized the centuries, from Hippolytus to modern times. It is well to keep this in mind.”
Jewish converts brought to Christianity the six-thousand-year doctrine
EDWARD GIBBON (1737-1794), an English historian and Member of Parliament wrote a masterpiece when he penned and then published in 1776, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Although Gibbon’s work has been criticized by some for what he wrote in Volume 1, chapters 15 and 16 where he took to task the Christian church for a number of reasons, what he wrote in chapter 15 about the six-thousand-year concept is in agreement with the earliest writers. He explains:
“The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. As the works of the creation had been finished in six days, their duration in their present state, according to a tradition which was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand years. By the same analogy it was inferred that this long period of labour and contention, which was not almost elapsed, would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a thousand years; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection.
“The assurance of such a Millennium was carefully inculcated by a succession of fathers from Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostles, down to Lactanitius, who was preceptor to the son of Constantine. Though it might not be universally received, it appears to have been the reigning sentiment of the orthodox believers; and it seems so well adapted to the desires and apprehensions of mankind, that it must have contributed in a very considerable degree to the progress of the Christian faith.”
In his rebuke, Gibbon calls the mysterious language of prophecy and revelation an “error” that was permitted to subsist in the church. That “error” was the belief of an end of the world which was part of the Jewish faith that became part of the Christian faith.
“The Christian, who founded his belief much less on the fallacious arguments of reason than on the authority of tradition and the interpretation of Scripture [Old Testament], expected it [destruction of the present system] with terror and confidence as a certain and approaching event; and as his mind was perpetually filled with the solemn idea, he considered every disaster that happened to the empire as an infallible symptom of an expiring world.
“In the primitive church the influence of truth was very powerfully strengthened by an opinion [Jewish] which, however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity, has not been found agreeable to experience. It was universally believed that the end of the world, and the kingdom of heaven, were at hand. The near approach of this wonderful event had been predicted by the apostles.” [The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews; and the congregation over which they presided united the law of Moses with the doctrine of Christ]; “the tradition of it was preserved by their earliest disciples, and those who understood in their literal sense the discourses of Christ himself were obliged to expect the second and glorious coming of the Son of Man in the clouds, before that generation was totally extinguished…”
Furthermore, throughout chapter 15, Gibbon links as inherited from the Jews, not only Christian doctrines like the six-thousand-year theory, but also similar behavior such as their inflexible zeal, obstinacy, peculiar rites, unsocial manners, the attachment to the law of Moses, and their detestation of foreign religions.
From the foregoing, it’s obvious that the earliest pagans, Jews, primitive Christians, and followers from all Christian denominations down through the centuries had in common the belief that the end of the world would come to pass some six-thousand-years after creation. Inasmuch as the expectations and predictions ended in disappointment when the world did not end, it’s a wonder the premise continued to be widely held when it was reintroduced to future generations time and again. Could it be that its popularity was due to a new coat of theological paint?
Failure Didn’t Stop Predictions
Being wrong did not stop prognostication during the nineteenth and twentieth-century from continuing. Calculation methods changed. Scriptural interpretations were reexamined. In 1941, Theodore Graebner, in his book, In The Light Of Prophecy “WAS IT FORETOLD?” reminded those in the prediction business about past failures:
“All chiliastic predictions [Chiliasm is the doctrine stating that Jesus will reign on earth for 1,000 years] made in the past have failed. The millennium did not come in 1837, as foretold by Bengel, nor in 1843, nor in 1844, nor 1845, nor 1850, nor 1857, nor 1863, nor 1877, nor 1896, nor any subsequent date set by the Seventh-day Adventists, nor in 1868 … nor in 1914. Nor has any other event predicted by the chiliasts ever occurred within the limits of time set by their chronological figuring. When they attempted to foretell the future, they have always failed.”
In the 15th-century, Christopher Columbus believed in apocalyptic ideas which emotionally pushed him to take his beliefs to other lands to warn the “heathen” that the world’s “end” was coming, but nothing happened. 16th century Martin Luther, pivotal figure of the 16th-century movement known later as the Protestant Reformation, at one point expected Armageddon to occur within three years from when he said it and that was 500 years ago. Later, the 16th century English Statesman, Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan, believed the Apocalypse was coming in his era. He and his soldiers murdered orthodox believers to save Jesus the trouble of doing so when he would soon return.
Basically, Charles Taze Russell’s religious ideas were resurrected from “failed” or unfulfilled religious predictions from the past, particularly after the Protestant Reformation and noticeably from groups such as those in the so-called Radical Reformation which led to movements such as Anabaptist, William Miller’s Great Disappointment, Age-To-Come, etc.
Quotes taken from the website above – Jehovah’s Witnesses Unfulfilled Predictions
“Charles Taze Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Society, calculated 1874 as the year of Christ’s Second Coming, and taught that Christ was invisibly present and ruling from the heavens since that year. Russell proclaimed Christ’s invisible return in 1874, the resurrection of the saints in 1875, and predicted the end of the ‘harvest’ and the Rapture of the saints to heaven for 1878, and the final end of ‘the day of wrath’ in 1914. 1874 was considered the end of 6,000 years of human history and the beginning of judgment by Christ. In1917 a Watch Tower Society publication predicted that in 1918, God would begin to destroy churches and millions of their members.
“J.F. Rutherford, who succeeded Russell as president of the Watch Tower Society, predicted that the Millennium would begin in 1925, and that biblical figures such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David, and would be resurrected as ‘princes’. The Watch Tower Society bought property and built a house, Beth Sarim, in California for their return.
“From 1966, statements in Jehovah’s Witness publications raised strong expectations that Armageddon could arrive in 1975. In 1974 Witnesses were commended for selling their homes and property to ‘finish out the rest of their days in this old system’ in full-time preaching. In 1976, The Watchtower advised those who had been ‘disappointed’ by unfulfilled expectations for 1975 to adjust their viewpoint because that understanding was ‘based on wrong premises.’ Four years later, the Watch Tower Society admitted its responsibility in building up hope regarding 1975.”
My Personal Experiences
As a Witness, I heeded the recommendations coming from Witness leaders not to read anything other than the prophetic utterances recorded in Watch Tower literature. Until I learned about the cover-up of child sexual abuse in the Watch Tower organization, I wouldn’t listen to reason or do research into anything other than what the Witnesses published.
However, in the 1990s, because Witness leaders refused to take any steps to change their awful, and in many cases, unlawful, child abuse policies (and still haven’t changed them), intellectually, I was no longer under their mind-manipulation because I lost complete respect for them and their organization. Beginning in 1997, I began to thoroughly investigate Jehovah’s Witnesses teachings and history and was surprised at what I found. Subsequently, I left the organization and continued my quest for truth about the “Truth.”
Book Recommended About the History of the Apocalypse
If you are interested in researching this fascinating subject, please read an extraordinary book that I recommend to those who want to know the history of the message of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The name of the book is APOCALYPSES, Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages, by Eugen Weber.
Weber is a professor of Modern European History at the University of California, LA. I bought a used copy of APOCALYPSES in excellent shape through www.Amazon.com for a little over $3.00 and with shipping, the total was around $7.50. (For those in the UK, the total cost is around $15.00.)
In APOCALYPSES, you’ll read more about where the religious ideas that C. T. Russell picked up came from. Through studying this book and many other history books such as Kirsch’s, A History of the End of the World, you will be able to say that you know the Witness’ religion is nothing more than “a re-run religion” specifically borrowed from 15th- through 19th-century religious ideas that were in vogue then by people who claimed they were returning to “primitive” Christianity, just as Russell claimed he was doing. Your research will set you free from premises that hold you in bondage and fear!
Oh, by the way, during your research on this topic, you will find that throughout the ages, end-of-the-world preoccupation with Bible prophecies appeared every few years whenever there were immense societal problems seemingly with no way out. Interestingly, when nothing happened and the end didn’t arrive, apocalyptic beliefs were postponed and eventually forgotten with something like a religious amnesia. Then later in difficult times, the ideas were born anew.
The Resurrection of Failure
I ask you, “Why did our forefathers, including C. T. Russell, “regenerate or resurrect failure?” Simply put – because no one wants to die! The belief in apocalyptic millennialism was one way in which people thought that the living would never die, and how the dead could be restored to life again.
In your research, you will read more about the belief in a returning “redeemer.” In fact, you will agree with Gibbon that most of the earliest cultures had hopes of a savior coming to earth to rescue down-trodden humankind out from under the hand of the wicked, including the worst enemy of all, death!
Past Apocalyptic believers learned about the “last days” message from the Bible in Matt. 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13. And Jehovah’s Witnesses and other like groups think our days are the “last days” because of what they read in these same scriptures.
If God didn’t bring an end to the world during the past 2,000 years during times when injustice was the name of the day and horrible living conditions caused much suffering and death, why would he do so now when living conditions have dramatically improved for people living in all parts of the world? In fact, the poor in the Western World have the option of living better than kings did in the past. In comparison, most of us really have nothing to complain about, except we do anyway.
Should we put faith in eschatological predictions emanating from the Bible? (Eschatology is theology’s concern with what are believed to be the final events of history commonly referred to as the “end of the world.”) It has been argued that past predictions have important significance. I can’t imagine how when Apocalypticism was basically unfulfilled religious predictions that caused dashed hopes and worse for millions of people when nothing transpired.
Witness Leaders are Long Gone
Charles Taze Russell said we are, “deep in the time of the end” and so did Witness presidents, Rutherford, Knorr, Franz, Henschel, including all of the first round of Governing Body members, a leadership function instituted in 1971. Where are these people now? DECEASED! And there is still no end of the world in sight even for the replacements of the deceased Governing Body who like-wise believe we are living “deep in the time of the end.”
Oh, by the way, read Luke 21:8. “[Jesus] said: Look out that you are not misled; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The due time has approached. Do not go after them.” When now-deceased Governing Body member, Albert Schroeder, was queried about Jehovah’s Witnesses frequent claim that “The due time has approached” which Jesus discouraged doing, he replied that the scripture did not apply to the date-setting of Jehovah’s Witnesses because the Witnesses had the “Truth.” Of course, Schroeder’s statement was ridiculous especially since their predictions were unfulfilled like all predictions made down through the centuries.
Command to “Watch”
Yes, there are scriptures that encourage Christians to “watch” for events that would signal Jesus coming in glory and bringing an end to this world as we know it, but he discouraged placing a date on when it would happen.
However, that command to “watch” was given by Jesus shortly before his death directly to Hebrews like him, who were living in the ancient Near East in Palestine during the first-century, and looking for these things to happen in their lifetime. If Jesus’ first-century chosen-ones didn’t get it right because their expectations were unfulfilled, why would Christ choose an American businessman, C. T. Russell, and future members of Russell’s movement, such as Americans, Attorney, J. H. Rutherford, and Frederick Franz, a Russell follower, to pinpoint that date, which they did wrongly again and again.
When the expected Apocalypse failed to arrive over the past 130 years, then re-identification of the date was necessary by Witness prognosticators resulting in disappointment and despair for millions of devotees’ because they had not prepared for old age and death.
Is there any proof that these teachings are applicable and relevant to us over 2,000 years after the death of Jesus? No, apocalyptic beliefs scheduled for a specific time are essentially interpretation of scripture by Bible-believers and are purely subjective. Most interpretations were skewed, one-sided and purely idiosyncratic, so why spend a lifetime in fear of something that has resulted in nothing, although there were believers and signs of fulfillment of prophecy aplenty.
One Positive and Many Negatives
Yes, there are a few good things about being a Witness, especially the perceived closeness of the community. But this can never make up for all the harm the Witness religion has caused and is still causing by their unfortunate, incorrect and harmful child abuse policies; ban on blood transfusions policy; shunning of dissenters policy, and disapproval of higher education policy, all of which are 100% against the principles of love.
In my opinion, if you do the research, you’ll find what I’m saying is fundamentally true. Please press on to have a good life without unreliable and unfortunate eschatological ideas that are not worth the paper the Witness literature is printed on.
I hope that the foregoing material outlining the foundation for the key belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses is helpful in your quest for truth.