by Randall Watters
Note: This is an early interpretation, published in 1993, of the changes that were later altered and finalized in the October 15 and November 1, 1995 issues of the Watchtower magazine. You can jump to an article summarizing the final changes (as if any doctrines are final in this organization!) at the end of this section.
Two special talks, "What Will Be The Sign of Your Presence?" and "Tell Us, When Will These Things Be?" were given on Saturday afternoon of the Divine Teaching District Conventions of Jehovah's Witnesses this year, apparently to prepare the way for "new light" on the teaching that we are living in the generation that will see the end of the world, with a view to overturning such understanding. These are a few notes regarding this new position.
For several decades now, the Watchtower magazine (henceforth designated as WT) has taught that 1914 marked the invisible presence of Christ, and that the generation that saw the world events that occurred since 1914 would be the one to witness the end of the earthly governments and the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth. The May 1, 1985 WT (p. 4) makes the statement that "Before the 1914 generation completely dies out, God's judgment must be executed." Originally, it was taught that those who were old enough to understand the events that occurred in 1914 comprised such a generation [See WT 01/10/78 p.31, 10/15/80, p. 31], but in more recent years the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses hinted that those who were born around 1914 comprised this generation (apparently to buy out more time until the end--see WT 05/15/84, p. 5)
There has been some vacillation on the part of the Watchtower's Governing
Body in recent years on this matter, however. With the January 8, 1987 issue of
the Awake! magazine, the masthead on p. 4 discontinued the statement
saying that the generation that saw 1914 would not pass away, only to resume the
statement with the March 8, 1988 issue. Apparently some readers were alarmed
regarding its absence. One of the more subtle changes that few Witnesses noticed
was the statement in the January 1, 1989 WT (p. 12) that "He (the apostle
Paul) was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in the
20th century" that was changed to "...would be completed in our
day" by the time it was printed in the archival bound volumes of the Watchtower
issues for 1989. Apparently the Society was not so sure that Armageddon would
occur in the 20th century after all.
Ray Franz, former Governing Body member of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society notes in his book Crisis of Conscience that the Watchtower has attempted to buy out more time for Armageddon for a number of years, as their expectations failed, particularly with regards to the prediction that 1975 would bring Armageddon. According to Franz, they even considered changing the start of such generation to 1957, but such a change was rejected by popular vote in the secret Governing Body sessions. (Crisis, p. 218)
However, it appears the Governing Body has found a solution to the dilemma, and are "seeding the ground," giving Witnesses a taste of the change to come, without telling them what the change will actually mean. Few Witnesses understood the Saturday afternoon talks at all, let alone foresaw the vast changes it might mean in the Society's understanding. I had to read the transcript of the talk three times in order to get the point, and I consider myself as fairly well-versed on Watchtower methodology, having served at their headquarters for six years as an elder and factory overseer, and being a keen observer of Watchtower trickery over the last 15 years. Though the following is still speculation at this point, I do believe that soon it will become reality, as the new position appears to be very clever and even more stable than the previous understanding.
As has been previously taught but not always understood by some Witnesses, the Governing Body teaches that the events mentioned in Matthew 24: 5-14 had their initial or primary fulfillment in the first century, including the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. They acknowledge that there were major insurrections (wars), famines, pestilence, etc. during this time. Yet because there appear to be predictions in the subsequent verses of Matthew 24 as well as Luke 21 and Mark 13 that were NOT fulfilled during that time, they have stated repeatedly that there must be a greater, or secondary fulfillment in our time, culminating in the Great Tribulation and Armageddon. They still believe that Christ returned invisibly in 1914, and that we are living in the time of the signs mentioned in Matt. 24:4-14.
Whether they will still call this the "time of the end" remains to be seen (for years they taught that the beginning of the time of the end was the year 1799!). In the manuscript talks, the Governing Body says that "informed people" acknowledge that the composite sign foretold at Matt. 24:7-12 and Rev. 6:2-8 has been manifest since World War I.
Changes in Understanding
The changes or "clarifications" being made by the Governing Body with regards to their understanding of Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13 are as follows:
1) When Matt. 24:14 says "then the end will come" this initially refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and so verse 21 that says, "for then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world's beginning until now, no, nor will occur again" WAS IN REFERENCE TO THE JEWISH SYSTEM OF WORSHIP, and like the rest of the previous verses, had its initial fulfillment in 70 A.D. Previously, they had a hard time applying this "end" to the first century events. Verse 14 was understood as applying primarily in our day, and not to the end of the Jewish system. The 8/1/83 WT (p. 24) said that Jerusalem's destruction was NOT a fulfillment of this prophecy. But as will be seen, the efforts are to make more of the verses in question apply to the first century than were previously acknowledged. They have actually adopted a more consistent position than previously held.
2) The application of Matt. 24:29 which says, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heaven will be shaken" has been changed to a more "realistic" interpretation. Previously, "immediately after" actually meant almost 2000 years later, meaning that the celestial events did not occur until our day! The celestial events were interpreted to mean the proliferation of rockets, satellites, etc. that made the heavens appear ominous (see WT 3/1/83, p. 27). But now, the Governing Body is saying that the celestial events had their initial fulfillment during the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., but will also have a greater fulfillment after the start of the great tribulation.
Since the Governing Body recognizes Acts 2:14-21 to be an account similar to Matt. 24:29, they now interpret both in somewhat the same way. Since the events that occurred in Acts surrounding Pentecost did not seem to include "the sun being turned into darkness and the moon into blood," this apparently referred more to the events that occurred a few years later in 70 A.D., where Josephus the Jewish historian records the occurrences of "rain, lightning, and darkness" as accompanying the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet, these signs would occur even more so in the secondary, or contemporary fulfillment of events. When the great tribulation starts (with an attack on Babylon the Great and Christendom), this will include an attack against the "luminaries" of Christendom. Prominent clergymen will be "exposed and eliminated by the ten horns" of the nations comprising the United Nations. "More than likely," supernatural celestial signs will occur as well!
Similarly, Matt. 24:30, 31 is interpreted as occurring after the beginning of
the great tribulation. After its beginning (verse 29), the "sign of the Son
of man that appears in heaven, the tribes of the earth beating themselves, and
the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and glory" will be
manifest. This sign is still invisible, since the Watchtower
teaches that Jesus is no longer in human form, but the sign is supposedly "obvious" due to the cataclysmic nature of events that are occurring. In other words, Jehovah is making it clear that his Son is now in destruction mode. No new change here, but a clarification is made with regards to verse 31: The angels are sent forth to gather the chosen ones (the remaining "anointed") during this time period, and not before! So, technically, the "gathering" of the anointed has not happened yet. The choosing has already occurred (as previously understood), but not the gathering of the "remnant." The point is, verses 29-31 technically apply only during the great tribulation!
In review thus far, the Governing Body points to Matt. 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13 as indicating this ORDER OF EVENTS:
3) The most significant change lies in the understanding of what "this generation" might really mean. Since in all three gospel accounts the saying that "this generation will by no means pass away until all things occur" FOLLOWS the verses which the Governing Body is applying to events that occur strictly during the great tribulation, it logically follows that their yet unstated interpretation of "this generation" is THE ONE THAT SEES THE START OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION! Since the Watchtower has not provided a new year for the start of the great tribulation, this leaves the door wide open for WHEN the great tribulation will occur, and the START of "this generation." With this new interpretation, it could be delayed for a hundred years!
The Governing Body has been careful not to say too much in these talks given
at all the conventions this year. They realize the tremendous blow this would be
to those who have believed they are part of the generation that would see the
end... over 10 million people who have associated themselves with the Witnesses
at this time (taken from their "Lord's evening meal"
attendance), not to speak of the perhaps millions of disfellowshiped Witnesses who attend no meetings but who still believe in what they teach. It is my belief that many, many Witnesses will be shaken who have not been moved by previous changes in doctrine, while the Watchtower will simply say, "Where else can we go?" Hopefully they will come to study the Bible as Christians have for centuries, knowing that "no man knows the day or the hour," and perhaps, not even the century of His return. (Mark 13:32)
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