reprint of the Nov/Dec 1992 Bethel Ministries Newsletter

The Lure of the Apocalypse

by Randall Watters

In an apocalyptic movement that is rocking [South Korea] and fast becoming an urgent social crisis, scores of people are selling their homes, quitting jobs and schools, abandoning families and even having abortions to prepare for Oct. 28. That's the day they believe that 144,000 believers around the world will be liked into heaven in a phenomena called 'the rupture,' prophesied in the book of Revelation." -Los Angeles Times, 9/28/92, A14.

As we enter the 21st century, more and more religious groups rise up and claim to be the recipients of divine protection from the end of the world. The late Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God and former editor-in-chief of the Good News of the World Tomorrow, believed he was God's chosen spokesman for the last days. Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, believed himself to be the 'faithful and wise servant,' chosen to be the sole interpreter of the Bible for the last days. The followers of the religion he devised, now known as Jehovah's Witnesses, number over four million and hove predicted the end of the world several times since Russell's beginnings in 1879. For a sampling:

1889 - "The 'battle of the great day of God Almighty', which will end in A. D. 1914 with the complete overthrow of eorth's present rulership is already commenced." The Time Is At Hand, p. 101 (1908 Edition)

1914 - "The present great war in Europe is the beginning of the Armageddon of the scriptures." Pastor Russell's Sermons, p.676

1918 - "Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the apostle in Hebrews chapter 11, to the condition of human perfection." Millions Now Living Will Never Die, p.89

1941 - "Receiving the gift, the marching children clasped it to them, not a toy or plaything for idle pleasure, but the Lord's provided instrument for most effective work in the remaining months before Armageddon." WT 9/15/41, p.288

1968 - "WHY ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO 1975?" WT 8/15/68, p.494

1968 - "Just think, brothers, there are only about 90 months left before 6000 years of man's existence on earth is completed ... The majority of people living today will probably be alive when Armageddon breaks out." Kingdom Ministry 3/68, p.4

Only the most devout will be saved. In the Korean cult mentioned earlier, only a few will be raptured, though there are 20,000 followers of the movement. The true believers are currently praying 12 hours a day, 7 days a week on their knees. One branch of this movement in Los Angeles even has armed guards protecting the church from outsiders who will "persecute them." Music is played loudly inside the building where the "devout" are praying in order to drown out the sound of the families of the cult members who are picketing outside with megaphones.

Similarly, every year when the headquarters of the Watchtower buildings are picketed by ex-members and others protesting the false prophecies and mind control tactics of the Watchtower, the Jehovah's Witnesses are taught to ignore and not to make eye contact with these "opposers of the truth" (who will surely die when Armageddon comes).

Apocalyptic religions appeal primarily to those who have lost faith in the world and its political and reform systems. Lacking faith that the world could ever be made to be a better place to live under man's influence, they look to God to destroy the world and start over, leaving only those who believe in the same idealism as the cult.

With due respect for the Bible and its promises regarding the return of Christ, it seems that cults capitalize on this in order to recruit and control. As Carl Olof Jonsson says,

It is hard for a person to accept that an event of such momentous importance should not happen in his or her lifetime. One inwardly resists the thought of missing out on it, of not experiencing a personal `rendezvous with history,' particularly divine history. Doubtless this is why books that feed and stimulate such expectations often enjoy great popularity. (The Sign of the Last Days, p. x)

I remember reading The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey some time before getting involved with the Jehovah's Witnesses, and was influenced by that book alone to give up my hippie lifestyle and start preparing for the end of the world. Though the book is now shown to be inaccurate in many details that were not fulfilled according to Lindsay's expectations, it has sold nearly 20 million copies in several languages.

As with Lindsey, even faithful Christians have succumbed to the lure of Armageddon since the first century on. The church father Cyprian of the third century ominously predicted:

That wars continue to prevail, that death and famine accumulate anxiety, that health is shattered by raging diseases, that the human race is wasted by the desolation of pestilence, know that this was foretold; that evils should be multiplied in the last times, and that misfortunes should be varied; and that the day of judgment is now drawing nigh. (Cyprian, Treatise 5, "An Address to Demetrianus.")

In the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great said:

Of all the signs described by our Lord as presaging the end of the world some we see already accomplished.... For we now see that nation arises against nation and that they press and weigh upon the land in our own times as never before in the annals of the past. Earthquakes overwhelm countless cities, as we often hear from other parts of the world. Pestilence we endure without interruption. (quoted in His Appearing and His Kingdom, by T. Francis Glasson, M.A., D.D., The Epworth Press, London, 1953, p. 45)

Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Watchtower, believed that the "sign in the sun, moon and stars" of Matthew 24:29 had their fulfillment in two mysterious events that occurred in 1780 and 1833. To him, the time of the end began in 1799, and the world would end in 1914. Currently, the Watchtower believes that the time of the end began in 1914, and that the signs since then "prove" that we are in the final days, and that the end will occur in "this generation."

Herbert W. Armstrong, now-deceased leader of the Worldwide Church of God, said:

"Jesus Christ, the world's greatest newscaster, was telling His students what would occur in OUR generation... the generation that would see these things come to pass. This fantastic forecast is being increasingly FULFILLED!" (Famine: Can We Survive? p. 89-90)

Cults arise when leaders try to predict a date for the end of the world, then use it to gain a following. Jesus said, "No man knows the day or the hour," yet that doesn't seem to stop many from trying anyway.

The Watchtower currently teaches that Jesus Christ returned invisibly in 1914, and that the "signs" we see in terms of world events prove that we are living in the last generation. While space precludes a full examination, I will present a sampling:

EARTHQUAKES

From 1914 until now, there have been many more major earthquakes than in other like periods in recorded history. You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth, p. 151.

In 1983, soon after receiving the above Watchtower publication, Doug Harris of Reachout Ministries in England wrote to several Earthquake specialists with this quote and asked four questions:

1. Do you agree with this quotation according to your records?
2. Is the reason that more earth-quakes are reported in recent history due to better research units?
3. According to your figures has there been an increase in earthquake activity since 1914?
4. If more people are dying today from earthquakes, is this related to the increase in world population?

Here are two replies. The first from Tokyo University, Earthquake Research Unit:

1. No. It is almost impossible to reply with reliable data on world earth-quakes because there is no such data.
2. Yes.
3. No. Records of earthquakes have increased but we cannot say that earthquake activity has increased.
4. (no answer given).

The second reply, from the Intl. Seismological Centre, Newbury, Berks, England:

1. In general, I would not agree with the quotation... The earthquake reputed to have killed most people was in China in 1556, with 850,000 fatalities. This makes the pre-1914 figure you quote seem very small.
2. Instrumental recording was just starting around the turn of the century.
3. There is certainly no seismological evidence to believe that more seismic energy has been released since 1914 than in comparable periods in the past.
4. This point, regarding world population is a very valid one. I believe that world population has grown by a factor of 100 since Biblical times, and also populations have become more condensed.
If you add to this a summary of the tables found on pages 119-141 in Seismicity of the Earth by Gutenberg and Richter you find there is a 37% DECREASE in earthquake activity in the 11 years after 1914 compared with the 11 years previous to 1914.

FREQUENCY OF WARS

In April 1983 The Watchtower series "Are we living in the last days?" referred to the frequency of wars as proof of such, quoting Quincy Wright in A Study of War. Yet what they failed to mention was that Wright himself produces evidence of the following:

1. The turning point regarding wars is not 1914 but 1942.
2. The frequency of wars actually decreased after 1914.
3. Although 1914 was the first world war, the evidence shows that all the major powers in the world fought in general wars since 1600.

FAMINES

The Watchtower article of April 15, 1983 says:
While it is true that agriculture has made a lot of progress in recent years, it is also true that since 1914 mankind has witnessed numerous food shortages.

Yet, In his book Famine, John Robson shows on pp. 22-24 that between 1852 and 1914 there were 9 major famines causing 23,850,000 deaths and between 1915 and 1973 there were 13 major famines, but only 20,037,400 deaths. He also shows that there were NO FAMINES CAUSED BY WORLD WAR I but TWO by World War II. In fact things didn't really start to change till the late 50's and that nearly 4,000,000 more people died from famines in the 60 years before 1914 than in 60 years after.

What does all this mean? Simply that the facts show that 1914 is not a turning point for famines, wars or earthquakes.

As the year 2000 nears we will likely see many more cults arise with apocalyptic predictions regarding the end of the world. While cults use this as a goad to produce certain behaviors, the Bible says that Christians need not worry, as they are saved by grace, not by works (Eph. 2:8). A rereading of Matthew 24 might indicate that these phenomena would happen all the way up to the "end," and are in fact a non-sign.

NOTE: For more information on the subject of the psychological effect of failed prophecy on individuals, I recommend the article, "When Prophecies Fail."

For a very enlightening response to modern events as fulfillment of Matthew 24:4-14, I recommend The Sign of The Last Days by Carl Olof Jonsson.


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