David A. Reed
‘New truths’ in the November 1, 1995Watchtower magazine change the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses concerning "the generation that saw the events of 1914," and the November 8, 1995 Awake! drops that magazine’s long-standing prophecy.
Ever since the late 1940’s Awake! magazine had been promising the "sure hope for the establishment of a righteous New World" on page 2 of each issue. Then in 1964 it added the thought that this would happen "in this generation"—" reflecting sure hope for the establishment of God’s righteous new order in this generation."
In 1975 it was no longer Awake! magazine’s promise but now became the Creator’s promise: " the Creator’s promise of a new order of lasting peace and true security within our generation."—January 8, 1975
January 8, 1964 Awake! magazine, page 2
January 8, 1975 Awake! magazine, page 2
It was a very serious step to add this expression, "the Creator’s promise," since it meant that the Watchtower Society (the magazine’s publisher) was now prophesying in the Creator’s name—in God’s name. The Creator warns in the Bible against doing this without receiving a command from Him to do so:
But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.—Deuteronomy 18:20-22 NIV
Did the Creator really command the Society to say that He promised the new order would come "within our generation"?
Elsewhere, the Society specified more precisely what it meant by "our generation":
"Jesus was obviously speaking about those who were old enough to witness with understanding what took place when the ‘last days’ began. Even if we presume that youngsters 15 years of age would be perceptive enough to realize the import of what happened in 1914, it would still make the youngest of ‘this generation’ nearly 70 years old today. Jesus said that the end of this wicked world would come before that generation passed away in death."
—Awake! October 8, 1968, pages 13-14
In 1982 the Watchtower Society changed the prophecy on page 2 of each Awake! issue to include the same thought about 1914. It was no longer a vague "our generation" that would see the world’s end, but the generation that saw the events of 1914: " the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new order before the generation that saw the events of 1914 C.E. passes away." (January 8, 1982)
Awake! October 8, 1968, page 13
Awake! October 8, 1968, page 14
Awake! January 8, 1982, page 2
Nearly identical wording repeated the same prophecy in each issue until January 8, 1987, when Awake! magazine’s statement of purpose was moved to page 4 in a redesigned format. Starting with that issue, the 1914 generation prophecy was dropped entirely.
Then it was restored on page 4 of the March 8, 1988 issue—" the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away"—wording that continued to appear through October, 1995.
By then, however, the generation that saw the events of 1914 had largely passed away. All that remained were a relatively few surviving individuals in their late 90’s—people nearly a hundred years old. Obviously, the prophecy had failed.
Continuing to print it as spiritual food for Jehovah’s Witnesses was like serving meat or milk long after the "sell before" date stamped on the package. Like spoiled food, the expired prophecy began to stink. JW leaders in Brooklyn finally replaced it in the November 8, 1995 Awake! by returning to language similar to that used prior to 1964. Awake! now declares " the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things."
A Series of Revisions
Actually the prophecy on page 4 of each Awake! is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. It is the most prominent part of a whole chronological system of Bible interpretation that has proved false. This is the most noticeable revision, so far, in a process of changing beliefs that has only just begun.
Awake! October 8, 1995, page 4
Awake! November 8, 1995, page 4
The October 15, 1995 Watchtower (pages 22-23) changes the Watchtower Society’s interpretation of when Christ sits down to separate sheep from goats at Matthew 25:31-33. It transforms this from a process that began when Christ allegedly returned invisibly and became king in 1914 to a future event associated with his judging mankind at the Battle of Armageddon.
The old teaching is presented clearly in the Society’s 1982 book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (page 183 original edition):
Yes, since Christ returned and sat down on his heavenly throne, all humankind has been on judgment During the present judgment people are being separated as "goats" to Christ’s left hand or as "sheep" to his right.
The October 15, 1995 Watchtower (pages 22-23) rejects this interpretation and substitutes a new one:
Does this parable apply when Jesus sat down in kingly power in 1914, as we have long understood?
the parable points to the future when the Son of man will come in his glory. He will sit down to judge
Understanding the parable of the sheep and the goats in this way indicates that the rendering of judgment on the sheep and the goats is future. It will take place after "the tribulation" mentioned at Matthew 24:29, 30 breaks out and the Son of man ‘arrives in his glory.’
The change introduced here is two-fold. The Society re-interprets Matthew 25:31-32 so that
(1) Christ’s sitting down on his throne does not refer to his becoming king in 1914, as the Society has long taught. Instead, it refers to his sitting as judge during the future great tribulation.
(2) The separating of the sheep from the goats is also a future event—even though JWs had long been taught that their preaching work was accomplishing that separation right now and throughout much of this century.
"Yes, all mankind is being scrutinized to see who are 'sheep' and who are 'goats.' ...the messages are broadcast by human mouthpieces under angelic direction. A person is identified as a 'sheep' or as a 'goat' by the way he responds to the angelic messages. During this 20th century, only Jehovah's Witnesses have cooperated with the angels in this vital work."--The Watchtower January 1, 1988, page 16
You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 1982 edition, page 183
The Watchtower, October 15, 1995, page 22
The Watchtower, October 15, 1995, page 23
Even more significant is the ‘new truth’ introduced in the November 1, 1995 issue of The Watchtower. On pages 17-19 it changes the Society’s interpretation of Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:34, "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." (NIV)
On page 17 it admits that "Jehovah’s people have at times speculated about the time when the ‘great tribulation’ would break out, even tying this to calculations of what is the lifetime of a generation since 1914." Now it says, instead (page 17):
Rather than providing a rule for measuring time, the term "generation" as used by Jesus refers principally to contemporary people of a certain historical period, with their identifying characteristics.
Then it goes on to identify the generation that Jesus supposedly pointed to at Matthew 24:34-35 in this way (page 19):
Therefore, in the final fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy today, "this generation" apparently refers to the peoples of earth who see the sign of Christ’s presence but fail to mend their ways.
This new interpretation drops the thought that the world will end during the lifetime of the people who were alive to see the events of 1914. Instead, it has Jesus speaking of the "wicked generation"—people who see the sign of his invisible presence but fail to become JWs—with no time period attached.
The Watchtower January 1, 1988, page 16
The Watchtower November 1, 1995, page 17
The Watchtower November 1, 1995, page 19
A False Prophet?
Was the recently abandoned teaching about the 1914 generation really a false prophecy spoken by a false prophet? Or was it merely an instance of faithful Christians manifesting eagerness for Christ’s return? Deuteronomy 18:20-22, quoted earlier, supplies the basis for determining the answer. It states that its words of condemnation apply when what a "prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true."
Obviously, the prediction did not come true, and so the Watchtower Society has now stopped making that prediction.
Was the prediction spoken "in the name of the LORD"? Yes, because it was introduced as "the Creator’s promise." The Watchtower has said else where:
Those who are convinced that The Watchtower is publishing the opinion or expression of a man should not waste time in looking at it at all... Those who believe that God uses The Watchtower as a means of communicating to his people, or of calling attention to his prophecies, should study The Watchtower..." —The Watchtower January 1, 1942, page 5
More recently, the Watchtower Society has tried to escape the "false prophet" label by saying Jehovah’s Witnesses have not made prophecies in God’s name. "Never did they say, ‘These are the words of Jehovah.’" (Awake! March 22, 1993, p. 4) But the Watchtower Society actually did describe its prediction that the 1914 generation would live to see ‘the end’ as Jehovah’s prophetic word through Jesus Christ.
"Jehovah’s prophetic word through Jesus Christ is: ‘This generation [of 1914] will by no means pass away until all things occur.’ (Luke 21:32) And Jehovah, who is the source of inspired and unfailing prophecy, will bring about the fulfillment
"Just as Jesus’ prophecies regarding Jerusalem were fulfilled within the life span of the generation of the year 33 C.E., so his prophecies regarding ‘the time of the end’ will be fulfilled within the life span of the generation of 1914.
" Yes, you may live to see this promised New Order, along with survivors of the generation of 1914—the generation that will not pass away."
—The Watchtower May 15, 1984, pages 6-7 (The bracketed expression "[of 1914]" is in the original.)
The Watchtower May 15, 1984, page 6
The Watchtower May 15, 1984, page 7
So, the Watchtower Society fits the description of a false prophet found at Deuteronomy 18:20-22. The Society made the prediction in God’s name, and the prediction failed to come true.
Was this false prophecy simply a one-time offense? No, because the prediction was published repeatedly over the years, not only in Awake! magazine’s masthead, but also in other places—sometimes even with minor variations which indicate that thought was given to the matter on a number of occasions:
" the generation alive in 1914, some will see the major fulfilment of Christ Jesus’ prophecy and the destruction " —Awake! October 8, 1973, page 19
"Which generation is this, and how long is it?
"Thus, when it comes to the application in our time, the ‘generation’ logically would not apply to babies born during World War I. It applies to Christ’s followers and others who were able to observe that war and the other things that have occurred in fulfillment of Jesus’ composite ‘sign.’ Some of such persons ‘will by no means pass away until’ all of what Christ prophesied occurs, including the end of the present wicked system." –The Watchtower Oct. 1, 1978, p. 31
"What, then, is the ‘generation’ that ‘will by no means pass away until all these things occur"? It does not refer to a period of time, which some have tried to interpret as 30, 40, 70 or even 120 years, but, rather, it refers to people, the people living at the ‘beginning of pangs of distress’ for this condemned world system. It is the generation of people who saw the catastrophic events that broke forth in connection with World War I from 1914 onward.
"And if the wicked system of this world survived until the turn of the century, which is highly improbable in view of world trends and the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, there would still be survivors of the World War I generation. However, the fact that their number is dwindling is one more indication that the ‘conclusion of the system of things’ is moving fast toward its end.
"Yes, there was a generation of people that was living in 1914, and that saw the major historical changes We can be happy, therefore, for Jesus’ assurance that there will be survivors of ‘the generation of 1914’—that this generation will not have completely passed away—when the ‘great tribulation’ rings down the curtain on this wicked world system."
—The Watchtower October 15, 1980, page 31
"Jesus used the word ‘generation’ many times in different settings and with various meanings. But what did he mean when he spoke of a "generation that would not pass away"? a generation is really related to people and events, rather than to a fixed number of years.
the babies of that generation are now 70 years old or older. And others alive in 1914 are in their 80’s or 90’s, a few even having reached a hundred. There are still many millions of that generation alive. Some of them ‘will by no means pass away until all things occur.’" —The Watchtower May 15, 1984, page 5
Thus judgment would be executed sometime during the life span of people seeing the first evidence of the time period foretold by Jesus. this time period began in 1914.
Thus before the 1914 generation completely dies out, God’s judgment must be executed.
—The Watchtower May 1, 1985, page 4
"a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away"
"The Hebrews reckon seventy-five years as one generation ".
" today, most of the generation of 1914 has passed away. Jesus’ words will come true, ‘this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.’ This is yet another reason for believing that Jehovah’s thieflike day is imminent."
—Awake! April 8, 1988, pages 4 and 14
In fact, this episode of making predictions concerning "the generation of 1914" was not the first time the Watchtower Society made such prophecies. Years before 1914, it published volume 4 of Studies in the Scriptures, in which it calculated a hundred-year "generation" stretching "from 1780, the date of the first sign" and including the
gathering time beginning October 1874; the organization of the Kingdom and the taking by our Lord of his great power as the King in April 1878, and the time of trouble or "day of wrath" which began October 1874 and will end October 1914
—1908 edition, page 604
Alternatively, it calculated the generation of Matthew 24:34 as spanning 36 1/2 years, "the ‘generation’ from 1878 to 1914." (page 605)
Interestingly, the Society encountered similar problems back then as time limits ran out and prophecies proved false. The length of the "generation" was adjusted to accommodate later reinterpretations, in a manner similar to the recent adjustments during the 1970’s-1990’s. Thus, later editions of the same Studies in the Scriptures volume were reprinted with alterations in the dates. In the reference quoted above from page 604, for example, the words "will end October 1914" were changed to "will cease about 1915" in certain later editions.
Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 4, 1908 ed., p. 604
Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 4, 1908 ed., p. 605
Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 4, 1925 ed., p. 604
The Watchtower Society has a long history of making prophecies and then changing them after they proved false. Dozens of references could be quoted and documented, but a few will suffice to prove the point.
For example, the 1920 booklet Millions Now Living Will Never Die, declares,
we may expect 1925 to witness the return of these faithful men of Israel from the condition of death, being resurrected Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old.
This failed to come true, of course.
Millions Now Living Will Never Die, page 89
Millions Now Living Will Never Die, page 90
Starting in the mid-1960’s numerous discussions in the Society’s publications pointed to the year 1975:
This seventh day, God’s rest day, has progressed nearly 6,000 years, and there is still the 1,000-year reign of Christ to go before its end. (Rev. 20:3, 7) This seventh 1,000-year period of human existence could well be likened to a great sabbath day. . . . In what year, then, would the first 6,000 years of man’s existence and also the first 6,000 years of God’s rest day come to an end? The year 1975.
—Awake! October 8, 1966, page 19
The August 15, 1968 Watchtower indicates that there might be a slight delay between the end of humanity’s first six thousand years in autumn 1975 and the end of the world—corresponding to the interval of time between Adam’s creation and Eve’s—but assures that the delay will be only a few weeks or months, not years:
Are we to assume from this study that the battle of Armageddon will be all over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand-year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possibly, but we wait to see how closely the seventh thousand-year period of man’s existence coincides with the sabbathlike thousand-year reign of Christ. If these two periods run parallel with each other as to the calendar year, it will not be by mere chance or accident but will be according to Jehovah’s loving and timely purposes. It may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years."
Such predictions led Jehovah’s Witnesses to believe that the end would come toward the end of 1975 or early in 1976.
When that date proved false, the organization began emphasizing "the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away," as noted above—a prophecy that it has now dropped.
Perhaps to allow future maneuvering room, the new teachings published so far leave end-times dating loose and indefinite. Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to be entering a period like that after the world failed to end in 1914 and before 1925 was named as a new target date, or after later failures and before 1975 was named.
A Biblical Response
When speaking about events leading up to the end of this wicked world, Jesus Christ warned that "many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many." (Matthew 24:11, KJV) Did he suggest that believers should follow such false prophets, loyally sticking to them through one prophetic failure after another, in the hope that they would eventually get it right? Far from it! Rather, Jesus warned, "Take heed that no man deceive you." (Matthew 24:4 KJV)
If the Watchtower Society is a deceptive false prophet, where else can individual Jehovah’s Witnesses turn for sound spiritual guidance? ‘Whom shall we go away to?’ No one!—is the Watchtower Society’s answer, drilled into each Witness through constant repetition. Our organization is the only way,
Awake! October 8, 1966, page 19
The Watchtower August 15, 1968, page 494
The Watchtower August 15, 1968, page 499
the only truth, the only life. This view of things makes it very difficult for Jehovah’s Witnesses to leave the organization—and very confusing and even frightening for those who do leave.
The scripture verses that the Watchtower Society applies to itself actually apply to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus is the One the disciples were talking to when they said, "Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:68-69 New World Translation) They were not speaking of an organization. And "the Truth" is not an organization, either. Scripture identifies Jesus Himself as "the Way and the Truth and the Life." (John 14:6 Modern Language Bible)
Jesus did not teach, as the Watchtower Society does, that people should "come to Jehovah’s organization for salvation" (The Watchtower November 15, 1981, page 21). Rather, he said, "No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) The way of salvation that Jesus proclaimed was not through organizational membership or accurate knowledge of the Scriptures—although these enter into it. In order to gain life, people had to come to Jesus personally. Under the new covenant there would be no other way to the Father, except through Jesus.
God sent His Son to earth to fulfill the "new covenant" prophecy of Jeremiah, chapter 31. Under this new covenant "‘they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘For I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.’" (verse 34 NW)
Jeremiah was not offering a new covenant for just a handful of men in the First Century. Rather, it would be God’s way of dealing with men from that time onward. For example, Paul’s relationship with God through His Son began when Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. Later on, Paul told of occasions when "the Lord stood near me and infused power into me" (2 Tim. 4:17 NW), and when Paul spoke to the Lord about his "thorn in the flesh." (2 Cor. 12:7-9) As a zealous Jew, Paul had had a relationship with God before, but only from a distance. Now, as a Christian, he really knew God.
Stephen saw Jesus in a vision during his trial. Some time later, after his trial broke up and he was brought outside the city, Stephen called out to Jesus. "And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’" (Acts 7:59-60 RSV) There is no indication that the earlier vision was repeated then. Rather, Stephen had an on-going relation ship with Jesus and felt free to call upon Him.
Were Paul and Stephen unique in having a personal relationship with the Son of God, calling upon Jesus in time of need? Evidently not, as Paul described Christians as those "who everywhere are calling upon the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ." (1 Cor 1:2 New World Translation)
Jesus promised this continuing relation ship with His disciples: "For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst." (Matt. 18:20 NW) In fact, we have Jesus’ promise that "he that loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will plainly show myself to him. and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our abode with him." (John 14:21-23 NW) The Living Bible para phrases it this way: "When I come back to life again I will only reveal myself to those who love and obey me. The Father will love them too, and we will come to them and live with them." (verses 20-23)
Jesus does not usually reveal himself to people today in a blinding light, as he appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. Rather, it is more as described at Galatians 4:6—"God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’" (Re vised Standard Version)
Christ assures at Luke 11:10-13—"For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or it he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (RSV)
So, the Gospel of the Christian Scrip tures, the new covenant that Jeremiah 31 foretold, is not a new set of doctrines to learn or new facts about God (although many Watchtower doctrines need to be unlearned). Rather, it is a salvation that includes a new life right now, as a new creature by virtue of being born again and living a new Spirit-filled life.
Jesus introduced this new life when He told Nicodemus, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." (John 3:3-7 KJV)
All who come into the new covenant undergo this change: "You, however, are controlled not by your sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit who makes you sons. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children." (Romans 8:9-11, 14-16 NIV)
The Father will help you grow as His child. You will form a longing for the Word, and the Holy Spirit will teach you as you read. You may have to admit, though, as Paul the Apostle did, that "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12, KJV).
So, while ‘accurate knowledge’ of every detail is not yet available, and we cannot know ahead of time when Christ will return, it is the Christian’s privilege to "know" God through a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you have not yet done so, tell God right now that you need Jesus as your Savior, and receive Him as your Lord. He invites you: "Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28 Today’s English Version) "I will never turn away anyone who comes to me." (John 6:37 TEV)