The Watchtower, Armageddon, and the Twentieth Century

by Luke Wayne

Jehovah's Witnesses claim that their governing body, the Watchtower Society, is the "faithful and discreet slave" of Matthew 24:45-47, whom they claim is a special body of leadership who is solely responsible for the interpretation of God's word and the sole source of spiritual nourishment for people today. For example, they write:

"Jesus said that he would use 'the faithful and discreet slave' to give 'food at the proper time' to his domestics. (Read Matthew 24:45-47.) That faithful slave is the channel through which Jesus is feeding his true followers in this time of the end. It is vital that we recognize the faithful slave. Our spiritual health and our relationship with God depend on this channel," (The Watchtower: Study Editon, July 15, 2013, pg 20).

They thus claim that to be right with God, one must submit to the leadership of this governing body and accept their teaching. They are the only people on the earth who can rightly interpret Scripture, or so the JW would have us believe. Indeed, they actually admit that a plain reading of the Scriptures apart from the lens of Watchtower literature will actually lead people back to historic Christian doctrine and practice:

"From time to time, there have arisen from among the ranks of Jehovah's people those, who, like the original Satan, have adopted an independent, faultfinding attitude . . . They say that it is sufficient to read the Bible exclusively, either alone or in small groups at home. But, strangely, through such 'Bible reading,' they have reverted right back to the apostate doctrines that commentaries by Christendom's clergy were teaching 100 years ago . . . " (The Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1981, p. 29).

Thus, if people just read the Bible for themselves, they will walk away concluding that the Bible teaches exactly what Christians have always said it teaches. The JW, therefore, says that one cannot read the Bible without Watchtower literature and teaching. It is only, they say, through their organization's teaching that the Bible can be understood.

A Simple Test

But how, then, is one supposed to test whether or not the Watchtower teaching is really the correct interpretation of the Bible? If the Bible plainly seems to say one thing and Watchtower dogma says something else, the Jehovah's Witness is told he must trust the Watchtower interpretation above the plain reading of Scripture. Yet, even the Watchtower literature itself gives us a strong reason to reject this claim and, in turn, their own leadership. They write, for example:

"Jehovah God is the Grand Identifier of his true messengers. He identifies them by making the messages he delivers through them come true. Jehovah is also the Great Exposer of false messengers. How does he expose them? He frustrates their signs and predictions. In this way he shows that they are self-appointed prognosticators, whose messages really spring from their own false reasoning – yes, their own fleshly thinking!" (Watchtower, 1997 May 1, pg. 8).

So, even according to the Watchtower Society itself, if a self-proclaimed "messenger of God" authoritatively offers predictions about the future or what God is going to do, and if those predictions do not come about, the reason is that God is frustrating their schemes and exposing them to be false teachers. So, how does the Watchtower organization hold up to its own test? When they interpret the Scriptures and offer up predictions about the future allegedly derived through their supposedly authoritative interpretation of Bible prophesy, do such predictions come true? Or does Jehovah frustrate their signs and predictions to expose them as liars operating on fleshly thinking?

A Wilderness of Error

The Watchtower Society has a long history of making predictions it claimed were based on Scripture. They professed that the generation of 1874, and then that of 1914, would not pass away before the end came. As they have continued to re-define the limits of that generation, this has resulted in not just one but several failed predictions (and will likely continue to produce more). Tying together a variety of Old Testament prophecies with the practice of the "year of Jubilee," the Watchtower Organization also predicted the dawn of a new glorious age and the resurrection of the Old Testament saints would occur in 1925. Obviously, it did not. Similarly, they argued that 1975 marked the end of six thousand years of human history and promised the dawn of the Millennium and the global consummation of the promises of final Sabbath rest. In each of these cases, they applied their distinctive approach to interpreting Scripture and made a prediction they claimed was promised by the Word of God. In each of these cases, their interpretation failed.

This Twentieth Century

Their literature also made a more general claim, an overarching prediction that was a bit broader than the specific date-setting in these other examples, but that still provided a testable timeline. This claim was that the Battle of Armageddon would occur in the twentieth century. As early as 1950, we read:

“Nor should the truth-seeker in this time of the end mistakenly think that the prophecies foretelling Babylon’s doom were completely fulfilled in the year 539 B.C. Especially in view of the fact that more than 600 years later a vivid description of 'BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH', was given in Revelation, chapters 17 and 18. The judgment of doom entered against antitypical Babylon, ‘the great whore with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication and who has made the inhabitants of the earth drunk on the wine of her fornication,’ will shortly be carried out.—Rev. 18:9, 10. From the foregoing it is clear that the Hebrew Scriptures are not mere ancient history, but contain types and shadows of things now coming to pass upon this twentieth-century generation.” (Watchtower Sept. 15, 1950 pg. 324).

So, the "judgment of doom" upon the "antitypical Babylon" (i.e. Christendom) was a prophecy that was to come to pass "upon this twentieth-century generation." They further stated a few years later:

“Do we have to turn to the ancient past to see this manner of divine operation at work? No! We see Jehovah acting according to this same rule of action today in this twentieth century, to fulfill his own warning prophecy. His prophecy written by means of the apostle Paul reads: 'The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.' (2 Thess. 2:9-12, RS) The peoples of this world now face Armageddon and are about to perish there in horrifying numbers.” (Watchtower Feb. 1, 1955, pg 85).

Again, "today in this twentieth century" God is acting in fulfillment of specific prophecies so that the people on earth "now face Armageddon and are about to perish there in horrifying numbers." In the 1970's, the Watchtower was still claiming (indeed, more plainly than ever) that:

"Shortly, within our twentieth century, the 'battle in the day of Jehovah' will begin against the modern antitype of Jerusalem, Christendom," (The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah – How? 1971, p. 216).

Even as late as 1989, the Watchtower published the claim that the door-to-door ministry work of Jehovah's witnesses would reach its completion in that time-frame (a work that is only supposed to be completed when Armageddon comes and judgment is poured out). They wrote:

"The apostle Paul was spearheading the Christian missionary activity. He was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our 20th century" (The Watchtower, January 1, 1989, p. 12).

Interestingly, though the original print edition of this Watchtower Magazine read as quoted here, it was altered in later collections. Thus, the later digital version and bound volume contain a watered down, edited form of the text that only says the work "may" be completed, but as you can see from the picture shown here, the original 1989 Watchtower magazine made the unambiguous claim that the work would be completed in the twentieth century.

Thus, from Old Testament prophecies and typologies, from the Book of Revelation, from the writings of Paul and from the narrative of his life; in short, from basically their misreading of the whole of Scripture, the Watchtower concluded that Armageddon would come and their missionary work would end sometime within the twentieth century. They taught this for decades. The fact that they later changed the 1989 Watchtower to hide their claim only magnifies the obviousness that this was, indeed, a failed prediction with profound implications.

So, does the Watchtower pass even its own test of authenticity as a messenger of God and reliable interpreter of Scripture? No, it plainly does not. Thus, the Watchtower with its convoluted and erroneous approach to the Bible is to be rejected, which leaves us with the plain reading. And what does a plain reading of the Bible teach? Well, as even the Watchtower admits, it teaches historic Christianity.