“Then another of the disciples said to him: ‘Lord, permit me first to leave and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him: ‘Keep following me, and let the dead bury their dead.’”
– Matthew 8:21-22
In a prior article, 1914 and the Coming of Our Lord, we examined the current understanding by the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses as to when Jesus Christ arrived, what he has been doing, and what he will do in the future. While there is scriptural support for some of the ideas, when they are pieced together in one dissertation, the ‘current understanding’ is utterly untenable to spiritually alert and God-oriented minds.
In the article, we requested responses and corrections if we had in any way misstated the ‘current understanding’ as taught by the Governing Body. In less than 24 hours, we received several emails, but none offered any corrections. Instead, most of the emails contained further information about the miscalculations and misunderstandings relating to 1914 and other matters. And a couple of emails included links to articles where the 1914 doctrine is said to have been completely ‘debunked.’
We know that the development of the 1914 doctrine underwent many and strange changes over the years. Nevertheless, the Society has managed to explain away those developments to the satisfaction of many within the organization. We also note that all the men involved in those strange developments are all dead and gone, leaving their errors in the laps of the current leadership. In all fairness, we cannot hold the current Governing Body responsible for the fiascos of the past generation. We can only hold them accountable for the ‘current understanding’ and the current teachings. They cannot change what happened in the past, but they can change what is happening now. Our interest is not in beating a ‘dead horse,’ but in healing a sick one.
We do have some sympathy for the current Governing Body due to the fact that they must find a way to maneuver around the errors of the prior generations. We suspect that some among them are extremely frustrated at what occurred, and wish they had a clean slate to start anew, but are afraid that admitting error will destroy their power and superiority. Such fears are founded.
Admitting that Jesus did not make an invisible arrival on earth in 1914, or that Jesus did not appoint them as the sole channel of truth on earth in 1919 will absolutely destroy their superiority as the divinely appointed channel. However, their humility in admitting it will go far in the eyes of the Father (Matthew 23:12) and maybe even in the eyes of the local brothers and sisters who really care more about moving forward in faith than in beating a ‘dead horse.’
We believe the brothers and sisters who have remained faithful to the organization have a great deal of love for one another, even though they may harbor some resentment toward the leadership, and they do not want to disband and leave their spiritual family. We firmly believe that the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses enjoy the ministry and want to serve God to the best of their ability and preach the true good news of the Kingdom – whatever that truth is – even if it is different from what they have previously taught.
So let’s take another look at what went wrong, not for the purpose of condemning and establishing blame, but so that we will not repeat the errors in the future.
The errors in the teachings of the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses arose when they attempted to interpret the hidden and shrouded prophesies of the Book of Revelation, and then taught those feeble interpretations as doctrines, as though the interpretations are the very word of God. (See Proving Ourselves Worthy of the Christ.) We, the authors of this site, have no problem in speculating about what prophesies could mean. We are proponents of human imagination. Human imagination is the source and origin of every valuable product and service in modern, as well as ancient, civilization. Every advancement in human history began with the imaginative thought from one mind.
Even our association began in the mind of one man, Charles Taze Russell, who envisioned a worldwide association of Christ’s brothers who would take up the mantle of preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of the Heavens as ambassadors substituting for Christ. Many changes in personnel, in doctrine, and in the form of the association itself have been made since the death of Brother Russell, but the core principle of being God-oriented preachers and teachers of the good news of the Kingdom has remained steady throughout the history of our association.
Our challenge today is to make sure we are preaching the good news of the Kingdom as Jesus taught it, not as modified by erroneous and unsubstantiated prophetic interpretations. We need to focus on the plain, open, actual, authentic, unadulterated teachings of Christ, not the hidden, shrouded, obscure messages of prophesies – prophesies that are hidden for a reason! So what did Jesus actually teach?
He taught that the time had come when mankind could enter, actually and literally, into the Kingdom of the Heavens:
“Repent, you people, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.”
– Matthew 4:17
“Then he went around throughout the whole of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom and curing every sort of disease and every sort of infirmity among the people.”
– Matthew 4:23
“Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them. Happy are those who mourn, since they will be comforted. Happy are the mild-tempered ones, since they will inherit the earth. Happy are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, since they will be filled. Happy are the merciful, since they will be shown mercy. Happy are the pure in heart, since they will see God. Happy are the peaceable, since they will be called ‘sons of God.’ Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them. Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake. Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens; for in that way they persecuted the prophets prior to you.”
– Matthew 5:3-11
He taught that God is our Father:
“You must pray, then, this way: ‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth. Give us today our bread for this day; and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the wicked one.’ For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
– Matthew 6:9-15
He taught that we are all brothers:
“But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your teacher, whereas all you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One.”
– Matthew 23:8-9
He taught that from the very beginning of time, the Father wanted mankind to have an ownership interest in the heavenly kingdom:
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.”
– Matthew 25:34
- He taught that in order to enter the Kingdom of the Heavens, we must be born again:
“In answer Jesus said to him: “Most truly I say to you, Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
– John 3:3
He taught that we must strive to imitate him as he imitated our Father:
“You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
– Matthew 5:48
He taught that we must endeavor to know him and the Father:
“This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”
– John 17:3
He taught that we only need to keep two ‘commandments’ in order to please God:
“[O]ne of them, versed in the Law, asked, testing him: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ He said to him: ‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second, like it, is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.”
– Matthew 22:35-40
He taught us to seek forgiveness of our sins and to forgive others:
“‘Give us today our bread for this day; and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the wicked one.’ For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
– Matthew 6:11-15
He taught us to stop judging others:
“Stop judging that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged; and with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you. Why then do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Allow me to extract the straw from your eye’; when, look! a rafter is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First extract the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to extract the straw from your brother’s eye.”
– Matthew 7:1-5
He taught us the supreme law of fairness:
“All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them; this, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.”
– Matthew 7:12
And he gave us a work to do:
“Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”
– Matthew 28:19-20
These are the basic tenets of the true good news of the kingdom. For further discussion of the true good news see What is the Good News? As we grow in knowledge and appreciation of these simple ideas, Jesus promised that the Spirit of Truth will work with us to guide us into even greater truths:
“I have many things yet to say to you, but you are not able to bear them at present. However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own impulse, but what things he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things coming.”
– John 16:12-13
After Jesus was resurrected, his followers continued teaching ‘the things Jesus commanded’ and wrote letters to one another further explaining this glorious good news. Though the Bible only contains 26 little books that expound on Jesus’ teachings (excepting the prophetic book of Revelation), those writings provide an effective starting point as we embark on the heavenly career. And we have the Spirit of Truth to take us further along the path.
But how are we to deal with the Book of Revelation and dire prophesies about future events? We certainly cannot ignore them. But neither should we fear them. The Apostle John wrote:
“Happy is he who reads aloud and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and who observe the things written in it; for the appointed time is near.”
– Revelation 1:3
We should read and ponder the meaning of the Revelation. And we can engage in a variety of speculations about its symbolisms. But we must be careful about assigning doctrinal meanings to our speculations or inducing fear in those who do not assent to our views.
Our connection with the Kingdom is spiritual and individual – wholly a matter of personal experience in the spirit by the realization that we are children of God. The downfall of nations, the crash of economic empires, the geological instabilities, the end of an age, even the end of the world, have little to do with one who believes the true good news of the Kingdom, and who has hid his life in the sure guarantee of the eternal Kingdom of the Heavens.
We who are God-knowing and truth-believing have already received the assurances of eternal life. (See Everlasting Life Now!) Since our lives are being lived in the spirit and for the Father, nothing can be of serious concern to us. Jesus taught:
“Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [other] things will be added to you. So, never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each day is its own badness.”
– Matthew 6:33-34
By our faith, we are accredited citizens of the heaven. (Philippians 3:20) We are not to be disturbed by temporal upheavals or perturbed by terrestrial cataclysms. What does it matter to us who believe the true good news of the kingdom if nations overturn, the age ends, or all things visible crash, since we know that our lives are the gift of the Son, and that it is eternally secure in the Father?
Living our lives by faith and yielding the fruits of the spirit through the loving service for our fellows, we can confidently look forward to the next step in the eternal career with the same faith that is carrying us through our first and earthly adventure in sonship with God.
The way that we carry on our earthly life’s work should be no different whether we are awaiting the possible return of the Son of Man, or facing our own ever-impending natural death. When we have by faith established ourselves as a son of God, nothing else matters as regards the surety of survival. This survival faith is a living faith, and it increasingly manifests the fruits of the divine spirit that first inspired us.
Not only Jehovah’s Witnesses, but many well-meaning Christian fellowships have gone down this path of over zealous end-time predictions with disastrous results. So many faithful men and women have been led along toward an expected outcome only to have their hopes unfulfilled and their faith shattered. We can count many, many such individuals who have not only turned their backs on their religions, but they have turned their backs on the Father and the Christ. Woe to those who caused such stumbling! Let us not be among them or sharers with them. And if we have done so in the past, let us repent and turn around.
Let us admit: Yes, we as an organization have erred in our teachings in our rush to understand things that we were not prepared to understand. Yes, we as an organization have miscalculated dates in our fervor to ready ourselves for Christ. Yes, we as an organization have unconsciously misled people away from the true Kingdom hope believing wholeheartedly that our modern day predecessors had been given divine direction. And yes, we have unfairly treated those members of our association who took a stand for the heavenly hope in the face of opposition, oppression and ridicule because we, as an organization, thought we were rendering ‘a sacred service to God.’ Jesus forewarned us:
“I have spoken these things to you that you may not be stumbled. Men will expel you from the synagogue. In fact, the hour is coming when everyone that kills you will imagine he has rendered a sacred service to God. But they will do these things because they have not come to know either the Father or me. Nevertheless, I have spoken these things to you that, when the hour for them arrives, you may remember I told them to you.”
– John 16:1-4
Admitting our errors is the first step toward a healing and the greatest proof of being spirit led. As Paul counseled:
“Repent, therefore, and turn around so as to get your sins blotted out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the person of Jehovah and that he may send forth the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven, indeed, must hold within itself until the times of restoration of all things of which God spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets of old time.”
– Acts 3:19-21
Yes, brothers, when we have repented from our doctrinal errors, we can expect ‘seasons of refreshing’ from Jehovah, and we can receive the true teachings of the Christ which have been withheld from us due to our error.
We as individuals can repent for ourselves, even if our leadership fails to do so. And we can vow that we will keep our eyes on the prize of the upward call (Philippians 3:14), and Prove Ourselves Worthy of the Christ.
Then we can look away from the sad path of wasted time and unfortunate error that lies behind us, and heed Jesus’ counsel to ‘let the dead bury the dead,’ and then move forward in the full light of truth.