Part of a series: The WTS and the End of the World
- Part 1: Why So Many False Alarms?
- Part 2: The Orwellian Thinking of JWs
- Part 3: Unassailable Proofs
- Part 4: More Unassailable Proofs
- Part 5: Sanitizing the Past
- Part 6: Later Effects of the Society’s False Predictions
- Anguish of Nations
- Critical Times
- Preaching of the Good News
- Ruining the Earth
- Conclusion of Parts 3 and 4
“[The War Office kept three sets of figures:] one to mislead the public, another to mislead the Cabinet, and the third to mislead itself.” — Alistair Horne, Price of Glory
“There will be great earthquakes.” (Luke 21:11) Earthquakes after 1914 — consider a few major ones. In 1915, in Italy, 32,610 lives lost; 1920, China, 200,000 killed; 1923, Japan, 143,000 killed; 1939, Turkey, 32,700 killed; 1970, Peru, 66,800 killed; 1976, China, 240,000 (some say 800,000) killed; 1988, Armenia, 25,000 killed. [g93 3/22 7]
Earthquakes after 1714 — consider a few major ones. In 1721, in Iran, 100,000 lives lost; 1727, Iran, 77,000 killed; 1730, China, 100,000 killed; 1730, Japan; 137,000 killed; 1731, China, 100,000 killed; 1737, India, 300,000 killed; 1755, Portugal, 60,000 killed; 1780, Iran, 100,000 killed; 1783, Italy, 60,000 killed.
Professional seismologists are unaware of any difference in the number of earthquakes before or after 1914, and the Society cannot or will not cite any who agree with its claims. If one looks at typical listings of earthquakes one may find that there appears to have been a large increase in earthquakes in the 20th century compared to prior centuries, but this seeming increase is due to three things: (1) Old records are incomplete. (2) Modern seismographs began to be systematically installed around the world in 1897, and a major effort was completed in the early 1960s to upgrade seismograph stations around the world with the latest automatic recording equipment. (3) It takes a great deal of effort to obtain reasonably complete earthquake listings, and most seismologists who write popular books containing such listings are unwilling to invest the time. So any seeming increase in earthquake activity is due to a lack of complete records and to worldwide instrument monitoring since 1897. Modern records include earthquakes far out to sea, which would have passed unnoticed in earlier times.
Earthquakes seem to occur pretty much at random, so there can be major statistical fluctuations in frequency. For example, the two decades prior to 1914, from 1894 through 1913, had a total of 57 quakes of magnitude 8 and up, while the 73 years from 1914 through 1986 had 105 such quakes. That means on average twice the number of large quakes occurred per year in the 20 years before 1914 as in all the years since. When all earthquakes from magnitude 7 and up are checked for those years, one decade is statistically indistinguishable from any other.1 A plot of the number of earthquakes occurring in a given year versus time looks very much like a stock market chart. Like such a chart, if the time period under examination is short enough, trends can seem to appear. In 1986, one seismologist wrote, “There are indications that worldwide seismic activity — if expressed in terms of earthquakes with magnitude 7 or over — has decreased steadily in the time from the beginning of the 20th century until now.”2
Compare the above discussion with the plots of number of earthquakes per year below. The data for these plots were taken from the NEIS CDROM database. The data for the magnitude 8 and 7 quakes were checked to eliminate duplicate quakes.
The plot of magnitude 8 quakes clearly shows the large temporary increase in frequency of magnitude 8 quakes up through 1920.
Magnitude 8 and higher earthquakes |-----------------------------------------------| 11 | * | 10 | * | 9 | * | 8 | ** | 7 | * *** * | 6 | ***** * ** * * | 5 | ***** * * ** ** * * * | 4 | ********* ** * * *** * * * ** | 3 | ************ * * ** ***** ** ** * * ** | 2 | ************** **** ***** ** ** ***** ** * | 1 |****************************** ** ********* * | |--|---------|---------|---------|---------|----| 1900 1920 1940 1960 1980
The plot of magnitude 7 quakes clearly shows the effect of instrument recording on the recorded number of quakes after the turn of the century.
Magnitude 7 and higher earthquakes |-----------------------------------------------| 80 | * * | 70 | * ** * | 60 | * * ***** * | 50 | ******* * ******** *** * | 40 | * ******* ***************************** | 30 | ******************************************* | 20 | **********************************************| 10 |***********************************************| |--|---------|---------|---------|---------|----| 1900 1920 1940 1960 1980
The plot of magnitude 1 quakes clearly shows the effect of the completion in the early 1960s of the installation of worldwide instrument recording on the recorded number of quakes. Note that this is a plot of raw data and contains duplicate entries.
Magnitude 1 and higher earthquakes |-----------------------------------------------| 30k | ** | 28k | * ** * | 26k | * ***** * | 24k | ********* ***| 22k | ********* ***| 20k | ********* ***| 18k | *************| 16k | *************| 14k | **************| 12k | **************| 10k | ***************| 8k | ****************| 6k | ********************| 4k | * * * *****************************| 2k |***********************************************| |--|---------|---------|---------|---------|----| 1900 1920 1940 1960 1980
The magnitude 1 plot contains a summary of 438,607 quakes from 2100 B.C. through 1988. There were 10,606 quakes through 1894 and 100,448 quakes through 1961. This data should be compared with the Watchtower Society’s claim cited above, that “in comparison with the previous 2,000 years, the average per year has been 20 times as great since 1914.” The December 1, 1993 Watchtower admitted this claim was false, as shown in the footnote 5 of Part 3 of this essay.
Occasionally the Society has said that the numerical magnitude of quakes is of no particular significance, but the number of people killed by them is. The December 1, 1993 Watchtower, after admitting previous numerical claims were false, used “guilt by association” to imply that earthquakes along with many other sorts of natural disasters are much worse lately. It never explicitly stated this, however, but merely left the reader with the impression that it was so. Do the data bear this out? Are earthquakes in our day really killing more people than ever before? In particular, was there a change after 1914?
One study compared the number of earthquake deaths in the 68 year period from 1915-1983 to the 68 year periods 1715-1783 and 1847-1914. The result was that on average about 17,500 people died per year in the 1915-1983 period, while about 20,000 and 18,000 died annually in the latter two periods. As with the magnitude data above, these variations are statistically insignificant. The reader may examine the charts below to see if there are any trends in the death figures. This writer is unable to see any.
Earthquake Deaths 1915 - 1983 |--------------------------------------| 300k | * | 250k | * | 200k | * * * | 150k | ** * * | 100k | ** * ** * * * | 50k | * ** * ** * ****** **** ******* | |----|---------|---------|---------|---| 1920 1940 1960 1980 Earthquake Deaths 1847 - 1914 |--------------------------------------| 400k | * | 350k | * | 300k | * | 250k | * * | 200k | * * | 150k | * * * * | 100k | * * * * * | 50k | * ******* * ******** ** * ****** | |----|---------|---------|---------|---| 1850 1870 1890 1910 Earthquake Deaths 1715 - 1783 |--------------------------------------| 300k | * | 250k | * * | 200k | * * | 150k | * * * * | 100k | * * * * * ** | 50k | **** ** ** ** ******* *** *** *** | |----|---------|---------|---------|---| 1720 1740 1760 1780
The above three charts are based on the following two tables:
|A COMPARISON OF EARTHQUAKE VICTIMS|
|Total 1715-1783:||1,373,845||Total 1915-1983:||1,210,597|
|Annual average:||19,911||Annual average:||17,545|
|(a) See Awake! February 22, 1977.
(b) See page 65, footnote 34; compare Awake! July 8, 1982, p. 13.
(c) Ganse & Nelson list a death figure of 44,623 for this period.
Did 1914 really bring a change?
|1851||Iran||2,000||1883||Greece, Asia Minor||15,000|
|1876||Bay of Bengal||215,000||1907||Central Asia||12,000|
|1880||Greece (Chios)||4,000||1910||Costa Rica||1,750|
|1881||Asia Minor||8,866||1912||Marmara Sea Coast||1,958|
|Total victims for 68 years previous to 1914:||1,148,973-1,250,973|
SOURCES: Båth: Introduction to Seismology(1979); Richter: Elementary Seismology (1958); Imamura: Theoretical and Applied Seismology (1937); Ganse-Nelson: Catalog of Significant Earthquakes (1981); Ambraseys: Earth-quake Hazard and Vulnerability(1981); Ambraseys-Melville: A History of Persian Earthquakes (1982); Latter: Natural Disasters (Advancement of Science, June 1969); Press-Siever: Earth (1974); Handbuch der Ceophysik (ed. Prof. B Gutenberg), Band IV (Berlin 1932).
As the above data show, reasonably complete studies prove beyond a doubt that the 20th century has not experienced any statistically significant change either in earthquake frequency or in earthquake deaths compared to earlier times. As one seismologist wrote, “For earlier centuries we do not have the same reliable statistics, but there are no indications at all of any increase in the activity in the course of time.” Of course, the December 1, 1993 Watchtower mentioned none of this data. Most individual Jehovah’s Witnesses will never examine the data for themselves and so will credulously accept the Society’s word. Even if they did examine the data, their prejudices would almost always cause them to reject it in favor of what “God’s channel” tells them.
The parts of the “composite sign” Awake! has mentioned up to this point are quantifiable. However, it has not compared the number of events before 1914 to the number after 1914, likely because many people have already pointed out to the Watchtower Society information similar to the above. Without a comparison, the numbers cited are meaningless. Consider the value of the following prediction: “After I die I’ll come back and visit you. You’ll know I’m about to show up when you see rainbows, rainstorms, floods, tornados, hurricanes and people acting silly. Anyone ridiculing this prediction will be further proof I’m about to arrive.” Is it not evident that this sort of prediction applies equally well to all times? Why then, are the Society’s claims any better? This example shows why Jesus never said that such things would mark the sign of his parousia. Rather, he warned his followers against interpreting them that way. As Luke 21:8 says:
Look out that you are not misled; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The due time has approached.’ Do not go after them.
Are not the Society’s false predictions and current warnings exactly what Jesus was talking about?
“Increasing of lawlessness.” (Matthew 24:12) Lawlessness has run wild since 1914; today it is exploding. Murders, rapes, robberies, gang wars — they dominate the headlines and fill the newscasts. Politicians rip off the public, teenagers carry guns and kill, schoolchildren prey on one another. In many areas it is not safe to walk the streets even in daytime. [g93 3/22 7]
A late secular paper of some note said that crimes were becoming so frequent that they, in their weekly issue, could only make a statement of them, not having room for particulars…. we are now living in a time when crime and corruption have assumed prodigious proportions. [May, 1882 Zion’s Watch Tower]
There is no question that lawlessness abounds today. The question is whether it is any worse than in any other time period, or does it just seem that way? People often look wistfully back at the 19th century and wish that conditions were as peaceful and crime-free today. But notice what the May, 1882 Zion’s Watch Tower had to say, which is quoted in part above:
The word teaches that “in the last days” (of this age) “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse” (2 Tim. 3:1,13); but their wise men tell us the world is growing better and better, and yet a late secular paper of some note said that crimes were becoming so frequent that they, in their weekly issue, could only make a statement of them, not having room for particulars.
It is a fact, not an assumption, but a solemn fact, that we are now living in a time when crime and corruption have assumed prodigious proportions, not only in the lower grades of society, but in what are called the upper grades. Even all the machinery of church and state seems to be so rotten that many are exclaiming, without knowing that their utterances are the fulfillment of the spirit of prophecy: “I don’t know what we are coming to!” Thus already their hearts are beginning to “fail them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.” Luke 21:26.
No sane man today, unless he is trying to sustain a creed, fails to see (recognize) that thrones stand unsteady, and that throughout the world there is a feeling of distrust among all classes; there is “perplexity.” Luke 21:25. Verily, the foundations of the earth do shake. But it is only the beginning of God’s “controversy with the people.” Plain as these things seem to those who are looking, yet the “wise” (?) men say “peace and safety.” [p. 6; pp. 352-3 Reprints]
“All things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” 2 Peter 3:4.
So even at its very foundation the Watchtower Society was claiming fulfillment of scriptures such as Matthew 24:12. Such scriptures are so broadly applicable that they can hardly be used to pinpoint any time period.
To put the issue into better perspective, note what historian Barbara Tuchman wrote:
After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists…. This has led me to formulate Tuchman’s Law, as follows: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five-to tenfold.” [A Distant Mirror, page xviii]
As usual, the Society gives no supporting data, and in particular, makes no comparison of current to past crime figures. Apparently the reader is assumed to agree and no further discussion is needed. This implicitly relies on the typical reader’s ignorance of historical context. An exception in a past discussion is found in Reasoning from the Scriptures, which on page 237 states:
A leading criminologist says: “The one thing that hits you in the eye when you look at crime on the world scale is a pervasive and persistent increase everywhere. Such exceptions as there are stand out in splendid isolation, and may soon be swamped in the rising tide.” (The Growth of Crime, New York, 1977, Sir Leon Radzinowicz and Joan King, pp. 4, 5)
This sounds very impressive until you read the context from which the quotation was taken. The book discusses the increase in crime of the last few decades. The authors nowhere state that this increase is unprecedented in history. Commenting on the theory proposed by certain modern criminologists that “there is not more violence about, but that we are much more sensitive to violence than were our less civilized ancestors,” the authors said:
That is all very well if the comparison goes a fair way back…. A longer view, peering into the middle ages, or even the eighteenth century, might well give more substance to the theory. With all our crime, our society as a whole is more secure, less savage, than theirs…. The mere fact that towns had to be walled, that castles had to provide refuge for the surrounding villagers and their belongings, that travelers had to take their own protection with them bears witness to the constant threat of brigands as well as the needs of warfare. Indeed the two would often be hard to distinguish. [ibid, pp. 10-1]
Some studies of long term crime have shown that it is cyclical: it rises for awhile and then falls. This is the general pattern of human society. Nearly everything imaginable goes up and goes down. So it is today. The difficulty in recognizing such patterns is that the cycles usually occur over several generations, so the pattern is hard to see from the perspective of a single lifetime. Some countries such as the United States have experienced a crime wave in the last few decades while in others crime has decreased. From about the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s crime decreased in the United States and other areas, while in other places it increased.
Actually, the 20th century is rather unusual in one way. In the past, crime rates have gone up drastically in times of famine and plague. This is only natural considering what famine and plague do to societies. But in the 20th century famines and plagues have been far less severe worldwide than ever before. One might, therefore, expect the crime rate to go down. Since it is staying at close to long term historical levels, there seems to be a decoupling of crime from famine and plague. This would take some explaining, although seen in a long-term historical context it may be just another statistical fluctuation.
There is good reason for understanding Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:12 as applying, not to the world as a whole, but to professed Christians. Jesus described what would happen to his followers in Matthew 24:9-11:
Then people will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name. Then, also, many will be stumbled and will betray one another and will hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and mislead many.
In this context of religious events Jesus immediately says:
And because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off.
With no difficulty at all this “lawlessness” can be understood to mean the religious lawlessness described at Matthew 7:23 and 23:28: “Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness,” and “in that way you also, outwardly indeed, appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 13:41 says that the angels would “collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness.” So it is not possible to say with certainty exactly what is meant by “the increase of lawlessness.” Scripturally alone it could apply to the world in general or to professed Christians. The facts of history indicate it applies to Christians.
“Anguish of nations, not knowing the way out… Men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.” (Luke 21:25, 26) Crime, violence, drug addiction, family breakups, economic instability, unemployment — the list is long and growing. One prominent scientist wrote: “We will eat fear, sleep fear, live in fear and die in fear.” [g93 3/22 7]
The nations are perplexed, and are preparing for a terrible struggle; huge engines of war are being multiplied by land and sea; millions of men are under arms, and still their numbers are increased, while the people are becoming desperate and alarmed. [Three Worlds, 1877, C. T. Russell and N. H. Barbour]
As far back in history as anyone can find, end-times proclaimers have applied this scripture and the parallel ones in Matthew and Mark to their own day. The first publication that detailed what has become the Society’s end-times chronology, Three Worlds and the Harvest of this World, published in 1877 by C. T. Russell and N. H. Barbour, as shown earlier, used the application. Similarly the September, 1879 Zion’s Watch Tower said, on page 26 of the Reprints:
Today every civilized nation is in dread, and Nihilism, Communism and Socialism, are household words, and we see “men’s hearts failing for fear and for looking after those things coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven (governments) shall be shaken.” Luke xxi. 26.
Again we find a scripture that sincere Christians find very applicable to their own day. If these scriptures can have such flexible interpretations, of what value are they in trying to establish a Bible chronology?
But can these applications of Luke 21 really be what Luke is talking about? Do we now see great numbers of people actually becoming “faint out of fear?” Yes, people worry about things, but the fear of crime, war, disease or any other calamity seldom produces more than a sense of unease. There is little of the extreme agitation Luke writes about. There is a strong sense of universal panic in Luke’s words. The parallel account at Matt. 24:30 shows this clearly:
And then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation.
As already pointed out, the Society misapplies Luke 21:25, 26 the same way it misapplies the rest of Luke 21 and the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark. The context of the quoted scripture shows that in verses 20-24, Luke first writes about the destruction of Jerusalem, and then in verse 25 begins describing the special sign the disciples had asked him about to begin with:
Also, there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out because of the roaring of the sea and [its] agitation, while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
So it is the actual sign of the Son of man appearing in the heavens immediately before his manifestation before the whole world that produces the fear and agitation. The sign is so unmistakable that everyone on earth can see it, and it terrifies them. It cannot be the ordinary occurrences — war, earthquakes, etc., that Jesus is talking about, because he had already warned the disciples that those ordinary calamities would continue to occur as usual, and they should not be bothered by them.
The above discussion was written in the spring of 1993 and is based on the work of earlier commentators. At the District assemblies of 1993 the Society did a complete about-face on its understanding of the above quoted scriptures and essentially agreed with the conclusions of the above discussion. Here are a few relevant statements from the talk “Tell Us, When Will These Things Be?”
The Gospel passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke combine with Revelation 17 through 19 to shed considerable light on what will soon occur. At God’s fixed time the great tribulation will begin with an attack against the world empire of false religion, Babylon the Great. This will be particularly intense against Christendom, which corresponds to unfaithful Jerusalem. It will be immediately after this phase of the tribulation that there will be “signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth anguish of nations,” as Matthew 24:29 and Luke 21:25 describe.
In what sense will the sun be darkened, the moon not give light, the stars fall from heaven and the powers of heaven be shaken? Doubtless, in the early parts of the great tribulation, many luminaries — prominent clergymen of the religious world — will have been exposed and eliminated by the ten horns mentioned at Revelation 17:16. No doubt the political powers, too, will have been shaken up. Could there also be frightening events in the physical heavens? More than likely, yes. And far more awe-inspiring than those described by Josephus, as occurring near the end of the Jewish system. We well recall that in ancient past God displayed a power to cause such cataclysmic events and effects.
At this point all three gospel writers use the word tote to introduce the next development. “Then,” — tote, — “the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven.” Since World War I Jesus’ true disciples have discerned the composite sign of the invisible presence, while most people have not recognized it. So Matthew 24:30 points forward to a further sign appearing, that of the Son of man, and all nations will be compelled to take note of it. Upon Jesus’ coming with the clouds of invisibility, as Revelation 1:7 states, opposing humans worldwide will have to recognize that coming, because of the supernatural demonstration of his kingly power.
Matthew 24:30 uses tote once more, to introduce what comes next. The nations, sensing the consequence of their situation, will beat themselves and lament. They will recognize that their destruction is imminent.
How long it will be until the Watchtower Society changes its mind completely on all the other mythical elements of the “composite sign” makes for interesting speculation. The Society has painted itself into a very tight corner.
“Reminded of the President’s previous statements that the White House was not involved [in the Watergate affair], Ziegler said that Mr. Nixon’s latest statement ‘is the Operative White House Position… and all previous statements are inoperative.'” — Boston Globe, 18 Apr. 1973, quoting Ronald L. Ziegler
“In the last days critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) The apostle Paul spoke of people “having come to be past all moral sense.” (Ephesians 4:19) He elaborated, however, on the moral breakdown he foretold for “the last days.” It sounds like today’s newscasts: “Know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away.” — 2 Timothy 3:1-5. [g93 3/22 7]
That we are living “in the last days” — “the days of the Lord” — “the end” of the Gospel age, and consequently, in the dawn of the “new” age, are facts not only discernible by the close student of the Word, led by the spirit, but the outward signs recognizable by the world bear the same testimony. [Zion’s Watch Tower, July, 1879, p. 1]
Claiming, as we do, that we are now living in the closing days of the Gospel age, it is quite proper that we should look about us to see whether or not present conditions correspond to the Apostle’s inspired descriptions of what must be expected in the last days of this age. [Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1, 1899, p. 99; p. 2459 Reprints; in a discussion of 2 Tim. 3:1-5]
The August 15, 1905 Zion’s Watch Tower, on page 247 (p. 3612, Reprints) said:
Yet another thing to be noted in connection with our subject, is the character of the times in which we live. The Scriptures abound in allusions to the moral aspect of the world in its “last” period — the period bordering on the time when Christ shall come with power and great glory, and everywhere those times are represented as full of unbelief, lawlessness, outbreaking sin, rampant lust, blasphemous mockery, and reviling of sacred things, — a very carnival of bad passions and God-defiant crimes.
The question, therefore, arises, whether our times are not of the character thus divinely described and fore-intimated…. Have “we” not withal fallen upon a time of extraordinary degeneracy and wickedness? Has there not come a grievous falling away from the faith, a giving of heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies? Have not people become lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to law and rightful authority, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderous, without self-control, fierce, traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, “holding certain forms of godliness,” but failing to show the power of godliness in their lives? Have “we” not plentiful examples of those mockers who were to come, walking after their own lusts and likes, and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?” [Parousia, presence, Diaglott translation.]
Think of the startling multiplication of divorces, the breaking down of the sacredness of marriage, the shameless prevalence of licentiousness, and the commonness of infanticide, and secret blood-guiltiness of which physicians tell. Note the growing indifference to the solemnity of oaths, to sacred promises, to moral obligations, to the laws of God, and to all holy things. Observe the rapid accumulations of colossal robberies, swindles, defalcations, embezzlements, rascalities and false dealings, which disgrace our civilization, much of it also in high places, by people of social rank, education and refinement. Estimate the increasing killings, murders, incendiarisms and lawless and malicious misdoings of men and women, and the trampling under foot of right and justice in political, commercial and banking circles.
Observe the awful increase of suicides, which, within the past few years, have exceeded the number of 200,000 per annum! Lusts and crimes and fiendish passions seem to have reached flood tide, blossoming like trees in springtime, filling our “daily journals with their stench,” and yet, treated and familiarly talked of as ordinary and trivial things! And when we consider that all this is within the realm of so-called Christendom, we may well wonder that we should have Christian people singing over it, and telling us that we are on the march to a glorious Millennium [before Christ comes]. What this state of things betokens is not Millennial glory, but “the day of Judgment, on the margin of which the world of today is reading.”
So again going back in history, we find end-times proclaimers claiming their own times were the “last days,” and that the moral condition of the world was proof of it. In similar fashion the August, 1879 Zion’s Watch Tower, described on pages 2-3 its view of Christ’s “presence” (parousia):
We believe the Scriptures to teach that, at His coming and for a time after He has come, He will remain invisible; afterward manifesting or showing Himself in judgments and various forms, so that “every eye shall see Him.”…. We think we have good solid reasons…. that we are now “in the days of the Son;” that “the day of the Lord” has come, and Jesus, a spiritual body, is present, harvesting the Gospel age.
The Watchtower Society originally taught that the “last days” began in 1799. For example, the 1921 book The Harp of God said on page 236:
“The time of the end” embraces a period from 1799 A.D., as above indicated, to the time of the complete overthrow of Satan’s empire and the establishment of the kingdom of the Messiah. The time of the Lord’s second presence dates from 1874, as above stated. The latter period is within the first named, of course, and in the latter part of the period known as “the time of the end.”
As pointed out earlier, the Harp of God, on page 239, said:
This is without question a fulfilment of the prophecy testifying to the “time of the end.” These physical facts can not be disputed and are sufficient to convince any reasonable mind that we have been in the “time of the end” since 1799.
In similar fashion the March 1, 1922 Watch Tower said:
The indisputable facts, therefore, show that the “time of the end” began in 1799; that the Lord’s second presence began in 1874.
The November 1, 1922 Watch Tower said:
Bible prophecy shows that the Lord was due to appear for the second time in the year 1874. Fulfilled prophecy shows beyond a doubt that he did appear in 1874. Fulfilled prophecy is otherwise designated the physical facts; and these facts are indisputable….
Since [Christ] has been present from 1874, it follows, from the facts as we now see them, that the period from 1874 to 1914 is the day of preparation. This in no wise militates against the thought that “the time of the end” is from 1799 until 1914….
This particular doctrine about Christ’s presence and the “last days” was retained until 1943, but the Society has still not got it right.
Actually there is good reason to think that the expression “the last days,” which was never used by Jesus, applies to the entire period from the appearance of the Messiah to the final “coming of the Son of man.” For example, Hebrews 1:1, 2 says, in the Revised Standard Version:3
In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days [in this the final age, New English Bible] he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom he created the world.
The apostle Peter said the “last days” were in effect in his own time. With reference to the disciples’ being filled with holy spirit and speaking in tongues on the day of Pentecost, he said:
This is what was said through the prophet Joel, “‘And in the last days,’ God says, ‘I shall pour out some of my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams; and even upon my men slaves and upon my women slaves I will pour out some of my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. And I will give portents in heaven above and signs on earth below, blood and fire and smoke mist; the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and illustrious day of Jehovah arrives. And everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.'” (Acts 2:16-21)
The Society often quotes 2 Tim. 3:1-5 as Awake! does here, but neglects to mention that the context is of Paul counseling Timothy to be careful of men who had already deviated from the faith and were subverting it (2 Tim. 2:16-19) at that time. Paul counseled Timothy, in the present tense, “from these turn away.” 2 Tim 3:8-9 continues the warning to Timothy:
Now in the way that Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also go on resisting the truth, men completely corrupted in mind, disapproved as regards the faith. Nevertheless, they will make no further progress, for their madness will be very plain to all.
Paul’s letter to the Romans describes virtually the same bad things as 2 Timothy, saying they were practiced from long ago right up through Paul’s day. Romans 1:28-32 says:
And just as they did not approve of holding God in accurate knowledge, God gave them up to a disapproved mental state, to do the things not fitting, filled as they were with all unrighteousness, being full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malicious disposition, being whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, insolent, haughty, self-assuming, inventors of injurious things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, false to agreements, having no natural affection, merciless. Although these know full well the righteous decree of God, that those practicing such things are deserving of death, they not only keep on doing them but also consent with those practicing them.
These things have been done by wicked men all through history and would not especially mark the “last days,” but would continue to be manifest during them. Clearly Paul and Peter said they themselves were living in the “last days.”
“In the last days there will come ridiculers.” (2 Peter 3:3) Newspapers, newscasts, magazines, books, and movies scornfully dismiss the Bible and replace it with their own free-thinking propaganda, saying, as Peter foretold: “Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.” — 2 Peter 3:4. [g93 3/22 7]
Bible prophecy shows that the Lord was due to appear for the second time in the year 1874. Fulfilled prophecy shows beyond a doubt that he did appear in 1874. [Christ] has been present from 1874…. [November 1, 1922 Watch Tower]
The Apostle Peter describes how some of the unfaithful servants and hypocrites will scoff during the presence of the Lord, even as they scoffed in the days of Noah. (2 Pet. 3:3, 4, 10, 12) [The Time Is At Hand, 1889, p. 167]
This is a silly argument. It is inherently irrefutable and therefore worthless. It applies to any time and any situation. If in, say, the fifth century, a false prophet claimed that Christ was about to appear in kingdom power, and anyone denied it, he could have invoked 2 Peter 3:3 as proof that the kingdom was about to appear. And he would have been dead wrong. How is the situation any different today?
Awake! partially misapplies the quoted scripture. 2 Peter 3:3, 4 applies to the promised parousia of Christ, not to everything in opposition to the Bible, and particularly not to those who ridicule the Bible itself. It hardly need be said that “newspapers, newscasts, magazines, books, and movies” are generally not the least bit concerned with Christ’s parousia, especially as it is understood by the Watchtower Society, and so it cannot be said they ridicule it.
In reality this scripture is devastating to the Watchtower Society’s claims. Verses 3 and 4 say: “For you know this first, that in the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: ‘Where is this promised [parousia] of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep [in death], all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.'” The context of these verses does not dispute the idea that “all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.” In fact, the next few verses show that no one except Noah took notice of the judgment about to come upon the world because all things were “continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.” The point is that in terms of what one observes in the world, nothing is different in any time period. A Christian must always be on the watch, because “all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.”
Finally, 2 Peter 3 is clearly speaking to a contemporary audience, not to some who might read Peter’s letter some two thousand years later. The letter says, in effect, that “in these last days you, the recipients of this letter, will see ridiculers, etc.” Jude 17 and 18 also indicate that the mocking of the coming of Christ was an attitude already being faced by those to whom the letter was addressed:
Call to mind the sayings that have been previously spoken by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, how they used to say to you: “In the last time there will be ridiculers, proceeding according to their own desires for ungodly things.” These are the ones that make separations, animalistic men, not having spirituality. But you, beloved ones, by building up yourselves on your most holy faith, and praying with holy spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love, while you are waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Awake! continues on page 8:
“People will lay their hands upon you and persecute you.” (Luke 21:12) Starting in 1914 and through the years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been cruelly arrested, falsely convicted, mobbed, and thrown into Hitler’s concentration camps by the thousands, where they were tortured, many killed, some brutally by beheading. In other lands, both in dictatorships and in democracies, their work of witnessing to Jehovah and his Kingdom has been banned and the Witnesses thrown in jail. All of this in fulfillment of Jesus’ words for the last days. — Matthew 5:11, 12; 24:9; Luke 21:12; 1 Peter 4:12, 13.
The Watchtower Society always presents a negative image of professed Christians, even of those other than Jehovah’s Witnesses who are now experiencing persecution for their faith. In this way Jehovah’s Witnesses are led to believe that persecution is unique to them.
“This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth.” (Matthew 24:14) What good news? The good news of Christ’s Kingdom ruling from heaven, for that was the question put to Jesus that produced his prophecy of the composite sign of that event. It has been preached by Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1914. Four thousand were doing it in 1919, over four million by 1990, and in 1992 in one month 4,472,787. Bible literature was distributed in some 200 languages in 229 lands. Never before has this feature of the composite sign been fulfilled. [g93 3/22 8]
[With reference to Matthew 24:14,] this witness has already been given. In 1861, the Bible Societies’ reports showed that the Gospel had been published in every language of earth; not that all earth’s myriads had received it. No; not one in a hundred of the twelve hundred millions have ever heard of the name of Jesus. Yet it has fulfilled the text — it has been a witness to every nation. We understand that the object of the present witnessing is “To take out a people for His name.” [Zion’s Watch Tower, July, 1879, p. 4 Reprints]
In the 1897 book The Battle of Armageddon C. T. Russell wrote, on page 568:
This witness has already been given: the word of the Lord, the gospel of the Kingdom, has been published to every nation of earth. Each individual has not heard it; but that is not the statement of the prophecy. It was to be, and has been, a national proclamation. And the end has come! “The harvest is the end of the age,” our Lord explained. (Matt. 13:39)
Verifying whether these aspects of Matthew’s account have been fulfilled by Jehovah’s Witnesses hinges entirely on the question, Are the doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses the truth? If they are not, then they are lost in the sea of the teachings of “Christendom.”
The claim that Christ’s kingdom has been ruling from heaven was not made beginning in 1914, so Awake!’s claim is a blatant misrepresentation. C. T. Russell believed Christ was ruling from heaven since 1878, and the Society retained that belief until 1922. J. F. Rutherford salvaged as many of Russell’s doctrines as he could, and gradually abandoned the rest. The move of the beginning of Christ’s heavenly rule from 1878 to 1914 was part of the salvage operation.
Another point to consider is that the apostle Paul said the worldwide preaching work had been completed in his day. The January 15, 1970 Watchtower well described it, on page 45:
By about the year 60 or 61 C.E., when the apostle Paul was a prisoner in Rome, he could write to the Christian congregation in Colossae, Asia Minor, and say of their hope: “The hope of that good news which you heard, and which was preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Col. 1:23)…. Such a preaching of God’s kingdom in the inhabited earth had already been given by ten years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
Awake! continues on page 8:
“Bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) Greedy men have always been willing to ruin the earth for selfish gain, but never before this generation have they had the power to do so. Now, since 1914, modern technology has put that power into their hands, and they are misusing it. They are ruining the earth.
It is true that today men are physically ruining the earth. But the earth can be ruined in another way as well:
The earth came to be ruined in the sight of the true God and the earth became filled with violence. So God saw the earth and, look! it was ruined, because all flesh had ruined its way on the earth. — Gen. 6:11, 12.
Revelation 11:18 can be interpreted either way, and it cannot be denied that the earth has been ruined in a spiritual sense for a very long time, not just since 1914.
Here are a few of the atrocities resulting: acid rain, global warming, holes in the ozone layer, dangerous pesticides, toxic dumps, garbage glut, nuclear waste, oil spills, raw-sewage dumping, dead lakes, destroyed forests, polluted groundwater, species endangered, human health damaged.
Scientist Barry Commoner says: “I believe that continued pollution of the earth, if unchecked, will eventually destroy the fitness of this planet as a place for human life…. The difficulty lay not in scientific ignorance, but in willful greed.” State of the World 1987 says: “The scale of human activities has begun to threaten the habitability of the earth itself.” A television series aired in 1990 was significantly entitled “Race to Save the Planet.”
The last two paragraphs cite evidence that is nowhere associated with Christ’s parousia in the Bible. That there are severe atrocities being committed against the planet is disheartening, and much more trouble will come upon mankind because of it, but there is no scriptural evidence that this forms part of some “composite sign.”
At this point it should be evident that virtually all the signs the Watchtower Society now sets forth as evidence we are living in the time of Christ’s invisible presence were also put forward by its founder in the 19th century. For almost every sign, the Bible passages Russell used in support of his contention that Christ’s presence had begun in 1874, and that the last days had begun in 1799, are now used to support the claim that all these things started to happen in 1914. In some cases the very signs that Russell stated could not be used to support such claims are now touted by the Society. One must wonder how signs that are capable of such flexible interpretation can be used to indicate anything at all, much less prove it.
Several conclusions might be stated here: (1) None of these signs permit establishment of a particular date for the beginning of the “time of the end.” (2) The signs are so general that they can be applied just as well to the 19th century as to the 20th, or any other century for that matter. (3) In both centuries the Society first calculated the dates based on an interpretation of the Bible, and only then marshalled evidence from “the signs of the times” in support. In other words, the “signs of the times” were themselves insufficient to come to the “correct” conclusion.
In spite of all this evidence, Awake! continues:
These many events brought together as one sign during one generation can hardly be dismissed as coincidence. Their magnitude also adds weight. And there are some of these events, such as the global preaching of this message of the good news and the ruining of the earth, that have never occurred from creation’s beginning. The composite sign of the presence of Christ Jesus is overwhelming.
“Whoever has ears to listen, let him listen.” — Mark 4:23.
These comments bring to mind those of the November 1, 1986 Watchtower, on page 6:
Some people argue that even if the “seven times” are prophetic and even if they last 2,520 years, Jehovah’s Witnesses are still mistaken about the significance of 1914 because they use the wrong starting point. Jerusalem, they claim, was destroyed in 587/6 B.C.E., not in 607 B.C.E. If true, this would shift the start of “the time of the end” by some 20 years. However, in 1981 Jehovah’s Witnesses published convincing evidence in support of the 607 B.C.E. date. (“Let Your Kingdom Come,” pages 127-40, 186-9) Besides, can those trying to rob 1914 of its Biblical significance prove that 1934 — or any other year for that matter — has had a more profound, more dramatic, and more spectacular impact upon world history than 1914 did?
The answer to the Society’s question is a profound Yes, as the above quotations prove. It has been pointed out as regards 1914, that while the Society claims “many historians correctly point to that year as the pivotal one for mankind,” (Oct. 15, 1980 Watchtower, p. 14), this is not true of most historians. Most historians, even the ones the Society quotes, say that 1914 was one of the turning points in history, the turning point in our time, and so forth. This accords perfectly with the fact that Jesus warned his followers against giving credence to any supposed special events. It was the very sameness of events through history that he said would cause some to slack off, and his followers were therefore always to keep on the watch in expectation of his return.
With regard to the Society’s claims about the “composite sign,” the quotations cited in this essay should indicate to the reader that a more detailed study of these claims about wars, earthquakes, pestilences, famines, and other features of the “sign” further confirm that the 20th century is no worse, and in some cases much better, than preceding centuries. Historian Barbara Tuchman, in the 1978 book A Distant Mirror,shows how the 14th century was similar in many ways to the 20th, and in some cases much worse. Nothing even remotely comparable to some 14th century events has happened in the 20th century. Author Philip Zeigler quoted historian James Westfall Thompson, who compared the aftermaths of the Black Death and World War I, and found that in both cases complaints of contemporaries were the same:
Economic chaos, social unrest, high prices, profiteering, depravation of morals, lack of production, industrial indolence, frenetic gaiety, wild expenditure, luxury, debauchery, social and religious hysteria, greed, avarice, maladministration, decay of manners. [The Black Death, 1969, p. 277]
Then Zeigler concludes:
The two experiences are properly comparable but comparison can only show how much more devastating the Black Death was for its victims than the Great War [of 1914-1918] for their descendants. [p. 278]
Barbara Tuchman, again in A Distant Mirror, described the 14th century as “a violent, tormented, bewildered, suffering and disintegrating age, a time, as many thought, of Satan triumphant,” and added:
If our last decade or two of collapsing assumptions has been a period of unusual discomfort, it is reassuring to know that the human species has lived through worse before.
As can be seen from the above comparison of the 14th century to the 20th, and from current history, any claim that all the features of the “composite sign” are individually much worse than in times preceding 1914, and have grown progressively worse since 1914, are simply not true. Many more lives were lost between 1914 and 1945 than were lost between 1945 and 1993. In fact, this latter period has seen the longest era of no war between major powers in hundreds of years. Though the years since 1945 have claimed some 30 million lives, this is less than the number killed in the corresponding period of the last century, 1845-1893. World population now exceeds five billion but was only about one and a half billion in 1900. Despite the massive increase in population in the past hundred years the casualties of war and other disasters do not reflect a general increase in destructiveness.
As regards famine and pestilence, would you rather live in the 20th century, with modern food production and medical facilities, or in previous centuries? As regards earthquakes, the previously mentioned data base of worldwide earthquakes obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as other sources, shows the 20th century is pretty much the same as any other, both in number of quakes per year and in number of people killed per year. This latter is an amazing fact, because population densities are much higher in the 20th century. The developed nations’ policies of building for earthquake resistance have paid off.
The most conclusive evidence that the “composite sign” is a myth is the fact that the 20th century has experienced a tremendous population explosion. If famines, pestilences and wars had been killing people at the rate they did before the 20th century we would not have the population problem we have today. It was only that all these things were so rampant before the 20th century that prevented a population explosion from occurring earlier. This is why the population of the world was about the same in 1000 A.D. as it was at the time of Christ. Demographer Alfred Sauvy talked about the high “mortality factor” in the past, and described the causes:
This mortality factor was active in the past through three extraordinarily deadly fatal sisters: Famine, Disease and War. Due to its immediate effects Famine certainly occupied the first place in this terrifying trinity, closely followed by its near relative Disease…. [Jan Lenica and Alfred Sauvy, Population Explosion, Abundance of Famine, New York, 1962, p. 12]
Of the three demographic fatal sisters only war has continued working unabatedly. We refer here to war in the strict sense of the word, because other forms of violence resulting from it have been considerably reduced…. Diseases still exist, but epidemics of the kind that earlier would decimate whole nations do not rage any longer. Famine and malnutrition still exist but acute and hopeless starvation has been eliminated, mainly owing to better means of transport. [ibid, 1965, pp. 20,26]
Similarly, a high school textbook stated:
In conclusion it can be said that we have arrived at a development that is unique to mankind. For thousands of years famine, disease and war have effectively put a check on all tendencies towards an accelerated population growth. But after the breakthrough of technics and medicine the earlier balance between the constructive and destructive forces of life has been upset, resulting in the population explosion. [Bjorkblom, Altersten, Hanselid & Liljequist, Varlden, Sverige och vi, Uppsala, 1975, p. 31 (Translated from Swedish)]
That there is a population explosion unequivocally shows the idea of a “composite sign” is nothing but a myth, another example of “sounding forth man-made theories,” “dreams and guesses.” There has been nothing in modern times to compare with the wholesale decimation of populations that has regularly occurred in times past. The Society, of course, prefers to ignore all this.
Getting back to the March 22 Awake!, a sidebox at the end of the second article was entitled “Composite Sign for Jesus’ Royal Presence at Second Coming.” It said on page 8:
World war; food shortages; pestilences; earthquakes (Matthew 24:7; Luke 21:10,11; Revelation 6:1-8); increased lawlessness; betray and hate one another; disobedient to parents; no natural affection; without self-control; not open to any agreement; lovers of money; love pleasure more than God; form of godly devotion but false to its power; blasphemers; fierce; persecute Christ’s followers; bring followers before courts, and kill Christ’s followers (Matthew 24:9,10,12; Luke 21:12; 2 Timothy 3:1-5); ridiculers of Jesus’ presence; say all things continuing as from creation’s beginning (2 Peter 3:3,4); destroyers of the earth’s environment. — Revelation 11:18.
As has been shown, not one of these things is unique to the 20th century, alone or in combination.
1 Source — Database from the National Earthquake Information Service, Denver, Colorado. This CDROM database contains a listing of some 438,000 earthquakes from 2100 B.C. through 1988.
2 The NEIS data seem to bear this out.
3 Some may object, “But the New World Translation says ‘at the end of these days,’ not ‘these last days.'” A check of many other translations, as well as the original Greek, shows the expression “these last days” to be correct, and only one of many possible renderings. The Kingdom Interlinear shows the expression used at Heb. 1:2 is almost identical with that at 2 Tim. 3:1.
(For a more thorough examination of these issues, see The Sign of the Last Days — When? by Carl Olof Jonsson and Wolfgang Herbst.)