Chronology and Speculation about the Near Future

(One of the site’s editors has been invited to multiple private JW Facebook pages, mailing lists, and discussion groups, from which much of the information is derived. Any specific evidence quoted in the article below is only from public forums however.)

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For the purposes of this article, we will refer especially to the types of speculation that JWs talk about among themselves (between friends who are also JWs) and which sometimes spills over into online forums where such speculation is then visible to anyone else.

Bad News is Good News

It is a common practice among some Internet-savvy Jehovah’s Witnesses to set up periodic, automated searches to find any news items related to Jehovah’s Witnesses. This has nothing necessarily to do with speculation about future events. Stories about assemblies and  persecution in any part of the world dominate, and even custody cases where one parent wants to attack the JW beliefs of  ex-spouses is considered a kind of persecution. Crimes against JWs, including doctors or lawyers who wish to impose blood related medical procedures, and even accidents that happen to Witnesses while they are engaged in outdoor ministry activities are considered fair game, too. Crimes perpetrated by JWs are studiously avoided, except in cases where the poster has misread the news item.

Composite Sign Posts

There is another type of story that often gets distributed among Witnesses. They are the “composite sign” stories. Although they often neglect “wars and rumors of wars” due to sheer volume, they report on earthquakes of all sizes, often to the exclusion of floods, mudslides, volcanoes, tornadoes, and hurricanes.  Good-sized pestilences and famines usually get honorable mention, too. But the latter are often merely repetitions of news outlets fear-mongering over the latest flu strain.

These are pretty obviously related to end-times speculation, but usually aren’t specific enough to generate a lot of talk about the nearness of Armageddon. Instead –just as they should– they generate interest in how fellow JWs are doing in the affected areas.

Conspiratorial Speculation

However, there’s the one type of news item that you can find over and over again on JW sites and pages, but that doesn’t always register, even to fellow JWs, as an “end-times-speculation” story. It’s often about when some official of some country says something negative about religion. Other Witnesses will sometimes explicitly ask: Why did you post this? If you read the comments added to enough of these you can figure out that the keywords in the search included “United Nations” or “UN,” and “religion.”

This is of course based on the conspiratorial scenario, repeated several times in the Watch Tower publications, that the UN will soon try to outlaw all religion on earth, most religions will simply acquiesce, but Jehovah’s Witnesses will be attacked for continuing to serve faithfully, and this final attack precipitates Jehovah’s protection which precipitates the battle of Armageddon.

*** w87 9/1 p. 20 par. 13 On Guard Against “Peace and Security” as Devised by Nations ***
13 The United Nations is actually a worldly confederacy against Jehovah God and his dedicated Witnesses on earth. It is really a conspiracy, with the worldly nations getting their heads together and scheming up what they may do against the visible organization of Jehovah God on earth. During this “conclusion of the system of things,” it was foreshadowed by the conspiracy referred to at Isaiah 8:12.—Matthew 24:3.

One issue with these stories is that it isn’t only JWs who are looking for them, so they are often already filtered from the traditional news and blown out of proportion by UN-scrutinizing conspiracy hunters. It’s not just JWs who think the UN has a ton of potentially dangerous power hidden within its deepest departments, branches and NGO’s. Many thousands of persons on the right-hand side of the American political spectrum, along with many religious “Christian Fundamentalists” believe in UN conspiracies that will take away their guns and Bibles, too. So JWs have sometimes sent out some embarrassingly inaccurate stories without vetting them, only because it mirrored a certain conspiratorial idea they held in common with some otherwise unrelated UN agenda seeker.

As mentioned, stories about, “wars and rumors of wars” are a little too commonplace to share. But ironically, a more common theme for conspiratorial speculation among JWs the very antithesis of wars and rumors of wars. Readers might have already been reminded of this from the title of The Watchtower’s UN article just quoted above. That’s right: “Peace and Security” –a ready-made “Boolean” keyword search.

It’s considered a big clue that we’re approaching the time of the end when the the Secretary-General of the UN, or another suitable dignitary or spokesperson will use a phrase that predicts “Peace and Security” in a big way. Sometimes Witnesses will even settle for an American Vice-President or Secretary of State. Of course this has a long tradition among Witnesses. Articles and chapters in the Watch Tower publications have referred to it for years. JWs who grew up as children in Witness households likely have memories of parents watching the news and saying: “Did you hear that? He said “Peace and Security.” This could be it!” Of course, if it wasn’t followed by “sudden destruction” then it wasn’t really “it” but it was always worth it to be on guard, we were told.

Even more recently the Watchtower repeated this scenario: (highlights ours.)

*** w13 11/15 pp. 12-13 How Can We Maintain “a Waiting Attitude”? ***
WHAT EVENTS SIGNAL THE END OF OUR WAITING?
9 Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3. In the near future, the nations will say “Peace and security!” If we are not to be caught off guard by this declaration, we need to “stay awake and keep our senses.” (1 Thess. 5:6) To help us stay awake spiritually, let us briefly review events that have set the stage for this noteworthy proclamation.
10 In the aftermath of each of the two world wars, the nations clamored for peace. After the first world war, the League of Nations was formed in the hope of bringing peace. Later, after the second global war, the United Nations became a popular hope of bringing peace to the earth. Government and religious leaders have looked to those agencies to bring about peaceful conditions for mankind. For example, in 1986, the United Nations sanctioned a highly publicized International Year of Peace. That year, leaders from many nations and religions joined the head of the Catholic Church in Assisi, Italy, to offer prayers for peace.
11 However, neither that proclamation of peace and security nor others like it have been the fulfillment of the prophecy recorded at 1 Thessalonians 5:3. Why not? Because the foretold “sudden destruction” has not yet occurred.
12 Who will make this significant future declaration of “Peace and security”? What role will the leaders of Christendom and of other religions play? How will the leaders of various governments be involved in this proclamation? The Scriptures do not tell us.

Looking carefully at the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:3, it seems odd that this is actually understood to be a “prophecy.” The only reason, apparently, that it was given such importance is because it seems to stand in contrast to Matthew 24, which apparently speaks of “wars and rumors of wars” as a potential sign of the parousia. It must be some important exception to Jesus’ words and is therefore fit into the end-times scenario with a special place at the very end, after a generation of great wars. There are, of course, other ways to understand this verse that dovetails nicely with an understanding of Matthew 24. These will be discussed in the section under “The Sign.”

The Sun, Moon and the Stars

When Jesus spoke of the sign of his parousia, as found in Matthew Mark and Luke he mentioned that within one generation people would see things like this, as Matthew 24:30 states:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

This is one portion of Matthew 24 where many readers see a disconnect between what happened in the generation prior to Jerusalem’s destruction 37 years or so after Jesus’ discourse. So, a lot of people expect to see signs in the sun, moon and stars.

Back in 1980, Bert Schroeder, a member of the Governing Body, proposed that these signs in the heavens started with the launching of Sputnik on October 4, 1957. Below is a copy of the outline that Bert Schroeder provided to all the members of Governing Body for discussion.

berts-memo

(The only reason we can produce this copy here is because Raymond Franz saved a copy from that Governing Body session on March 5, 1980. See “Crisis of Conscience.”)

It is doubtful that Bert Schroeder had in any way seen those signs back in 1957 and felt that they were the same as “the sun and moon going dark and the stars falling.” Perhaps some level of fear was duly borne due to the fact that their first and only child was due to be born shortly after the Russians launched this “beach ball” sized satellite into space, and shortly before the U.S. answered this space call with their own first satellite in 1958.  More likely, 1957 was an afterthought calculated to move the start of the generation forward to make the “lifespan after 1914” more workable.

JW’s are not generally looking for “signs in the heavens” related to the space program, moon landings, rovers to Mars, or weaponized rockets and missiles, or even the Strategic Defense Initiatives (SDI).

However, this year, 2014, did see multiple references by JWs to a “Blood Moon,” however. No doubt the original articles, not from JWs, were specifically intended to catch the interest of Christian denominations with an appetite for “end-times” discussion. One Witness had tied together the expectation of the “blood moon” to the full moon on Nisan 14.

In a sense, numerical coincidences in the calendar are a kind of astronomical phenomena. The fact that Nisan 14 in ’14 also landed on 4/14 gave some JWs pause for speculation. That might have been helped along by the fact that Our Kingdom Ministry in March 2014 included the following, pictured below. Note also the question about “regret” under paragraph 4, after the paragraph itself asked: “Will this Memorial be our last?”

km-mem

One on-line JW, apparently, claimed that the extra attention and the longer than usual “promotional” period ahead of the Memorial in 2014 was due to the desire to reach an attendance record of 20,000,000 worldwide. (The previous year’s attendance came close, but didn’t quite make it, and the increases in many countries are not even keeping up with the rate of population growth.) That may have been the opportunity that “Our Kingdom Ministry” writers were seizing on. Imagine the regret, if the year’s total turned out to be only 19,999,999 and you stayed home!

Blood Moon Rising

bloodmoonrising

Although on a public discussion forum it’s possible that this wasn’t really from a JW, the same question arose in private JW forums, too. Here’s a portion of the comments that seem applicable (the comments from embarrassingly irrational speculators have been deleted and only the more reasonable answers remain in the forum at present (jw-archive.org):

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      I think that the brothers only said that like a reminder to us all how we should see all ocassions as if it were the last, that way we are more aleart and awake spiritually We shouldn’t be speculating what’s going to happen in the future, Jehovah already has the date set. . 
      Either way, whatever happens as long as we remain faithful in the Truth, there is nothing to be scared of we should be excited that his Kingdom is almost here and be more persistant in the ministry field. Remeber Jehovah’s day will come like a theif, even US who know about the truth will be shock when it comes, this could happen in a year or two or 5… who knows! alll we know is 
      that is already near and we still have so much to do.

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        Memorial is always held on the first full moon after March 21st. It’s always a full moon because Memorial is always held 14 days after the new moon. Hebrew months start on the new moon (the new month). Therefore Nisan 14 is always a full moon (+- 24 hours).

        Blood moons have nothing to do with blood, but were another term for a “harvest moon”. Many ancient cultures picked the full moon as a time for celebrations, probably because of the extra light for festivities or travel that could go on into the evening. That’s probably the same reason for calling the fall new moons “harvest moons”.because the extra light allowed harvest work and/or harvest celebrations to go on later into in the evening. The idea of calling the harvest moon a “blood” moon was a reference to fact that all full moons rise shortly after sunset and you can therefore see them close to the horizon when you are seeing it behind more miles of dust and atmosphere. (Much more than when you look higher into the sky.)

        The other thing that gets called a “blood” moon sometimes is the light that shines on an eclipsed moon. Eclipses also only happen during a full moon, for the reason that a full moon can only happen when the sun and moon are effectively on opposite sides of the earth. The earth must be exactly between the sun and moon for an eclipse.because it’s the only time the sun can cast the earth’s shadow on the moon. During an eclipse, there is still just enough light to see the moon, but it often looks very dark or reddish. I believe however, that Memorial is the 14th this year, but a blood moon eclipse won’t happen until the next day. By coincidence April 1 starts on the same day as Nisan 1 this year, so Nisan 14 is April 14. Some interpreters of the Bible believe that Memorial and Passover were actually supposed to be on Nisan 15, not Nisan 14, so it may be true that Jewish celebrations of Passover will coincide with a eclipsed “blood” moon.

        As far as the statement that this may be our last memorial, that’s in the Kingdom Service. Yes there is a lot of anticipation and expectation going on at Bethel, and some of what the writers and editors believe will spill over into the publications. Remember though that these are personal opinions. …

Past Speculation is No Guarantee of Future Speculation

JWs are apparently more careful about speculation than they have been in the past. Look at the articles on 1975. It was common in the 1970’s to hear some JWs say the same thing about large conventions, that the “km” above said about this Memorial possibly being our last. It was sometimes spoken of as the motivation to get out there and “go big” on visiting a far away international convention. Last chance while trains, plane, and automobiles still exist? (J.F.Rutherford used to say the same thing about large summer conventions in almost the same words: “Who knows if this might be our last opportunity…?”) {add link}

The kinds of speculation related to the lifespan of “this generation” has been effectively postponed for a while with the new “generation” teaching, but old habits die hard. Even comments in recent talks by Governing Body members have not fully reflected the latest teaching. {add link} The 70-year lifespan of Psalm 90:10, no doubt partially explains the the excitement generated around around 1984. Then by 1994, the 80-year lifespan limit, also from Psalm 90:10,  no doubt generated the entirely new explanation of the generation (in 1995) that for the first time (and not surprisingly) didn’t rely on lifespans at all.

The last previous attempt to define a specific lifespan length for the 1914 generation was done in 1989, in the Awake! magazine dated April 8, 1988:

*** g88 4/8 p. 14 The Last Days—What’s Next? ***
J. A. Bengel states in his New Testament Word Studies: “The Hebrews . . . reckon seventy-five years as one generation, and the words, shall not pass away, intimate that the greater part of that generation [of Jesus’ day] indeed, but not the whole of it, should have passed away before all should be fulfilled.” This became true by the year 70 C.E. when Jerusalem was destroyed. Likewise today, most of the generation of 1914 has passed away. However, there are still millions on earth who were born in that year or prior to it. And although their numbers are dwindling, 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. So, what events should alert Christians watch for?

Naturally the nearness of that 75 year limit would be up the very next year after 1988 since 1914+75=1989. Therefore the same article was prepared to speculate further about “Peace and Security” focusing on the idea that:

“Disarmament has been a subject for debate for decades and has usually finished up as a propaganda exercise for both countries. Now, in the waning months of President Reagan’s term and in the thawing atmosphere of Secretary Gorbachev’s glasnost (openness) policy, there appears to be serious talk about defusing the nuclear arms situation. …“whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’”—whether it emanates from the United Nations or independently from the great powers themselves.”… Yes, “sudden destruction” will then befall the ecclesiastical and political powers that have spurned Jehovah and his witnesses. “

One online commentator, recently, was able to show how the “two-generation” generation could potentially last nearly to the end of this century, until nearly 2100. Strictly speaking, the Watch Tower has added some minor details to this definition that could restrict it to 2050 or 2060, though. See discussion {link}.

Probably, it was the 1914 + 80 idea that was based partially on Psalm 90:10 that resulted in The Watchtower’s first embarrassing public date speculation after 1975. It was the January 1, 1989 Watchtower:

“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.

That’s effectively saying that “the end” comes before December 31, 1999 (or 2000) and it certainly got noticed. So a correction was made in the October 1, 1989 issue, 7 months later:

“We have ample reasons to expect that this preaching will be completed in our time. Does that mean before the turn of a new month, a new year,a new decade, a new century? No human knows….”

A couple months after that, it was decided that all reprints of the January 1, 1989 issue would have to be changed, which now also includes the Watchtower Library CD-ROM:

“The apostle Paul was spearheading the Christian missionary activity. He was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our day.

Millennial fever still saw a few Witnesses in online forums openly discuss their speculations about the year 2000. One well-respected elder who has long enjoyed in-depth discussions with non-JWs, said he was willing to bet his JW membership on the fact that Armageddon would be completed within a decade and a half which, at the time, worked out to be 2015.

The 9/11 attack on US targets in 2001 raised the specter again of an imminent Armageddon,  and on-line JW speculation peaked once more. There was talk of the Brooklyn Bethel moving away from the New York City area completely. There was talk of re-identifying the parties in the prophecies of the “King of the North”and “King of the South”  and “Gog/Magog” so that the all-but-forgotten Muslim world could play a more significant part.

Near the end of 2003, based on the December 15th Watchtower of that year, speculation about 2034 became publicly discussed. Hushed talk about Noah and the “120 years” of Genesis 6:3 has been a topic of underground Bethel speculation for years. Among some, immediately after 1975, there was also an assumption that it wasn’t yet the right time to speak of those “120” years because it could produce complacency –a lack of urgency– among the brothers. After all, it could move the end date out to 2034. (1914+120=2034) But, then again, the new generation explanation that came out in 1995 (removing the lifespan limits) might also produce a lack of “urgency.” Evidently a thirty year difference was close enough:

*** w03 12/15 p. 15 pars. 6-7 Our Watchfulness Takes On Greater Urgency ***
Only 120 years more and Jehovah would bring “the deluge of waters upon the earth … Noah received the warning of the upcoming catastrophe decades in advance, and he wisely used the time to prepare for survival. … What about us? Some 90 years have passed since the last days of this system of things began in 1914.

The frequency of references to Genesis 6:3 has increased greatly in these last years, which is a sign that the Watch Tower wishes to make the following points:

*** w12 4/15 pp. 23-24 pars. 5-8 Jehovah Knows How to Deliver His People ***
Accordingly his days shall amount to a hundred and twenty years.” This was not a statement regarding the average human lifespan. …
…The account of the Flood testifies to Jehovah’s skill not only as a Timekeeper but also as a Deliverer. As he counts down to the end of the present system of things, we can be sure that everything Jehovah has purposed will take place at his appointed time, to the very “day and hour.”

*** w13 4/1 p. 13 He “Walked With the True God” ***
Jehovah determined that he would wipe out that wicked society within 120 years.

*** w10 12/15 p. 31 Questions From Readers ***
It is logical, therefore, to conclude that Genesis 6:3 expresses God’s resolve to end the corrupt system of things on earth. …But why set a time limit?  …Yes, when God made his determination concerning 120 years, there were things remaining to be done. …Yes, God’s patience for 120 years allowed for those things to be accomplished and set the stage for the preservation of life, …During the remaining decades, Noah did more than provide an example of righteousness by his life. He served as “a preacher of righteousness” who had a very pointed warning message to declare—God’s determination to bring to ruin the ungodly of that time.

And the Lesson is: Obedience

Several of the types of speculation mentioned actually have a cumulative effect with each other. On it’s own, for example, a mention that the upcoming Memorial might be our last, is definitely evocative, but in a context where there might be very little of that kind of speculation, it might be ignored as an anomaly or “outlier.”

But when there are several of these types of “future tension” statements, then they have a multiplying effect.

This final one (for now) was the idea that JWs  will need to follow the directions of their elders even if those directions don’t seem rational. That’s a scary thought. And naturally, it fueled speculation about the nearness of the Great Tribulation which is often tied to underground activity, due to the beliefs about the U.N. And, of course, when “future tension” is made higher by these statements, then more people will look for evidence of the UN turning against religion, and more persons are apt to share ebola stories and the like. So we have a vicious cycle.

The point about following apparently unsound instructions from the organization (read “headquarters”) and elders being “absolutely convinced” under any circumstances of their correctness, even if they do not appear rational, is worth noting more closely. In its full context it is clearly a source for speculation amidst fear. I’ll highlight some of the key phrases:

*** w13 11/15 Seven Shepherds, Eight Dukes—What They Mean for Us Today ***
LESSONS FOR TODAY
16 The prophecy about seven shepherds and eight dukes has its major fulfillment in our day. The citizens of ancient Jerusalem were attacked by the Assyrians. In the near future, Jehovah’s apparently vulnerable people will come under attack from the modern-day “Assyrian,” whose intent will be to wipe them out. The Scriptures refer to that attack as well as the attack of ‘Gog of Magog,’ the attack of “the king of the north,” and the attack of “the kings of the earth.” (Ezek. 38:2, 10-13; Dan. 11:40, 44, 45; Rev. 17:14; 19:19) Do these represent separate attacks? Not necessarily. The Bible could be referring to the same attack under different names. What ‘secret weapon’ does Micah’s prophecy indicate Jehovah would raise up against that implacable foe—“the Assyrian”? A very unlikely one—“seven shepherds, yes, eight dukes”! (Mic. 5:5) The shepherds and dukes (or, “princes,” NEB) in this implausible army are the congregation elders. (1 Pet. 5:2) Today, Jehovah certainly has provided an abundance of spiritual men to shepherd his precious sheep, to strengthen his people for the future attack of the modern-day “Assyrian.” Micah’s prophecy states that they will “shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword.” (Mic. 5:6) Yes, among ‘the weapons of their warfare,’ you will find “the sword of the spirit,” God’s Word.—2 Cor. 10:4; Eph. 6:17.
17 Elders who are reading this article can draw some useful conclusions from the account we have just considered: (1) The most practical step that we can take to prepare for the coming attack of “the Assyrian” is that of strengthening our faith in God and helping our brothers to do the same. (2) When “the Assyrian” attacks, the elders must be absolutely convinced that Jehovah will deliver us. (3) At that time, the life-saving direction that we receive from Jehovah’s organization may not appear practical from a human standpoint. All of us must be ready to obey any instructions we may receive, whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not. (4) Now is the time for any who may be putting their trust in secular education, material things, or human institutions to adjust their thinking. The elders must stand ready to help any who may now be wavering in their faith.
18 The time will come when God’s modern-day servants will appear to be just as vulnerable as the Jews trapped inside Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s day. At that time, may all of us draw strength from Hezekiah’s words. Let us remember that with our enemies “there is an arm of flesh, but with us there is Jehovah our God to help us and to fight our battles”!—2 Chron. 32:8.

It sounds a bit like a war rallying talk to a company of soldiers about to face a battle. And it was probably intended to. It reminds me of a meeting (also earlier this year) where members of the headquarters staff were training couples for full-time service and used US Army-like phrases, such as “become all you can be.” You are “company men.” You are not innovators, your are “bureaucrats.” Don’t do anything unless you get permission first from your Branch.

Of course this article from late 2013 would be read and then studied at about the time the “Our Kingdom Ministry” (km) article was to be written. All this talk of attack may have influenced the writer of the km article. At any rate, it’s quite possible for some among JWs to read this article and believe that it might even be necessary to “drink the Kool-Aid,” as it were.

It adds up to behavior that naturally appears “crazy” to outsiders, but begins to look more and more normal to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

One thought on “Chronology and Speculation about the Near Future”

  1. Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult?

    Requiring un-questioning obedience to 7 imperfect men whether these instructions appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not, is extremism and is cult-like! This is especially disturbing given the fact that they have been wrong many, many times in the past.

    If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck …

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