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Who ‘wondered admiringly’ at the League of Nations to fulfill Revelation 17:8?

Summary: The Watchtower explains that the initial beast of Revelation 17:8 is the “League of Nations.”  Revelation 17:8 (NWT) says that persons whose names have not been written upon the scroll of life will “wonder admiringly” at this beast.  Yet, in 1919 the Watchtower not only “wondered admiringly” at the League of Nations, they went so far as to actually use sentences that contained those literal words:

  • “We cannot but admire the high principles embodied in the proposed League of Nations.”
  • “This fact makes all the more wonderful the ideals which they express.”

(Revelation 17:8)  The wild beast that you saw was, but is not, and yet is about to ascend out of the abyss, and it is to go off into destruction. And when they see how the wild beast was, but is not, and yet will be present, those who dwell on the earth will wonder admiringly, but their names have not been written upon the scroll of life from the founding of the world. [NWT Reference Edition]

The 2013 Revised NWT changes “will wonder admiringly” and instead uses the term “will be amazed.” I couldn’t help but ‘wonder in amazement’ about whether a certain post discussing this same subject had already come to the attention of the translators. It was a post I had put on beliefnet.com several years prior which made the same point made here, along with some additional information.

The Watchtower Speaks for Itself

For many decades, the Watchtower has identified the initial beast of Revelation 17:8 as the League of Nations:

*** w85 10/1 p. 15 par. 9 Peace, Security, and the ‘Image of the Beast’ ***
9 Our identification of this beast is confirmed by some further details given by the angel: “The wild beast that you saw was, but is not, and yet is about to ascend out of the abyss, and it is to go off into destruction.” (Revelation 17:8) This has already been fulfilled in part. The second world war effectively killed the League of Nations.

In various places, the Watch Tower publications have repeatedly reminded readers (over 200 different times)  that the clergy of Christendom, both Catholic and Protestant, have promoted the rejection of Christ’s kingdom and even the “worship” of this beast by hailing the League of Nations as the “political expression of God’s Kingdom on earth.” Note:

*** ka chap. 11 pp. 197-198 pars. 27-28 “Here Is the Bridegroom!” ***
27 The position taken by the “discreet” virgin class on this issue was unequivocal from the start. In evidence of this, on Sunday afternoon, September 7, 1919, at the Cedar Point convention, President Rutherford gave his public address on “The Hope for Distressed Humanity,” in which he pointed out God’s disapproval of the League of Nations. To quote from the report published in the Sandusky (Ohio) Star-Journal on Monday, September 8, 1919:
“President Rutherford . . .declared a League of Nations formed by the political and economic forces moved by a desire to better mankind by establishment of peace and plenty would accomplish great good, and then asserted that the Lord’s displeasure is certain to be visited upon the League, however, because the clergy—Catholic and Protestant—claiming to be God’s representatives, have abandoned his plan and endorse the League of Nations, hailing it as a political expression of Christ’s kingdom on earth.—The Watch Tower, under date of October 1, 1919, page 298, column 1.”

*** ka chap. 13 p. 250 par. 22 Settling Accounts with the Slaves of Today ***
22 Of course, the sectarian church members of Christendom . . . . took a compromising course with the politicians and militarists of this world. . . . They turned their interest and attention to the proposed League of Nations, which the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America called “the political expression of the Kingdom of God on earth.” (Isaiah 9:6, 7) They tried to increase the number of supporters and worshipers of that man-made international organization for world peace and security.

Was the Watch Tower’s position on this issue really “unequivocal from the start”? In answering this question note the words that are underlined and highlighted from the February 15, 1919 Watchtower:

“We cannot but admire the high principles embodied in the proposed League of Nations, formulated undoubtedly by those who have no knowledge of the great plan of God. This fact makes all the more wonderful the ideals which they express. For instance, it has been made plain by President Wilson and the advocates of his ideas that the proposed League of Nations is more than merely a league to enforce peace. They would not have us consider it to exclusively from the standpoint of politics or of military relations. It should be considered as fully from the economic and social points of view. The President’s idea seems to be that the League of Nations which he proposes would stand for world service rather than mere world regulation in the military sense, and that the very smallest of nations shall be participants in its every arrangement. In other words, his idea undoubtedly is that the league shall not be established merely for the purpose of promoting peace by threat or coercion; but that its purpose, when put into operation, will be to make all nations of earth one great family, working together for the common benefit in all the avenues of national life. Truly this is idealistic, and approximates in a small way that which God has foretold that he will bring about after this great time of trouble.” — Watch Tower,  February 15, 1919,  p.51 [Reprints page 6389].

In other words, this 1919 Watchtower considers the League of Nations to be, essentially, ‘the political expression of God’s kingdom on earth.’ In fact, a careful reading of the article gives at least some evidence that this particular phrase was already known to the writers of this Watchtower article, and this article was intended to show agreement with that idea.

That might sound surprising coming from the same magazine that has declared itself not to have ever compromised on that particular issue in the way that Catholic and Protestant clergy and their constituents had supposedly done. But the Watchtower took it a bit further, literally admitting their amazement at the wonderful and admirable ideals of the League of Nations.

Some Additional Details and Resources 

Additional resources will be added to this article or forthcoming follow-up articles to show that the Watch Tower publications have not been totally accurate about many other claims and details surrounding this issue. These details might include:

  1. The Watch Tower’s repeated claims about who actually promoted the idea that the League of Nations was “the political expression of God’s kingdom on earth.”
  2. The hypocrisy of the condemnation of the “political expression” claim is not only shown in the first portion of this article, but is shown to be an ongoing problem for the Watch Tower publications. For example:
    • There was a supposed “cleansing” related to the political neutrality of the “Faithful Slave” (now, Governing Body) as of 1919. Yet, we see similar wording of Joseph F. Rutherford in a letter to Adolph Hitler, which also admits an admiration for the ideals and principals of the German National Socialism (Nazi regime). Rutherford similarly tied those ideals of Hitler as a political expression of the kingdom of God.
  3. There is also a serious problem with the claim that the Watch Tower (especially through a talk by Nathan H. Knorr) actually predicted the fall of the League and its rise again as the United Nations.
  4. A problem starting with the very application of the League of Nations to Revelation 17:8.

Most of the four points above have been made by others and can be found at various places.

  1. #1 is fairly debunked here: https://www.jehovahs-witness.com/topic/17563/fccc-league-on-nations-un-watchtower-rare-article?size=20&page=1
    • The links to the actual source material may not show up any more on that site because the discussion is 15 years old, or more. The same resource pages can be found here: https://books.google.com/books?id=lEVQAQAAMAAJ
    • The book is called: Federal Council Bulletin: A Journal of Religious Co-operation and Inter-church Activities, Volumes 1-3
    • The quote(s) in question are found on page 12 of Volume 2 (1919), especially at the end of the fourth paragraph under Declarations. (The book starts out with 1918, and the page numbering starts over for 1919 and 1920.)
    • Note that similar sentiments can be found in that book as early as January 1918.
    • The most serious problem with the Watch Tower’s claim is that the WTS doesn’t seem to realize or admit that this publication of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ was speaking about what the League “should be” not what it was. They were speaking of an “ideal.” They were not promoting “worship” any more than the Watchtower itself was in the article they published the following month with similar sentiments. Also, this declaration about the proposed League only represented a small number of Protestant churches although it was presented as representing all of Christendom, Protestant and Catholic. The statement itself was evidently an invention of the executive committee of the FCCC.
  2. The problems with the lack of neutrality in the pre-1919 era of the Watch Tower are not given much attention. Russell’s fervent Zionism that survived into the late 1920’s is a case in point. On this site, a couple of other examples are mentioned. They provide some context for the thinking published in 1919. Russell wrote a letter to the President in 1915 to advise him to sell some of the Philippines to Japan because, as Russell said, Filipinos were basically lazy and Japanese were industrious. Russell also advised his readers not to try to avoid conscription in the military and not to insist on hospital work. If assigned to the front lines, they should merely shoot over the heads of the enemies. Rutherford’s attempts to avoid prison in 1918 under the Espionage Act also involved some embarrassing compromise, which was revisited but omitted, of course, during the preparation of the “Proclaimers” book. The problems of lack of neutrality after 1919 are better known. Rutherford’s Declaration and the letter to Hitler is discussed in Jim Penton’s well-researched book: “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich” (Amazon) and a summary of the issue is available in an article found on jwfacts.com. Under Rutherford’s presidency, especially, Watch Tower publications continued to stay involved deeply in several political matters and often tied their miscalculated political interpretations in order to predict the imminent end of this system. Since the time of Knorr, the WTS has generally been much more careful. (Although the fiasco of joining the United Nations as an NGO from 1992 through 2001 proved to be most embarrassing.)
    • One salient point in the 1933 “Declaration” was the sentence: “Instead of being against the principles advocated by the government of Germany, we stand squarely for such principles, and point out that Jehovah God through Christ Jesus will bring about the full realization of these principles.” In other words, the German Nazi ideals, while not the equivalent of the kingdom of God, were at least a human, ‘political expression’ of the same principles as the kingdom of God. (Sound familiar?)
    • The “Letter to Hitler” included the same idea as the Declaration: “To the contrary, referring to the purely religious and unpolitical goals and efforts of the [Bible Students], it can be said that these are in full agreement with the identical goals of the national government of the German Reich.”
  3. The “prediction” by Knorr that the League would die and then come back as the United Nations is faulty primarily because it was not an interpretation exclusive to the Watch Tower Society, and had been previously and concurrently predicted several times by groups similar to the Watch Tower. A very good discussion is found here by Carl Olof Jonsson.
  4. Whether or not such an organization as the League of Nations actually fits the ideas of Revelation 17:8 is a much more basic question that JWs rarely, if ever, would ask themselves. Yet, an interest in truth and belief that correct Bible interpretation is of value should motivate JWs to “make sure of all things.” A good summary of the history of the League of Nations can be found on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/League_of_Nations .  Note that while the League was formally founded on January 10, 1920, it was being organized and defined from the very beginning of World War I. As of late 1917 and early 1918 the form it would take was directly anticipated with U.S. involvement and promotion by President Woodrow Wilson. Also note that the League basically inherited the organizations and structure of one of the previous attempts to create such an entity, the IPU or Inter-Parliamentary Union, the League’s forerunner. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inter-Parliamentary_Union )
    • The IPU is of interest from another perspective, too. The Watch Tower publications have made a lot over the idea that the League “died” and came to life again after WWII as the United Nations. The problem is that could be said of a lot of organizations whose primary aim was to promote peace. How astonishing would it be that a generally “pacifist” leaning organization might temporarily disappear during a large war? The IPU was, of course, a relatively neutral and pacifist organization, too, and the book Neutrality in Twentieth Century Europe, p. 298 explains this and adds: “The outbreak of the First World War prevented further action, and during the war most of the IPU’s work was seriously hampered.” (Although effectively replaced by the League of Nations after the war, the IPU resumed full operations and continues to this day.) For that matter, something similar happened to the Watch Tower Society itself because of the same war.
    • So if it happened to the League’s “predecessor,” then how appropriate is it to say that the world would be amazed that an organization attempting neutrality and peace might disappear for a while.
    • If others could predict the demise of the League after failing in its agenda during WWII (just as the IPU had failed to keep peace in WWI) then it really was not astonishing at all, and for this reason the League of Nations does not fit Revelation 17:8.
    • An more salient point is this: The Bible often represents nations as beasts. It might be true that an international organization could act in a vicious, inhumane, beastly manner, similar to some individual nations. But how logical is it to depict an organization that tries to promote political neutrality, peace and goodwill as a beast? When the war came, did anyone expect the League of Nations to put up a vicious, beastly fight to stay in power? Was there really something so astonishing and amazing about its temporary disappearance and reappearance when the war was over? If it reappeared as the United Nations, has that entity really shown itself to be a vicious beast?