Rutherford's Two-Tier Christianity

Author: Tony Piper

Introduction

Two types of Christians

One of the most important teachings of the Watchtower Society is that there are two types of true Christians:

(1) the Anointed who will be co-rulerswithJesus Christ in the heavenly kingdom, and

(2) the Great Crowd who will survive Armageddon and live on the Earth in an Eden-like paradise.

The Jehovah’s Witness calling at your door will eagerly tell you, should you express any interest in what happens to you when you die, that your destiny cannot be Heaven, as all the heavenly ‘places’ were filled years ago. Your eternal destiny, should you elect to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is everlasting life on a renewed Earth. Their brochure The Road to Everlasting Life: Have You Found It? shows a group of happy, smiling people beckoning you forward. The brochure Enjoy Life on Earth Forever spells out what awaits you in a world abundantly supplied with fruit and vegetables, in which you will be able to cuddle leopards. This teaching is current, and has been so for several years. It is in total opposition to traditional Christian belief, founded on scriptures such as John 14:2, which is commonly understood to mean that all of Christ’s true followers will be with Him in the place to which He is going – Heaven. So how does the Watchtower Society arrive at its unique teaching regarding the eternal destiny of ‘believers’?

Revelation 7 and 14

In Revelation 7 the apostle John first mentions the sealing of 144,000 servants of God from all the tribes of Israel (vv. 2-8). After this he then mentions a great crowd or multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb (v. 9). According to the Watchtower Society John:

“… thus presents the “great crowd” as a separate entity and makes a definite contrastbetween the specific number of the 144,000 and the unnumbered “great crowd”. They are also distinguished by their being, not “of the sons of Israel,” but out of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues. They are not seen standing ‘with the Lamb’ as are the 144,000, at Revelation 14:1, but are “before the Lamb.” These several factors all argue that the “great crowd” is separate and distinct from the 144,000 sealed ones.” [Insight on the Scriptures Vol 1, article Great Crowd p. 996].

Because the 144,000 anointed ones are ‘with the Lamb’ they are said to be in Heaven. Because the unnumbered great crowd are ‘before the Lamb’ they are said to be elsewhere. Where else can they be but on the Earth? The Anointed class are said to have been

“… spirit begotten and anointed with holy spirit… [they] receive their anointing as a body of people through Jesus Christ. (Ac 2:1-4, 32, 33) They have thereby received an appointment from God to be kings and priests with Jesus Christ in the heavens. (2 Co 5:5; Eph 1:13, 14; 1 Pe 1:3, 4; Re 20:6)” [Insight Vol 1, article Anointed, Anointing p. 114].

The Great Crowd, by associating themselves with the Anointed at their meetings and identifying themselves as worshippers of their God, Jehovah; by dedicating their lives to Jehovah through Jesus Christ and symbolising this by water baptism, demonstrate that they want to “become joined to Jehovah” [Survival into a New Earth, p. 149]. They are then “able to share gladly in the work being done earth wide by his witnesses” [Survival, p. 149].

From this and countless other instances in their literature it is abundantly clear that the Watchtower Society teaches its followers that there is a two-tier destiny in the afterlife for believers in spite of Jesus saying, at John 10:16, that there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Because this two-tier system is so important to Jehovah’s Witnesses and their message to the world, many critiques have already been published showing that the doctrine is founded upon faulty exposition of the key texts and it is not intended to examine those here. [See, for example, Ron Rhodes’ lengthy exposition in Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses pp. 253-81]. The purpose of this article is to attempt to investigate the presentation of the doctrine in its historical context and then ask, in the light of other absolute statements given by its presenter, whether the Watchtower Society should rethink their position on the destiny of ‘believers’ in the afterlife. Before doing so it may be useful to say that there are said to be around 8,000 members of the ‘Anointed’ alive at the time of writing (February 2006), thus the Jehovah’s Witness at your door will almost certainly be a member of the Great Crowd and be anxious to welcome you in as one of them.

Joseph Franklin Rutherford

Charles Taze Russell, the first president of the Watchtower Society, died on October 31, 1916. His tenure was filled by J F Rutherford, who had previously held the position of the Society’s legal counsel. During Rutherford’s presidency the Society issued ‘a flood of publications, including 24 books, 86 booklets, and annual “Yearbooks”…’ [Jehovah’s Witnesses Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, p. 88].

Rutherford was a determined, dynamic man and revolutionised the outreach work of the Society with his slogan ‘Advertise the King and the Kingdom’.

During the early years of Rutherford’s presidency, while the Society’s followers were aroused to:

“advertise, advertise, advertise the King and his kingdom…the spiritual light of understanding grew brighter, [and] the Bible Students began to perceive some thrilling Bible truths (Prov 4:18)…[which] precious truths gave a powerful impetus to their work” [Proclaimers, p. 78].

One of these precious, thrilling Bible truths was that ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’.

‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’

This exciting phrase was the title of a discourse given by Rutherford at the Cedar Point Convention in September 1922 at which almost 20,000 persons were present. It had, however, also been the title of a slim 128-page book written by Rutherford and issued by the International Bible Students Association (International Bible Students was an early name for Jehovah’s Witnesses) two years earlier in 1920. A sizeable quote from the prefatory to the book, written by G C Driscoll and addressed to Judge J F Rutherford, will serve to give the reader an idea of its message.

“The admirable way in which you have marshalled the sayings of the Lord Jesus, of the apostles, and of the prophets of old, and supported them by abundant secular evidence, all going to show that a time would come when millions then living would never die – and that we are now living in that time – will inspire hope and confidence in the mind of every honest, truth-seeking reader…I am glad, indeed, to note that you treat the major part of your evidence from the standpoint of fulfilled prophecy. For one, I am glad that you gathered such an array of evidence to substantiate your claims and to show the people, as a basis for a worth-while hope, how they may live forever. It will not be necessary for anyone to consider your statements as a guess.” [Millions Now Living Will Never Die, p.
3 italics in original; emphasis mine].

With such a glowing testimony to its contents and the imprimatur of the sayings of Jesus, the apostles and the prophets of old, how could the prospective reader be otherwise than convinced that he or she was about to encounter ‘thrilling, precious Bible truths’?

One of Rutherford’s ‘claims’ that Driscoll may have been referring to was that ‘the great jubilee cycle’ was due to begin in 1925. This meant that at that time ‘the earthly phase of the kingdom shall be recognised’ and that the long list of faithful men contained in Paul’s eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews [sic] who died before the crucifixion [sic] of the Lord would be ‘resurrected as perfect men and constitute the princes or rulers in the earth, according to his promise (Psalm 45:16; Isaiah 32:1; Matthew 8:11)’ [Millions Now Living, p. 89]. What did this actually mean? Rutherford goes on to assert:

“Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews chapter eleven, to the condition of human perfection” [Millions Now Living, p. 89-90 emphasis mine].

As if to reinforce this view, Rutherford also states that these men ‘can never be a part of the heavenly class; they had no heavenly hopes; but God has in store something good for them [Millions Now Living, p. 89]. And this despite that fact that Hebrews 11:10 states that Abraham (and by implication Isaac and Jacob – v. 9) was looking forward to life in the city of God, and that all the people aforementioned in this chapter were longing for a better country – a heavenly one (v. 16).

Further on Rutherford asserts that:

“Based upon the argument heretofore set forth, then, that the old order of things, the old world, is ending and is therefore passing away, and that the new order is coming in, and that 1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies of old and the beginning of reconstruction, it is reasonable to conclude that millions of people now on the earth will still be on the earth in 1925. Then, based upon the promises set forth in the divine Word, we must reach the positive and indisputable conclusion that millions now living will never die” [Millions Now Living, p. 97 emphasis mine].

Even more exciting than this is that, based on the picture of the perfection of man, of his fall, of the redemption by the great Ransomer and then the subsequent restoration found in Job 33:18-25

“When the times of restoration begin there will doubtless be many men on the earth who will be very old and almost ready for the tomb. But those who learn of the great ransom-sacrifice and who accept the Ransomer shall return to the days of their youth; they shall be restored to perfection of body and mind and live on earth for ever” [Millions Now Living, pp. 98-9].

Furthermore, based on a correct understanding of Genesis 3:22-24, which is said to teach that perfect food is a necessary element in sustaining human life everlastingly:

“…the great Messiah will make provision for right food conditions. Thus, when restoration begins [i.e. in 1925] a man of seventy years of age will gradually be restored to a condition of physical health and mental balance…and by the gradual process of restoration he will be lifted up by his great Mediator and restored to the days of his youth and live on the earth for ever and never see death” [Millions Now Living, pp. 99-100].

Finally, in terms of the general resurrection (John 5:28, 29; Acts 17:31; 24:15; 1 Cor 15), everyone shall have one fair and impartial opportunity for the blessings of life, liberty and happiness:

“The brave young men who went to war and died upon the battlefield have not gone to heaven, nor to eternal torture…They are dead, waiting for the resurrection; and in due time they shall be brought back to the condition of life and restored to their loved ones and be given a full opportunity to accept the terms of the new order of things and live for ever” [Millions Now Living, pp. 100-101].

This is quite a hefty, far-reaching ‘claim’ especially as Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear that once we die we then face judgement.

What, then, have we learned so far, purely from publications of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society? To summarise:

•   the early 1920s were an exciting time to be a follower of the Watchtower Society

•   they had a new, dynamic president who urged the members to ‘Advertise the King and the Kingdom’

•   the spiritual light of understanding was getting brighter and they began to perceive thrilling and precious Bible truths

•   one of these truths, as ‘confidently expected’ by J F Rutherford, with the help of the Old and New Testament and abundant secular evidence, was that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful ones of old were to be resurrected to perfect human life in 1925, not in Heaven but on the Earth

•   another truth was that the dead do not go to heaven or hell but wait somewhere to be given a second chance of life on the Earth.

These ‘claims’, presented, as they are, with the verifying imprimatur of Scripture must determine whether J F Rutherford was competent to understand and interpret the Bible and to then pass that information on to others.

Did 1925 witness the earthly phase of the kingdom?

Did 1925 witness the return to life on Earth of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or, indeed, of any of the Old Testament people of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11?

Did 1925 witness times of restoration upon the Earth indicating that the Messiah’s kingdom was in evidence?

Has we seen evidence that people have been living longer, to any considerable degree, as a result of the claim that they would begin to do so after 1925?

Have we seen evidence that people are getting younger in terms of physical attributes and mental competence?

Was there any evidence that the young men who went to war between 1914 and 1918 came back to their loved ones soon after 1925?

Beth Sarim

Clearly, the answer to these questions must be ‘NO!’. There is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate any of the aforementioned ‘claims’ contained in Rutherford’s 1920 publication Millions Now Living Will Never Die. And yet in Rutherford’s 1939 publication Salvation we can read

“The abundance of Scriptural evidence, together with the physical facts that have come to pass showing the fulfilment of prophecy, conclusively proves that the time for the battle of the great day of God Almighty is very near and that in that battle all of God’s enemies shall be destroyed and the earth cleared of wickedness, preparatory to the complete establishment of righteousness. The affairs of the earth then will be under the complete control of Christ Jesus; and the faithful men of old above mentioned, resurrected as perfect creatures, will act as the representatives on earth of the theocratic government. The evidence also abundantly shows that those faithful men will be back on the earth at the beginning of Armageddon. From the Scriptures it appears to be absolutely certain that some of the remnant will be on the earth when those faithful men appear, and certainly those who compose the great multitude will also be on the earth, and all of these men will meet and greet earth’s princes” [Salvation, p. 310].

Here we have a repetition of some of the assertions made in Millions Now Living Will Never Die above. There is (i) Scriptural evidence and (ii) physical evidence both corroborating the fulfilment of (iii) prophecy. There is an unequivocal assertion [‘conclusively proves’] that major events are imminent and the faithful ones of old will be resurrected to human perfection. Additionally, from the Scriptures, it appears to be absolutely certain that some of the remnant of the Anointed will be around as well as those of the Great Crowd (herein called the great multitude) to greet the earth’s princes, the faithful ones of Hebrews 11.

What is amazing about this is that, having been wrong in 1920 about 1925 Rutherford, rather than admitting he was wrong, is still clinging to his theories nineteen years later, but subtly changing them. Such was the power of the president of the Watchtower Society at that time.

On the following page of the book Salvation, is a section entitled BETH-SARIM.

Beth-Sarim is Hebrew for ‘House of the Princes’. Its context here is that it was the name of a house in San Diego, California, built by the Watchtower Society in 1929

“… that there might be some tangible proof that there are those on earth today who fully believe God and Christ Jesus and in His kingdom, and who believe that the faithful men of old will soon be resurrected by the Lord, be back on earth, and take charge of the visible affairs of earth. The title to Beth-Sarim is vested in the WATCH TOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOCIETY in trust, to be used by the president of the Society and his assistants for the present, and thereafter to be for ever at the disposal of the aforementioned princes of the earth…The house has served as a testimony to many persons throughout the earth, and while the unbelievers have mocked concerning it and spoken contemptuously of it, yet it stands there as a testimony to Jehovah’s name; and if and when the princes do return and some of them occupy the property, such will be a confirmation of the faith and hope that induced the building of Beth-Sarim” [Salvation, p. 311].

Notice the wording ‘fully believe God and Christ Jesus’ and ‘it stands there as a testimony to Jehovah’s name’. Can there be any more proof needed that this man believed he was speaking as God’s representative on Earth?

It is hard to believe that anyone could take any of this seriously, but such was the confidence of Rutherford in his predictions that the first USA and UK editions of Salvation ran to 2,500,000 copies. It is hard to believe, having got it wrong in 1920, despite the ‘witness of Scripture and secular events’, that Rutherford clung to his outrageous ideas and perpetrated them on an unsuspecting, trusting public nineteen years later. The notion had, in fact, been promulgated as early as 1917. The Watch Tower edition of October 15 for that year states:

“It seems a reasonable deduction from the foregoing that the date of the giving of the covenant respecting the land was coincident with the union of Abraham and Hagar. Here the 3,960 years begin to count. This union took place ten years after he entered the land. As he began his sojourn in the land in the year 2,045 B C, it follows that the 3,960 years begin to count from 2,035 B C. 2,035 plus 1,925 equals 3,960. Accordingly Abraham should enter upon the actual possession of his promised inheritance in the year 1925 A D” [Watch Tower Reprints, p. 6157].

Note: In this writer’s copy of this volume appears the hand written comment ‘NOT YET
FULFILLED. OCT / ’33.

It is exceptionally clear that, from 1917 through 1920 and on into 1939, the idea that Abraham and others would return to life on earth and rule the visible part of the Kingdom was considered to be an absolute certainty. It is also equally clear that the ‘claims’ considered above from the Millions Now Living and Salvation books of Joseph Rutherford have, at the time of writing (February 2006), still not materialised. Not one of the questions asked above can be answered in the affirmative. It might be interesting to discover what, if anything, the Watchtower Society has had to say about those ‘claims’ during the intervening years.

The Yearbook of 1975

Under a section entitled ‘Taught By Jehovah’ the 1975 Yearbook has this to say about 1925

“Jehovah certainly blessed his people back in the 1920s and provided the things they needed to advance the interests of the Kingdom. He also proved to be a God of progressive revelation. The Bible Students, in turn, found it necessary to adjust their thinking to some extent. But they were grateful for God’s Guidance and were eager to be “taught” by Jehovah.

“God’s people had to adjust their thinking about 1925, for instance. Expectations of restoration and blessing were attached to it because they felt that that year would mark the end of seventy jubilees of fifty years each since the Israelites had entered Canaan. (Lev 25:1-12) A D Schroeder states: ‘It was thought that then the remnant of Christ’s anointed followers would go to heaven to be part of the Kingdom and that the faithful men of old, such as Abraham, David and others, would be resurrected as princes to take over the government of the earth as part of God’s Kingdom’.

“The year 1925 came and went. Jesus’ anointed followers were still on earth as a class. The faithful men of old times – Abraham, David and others – had not been resurrected to be princes in the earth. (Ps 45:16) So, as Anna MacDonald recalls: ‘1925 was a sad year for many brothers. Some of them were stumbled; their hopes were dashed. They had hoped to see some of the ‘ancient worthies’ (men of old like Abraham) resurrected. Instead of it being considered a ‘probability’, they read into it that it was a ‘certainty’, and some prepared for their own loved ones with expectancy of their resurrection.”

Notice the claim that Jehovah blessed his people at that time. Also notice that the Bible Students had to adjust their thinking to some extent, especially in relation to their expectations about 1925. Who had told them that 1925 would witness the return of Abraham? Who caused them to be stumbled and their hopes to be dashed? Who told them that the resurrection of Abraham would be a ‘certainty’ rather than a ‘probability’ by using statements like the following from Millions Now Living Will Never Die?:

The Scriptures clearly show… [p. 87]

and since other Scriptures definitely fix the fact that there will be a resurrection of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other faithful ones of old…we may expect 1925 to witness the return of these faithful men of Israel [p. 88]

the great jubilee cycle is due to begin in 1925 [p. 89]

we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return… [p. 89]

MILLIONS WILL NEVER DIE [p. 92]

POSITIVE PROMISE [p. 96]

and that 1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies of old… [p. 97]

based upon the promises set forth in the divine Word, we must reach the positive and indisputable conclusion that millions now living will never die [p. 97]

Who told them that:

“Many a good mother has spent sleepless nights and wept tears of bitterness because of her loved one that died upon the battlefield… [and that]…The brave young men who went to war and died upon the battlefield…are dead, waiting for the resurrection; and in due time they shall be brought back to the condition of life and restored to their loved ones” [Millions Now Living, p. 101]?

The answer to all these questions is Joseph Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.

Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom

What does the book Jehovah’s Witnesses Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (1993) have to say? This book is the Society’s own authoritative history.

In September 1919 at a general convention at Cedar Point, Ohio J F Rutherford gave a discourse:

“… that highlighted the announcing of the glorious incoming of God’s Messianic Kingdom as the truly important work for Jehovah’s servants” [p. 425]

 

By 1922 they were proclaiming:

“… an exciting message – “Millions now living will never die”…that same subject was featured again and again around the world…the subject was intriguing…In Klagenfurt, Austria, Richard Heide told his father: “I am going to hear that talk whatever anyone might say. I want to know whether this is just bluff or if there is any truth in it”. He was deeply moved by what he heard, and soon he and his sister, as well as their parents, were telling others about it” [p. 426].

Perhaps now would have been an appropriate moment for the Society to admit that the whole thing was ‘just bluff’.

The Proclaimers book ends with the following statement about the Millions Now Living discourse:

“This year also was associated with expectations for resurrection of faithful pre-Christian servants of God…If that really occurred, it would mean that mankind had entered an era in which…millions then living could have the hope of never dying off the earth. What a happy prospect! Though mistaken, they eagerly shared it with others” [p. 632].

The book’s anonymous compilers appear to be proud of the fact that Rutherford and fellow members of the Watchtower Society were sharing a false message.

Even worse, as Don Cameron points out in his critique of the Watchtower Society Captives of a Concept, is that the Society had the temerity to say that, “Jehovah caused to be preached, from 1918 onward, the startling public message ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ [The Watchtower November 15 1955 p. 698].

On page 76 of the Proclaimers book is a box entitled “House of the Princes”. It tells the story of Beth-Sarim, claiming that it was built from donations given so that Rutherford, who had lung problems, could work in a warm climate. However, as we read in Rutherford’s book Salvation, the house was built to effectively house the resurrected faithful ones of old [Salvation p. 311]. A footnote explains that the view that the faithful men of old times would be resurrected in fulfilment of Psalm 45:16 was ‘adjusted’ in 1950 [Proclaimers p. 76]. A little late, perhaps? A few years after Rutherford’s death in 1942 Beth-Sarim was sold, having ‘fully served its purpose’ [Proclaimers p. 76]. It might have served its purpose in housing Joseph Rutherford but it never housed the resurrected ‘princes of the earth’.

‘I Made an Ass of Myself’

The Watchtower of October 1, 1984 has an autobiographical article by Karl F Klein, who entered Bethel (Brooklyn) service on March 23, 1925. In this he states that Rutherford later admitted ‘I made an ass of myself’ over the predictions made concerning 1925. However, as Raymond Franz candidly points out:

“The organization, however, treats these mistakes as mere evidence of human imperfection and also as evidence of great desire and enthusiasm to see Gods’ promises fulfilled. I believe that the “record” shows there is more to it than that. It is one thing for a man to make an “ass” of himself because of wanting to see something happen. It is quite another thing for him to urge others to share his views, to criticize them if they do not, even to question their faith or impugn their motives if they do not see the matter as he sees it” [Crisis of Conscience, pp. 137-8].

The fact that the organisation treats these ‘mistakes’ as evidence of great desire to see God’s promises fulfilled is an empty desire if the issue in question is not a promise of God at all, but simply a myth in the mind of a man. It is, perhaps, laudable to admit to something like this in the privacy of Brooklyn headquarters, but what about the remaining parts of the world where the message was preached? 1984 was, perhaps, a little late to make it available to readers of The Watchtower.

Other Volumes by Joseph Rutherford

Before turning our attention to another of Rutherford’s most (in)famous books readers may want to understand a little more of this most controversial man.

Joseph Rutherford became the second president of the Watchtower Society in 1917 and his tenure ended with his death in January 1942. Thus his period of office spans what are usually referred to as the inter-war years. During that time he remained a prolific writer of books and brochures. Royston Pike calls him ‘the Society’s arch-propagandist with both voice and pen [and] who was accepted everywhere as the voice Jehovah’ [Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 21].

Amongst Rutherford’s many books we may single out Creation (1927), giving his view of how the world was made. Preservation (1933), ‘explained’ Ruth and Esther; Prophecy (1929), ‘explained’ prophecy, although, as we have seen above, it is doubtful whether Rutherford was competent to ‘explain’ anything in this field. On pages 65-6 of this book he states that “The Scriptural proof is that the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 A D”, this is fifteen years after 1914. Government (1928), contained the ‘indisputable evidence showing that the peoples of earth shall have a religious government and explains the manner of its establishment’ [Watch Out for the Watchtower!, p. 16]. Gordon E Duggar believes that the book Preparation (1933) requires considerable comment because it gives the reader an idea of the fantastic imagination of Rutherford.

It is incredible that people would place credence in such material. For example, in this book, Rutherford divides people into various classes claiming, of course, scriptural support. Note the following list: Judah class, p. 49; faithful and discreet slave class, p. 33; evil servant class, p. 141; man of sin, son of perdition, p. 199; clergy class, p. 199; elected elder class, p. 199; Zechariah class, p. 207; faithful servant class, p. 214; idol-worshipping class, p. 214; worthless servant class, p. 214; they that do the looking class, p. 231; they that do the piercing class, p. 231; sanctuary class, p. 237; temple class, p. 237; detestable class, p. 251; Sampson [sic] class, p. 253; howling class, p. 265; slothful servant class, p. 267; …and God’s approved class, p. 269. [Watch Out for the Watchtower!, p. 16].

He concludes by asking ‘…how can you deal with this? Could anyone allow his mind to accept these teachings? [Watch Out for the Watchtower!, p. 16].

Rutherford also seemed to be confused as to who constituted the faithful and discreet class of page 33. He had already attributed this position to (a) Pastor Russell:

“Without a doubt Pastor Russell filled the office for which the Lord provided and about which he spoke, and was therefore that wise and faithful servant, ministering to the household of faith meat in due season” [The Harp of God, (1921) p. 239], but then seemed to revise his opinion

“Those whom the Lord finds to be faithfully devoted to him, and who are making the kingdom interests paramount to everything else, he approves: and all such collectively he designates that ‘faithful and wise servant&h
ellip;'” [Government, (1928) p. 192].

Concerning the bodily resurrection of Abraham and others Rutherford was still convinced it would happen

“God promised the land of Palestine to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They did not receive a foot of that land by gift. They were compelled to buy all that they had. Those men are dead. They must be resurrected in order that the promise of God may hold good. The promise is that they shall be brought back from the dead and made the visible rulers or princes in the earth [Life, (1929) p. 340-1]. “

Concerning Armageddon / the time of the end, it was

shortly [Life, (1929) p. 346]

shall shortly come to pass [Prophecy, (1929) p. 298]

very near [Salvation (1939) p. 310]

just ahead [Salvation, p. 361]

very near [Children (1941) p. 151]

surely near [Children, p. 366]

and all this in spite of having said

“Why quibble now about dates, days or hours?” [The Harp of God (1921) p. 250].

Why quibble now about dates, days or hours was, perhaps, based on what we have seen so far, the most sensible piece of advice Rutherford could have given to the Bible Students. It completely accords with Paul’s words at 1 Thess 5:1 ‘Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you’, and it is a great pity that Rutherford allowed himself to get carried away with prophetic speculation.

Children Their Training and Their Hope

It was in 1941 that Rutherford made what Duggar calls his ‘greatest publication blunder’, with a book called Children [Watch Out for the Watchtower!, p. 21].

It was, and still is, the Society’s policy to release new publications at conventions. It was at the Theocratic Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St Louis, Missouri on August 10 that:

“15,000 children – between 5 and 18 years of age – were assembled…As Brother Rutherford, then in his early 70s stepped onto the platform, the children cheered and applauded. He waved his handkerchief, and the children waved back… “All of you…children,” he said, fixing his attention on the beaming faces before him, “who have agreed to do the will of God and have taken your stand on the side of his Theocratic Government by Christ Jesus and who agreed to obey God and his king, please stand up.” The children rose as one body. “Behold,” exclaimed the enthusiastic speaker, “more that 15,000 new witnesses to the kingdom!” There was a burst of applause…To climax it all Brother Rutherford announced the release of the new book Children, which was received with shouts of joy and tremendous applause. Afterward, the speaker…shared in distributing free copies of the book as a long line of children walked up on the platform and filed past him. Many wept at the sight.” [Proclaimers, p. 86].

Rutherford was clearly a gifted speaker, with the ability to carry audiences with him. Was he as gifted an author regarding his new book? Duggar states:

“In this book, copyrighted in 1941, Rutherford presented a story of John Alden and Eunice Rogers. In tender terminology the story tells that John goes away to college and Eunice to seminary for women. After completing their schooling they are together again four years later…They intend to marry and are discussing very seriously the circumstances of their future. John has come upon what was called “a number of books all published by this same publishing society which claimed to be of great aid in the study of the Bible.” So they agreed to study one hour a day while they while they contemplated their future” [Watch Out for the Watchtower!, p. 22].

The following chapters lay out Watchtower theology, which John and Eunice supposedly benefit from because, having been told that Armageddon is surely near, they decide to postpone their marriage until it is over, and then raise a family. John says that:

“…during that time the Lord will clean off the earth everything that offends and is disagreeable. Then, by His grace, we shall begin our life with a greater vision and prolonged joy. Now we see by faith the great THEOCRACY, and we are wholly and unreservedly committed to that righteous government. From now on we shall have our heart devotion fixed on THE THEOCRACY…Our hope is that within a few years our marriage may be consummated and, by the Lord’s grace, we shall have sweet children…We can well defer our marriage until lasting peace comes to the earth. Eunice, my decision is made. I shall shun politics, religion and commerce, and I shall avoid the cities and the enticements thereof. We are both committed for ever to THE THEOCRACY. Our present duty is plain. We must now be witnesses to the name of Jehovah and to his kingdom” [Children, pp. 366-7].

All this rather intense teaching is very similar to that found in Millions Now Living Will Never Die in that it is either to be totally accepted as being from God or totally rejected as being from the imagination of man. If Armageddon is coming in a very short time then the consequences for those who are not part of the Theocracy [i.e. the Watchtower Society and all that it teaches about the future] will be dire indeed. But what if one is inclined to believe all that Rutherford has said in his preceding 365 pages? Obviously many did.

“LaVonne Krebs, Merton Campbell, and Eugene and Camilla Rosam were among the young ones who received a Children book on that occasion. Still serving at the Society’s headquarters in 1992, they have devoted 51, 49, 49, and 48 years respectively to the full-time ministry” [Proclaimers, p. 88].

 

These statistics are praiseworthy in themselves. However, had there been any promised young couple in the audience that day who, having received a copy of Children, decided that they, like John and Eunice, must defer their marriage until after Armageddon, ‘John’ would be 85 years old and ‘Eunice’ 83 years old at this present time (February 2006). A little late to be considering marriage and childbearing! With the world in its present condition, lasting peace is even further away. In all probability ‘John’ and ‘Eunice’ will be dead long before any hope of lasting peace is achieved. It will only be achieved with the return of Jesus Christ and the end of all things really does come.

What are we to make of all this? Like Millions Now Living Will Never Die, the book Children, with the passage of time, has proved to be false teaching. Abraham and others have not been resurrected to life on Earth. Armageddon, which was proclaimed to be ‘very near’ has not come. The young men who went to war between 1914 and 1918 have not been returned to their loved ones. Any couples who decided to postpone their marriage have probably either gone back on that commitment and married anyway, at the risk of offending Jehovah; separated and found other partners; or stayed unhappily single. Joseph Franklin Rutherford has again found to be unable to speak for Jehovah God and, in the process, given pain and suffering to possibly many thousands of trusting, searching people.

Duggar asks:

“How many young people were wrongfully influenced at that time?
What effect did this have on their lives?
What effect did this have on their admonition from the Bible to fill the earth?
And what happened to the book? Can you find a copy of it today? If you wrote a letter to the Watchtower Society, would they send you a copy of this book?
Would they dare tell you the error in this book? Is this organization they call God’s organization dealing honestly with error?” [Watch Out for the Watchtower! p. 23].

Obviously they are not dealing honestly with error when the Proclaimers book gives such a glowing, heart-warming account of the distribution of the book at the 1941 convention.

“… the children cheered and applauded
the children waved back
the children rose as one body
[the book Children] was received with shouts of joy and tremendous applause
many wept at the sight [of the children queuing to receive the book]” [p. 86].

What really happened is that many people had their hopes of marriage, of becoming parents, of living through Armageddon into God’s new Theocracy and of then becoming husbands, wives and parents, dashed to the ground. How many gave up on the Bible and the God of the Bible because of Rutherford and his fantasies? How many are still locked into the Watchtower Society and still believing the claim that it and it alone speaks for Jehovah God because of Joseph Franklin Rutherford?

And how responsible was it of him to influence young minds with such a message? Children are trusting, willing to believe all that they are told by one whom their parents uphold.

Before leaving our discussion of the book Children it may be appropriate to quote from page 14 of Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz, one time member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and an eye witness to the above events at the St Louis convention.

“After [Rutherford’s] prepared speech, he talked to [the children] extemporaneously. A tall man of usually stern appearance and stern tone, Rutherford now spoke with almost fatherly persuasion and recommended to these children that they put marriage out of their minds until the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other faithful men and women of old who would soon be resurrected and would guide them in their selection of mates…I was then nineteen, and today I can still remember the inner emotional stirrings, a strange mixture of agitation and depression, those expressions generated in me. At my age, to be confronted with statements of that kind that, in essence, called upon me to make a decision and set aside interest in marriage for an indefinite time, had an unsettling effect…Of course, the force of the Watch Tower president’s urgings lay in the shortness of time till Armageddon. As the September 15, 1941, Watchtower magazine in describing the occasion later said:

‘Receiving the gift [the book Children], the marching children clasped it to them, not a toy or plaything for idle pleasure, but the Lord’s provided instrument for most effective work in the remaining months before Armageddon.'” [Crisis of Conscience, p. 288 emphasis mine].

Although it cannot be absolutely stated that Rutherford wrote these words for inclusion in The Watchtower of September 15, 1941, he would almost certainly have vetted them for publication. Whatever the situation, it has been 785 months since that article was published.

‘Light Sprang Up’

We began this article by stating that, according to Watchtower Society doctrine, there are two places that dead believers go after death

(i) the Anointed 144,000 of Revelation 7:4 go to Heaven to rule with Jesus Christ

(ii) the Great Crowd of other sheep (Rev 7: 9) remain on the Earth

Separation of some sort between different types of believers had featured in Watchtower thinking for many years. Above, we noted in Millions Now Living Will Never Die, that Abraham and the other faithful ones of old were said to have never had a heavenly hope [Millions Now Living, p. 89].

The Proclaimers book tells us that all believers down to the mid-1930s had the heavenly hope [p. 159]. The mid-1930s, of course, was the time during which Joseph Rutherford was president of the Watchtower Society. There was, however, ‘a belief that the Bible Students cherished from the Scriptures that set them apart from all of Christendom. What was that?’ [Proclaimers, p. 161]. It was that, while a limited number [144,000] would have the privilege of ruling with Jesus in Heaven, many more would be ‘favored with eternal life on earth, under conditions like those that had existed in the Paradise of Eden’. According to this book the Bible Students believed that these ‘many more’ would be those who would live on the earth after the ushering in of the Millennial age in 1925 [Proclaimers, pp. 162-3]. Who would these persons be?

Joseph Rutherford had much to say about this in The Watchtower October 15, 1923, the book Vindication (1931) and The Watchtower August 1, 1932. Finally, during the convention held at Washington D C, between May 30 and June 3, 1935 ‘special attention was given to Revelation 7:9, 10’ [Proclaimers, p. 166]. Rutherford, during his discourse, asked:

“‘Will all those who have the hope of living forever on the earth please stand’…over half the audience stood. In agreement with this, The Watchtower of August 15, 1935 stated: Now we see a company that exactly fits the description given in Revelation seven concerning the great multitude. During the past few years, and within the time when ‘this gospel of the kingdom is preached as a witness’, there have come forward great numbers (and they are still coming) who confess the Lord Jesus as their Savior and Jehovah as their God, whom they worship in spirit and in truth and whom they joyfully serve. These are otherwise called ‘the Jonadabs’. These are being baptized in symbol, thus testifying that they…have taken their stand on the side of Jehovah and serve him and his king” [Proclaimers, pp. 169-170].

Thus, the great crowd:

“… are included among the “other sheep” to which Jesus referred (John 10:16) ; they are the ones that come to the aid of Christ’s “brothers” [the Anointed] (Matt 25:33-40); they are the people marked for survival because they are appalled at the disgusting things done in Christendom [the Churches] and shun these (Ezek 9:4); they are like Jehonadab, who openly identified himself with Jehovah’s anointed servant in carrying out that one’s God-given commission (2 Ki 10:15, 16). Jehovah’s Witnesses understand that these are loyal servants of God who will survive Armageddon with the prospect of living forever on an earth restored to the condition of Paradise” [Proclaimers, p. 170].

Since 1935, therefore, the doctrine has become indelibly etched in the minds of Jehovah’s Witnesses. All those who come into the Watchtower Society now are of the Great Crowd who will have the prospect, not the guaranteed assurance, of life on Earth. The Watchtower February 1, 1982 states:

“Under [the faithful and discreet slave’s] direction the heavenly hope was held out, highlighted and stressed until about the year 1935. Then as “light flashed up” to clearly reveal the identity of the “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9, the emphasis began to be placed on the earthly hope (Psalm 97:11). It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that by that time the full number of 144,000 would have been nearly completed” [p. 28].

This is why, at the beginning of this article, I stated that, should any householder show an interest in spiritual matters when a Jehovah’s Witness calls they will be told that they cannot, under any circumstances, go to Heaven.

I also stated that this article would investigate this doctrine in the context of its historical presentation, and then, in the light of other absolute statements given by its presenter, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, ask whether the Watchtower Society should rethink their position on the destiny of ‘believers’ in the afterlife.

Summary

We have seen that, in 1917, Joseph Rutherford became the second president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

In 1920 he published a book entitled Millions Now Living Will Never Die, in which he claimed that, with the authenticating evidence of Scripture and secular events, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other Old Testament men of faith would, in 1925, return to bodily perfection and live on the Earth as princes in fulfilment of Psalm 45:16. This did not happen.

In this same book he claimed that, once that happened, young men who had died in the Great War (1914-1918) would soon be returned to their loved ones. This did not happen.

In 1929 the Watchtower Society bought land in California and built a house which they named Beth-Sarim for the faithful ones to live in when they returned. They did not return, and Rutherford lived there until it was sold after his death.

In 1929 Rutherford wrote a book entitled Life in which he said that they were still to return. They did not.

In 1939 Rutherford wrote a book entitled Salvation in which he still insisted that Abraham and the others would be resurrected to life on earth. This still has not happened.

During this period Joseph Rutherford was also confidently declaring that Armageddon and the time of the end could be expected ‘shortly’ [1929] and that the end was ‘very near’, ‘just ahead’ [1939]. It still has not happened.

So convinced was Rutherford that the end was imminent that, in 1941, he adjured the young boys and girls in the Watchtower Society to put marriage out of their minds until after Armageddon. Almost sixty-five years have passed since the day he announced this. It still has not happened.

So confident was he that the end would come that it was to be expected to be within months rather than years. It still has not happened.

In the face of all this evidence surely the January 2006 edition of Awake! magazine has a most appropriate word for us

Of course, those who made such predictions likely now wish they had remained silent…”There’s nothing like the passage of time to make the world’s smartest people look like complete idiots” [p. 6].

Of course it is not simply a case of who has egg on his face. It is a question of someone holding absolute sway over the lives of many thousands (and now millions) of trusting people. It is a case of persuading people to accept a personal theory not a proven, established, scriptural fact. More than this, it leads to such pernicious teachings as that which says that only the Anointed, heavenly class need to be born again by the Holy Spirit [The Watchtower November 15, 1992 pp. 3ff]. Those which are said to have the earthly hope do not need to be born again.

And just in case there are any reading this who would try to absolve Joseph Rutherford from complete responsibility for the erroneous statements made throughout his presidency it must be asserted that, at that time, the president had absolute and complete autonomy over all aspects of the Watchtower Society. A H Macmillan, a man who served in Brooklyn for several decades, says this of Rutherford:

He would never tolerate anything that would be contrary to what he clearly understood the Bible to teach. He was so strict about that, he would permit nothing that would seem to show a compromise when it came to an issue of the truth [Faith on the March, p. 72].

This from a man who was intimately associated with the Society even from the days of Pastor Russell.

Raymond Franz, also of long standing service at Bethel says:

“… the historical record shows that anyone, including any member of the Board of Directors or of those on the Editorial Committee, who expressed disagreement with him [Rutherford] was quickly eliminated from whatever organizational position that person occupied…the “Judge’s” word was law. [Rutherford was often referred to as ‘Judge Rutherford’]… I believe that anyone who simply reads the material found in the Watch Tower magazine from the 1920s on through to 1942 can clearly see the spirit, not of humility, but of dogmatism and authoritarianism the articles breathed. Deprecating, even harsh language is employed against any who dared to question any position, policy or teaching that came forth from the organization of which he was the head” [Crisis of Conscience, p. 360].

As was said above, Rutherford was president from 1917 until the end of 1941.

Conclusion

The separation of the Anointed and the Great Crowd is unquestionable in the minds of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Out of the six million alive today only about eight thousand believe that they will go to Heaven. The time has now come to ask the question:

In view of what has been herein presented, can this teaching stand up to scrutiny?

Joseph Rutherford stated in print several times, with definite dates given, that the Old Testament ‘worthies’ would be resurrected to life on Earth. They have not done so.

Joseph Rutherford stated in print several times, with relative time scales given, (i.e. months rather than years), that Armageddon was coming. It has not.

Joseph Rutherford has asserted, claimed, or has let it be understood, that he has done these things under the guidance of Jehovah God, the words of Jesus Christ, the words of the apostles, the prophets of old and corroborating secular evidence. Full scriptural backing has been claimed. He wrote many other books, which, due to space and reader interest, it has not been possible to review, in which these and similar teachings were propounded.

Joseph Rutherford led people to believe that he spoke for Jehovah God. That assertion must be questioned.

Joseph Rutherford’s ability to accurately and faithfully interpret Scripture must be questioned.

Joseph Rutherford’s teachings, which he resolutely claimed were obtained from Scripture, must be questioned.

The passage of time has proved the death knell for his predictions about the resurrection of Abraham and the arrival, within months, of Armageddon. It may be that the teaching that the Great Crowd has an earthly destiny will not be so easily disprovable. This is something that only death and the Judgement seat of Christ will reveal. By then, of course, it will be too late!

Dear Jehovah’s Witness – having read the foregoing evidence from the publications of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society – are you willing to continue believing a doctrine that was defined and widely spread by such a man as Joseph Franklin Rutherford?

Bibliography

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Publications

Children Their Training and Their Hope (by J F Rutherford), (Brooklyn: WBTS/IBSA, 1941)

Creation (by J F Rutherford), (Brooklyn: IBSA/WBTS, 1927)

Enjoy Life on Earth Forever!, (Brooklyn: WBTS, 1982)

Government (by J F Rutherford), (Brooklyn: IBSA/WBTS, 1928)

Insight on the Scriptures Volume I, (Brooklyn: WBTS, 1988)

Jehovah’s Witnesses Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, (Brooklyn: WBTS, 1993)

Life (by J F Rutherford), (Brooklyn: IBSA/WBTS, 1929)

Prophecy (by J F Rutherford), (Brooklyn: IBSA/WBTS, 1929)

Millions Now Living Will Never Die (by J F Rutherford), (Brooklyn: IBSA, 1920)

Preparation (by J F Rutherford), (Brooklyn: WBTS/IBSA, 1933)

Preservation (by J F Rutherford), (Brooklyn: WBTS/IBSA, 1921)

Salvation (by J F Rutherford), (Brooklyn: WBTS/IBSA, 1939)

Survival into a New Earth, (Brooklyn: WBTS, 1984)

The Harp of God (by J F Rutherford), (London: WBTS/IBSA, 1921)

The Road to Everlasting Life Have You Found It?, (Brooklyn: WBTS, 2002)

Vindication (by J F Rutherford), (Brooklyn: WBTS/IBSA, 1931)

Watchtower Reprints 1916 – 1919 (Brooklyn: WBTS, 1919)

Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, (Brooklyn: WBTS, 1976)

Awake! January 2006, (Brooklyn: WBTS, 2006)

Volume Written by a Jehovah’s Witness

A H Macmillan, Faith on the March (Englewood Cliffs, NY: Prentice-Hall Inc, 1957)

Other publications used in the preparation of this article

Don Cameron, Captives of a Concept, (Morrisville NC: Lulu, 2004)

Gordon E Duggar, Jehovah’s Witnesses Watch Out for the Watchtower! (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1991)

Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience (2nd ed) (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1992)

In Search of Christian Freedom (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1991)

Royston Pike, Jehovah’s Witnesses (London: Watts & Co, 1954)

Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1993)

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