Author: Tony Piper
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?
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].