What do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe about Armageddon, and how does this compare with Charles Russell’s teaching?
A common feature, of much argument, directed against Jehovah’s Witnesses is the skeleton from Charles Taze Russell’s cupboard. Because most Witnesses are not well informed about the history of their movement, such a tactic when applied judiciously can be very effective. Having just read the April 15th 1995 issue of ‘The Watchtower,’ however, I think an opposite tactic might be useful occasionally. There are some beliefs, which Russell held that today’s Society is considerably worse for having discarded. Take the question, what happens to unbelievers at Armageddon? Russell believed one thing; today’s Society believes another.
The question is dealt with in a Watchtower article, The Day That Burn Like a Furnace. (15 April 1995.) My reaction to that article was anger and revulsion. I was so upset by it that I could not sleep properly that night. There was nothing new in it merely the expression of what has been part of Watchtower doctrine for many years. But it was a clear statement of one of their most horrible beliefs.
Happy are those whose name Jehovah chooses to write in his book of remembrance. But what of those who fail to qualify for that privilege? Whether they are rulers or simply common people, how will they fare if they treat the proclaimers of God’s Kingdom and their message with disdain. – The Watchtower, 15 April 1995, p. 20.
Russell’s response to this question was clear enough. The overwhelming majority of humanity would be judged according to their deeds after Armageddon, during the thousand-year day of judgement.
No others than the Lord’s favoured ‘little flock’ (i.e. those belonging to the 144,000 – Revelation 7:4 – who are to rule with Christ in heaven) have as yet sufficient light to incur the final penalty, the second death. (See – C.T. Russell, The Divine Plan of the Ages, p.145.)
In Russell’s teachings, institutions of Church and State were to be destroyed at Armageddon, not people. It was under the leadership of Russell’s successor, Joseph Rutherford, that a harsher view of Armageddon was adopted. All must now make their response before Armageddon and none who fail to join the Witnesses can expect to be spared.
God’s executioner slays all except those who bear the mark in the forehead…This part of the prophecy (Ezekiel 9:7) shows a great slaying work being done and those who are themselves on the side of the Devil and his organization shall be destroyed… It is the Jonadab class (i.e. those Jehovah’s Witnesses who do not belong to the ‘little flock.’) who are marked in the forehead that obey the Lord and are spared and protected by the Lord during Armageddon. – Riches, J. F.Rutherford, p. 98.
In effect, Rutherford proclaimed divine judgement on all humanity outside his own movement and consigned all to Death Row to await execution at Armageddon. Only those who become Jehovah’s Witnesses can be reprieved. This has remained Watchtower doctrine ever since Rutherford’s day even if most Jehovah’s Witnesses are embarrassed to admit it publicly.
The Watchtower 15 April 1995 changes nothing but I think it should be used as an opportunity to confront the Witnesses with the repugnant nature of their attitude to human society. They cannot claim that their preaching shows a compassionate attitude towards people heading for disaster. It shows a smug satisfaction with their own worthiness. Consider the following:
In that day of accounting, young children will be dealt with justly according to Jehovah’s assessment of their roots, their parents, who have oversight of these children. Wicked parents will have no posterity to perpetuate their wicked ways.
This would be bad enough if wickedness was understood in the same sense that most people understand it. But when you consider that it is a term embracing all apart from Jehovah’s Witnesses, this teaching can be seen for the revolting blasphemy that it is. Even Russell never plumbed such depths. To the Witnesses I say, would you not rather be preaching Russell’s doctrine on this question?
Better still, what about the scriptural doctrine:
I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. – John 14:6
That is, it is how one responds to Jesus, not an organisation, that counts. As for the children,
They were bringing children to him that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’ – Mark 10:13,14.
On a personal note, let me explain why I found this Watchtower article particularly distressing. I have a seven-year-old son and as I write this, I can hear him playing happily with his grandmother. What he does not realise is that he has two grandmothers. My mother is a Witness who will have nothing to do with me or my wife or my little boy. That she should be encouraged by anonymous men in Brooklyn to believe that her own grandson is to be destroyed at Armageddon so as not to be able to perpetuate my wickedness is just appalling.
In the light of the above article, I thought I would end with two quotes from the Watchtower Society.
The Witnesses’ beliefs, based entirely on God’s Word, the Bible, prevent them from falling into the trap of becoming a sect or a cult. They take kindly interest in all other people, of whatever religious persuasion. – Awake!, 8 October 1997, p.12.
Those words do not somehow ring true but unfortunately most Witnesses feel secure in them.
Do your words and deeds identify you as a faithful and zealous servant of God? If so, you can entertain the hope of surviving “the day of Jehovah”… Yes, survival may be your experience if you do good to Christ’s spiritual brothers because they are his followers… For survival you must… (accept) divine instruction and become a worshipper of Jehovah… Then you may be among Jehovah’s faithful servants… – The Watchtower, 15 September 1997, p.20.
There is no certainty but there is hope if you do exactly what the elders of the Society tell you. Allow this situation to sink into your heart and understand the compassion that the Lord wants us to have as we reach out with His true message of love and certainty.
Author: Robert Crompton