Jehovah’s Witnesses and Armageddon

By Wayne Jackson

A quarter of a century ago I filed a copy of the Watchtower magazine (published and distributed by the “Jehovah’s Witnesses”). The cover of that particular issue dramatically asked: “Are we nearing Armageddon?” (Watchtower, October 15, 1980). A subsequent feature article by the same name followed (pp. 11ff); it affirmed that Armageddon indeed was near.

The misnamed “Jehovah’s Witnesses” have a long, undistinguished history of setting dates. The only consistent thing about that record has been its absolute failure. There is little surprise that the movement frequently has been dubbed a “non-prophet” enterprise.

While there may be some complimentary things that could be said of these obviously sincere people (their evangelistic energy level is admirable), prophetic accuracy is not among them. One would suppose (and even hope) that eventually they would learn from their dismal record of date-setting blunders. Alas, such appears not to be in the foreseeable future.

Prior to 1975, it was widely taught among the “Witnesses” that that year would usher in the “end.” When such did not occur, thousands abandoned the movement. But the powers-that-be in Brooklyn learned nothing from this mishap. Even today, this cult thrives on attempting to capitalize upon international events, suggesting that such are indicators of the impending “Armageddon.”

And it is precisely because of society’s great anxiety in tumultuous times that the “Witnesses” find such a fertile field for their hysterical, pseudo-prophetic speculations.

A Backward Glance

If you would, reflect back with me upon the “Witnesses’” article, from the Watchtower issue cited above.

Two portions of scripture were relied upon heavily as prophetic proof-texts that Armageddon was imminent. The first was the initial portion of Matthew 24, while the latter was an excerpt from Paul’s second epistle to Timothy. Let us consider each of these in turn.

Matthew 24

In Matthew 24:5ff, Christ set forth a number of “signs” that would herald the impending destruction of Jerusalem. He plainly declared: “this generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished” (v. 34). Of special interest are the expressions “this generation,” and “all.”

The word “generation” (genea) refers to “the sum total of those born at the same time, expanded to include all those living at a given time and freq[uently] defined in terms of specific characteristics, generation, contemporaries” (F.W. Danker, et al., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000, p. 191).

The expression “this generation” (he-genea-aute) is found five times in Matthew’s Gospel record, and never is it employed in any sense other than that of the “generation” contemporary with Jesus Christ (cf. 11:16; 12:41-42; 23:36).

The “Witnesses,” however, assign a most strange interpretation to the phrase. They contend: “It is the generation of people who saw the catastrophic events that broke forth in connection with World War I from 1914 onward” (Watchtower, op. cit., p. 31).

The fact of the matter is, however, the “Watchtower” folks concede that Christ’s application was to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. “[Christ] outlined things that would befall the Jewish nation during the execution of Jehovah’s judgment upon Jerusalem at the hands of the Roman general Titus (Dan. 9:26)” (Aid to Bible Understanding, Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Society, 1971, p. 642).

Incredibly, however, they manipulate the expression “this generation” across more than 2,000 years of history to embrace the modern era. Further, they totally ignore the Lord’s declaration that “all” the signs of Matthew 24:5-33 were to be fulfilled in the A.D. 70 event. The common-sense rules of responsible exegesis are thrust aside with reckless abandon.

2 Timothy 3:1ff

The second text to which our friends appeal in support of their “imminent Armageddon” theory is found in Paul’s second epistle to Timothy. The apostle writes:

“But know this, that in the last days grievous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power therefore. From these also turn away” (vv. 1-5).

To suggest that this text has a primary prophetic focus in modern times reflects a gross distortion of this passage.

In verse 5, the apostle’s concluding admonition is: “from these turn away.” The expression “turn away” renders the Greek term apotrepou, an imperative mood, present tense, middle voice form, together with the singular number/masculine gender. The imperative mood indicates a command, the singular/masculine form suggests the directive was initially to Timothy, the present tense reflects an action in which the young evangelist was to be currently engaged, and the middle voice carries the personal responsibility to “turn yourself away” from these things.

To read into this text societal conditions that apply exclusively to the “modern” era, as a “sign” of “the end,” is a colossal interpretative blunder. Even the Watchtower’s Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures acknowledges the force of the original text by this rendition of the term apotrepou, “and these be turning yourself away from.”

Conclusion

We must, therefore, insist that the Scriptures do not teach that “Armageddon” is a carnal conflict that is a precursor to the end of earth’s history. There are no “signs” of the second coming of Christ — in spite of the claims of the Watchtower cult and their religious kinsmen, the Dispensationalists.

For further information, consult the article on this web site: “A Study of Matthew Twenty-four”.

See also our book: {glossSub (“Courier Publications”,“Revelation — Jesus Christ’s Final Message of Hope; Select Studies from the Apocalypse”)}.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.