Great flock

From the Jehovah Witnesses who have knocked on my front door, I’ve gathered a small stack of their primary publication, a slim magazine called The Watchtower.

The most recent copy in my collection bears the title “Life in a Peaceful New World.” The cover illustration is an idyllic scene of meadows and snow-peaked mountains. It’s half pastoral England and half Swiss Alps. The foreground shows people of all races smiling, gathering fruit and vegetables. An Asian toddler feeds blueberries to a grizzly bear. The inside text reads, “The whole earth will eventually be brought to a gardenlike paradise state….no longer will people be crammed into huge apartment buildings.”

At the Kingdom Hall, I take a padded seat near a polyester plant while the young woman who has offered me companionship fetches me a small song book called “Sing to Jehovah.” I recognize the style of the illustration on the cover, the hordes of happy people of all colors and ages. Here they cradle hymnals and float in a golden light. The tinkling of piano keys begins and we stand to sing hymn number 19, “God’s Promise of Paradise.” We warble the first verse:

A paradise our God has promised,

By means of Christ’s Millenial Reign,

When he’ll blot out all sin and error,

Removing death and tears and pain.

The pace of the piano is painfully slow; each person draws out different words and in different ways. The result is a sound I’d liken to a gang of drugged alley cats. I scan the room for the culprit. “Where’s the piano?” I whisper to my companion. She points up. Suddenly it makes sense. It’s prerecorded and piped in through speakers in the ceiling.

The founder of the Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, accepted that after the Great Disappointment, the messiah took up residence in a heavenly sanctuary closer to earth and would soon make it the rest of the way down. With this next step, the dead will rise and everyone who ever lived will be sorted into one of two groups: believers or nonbelievers.

Nonbelievers will be obliterated; no hell: just poof and gone.

Believers will occupy earth forever with perfect bodies that never get old.

The Book of Revelation appears to state that only 144,000 slots exist for the faithful who will get the perfect bodies. This must have seemed a sufficiently huge figure 2,000 years ago, but now it’s not even a fifth of Albuquerque.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have solved the 144,000 dilemma. That relatively small number only refers to a special group—what they call the “small flock”—that will help Jesus run the new earthly paradise. Small flock members will hold official administrative positions. It includes the original apostles and leaders in the Jehovah’s Witness organization, past and present.

However, you can still be an inhabitant of the new earth without being a member of the small flock. According to some old Watchtower articles, there will also be a “great flock” and the only requirement for inclusion is to be an obedient Witness. Members of the great flock won’t just feed blue berries to grizzlies all day—they’ll have tasks too. They will be on post-apocalypse clean-up duty. The article mentions that they will be assigned the job of gathering the bleached bones of the annihilated.

Personally, I think it sounds like the better deal because it means you get to live in paradise without taking on managerial duties.

30 thoughts on “Great flock

  1. Ahhh. This explains Chuck M.’s response on your Zombies posting about all of the diverse peoples and languages in his own church. I was puzzled as it seemed so unrelated to the whole idea of Zombiesm.
    You have made the connection for me.

    And I would like to remind Ginger, from the last post, that the idea of resurrection was around long before Jesus walked this earth. It has deep roots in early mythology and religious beliefs….which is also why it permeates our thinking.

  2. Oh, my, Corinna. You had me shaking my head and laughing hard because your attempt to explain Jehovah’s Witnesses was so painfully twisted and yet made so much sense when it comes from someone who stands in the distance and tries to figure out what in the world they really believe. First let me correct your use of the title. It is Jehovah’s Witnesses indicating that they claim ownership by Jehovah as opposed to Jehovah Witnesses who would simply be witnessing about Jehovah. There is a difference relationally. There is no return to earth by Jesus. The belief is that Jesus returned spiritually in 1914 and established his heavenly kingdom. Some of the 144,000 are already up there with him doing the governing by a kind of thought transference to a physical governing body of men on earth. When they die they are changed, as the apostle Paul says, “in the twinkling of an eye” into spiritual beings to rule with Jesus. In their teaching there is still a remnant of that 144,000 on earth today but the vast number of Jehovah’s Witnesses are those whom Jesus called, “other sheep which are not of this fold.” Too bad you missed this “communion” meal; an annual meeting at which only one or two or few drink the wine and eat the unleavened bread thus proclaiming themselves to be part of the 144,000 while the thousands of others attending don’t touch the emblems except to pass them along. They get to inherit the paradise earth after the coming battle of Armageddon for which a series of dates has been proposed but since it never showed up, now remains a teaching without a date with greater reliance on the scripture, “No man knows the day nor the hour.” That doesn’t stop them from living as if it were coming tomorrow.
    With five meetings a week, ten hours of required field service going door to door and staying away from forming deep friendships with non-witness family members or “worldly” people at work or school they live in a walled society without the literal walls standing around them, feeling that they are protected from the world. I hadn’t thought of the term Zombies but I have often likened them to Stepford Wives, in the movie by the same name. When you are on the outside looking in it is easy to feel sorry for the depth of their ignorance and their willingness to give their entire life, mind, and heart to this organization which does a superb job of a slow and progressive brain washing to reach the point where a susceptible person believes they are making a choice without ever realizing that the whole concept of choice is being taken away literally taking to heart one of their old songs: “Put him e’re before you. Keep self out of sight.” The light of personal choice in spiritual matters gets turned off and there you are standing in the darkness with thousands of others who have taught you that you have arrived in the “light” of the Truth. I cry for them but they think me silly.

    • Frank, Okay, I’m trying to understand how I can tweak this post to be more accurate, but I’m not quite sure I understand your critique. If I’m understanding your comment correctly, I can improve in two areas: the first is my use of “Great Flock” and the second is in my description of where Jesus is right now and the fact that he is never expected to come to earth in the flesh, but remain in his heavenly sanctuary (that he has, in effect, come as far as he will ever come)…am I getting it right? Can you–and any others with knowledge–please elaborate? Thanks!

      • You’re getting it right and I’ll leave it to others to elaborate. However, I think you should leave your writing as is. After all you are writing as a visitor and after gathering bits and pieces of information not as someone who has had a Bible study with the JW’s or as a researcher. They will say you should have left it up to them to explain and they will.

      • Don’t worry, you made fewer mistakes than Frank. The term in use is “Great Crowd”, which they combine with “other sheep” from John 10:16 to create the combined phrase, “Great crowd of other sheep”. Not that they wouldn’t recognize “Great flock,” but they are all about memetics in that religion, and “Great crowd” is the accurate trigger phrase they use. Scripture salad turns out to be a favorite JW meal, though they certainly aren’t the only ones to do that. You’re correct that they believe Jesus is in a waiting room and that he will come down the rest of the way soon – to kick ass. Just around the corner. Then he’ll go back upstairs and the cleaners can get busy. Like having an incontinent relative with dementia living in your attic. In short, don’t change a thing, you have it essentially correct, while Frank doesn’t seem to know how many weekly meetings they attend. Nevertheless, his description is also largely accurate, and I’m probably just being pedantic. I’m totally stealing that Stepford Wives reference!

  3. In 1966 I was in the Peace Corps in Venezuela. I lived in a barrio on the outskirts of Barcelona, an obscure little town. One day there was a knock on my door. I opened it to find two young people with pamphlets, wanting to give me the Watchtower and tell me about the end of the world that was coming. As I had few people to speak English with, I invited them in for a chat. It was enlightening, so to speak. In 1975 the world was to end and as you discovered, only a select few would survive. Unimpressed, I bid them adieu, I was familiar with their prostelatizing as I lived in a neighborhood in California that had a Jehovah Witness family. They knocked on our door often. But I was truly startled to find them in a poor neighborhood in Venezuela in 1966.
    Fast forward to 2013. Again I have neighbors that are Jehovah Witnesses. Again, they knock on the door often. I am not so patient these days. One evening at a neighborhood social gathering, I mentioned to this neighbor that their solicitors annoyed me and I didn’t want them to knock on my door. She said she would take me off their list, which would last for a year. Then my name would automatically be put back on the list. We proceeded to have some politely heated debates about the veracity of their teachings and the impertinence of their unwanted knocks.
    The following morning, about 9:00 am, the doorbell rang and lo and behold, there was my neighbor with 2 other Jehovah’s (for backup I guess), armed with an envelope of bible quotes to justify their point of view. I could not believe the arrogance after they knew how annoying the uninvited visits were to me. As politely as I could, I took the envelope and closed the door quickly. Our relationship with this neighbor became quite cool after that.
    I have no problem with people believing whatever they choose. My problem is when they decide they have the right to push their opinion on me. That goes for any religion, including the Christians who are against abortion and birth control because of their beliefs. Don’t have an abortion. Don’t use birth control. But don’t insist that I follow your belief system. And for goodness sake, don’t knock on my door without an invitation in order to save me. I don’t need saving, thank you very much!

    • Susan,
      I have a few comments to make regarding your post. You said your neighbors “knock on the door often”. That’s not how it works. Territory maps are made, dividing up the entire witnessing area assigned to each congregation into several streets with approximately 100 to 150 homes. There may be 100 or more individual “territory cards” (maps) for the entire congregation. Each person in the congregation can check out one or two of these “territory cards” and keep them until they are covered in our “witness work” once or twice. Then they are turned in so that others can check them out. Depending upon the size of the total area assigned to each congregation, and the number of Witnesses in the congregation, that pretty much regulates how many times in a year they can get around and cover their entire “witnessing area”. In the average congregation’s assigned area, the Witnesses may get around their entire assigned area once, twice, or in some cases three times during an entire year. When interest has been shown, they may make “return visits” on that person a number of times, making it appear to you like they are covering the area where you live more than they actually are. As I say, when interest is shown, they will call back until the householder tells them not to come back any more. If the householder just wants to argue, I don’t make a return visit on him. I’m not interested in argumentation, as nothing ever gets accomplished. Even when you say “I’m not interested” that doesn’t prevent some other JWs from calling on you again when they call on the entire area again. To prevent any Witnesses from calling on you, you can tell the next one who comes along to write you down as a “Do Not Call”. They will then write your address (NOT your name) down on the back of their “territory card” so that future callers will not call. Sometimes Witnesses will fail to read the back of the card and so some may call anyway, but it’s not a difficult thing to just tell them “I’m not interested”, and normally they will dismiss themselves and go on to the next house. The other thing you might do to keep us from knocking on your door would be to put a sign up saying “No Religious Callers” which would also probably keep Mormons from calling. (I’m not expert in that, but I assume they would honor that). A “No Soliciting” sign will sometimes prevent some JWs from calling, but others will ignore that sign because we’re really not “soliciting”. All of our literature, including our Bibles, are free of charge, so we don’t solicit funds for anything. A “No Tresspassing” sign will keep me from knocking on a door every time! Others may ignore that sign too. It’s an individual matter.

      Each year, an elder may stop by to check to see if it is still your desire not to be called on. This is done because people do change, perhaps due to something that may have happened during the time the Witnesses last called on them. Another possibility is that that householder may have moved. The new resident may want our visits. That would be the only way we would know for sure whether to call, or not call there again. We are not interested in getting people upset with us, but want to be available for those who would welcome our visits. In a poll about a year or so ago it was published in our paper that 57% of all people who claim one religion or another DO NOT attend any services. Many of these will eagerly engage us in conversation, as many people still have a spiritual need that isn’t being satisfied. We no longer stick our foot in the door (we haven’t for many years done that), as I understand prior to my becoming a JW, that was sometimes done. I’ve been associated for 55 years and have NEVER done that. Now, if someone says they are “not interested” most of us just bid that person goodbye and go on. We are not looking for people who are “not interested”, but for people who recognize they have a spiritual need, or that have questions they would like answered. If we can’t answer them then, most of us will go home and research the question then go back with the scriptural answer.

      So, your “Name” was (and isn’t) on any “list”. Your ADDRESS only would be recorded on the back of the “territory card”.

      I’m sorry that they called on you after you told them you didn’t appreciate their calls. We’re all human and make mistakes, or in this case, bad judgment by calling on you after you had made it clear to them not to call. Of course, I’m not in any position to know what the conversation was between you and the callers, but I do know that if someone told me not to call again, I wouldn’t!

      I fully agree with you that nobody should “push their opinions” on anyone else. Personally, I don’t do that. If people don’t want to talk about it, I leave, and that’s that! But, of course, I can’t regulate what others do. Also, the purpose of our calling is not necessarily to “save” you, but to increase people’s knowledge about the Bible, to witness to them about God, his name, and his Word. What they do with the knowledge they get (if any) at their doorstep or in an actual Bible Study, which we offer free of charge to anyone, is entirely up to them.

      Susan, I hope this is helpful to you. Nobody is trying to convince you to do anything, but they are trying to help you, and anyone else, if you have a spiritual need that is not being filled. When you get a chance, you might read in your Bible: Matt. 28:19, 20 as well as Matt. 24:14. These verses will help you to understand why JWs call from house-to-house. Then check out Acts 20:20 and Acts 5:42 to see the main method Jesus’ first followers used. Best wishes to you, Susan.


  4. This was so entertaining that I was laughing out loud at your column. Hope that you find a congregation that has some live accompaniment and a lively beat to worship God.

  5. so can you show me in the scriptures why they are wrong? as for resurrections, even job recognized such a thing, even moses recognized it, I don’t remember any older writters before the bible understanding this. dont know of any archelogists stating any ideas of a resurrection among the artifacts and such they have found other than the bible (scrolls of times past)if you were a real bible reader you would know this, as for being pushy sometimes people can give the wrong impression of their interest when all they are are being nice, honesty is the best policy so you dont make jw’s believe you truly are intersted and they seem pushy? are you sure they are not just being enthusiatic and want to help? and do you honestly want a God to make the earth a paradise and allow wicked people to be there to? who then gets to decide what wickedness is or is not? some people even in christendom and other places believe they still are righteous even if they are murdering people or robbing people of their hard earn wealth or enslaving people. remember the clergy condoned slavery of black people using the bible I surly dont’ want people like that in paradise that is for sure. I want people who are focused on one thing, the actual person who created the earth and who can teach us how to live in a way to avoid hurting others or this wonderful planet and know what is right when there is a grey area where in one situation something would be wrong in another situation it would be right, hence a gray area. you see the divisions and violence of the world. this is the result of not worshipping this one who created all things and trying to determine right and wrong on their own, and deciding accordingly, hence the lackof unity and violence and injustice you see. so if you have a better way then even Jehovah has I am all ears.(have yet to see it despite all the ideas I have read and heard, by philosphers, scientists, socilogists, psychologists, etc. Jesus was right by their fruits you will recognize a good tree or a rotten one. (fruits as in results, actions, attitudes of people)

    • I think you should try an experiment – replace the word ‘wicked’ with the word ‘gook’ and notice that it doesn’t change the sentence or its intent in the slightest. It’s just a way for JWs and other Christian denominations to dehumanize their enemy, just like American soldiers did in Vietnam. Who are the enemy? Anyone who doesn’t believe the same things as you. By their fruits you will recognize them? How about this for fruit: the children’s activities on the official JW website. Connect the dots to reveal a baby about to be cut in half by ‘wise’ Solomon’s soldier. Excellent children’s fare.

      • solomon had no intention of killing the baby he was just trying to invoke the natural mothers compassion, if that hadnt worked no doubt he would of tried something else. you see here is the thing while we avoid assocation(deep friendship) with people who are deemed unrightous or wicked whatever term you think we use we do not under any circumstances cut people’s heads off or kill people or build up armies and go and conquer disbeliever (like all religions have been guilty of) being one of jws is a privelege and a joy, if I had found something I like better I would of left and joined them, this I have not found. I advocate that all people reevaluate why they believe what they believe, make sure of the important things paul wrote, do not in anyway stick to something because you were raised that way or because it is a easy religion or whatever do it because you have examined all evidence available and believe it to the the truth, the truth is never afraid of a challenge only lies, that is why clergy of christendom persecuted, hanged, burned etc anyone who could read and understand the bible(before modern day printing) because the bible exposed their wickedness and they couldn’t have that, they would lose the power over the people..people are enslaved relgiously, politically and economically, people are also enslaved to sin and death (sin is the imperfection that causes death not just bad behavior kind of like if you breed dogs with hip dysplasia you get puppies who get hip dysplasia) anyway people need devine help to free them (like the isrealites needed devine intervention to get out from under pharaohs oppression/slavery) and the bible has the information for those who choose to take the time to learn it and not just close the book because they read something they don’t understand right away rather then thinking about it asking questions and doing research where they can. ever do a jig saw puzzle? the bible is that, the pieces only come together as you read, apply what you learn and over time as you read reread and do research you put the peices together and then you understand what is between the lines of passages you don’t understand. the first gut reactions ot bible situations is usually the wrong one. emotions get in the way we have to think about it, ask questions, read other areas of the bible (use various translations for comparisons)that has info on the same subject, which clarifies alot of what is misunderstood. you know the God of the bible is the most misunderstood person in the universe and really he has made available to anyone who wants it understanding of it so they can have a close personal relationship with him, (to remedy the misunderstandings people have about him) it is really a shame we live in a modern age where the bible is aval to millions and yet people are still suffering problems and misery because they dont read it and apply it’s moral standards. it sits on peoples shelves and cuboards and yet they seldom read it and when they do they get upset when they read something they do not understand without doing additional research to clear it up, the bible is deliberatly designed that ways to test people’s heart motivations, he only helps those who really want to understand it not people who read it with the intention of finding fault or to just feel good.

      • Hi Timothy. I am both a Christian and a Vietnam vet who probably killed several of these people–and they are people, made in the image of God. I know that, in the pressure of combat, once we had seen some of our buddies killed–and sometimes brutally so–it was pretty difficult not to dehumanize these people. I know also that some of my friends whom I fought with did hate these people and killed many just because they hated them so much–and some of those guys, after they’ve lived with their memories for so long, can hardly live with the guilt. Many did not. Vietnam vets are dying off faster than any other vets group.
        Jesus did not refer to all people not his followers as the “enemy” or “wicked” and neither do I. Whatever you do, don’t put your presuppositions in a pigeonhole.

          • Thank you for that, Corinna. When I came home in 1969, we were being called “baby killers.” I wore my uniform out in public only once and I wasn’t getting any “thank you for serving” remarks, just weird looks. Yes, My Lai was a real part of that–totally reprehensible and totally against how Americans were supposed to conduct war–and it’s more real to me because the company that carried that out was the C company in my battalion. I didn’t hear about til it became public news. I know that there are a lot of men who live with what happened and no clue as to how to deal with it.

  6. The Bible contains many types of literature, from poetry to law to biography to apocalyptic, all, of course, with an overriding particular theological worldview. Revelation is based on visions about the end times. So you cannot read it as you read, say, the book of Romans, which is a theological treatise.

    In studying Revelation, you have to look at John’s visions as portrayed through symbolic language. Some symbols are clear. But about 70% of the verses in Revelation allude to the Old Testament, and even borrow phrases from the Old Testament. So those are understood in light of the Old Testament. In addition, John used other common apocalyptic features, such as describing nations and people groups as animals. (We do this, too, sometimes.)

    You can’t really read an apocalyptic book literally and get its meaning. For instance, the number seven symbolizes seven days in a week and then a new week begins. So you might say seven figuratively means completion. In the same way, 144,000 is not to be taken literally, but symbolically represents all those who remain faithful. The number is calculated beginning with the twelve tribes of Israel, twelve-thousand from each, symbolizing growth from Israel into the “new Israel” which is from every tribe and nation. It’s more of an idea or symbol of completion, with each person marked by a seal. That symbolizes that they belong to God.

    Well, you get the idea. That does not negate what is said, but hopefully sheds some light on Revelation. I’m not trying to refute the Jehovah’s Witness (knowing little about them) but the way this book is being interpreted.

    • Ginger,

      You make some excellent points. The Bible is not really one book, but a library of books, which must each be read on their own terms before trying to link their themes to the meta-narrative of the whole. A helpful book I’ve used in the past for learning how to do this is “Reading the Bible for All It’s Worth” by Fee and Stuart.

      Thanks Corinna for another great post.

    • And they say God is not the author of confusion. Revelation (formerly The Apocalypse of John) reads like someone telling you the awful dream they just had. It is known colloquially as “John on acid” for a reason. It almost didn’t make it into the Bible at all, like the Gospel of Peter didn’t. Christianity would be a lot more of a benign belief system without it.

    • Apparently not much, Frank. One of Christianity’s great weaknesses (or most other religions for that matter) is that it plays into the basic human compulsion to create two categories: “us” and “them”. Most people think for there to be an “us” there has to be a “them”, and no matter how benevolent the terms we use, we still think of “them” as lesser than us. It may be a bit more explicit in some denominations, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses shunning close friendships with the wordily, or with Roman Catholicism’s patronizing attitude toward Protestants as somehow “incomplete”, its the same old story. A couple of years ago, I read a lot of Brian McLaren’s writing on the emergent church, which replaces us v. them with us AND them. We should leave the judging to God and try to reach out to others in love, as in “God is Love.” God made us “a little less than angels” so I think He expects us to respect and honor each other. If He gave us free will to accept or reject Him, we should show the same respect, but still love as He loves. Maybe that’s the toughest part of being a Christian.

  7. One of the points to be made about Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they are non-Trinitarian. Their version of the Bible translates the first passage in John to show that the Word was “a god”. Most Christians, as I understand it and as I was taught, see that passage as proof of Jesus Christ being the Word from the beginning. And the Word was God.

    Since the concept (at least) of the Trinity dates back to around 180, I don’t understand why JW’s have dropped it. But then, I don’t understand why Unitarians and Congregationalists dropped it either, so go figure.

    I can understand how the JW picture of the Millennium and Paradise on earth is comforting. I can understand how their idea that all non believers just go ‘poof’ (loved it, Corinna) would stem any worry agnostics might have, but it bothers me. ANY concrete description of heaven, hell, exactly and precisely how, what, where physically they are and how they will be – bothers me. Because I don’t think we have the ability to concretely describe them. I know I can conceive of hell…………I’ve dreamed of it a few times. I recently saw a version of MacBeth with Patrick Stewart which (for me) exemplified and made in living color a perfect concept of hell. But I don’t KNOW. Ditto with Paradise, Heaven…..I think the closest I can come to imagining it is listening to a Hildegarde von Bingam chant being sung or a perfect piece (they all are!) of Bach. And even that is just for an instant.

    I recently read a book by an Anglican priest that states that Jesus Christ brought his Kingship of the world into the world with his death, and that we are furthering the Kingdom of God whenever we witness to Christ. That the Lord’s Prayer is literally that “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” is exactly what Jesus did with his death and resurrection and that as believers, we are furthering God’s agenda every day. His kingdom on earth. There will be a next step, but for now, we ARE in the Kingdom of God.

    That makes more sense to me than specificities. I also believe what C.S. Lewis commented about believers and non believers, in “Surprised by Joy”, roughly paraphrased as “to those who have sincerely tried to believe and can’t, I leave them to God’s mercy. But woe to those who turn away just because it’s too hard!” One thing you can absolutely say about JW’s is that they are in no danger of denying Jesus before man, and he denying them before his Father! I just think that they don’t understand who he was/is/will be.

    But then, some days, neither do I!

    Yours in Christ.

  8. Charle Taze Russell was not the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Russell was a non-sectarian who did not believe that any “outward organization” such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses could scripturally claim to be “the true church”. Rutherford led his followers into rejecting the good news of great joy that will be for all the people that Russell believed in and taught, and he replaced it with a message that, in effect, says, “Join us or be eternally destroyed in Armageddon.”

    I am not sure what is meant by the statement: “after the Great Disappointment, the messiah took up residence in a heavenly sanctuary closer to earth and would soon make it the rest of the way down.” What, specifically, in Russell’s writings is this based on? I have been studying Russell’s works for more than 50 years, and I cannot recall reading anything like this. I did an electronic search of Russell’s works on the Bible Students DVD, but I could not find even once where he used the phrase “heavenly sanctuary”

    Russell, however, did believe in the Bible hell; he did not believe in the “hell” of man’s alleged orthodoxy.

    Russell believed that faithful believers in this age will be raised to heavenly life, not earthly life. (I do not fully agree with him on his application of this).

    Russell did believe that Jesus and the church will judge the world in the millennial age, and that the world will be divided then — after Satan has been abyssed — into two groups, the sheep and goats, and that the goats — after having been enlightened with the truth — will still refuse to come into harmony with the truth, after which they are thrown into the symbolic lake of symbolic fire, which represents the second death (as opposed to death and hades, death in Adam). Those who are dying Adam and who go to sheol/hades are covered under the ransom sacrifice of Jesus; there, however, does not remain any more sacrifice for those who come under the second condemnation.

    Russell’s belief about Armageddon, however, was almost the very opposite of that held by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Russell believed that Armageddon is a period of time in which the peoples of the nations are chastised; he did not believe that it would all of a sudden eternally destroy billions of unbelievers. Russell, from 1904 to 1914, was expecting the time of trouble (Armageddon) to begin in 1914, and that it would end sometime after 1914 with the passing away of the present heavens and earth. He died in 1916 still holding to the belief that the time of trouble had begun in 1914 and that it would end at some future time.

    See my website “Focus on Charles Taze Russell” for more details.

    • Hello, thank you for your comments. “Heavenly sanctuary” is actually a Millerite term used to explain where Jesus was when he didn’t come back as predicted. According to sources I read (namely this one: Rogerson, Alan. Millions Now Living Will Never Die: A Study of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Constable London: 1969), Russell was on board with this interpretation–though he probably spoke more of it as Jesus being an “invisible prescence” here on earth. It seems to me that these are fairly abstract concepts, so words can only go so far in capturing how the historical people were thinking of these things. Everything I read points to Russell being the starting point of the JWs, but I’m sure once the organization got off the ground and started making its own policies and interpretations, it developed a theology of its own (especially after Russell died).

      • You are right that the Jehovah’s Witness movement came out of the work of Charles Taze Russell but it was actually around 1942 when Joseph Rutherford, the man who followed Russell declared the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” for the movement. The story goes that people who had been close to Russell were legally ousted by Rutherford at the Watchtower headquarters. Some of them then formed their own organizations around only the literature that Russell had produced. One group called themselves Millenial Dawn and there were others that fragmented themselves off as Bible Students which was Russell’s original name for the group. Once Rutherford took hold the name Jehovah’s Witnesses stuck and the ISBA or International Bible Students Association formed under Russell went out of existence.

        • Actually, it was in 1931 that Rutherford named his new organization, “Jehovah’s Witnesses’. According to his own statements, one of the reasons for this was to distinguish his followers from the vast number of Bible Students who did not accept his “Jehovah’s visible organization” dogma. By 1928, much more than 75% of the Bible Students movement had rejected Rutherford’s organization.

          To say that “some of them formed their own organizations” is highly misleading. Some did form legal organizations for the purpose of publishing literature, if that is what is meant by “organization”, but most of these, like Russell himself, claimed no hierarchial authority over the independent congregations. I don’t know of any of these, however, that produced “only the literature that Rusell had produced”. Some of the authors with the Pastoral Bible Institute, for instance, did not accept Barbour and Russell’s conclusion that Jerusalem was destroyed in the Jewish year beginning 606 BCE; this was nothing knew, however, as there were some of the Bible Students even in Russell’s day that did not accept 607/6 as the year in which Jerusalem was destroyed. Indeed, there were many differing viewpoints on chronology and time prophecy while Russell was alive. Russell never sought to demand that everyone had to agree with his conclusions as did Rutherford.

          I don’t know of any group that called themselves “Millennial Dawn” as opposed to any of the rest of the Bible Students. Bible Students have been labeled “Millennial Dawnists” ever since about the time that Russell released the first his series of books, which was originally called “Millnnial Dawn”.

          I would say from the Bible Students’ standpoint, it was Rutherford who fragmented away the Bible Students with his demands that all had to accept whatever he said.

          The term “International Bible Students Association” in Russell’s day was used in two different ways (1) of the Bible Students movement as a whole; and (2) of the legal entity by that name in London. Later, Russell suggested that congregations use the term “Associated Bible Students” rather than “International Bible Students”, evidently due to the possible confusion with the legal entity by the same name. Nevertheless, the term “International Bible Students Association” continued to be used by various congregations and some congregations still use it to this day.

          Rutherford gained control of the legal entity in London just as he did the legal entities in Brookly and Pittsburgh; however, no one ever had “control” over the International Bible Students Association as a movement, not even Charles Taze Russell. In Russell’s day, each congregation carried on its own affairs and were free to either accept or reject anything Russell, or anyone else, stated. It was because Rutherford sought to “control” all the Bible Students that the Bible Students movement as a whole that the Bible Students found that it was necessary to stop supporting Rutherford. As a whole, the Bible Students movement did not become members of Rutherford’s “organization”, nor did they take the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses”.

          The Bible Students movement has always been somewhat fragmented, since it has no central authority; this was true in Russell’s day, and it is true today.

          The original Bible Students movement that existed in the days of Russell, however, never went out of existence; it still exist to this very day.

          • Thank you for the history lesson. I bow to your wisdom. You are apparently a part of a group I am unfamiliar with except for the awareness of the parting of the way as you say in 1931.

      • All the sources mentioned may or may not accurately represent what Russell believed. Russell had no interest in the dates of the various adventist groups until 1876. Before 1876, around 1872, Russell had concluded that Christ was to return in the spirit, not the in the flesh, because he had sacrificed his flesh for our sins. In 1872, however, Russell stated that he had no interest in the dates of the adventists, nor did Russell set up any date for Christ’s return. It was not until 1876 that he accepted Barbour’s conclusion that Christ had already returned in 1874. Thus, it was about two years after 1874 that Russell accepted this. Russell died in 1916 still holding to the belief that Christ had returned in 1874. This I know from having read it from Russell’s own writings, which I have been studying for more than 50 years.

        Russell did not believe in such an organization; it was left up to Rutherford to create that organization after Russell died. Although many Bible Students were endeavoring to show that Russell did not believe in such, Rutherford slyly made it apppear that such an organization had been in existence even in the days of Russell. As I stated earlier, the vast majority of the Bible Students movement did not fall for Rutherford’s tactics; they did not accept the authority that Rutherford was claiming for himself, and they never joined his “organization”, and they never became “Jehovah’s Witnesses”. Many realized what was going as early as 1917, but Rutherford’s approach was so insidious that most did not realize his intentions until the mid-1920s.

        As to Russell being the “starting point” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I would say that Rutherford got his start by using Russell as a bait, since the Bible Students movement as a whole had high regard for Russell. Around 1923, Rutherford introduced his “new light” concerning the second death and the parable of the sheep and goats. His new teaching, in effect, would destroy the core teaching that the Bible Students had held for many decades, the ransom for all, and offered a means of threatening those who disagreed with him. In the mid-1920s, he demanded that all congregations accept his new teachings and reject what the alleged “old light” that the Bible Students had cherished for so long. As I stated, by 1928, more than 75% of the Bible Students movement had rejected Rutherford’s new “organization”. Nevertheless, Rutherford gave lip service to supporting the ransom for all until 1938, when he openly rejected that core doctrine, and replaced it with a message that says, in effect, join my organization or you will be eternally destroyed in Armageddon. He fully rejected the basis of redemption in Christ when he announced that Adam was condemned to the second death and not covered by Jesus’ sacrifice, and thereby made Adam under a separate condemnation than Adam’s offspring, contrary to the words of the Bible. — Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21,22.

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