Jesus words at Matthew 24:34 have held a special interest for Jehovah’s Witnesses:
I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
For many years Jehovah’s Witnesses interpreted these words as applying in a special way to the world since the year 1914. When I first got involved with the Witnesses in the 1960s, they taught that the generation alive in the year 1914 would not die off before the End at Armageddon. It was this expectation that helped fuel the anticipation many Witnesses had for the 1975 prediction that I blogged about earlier.
However, as the “generation of 1914” got to be too long for anyone to put credence into that belief, that teaching was revised in the year 1995. Witness leaders published that year an article in their main religious journal, The Watchtower, dropping the idea that the “generation” that Jesus referred to was tied to the year 1914. This change was whimsically noted in a Newsweek article that year entitled “Apocalypse Later.” For many Witnesses, this dropping of the “generation of 1914” teaching after many years of presenting it as promised by the Creator was quite troubling.
Interestingly, up at the Internet Archive is a detailed chart showing how the JW teaching about the “generation” of Matthew 24:34 has changed over the years. Six different interpretations of Matthew 24:34 by Watchtower leaders are identified in that chart over the years. All these changes are successively viewed as “new light” that God supposedly has given Witness leaders. Critics would say that the changes occurred because the Watchtower Society’s eschatological interpretations have proven faulty.
Someone with insider access has leaked the latest explanation of Matthew 24:34 from the upcoming summer District Conventions to be held throughout the world. Normally, these things are considered “top secret” and the rank-and-file Witness has no knowledge of this leaked information. This lecture to be given at the District Convention resonates with how it was discussed in the Watchtower magazine earlier this year. The outline for a talk to be given this summer at JW conventions emphasizes the 1914 date with this most recent explanation. Now, according to Watchtower leaders, there is an overlap of “contemporaries” — those “anointed” (JWs with the heavenly hope) who saw the events of 1914 and who lived until late in the 20th century — with those who are “anointed” today.
Here’s a You Tube presentation with the recently leaked information:
You can imagine that Watchtower leaders will be trying to figure out who leaked this confidential outline.
UPDATE (5/20/10): You Tube has taken down the video because of a copyright complaint by the Watchtower Society. However, it is up at some other places, such as this location at Vimeo:
Here are the main points that are made from the lecture:
…the “generation” referred to at Matthew 24:34 comprises of two groups of anointed Christians. The first group was on hand in 1914 when “the sign” of Christ’s presence began to be observed (Mt 24:3). The second group, made up of those who were anointed later, are for a time contemporaries of the older group.
Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:34 indicate that some in the second group will witness the beginning of the “great tribulation.” Hence, the length of the “generation” is limited.
To illustrate: F.W. Franz was born in 1893, baptized in 1913, and thus alive to discern “the sign” in 1914. Since Brother Franz lived until 1992, many present–day anointed ones were contemporaries of his and are part of the “generation” that Jesus said would not pass away “until all these things occur.”
The Watchtower magazine explains the new teaching this way:
We do not know the exact length of “this generation,” but it includes these two groups whose lives overlap. Even though the anointed vary in age, those in the two groups constituting the generation are contemporaries during part of the last days. How comforting it is to know that the younger anointed contemporaries of those older anointed ones who discerned the sign when it became evident beginning in 1914 will not die off before the great tribulation starts! (June 15, 2010 Watchtower, p. 5)
So, now, “this generation” includes two human lifespans (which overlap) from the year 1914! Armageddon is still just around the corner.
With this understanding, Witnesses should not seek a normal life because the End is still imminent. Witness youths should not think of going to university for four or more years to prepare for a career because there really isn’t much time left before this world will be destroyed. Instead, what is needed in the short time left before Armageddon is more door-to-door preaching!
For some Witnesses, this re-connecting the “generation” from Matthew 24:34 with the year 1914 will bring back memories of the earlier teaching. While this may be comforting for some older Witnesses who remember the pre-1995 teaching, it will also be troubling to some Witnesses who are conscious of the fact that the year 2014 will mark the centennial of the Return of Christ according to Watchtower teaching. 2014 is less than four years away and its passing without Armageddon’s arrival will likely cause suppressed doubts to surface among some Witnesses. Obviously, some Witnesses at high levels in the Organization have enough doubt already to share insider information with critics of the religion.
In a high control group such as the Witnesses, there are no public indications that some would welcome the jettisoning of the year 1914 from their theology. Though interpretations of its significance have changed dramatically, 1914 has held a prominent place in Watchtower publications for many years. However, I’ve had a few Witnesses express their doubts privately about the official 1914 chronology. Time well tell how further delays for Armageddon will be played out in the Witness community.