By JW Insider
What would you do if you were someone who took very seriously the idea that Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 were speaking about the time we are living in, especially the time surrounding the year 1914? You are someone who believes strongly that the time period you live in is the the one that will see Armageddon, and you believe it's important that others learn this truth, too. How would you go about convincing people?
We know that we, as Jehovah's Witnesses, still carry on the legacy of someone who took that idea very seriously: Charles Taze Russell. I know that his time period produced a lot of people like him, but I was thinking about the sheer unlikelihood that anyone would be able to start a following with his specific beliefs when we compare them to Matthew 24, etc. I think this is why his success is sometimes looked at as proof that God blessed his efforts in spite of his doctrines, not because of them.
He started publishing a magazine, tracts and books that taught that some of the most important events that most Christians had been waiting and praying for, had already occurred, but that they had missed them: He taught that Jesus had already returned in 1874. He taught that this long-awaited PAROUSIA, which they thought to be a bright manifestation like lightning, had actually been invisible to everyone in the world. He taught that Jesus, as King of God's Kingdom, had already begun when Jesus became king and started reigning in 1878. He taught that William Miller, the man who started a movement that ended in the "Great Disappointment," was actually being used by God to begin drawing attention to proper issues of chronology, and to lay a true foundation of this chronology, back in 1844. He taught that since 1799 his contemporaries were in the "last days" and would remain so until the last days ended in 1914. But there were many more specific issues with this religious movement he is credited with starting. These seem so counter-intuitive, as if they were exactly the wrong way to go about starting a following that would be focused so much on Matthew 24, etc. For example:
We can still pray for his Kingdom to Come, but "in truth" it had just come a few years ago and they missed. (see above) Jesus said it would be as visible and surprising as lightning shining from one end of the heavens to the other end, but "in truth" it had been invisible. (see above) Jesus implied that wars, earthquakes, famines and pestilence would be seen during the final generation, but in truth Russell taught that these were not "signs" and that they had nothing to do with the final generation, but were merely the experiences of humans over the last 1,800 years. Jesus implied that a great witness work would lead people out of all nations but "in truth" Russell taught that all the people who would be part of Christ's Bride, the Body of Christ, the Church, the 144,000 had already been selected and the door was shut back in 1881. (Russell thought the preaching work was generally useful for witnessing to only a "lower plane" of Christians who would not serve as kings and priests with Jesus, even though they'd still make it to heaven because that's where all Christians went, according to Russell. But, as odd as these things might have seemed, we can look at even more specific lines in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 to see a few more ways in which Russell, you might think, would have been working against getting people to listen to him. He seemed to purposely go out of his way to "do the opposite." You'd think that this might have turned more people against his teachings. For example:
Matthew 24:45 speaks of a "faithful and discreet slave" and we usually think of someone who is discreet as not just wise, but careful never to come across as haughty or presumptuous. Yet Russell who had seen his former publishing partner try to claim that he, Barbour, was that faithful, discreet slave, Russell soon began publishing material that pointed to only himself as that "faithful and discreet slave." He began publishing letters to himself that addressed him as that faithful and discreet slave, and referred to some of his writings as "food at the proper time" (meat in due season). He called himself "God's mouthpiece" and referred to his writings as more effective than the Bible itself at bringing someone into the truth of God's word, adding that someone who read his works for just a few months would learn the truth, but if a person just read the Bible for a few months they would go back into darkness. Matthew 24:26 said (KJV) "Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not." ASV (and NWT) used the term "inner chambers" instead of "secret chambers." Jesus was evidently helping the disciples to avoid the mistake that would be made if someone said Jesus had indeed returned, but that he was currently not visible to them, yet this person claimed special knowledge about where he actually was. Russell already taught that Jesus Parousia had been invisible, so how could Russell find a further way for people to "believe it not" in this matter? Simple, Russell accepted the idea that God's supernatural witness, his prediction of Jesus' Parousia, had been found in the desert, inside the Great Pyramid. In fact, not just in the desert, but also in the secret, inner chambers of that pyramid. Luke 21:8 in the translations that Russell usually used, says: "And he said, Take heed that ye be not led astray: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am he; and, The time is at hand: go ye not after them." (ASV). It was almost like Russell said to himself, "Hmmm . . . Jesus said that no one should go after anyone who says, 'The time is at hand.' " "Hmmm... I got it!" Russell says, "I will write a book to distribute around the world and call it: 'The Time Is At Hand.' " It was one of Russell's best selling books, and it showed how chronology would let people know the times and the seasons, even the very month and year when Christ's presence and kingship began. But how would Russell prove himself to be a person not to be followed based on the first part? Was there any way that Russell could come in the name of Jesus and say "I am he"? How close could Russell get to saying "I am he" or as the the KJV words it: "I am Christ"? [The KJV puts the word Christ in italics to indicate that it is not in the original Greek.]
Turns out that he was able to get much closer than most people think. As I'll get to in the next post.
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