The Gospel of Matthew 24:36 and 1975

Autor: Włodzimierz Bednarski

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It seems as though Jehovah’s Witnesses were prepared for knowledge of ‘that day and hour’ in context of 1975 by one of better known publications, published in 1958. Here it is:

Those of the New World society are awake. They will know when Armageddon is to begin. (From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained 1958, p. 206).

I recall that when in my conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses I referred to Bible texts about ‘that day and hour’, they sometimes replied they did not have knowledge about ‘that day and hour’ indeed, but it was possible to know the ‘year’ and Matthew 24:36 did not contradict it. (see Acts 1:7).

They were assured in such belief by The Watchtower December 15, 1974, p. 764, which called the expected date “the critical year of 1975”.

Because of that it is worth seeing, if we can segregate articles on 1975 into one group, which expressed ‘conjecture’ concerning a beginning of Kingdom of God on earth in that time, and the second group, pointing to ‘certainty’ of such event in the said year.

It seems that it is easier to show different conjectures and assurances inside such articles.

We may also treat different statements of Jehovah’s Witnesses as standards helpful in determining, if something is a conjecture or assurance. However, a reliable criterion concerning statements on 1975 is a position made in separate articles by Watchtower Society on Jesus’ words about ‘that day and hour’ from Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32. Let us review it.

So, Watchtower Publications Index 1930-1985 (1986) under entries Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32 does not contain any (!) reference to Witness publications of 1966-1970 when the message about 1975 was preached in the most intensive way and when the biggest number of articles on that topic was published. Also there are no references to these Bible verses in the following years.

It is true that there are three references to year 1971 (Aid to Bible Understanding 1971, pp. 322, 715, 1346), but we should not consider quoted statements as a commentary to Matthew 24:36, especially in the context of 1975. That the referred excerpts are irrelevant is proved by the fact that a newer index (Watchtower Publications Index 1986-1990 1992) does not include them under entry Matthew 24:36, in a place when it contains a reference to a newer Witness lexicon, Insight on the Scriptures of 1988.

In year 1973 we find only one reference to Witness publication under entry Mark 13:32 (Awake! March 8, 1973, p. 28), but the referred article tries to substantiate that Jesus is lower than His Father. So there is no connection with 1975.

Only in 1974, when the leadership tried to dampen the overzealousness of publishers, we have two references under entry Matthew 24:36 (The Watchtower January 15, 1974, p. 56; The Watchtower June 15, 1974, p. 379) and one reference under entry Mark 13:32 (The Watchtower March 15, 1974, p. 163). But this last article does not consider 1975, only generation 1914.

In 1975 we find four references under entry Matthew 24:36 (The Watchtower January 1, 1975, p. 9; The Watchtower May 1, 1975, p. 277; The Watchtower December 15, 1975, p. 768; Man’s Salvation out of World Distress at Hand! 1975, p. 292) and one reference under entry Mark 13:32, but the referred article tries to substantiate that Jesus is lower than His Father (The Watchtower June 15, 1975, p. 356).

Is that true that in this interesting period, namely the years 1966-1970, there were no references in The Watchtower Society’s publications to Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32?

Although the said index does not contain such references, we may find such interesting Bible verses by insightful analysis.

By that reason we may divide articles on 1975 into two categories:

Articles omitting such Bible texts;

Articles ‘arguing’ against the words of ‘that day and hour’ or trying to ‘neutralize’ them.

Into the first category fall e.g.:

The book Life Everlasting - In Freedom of the Sons of God (1966);

article Where Are We According to God’s Timetable? (The Watchtower May 1, 1967, pp. 259-262);

article What Will the 1970's Bring? (Awake! October 8, 1968, pp. 13-16).

There are plenty such articles (see the list opening our work). Let us add that the aforementioned book states that its predicted events “must” happen, beyond the shadow of a doubt:

This would mean that the remnant of these (...) would be sealed (...) the end of six thousand year of humankind’s existence. We are near that point of time now! Bible time-scheduling indicates it. A world storm must therefore be shortly ahead. (Life Everlasting - In Freedom of the Sons of God 1966, p. 357).

It is true that Vice President F. Franz (in 1966, at Baltimore convention) referring to that book said that Armageddon in 1975 is not “sure”, only “possible”, but the publication did not contain such reservations, and both he and the handbook did not refer to discussed Bible verses (see The Watchtower October 15, 1966, p. 631).

So it seems that The Watchtower Society preferred not to quote such Bible texts, because they did not fit to knowledge of 1975. It was more comfortable to tell that the date is something “it could” be, and that “all things are possible with God”, etc. (see The Watchtower October 15, 1966, p. 631).

Also other books published during 1975 campaign omit Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32. Here are examples:

“Things in Which It Is Impossible for God to Lie” 1965;

“Your Word Is a Lamp to My Foot” 1967;

Is the Bible Really the Word of God? 1969;

“The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah” - How? 1971;

God’s “Eternal Purpose” Now Triumphing for Man’s Good 1974;

1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

But a book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life (1968) quotes Mark 13:32 to prove only that “When Jesus was on earth he certainly was not equal to his Father” (p. 22).

The following articles fall into the second category, ‘ignoring’ such verses:

‘arguing’ against Matthew 24:36, article Why Are You Looking Forward to 1975? (The Watchtower August 15, 1968, pp. 494-501);

‘neutralizing’ Mark 13:32, article Making Wise Use of the Remaining Time (The Watchtower May 1, 1968, pp. 270-277);

‘weakening’ Matthew 24:36, article An Ingathering Affecting All Mankind (The Watchtower May 1, 1970, pp. 271-277);

‘weakening’ Matthew 24:36, article How Much Longer Will It Be? (Awake! October 8, 1966, pp. 17-20).

Words of the same character were published in a book printed in 1973 True Peace and Security - From What Source? (p. 88) and in an article Peace with God amid the “Great Tribulation” (The Watchtower January 15, 1970, pp. 49-56), but those publications do not refer directly to 1975.

Statements of years 1966-1973

The following are interesting passages from The Watchtower Society’s publications, trying to ‘neutralize’ Jesus’ words about ‘that day and hour’ or even to argue against them:

One thing is absolutely certain, Bible chronology reinforced with fulfilled Bible prophecy shows that six thousand years of man’s existence will soon be up, yes, within this generation! (Matt. 24:34) This is, therefore, no time to be indifferent and complacent. This is not the time to be toying with the words of Jesus that “concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt. 24:36) To the contrary, it is a time when one should be keenly aware that the end of this system of things is rapidly coming to its violent end. Make no mistake, it is sufficient that the Father himself knows both the “day and hour”! Even if one cannot see beyond 1975, is this any reason to be less active? The apostles could not see even this far; they knew nothing about 1975. All they could see was a short time ahead in which to finish the work assigned to them. (...) And rightly so. If they had delayed or dillydallied and had been complacent with the idea the end was some thousands of years off they would never have finished running the race set before them. (The Watchtower August 15, 1968, pp. 500-501);

Within a few years at most the final parts of Bible prophecy relative to these “last days” will undergo fulfillment, resulting in the liberation of surviving mankind into Christ’s glorious 1,000-year reign. What difficult days, but, at the same time, what grand days are just ahead! Does this mean that the year 1975 will bring the battle of Armageddon? No one can say with certainty what any particular year will bring. Jesus said: “Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows.” (Mark 13:32) Sufficient is it for God’s servants to know for a certainty that, for this system under Satan, time is running out rapidly. How foolish a person would be not to be awake and alert to the limited time remaining, to the earthshaking events soon to take place, and to the need to work out one’s salvation! (The Watchtower May 1, 1968, pp. 272-273);

How close we may exactly be to the end of the present divisive system of things cannot be predicted, as Jesus reported that even he did not know the day or the hour at the time of his earthly ministry. (Matt. 24:36) However, Bible chronology which indicates that Adam was created in the fall of the year 4026 B.C.E. would bring us down to the year 1975 C.E. as the date marking 6,000 years of human history with yet 1,000 years to come for Christ’s Kingdom rule. So whatever the date for the end of this system, it is clear that the time left is reduced, with only approximately six years left until the end of 6,000 years of human history. (1 Cor. 7:29) This corroborates the understanding of Jesus’ words that the generation alive in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I would not pass away until the end comes. Only a short time, then, remains for persons who love righteousness to show God that they want to be in his “ark” of protection and live to see the blessings of the new system of things. (The Watchtower May 1, 1970, p. 273);

Of course, as to the precise day and hour of the end, Jesus noted that knowledge of this was in the province of his heavenly Father alone. (Matt. 24:36) But when a brief period of years at the most separates us from the great windup of this old system, the vital thing is to stay spiritually awake. (Awake! October 8, 1966, p. 20);

As to “that day and hour,” Jesus said, “nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) But Jesus did give a helpful time indicator when he said: “This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” (Matthew 24:34) All what things? All the various features of “the sign” about which he was speaking, as well as the “great tribulation,” which he had also mentioned. For these things to take place within a generation would mean that persons who were on hand to observe what happened in 1914 C.E. at the beginning of the “conclusion of the system of things,” would still have to be alive at the end of this period, when the “great tribulation” strikes. Those who remember the events of 1914 are getting up in years now. Many of their number have already died. But, Jesus assures us, within “this generation,” before they have all died, destruction of this wicked system of things will come. (True Peace and Security - From What Source? 1973, p. 88);

It is this coming “great tribulation” that must have its days “cut short” [Greek, kolobo´o], curtailed, lopped off at the extremity, not split in the middle. This is done on account of God’s “chosen ones” and in order that ‘some flesh’ may be saved. (Matt. 24:21, 22) God has a fixed “day and hour” for the start of that “great tribulation,” without any delay. (Matt. 24:36) (The Watchtower January 15, 1970, p. 53).

In the last passage The Watchtower Society seems to claim to dictate God, if He can change His purpose, or not. By telling that the date cannot be changed and that God will ‘cut short’ time heading to Armageddon, it suggested that it knew the date.

Let us turn to The Watchtower Society’s statements about ‘that day and hour’ published in 1974 and 1975, so “five minutes to twelve” before expected Armageddon. It seems that after stimulating emotions in years 1966-1973 only a few passages on Matthew 24:36 could not dampen them.

An interesting reminiscence of 1974 is presented by Raymond Franz, who discussed the issue with his uncle, Vice President of The Watchtower Society, Frederick Franz:

One Sunday evening in 1974, after my wife and I had returned from a speaking engagement in another part of the country, my uncle, then vice president, came over to our room. (…) My wife mentioned to him that in my talk that weekend I had cautioned the brothers about becoming unduly excited over 1975. His quick response was, “And why shouldn’t they get excited? It’s something to be excited about.” There is no question in my mind that, of all the Governing Body members, the vice president was most convinced of the rightness of what he had written, and on which writing others had built. (Crisis of Conscience, R. Franz, 2004 p. 248).

The following are statements of The Watchtower Society made to dampen emotions of publishers who expected 1975 and Armageddon.

Statements of 1974

God reveals to us what we need to know so that we can take a wise course and help others by alerting them to the danger and to the imminence of Jehovah’s “day.” But he has not told us exactly what year or what day, even what hour, he will begin the “great tribulation” on this world. (Matt. 24:36) (The Watchtower January 15, 1974, p. 56).

This statement is far from being an extended commentary on Matthew 24:36. Earlier statements of The Watchtower Society suggested 1975 as the most appropriate time for Armageddon, though they did not point to ‘that day and hour’, indeed. There was a mention about autumn and September. We do not know why The Watchtower Society excuses itself by ignorance of that year, day and hour, although the Bible speaks of time in general way: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7).

The second statement published in 1974:

True, the most accurate Bible chronology available indicates that 6,000 years of human existence will end in the mid-1970’s. So these Christians are intensely interested to see if that will coincide with the outbreak of the “great tribulation” of our day that will eliminate all wicked ones on earth. It could. But they are not even attempting to predict exactly when the destruction of Satan’s wicked system of things will occur. They are content to wait and see, realizing that no human on earth knows the date. - Matt. 24:36. (The Watchtower June 15, 1974, p. 379).

Is it true that Jehovah’s Witnesses were “not even attempting to predict exactly when the destruction of Satan’s wicked system of things will occur”? Maybe The Watchtower Society did not predicted it “exactly”, indeed, but it made much speculation about it. Well, these are its own words on this subject:

If the 1970's should see intervention by Jehovah God to bring an end to a corrupt world drifting toward ultimate disintegration, that should surely not surprise us. If you feel that this is painting the picture too darkly, consider what warnings the hard facts have forced even men of this world to express. They sense that disaster is approaching, but, lacking the Bible's guidance, they do not know what to do about it. (Awake! October 8, 1968, p. 14);

Are we to assume from this study that the battle of Armageddon will be all over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand-year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possibly, but we wait to see how closely the seventh thousand-year period of man’s existence coincides with the sabbathlike thousand-year reign of Christ. If these two periods run parallel with each other as to the calendar year, it will not be by mere chance or accident but will be according to Jehovah’s loving and timely purposes. (The Watchtower August 15, 1968, p. 499).

The following passage on ‘that day and hour’ was not included in The Watchtower publications index:

The publications of Jehovah’s witnesses have shown that, according to Bible chronology, it appears that 6,000 years of man’s existence will be completed in the mid-1970’s. But these publications have never said that the world’s end would come then. Nevertheless, there has been considerable individual speculation on the matter. So the assembly presentation “Why We Have Not Been Told ‘That Day and Hour’” was very timely. It emphasized that we do not know the exact time when God will bring the end. All we know is that the end will come within the generation that sees fulfilled on it the sign that Jesus Christ said would then be in evidence. (See Matthew chapters 24, 25.) All indications are that the fulfillment of this sign began in 1914. So we can be confident that the end is near; we do not have the slightest doubt that God will bring it about, the speaker stressed. But we have to wait and see exactly when, in the meantime keeping busy in God’s service. (The Watchtower October 15, 1974, p. 635).

In this statement we find a repeated claim that the Witnesses did “not know the exact time”, but looking back we see that a ‘safeguard’ for 1975 simply failed. The ‘safeguard’ was a doctrine of generation which remembered the year 1914, but which passed away, and this teaching was rejected by The Watchtower Society in November 1995. The ‘end’ did not come, but there was an end for both Witness prophecies.

Eventually we quote a characteristic statement of The Watchtower Society, which appeared in the end of 1974:

Not one thing only, but many things now taking place concurrently prove that we are near the day and hour of that future appearance of the “sign of the Son of man” to all persons, even unbelievers. (The Watchtower December 15, 1974, p. 751).

We see from the above thoughts that close fulfillment of ‘that day and hour’ could still happen in 1975. So, Jehovah’s Witnesses could know ‘that day and hour’ long time ago. When the teaching on generation 1914 was rejected, a time for knowing ‘that day and hour’ became probably a matter of more distant future.

Statements of the year 1975

The following is a passage about ‘that day and hour’ referred to by index of The Watchtower Society, it comes from an article “Why We Have Not Been Told ‘That Day and Hour’”:

Did Jesus give more details than this, telling his disciples the precise time for this to happen? To the contrary, he told them that the “day and hour” was not known to any creature, and he emphasized the point by saying it again and again - yes, five times. “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father,” he said. - Matt. 24:36–25:13. (The Watchtower May 1, 1975, p. 277).

This passage seems to be in agreement with the Bible, but there is a certain reservation. The above words are prefaced by the teaching on generation 1914:

When will it be, then, that the Son of man comes with destructive power to cleanse this earth of all who love the way of unrighteousness? Jesus himself answers: “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30) Which “generation” is that? The one that has witnessed the events in fulfillment of prophecy since 1914 C.E. (The Watchtower May 1, 1975, pp. 276-277).

The Watchtower Society is not excused by the fact that it did not gave ‘that day and hour’ for 1975, because it determined a borderline for the expected ‘end’, and the borderline were people who remembered events of 1914. Most of those who were 15 years old in the year 1914, already passed away. (compare chapter “‘Generation 1914’ and 1975”).

The next passage referred to by the index:

But nobody should get the idea that, simply by chronology, he can calculate the time of that “coming” of Christ for executing judgment. Christ himself told his apostles: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” - Matt. 24:36. (...) How, then, could any human today possibly figure it out? (The Watchtower January 1, 1975, pp. 9-10).

These words of The Watchtower Society are strange. They are directed not to the Society, but to others. Who in those times always referred to its “Bible chronology”, but The Watchtower Society? Who based evidence on the chronology? For example The Watchtower magazines published in 1968 used the word „chronology” 42 times, and in 1969 used it 39 times (see CD Watchtower Library - 2005 Edition 2006). Maybe „any human” mentioned by The Watchtower was the Vice President F. Franz, who presented the matter at the start of 1975 campaign at the convention in Baltimore. Was he criticized for this teaching now?

The last passage about ‘that day and hour’ published in 1975 and referred to by The Watchtower Society’s index, applies to Jesus, not to people. It is a question from a reader (“Does Jesus Christ know when the ‘great tribulation’ will begin?”):

He may, but we cannot say definitely that he does. (...) But if Jesus has not yet learned the “day and hour” to “complete his conquest,” he soon will learn it. (The Watchtower December 15, 1975, p. 768).

Maybe this statement of Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be considered as strange, if they would not change this view on Jesus’ knowledge, as they changed their position on ‘that day and hour’. The following are words of The Watchtower Society:

Does Jesus now know the timing of Armageddon? It seems quite reasonable to believe that he does. (...) Has he learned it since? (...) Since Jesus has now been empowered as the one to conquer in God’s name, it seems reasonable that his Father has told him when the end will come, when he will “complete his conquest.” (The Watchtower August 15, 1996, pp. 30-31).

We omit a commentary to Matthew 24:36 published in a book Man’s Salvation out of World Distress at Hand! (1975), because it does not teach about 1975. It was published especially for summer conventions in 1975. It is possible that the leaders of The Watchtower Society lost their faith in the significance of that year for the world. They mentioned the date in that book but only as the Holy Year in the Roman Catholic Church (see pp. 205-206, 240)!

The same situation took place in the summer 1995, a new handbook, Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life was published, which did not contain a teaching on ‘generation 1914’, though the official rejection of that teaching took place in November 1995.

Although, as we see, The Watchtower Society tried to dampen formerly stimulated emotions of its publishers, it simultaneously warned them against postponing the expected ‘great tribulation’ in an article “Why We Have Not Been Told ‘That Day and Hour’”. Here are these words:

They may be inclined to think that, since God has not told us the “day and hour,” it probably will not be in our day. (...) If they persist in this attitude and God’s “day and hour” catch up with them, they will by no means escape calamity. Disregard of Jehovah’s coming “day and hour” for executing his judgment can infect even those associating with the true Christian congregation today. A person may know what the Bible says about the “great tribulation.” He may have heard about it for years, perhaps even from dedicated Christian parents. But, seeing nothing really dramatic taking place, in his own mind he may begin to put into the distant future the coming of God’s “day and hour.” (The Watchtower May 1, 1975, pp. 280-281).

It seems that also today the same logic prevails in the teaching of The Watchtower Society and who does not treat seriously its calculations of ‘the end’ is accused of lack of love to God:

If any do not really love Jehovah, they will be inclined to postpone his day in their minds and turn to secular pursuits. (Worship the Only True God 2002 p. 176; see also United in Worship of the Only True God 1983, p. 177).

Let us present an opinion of a widely known Jehovah’s Witness who admitted that while expecting the year 1975 the Witnesses did not took into consideration Jesus’ words on ‘that day and hour’. The second quotation is a similar statement by The Watchtower Society:

What will the 1970’s bring? (...) We were expecting that 6,000 years of man’s existence would be reached in 1975. Would this date bring us to the start of Christ’s Millennial Reign? That possibility intrigued us. Now we can look back on that year and appreciate that the words of Jesus at Matthew 24:36 do not allow us to fix a date for the end. He stated: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (The Watchtower February 15, 1984, p. 25);

More recently, many Witnesses conjectured that events associated with the beginning of Christ’s Millennial Reign might start to take place in 1975. Their anticipation was based on the understanding that the seventh millennium of human history would begin then. (...) The mistakes or misconceptions, as in the case of first-century Christians, were due to a failure to heed Jesus’ caution, ‘You do not know the time.’ (Awake! June 22,1995, p. 9).

That the expectations of publishers were ‘different’ from The Watchtower Society’s hopes is testified by a publication describing problems of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Czechoslovakia in 1969 (see 2000 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses pp. 196-197; compare Appendix 1 of the present book).

At the end let us also say that the aforementioned index of The Watchtower Society does not have any reference to even a single publication discussing 1975 in connection with the following words of Jesus:

“It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7).

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