By prayer and meditation I determined I needed a long period of retreat where I could think without any interruptions. I left for the High Sierras for weeks. Then as the weather cooled I spent extended time in the great Mojave Desert around Joshua Tree National Park. I felt just like those Paul lists: “They wandered about in deserts and mountains and dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:38)
On these escapes I took brand new Bibles, each time a different version. After a week or so I would have the Bible completely highlighted with marginal notes. I entered my thoughts in a notebook which grew to hundreds of pages. I had no computer save those I could borrow from my son and a friend. I would enter these notes upon my return.
Regarding this general doctrine, I had began to get a clear picture of what the Bible really taught. These are gathered around the seven principles in the Lord’s Prayer: 1) All Christians are “sons” of God the Father; 2) the Father’s “name” involves considerably more than the designation “Jehovah” and, in fact, it is the name “Jesus” (meaning Yehowah is Salvation) that is most prominent in the Christian Bible; 3) Christ began his rule as king in the year 33 when he returned to heaven; 4) earth would be the everlasting habitat of those judged worthy at the end of the Thousand Years; 5) a balanced view of material things, including food; 6) the need to be forgiving; and, 7) how to be delivered from the Wicked One.
On these retreats I began to reexamine the JW arguments on various points. I was struck by a dirth of Scriptural “proof” for many fundamental points. For example, consider some paragraphs in the “literature” regarding a resurrection during the Thousand Years.
Insight, Volume 2, page 788: “Time of the earthly resurrection. We note that this judgment is placed in the Bible in the account of events occurring during Christ's Thousand Year Reign with his associate kings and priests. These, the apostle Paul said, "will judge the world." (1Co 6:2) "The great and the small," persons from all walks of life, will be there, to be judged impartially. They are "judged out of those things written in the scrolls" that will be opened then. This could not mean the record of their past lives nor a set of rules that judges them on the basis of their past lives.100 For since "the wages sin pays is death," these by their death have received the wages101 of their sin in the past. (Ro 6:7, 23) Now they are resurrected102 that they might demonstrate their attitude toward God and whether they wish to take hold of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ that was given for all. (Mt 20:28; Joh 3:16) Though their past sins103 are not accounted to them, they need the ransom to lift them up to perfection. They must make their minds over from their former way of life and thought in harmony with God's will and regulations for the earth and its population.”
|100||NOT JUDGED ON PAST LIFE. This is another example of the Magic Wand and Fairy Dust. No proof is given for this statement. The text in Revelation 20:13 would seem to contradict this view: ‘(The dead) were judged individually according to their deeds.’ The previous phrase, ‘and books were opened,’ is nearly identical to Daniel 7:10 where it is that past record of Rome.|
|101||RECEIVED THE WAGES. In all the literature, reliance on these two verses was the only proof that mankind is not judged on their past record, but on that supposed record developed during the Thousand Years. This is impossible, since Revelation 20:5 shows there is no resurrection during the Thousand Years. A reexamination of Romans 6:7, 23 would seem to mean: “a person dies because of sin and once dead sins no more.” The very idea expressed in this paragraph from the Insight book contradicts Matthew 12:32, 36, 37, 41, 42; 16:27; Mark 8:38; John 5:28, 29; 12:48; Romans 2:5-11, 15, 16; 14.10, 11; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27; 1 Peter 4:5.|
|102||THEY ARE RESURRECTED. Examine this proposition and note there is no proof for it.|
|103||PAST SINS. This sentence simply contradicts the verses sited above.|
This paragraph is from the premier JW commentary. In all the assertions and propositions in several sentences, there simply was no proof, other than certain assertions regarding Romans 6:7, 23. Does Paul believe, just in the Letter to the Romans, that all persons will answer for their conduct in the past life? Note Romans 2:5-11, 15, 16: ‘You are storing up wrath104 for yourself on the day of wrath and of the revealing of God's righteous judgment. And he will render to each one according to his works:105 everlasting life to those who are seeking glory and honor and incorruptibleness by endurance in work that is good; however, for those who are contentious and who disobey the truth but obey unrighteousness there will be wrath and anger, tribulation and distress, upon the soul of every man who works what is injurious, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory and honor and peace for everyone who works what is good, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. ... They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused. This will be in the day when God through Christ Jesus judges the secret things of mankind, according to the good news I declare.’ (Romans 2:5-11, 15, 16 NWT) And, again near the end of his letter: ‘For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written: "'As I live,' says Jehovah, 'to me every knee will bend down, and every tongue will make open acknowledgment to God.'" So, then, each of us will render an account for himself to God.’ (Romans 14:10-12) Does it not seem upon a fair reading, Paul’s God will judge mankind on their past conduct?
|104||STORING UP WRATH. How could they “store up” if their death would cancel their debt of sin?|
|105||ACCORDING TO WORKS. This is exactly the same phrase in Revelation 20:3. Is Paul talking about some future sin or past sin?|
RESURRECTION DURING THE THOUSAND YEARS?
On the subject of a resurrection during the Thousand Years the Insight book supplies no proof whatsoever for the idea. Compare Volume 2, page 792:
“Resurrection During 1,000 Years. A very liberal estimate of the number of persons that have ever lived on earth is 20 billion (20,000,000,000). Many students of the subject calculate that not nearly so many have lived. Not all of these, as it has been shown in the foregoing discussion, will receive a resurrection, but even assuming that they did, there would be no problem as to living space and food for them. The land surface of the earth at present is about 148,000,000 sq km (57,000,000 sq mi), or about 14,800,000,000 ha (36,500,000,000 acres). Even allowing half of that to be set aside for other uses, there would be more than a third of a hectare (almost 1 acre) for each person. As to earth's potential food production, a third of a hectare will actually provide much more than enough food for one person, especially when, as God has demonstrated in the case of the nation of Israel, there is abundance of food as a result of God's blessing.-1Ki 4:20; Eze 34:27.”
There is a lot of speculation on this subject to fill up a long paragraph with fluff and give the impression of proof. But read the paragraph carefully, and any other on this subject, and try to locate the Biblical proof for such a resurrection during the Thousand Years. Rather than prove the resurrection occurs during the Thousand Years, much time is spent in trying to overcome the literal statement at Revelation 20:5. Note this in the publication Revelation Climax:
The Rest of the Dead
14 Whom, though, will these kings judge if, as the apostle John here inserts, "(the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended)"? (Revelation 20:5a) Again, the expression "come to life" has to be understood according to context.106 This expression can have varying meanings in varying circumstances.107 For example, Paul said of his anointed fellow Christians: "It is you God made alive108 though you109 were dead in your trespasses and sins." (Ephesians 2:1) Yes, spirit-anointed Christians were "made alive," even in the first century, being declared righteous on the basis of their faith in Jesus' sacrifice.-Romans 3:23, 24.”
|106||CONTEXT. This is almost a shock because the book completely ignores the context.|
|107||VARYING CIRCUMSTANCES. Will one first consider the “circumstances” right at hand here in Revelation 20:4-6? Note in verse 4 the Christian Saints “came to life” upon the “first resurrection.” What would “not come to life” mean but they were not resurrected? In both verse 4 and verse 5 the Greek word ezesan is used for “came to life.” In the later verse it is in the negative, ouk ezesan. Since the positive ezesan means a resurrection, it follows ouk ezesan, means not resurrected. How could one get any closer to the “context” and the “circumstances”? (Compare forms of the word ezesan at Romans 14:9 and Revelation 2:8 which deal with the subject of resurrection.)|
|108||MADE ALIVE. This is most interesting for this phrase does not occur in the Greek of Ephesians 2:1! Note the phrase “made alive” is bracketed in the NWT: ‘Furthermore, [it is] you [God made alive] though you were dead in your trespasses and sins.’ Note the Greek text completely lacks any form of ezesan until verse 4 where another word is found, synezoopoiesen in this long sentence. The NJB renders verse 1: ‘And you were dead, through the crimes and the sins ... ‘ The JW Diaglott also renders this: ‘And you, being dead in offenses and sins ... ‘ Does it seem fair to use as the only text to support an assertion one which has been altered by a bias translation? In the NWT verse 5 has “made us alive” applied to the Saints who experience a heavenly exaltation by the resurrection of Christ.|
|109||YOU. The text is talking about the anointed Saints, not an earthly resurrection.|
A more recent JW publication, Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, on page 185 asserts the proposition: “During that Millennium, the resurrection will take place.” But, there is not a single text to support such a fundamental teaching of the Society.
This lack of Scriptural proof is seen in other chapters in this book. For example, consider the chapter: “These Are the Last Days!” There is only one text in ten pages which even mentions the phrase “last days” – 2 Timothy 3:1. I examined this verse in Greek with great interest. The KIT has it literally: “This but be you knowing ... “ The NWT identifies the singular and plural “you” by capitalizing YOU when it is plural. Here in the KIT the “you” is lower case indicating it is directed only to Timothy and would therefore have to have an application to Timothy’s circumstances and not some generation far into the future.
I had begun wondering who in the world was editing the Watchtower copy. I had learned anything written goes through over twenty editing filters. More and more phrases were appearing which in the past applied solely to the anointed, but were now being applied to the “other sheep.” An example of this is the designation “the true Christian congregation.” I researched this by computer and the term had always been applied to the anointed as a synonym for the “faithful and discreet slave class.” When it showed up in the Tower applied to both the other sheep and the anointed, I wrote the Writing Department suggesting too many of the other sheep were writing and editing the literature otherwise these contradictions would not show up.
A rumor began to circulate about the teaching of the “rapture.” Technically, this is not a JW doctrine, but when I heard the rumor enough I began to look into the subject. When I say “look into” I would normally do a computer research on Watchtower publications on the word “rapture” as well as the key text dealing with the subject: 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.
I wrote the Society asking about this rumor circulating, including the news that the GB was divided on the subject. I offered the following observations:
The Greek word translated “caught away” in the NWT is harpagesometha. In Latin the root for such a word was rapere from which Jerome, when he translated the Greek into his Latin Vulgate in the Fourth Century, used rapiermur: ‘deinde nos qui vivimus qui relinquimur simul rapiermur cum illis in nubibus obviam Domino in aer et sic semper cum Domino erimus ... .’ Therefore, it was useless to say that JWs and the Bible did not teach a “rapture” of the living Saints. The Society’s response was terse and indirect: that is, ignoring the argument above and stating I should know the difference between the JW teaching and that of “Christendom.”
This caused to me to begin to research this subject of the rapture. I had found over the years that no JW I had ever met could explain 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. In fact, I even avoided it whenever it arose in the field ministry by changing the subject. The general explanation is given in the Reasoning book:
Definition: The belief that faithful Christians will be bodily110 caught up from the earth, suddenly taken out of the world, to be united with the Lord "in the air." The word "rapture" is understood by some persons,111 but not by all, to be the meaning of 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The word "rapture" does not occur112 in the inspired Scriptures.
|110||BODILY. This “loads” the question with an element not discussed in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17|
|111||SOME. To be fair this ought to state “most” or the majority, but not JWs.|
|112||RAPTURE DOES NOT OCCUR. This is misleading for “rapture” is a Latin rooted word. As noted above Jerome did use a word for “rapture” in his Latin Vulgate.|
When the apostle Paul said that Christians would be "caught up" to be with the Lord, what subject was being discussed?113
|113||SUBJECT. This is an effort to distract attention. It is true the subject is “resurrection” but as in 1 Corinthians 15:50-53, there is an exception to the general rule: those Saints alive at the time of Christ’s return.|
1 Thess. 4:13-18, RS: "We would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep ["those who sleep in death," NE; "those who have died,"114 TEV, JB], that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." (Evidently some members of the Christian congregation in Thessalonica had died. Paul encouraged the survivors to comfort one another with the resurrection hope.115 He reminded them that Jesus was resurrected after his death; so, too, at the coming of the Lord, those faithful Christians among them who had died would be raised to be with Christ.)
|114||DIED. This rendering of the Greek word for “sleeping” is rejected when it comes to a similar word at 1 Corinthians 15:51.|
|115||RESURRECTION HOPE. Not exactly, Paul says to comfort “with these words.” That is, the hope of the dead being raised and the living being “caught away” or raptured.|
Who are the ones that will be 'caught up in the clouds,' as stated at 1 Thessalonians 4:17?
?1Th 4 ?Verse 15 explains that they are faithful ones "who are left until the coming of the Lord," that is, they are still living at the time of Christ's coming.116 Will they ever die?117 According to Romans 6:3-5 and?;? 1 Corinthians 15:35, 36, 44 (quoted on pages 314, 315), they must die118 before they can gain heavenly life. But there is no need for them to remain in the death state awaiting Christ's return. They will instantly be "caught up,"119 "in the twinkling of an eye," to be with the Lord.-1 Cor. 15:51, 52, RS; also Revelation 14:13.
|116||COMING. To JWs this would be 1914. Actually, none were resurrected even in 1914. Technically it was three and a half years later in March 25, 1918. So, in this vein, JWs do not believe the resurrection took place when Christ returned in 1914.|
|117||WILL THEY DIE? Paul is discussing what happens to the “living” when they are caught away, in contrast to the dead who will be resurrected. Does it seem fair to state the “living” do not die? This agrees with what he writes later to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:51): “not all of us are to die.” (MOF, GDSP) That is, “not all of us will lay down in sleep.”|
|118||THEY MUST DIE. Judging Romans 6:3-5 by 1 Corinthians 15:51 there is an exception to this generalized rule. Regarding 1 Corinthians 15:35, 36, it is good to note the NWT use of the singular “you” meaning that one person who had raised the question, and not all Christians.|
|119||CAUGHT AWAY. The footnote in the NWT is not mentioned: “at the same time.”|
Will Christ appear visibly on a cloud and then take away faithful Christians into the heavens while the world looks on?120
|120||WORLD LOOKS ON. Revelation 11:12 answers the question.|
Did Jesus say whether the world would see him again with their physical eyes?
John 14:19, RS: "Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more,121 but you [his faithful disciples] will see me; because I live, you will live also." (Italics added.) (Compare 1 Timothy 6:16.)
|121||WORLD WILL SEE ME NO MORE. Is it possible Jesus means the “world” will not see him upon his resurrection but his apostles will as well as some non-Christians in the “world.” (1 Corinthians 15:8) Compare Acts 10:40, 41.|
What is the meaning of the Lord's 'descending from heaven'?122
|122||DESCENDING. JWs believe this word is understood by the Lord’s merely “turning his attention” to the earth. However, that the sight of Christ’s return is something seen by the entire globe is shown by Matthew 24:30: ‘And then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.’ If all earth’s tribes do not really see anything why are they in such lamentation?|
Could the Lord "descend from heaven," as stated at 1 Thessalonians 4:16, without being visible to physical eyes? In the days of ancient Sodom and Gomorrah, Jehovah said that he was going to "go down to see" what the people were doing. (Gen. 18:21, RS) But when Jehovah made that inspection, no human saw him, although they did see the angelic representatives that he sent. (John 1:18) Similarly, without having to return in the flesh, Jesus could turn his attention to his faithful followers on earth to reward them.
In what sense, then, will humans "see" the Lord "coming in a cloud"?
Jesus foretold: "Then they will see the Son of man [Jesus Christ] coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (Luke 21:27, RS) In no way does this statement or similar ones in other texts contradict what Jesus said as recorded at John 14:19. Consider: At Mount Sinai, what occurred when God 'came to the people in a thick cloud,' as stated at Exodus 19:9? (RS) God was invisibly present; the people of Israel saw visible evidence of his presence, but none of them actually saw God with their eyes. So, too, when Jesus said that he would come "in a cloud," he must have meant that he would be invisible to human eyes but that humans would be aware of his presence. They would "see" him with their mental eyes, discerning the fact that he was present. (For further comments, see the main heading "Return of Christ.")
Is it possible for Christians to be taken to heaven with their physical bodies?123
|123||PHYSICAL BODIES. Paul does not mention “physical bodies”.|
1 Cor. 15:50, RS: "I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable."
Will faithful Christians perhaps be taken to heaven secretly, simply disappearing from the earth without dying?
Rom. 6:3-5, RS: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? . . . For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." (What occurred in the case of Jesus set the pattern. His disciples as well as others knew he had died. He was not restored to heavenly life until after his death and resurrection.)
1 Cor. 15:35, 36, 44, RS: "Some one will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?' you foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.124 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body." (So death comes before one receives that spiritual body, does it not?)
|124||UNLESS IT DIES. As pointed out the NWT has the singular “you” here, thus Paul’s point is directed to that person living at that time, not to all Christians.|
Will all faithful Christians be taken miraculously from the earth by the Lord before the great tribulation?125
|125||TRIBULATION. The whole point is missed that Christ “gathers” his chosen ones after the Great Tribulation. This is plainly stated at Matthew 24:29-31.|
Matt. 24:21, 22: "Then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world's beginning until now, no, nor will occur again. In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short." (This does not say that "the chosen ones" will all have been taken to heaven before the great tribulation, does it? Rather, it holds out the prospect to them, along with associates in the flesh, of surviving that great tribulation on earth.) (This does not say that "the chosen ones" will all have been taken to heaven before the great tribulation begins, does it? Rather, it may indicate that some of them, along with associates in the flesh, will survive that great tribulation on earth.)
Rev. 7:9, 10, 14, RS: "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!' . . . 'These are they who have come out of the great tribulation.'" (To "come out" of something a person must go into it or be in it. So this great multitude must be persons who actually experience the great tribulation and come out of it as survivors.126) (Regarding their being on earth, see pages 167, 168.) (END QUOTE)
|126||SURVIVORS. JWs teach the vast bulk (over 90%) of the 144,000 are resurrected before the great tribulation, contradicting the point made above about the Bible not saying "the chosen ones" will all have been taken to heaven before the great tribulation, does it? But, that is exactly what JWs believe.|
In addition to this discussion in the Reasoning book I searched any major commentaries on 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 in the publications. The answers given readers of the publications are similar to that above.
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
©2000 All Rights Reserved