We almost never get visitors to our house, unless we invite them. When someone pulls into our driveway, it’s to use it as a turnaround. This Saturday, a shiny new SUV rolled up the driveway and a smartly dressed couple got out and came up to the door. As I suspected, they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. There’s a Kingdom Hall not far from our house. I was surprised to see them. Word usually gets around not to go to that house. This couple must be new in town. I was my usual affable self.
I noticed that they were carrying the latest copies of The Watchtower magazine and Awake! Both were dealing with the last days. In fact, the cover of Awake asked this question: “Are We Living in the Last Days?” This is the same title that I used for a series of talks I gave on Bible prophecy about 15 years ago. My answer was “no,” and still is. The Jehovah’s Witnesses give an emphatic “yes.” Of course, they’ve been claiming that we’ve been living in the last days since 1876 and that Jesus returned invisibly to the earth in 1914.
The JWs follow an end-time scenario that is not much different from the one outlined in the Left Behind series. Appeals are made to 2 Timothy 3, sections of Daniel, and, of course, the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. Just like the dispensationalists, the JWs point to 2 Peter 3:3–4 to support their claim that those who do not believe we are living in the last days are “scoffers” and “scoffers.” As evidence that we are living in the last days, they, like the dispensationalists, point to “a tribulation that would be greater than any that had yet occurred” (Awake!, April 2008, 4). Then there are the obligatory references to nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, pestilence, and what they believe is a yet future preaching of the gospel into all the world of our day.
You will also find that JWs and dispensationalist share the belief that world wars, terrorism, tsunamis, diseases like malaria, influenza, and AIDs are empirical evidence that the end must be near. There is also the common belief that Armageddon is still in our future. Like the dispensationalists, JWs “are convinced of the reality of these prophecies” (Awake!, 7).
JWs travel in twos. This is a good strategy (see Luke 10:1). Usually, one is a trainer and the other is a trainee. I directed my comments to the trainee. The trainer was trying to leave, but the trainee wanted to ask some questions. I used the opportunity to point out some things that she will never hear from the local Kingdom Hall. I went through the usual points that Matthew 24 is describing events in Jesus’ day, what would happen to that particular generation (24:34). Since so much emphasis is on world-wide evangelism, I also explained that the gospel proclamation in 24:14 is a description of the gospel going out to the then known world. The Greek word often translated as “world” is oikoumenÄ” and described the political boundaries of the Roman Empire. It is used in Luke 2:1 and Acts 11:28. I made a few other points. My goal was to get the trainee to question what she had been taught. I’m sure there was some debriefing going on when they got back in the SUV.
Everything I heard, except for a few odd translations of passages that come from the New World Translation, is the same types of arguments I get from dispensationalists on almost a daily basis. Of course, there are some notable differences, but the overall apologetic is almost identical. I’ve even experienced dispensational trainers trying to keep contrary arguments from their trainees. They’re afraid their devoted followers will begin to question dispensational dogmatism if they hear people like me question dispensational assumptions. Trying to get dispensationalist authors to come on my radio show to defend their latest books is almost impossible. Here’s what I received from a very prominent dispensationalist author:
What you call an interview is actually a debate. You want to debate the issue. I can appreciate that you’re very busy too, but I’m only responsible for controlling my own schedule, and I have to decide what’s the best use of my own time and energy. I don’t believe it’s a good use of my time and energy at this time because I believe that debating you and other preterists on these kinds of issues lends added credibility to your view. Having someone to debate makes your view of Ezek 38 appear like another equally acceptable alternative, which I don’t believe it is. I try to be careful in what I choose to do with this in mind.
I’m sure you disagree with me, but that’s my answer to you invitation.
I answered by pointing out that if my view is so easy to refute, he should have no trouble mopping the floor with me. The fact that one of his own co-authors agrees with me on a significant point is direct evidence that the prevailing end-time scenario outlined by dispensationalists is beginning to fall apart.