Just who was Jesus Christ? The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS) – also known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses – asserts it possesses the final answers to all questions about Jesus Christ. A small committee of supposedly inspired WBTS biblical interpreters called the Governing Body claims to have the final word about the person and work of Jesus and all other doctrinal beliefs.
In Part 1 of this two part series, we analyzed the Jehovah’s Witnesses perspective of the nature of Christ. We explained how the WBTS absolutely denies Jesus’ eternal pre-existence and deity. We showed how it intentionally distorts the Bible in its official translation, The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT). The NWT clearly mistranslates certain key passages to obscure the biblical truth of Jesus’ eternal deity as the Second Person of the Trinity.
In this installment we continue our examination of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ concept of Jesus by evaluating their teachings on His birth, life, death, resurrection, atonement, and return.
The WBTS teaches that Michael the archangel, who they identify as the pre-existent Word (Jesus), disappeared from heaven in 2 B.C. and was conceived miraculously by (the Virgin) Mary. “Since actual conception took place, it appears that Jehovah God caused an ovum or egg cell in Mary’s womb to become fertile, accomplishing this by the transferal of the life of his firstborn Son from the spirit realm to the earth” (Aid, p. 920).
“Marvelously, Jehovah transferred the life-force and the personality pattern of his first-born heavenly Son to the womb of Mary. God’s own active force, his holy spirit, safeguarded the development of the child in Mary’s womb so that what was born was a perfect human” (Reasoning, p. 255).
Christians concur with the Watchtower Society’s belief in the miraculous virgin birth (actually it refers to His conception) of Jesus Christ. The WBTS also contends that it has determined the exact dates for Jesus’ birth, baptism, and death. “Jesus was evidently born in the month of Ethanium (September – October) of the year 2 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era), was baptized about the same time of the year in 29 C.E. (Common Era), and died about 3 p.m. on Friday, the fourteenth day of the spring month of Nisan (March – April), 33 C.E.” (Aid, p. 920).
Most Bible scholars dispute the above chronology for many reasons and agree that Jesus’ birth date cannot be determined precisely. For instance, most scholars disagree with the date of 2 B.C. based on historical evidence that King Herod I, who attempted to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16-17), died in 4 B.C.
In addition to its unscriptural notions of Jesus’ preexistence as Michael, another related major objection by Christians is the WBTS’ depersonalization of the Holy Spirit. They consider the Holy Spirit as only “God’s active force” – not a person at all.
Jesus’ Life and Death
The WBTS teaches that, after His birth, Jesus became a perfect man who came to earth to bear witness to the truth of Jehovah God and to defeat Satan. It says Jesus received His messiahship at age 30, on the day of His baptism. “By pouring out his holy spirit (note: lower case used in original) on Jesus, Jehovah was anointing him or appointing him to be the King of his coming kingdom. Being thus anointed with the spirit, Jesus became the ‘Messiah,’ or the ‘Christ,’ which words in the Hebrew and Greek languages mean, ‘Anointed.’ Therefore, he became, in fact, Jesus Christ, or Jesus the Anointed” (Live, p. 60).
The WBTS maintains that because a perfect man, Adam, sinned, only the perfect sacrifice of another perfect man could bring salvation. “By his disobedience the perfect man Adam lost perfect life on a paradise earth for himself and all his children. Jesus Christ gave his own perfect life to buy back what Adam lost. Yes, Jesus ‘gave himself a corresponding ransom for all’” (Live, p. 62).
Thus, the Watchtower Society teaches that Jesus’ ransom death, at age 33, balanced the scales of justice between Adam’s sin and God’s perfect requirements. “Even now Jesus’ ransom sacrifice can benefit us. How? By exercising faith in it we can enjoy a clean standing before God and come under his loving and tender care. But we can freely seek forgiveness from God on the basis of the ransom, with confidence that he will hear us” (Live, p. 63). Actually the WBTS teaches that, though Jesus death atoned for Adam’s sin, people’s eternal salvation nonetheless depends on their obedience to and works for the WBTS organization.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also teach the odd idea that Jesus was crucified on a “torture stake” instead of a cross (Matthew 27:32, NWT). They even specifically date Jesus’ death: “On Nisan 14 of the year 33 C.E. Jesus’ enemies put him to death on a torture stake” (Truth, p. 51).
In general, Christians agree with the WBTS on details of the earthly life of Christ as presented in the New Testament. However, the notion that Jesus became the Messiah only at His baptism runs counter to biblical teaching. Jesus was hailed as the Messiah at His birth and even before (see Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 1:16-18; 2:4; Luke 2:11, 26).
Christians, likewise, agree that Jesus died as a sacrifice for man’s sin, as He was perfect and sinless. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses teaching that Jesus’ death only balanced the scales of God’s justice diminishes the full and total extent of His sacrificial death. His death provided total and complete atonement for mankind’s sin. Also, Christians maintain that linguistic and historical evidence supports the traditional view that Jesus died on a Roman cross.
Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is another radical departure from historic Christian teaching. The WBTS maintains that the Lord’s resurrection was purely spiritual and he only appeared physical.
“Jehovah God did not leave his Son dead in the grave, but raised him to life on the third day. He was not given human life again, because that would have meant that he was taking back the ransom price. But he was ‘made alive in the spirit’ (1 Pet. 3:18, NWT). During a period of forty days after his resurrection he appeared visibly to his disciples a number of times, in materialized bodies, to prove that he really had been raised from the dead” (Truth, p. 52).
Christians affirm the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself prophesied His physical resurrection. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews therefore said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’” (John 2:19-20, NASB).
Jesus clearly indicated the physical aspect of His resurrection when He appeared to His disciples. “And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’” (Luke 24:38-39, NASB).
The physical nature of Jesus’ appearances is further substantiated by His serving and sharing a meal with the two disciples in Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-35), His conversation with Thomas (see John 20:26-29), His appearance to more than 500 people (see 1 Cor. 15:1-8), and His visible ascension to heaven (see Acts 1:9-11).
Jesus’ Second Coming
The WBTS teaches that following His ascension, once again in the form of Michael the archangel, Jesus returned to heaven and sat down at Jehovah’s right hand. He then waited for the end of the seven “times of the Gentiles” as recorded in Daniel 4. The “times of the Gentiles,” according to the WBTS, supposedly began in 607 B.C. when the Babylonians overthrew King Zedekiah of Judah (Note: Bible scholars and historians place the above date at 587-586 B.C.). Jesus would begin His rule at the end of this period, figured by the Watchtower Society as 2,520 years (based on the “seven times” of Dan. 4:16, 23).
“What was to happen at the end of these appointed times of the nations (Gentiles)? Jehovah was to give the power to rule to the One ‘who has the legal right!’ This One is Jesus Christ” (Live, p. 140). “This means that Jesus Christ began to rule as King of God’s heavenly government in 1914″ (Live, p. 141).
The above statement would surprise most non-Jehovah’s Witnesses. If Jesus returned to rule in 1914, then where is He? Jehovah’s Witnesses answer that Jesus’ rule is in heaven and that He will never appear physically on earth again. At the present time, Satan is in control of this world and its institutions – especially the Christian churches. However, in the near future, the world as we know it will be destroyed by Christ from heaven and the millennium, or 1,000 year judgment day, will begin.
When will this take place? The WBTS for years claimed that it would take place in “this generation” (Matt. 24:14, 34). “Which generation did Jesus mean? He meant the generation of people who were living in 1914. Those persons yet remaining of that generation are now very old. However, some of them will still be alive to see the end of this wicked system” (Live, p. 154). In recent years it has necessarily modified this view to include people born later in the 20th century, further demonstrating the fallacious claims of the WBTS of infallibility of scriptural interpretation.
The WBTS, furthermore, says that during the 1,000 year “Judgment Day,” most people will be resurrected and judged by Christ and the 144,000 “anointed class” of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “We have certainly seen that when the dead come forth from the grave, they are not judged by their past deeds. Rather, they are judged on the basis of what they do during Judgment Day (the millennium)” (Live, p. 180). At the close of Judgment Day, those deemed not worthy of eternal life will be cast into the “lake of fire,” along with Satan and his demons, and annihilated from existence. The world then being purified, those Jehovah judges as righteous will live forever in Paradise on earth, and Jesus (Michael) will then turn His kingdom back over to Jehovah.
Perhaps no theological issue has fostered as much interest, debate, and disagreement among Christians as “last things” (eschatology). However, the assurance of Christ’s second coming is held in common by all Bible believing Christians. Though they may differ about the details, all affirm that Jesus will return physically to earth to judge humankind and establish God’s kingdom (see Matt. 16:24-27; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36). All Christians reject the WBTS’ dating of 1914 as spurious. In fact, Jesus specifically warned that no one knows the time of His coming (see Matt. 24:4-7,36; Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7). Nonetheless, believers are admonished to be alert, ready, and watching at any time for the Lord’s return (see Matt. 24:14, 25:13; 1 Thess. 5:1-11).
Christians contend that Jesus will judge all humankind. Those found righteous (saved Christians) will inherit eternal life in heaven and the lost will suffer eternal punishment (see Matt. 18:8-9, 25:41-46; Mark 9:47-48; 2 Thess. 1:9; Rev. 20-22). No second chance or probationary period will be given. As Hebrews states: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27, NASB).
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s concept of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done is opposed to the historic, biblical, and Christian position.
Jesus Christ is the Lord, the Second Person of the Godhead, who came to earth as a Man, lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and was resurrected bodily from the dead (1 Cor. 13:1-8). He ascended into heaven and will return to earth to judge all people and angels and to establish the eternal kingdom of God. Christians know that by God’s grace, through faith in Christ, they are assured a place in His kingdom (1 John 5:13). Jehovah’s Witnesses also can have that assurance. They first must renounce the unbiblical teaching of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Then they must repent of their sin (Acts 3:19), place their faith in Jesus alone for salvation (Eph. 2:8-9), and surrender to Him as their Lord (God) and Savior (Rom. 10:9-10). As Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6, NASB).
Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. Used by permission.
© 2013 Tal Davis