This is the second installment of a forthcoming brochure.
When speaking of his second coming Jesus saw fit to warn his followers to beware of the inevitable presence of deceivers and imposters who will both precede and accompany his parousia. In fact, in responding to his apostles’ request for a sign Jesus first warned them to look out that they are not misled because many will be misled by false Christs. Jesus reiterated his warning, saying that during the tribulation Christians will be delivered up and killed and “many will be stumbled and will betray one another and will hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and mislead many.”
Finally, he went on to say: “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Christ,’ or, ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will give great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones. Look! I have forewarned you. Therefore, if people say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; ‘Look! He is in the inner chambers,’ do not believe it. For just as the lightning comes out of eastern parts and shines over to western parts, so the presence of the Son of man will be. Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”
Back when Charles Taze Russell formed the little Allegheny Bible study group the stated goal was to determine the veracity of the primary doctrines of the mainstream churches. Those truth-hungry Christians very quickly realized the falsity of the Trinity, hellfire, the immortal soul and the notion that all saved souls go to heaven.
Besides the elementary doctrines, Russell was deeply interested in the second coming of Christ. And even though his Bible research was still in its infancy no sooner had the Watchtower Society come into existence Russell declared that an invisible presence of Christ had begun in 1874.
It is true, there is a distinction between the Lord’s presence and his coming, as Russell discerned. But what is the scriptural basis for an invisible presence? How was it possible for Russell to discern that Jesus invisibly returned in 1874 when the Bible Students were woefully ignorant about Bible prophecy? It was based merely on an interpretation of now-discarded chronology.
Did not Jesus assure us that where two or three are gathered in his name he is in their midst? That is nothing to take for granted. Surely then, there is a profound difference between Jesus being in our midst and his coming alongside as a minister. Most assuredly, if Jesus is invisibly present in the midst of believers prior to his coming, ought we not expect something far more extraordinary during his foretold presence?
Given the fact the Bible Students continued to believe that the parousia began in 1874 even long after 1914, it should be obvious that there is something profoundly wrong with the Watchtower’s invisible parousia doctrine. Even with the 1930 reset of the parousia, how is it possible that Christ was present in their midst beginning in 1914 and for 15 more years the Bible Students continued laboring under the delusion that his presence had begun in 1874? Why is Christ’s presence so ineffectual? Why is it so easy for someone to arbitrarily shift the date of Christ’s presence around?
It is high time for thinking Bible students to follow the apostolic admonition and “make sure of all things.”
What is the scriptural basis for the Watchtower’s invisible parousia teaching? The underlying reasoning is surprisingly specious.
For example, the Watchtower claims that if Christ returned in the flesh he would be retracting the ransom sacrifice of his body. The assumption being, that Jesus can only be visible if he materializes a human body. But did not Jesus materialize in various human bodies after his resurrection? He surely did. After Jesus was resurrected into the spirit realm he materialized flesh on numerous occasions in order to convince his disciples that he was alive. On one occasion he rebuked them for being senseless and slow in heart to believe all the things the prophets spoke concerning the Christ. On two other occasions after his death, his disciples were gathered behind locked doors and Jesus stood in their midst. Could that foreshadow the parousia? There are sound reasons for believing so.
It is equally specious that the Watchtower cites the passage at John 14:19 as a proof text for an invisible parousia where Jesus said: “a little longer and the world will behold me no more.” However, in the very same verse, Jesus went on to say: “but you will behold me, because I live and you will live.” Jesus prefaced his remarks by saying: “I am coming to you” —referring to his second coming, which is when those dead in Christ will behold him, but also those who remain in the flesh.
After Jesus was resurrected he appeared to almost 500 people who saw him with their own eyes. Each of those witnesses, however, had become a believer before Jesus was resurrected. Peter explained this to the first gentile believer, saying to Cornelius: “God raised this one up on the third day and allowed him to become manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses appointed beforehand by God, to us, who ate and drank with him after his rising from the dead.”
So, Jesus was true to his word, the world of unbelievers did not behold him after his death. Only believers who had been appointed by God were allowed to see him. Following that pattern, the unbelieving world will see the sign of the Son of Man in heaven and beat themselves in grief, whereas the chosen ones will behold him in a way that no other humans will. In that way the words of the apostle will be fulfilled: “Beloved ones, we are now children of God, but it has not yet been made manifest what we will be. We do know that when he is made manifest we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as that one is pure.” –1 John 3:2-3
Another line of reasoning presented by the Watchtower is that Christ now dwells in inapproachable light which no man may behold. While that is true, Jehovah likewise may not be seen by mere mortal eyes. Nevertheless, Jehovah displayed his glory to Moses. The encounter was so glorious that afterward Moses’ face emitted an incandescent glow.
Is it possible that the presence of Christ will involve a similar type of manifestation? Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus indicates that to be true. Relating his experience to the Corinthians Paul said that he was the last of the disciples to see the resurrected Christ and that his experience was as if he had been born prematurely. (1 Corinthians 15:8) So, even though Jesus dwells in inapproachable light the Pharisee-turned-apostle saw a glimpse of Christ’s glory. In what sense was he born prematurely? Whereas all of the other disciples saw Jesus in human form before he ascended to heaven, Paul saw the glorified Jesus, as all the chosen ones on earth will see him during his parousia.
Is it such a trivial thing to herald a false presence of Christ, as the Watchtower did for more than a half-century? In effect, were not the Bible Students led to believe that Christ was present in the inner chambers from 1874? And since the Watchtower has never disavowed that Jesus’ presence has begun —only shifting it from 1874 to 1914 —what does this portend for the future?
In his warning regarding false prophets claiming Christ is here and there —in the inner chambers or in the wilderness —how is it possible for the chosen ones to be deceived? The Watchtower claims that the wheat has already been gathered into the storehouse and the weeds have been clearly defined. If that is true and the chosen ones are found solely among Jehovah’s Witnesses, how, if it were possible, might the chosen ones be deceived by anyone other than the trusted channel of the Watchtower?