Last week, when we looked at the Watchtower’s definition of “this generation” that would “by no means pass away,” it meant, “peoples of earth who see the sign of Christ’s presence but fail to mend their ways.” (The Watchtower, November 1, 1995, p. 19)

But in 2008, the meaning of “this generation” changed again!

Let’s back up to 2007, when the Watchtower made a change in its long-standing teaching about who could be “born again”—the “little flock”—the “anointed.”

For many years, including through 1995, they taught this: “Logically, the calling of the little flock would draw to a close when the number was nearing completion, and the evidence is that the general gathering of these specially blessed ones ended in 1935.” (The Watchtower February, 15, 1995, p. 19)

“… especially after 1966 it was believed that the heavenly calling ceased in 1935. Thereafter, any called to the heavenly hope were believed to be replacements for anointed Christians who had proved unfaithful.” (The Watchtower, May 1, 2007, pp. 30-31)

But in this article, that teaching was abruptly abandoned: “… it appears that we cannot set a specific date for when the calling of Christians to the heavenly hope ends.” (Same article, p. 31)

Now, the “heavenly calling” to be one of the “anointed brothers” of the new creation had no time limit.

That set the stage for the definition of “this generation” to change again.

Previously, this journal has explained that in the first century, “this generation” mentioned at Matthew 24:34 meant “the contemporaneous generation of unbelieving Jews.” That explanation seemed reasonable because all other recorded uses that Jesus made of the term “generation” had a negative connotation, and in most cases, Jesus used a negative adjective, such as “wicked,” to describe the generation. (Matt. 12:39; 17:17; Mark 8:38) Thus, it was felt that in the modern-day fulfillment, Jesus was referring to the wicked “generation” of unbelievers who would see both the features that would characterize “the conclusion of the system of things…”

It is true that when Jesus used the word “generation” negatively, he was speaking to or about the wicked people of his day. But was that necessarily true of his statement recorded at Matthew 24:34? Recall that four of Jesus’ disciples had approached him “privately.” (Matt. 24:3) Since Jesus did not use negative qualifiers when speaking to them about “this generation,” the apostles would no doubt have understood that they and their fellow disciples were to be part of the “generation” that would not pass away “until all these things [would] occur.”

On the other hand, Christ’s faithful anointed brothers, the modern-day John class, have recognized this sign as if it were a flash of lightning and have understood its true meaning. As a class, these anointed ones make up the modern-day “generation” of contemporaries that will not pass away “until all these things occur.” This suggests that some who are Christ’s anointed brothers will still be alive on earth when the foretold great tribulation begins. (The Watchtower February 15, 2008, pp. 23-24)

Let’s sort this out:

  • Previously, the Watchtower taught that no one could be “anointed” into the new creation after 1935, except as a replacement for someone who proved unfaithful.
  • Now the “heavenly calling” to the “anointed” class had no time limit.
  • Previously, the Watchtower taught that “this generation” referred to wicked ones who rejected Christ and on whom judgment would come.
  • But Jesus was answering disciples who had come to him privately, so they would expect to be among “generation that will by no means pass away.”
  • Therefore, Jesus was referring to “anointed” Christians, including his apostles.
  • He meant that some “anointed ones” will still be alive on earth when the great tribulation begins.

Wait a minute!

Remember what Joseph Rutherford taught back in 1927?

“The irresistible conclusion therefore is that Jesus referred to the new creation [the anointed] when he said: ‘This generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled.’ This then would be a strong indication that some members of the new creation will be on the earth at the time of Armageddon.” (The Watchtower, February 15, 1927, p. 62)

It’s the same thing!

In other words, in 2008 the Watchtower cycled back 81 years to what Rutherford said “this generation” meant.

This prompted my recollection of a 1976 condemnation by the Watchtower:

“It is a serious matter to represent God and Christ in one way, then find that our understanding of the major teachings and fundamental doctrines of the Scriptures was in error, and then after that, to go back to the very doctrines that, by years of study, we had thoroughly determined to be in error. Christians cannot be vacillating—’wishy washy’—about such fundamental teachings. What confidence can one put in the sincerity or judgment of such persons?” (The Watchtower, May 15, 1976, p. 298)

But in 2010, the definition of “this generation” changed yet again!