As I described in last week’s post, for some time after the 1925 debacle the Watchtower stopped proclaiming specific dates for the “last days,” preferring instead to tie them to “this generation.”

According to president Joseph “Judge” Rutherford, this meant everyone in the new creation—from Jesus’ original disciples down to Rutherford himself and all 20th century “anointed” ones.

At least some of “this generation”—the anointed—would be on earth when Armageddon came.

Once Rutherford explained that there are two classes of Christians—the 144,000 anointed and the great crowd of other sheep—it was no longer clear who the anointed were.

This amorphous concept was open ended and did nothing to fuel end times fervor.

In 1951—less than a decade after Rutherford’s death—the Watchtower changed its understanding of “this generation.”

No longer was it tied to the anointed.

Now it applied to anyone, including those upon whom God’s judgment would fall.

Because the signs of the end began in 1914, the end of the wicked system and the beginning of Christ’s millennial kingdom had to come within one generation of 1914.

The length of time is indicated by him when he said, “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” (Matt. 24:34) The actual meaning of these words is, beyond question, that which takes a ‘generation’ in the ordinary sense, as at Mark 8:12 and Acts 13:36, or for those who are living at the given period. So it was on ‘this generation’ that the accumulated judgments were to fall. (Matt. 23:36) This therefore means that from 1914 a generation shall not pass till all is fulfilled, and amidst a great time of trouble.” (The Watchtower, July 1, 1951, p. 404)

In 1952, the Watchtower reiterated this point: “Some persons living A.D. 1914 when the foretold series of events began will also be living when the series ends with Armageddon. All the events will come within the span of a generation.” (The Watchtower, September 1, 1952, p. 543)

And again in 1962, the emphasis was that “this generation” was literal, not symbolic

“Was Jesus using the word ‘generation’ in a symbolic way? No… The ‘generation’ of Matthew 24:34 includes persons alive at the time that the war in heaven began in 1914… Members of that generation will see the end of the world.” (Awake!, September 2, 1962, p. 27)

“This worldly generation, therefore, has not much longer to live, and the less time it has the more urgent it is that the Witnesses sound the warning and point men to the way of escape.” (The Watchtower, July 1, 1962, p. 389)

Page 95 of the 1968 Watchtower study book, The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, included a diagram which illustrated this teaching.

generation truth book page 95

This was the book Jehovah’s Witnesses were using when I studied with them in 1972.


Let’s recap.

1927: “This generation” meant the new creation from the first century onward

In 1927, the “irresistible conclusion” was that “this generation” meant all members of the new creation from the first century onward.

They would not pass from the earth until Armageddon began.

1951: “This generation” meant that some people who were alive in 1914 would still be alive at the beginning of Armageddon.

“Beyond question,” it meant something else—some of the wicked people who were alive when the signs of the end began in 1914 would still be alive when Armageddon began.

Which is it? Or is either correct?

1968: The diagram above shows the Watchtower’s teaching as it was when I studied with Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1972.