Since 1914, they have been fervently preaching door-to-door, on the streets and on-line a message that “very soon” God is going to bring an end to the world and its wickedness and set up a new kingdom that will rule earth. Why they believe it will be “very soon” is based on the words of Jesus Christ in the scripture at Matthew 24:34, where it reads:
Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen.
– New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (2013)
Because they believe that God’s Kingdom was set up under the rule of Jesus Christ since 1914, and this is a facet of “until all these things happen” (Then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in grief, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from one extremity of the heavens to their other extremity.Matthew 24:30, 31), they are biblically tied to defining how long a period of time “this generation” is. However, their definition of “this generation” has, and continues to get them into a lot of hot water.
How Long is a Generation?
Simply put, a generation is the period of time between when a person is born and when they reproduce. This is typically a period spanning between 30 & 40 years. When Jesus was warning his apostles of the destruction of Jerusalem, he said it would take place in “this generation”. He made that prophecy in 33 A.D. 33 years later the Romans surrounded Jerusalem and, by 70 A.D., 37 years later, the city was completely destroyed. “This Generation” that Jesus referred to was within the typical time period for a “generation” as defined in secular sources: 30 – 40 years.
Is this how Jehovah’s Witnesses define a generation?
C.T. Russell’s Generation
Charles Taze Russell, the founding member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, initially reckoned a generation to be averaging out at 36.5 years. This application of a “generation” would be consistent with the secular definition:
A “generation” might be reckoned as equivalent to a century (practically the present limit) or one hundred and twenty years, Moses’ lifetime and the Scripture limit. (Then Jehovah said: 'My spirit will not tolerate man indefinitely, because he is only flesh. Accordingly, his days will amount to 120 years.Genesis 6:3) Reckoning a hundred years from 1780, the date of the first sign, the limit would reach to 1880; and, to our understanding, every item predicted had begun to be fulfilled at that date;-the “harvest” or gathering time beginning October 1874; the organization of the Kingdom and the taking by our Lord of his great power as the King in April 1878, and the time of trouble or “day of wrath” which began October 1874 and will end October 1914; and the sprouting of the fig tree. Those who choose might without inconsistency say that the century or generation might as properly reckon from the last sign, the falling of the stars, as from the first, the darkening of the sun and moon: and a century beginning 1833 would be still far from run out. Many are living who witnessed the star-falling sign. Those who are walking with us in the light of present truth are not looking for things to come which are already here, but are waiting for the consummation of matters already in progress. Or, since the Master said, “When ye shall see all these things,” and since “the sign of the Son of Man in heaven,” and the budding fig tree, and the gathering of “the elect” are counted among the signs, it would not be inconsistent to reckon the “generation” from 1878 to 1914 – 36 1/2 years – about the average of human life to-day.
– Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 4 The Day of Vengeance, pp. 604, 605.
Needless to say, the “generation” that C.T. Russell spoke about didn’t see the world end in october 1914, even if the World’s first world war broke out the same year, just 3 months earlier than Russell had foretold.
J.F. Rutherford’s Generation
After waiting patiently for the World to end at some point during The War – and it didn’t – the Watchtower remained silent for almost 10 years after the war ended. Then in 1927, under the leadership of Joseph Franklin Rutherford, the second President of the Watchtower society, a new interpretation was sought to define the biblical meaning of “generation”. This was found within a Watchtower section entitled, Interesting Questions:
Question: In Matthew 24:34 Jesus said: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” What did he mean by “this generation” ?
Answer: It could hardly be said that he meant any human being living on the earth at that time. He was giving testimony concerning things that were to trans-spire at the end of the world. That was a long way off. No generation of the human race has ever existed as long as a thousand years. It follows then that Jesus must have meant something else. What could he have meant ? At the Jordan Jehovah started a new generation, a new creation, of which Christ Jesus is the Head. Jesus selected twelve disciples, who were with him for three and one-half years. Eleven of these we have every reason to believe constitute a part of that new creation. In But you are a 'chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the exellencies' of the One who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.1 Peter 2:9 the apostle, speaking to the church of course, referred to those who are faithful. The irresistible conclusion therefore is that Jesus referred to the new creation 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, Feb 15, 1927, pp.62
The “generation” here is hazily defined as a period of time starting with the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan and ending at Armageddon before all members of the “new creation” had died. The “New Creation” are those who have a heavenly calling, otherwise known as “The Anointed”. This is clearly explained in an earlier Watchtower article (The Watchtower, January 1 1927, pp.6, para 32 & 33). This interpretation of a “generation” was unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses as no secular or religious organizations have or had a similar view of a “generation”.