They think I’m bonkers, and maybe, just maybe, they’re right but I cannot help enjoying the rise of excitement I get every Sunday afternoon at one o’clock when Theresa and her colleague arrive.
I wonder who Theresa will bring this time? Maybe Alan or Bill will accompany her. They always come in twos, which is a prudent practice given the concerns about the range of people they might meet, even in a run-of-the-mill suburban neighborhood like mine.
I glance at the clock, which announces that I have about ten minutes until our semi-weekly discussion. Hurriedly, I arrange the living room so that we will be sitting in a triangle facing each other with a TV tray in front of each seat so that we have a place to set our Bibles and notes.
And then, at last, a familiar knock on the door – rap, rap, rap – our regular Sunday session has arrived. I open the door and there is Theresa, smiling, Bible and notes in hand and always, always, with a nicely dressed male colleague. Introductions are made, when necessary, and I invite them into my living room and offer them tea, or water, and let them relax.
My friends think I’m bonkers for being so hospitable, but I am not swayed because I know that the Lord wants me to share Him with my Jehovah’s Witness friends.
I am confident because, even though they have a bounty of literature and a solid, though mislaid, faith, I have the Rock.
I have really not ever been much of a Bible scholar. Sure, I’ve participated in some Bible studies and such, but I have a poor memory for key scriptures. My children can easily trump me in Bible trivia because of their participation in AWANA for many years.
And I believe it is lack of confidence in our ability to respond in a reasoned, gentle and kind way to the Jehovah’s Witnesses which sometimes evokes our less than Christian response and hospitality toward them. We just do not feel that we have time, and in our busy lives that may be the case. But from early on in my Christian walk, I have always felt that God provides these divine appointments for us to refine our faith and equip us to better defend our faith as Peter mentioned:
“…and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear…” (1Peter 3:15-16-HCSB)
I have been meeting with Theresa and her various colleagues for a couple of years now, but it is only in the last year or so that I have happily invited them into my home for tea. Prior to that, our meetings usually consisted of regular front porch dialogues. With my Bible in hand (usually my trusty NIV devotional Bible, so worn that complete sections of the Letters of John and Revelation fall out when I open it), I stand with one leg pressed up against the screen door and the other leg blocking the escape route for my over-social dogs.
During the first front porch dialogues, Theresa spent the majority of time interweaving disparate scriptures from Daniel, Revelation and Isaiah to create a basis for their “end-times” narrative. Being a sincere believer that God can be taken at His word when He states in scripture that no one knows the time and date of Jesus’ return (other than Himself, of course), I always found the mathematical acrobatics required for their “concrete” timelines fascinating.
This is one of their most effective tools for persuasion, and it reminds me of the enormous challenges faced by the apostles in reversing the momentum of the Gnostic teachings of the early church. In order to influence the minds of non-scholars like myself, they take the “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with baloney” approach. Ergo, they provide a complicated explanation of Revelation, in which they stretch days into years (using scripture from Ezekiel and Numbers), identify a start date (using scripture from Daniel) and place the entire fabrication over the top of a Julian calendar to produce a date in October of 1914.
In order to accomplish persuading others of the verity of their claim of “special” knowledge, which they cannot do based on their own translation of the Bible alone, they provide you (free of charge, of course) with a small book called “What does the Bible really teach?” so that you can begin your path of the acceptance of their claims to “secret” knowledge. And they do so with an air of intellectual superiority which I can imagine is particularly impactful to those that are insecure or embarrassed by their depth of knowledge in the areas of history, mathematics and linguistics in which the Witnesses are so obviously geniuses.
Again, I refer you to the challenges of the early church with the Gnostics and “mystery” religions. Regardless of the simplicity of the truth behind the Gospels, there are always those that will claim additional knowledge and infuse a level of complexity with which they can influence people; and exercise a false superiority by which the immature believer may be convinced to follow their lead.
That is why we can take great solace in the fact that, while they may have the ability to operate a slide-rule with confidence, we have the Rock.
Add a dash of current events juxtaposed against the end-time prophecy harbingers, a measure of out of context scripture, and a heaping dose of government suspicion, and it is a wonder that all of the saints aren’t roaming the streets with a copy of “What does the Bible really Teach?” tucked inside their New World Translation bible cover.
I found, after several front porch dialogues, the reference to the year 1914 peaked my curiosity. So instead of continuing with our regular discussions, which revolved around their priority of getting me to affirm without end that what the Bible has to say about the fallen-ness of the world and then commiserating about the details of its fallen-ness, I asked them to help me understand what exactly happened in 1914.
To my surprise (call me a “simpleton”), I was informed that in October of 1914 (they had to reacquaint me with the math) Jesus actually took the throne of his heavenly kingdom (actually the Archangel Michael did, but we will get to that in a few paragraphs). In addition, it was not until October of 1914 that Satan was actually kicked out of heaven and imprisoned on earth. I found that supremely interesting and so, I decided to invite them inside so that I could better get a grasp on this key event since I had not seen a History channel special on this.
What seems to have happened (and I apologize to my Jehovah’s Witness friends if I fudge this a little) is that, prior to 1914, Lucifer (Satan, the Devil, etc.) maintained a fairly high position in heaven. He could come and go as he pleased, and, from what I understand, was quite the mischief-maker when he visited earth.
I apologize if this sounds somewhat mocking, but it was, as it is now, extremely difficult to repeat back what Theresa and William very gravely confirmed without breaking into side-splitting gales of laughter.
Anyway, back to our story, the Accuser/Ancient Serpent in 1914 was expelled from heaven for good. And even though he was aware that this punishment was coming for several thousand years, it was only after they locked the gates behind him that he really got serious about being evil (perhaps before that it was just a hobby), and things like World Wars, the formation of the United Nations, the rock bands AC/DC and KISS and the Clinton administration started happening.
Enough with the levity, but it is a key thing I had to know in order to get to what I consider the cornerstone belief of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And that is that the Kingdom was not formally established until 1914, therefore everything that happened before that point (regardless of how horrendous the event may have been) pales in comparison with the gruesome carnage that has taken place since. And here is the tie-in with my former comparison if the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Gnostics of the early church…ready for it...the Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only true church to whom this has been revealed. So they wander the earth making sure that others are informed (partially) of that which the simple cannot possibly understand until they are indoctrinated and un-simplified.
The challenge of course with defending the Gospel against eschatological beliefs is the issue of interpretation. I mean, we can hardly fault the Jehovah’ Witnesses or the “Left Behind” series for putting forth diverse visions of what the end times may look like, even the disciples who walked with Jesus were curious. Left with a fairly blank canvas including the general description that Jesus gave and the heavy symbolism of the Revelation of John, we all would probably paint a differing picture of Armageddon.
Ever since Theresa and her colleagues had started visiting, I sensed that God was using them in my life for a several purposes. First off, I sensed that He wanted to build my discernment of sound biblical teaching; second, He also wanted me to strengthen my ability to be a patient listener and emulate Jesus through the gentle but firm application of the truth (this is a key “equipping” for the third purpose); and third, identifying and chipping away (by God’s leading) the cornerstone of Theresa’s faith (and her colleagues as well) in the false teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I write this with no animosity toward the Jehovah’s Witnesses individually, nor am I arrogant enough to assume that God would use me to bring down the organization as a whole. My hope and my prayer is this, that I might be given the opportunity to lead Theresa, and whichever colleagues of hers that I can, to the Rock.
While they are busily trying to save me from what they perceive as blindness and institutionalized heresy, I am praying to our Lord Jesus Christ that I can shake the foundations of the lies that imprison them, so that they may come into a life saving relationship with the real Savior.
Now onto what that “weak” cornerstone is and what God has revealed to all of us through scripture that may, by the Grace of God, shatter the basis of their faith in the false teaching so that they may open their hearts to a gentle and kind believer who may guide them in their newfound freedom to the risen Christ.
The absolute cornerstone on which all of the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses rises and falls is this:
Michael the Archangel volunteered to become flesh in the form of Jesus, was crucified and buried, resurrected on the third day, ascended to heaven. And, as of 1914, Michael has been exalted by God as the Christ and placed on the throne as the King of Heaven.
Yes, you got that right. The foundation of the Jehovah’s Witness faith is predicated entirely upon the premise that Jesus and Michael are one and the same, and separate from God. If that is proven false, the rest of the house of cards falls.
Perhaps you are wondering on what basis the Jehovah’s Witnesses are able to substantiate their claim of Michael the Archangel being the same as Jesus the Christ. It goes back to my original statement about interweaving scripture (I prefer the term “twisting”, though it is hardly a term that fosters open dialogue so I refrain from using it in our Sunday studies) to form a “Biblical” narrative that appears, to the less informed, a supporting the oneness of the two disparate individuals. I like to refer to it as the Archangel Circle.
As with many persuasive arguments, it begins with a series of statements that, individually result in agreement, and then comes full circle to an attempt to persuade the listener that a lie is to be affirmed. In short, here is the “Archangel Circle” at work:
The title archangel is always, only used in the singular in the Bible.
Michael is the Archangel.
According to Jude v9 (HCSB): “Yet Michael, the archangel, when he was disputing with the Devil…”
Michael has authority over an army of angels in Heaven:
According to Revelation 12:7 (HCSB): “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels also fought, but he could not prevail and there was no place for them in heaven any longer.”
Jesus has authority over an army of angels in Heaven:
According to Matthew 13:41(HCSB): “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His Kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness.
Nowhere in the Bible does it state that there are two different armies of faithful angels in Heaven.
Additionally in 1st Thessalonians 4:16 (HCSB) it states:
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
Therefore, Jesus commands the only army of the faithful angels in Heaven same as the archangel Michael.
And Jesus also will come from down from Heaven with the archangels (Michael’s-already established) voice.
Ergo, based on the Archangel circle, Jesus is the archangel Michael.
Simple, isn’t it?
Not really so much because of the many, many traditions added to the process of how exactly Michael became flesh? How he could be the Son of God? Why he was renamed Jesus? How, exactly, a man can crucify and kill an angel (much less an archangel, couldn’t we have done that with Satan)?, etc…
Now, during our discussions I have attempted to catch them with John 1:1, which in the NIV states that “The Word was God” and in the New World Translation states that “The Word was a god”. That really is ineffective as the translations of the statement could go either way, grammatically “The Word was God” is far more accurate because of the original Greek sentence form (Don’t I sound smart? Not really, that is the footnote in my Apologetics Study Bible), however a more liberal translation (Read New World Translation) could stretch it to that.
Besides, if you attempt to go to a discussion of the Trinity, you may find yourself in another endless circle which has no intrinsic bearing on the Michael/Jesus connection.
And it is exactly those kinds of circular arguments which Theresa and her colleagues like to use to distract me from chipping away at that cornerstone.
Finally, the familiar knock came, and I rushed over to the door saying a short prayer for guidance as I went. I opened the door, and joy of joys there was Theresa with a different colleague. We exchanged pleasantries and I invited them in. After politely declining my offer for tea, we began our discussion.
“So Aaron, did you have a chance to read chapter four in the book?” Theresa asked hopefully, referring to “What does the Bible really each?”.
“I’m sorry Theresa, to be honest you have been so faithful in providing me with literature regarding so many things that I have had my hands full just keeping up with that.” I replied. “Let’s talk a little more about Michael being Jesus.”
“Great!” she responds, and begins to elaborate on the “archangel circle”.
I listen politely until she reaches the point of stating that there aren’t two armies of faithful angels in Heaven.
“But what about God..err Jehovah?” I ask.
“Doesn’t Jehovah have authority over angels? Didn’t he create them?” I ask.
“Well, of course Jehovah does.”
“Well then, if Jesus is God in the flesh, as I believe, isn’t He, Jehovah, capable of commanding all of the angels including Michael? And therefore, when we talk about Jesus commanding angels wouldn’t include Michael, as he is an angel? The highest ranking angel to be sure, but still a subordinate to Jehovah, and wouldn’t that account for just a single army of faithful angels in heaven?” I could see in their eyes that I had effectively exploited on of the many weak links in the “archangel circle”.
They changed tack and started going after the Trinity by using their translation of Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn OF all creation.” (Emphasis mine) Making the point that Jesus (He) was a created being and could not be the Creator Jehovah.
To that I parried with my trusty, if worn, NIV which states in Colossians 1:15 that: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn OVER all creation.” (Emphasis mine). Making the point that God was pointing, through the apostle Paul, at Jesus’ eminence and authority, not sequence of arrival. I asked them to read the rest of the passage through verse 20, which they did with a slightly pained look on their faces, because it points so clearly to the truth of the Godhead.
There was a pained silence in the air, and then I went in for the heavy chiseling.
“You know Theresa, we have been talking a lot about Michael being the archangel and his special role in God’s...um Jehovah’s plan.” Her eyes brightened. “And you know we all have a role in His great plan, but not all of us have the same role, would you agree?”
“Great, then in respect to Michael the archangel’s role in God’s plan, I am not certain what it is other than to beat up on Satan at Jehovah’s bidding. But I most assuredly know what his role is not, can you read Hebrews 2:5 for me?”
Theresa looked a little confused, but read on:
“For He has not subjected to angels the world to come that we are talking about.”
There was a heavy silence for a moment and then I continued, “Since we all agree that Michael is the arch-angel,” I stretched the word angel for effect “how then, according to this verse, can he also be crowned the King of Heaven and have all of the earth as his footstool.”
The smiles had faded, they were both eyeing me a bit too seriously so I decided to lighten the mood.
“You know I am constantly amazed at how some people act like Christ was Jesus’ last name, it cracks me up.” I made a motion like picking up a phone and dialing. “Hello, may I speak to Mr. Christ.” They both smiled faintly.
“I mean we all know that it is a title…err no that isn’t entirely correct. It is THE title.” I smiled and they nodded knowingly. And without hesitation I went in for another whack at that crumbling cornerstone.
“Theresa,” I gave her as grave a look as I could muster, “do you believe that John’s Revelation was the very word of Jehovah.”
“Yes!” She replied without hesitation.
“And therefore is authoritative in its entirety?”
“Absolutely!” She nearly shouted.
“Good, so do I. Now since we are in agreement with that let me ask you a question do you know how many time Jesus is referred to as the Christ by name in Revelation alone?”
“Several times I’m sure.” She responded warily.
“Jesus Christ, his name and full title appears in Revelation alone 7 times.” I had done my homework. Theresa and her colleague both gave me that “And?” look.
“In the entire Bible, do you know how many times Michael is referred to by the title Christ.”
I didn’t even give them the chance to warm up the “archangel circle”.
“Zero. And do you know why that is? It’s because Michael is not the Christ, and Michael is not Jesus. If Michael was, wouldn’t Jehovah have felt compelled to mention him by a title other than archangel after all that he had submitted himself to for Jehovah’s glory?” Chip, chip, chip.
They were in full reverse at this point and moving back to eschatology and undermining the trinity. Theresa also suddenly had another engagement.
I politely walked them to the door, talking to them along the way.
“I want you to know that I love you both, I truly appreciate your commitment to being open to the word of God…err Jehovah. I also need to make it clear to you that we it is futile for us to discuss our vision of what and when the end times will occur. We are already in agreement about the sovereignty of God and the authority of His Word. But, where we are drastically divided is on our Christology, because simply put, if you do not recognize the risen Christ as Jesus, and instead choose to worship angels…if you choose to worship the created over the Creator…” I sighed, “Then your eschatology and theology are no more valid than your Christology. So until we bridge this gap between your Jesus/Michael fabrication and the real Christ Jesus, we have no reason to continue meeting.”
I closed the door and watched them leave. I hope they return next Sunday, but if they do not then while I don’t have my spirited Sunday discussions, I will always have the Rock of my salvation. Praise Jesus, THE Christ.
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