The word “Armageddon” appears only once in the Bible, but this one word defines Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their preaching work, their understanding of history, current events, their stance on higher education–everything comes down to the imminence of “Jehovah’s Day.” Unlike mainstream Christianity, which typically speaks of Armageddon in vague, “fire and brimstone” terms, Watchtower has given its followers an increasingly specific picture about the series of events that they can expect to occur. In this article we will examine exactly what Jehovah’s Witnesses anticipate Armageddon to entail.
The reasoning behind Armageddon happening at all is based upon what Jehovah’s Witnesses assert is the grand theme of the Bible: the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty . Per Watchtower theology:
- At the Garden of Eden, Satan, disguised as a serpent, challenged Jehovah’s right to rule mankind by tempting Eve.
- In order to answer this challenge, Jehovah allowed Satan to rule mankind, to prove that his rule is superior to man’s.
- However, Jehovah also promised that he would restore earth to its Edenic state–a paradise–and cleanse the earth of the wickedness that had risen up in the intervening generations.
- After Armageddon, in “the new system of things,” wicked and righteous people alike will be resurrected in the flesh and be given the chance to serve Jehovah under perfect conditions.
Armageddon, then, is the event where Jehovah “vindicates his name” and unleashes destruction against all those who refused to worship him correctly (i.e. all those who did not become Jehovah’s Witnesses).
All of Watchtower’s theology is filtered through this lens. They are so certain of its exactitude that they have put it in the introduction to their translation of the Bible. And it is from this unique lens that all interpretations of prophecy are extrapolated.*
Given this framework, then, let’s examine how Watchtower asserts Armageddon will come about.
Step One: The Cry of “Peace and Security.”
Per Jehovah’s Witnesses’ theology, Armageddon is preceded by a period of time known as “the great tribulation.” The phrase is taken from Jesus’ words in the book of Matthew.
- “for then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” Matthew 24:21 NWT
Watchtower asserts that the beginning of the great tribulation is marked by a worldwide “cry of peace and security,” a phrase taken from a completely different book of the Bible.
- Whenever it is that they are saying, “Peace and security!” then sudden destruction is to be instantly on them, just like birth pains on a pregnant woman, and they will by no means escape. 1 Thessalonians 5:3 NWT
This cry of peace and security, they say, will be made by the United Nations, who Watchtower alleges is the “wild beast” from Revelation.
World leaders sometimes use similar expressions when they talk about stabilizing relationships between nations.* However, the announcement of “peace and security” that the Bible describes will be different. Why? When this happens, people may think that world leaders have succeeded in making the world a safer, more secure place. But in reality, “sudden destruction” will follow as the “great tribulation” unfolds”
Watchtower Study Edition–October 2019, pg 8 par. 3
To translate: world leaders will, in some way, declare that world peace has been achieved, and the masses will believe that this is in fact the case. The manner in which this will be declared is unclear, which Watchtower admits in the same study article cited above:
We do not know what will lead up to it or how the declaration will be made. And we do not know whether it will involve just one proclamation or a series of announcements. Whatever happens, we do know this: We should not be fooled into thinking that world leaders can actually achieve world peace. Rather, it is that declaration that we have been told to watch for. It is the signal that “Jehovah’s day” is about to begin!
“Peace and security,” then, is the Armageddon starter pistol. What happens next is an incredible worldwide conflict that puts Jehovah’s Witnesses front and center.
Step Two: The Abolition of “False Religion.”
The nations may claim that they have achieved peace and security. Then, the nations supporting the UN destroy the institutions of false religion. This marks the opening phase of the great tribulation. That tribulation will end with the destruction of the entire world system at Armageddon.
Watchtower Study Edition, May 2020, pg. 8-11
Yes, according to Watchtower, the United Nations will enact a worldwide ban on religion. Why would they do such a thing? They’ll have no choice but to do it, actually. As Watchtower sees it, Jehovah himself will be the one to put this idea “into the hearts” of world leaders.
…the nations will have no control over what happens at this point. Why not? Because “God [will] put it into their hearts to carry out his thought.” What is that thought? To destroy the world empire of false religion, including Christendom.* God will put his thought into the hearts of “the ten horns” of the “scarlet-colored wild beast.” The ten horns represent all the political powers that support “the wild beast”—the United Nations. (Rev. 17:3, 11-13; 18:8) When those political powers turn on false religion, that will mark the beginning of the great tribulation. It will be a truly catastrophic world event.
Watchtower Study Edition–October 2019 pg 14 par. 3
Here we have something of a paradox with Witness theology. Watchtower asserts that Jehovah is allowing Satan to rule this current “system of things” in order to prove that Satan’s rule is inadequate. However, they also contend that Satan will actually succeed in achieving worldwide peace and security, and it is only because Jehovah puts an idea “in the hearts” of world leaders that Satan fails. Basically, if this is a contest, it seemingly ends with God cheating.
Nevertheless, this is central to Watchtower canon. Because religion is banned, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, God’s “one true organization” will have to worship in secret. Recent organizational videos and artwork has depicted groups of Witnesses hiding in bunkers and attics.
Witnesses are told that they will be the only remaining religion on earth during this time. “Even some clergymen may abandon false religion and claim that they were never a part of it,” says the book Pure Worship of Jehovah–Restored at Last! They expect to become “objects of ridicule,” and imply that authorities will resort to extreme, possibly violent measures to try and stop them.
..The nations may try to disrupt our way of life and stop us from carrying out our worship. To that end, perhaps they will try to interrupt the flow of spiritual food, prevent us from meeting together, break up the unity we enjoy, and stop us from zealously proclaiming God’s message. All of those are elements of the spiritual paradise. Egged on by Satan, the nations will try to efface true worshippers—and along with them pure worship—from the earth.
Pure Worship of Jehovah–Restored at Last! chap. 17 pp. 181-188
This, they contend, is the attack of “Gog of Magog” detailed in Ezekiel 38 and 39.
“The title of Gog of Magog refers, not to an invisible spirit creature, but to a visible human enemy—a coalition of nations that will fight against pure worship”
Pure Worship of Jehovah–Restored at Last! chap. 17 pp. 181-188
Recent Watchtower depictions of the Great Tribulation show Witnesses being pursued and/or raided by armed SWAT teams. This has really happened in Russia, where Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently under ban; re-purposing this upsetting real-life imagery in the context of an inevitable Armageddon undoubtedly stirs up fear and anxiety among Watchtower members.
Despite all this persecution, Witnesses’ preaching work will continue, albeit in a different form.
Step 3: A Message of Judgment
After the Great Tribulation begins, Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that nobody will be able to join the organization. However, they are still told that they must preach a message of judgment to those people who have no hope of survival:
“Let us remember that once the great tribulation begins, it will be too late for people to turn to Jehovah. That is why our preaching work is so urgent!*”Watchtower Study Edition–October 2019 p.9 par. 6
“During the great tribulation, the message that we proclaim will likely change. Currently, we are preaching the good news of the Kingdom and we are endeavoring to make disciples. But at that time, we may well deliver a message as hard-hitting as hailstones. (Rev. 16:21) We may proclaim the impending doom of Satan’s world. In time, we will find out exactly what our message will be and how we will deliver it. Will we use the same methods we have used for over a hundred years to accomplish our ministry? Or will we use some other methods? We will have to wait and see. In any case, it seems that we will have the privilege of boldly proclaiming Jehovah’s judgment message!—Ezek. 2:3-5.”Watchtower Study Edition–October 2019 p.16 par.8
In another case of twisted logic, Witnesses are told that this judgment message will actually be the reason why the Nations start persecuting them.
Sometime after false religion is devastated, Jehovah may well have his people deliver a hard-hitting message, one that the book of Revelation likens to a hailstorm in which each hailstone weighs about 45 pounds (20 kg). (Rev. 16:21, ftn.) This message, possibly a declaration that the political and commercial system is about to end, torments the hearers to such a degree that they blaspheme God. Likely it is this message that provokes the nations into making an all-out assault on God’s people, to silence us once and for all. They will think that we are defenseless, an easy target to destroy. What a mistake that will be!Pure Worship of Jehovah–Restored at Last chap. 18 pp. 189-199
Let’s take a step back, here. To review:
- Witnesses will provoke the nations into attacking them.
- This attack will happen, because Jehovah has put into the hearts of world leaders the desire to turn against his people.
- Jehovah will then punish the nations whose hearts he himself turned against Witnesses.
Beyond this, Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that during this Great Tribulation they must preach an apocalyptic judgment message that nobody will be able to accept.
Step Four: The Grand Finale
It is at this point, when Jehovah’s Witnesses are under attack for pure worship and all hope seems lost, that the typical “fire and brimstone” Armageddon begins. But preceding the destruction will be a supernatural display in the heavens, something that says, more or less, “we told you so.”
Before they are destroyed, our enemies will see the sign of the Son of man, likely a supernatural manifestation of the power of Jehovah and Jesus. The opposers will see things that cause them extreme anxiety. As Jesus foretold, “people will become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.” (Luke 21:25-27) To their horror, they will realize that they miscalculated when they attacked Jehovah’s people. They will be forced to know the Creator in his role as military commander, Jehovah of armies. (Ps. 46:6-11; Ezek. 38:23)
Pure Worship of Jehovah–Restored at Last chap. 18 pp. 189-199
Billions are in line for destruction on this day, the most horrific act of genocide in history. Witnesses are told not to be shocked or disturbed by this notion.
The vast majority of people living on earth today will not survive this world’s end…The idea that God might destroy millions, yes, billions of people whom he considers ungodly might be shocking to some. But keep in mind that God “does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) No, God does not enjoy destroying even wicked people: “I take delight, not in the death of the wicked one, but in that someone wicked turns back from his way and actually keeps living.” (Ezekiel 33:11) However, God must be true to his Word and must fulfill his purpose for this earth. To do that, those whom he regards as lawless must go.Awake! December 8th 1986 pp. 8-11
All of this reinforces the central teaching of Watchtower: imminent destruction looms ahead, and the only way to avoid that destruction is to become a Jehovah’s Witness. While the rest of the world will wallow in despair, Witnesses will be protected, as depicted below:
After these events, Witnesses are told that they will begin to return to a perfect, sinless state and live forever in a Paradise earth, which they will help rebuild. But much like Armageddon, Watchtower has painted an increasingly specific picture of what they imagine this paradise to be. Jehovah’s Witnesses Vision of Paradise–next week on JWFAQ.
*These interpretations are bold, to say the least. Using apocalyptic prophecies such as Daniel, Revelation and Ezekiel Watchtower has compiled a convoluted series of symbols and meanings. The “Wild Beast” is the United Nations, for example; the “great harlot” is false religion; the “king of the north” is “Russia and its allies.” We won’t be getting into all these specifics, but for a complete list of all these bizarre ciphers, see this recent Watchtower article.