THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS AND THE UNITED
NATIONS IN PROPHETIC SPECULATION
"And many false prophets shall arise,
and shall lead many astray. " Matt. 24:11 (ASV.)
How is it that so many individuals through the centuries have found such
a pleasure in playing the role of prophet, despite the fact that their
prophecies so seldom come true? Regularly their predictions fail, yet they
go on with prophesying. One important reason is, without doubt, that being
regarded by others as equipped with remarkable, God-given insights and
abilities may give a person a certain feeling of power and importance.
Doubtless the temptation of having the "ego" strengthened in
this way has produced many a false prophet.
Others may honestly feel that they are divinely guided to a correct understanding
of the Biblical prophecies and are commissioned by God to act as his prophet
by giving warnings to mankind and declaring things to come. In The Watchtower
of April 1, 1972, pp. 197-200, the leaders of the Watch Tower Society lay
claim to such a position for their movement as a whole:
This "Prophet" was not one man,
but was a body of men and women. It was the small group of footstep followers
of Jesus Christ, known at that time as International Bible Students. Today
they are known as Jehovah's Christian witnesses.
And prophesied they have done. It is well known to anyone who has examined
the Watch Tower publications for the past hundred years that this literature
is bristling with predictions, most of which have failed, while many others
are still waiting for fulfillment - or failure.
Numerous pamphlets and articles have been published recently attacking
the Watch Tower Society for their many failed dates, such as 1878, 1881,
1910, 1914, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, and 1975. The purpose here is not to
present another variation on this theme.1 On the
contrary, the intention is to discuss some of the few predictions that
actually - at least in some respectsó have come true. The most striking
examples of these are those related to the formation and obvious failure
of the two international peace organizations of our century, the League
of Nations and the United Nations. The questions that will be answered
are: How specific were these predictions? Did they clearly originate in
the Watch Tower movement? Do they substantiate the prophetic claims of
As an indication of their prophetic ability, the Watch Tower writers, in
the article "Making Known God's Prophetic Truths," published
in The Watchtower of August 1, 1971, pp. 467ff., give the impression that,
prior to the outbreak of the World War in 1914, well-nigh all except for
the Witnesses took an optimistic view on the future, sensing that peace,
not war lay ahead:
The political, religious and commercial elements of this world widely
accepted that view. However, Jehovah's witnesses held a view that was just
the opposite! In the July 1879 issue of their official publication, The
Watchtower (at that time known as Zion's Watch Tower) its readers were
told: "God teaches in many Scriptures that
a great time of trouble will come upon the nations."
IIt is certainly true that strong optimistic trends prevailed during the
last century in the fields of science, politics, economy and religion.
Yet the statement indicates gross ignorance of the views held by millions
of Biblebelieving Christians of that time. "The International Bible
Students" was just one small group among many other, much larger groups
of Christians who in the latter part of the last century predicted that
the world was rapidly approaching the great "time of trouble"
and Christ's second coming. These groups formed parts of a broad current,
known as the "millenarian movement" (so called because of a common
belief in a future millennial kingdom on earth to be ruled by Christ).
This movement had its roots back in the early decades of the last century
and the widespread interest in the Bible prophecies prompted by the French
Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. In the days of Pastor Russell, the
millenarian movement had deeply influenced many of the great denominations,
such as the Episcopal, Presbyterian and Baptist churches. Even at that
time, the millenarian movement included millions of people. Common to them
all was the fact that they did not share the general optimism with respect
to the future of the world. The outbreak of World War 1, therefore, came
as no surprise to these people, as Dwight Wilson points out in his book,
Armageddon Now, (Grand Rapids, 1977 pp. 36, 37:
World War I stimulated the premillennialists to a tiptoe expectancy
and also provided tantalizing fulfillment of some of their longings. The
war itself came as no shock to these opponents of postmillennial optimism;
they had not only looked toward the culmination of the age in Armageddon,
but anticipated "wars and rumors of wars" as signs of the approaching
Wilson then quotes one of the millenarian expositors, R.A. Torrey, who
in his book The Return of the Lord wrote the following in 1913,
one year before the outbreak of the war:
We talk of disarmament, but we all know it is not coming. All our
present peace plans will end in the most awful wars and conflicts this
old world ever saw!
Similar predictions had been made for several decades by different millenarian
writers, and Wilson gives several examples in his book. The view of the
future held by the Bible Students, then, was in no way unique. It was a
view held by practically all fundamentalist Christians of those days. Predictions
of what would take place in the near future were countless, even if the
millenarians generally did not fix dates (there were exceptions!) for the
coming events, as did the Bible Students. They were therefore spared from
the bitter disappointments that the Bible Students had to experience when
the expectations failed and the predicted events refused to appear on the
The Bible Students, as well as several millenarian expositors, had explained
that the World War was the prelude to Armageddon.2 C.l.
Scofield, the famous translator of The Scofield Reference Bible, thought
in 1916 "that the war would be the death struggle of the present world
system which would be succeeded by the Kingdom of God."3
When the war suddenly ended in 1918, this came as a nasty surprise
to these experts on Bible prophecy. They explained that the period of peace
would be very short and that Armageddon would surely come very soon. When,
in 1919, the League of Nations appeared, they immediately predicted that
this organization would fail and that it could just create a temporary
interruption before Armageddon.
Watch Tower writers have often tried to give the impression that
they, because of their prophetic insight, foresaw the failure of the League
When the League of Nations was established,
some of the clergy of Christendom even hailed it as the "political
expression of God's kingdom on earth." However, what were Jehovah's
witnesses saying? Again, just the opposite! The March 1, 1919, issue of
The Watch Tower declared: "Lasting relief to suffering humanity will
come neither through human uplift nor through any league of nations, however
desirable such an arrangement might be, but only through the power of Christ,
. . ."4
What Watch Tower writers fail to mention, however, is that this attitude
towards the peace organization was the one generally held among the millenarians.
As early as 1918, the above-quoted R.A. Torrey had the following to say
at a prophetic conference held by the millenarians in New York City that
year (Nov. 25-28, 1918): "Now that the armistice has come, the
minds of people on both sides of the water are filled with all kinds of
fantastic hopes and anticipations that are doomed to disappointments."
Then Torrey went on to tell his audience that "the League of Nations
can never achieve more than a temporary cessation in hostilities."
6 Dwight Wilson, too, points out that "at
the close of the war, there was little optimism reflected concerning the
peace treaties or the League of Nations. Our Hope (la millenarian
periodical edited by Arno C. Gaebelein) had no hope that the League would
prevent war." 7
Even more detailed predictions concerning the League of Nations were made
by the two Bible commentators, C.F. Hogg and W.E. Vine, in their book,
Touching the Coming of the Lord, published in London in 1919, shortly
before the League was formed. They explained that the failure of the League
of Nations was predicted in the Bible, at Revelation 17:12, 13:
Such a League of Nations, for instance, as is proposed to-day as
a panacea for national wrongs, not only has been foretold in Scripture
as the last resource of international politics, but its failure has likewise
been predicted. 8
Vine who wrote these lines, then quotes Daniel 7:23, 24 and continues:
A corresponding vision was given to the Apostle John. He also saw
a beast with ten horns, and the symbolism is again explained, but in greater
detail: "The ten horns that thou sawest are ten kings, which have
received no kingdom as yet; but they receive authority as kings, with the
beast, for one hour (i.e. for a brief time). These have one mind, and they
give their power and authority unto the beast," Rev. xvii.12,13. Obviously
these ten kingdoms are contemporaneous. The potentates ruling over them
agree to a certain policy in handing over their authority to a superior
ruler. No such league has existed in human history as yet.
Further on in the book, Vine explains:
It is manifest, too, from this Scripture that the existence of the League
will provide the opportunity for a man sufficiently strong to dominate
the situation. 9
Clearly, therefore, a league of nations is in view, and this is
apparently to be the new form of the old empire.... We are not justified,
however, in concluding that the territories of the League of Nations, indicated
by the passages related to the ten horns of the beast, will necessarily
be confined to the area which has just been under consideration [i.e. the
areas of the earlier world empires]. Whatever the arrangement may be, the
fact of the League will prepare the way for the government of the final
and all-controlling despot. 10
It is very interesting to note that the Bible interpretations which the
Watch Tower Society many years later began to attach to the League of Nations
are practically identical to those published by Vine in 1919. It seems
rather obvious that President Rutherford and some of his co-workers were
well aware of the interpretations different millenarians tied to the League
of Nations at an early stage. Vine and Hogg were both well known commentators
on Bible prophecy. Besides, Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament
Words is often quoted in the Watch Tower publications. Watch Tower leaders
picked up his application of Revelation 17:11-13 early in the 1930s, without
mentioning the source or sources of it. A later generation of Witnesses
is now given the impression that the leaders of the Watch Tower Society,
under the influence of God's holy spirit, originated these predictions
and interpretations, and this in turn is used as evidence of their claim
to be Jehovah's modern-day prophet!
Vine and Hogg were both associated with the "Open Brethren,"
a branch of the Plymouth Brethren (also known as the Darbyists). But the
prophetic speculations attached to the League of Nations were very common
among fundamentalist Christians in a number of denominations, for instance
among the Baptists and Pentecostals. Dwight Wilson writes:
The formation of the League of Nations produced immediate speculation.
The following appeared in the Prophetic News and the Evangel (Pentecostal),
and was reprinted in a collection which went through at least five editions:
"The World War thus originated by demon teachings has produced the
result predicted in Revelation 16:14. It has gathered together all the
kings of the earth and of the whole world. It has gathered them into a
league of nations which will become the preparation of the nations for
Armageddon. The gathering or leaguing of the nations together is the signal
that the end is in sigh:. The Peace Conference at Paris had unconsciously
set the stage for Antichrist and Armageddon." 11
How, then, about President Knorr's prediction in 1942 - right in the middle
of World War II - that the peace organization which had disappeared from
the scene at the outbreak of the war in 1939 would "ascend out of
the abyss," (Rev. 17:8) again after the end of the war?" 12
At first glance, this seems to be a remarkable prophecy. It was
a prediction that clearly was fulfilled. But it was in no way unique.
As was shown above, W.E. Vine, as early as 1919, identified the League
of Nations with the "beast" in Revelation, chapter 17. This interpretation
was not adopted by the Watch Tower Society until eleven years later, when
it was presented in volume 2 of the work Light, published in 1930.
In 1919 the Society still held the beast with the woman on its back described
in Revelation, chapter 17, to be the pagan Roman empire, with the apostate
Church of Rome "on its back." 13 This
had been the prevalent Protestant interpretation of these figures ever
since the Reformation in the sixteenth century. But in the second volume
of Light the League of Nations was associated with this prophetic
vision, exactly as Vine had done eleven years earlier. The "scarlet
colored beast" (Rev. 17:3) was explained to be "The Hague International
Peace Conference," formed in 1899. 14 This
organization "functioned until the World War. It then went into
the abyss and ceased to function. After the World War it came out of the
abyss or pit and began to function again in the form of the League of Nations."
15 This understanding was prevalent until 1942 (see
for instance the book Enemies 1937, pp. 283ff.), when it dawned
upon the Watch Tower leaders that World War II would not develop into Armageddon
either. Another interpretation of Revelation 17, therefore, became necessary.
It came also, in the booklet Peace - Can It Last?, founded
upon a speech by the same name delivered by the President of the Society,
Nathan H. Knorr, in the autumn of 1942. The Hague International Peace Conference
was now completely excluded from the role list. The "beast" was
at first the League of Nations. It went "into the abyss" in 1939
at the outbreak of World War II. But it would not remain there. Quoting
Revelation 17:8, President Knorr predicted: "The association of
worldly nations will rise again." 16
As all know, this prediction was fulfilled. But it was not difficult to
make at that time. As Knorr himself pointed out in the same booklet (p.
21), plans of reviving the peace organization after the war were well on
the way, the Axis Powers, Japan and Hungary having signed a "new League
of Nations" already on November 20, 1940. In fact, the United Nations
had already been formed, several months before Knorr's prediction, on January
1, 1942 at Washington D.C., with twenty-six nations signing a joint declaration
on that date.17
Besides, Knorr's prediction was neither new nor unique. Other prophetic
expositors had predicted the same thing - as much as two years earlier!
Dwight Wilson refers, for example, to a prediction by the well known Bible
expositor, Harry Rimmer: "Harry Rimmer in 1940 forecast a new League
of Nations as a result of the war - and the rise of a universal dictator.
The United Nations has arrived, but there is no dictator yet." 18
Thus, the Watch Tower Society can claim no priority on this or other predictions
and prophetic applications attached to the League of Nations and the United
Nations The same views were held by the millenarian fundamentalists in
general at that time, who originated the predictions about the future of
these peace organizations years before they were picked up by the Watch
Tower Society. Fundamentalist Christians in general did not change their
attitude towards the peace organization after World War II. They continued
to regard it as the "beast", of Revelation 17 and - like the
Watch Tower Society at that and like the "harlot" on its back
as corrupt Christendom. 19 Sociologist Louis Gasper
The Fundamentalists literally believed that "the woman arrayed
in purple and scarlet" in Revelation 17 prefigures the establishment
of a corrupted, though colorful world church which would include the Catholics
and Protestants. 20
The attitude of the Watch Tower Society, not only towards the United Nations
but also toward "the organized, corrupted Christendom," then,
is seen to be shared by fundamentalist Christians in general. Even when
it comes to the habit of adopting disapproving resolutions against the
United Nations, the Watch Tower Society closely follows the methods of
the fundamentalist movement:
Although the fundamentalists were generally opposed to the United
Nations and criticized it vehemently, they did not make any organized attempt
to place pressure upon Congress to cause the withdrawal of the United States
from it. Their opposition was usually expressed in the form of statements
and resolutions which were adopted at frequent intervals to indicate their
general disapproval of the United Nations. 21
The above examination has demonstrated that the views held by the Watch
Tower Society about the international peace organizations are more "traditional"
than most Jehovah's Witnesses believe. They are views that, more or less,
have been shared by practically all fundamentalist Christians. The same
holds true of the "predictions" of the future of these peace
organizations presented by the Society: They were simply taken over from
the fundamentalists. If some of these predictions seem to have been fulfilled,
therefore, this does not prove anything as to the Society's ability to
prophesy; it just proves that they are able to plagiarize. For this, no
divine inspiration is needed. If these predictions were divinely originated,
the leaders of the Watch Tower Society should be forced to conclude that
God gave them to fundamentalist Christians outside the Watch Tower organization.
One question remains to be answered: Is the vision of the "beast"
at Revelation 17 really applicable to the League of Nations and the United
Nations of our days? Even if at first glance this application may seem
likely, this author feels it has serious problems. He hopes to return to
this subject in a future article.
Carl Olof Jonsson
1 For a fair, balanced and scholarly discussion of these
prophetic failures and their importance for the doctrinal and organizational
development of the Watch Tower movement see Dr. Joseph F. Zygmunt's article
"Prophetic Failure and Chiliastic Identity: The Case of Jehovah's
Witnesses," published in the American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 75,
July 1969-May 1970 pp. 926 948.
2 Wilson, p. 37ff. The Watch Tower Nov. 1, 1914, pp. 327,
3 Wilson, p 38.
4 The Watchtower, August I, 1971, p. 469.
5 Quoted by Ernest R. Sandeen in The Roots of Fundamentalism,
London 1970, p,
6 Sandeen p. 235.
7 Wilson, p. 56.
8 C.F. Hogg and W.E. Vine, Touching the Coming of the Lord,
London 1919, p. 95.
9 Hogg and Vine, p. 96.
10 Hogg and Vine, pp. 118,120.
11 Wilson p. 81
12 See the booklet Peace - Can It Last? published by the
Watchtower Society in 1942, p. 21.
13 See for example Studies in the Scriptures. Vol. Vll,
first published in 1911, pp. 259, 263. The work went through several editions
in the subsequent years.
14 Light, Vol. 2, 1930, p. 86.
15 Ibid, p. 94.
16 Peace - Can It Last? 1942. p. 21. The Watch Tower Society
has open referred to this prediction as evidence of the prophetic ability
of the organization. The Watchtower of 1960 p. 444, paragraph 19, claimed
they made it, guided by Jehovah's spirit. Cf. also "Your Will Be Done
On Earth, " 1958, p. 282; ''Babylon The Great has Fallen!" Cod's
Kingdom Rules! 1963, p. 585; The Watchtower, Nov. 15, 1963, p. 696; The
Watchtower, Feb. 15, 1967, p. 122 and the 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses,
17 The A American A Annual for 1 944, p. 701, quoted in
The Watchtower, Dec. I, 197 1, p. 723.
18 Wilson, p. 157. Rimmer's prediction is to be found
on p. 83 of his book The Coming We and The Rise of Russia. Grand Rapids,
1940. That Harry Rimmer's writings were not unknown to the Society is seen
from the fact that he has often been quoted in the Watch Tower public cations
on other subjects. See for example the booklet Basis for Belief a New World,
published in 1953, where three of Rimmer's works are quoted on pp. 23,
27, 37 and 44.
19 Since 1963 the Society identifies the "harlot"
with On false religion. See "Babylon the Great Great pub 1963
20 Louis Gasper, 7hc Fundamentalist Movement 1930-lg55,
Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1981 treprint of the 1963 edition), pp.
21 Gasper, p. 52.