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:  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 this movement? 

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:  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:  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:  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 "right" dates. 

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 of Nations:  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." 5 

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:  Vine who wrote these lines, then quotes Daniel 7:23, 24 and continues:  Further on in the book, Vine explains:  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:  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 explains:  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:  CONCLUSION  

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 

Notes 
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, 328. 
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, 
235. 
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, p. 203. 
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. 49, 50 
21 Gasper, p. 52.