In this thesis there are many assertions made. One of them is that the teachings of Charles Taze Russell, as regarding the return of Christ being 'multi-staged', shares a common origin with the pre-tribulational, pre-millenial theory of the 'rapture' that is becoming prevalent in many Protestant denominations. This theology is often called Dispensationalism and is becoming very common within Evangelical congregations such as non-denominational churches, Baptist, Pentecostal, and other charismatcs, especially in America.

This 2016 survey indicates that nearly half of American Evangelical pastors believe and teach premillenialism and 36% are pretribulational as well. The survey included Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Pentecostal churches.

This question is directed more towards a theological school of thought than any particular denomination. If I must ask of a denomination then I am asking primarily of those denominations which hold to Dispensational theology; particularly those teachings of a multi-staged return of Christ with the first return being invisible. How do these theologies reconcile the apparent common source of theirs and the Jehovah's Witness eschatology with their strong opposition to the bulk of JW theology?

There is no assertion being made that Protestant dispensationalists and Jehovah's Witnesses believe the same thing eschatologically, but that the two eschatologies appear to share the same origin. To be clear, I am asking Protestant dispensationalists to respond regarding the common roots of dispensational eschatology and Jehovah's Witness eschatology alleged in the thesis linked above.

  • Indicate by reference a Protestant denomination that holds such views today
    – Kris
    Jun 14, 2020 at 23:52
  • @Kris I've edited. Thank you. Jun 15, 2020 at 11:49
  • The link to the PDF of the 2016 LifeWay Research survey does not work. Is this the same survey?
    – BalooRM
    Jun 16, 2020 at 14:10
  • 1
    @BalooRM Nope. I fixed the link, I think. Jun 16, 2020 at 22:06
  • I am looking into the beliefs of Seventh Day Adventists with regard to this question and I think it is important to point out that Adventist Nelson H Barbour was not SDA. Neither was Adventist William Miller who also influenced Charles Taze Russell. SDA say that during the tribulation period and before the millennium Christ's Second Return will be visible. JW's say Jesus will return as Michael the Archangel - Jesus (the man) will not be seen. SDA believe in a rapture JW's do not. SDA believe in a Third Return of Christ (when Heavenly Jerusalem comes down to earth) which will also be visible.
    – Lesley
    Jun 21, 2020 at 15:03

1 Answer 1


Do pre-tribulational, pre-millennial theologies reconcile with Jehovah's Witnesses?

As far as I can ascertain, the answer to your main question must be “no”. However, there is an element of common ground between Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses when it comes to the date of what is described as Christ’s “parousia” or invisible, heavenly presence.

History: Adventist Nelson H Barbour believed that Christ returned invisibly in 1874, although Adventist William Miller had previously claimed the second coming was due around 1843. Barbour and his group rendered 'coming' as 'presence' and came up with the view that the Second Coming was an invisible event. Charles Taze Russell and Barbour believed that Christ's invisible return in 1874 would be followed (in the spring of 1878) by the Rapture. When the Rapture failed to materialise, Barbour came up with 'new light' on this and other doctrines, but Russell was not persuaded. NOTE: Barbour and Miller were NOT Seventh Day Adventists.

Seventh Day Adventist Beliefs: Adventists believe the second coming of Christ will be literal, personal, visible and worldwide. Jesus will resurrect the righteous dead and to then take all of the righteous back to Heaven with Him, as His Bride, to take part in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His Father's House. The Bible teaches that the entire world, including The Bride, will have to experience the Final Tribulation of three and one-half years before Jesus Christ returns the Second time to receive His Bride. Adventists believe in a third coming of Christ to resurrect the unrighteous dead. This is when the Holy City, New Jerusalem, will descend to the earth with all the righteous inside of it. https://www.adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental-beliefs/

The SDA post-tribulation/pre-millennial view of the rapture and the tribulation bears no resemblance to what Jehovah’s Witnesses expect to happen although the Witnesses fully expect that the majority of them will have to go through the tribulation. While researching the official Jehovah’s Witness web site for information on 1914 and dispensationalism, I found a 1985 Watchtower article, part of which says this:

The January 1, 1914, issue of The Watch Tower left room for this development, stating that although “the Year 1914 is the last one of what the Bible terms ‘Gentile Times’ . . . we are by no means confident that this year, 1914, will witness as radical and swift changes of dispensation as we have expected.... Also among those getting a blessing would be what the Bible describes as “a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” Not until 1935 was it fully understood that this “great crowd” would be composed of persons “that come out of the great tribulation,” that is to say, those who abandon Satan’s organization and take their stand on God’s side, so as to survive the execution of God’s judgment. For some five decades now, the work of gathering this “great crowd” has been proceeding in accordance with Jehovah’s purpose. We can rejoice that divine judgment will not be executed until this lifesaving work has been completed.—Revelation 7:9, 14. https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1985321?q=dispensation&p=par

The work of gathering the “great crowd” of persons “that come out of the great tribulation” continues, more than eight decades since 1935 – but the great tribulation is not here yet. Here is another quote with regard to what is called “the Gospel dispensation” and “the new Millennial dispensation”:

However, the Watch Tower issue of December 1, 1894, said: “But as that work of organizing the church of the new Gospel dispensation was no part of the harvest work of the old Jewish dispensation, so the present harvest work or reaping of the Gospel dispensation is also separate and distinct from the work of the new Millennial dispensation now drawing on. . . . It is plain that the forming of a visible organization of such gathered out ones would be out of harmony with the spirit of the divine plan; and if done would seem to indicate on the part of the church a desire to conform to the now popular idea of organization or confederacy. (See Isa. 8:12) The work now is not organization, but division, just as it was in the Jewish harvest proper. (Matt. 10:34-36) https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1985203?q=dispensation&p=par

As it turns out, this “visible organization of such gathered out ones” has continued from 1894 till now – 125 years – and the “new millennial dispensation” is still some time future. I mention this because it illustrates how expectations pre-1914 and post-1914 concerning the tribulation and the millennium continue to evolve.

This 1993 Watchtower article https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1993041 discusses the official Jehovah’s Witness view of the “rapture”, Christ’s “presence”, being “caught away” and survival for those who are left behind. The section “Caught Away- How?” quotes from 1 Thessalonians 4:17: “Afterward we the living, who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” It then says this:

As in the case of faithful early Christians, death as a human is necessary for them to be united with Christ in heaven.... Upon dying in faithfulness during Christ’s presence, each one of the remnant of spiritual Israel instantaneously receives his heavenly reward. “In the twinkling of an eye,” he is resurrected as a spirit creature and “caught away” to meet Jesus and to serve as a co-ruler in the Kingdom of the heavens. But what about all others worshiping Jehovah? As the end of this wicked system approaches, will they also be caught away to heaven? https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1993041

Speaking of those Jehovah’s Witnesses who do not have a heavenly hope and who will be alive when the tribulation period starts, the article says this:

By exercising faith, you may also be among the survivors of the great tribulation, privileged to welcome back the millions who will be resurrected to life on earth. And what a joy it will be to live under God’s Kingdom in the hands of Jesus Christ and his co-rulers, who will have been ‘caught away to meet the Lord’ by being resurrected to life in the heavenly realm! https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1993041#h=22

A more recent publication (October 2019) had this to say about how they view the great tribulation and what will happen to those of the “anointed remnant” class, those who have a heavenly hope:

14 During the great tribulation a change will take place regarding the brothers who take the lead on earth. At some point, all anointed ones who are still on earth will be gathered to heaven to share in the war of Armageddon. This means that the Governing Body will no longer be with us on earth. However, the great crowd will remain organized. Capable brothers from among the other sheep will take the lead. We will need to show our loyalty by supporting these brothers and by following their God-given direction. Our survival will depend on it! https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/watchtower-study-october-2019/stay-faithful-through-great-tribulation/

“The timing of the gathering indicates that all anointed ones will be in heaven before God’s war of Armageddon begins. In heaven, the 144,000 co-rulers with Christ will receive authority to share with Jesus in wielding “an iron rod” of destruction against all enemies of God’s Kingdom.” Source: 2014 Jehovah’s Witness publication God’s Kingdom Rules, chapter 21, page 228.

To sum up with regard to the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses:

Jehovah’s Witness beliefs regarding Christ’s “Second Coming”: Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Jesus second “presence” happened in October 1914 when he became King. This was not a literal “coming” because this event was invisible and only they understood what was happening in the heavenly realms, namely, that Jesus began to rule as King from heaven. After the tribulation period Jesus (who is known in heaven as Michael the Archangel) will bring judgment on all who oppose him and who persecute his people (Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Jehovah’s Witness beliefs regarding the “Rapture”: Although Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that their “anointed remnant” (those of the heavenly class who are alive at the time of the tribulation) will be taken up into heaven as spirits, all other Witnesses will have to remain behind and go through the tribulation period and the battle of Armageddon when they will be rescued from harm.

Source documents: https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/watchtower-study-october-2019/stay-faithful-through-great-tribulation/ Paragraphs 14 and 17 explain how the resurrected anointed ones (including the Governing Body) will return to earth with the angels. https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1993041 says they will be “caught away” as spirits.

Additional material: https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/great-tribulation/

Correction: 15 Does this mean that there will be a “rapture” of the anointed ones? Many in Christendom believe, according to this teaching, that Christians will be bodily caught up from the earth. Then, they expect that Jesus will visibly return to rule the earth. However, the Bible clearly shows that “the sign of the Son of man” will appear in heaven and that Jesus will come “on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 24:30) Both of these expressions imply invisibility. Additionally, “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s Kingdom.” So those who will be taken to heaven will first need to be “changed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, during the last trumpet.” * (Read 1 Corinthians 15:50-53.) Therefore, while we do not use the term “rapture” here because of its wrong connotation, the remaining faithful anointed will be gathered together in an instant of time. Source: https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/w20150715/rapture-anointed-great-tribulation/

Conclusion: From what I have read I can only conclude that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not subscribe to a multi-staged return of Christ. They say Jesus the man is dead – forever dead; that Jesus was not resurrected with a body; he is a spirit and it is Michael the Archangel who returns. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not subscribe to a conventional pre-tribulational, pre-millennial theology. They may believe that a few thousand of them will be taken up to heaven at some point, but they do not say if it will be before or during the tribulation period. However, it will happen before Armageddon and the Millennial Reign. The vast majority of Witnesses will have to go through the entire tribulation waiting for Armageddon when they will be "rescued" by the heavenly forces who destroy all of God's enemies. The survivors will not be "raptured" or go to heaven - they expect to live forever on a paradise earth.

  • Where is the last quote from? In the yellow box under the heading “JWs beliefs regarding the rapture.”?
    – Kris
    Jun 24, 2020 at 12:10
  • @Kris The heading “JW beliefs regarding the rapture” is not a quote, but thank you for drawing this omission to my attention. I will edit my answer to include the links to the Watchtower articles.
    – Lesley
    Jun 24, 2020 at 16:19

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