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By Tal Davis
Who is Jesus Christ?
This question is one of the most critical religious and
philosophical ones ever asked. It automatically leads to other equally
crucial issues. Just who was this Man, Jesus, historically? What did He
accomplish and why? And most important, what does His life mean to an
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society—also known as the Jehovah's Witnesses
or the Watchtower Society—is one religious organization that claims definite
answers to all questions about Jesus Christ. This unusual religious movement,
founded in 1884 by Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), and now led by a small
committee of supposedly inspired biblical interpreters claims to have the final
word about the person and work of Jesus, as well as all other theological
issues. Millions of Jehovah's Witnesses believe confidently that the Watchtower
Society's positions indisputably are correct and any opinions to the contrary
The more significant issue for Jehovah's Witnesses and those outside that
organization is how one's relationship to Christ is affected by Watchtower
Jesus' Prehuman Existence
The Watchtower Society teaches that Jesus Christ was the first created being
of Jehovah God. Jehovah God created Jesus as a divine-like spirit at some point
in ancient, pre-creation time. "This means that he was created before all the
other spirit sons of God, and that he is the only one who was directly created
by God" (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth [Live] [Brooklyn:
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1982], p. 58).
In His preexistence, Jesus was known as "the Word" (John 1:3,10,14) because
He was God's spokesman, according to the Watchtower Society. He is also
identified by Jehovah's Witnesses with Michael the archangel. "Reasonably,
then, the archangel Michael is Jesus Christ. So the evidence indicates that the
Son of God (Jesus) was known as Michael before he came to earth" (Reasoning
from the Scriptures [Reasoning] [Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract
Society of New York, 1985], p. 218).
The Watchtower teaches that through the agency of the prehuman Christ,
Jehovah created all other things in the universe. "He is also God's
'only-begotten' Son in that he is the only one directly created by Jehovah God;
all other things came into existence through him as God's Chief Agent" (The
Truth that Leads to Eternal Life [Truth] [Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and
Tract society of New York, 1968], p. 47).
This Agent, however, is not to be confused as being a Co-creator with God.
"The Son's share in the creative works, however, did not make him a Co-creator
with the Father. Rather than a Co-creator, then, the Son was the Agent or
instrumentality through whom Jehovah, the Creator worked" (Aid to Bible
Understanding, [Aid] [Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New
York, 1971, p. 918).
Christians maintain there is no scriptural evidence to equate Michael the
archangel with the prehuman Christ. The Watchtower Society's assertion that
they are the same person is based on their incorrect assumptions about Christ's
creation and misinterpretations of Daniel 10 and 12, Jude 9, and 1
Thessalonians 4:16, none of which identify Michael as Christ. Also, Christians
contend that Christ was not merely a created being, but eternally preexistent
as God the Son with the Father. He was indeed the Creator, with the Father and
the Spirit, of all things (see John 1:1-14; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-20; Rev.
The Watchtower Society denies the deity and eternal preexistence of Jesus
Christ. This contrasts sharply with historic Christian beliefs that Jesus was
God the Son, the second member of the eternal Trinity.
The Watchtower Society's position is similar to the fourth century Arian
heresy, universally rejected by Christian churches at the Council of Nicea in
A.D. 325. The Watchtower Society has made a number of interpretative errors and
translation changes to conform Scripture to their presuppositions. For example,
the Watchtower Society's Bible, The New World Translation of the Holy
Scriptures (NWT), translates John 1:1: "In [the] beginning the Word was,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god."
The Watchtower Society asserts that since the Greek language has no
indefinite articles (a or an), the article can be used where needed in
translating; thus they insert "a" before god to emphasize the Word's (Christ's)
inferiority to God. This biased rendering cannot be justified grammatically and
has been rejected by every reputable Greek scholar.
The Watchtower Society also errs in its interpretation of Colossians
1:15-20. They interpret the word "firstborn" in verse 15 to mean
"first-created." However, the firstborn (prototokos) principle in
Hebrew culture refers to privilege and superiority, not to priority in time.
Also, the Watchtower Society has presumptuously added to its translation of
verses 16-20 by parenthetically inserting "other" in several places where no
word appears in the Greek text. This unwarranted addition is made so the text
will conform to the Watchtower Society's theological position on
"Because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and
upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether
they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things
have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other]
things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist" (Col.
Another example is the Watchtower Society's interpretation of Revelation
3:14 (NASB), "The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the
creation of God." The NWT renders the clause, "the beginning of the creation by
God," which the Watchtower Society says is proof that Jesus was the first
created being. This interpretation errs at two points. First, the word rendered
"beginning" is the Greek arche, which can also be translated as
"source" (New English Bible); "ruler" (New International Version), or "origin"
(Good News Bible), thus confirming the orthodox view of Christ's
As famed Greek scholar A.T. Robertson commented on this
phrase: "Not the first of creatures as the Arians held and Unitarians do
now, but the originating source of creation through whom God works" (Archibald
Thomas Robinson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Baker Book
House, 1933, p. 321).
The other problem with the Watchtower Society's interpretation of this verse
concerns their translation of the clause tou Theou as "by God." The
genitive grammatical usage requires "of God," which further suggests that
Christ is the prime source or origin of God's creation, not its beginning in
time. Other Scriptures also are translated incorrectly or interpreted to fit
the Jehovah's Witness' theology. John 8:58 (NASB), where Jesus says, "Truly,
truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am," is rendered in the NWT as
"Before Abraham came into existence, I have been." John 14:28 (NASB), in which
Jesus states, "The Father is greater than I," is interpreted in the NWT to
prove Jesus' inferiority. Christian interpreters contend that the verse refers
to the voluntary, temporary subordination of Jesus during His earthly life, not
to His divine nature. Titus 2:13 is inaccurately translated in the NWT as
"while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God
and of (the) Savior of us, Christ Jesus." The verse is rendered correctly by
the New American Standard Bible as "looking for . . . our great God and Savior,
Christ Jesus." The Watchtower Society approaches its biblical translation and
interpretation with a clear anti-trinitarian bias. The Jehovah's Witnesses are
intent on denying the full divinity of Jesus Christ. This denial presents a
radical deviation from historic Christian theology and thus places the
Watchtower Society outside orthodox Christianity, establishing it as a
The Watchtower Society teaches that Michael the archangel disappeared from
heaven and was conceived miraculously by (the Virgin) Mary. "Since actual
conception took place, it appears that Jehovah God caused an ovum or egg cell
in Mary's womb to become fertile, accomplishing this by the transferal of the
life of his firstborn Son from the spirit realm to the earth" (Aid, p.
"Marvelously, Jehovah transferred the life-force and the personality pattern
of his first-born heavenly Son to the womb of Mary. God's own active force, his
holy spirit, safeguarded the development of the child in Mary's womb so that
what was born was a perfect human" (Reasoning, p. 255).
Christians concur with the Watchtower Society's belief in the miraculous,
virgin birth (conception) of Jesus Christ. However, in addition to the
unscriptural notions of Jesus' preexistence as Michael, a major disagreement by
Christians relates to the Watchtower Society's depersonalization of the Holy
Spirit. The Watchtower Society also contends that they have determined the
exact dates for Jesus' birth, baptism, and death. "Jesus was evidently born in
the month of Ethanium (September-October) of the year 2 B.C.E. (Before the
Common Era), was baptized about the same time of the year in 29 C.E. (Common
Era), and died about 3 p.m. on Friday, the fourteenth day of the spring month
of Nisan (March- April), 33 C.E." (Aid, p. 920).
Most Bible scholars dispute the above chronology for many reasons and agree
that Jesus' birth date cannot be determined precisely. For instance, most
scholars disagree with the date of 2 B.C. based on archaeological evidence that
indicates King Herod I, who attempted to kill the infant Jesus, died in 4
Jesus' Life and DeathThe Watchtower Society teaches
that after His birth Jesus became a perfect man who came to earth to bear
witness to the truth of Jehovah God and to defeat Satan. Jesus received His
messiahship at age 30, on the day of His baptism. "By pouring out his holy
spirit on Jesus, Jehovah was anointing him or appointing him to be the King of
his coming kingdom. Being thus anointed with the spirit, Jesus became the
'Messiah,' or the 'Christ,' which words in the Hebrew and Greek languages mean,
'Anointed.' Therefore, he became, in fact, Jesus Christ, or Jesus the Anointed"
(Live, p. 60).
The Watchtower Society says that, since Adam was also a perfect man who
sinned, only a perfect sacrifice of another perfect man could bring salvation.
"By his disobedience the perfect man Adam lost perfect life on a paradise earth
for himself and all his children. Jesus Christ gave his own perfect life to buy
back what Adam lost. Yes, Jesus 'gave himself a corresponding ransom for all'"
(Live, p. 62).
Thus, the Watchtower Society teaches that Jesus' ransom death at age 33
balanced the scales of justice between Adam's sin and God's perfect
requirements. "Even now Jesus' ransom sacrifice can benefit us. How? By
exercising faith in it we can enjoy a clean standing before God and come under
his loving and tender care. But we can freely seek forgiveness from God on the
basis of the ransom, with confidence that he will hear us" (Live, p.
The Watchtower Society teaches that Jesus was crucified on a "torture stake"
instead of a cross (Matt. 27:32, NWT). The Watchtower Society specifically
dates Jesus' death: "On Nisan 14 of the year 33 C.E. Jesus' enemies put him to
death on a torture stake" (Truth, p. 51).
In general, Christians agree with the Watchtower Society on details of the
life of Christ. However, the notion that Jesus became the Messiah at His
baptism runs counter to biblical teaching. Jesus was hailed as the Messiah at
His birth and even before (see Isa. 9:6; Matt. 1:16-18; 2:4; Luke 2:11,26).
Christians agree that Jesus did die as a sacrifice for man's sin, as He was
perfect and sinless. Nonetheless, Christians maintain that linguistic and
historical evidence supports the traditional view that Jesus died on a Roman
Jehovah's Witnesses deny the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
This is another radical departure from historic Christian teaching. The
Watchtower Society maintains that the Lord's resurrection was purely spiritual
and only appeared as physical.
"Jehovah God did not leave his Son dead in the grave, but raised him to life
on the third day. He was not given human life again, because that would have
meant that he was taking back the ransom price. But he was 'made alive in the
spirit' (1 Pet. 3:18, NWT). During a period of forty days after his
resurrection he appeared visibly to his disciples a number of times, in
materialized bodies, to prove that he really had been raised from the dead"
(Truth, p. 52).
Christians affirm the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus
Himself prophesied His physical resurrection. "Jesus answered and said to them,
'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' The Jews therefore
said, 'It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up
in three days?'" (John 2:19-20, NASB).
Jesus clearly indicated the physical aspect of His resurrection when He
appeared to His disciples. "And He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why
do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself;
touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I
have'" (Luke 24:38-39, NASB).
The physical nature of Jesus' appearances is further substantiated by His
serving and sharing a meal with the two disciples in Emmaus (see Luke
24:13-35), His conversation with Thomas (see John 20:26-29), His appearance to
more than 500 people (see 1 Cor. 15:1-8), and His visible ascension to heaven
(see Acts 1:9-11).
Jesus' Second Coming
The Watchtower Society teaches that following His ascension, Jesus, once
again as Michael the archangel, returned to heaven and sat down at Jehovah's
right hand to await the end of the seven "times of the Gentiles" as recorded in
Daniel 4. The "times of the Gentiles" supposedly began in 607 B.C. when the
Babylonians overthrew King Zedekiah of Judah (Note: Bible scholars place the
above date at 587-586 B.C.). Jesus would begin His rule at the end of this
period, figured by the Watchtower Society as 2,520 years (based on the "seven
times" of Dan. 4:16,23).
"What was to happen at the end of these appointed times of the nations
(Gentiles)? Jehovah was to give the power to rule to the One 'who has the legal
right!' This One is Jesus Christ" (Live, p. 140). "This means that Jesus Christ
began to rule as King of God's heavenly government in 1914" (Live, p. 141).
The above statement would surprise most non-Jehovah's Witnesses. If Jesus
returned to rule in 1914, then where is He? The Watchtower Society answers that
Jesus' rule is in heaven and that He will never appear physically on earth
again. At the present time, Satan is in control of this world and its
institutions—especially the Christian churches. However, in the near future,
the world as we know it will be destroyed by Christ from heaven and the
millennium, or 1,000-year judgment day, will begin. When will this take place?
The Watchtower Society formerly claimed that it will take place in "this
generation" (Matt. 24:14,34). "Which generation did Jesus mean? He meant the
generation of people who were living in 1914. Those persons yet remaining of
that generation are now very old. However, some of them will still be alive to
see the end of this wicked system" (Live, p. 154). In recent years they have
modified this view to include people born later in the 20th century.
The Watchtower Society says that during the 1,000- year judgment day, most
people will be resurrected and judged by Christ and others of the "anointed
class" of Jehovah's Witnesses. "We have certainly seen that when the dead come
forth from the grave, they are not judged by their past deeds. Rather, they are
judged on the basis of what they do during Judgment Day (the millennium)"
(Live, p. 180). At the close of judgment day, those not deemed worthy will be
cast into the "lake of fire," along with Satan and his demons, and annihilated
from existence. The world being purified and those Jehovah judges as righteous
will live in paradise on earth, and Jesus (Michael) will then turn His kingdom
back over to Jehovah.
Perhaps no theological issue has fostered as much interest, debate, and
disagreement among Christians as the "last things." However, the assurance of
Christ's second coming commonly is held by nearly all evangelical
Christians. All affirm that Jesus will return physically to earth to judge
humankind and establish God's kingdom (see Matt. 16:24-27; Mark 13; Luke
21:5-36). Christians reject the Watchtower Society's dating of 1914 as
spurious. In fact, Jesus specifically warned that no one knows the time of His
coming (see Matt. 24:4-7,36; Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7). Nonetheless, believers are
admonished to be alert, ready, and watching at any time for the Lord's return
(see Matt. 24:14, 25:13; 1 Thess. 5:1-11).
Christians contend that Jesus will judge all humankind. Those found
righteous (saved Christians) will inherit eternal life in heaven and the lost
will suffer eternal punishment (see Matt. 18:8-9, 25:41-46; Mark 9:47-48; 2
Thess. 1:9; Rev. 20-22). No second chance or probationary period will be given.
As Hebrews states: "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and
after this comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27, NASB).
The Watchtower Society's concept of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done
is opposed to the historic, biblical, and Christian position.
Jesus Christ is the Lord, the second Person of the Godhead, who came to
earth as a Man, lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and was
resurrected bodily from the dead (1 Cor. 13:1-8). He ascended into heaven and
will return to earth to judge all people and angels and to establish the
eternal kingdom of God. Christians know that by God's grace, through faith in
Christ, they are assured a place in His kingdom (1 John 5:13). Jehovah's
Witnesses also can have that assurance. They first must renounce the unbiblical
teaching of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Then they must repent of
their sin (Acts 3:19), place their faith in Jesus alone for salvation (Eph.
2:8-9), and surrender to Him as their Lord (Rom. 10:9-10). As Jesus said, "I am
the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through
Me" (John 14:6, NASB).
Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard
Bible, © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977. Used by permission.
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