Jehovah Gathers and Equips His People for Work
Throughout the centuries, the apostasy had spread throughout the earth. The many church denominations had some Bible teachings but mainly followed human traditions and many customs of heathen origin. Expectations as to the return of Christ were generally pushed into the background.—Compare Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43.
However, Jesus had said to keep on the watch for his return! One group doing this was located in Allegheny (Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania, U.S.A. In the early 1870’s Charles Taze Russell and some of his friends began to make a thorough, nondenominational study of the Bible with regard to Christ’s return. They also began to seek Bible truth on many other basic teachings. This was the beginning of the modern-day activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Matthew 24:42.
This group came to understand that the doctrine of the Trinity is not Biblical but Jehovah alone is the almighty God and Creator; Jesus Christ is His first creation and only-begotten Son; and the holy spirit is not a person but is God’s invisible active force. This group saw that the soul is not immortal but mortal, that the hope for the dead is resurrection, and that the punishment for unrepentant wickedness is not eternal torment but annihilation.
Jesus’ giving his life as a ransom for mankind was seen to be a basic Bible teaching. First, 144,000 men and women, chosen from the first century down to our time, will be redeemed from the earth to be joint heirs with Christ in the heavenly Kingdom. Then through Jesus’ ransom billions of mankind, the majority of whom will be resurrected from the dead, will attain human perfection with the prospect of everlasting life on earth under that Kingdom rule.
Russell and his associates also saw that Christ’s presence was to be invisible, in spirit. The Gentile Times, during which period God’s sovereignty was not being expressed through any government on the earth, were to end in 1914. Then God’s Kingdom would be established in heaven. These teachings are identified with Jehovah’s Witnesses today.
Russell and his companions announced these truths far and wide by talks and printed page. In July 1879 Russell began to publish Zion’s Watch Tower (now called The Watchtower). He determined that the preaching activities of the Bible Students should depend entirely upon voluntary contributions and that no collections would be taken. Also, the message should be circulated through the unpaid, voluntary efforts of those who believed. Russell himself contributed from the means he had accumulated in business up to that time.
The Bible Students gathered together in classes, as their congregations were then called. They assembled up to three times a week, for talks, Scripture study, and testimony meetings. They regularly elected responsible men as elders to supervise the spiritual activities of each class.
In 1884 Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in Pennsylvania. A president of the corporation was to be elected annually. This provided a legal instrument, not dependent upon the life of any individual, to carry forward the Bible educational work. Charles T. Russell was elected president, and his office was looked to as the headquarters.
Great efforts were made to expand the work to other countries. It reached Canada and England in the early 1880’s. In 1891 Russell made a tour of Europe and the Middle East to consider what could be done to further the spread of the truth there. In the early 1900’s, branch offices of the Society were established in Britain, Germany, and Australia.
In 1909 the headquarters of the Watch Tower Society was moved to Brooklyn, New York, to further the expansion of the preaching work on an international scale. It became necessary to form an associate corporation under New York State law, which is now known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. In 1914 the International Bible Students Association was formed in London, England, to advance the activities of the Bible Students throughout the British Commonwealth. At present some 70 legally formed corporations and associations in many countries around the world are serving the purposes of the Watch Tower Society. All are philanthropic, being supported by voluntary contributions and volunteer workers.
In 1916 Charles Taze Russell died, and Joseph Franklin Rutherford succeeded him as president of the Watch Tower Society. During the closing years of World War I, the Bible Students were severely tested by persecution, climaxed by the wrongful imprisonment of eight brothers serving in responsible positions with the Society’s headquarters in America. The work of the Bible Students seemed in jeopardy. However, in 1919 these brothers were released and exonerated, and there now began a greater expansion of the preaching work.
Through the Society’s headquarters, the united body of anointed Christian Bible Students continued to provide spiritual food at the proper time for all individuals associated with the organization. Just as the congregation of anointed Christians in the first century constituted “the faithful and discreet slave” mentioned by Jesus, so too the anointed group of dedicated Bible Students, engaged in the Kingdom work, makes up “the faithful and discreet slave” class in our time. At Jesus’ coming to inspect the congregation, he found this class to be providing food for the domestics of the household; he then appointed it over all his belongings.—Matthew 24:45-47; Luke 12:42.
Soon after World War I, it was clearly seen that God’s Kingdom by Christ Jesus had been established in the heavens in 1914. So Jesus’ words could now have their complete fulfillment: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” Joseph F. Rutherford took the initiative to make this Kingdom message available to an even greater number of people.—Matthew 24:14.
Hence, the Society decided to do its own printing using volunteer workers who were dedicated men, in order to ensure constant production of Bible literature at the lowest possible cost. All Bible Students were encouraged to have a regular share in preaching the good news of the Kingdom. Radio broadcasting of Bible talks was used in a number of countries.
Prior to 1918 the Bible Students understood that their purpose in preaching was to gather the remaining ones of those chosen to be with Christ Jesus in heaven and to warn the world of God’s coming judgment. Little thought was given to gathering those who would survive the end of the present wicked system to live on earth. Then from 1918 onward the talk “Millions Now Living May Never Die!” was widely presented.
In 1923 a study of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats at Matthew 25:31-46 showed that prior to Armageddon righteously disposed people not in line for the heavenly Kingdom would also gain God’s approval and would survive Armageddon. In 1935 further study showed these sheeplike people to be identical with the great, unnumbered crowd of people described at Revelation 7:9-17. These were to be gathered out of all nations and would have the prospect of surviving the Great Tribulation and gaining everlasting life on earth. This understanding gave great impetus to the preaching work.—John 10:16.
In 1931 the Bible Students adopted the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. Prior thereto they were known as Bible Students, International Bible Students, Millennial Dawn people, and Watch Tower people. They were even nicknamed Russellites and Rutherfordites. None of these names properly identified them. While the name Christian, given to Jesus’ disciples by divine providence in the first century, was certainly applicable, it was also being used by many groups following false teachings. To distinguish themselves from the millions of nominal Christians, there had to be a name that would distinctly identify Christ’s true followers in this day.
A consideration of the Scriptures made clear that even as Jehovah had called his people Israel his witnesses, so his people at the conclusion of the system of things, who were dedicated to making his name and purpose known, should rightly be called Jehovah’s Witnesses. This name has properly distinguished Jehovah’s true Christian worshipers from all others who claim to be Christian today.—Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 43:10-12.
In 1942, during World War II, Joseph F. Rutherford died, and Nathan H. Knorr succeeded him as president of the Watch Tower Society. The prophecies were now seen to indicate clearly that there would be a postwar period of relative peace and freedom that would allow for a great expansion of the preaching work before the end of this system. In February 1943 the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead was established to train full-time ministers for missionary work in foreign countries. Later that year, a special ministry training program was added to the weekly meeting schedule of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In 1950 the Society began to release portions of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, a modern-English Bible translation made from the original-language texts. This accurately rendered, easy-to-understand Bible, produced at low cost on the Society’s presses, has been a great aid in the preaching work. To date, over 40 million copies have been published in 11 languages.
By the end of 1985, more than three million Jehovah’s Witnesses were sharing in the preaching work in more than 200 lands and islands of the sea. For the Memorial of Christ’s death, the meeting with the greatest attendance of any held in their 49,716 congregations during 1985, a total of 7,792,109 persons were present.
That God is truly using Jehovah’s Witnesses is seen in their continuing to keep active in his service, in their worldwide unity, in their zeal for upholding Jehovah’s name and preaching his Kingdom, in their clean moral standards, in their acceptance of the entire Bible as God’s infallible Word, and in their freedom from superstition and spiritism.
The following sections show how you can benefit from this restoration of true worship of God.
• What basic Bible teachings distinguished the Bible Students from church denominations?
• What organizational developments did the Bible Students experience up to 1918?
• How can it be said that the group of anointed Bible Students made up “the faithful and discreet slave” of Matthew 24:45-47?
• What understanding of God’s purpose gave great impetus to expanding the preaching work?
• What purpose does the name Jehovah’s Witnesses serve?
• What are evidences that God is truly using Jehovah’s Witnesses?
[Pictures on page 8]
C.T. Russell in 1879
July 1879 issue
Early Group of Bible Students, Pittsburgh, Pa.
[Pictures on page 9]
Headquarters, 1889-1909, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Main offices, 1909-1918, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Headquarters residence, 1909-1926, Brooklyn, N.Y.
[Pictures on page 10]
World headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.
Upper left: Office complex
Upper right: Residence buildings
Lower left: Factory complex
Lower right: Shipping center
[Pictures on page 11]
Radio broadcasting by J. F. Rutherford
Watchtower Society’s first rotary press, operated by volunteers
New World Translation of Bible, now published in 11 languages