This article will deal with the JW doctrine concerning Judgment Day, what it is and when it will happen. Fortunately, their main door to door evangelization book, What Does the Bible Really Teach? is available on their official website and basically lays out their view of Judgment Day in the Appendix. But first to whet the appetite I will quote from a passage in Chapter 7 of the Really Teach book (all highlights by me):
The apostle Paul said: “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) What does that mean?
18 “The righteous” include many of the people we read about in the Bible who lived before Jesus came to the earth. You might think of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Ruth, Esther, and many others. ...
19 What about all the people who did not serve or obey Jehovah because they never knew about him? These billions of “unrighteous” ones will not be forgotten. They too will be resurrected and given time to learn about the true God and to serve him. During a period of a thousand years, the dead will be resurrected and given an opportunity to join faithful humans on earth in serving Jehovah. It will be a wonderful time. This period is what the Bible refers to as Judgment Day. (see Appendix)
20 Does this mean that every human who ever lived will be resurrected? No. The Bible says that some of the dead are in “Gehenna.” (Luke 12:5) ... Although Jesus will have a role in judging the living and the dead, Jehovah is the final Judge. (Acts 10:42) He will never resurrect those whom he judges to be wicked and unwilling to change.I know what you are thinking: you have got to be kidding me! The term "unrighteous" plainly means one who does evil, and this is clear especially when the context contrasts them to the good guys, the righteous. Why in the world are the JWs redefining "unrighteous" to mean those billions of good people who were simply ignorant about God? The answer to that will come later, because now we have to consult the Appendix referenced above:
Judgment Day—What Is It?
HOW do you picture Judgment Day? Many think that one by one, billions of souls will be brought before the throne of God. There, judgment will be passed upon each individual. Some will be rewarded with heavenly bliss, and others will be condemned to eternal torment. However, the Bible paints quite a different picture of this period of time. God’s Word portrays it, not as a terrifying time, but as a time of hope and restoration. ...
The book of Revelation shows that Judgment Day begins after the war of Armageddon, when Satan’s system on earth will be destroyed.* (Revelation 16:14, 16;19:19–20:3) After Armageddon, Satan and his demons will be imprisoned in an abyss for a thousand years. During that time, the 144,000 heavenly joint heirs will be judges and will rule “as kings with the Christ for a thousand years.” (Revelation 14:1-3; 20:1-4; Romans 8:17) Judgment Day is not some hurried event lasting a mere 24 hours. It lasts a thousand years.
During that thousand-year period, Jesus Christ will “judge the living and the dead.” (2 Timothy 4:1) “The living” will be the “great crowd” that survives Armageddon. (Revelation 7:9-17) The apostle John also saw “the dead . . . standing before the throne” of judgment. As Jesus promised, “those in the memorial tombs will hear [Christ’s] voice and come out” by means of a resurrection. (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15) But on what basis will all be judged?
According to the apostle John’s vision [in Revelation 20:11-12], “scrolls were opened,” and “the dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds.” Are these scrolls the record of people’s past deeds? No, the judgment will not focus on what people did before they died. How do we know that? The Bible says: “He who has died has been acquitted from his sin.” (Romans 6:7) Those resurrected thus come to life with a clean slate, so to speak. The scrolls must therefore represent God’s further requirements. To live forever, both Armageddon survivors and resurrected ones will have to obey God’s commandments, including whatever new requirements Jehovah might reveal during the thousand years. Thus, individuals will be judged on the basis of what they do during Judgment Day.
Judgment Day will give billions of people their first opportunity to learn about God’s will and to conform to it. ... However, not all will be willing to conform to God’s will. ... These wicked ones will be put to death permanently during Judgment Day.
By the end of Judgment Day, surviving humans will have “come to life” fully as perfect humans. (Revelation 20:5) Judgment Day will thus see the restoration of mankind to its original perfect state. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28) Then a final test will take place. Satan will be released from his imprisonment and allowed to try to mislead mankind one last time. (Revelation 20:3, 7-10) Those who resist him will enjoy the complete fulfillment of the Bible’s promise: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.” (Psalm 37:29) Yes, Judgment Day will be a blessing to all faithful mankind!Again, I know what you are thinking: you have got to be kidding me! All of this is so unscriptural and false that it's hard to know where to even begin, but it's still a great opportunity to show just how far people will go to prop up false teaching. The most important thing you should take away from the following analysis is that the JW view of Judgment Day is not some isolated doctrine, but deeply tied to many other JW errors on which their entire system rests. In other words, they came to this absurd idea of Judgment Day in order to protect other erroneous teachings.
The first thing to notice is that they give off the impression Christians just made up the traditional view of Judgment Day. The JWs insinuate that there is no Scriptural basis for claiming Judgment Day is a very quick event at the very end of time in which all men are judged based on their good or evil deeds and consequently rewarded with Heaven or Hell. This is absurd, as numerous texts teach this plainly (e.g. Romans 2:5-8; Matthew 16:27), including the very texts JW's appeal to like Revelation 20:11-12, John 5:28-29, and Acts 24:15.
John 5:28-29 is plainly speaking about evil doers and Revelation 20:11-12 is plainly saying the same thing as the other similar texts: the dead will be judged based on their deeds. The simple fact the text is speaking in the past tense also debunks the idea the 'deeds' in question are future deeds: the dead haven't even done these yet, and in fact are actually 'new commandments' that God issues along the way. The JW appeal to Romans 6:7 is likewise ridiculous, entailing physical death wipes away one's record. Whenever you see desperation going on like this when doing apologetics, it's almost always a sign that there are other more important doctrines the person is trying to protect.
The next thing to note is the JWs have embraced the popular (mostly Protestant) view that the "thousand years" mentioned in Revelation 20:1-10 is a literal thousand years that will begin in the future. While this is possible, granting this has no effect one way or another on the main issue at hand. The common Catholic interpretation of the text is that the "thousand years" are figurative, referring to the present Christian age, beginning when Jesus condemned Satan at Calvary. Then at the very end, Satan will have one more all-out offensive to try and hurt as many as possible before Jesus returns for the Final Judgment. This is not a cop-out, it has a good basis in the text.
To begin to see the real problem at hand, consider that the JW view of the 'end' is ironic for it basically makes it the start of another trial period: Judgment Day is now a second try to get it right, and only if you survive this 1,000 year test then you will 'live forever' - and if not, you will be annihilated (since the JWs don't believe in hell). But Scripture says nothing about giving mankind a second chance, nor does that fit with Christ's mission to address sin at the Cross. As I noted earlier, all these JW errors are tied together, so with that in mind we can see a few precious doctrines the JWs have sought to defend are at stake, ultimately causing them to interpret "unrighteous" as 'ignorant of God's ways' as opposed to evil doer.
Simply stated, the JW consider Christian doctrines like the immortality of the soul and hellfire to be Satanic inventions corrupting pure Christianity. Thus, to believe that the unrighteous will be resurrected directly calls into account both of those doctrines since they have to explain why resurrect an unrighteous person in the first place. If the grave is the end, especially as one's ultimate punishment, then resurrecting an unrighteous person makes no sense, which is why JWs say "unrighteous" refers to good-hearted ignorant folks rather than evil doers. But since the unrighteous are resurrected, this suggests their punishment is not over! Now if the soul is not immortal, then resurrection is nothing more than a total recreation from 'memory' of the person (which the JWs affirm), and it makes little sense to go through with this only to turn around annihilate the evil doer out of existence again. Thus, resurrecting the unrighteous directly implies the reality of hellfire and an immortal soul, though Scripture is already clear about this truth (e.g. Rev 20:10).
But I also believe they say this because their view on heaven is corrupt as well, teaching only a small group will go to heaven while the rest remain on earth, but that will have to wait for another post! In a future post, I hope to address how JWs equivocate with the term "resurrection" and "salvation" (again both to protect other errors) and thus are ultimately caught in one big web of absurdity and falsehood.