1914 : Failed JW Prophecy

One of the most misleading statements in Watchtower publications is that they accurately foretold 1914 to be the “start” of the conclusion of this system of things, and the year Jesus rulership began. In reality, 1914 had consistently been predicted to be the “end” of the system of things, and that Jesus began ruling in 1878.

The Watchtower Said: The Watchtower Claims it Said:
“But bear in mind that the end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble. Zion’s Watch Tower 1894 Jul 15 p.226 “Jehovah’s witnesses pointed to the year 1914, decades in advance, as marking the start of “the conclusion of the system of things.” Awake! 1973 Jan 22 p.8
“The year A.D. 1878, being the parallel of his assuming power and authority in the type, clearly marks the time for the actual assuming of power as King of kings, by our present, spiritual, invisible Lord….” Studies in the Scriptures – Thy Kingdom Come p.239 “The Watchtower has consistently presented evidence that Jesus’ presence in heavenly Kingdom power began in 1914.” Watchtower 1993 Jan 15 pp.5,9

The contradictory statements above raise two critical questions:

  • What did the Watchtower predict for 1914?
  • Does the Watchtower honestly present its history?

1914 is the pivotal date for the existence of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is currently explained as the date:

  • The Last Days began
  • Jesus started ruling in heaven
  • The Gentile times ended

1914 is the basis for the interpretation of the majority of other Bible prophecies. Most importantly, 3 ½ years after 1914 is when Jesus is said to have come to inspect and cleanse the Watchtower Society, resulting in Jesus choosing it to be the only organization he works though in our time, and the only means of salvation.

The current understanding is significantly different to the teachings prior to 1914. Originally, the Watchtower believed:

  • The Last Days began 1799
  • Jesus Parousia started 1874
  • Jesus started ruling in heaven in 1878
  • The Gentile Times would end in 1914, resulting in
    • End of Armageddon
    • The fall of false religion
    • The end of all governments
    • The resurrection
    • Paradise on earth

The ability of the Watchtower to accurately foretell the meaning of 1914 is a great source of faith for Jehovah’s Witnesses, unaware of what the Watchtower said prior to that date. 1914 was to be the final date of Russell’s prophetic timeline, the conclusion of matters. Nothing that Russell said about 1914 came to pass.

Watchtower quotes prior to 1914

Russell taught that Jesus invisible rulership began in 1874.

“Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present since October 1874, A.D., according to the testimony of the prophets, to those who have ears to hear it: and the formal inauguration of his kingly office dates from April 1878, A.D.” Studies in Scriptures Series IV (1897) p.621

Russell used pyramidology to support this belief.

1874 to 1914 was described as the greatest time of trouble in history, with 1914 being the conclusion of the Last Days. Armageddon would begin, resulting in the wholesale destruction of all government and religion. Russell and his followers were to be raised to heaven and Jesus Kingdom would then be established as paradise on earth.

“Now, in view of recent labor troubles and threatened anarchy, our readers are writing to know if there may not be a mistake in the 1914 date. They do not see how present conditions can hold out so long under the strain. We see no reason for changing the figures – nor could we change them if we would. They are, we believe, God’s dates, not ours. But bear in mind that the end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble.” Zion’s Watch Tower 1894 Jul 15 p.226

The following quotes during the lead up to 1914 show there could be no doubt as to what followers of the Watchtower Society were to expect.

Armageddon ended

” the battle of the great day of God Almighty The date of the close of that “battle” is definitely marked in Scripture as October 1914. It is already in progress, its beginning dating from October, 1874.” Zion’s Watch Tower 1892 Jan 15 p.23

Religion Utterly Destroyed

“The seventh trumpet sounds from Aug. 1840, until “the time of trouble,” or day of wrath is ended. Hence, it doubtless ends with the times of the Gentiles, and this forty years of conquest; and therefore, sounds until A. D. 1914; at the end of which, Babylon the great, will have fallen, and the “dragon” be bound: that is, the nations will be subdued, and “the prince of this world cast out.”” Three Worlds and The Harvest of This World (1877) p.143

“A.D. 33, to A.D. 70 was 36 ½ years; and so from A.D. 1878 to the end of A.D. 1914 is 36 ½ years. And, with the end of A.D. 1914, what God calls Babylon, and what men call Christendom, will have passed away, as already shown in prophecy.” Studies In the Scriptures – Thy Kingdom Come (1891) p.153

“October, 1914, will witness the full end of Babylon, “as a great millstone cast into the sea,” utterly destroyed as a system.” Watch Tower 1911 Jun 15 p.190

Harvest work complete

“HARVEST” is a term which gives a general idea as to what work should be expected to transpire between the dates 1874 and 1914.” Studies In the Scriptures – Thy Kingdom Come p.135

“These, already examined, show that the close of 1874 marked the beginning, as the close of 1914 will mark the end, of this 40 years of harvest; while all the minutiae of the order and work of this harvest were portrayed in that of the Jewish age, its type.” Studies In the Scriptures – Thy Kingdom Come pp.149-150

Governments overthrown

Studies In the Scriptures – The Time Is at Hand foretold seven things would happen in 1914. Not one of these eventuated. The following statements are extracted from that list;

1. “the disintegration of the rule of imperfect men. at that date the Kingdom of God, for which our Lord taught us to pray, saying, “Thy Kingdom come,” will begin to assume control, and that it will then shortly be “set up,” or firmly established, in the earth, on the ruins of present institutions.”
2. He whose right it is thus to take the dominion will then be present as earth’s new Ruler; and not only so, but it will also prove that he will be present for a considerable period before that date;
3. the last member of the divinely recognized Church of Christ, the “royal priesthood,” “the body of Christ,” will beglorified with the Head;
4. Jerusalem shall no longer be trodden down
5. Israel’s blindness will begin to be turned away
6. the great “time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation,” will reach its culmination in a world-wide reign of anarchy
7. It will prove that before that date God’s Kingdom, organized in power, will be in the earth and then smite and crush the Gentile image (Dan. 2:34)-and fully consume the power of these kings.” Studies In the Scriptures – The Time Is at Hand (1889) pp.77, 78

“True, it is expecting great things to claim, as we do, that within the coming twenty-six years all present governments will be overthrown and dissolved . In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished at the end of A. D. 1914 . Be not surprised, then, when in subsequent chapters we present proofs that the setting up of the Kingdom of God is already begun, that it is pointed out in prophecy as due to begin the exercise of power in A.D. 1878, and that the “battle of the great day of God Almighty” (Rev. 16:14), which will end in A.D. 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth’s present rulership, is already commenced. The gathering of the armies is plainly visible from the standpoint of God’s Word.” Studies In the Scriptures – The Time Is At Hand (1889) pp.99, 101

” we have seen that God has a set time for every feature of his plan, and that we are even now in this “Day of Vengeance,” which is a period of forty years; that it began in October, 1874, and will end in October, 1914 [very shortly].” Studies In the Scriptures – The Day of Vengeance -pp.546, 547

Jesus to start ruling the earth

SETTING UP THE EARTHLY GOVERNMENT —- Not until the full end of Gentile Times (October, A.D. 1914) should we expect the earthly phase of God’s Kingdom; for in giving a lease of dominion to the Gentiles until that date God made no mistake and his plans alter not. The earthly phase of the Kingdom of God when set up will be Israelitish; for such is God’s engagement or covenant with Abraham and his natural seed. Even the chief favor, the spiritual Kingdom, was offered first to fleshly Israel, and would have been given to them if they had been ready at heart to receive it on the conditions attached to it-to suffer with Christ and afterward to be glorified with him.” Studies In the Scriptures – The Day of Vengeance pp.624,625

Resurrection to occur

“And yet “Jerusalem must be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled;” hence, trodden down until A. D. 1914, when the day of wrath will be passed, and the resurrection and return of the “whole house of Israel” due.” Three Worlds and The Harvest of This World (1877) p.166

“The beginning of the earthly phase of the Kingdom in the end of A.D. 1914 will, we understand, consist wholly of the resurrected holy ones of olden time-from John the Baptizer back to Abel-“Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the holy prophets.” Studies In the Scriptures Series IV – The Day of Vengeance p.625

Studies in the Scriptures after 1914

Editions of Studies in the Scriptures written prior to 1914 were very specific about what would happen prior to and during 1914. These journals continued to be used after 1914. To overcome the obviously erroneous predictions in 1915 they were reissued with amendments.

For example the 1908 edition of Studies in the Scriptures Series III – Thy Kingdom Come stated on p.228 that the resurrection would occur before 1914. The 1915 edition changed this to state that the resurrection was to occur soon after 1914.

Thy Kingdom Come 1908 ed. Thy Kingdom Come 1915 ed.
“That the deliverance of the saints must take place some time before 1914 is manifest…” “That the deliverance of the saints must take place very soon after 1914 is manifest…”

How the Watchtower presents its history

The Watchtower uses the Bible Student’s “foresight” of 1914 as proof of Jehovah’s direction. Can this be true, knowing the Watchtower was wrong?

The following quotes show the positive spin the Watchtower puts on Russell’s inaccurate teaching in an attempt to make people believe Holy Spirit directs the Watchtower Society to uncover Bible prophecy. Many of these statements blatantly lie, saying the Watchtower pointed to 1914 as “the start of “the conclusion of the system of things”” or the start of “Jesus Presence”, and the start of his “rulership”. In 1914 the Watchtower was teaching that Jesus presence began in 1874 and his heavenly rulership began in 1878.

“Our belief that the Kingdom began to be set up, or brought into power, in April, 1878, be it observed, rests on exactly the same foundation as our belief that the Lord became present in October, 1874, and that the harvest began at that time.” Thy Kingdom Come p.205

Other phrases, such as that the Watchtower foretold 1914 to be the end of the Gentile Times, are strictly accurate, but lead the reader to an incorrect conclusion about the understanding of this teaching.

“The Watchtower has consistently presented evidence that Jesus’ presence in heavenly Kingdom power began in 1914. Events since that year testify to Jesus’ presence. Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently shown from the Scriptures that the year 1914 marked the beginning of this world’s time of the end and that “the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men” has drawn near.” Watchtower 1993 Jan 15 pp.5,9

“From the mid-1870’s, Jehovah’s people had been anticipating that catastrophic events would start in 1914 and would mark the end of the Gentile Times.” Revelation – Its Grand Climax at Hand! (1988) p.105

“As early as 1876 they were publishing that the Gentile Times of 2,520 years would terminate in the year 1914. Events that have taken place from that year onward prove they were not wrong.” God’s Eternal Purpose Now Triumphing For Man’s Good (1974) pp.178-179

“Even earlier, however, C. T. Russell wrote an article entitled “Gentile Times: When Do They End?” It was published in the Bible Examiner of October 1876, and therein Russell said: “The seven times will end in A.D. 1914.” He had correctly linked the Gentile Times with the “seven times” mentioned in the book of Daniel. (Dan. 4:16, 23, 25, 32) True to such calculations, 1914 did mark the end of those times and the birth of God’s kingdom in heaven with Christ Jesus as king. Just think of it! Jehovah granted his people that knowledge nearly four decades before those times expired.” Yearbook 1975 p.37

“Of all men used by God to prophesy, Jesus is outstanding. Based on what he said, along with the words of Daniel and John, Jehovah’s witnesses pointed to the year 1914, decades in advance, as marking the start of “the conclusion of the system of things.” Awake! 1973 Jan 22 p.8

“As for the time of Christ’s second presence, Daniel’s prophecy is again the one that gives the chronology for it. (Dan. 4:16) It was figured out as pointing to A.D. 1914, and The Watchtower called notice to the significance of 1914 in the year 1879.” Watchtower 1952 Nov 1 p.658

“Why, then, do the nations not realize and accept the approach of this climax of judgment? It is because they have not heeded the world wide advertising of Christ’s return and his second Presence. Since long before World War I Jehovah’s witnesses pointed to 1914 as the time for this great event to occur.” Watchtower 1954 Jun 15 p.370

“For over thirty years before that date and for half a century since, Jehovah’s witnesses have pointed to the year 1914 as the time for the end of “the appointed times of the nations” and the time in which Christ would begin his Kingdom rule. (Luke 21:24)” Watchtower 1966 Feb 15 p.103

“a prophecy providentially caused sincere 19th-century Bible students to be in expectation. By linking the “seven times” of Daniel 4:25 with “the times of the Gentiles”, they anticipated that Christ would receive Kingdom power in 1914. ” Watchtower 1998 Sep 15 p.15

Reality Check

The only aspect of Russell’s 1914 prediction to remain is the term ‘Gentile times’. Though the term is still in use, the meaning has greatly changed. Before 1914 this meant that earthly governments would end in total destruction and false religion would be overturned, heralding God’s kingdom on earth. Now it simply means that Jesus is ruling in heaven, a handy concept as it is invisible and unnoticed.

It is interesting that Russell’s incorrect understanding of 1914 had a huge weight of scriptural prophecy to support it. Some of the reasoning was as follows:

  • The 1260 days prophecy pointed to 1799 as the last days
  • The 2300 day prophecy pointed to 1844
  • The 1355 day prophecy, end of the 6000 years and jubilee cycles all pointed to 1874 as the beginning of Jesus presence

From the above prophecies 1914 could be determined because:

  • 1914 was a 40 year Jewish harvest from 1874.
  • It was a 70 year generation from 1844.
  • It was indicated by the prophecy of the seven times
  • 40 years from 1874 to 1914 corresponds to 40 years from Jesus baptism in 30 A.D. to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 A.D.
  • 36 ½ years from 1878 to 1914 corresponded to 36 ½ years of trouble from Jesus death to the Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 A.D.

Each of these lines of reasoning are now considered wrong by Witnesses and few are even aware of the huge importance placed on 1874 for over 50 years.

Russell stated in Zion’s Watch Tower 1892 Jan 1 p.22 that “never was there such a general time of banding together as at present.” Yet all this weight of evidence that the 1800’s were the “last days” has since been discarded. Today, only one prophecy is used to specifically point to 1914 as the start of Jesus presence; that is, the Seven Times. The other scriptural proofs are now considered to have been wrong.

As impressive as Russell’s reasoning looks, it was progressively changed as one prediction after another failed to eventuate. Russell originally wrote that the Bible Students ascension to heaven and the fall of Babylon were to happen in years prior to the end of the Gentile Times. 1914 was just the date when the Gentile times would end and paradise be established on earth. As his predictions failed to eventuate these occurrences were moved to 1914. Russell was clearly wrong when not one of these had occurred by the end of 1914.

In addition to his predictions being wrong, Russell was unsure whether to use the year 1914 or 1915. As shown later, he did not know how to deal the year zero when calculating prophecy, and so fluctuated between saying the end would arrive in 1914 or 1915.

As 1914 came closer Russell’s writings became less confident that his predictions were correct and started hedging his comments. Where as in 1892 the January 15 p.23 Zion’s Watch Tower used the term “definitely marked in Scripture” Russell started to use terms like “possibly shortly after”, and “not infallible”. Bible Students started to be prepared for failure.

“We shall be as glad as any one if we shall all experience our change from earthly to spirit conditions before 1915, and THIS IS OUR EXPECTATION; but if this should not be the Lord’s will, then it would not be our will . So far as we have been able to see up to the present time, the failure of a full development of matters in 1915, or before, would imply that all the chronological arrangements, as we have them, are wrong–our view of the Harvest and all. And we have no reason to believe that these are wrong. We remember that we are not infallible, and that our judgment is not infallible; but the wonderful inventions of today, and the light that is dawning in every direction, as well as the universal unrest, seem in corroboration of the chronology–that we are in the dawning of the New Age. But just how far along we are we do not positively know.” Watch Tower 1914 Jan 1 p.5

When 1914 did not eventuate in Armageddon Watchtower publications began to promote 1915. When this year came to nothing the entire meaning of all his prophetic interpretation required rewriting. It took until 1943 for the new understanding to finally be clarified.

Why has the Watchtower Society discontinued its belief in all their original date interpretations but retained 1914? The occurrence of World War One in 1914 appears to give this single year a historical significance that can not be attached to any of the other 20 or so dates promoted. However, the Watchtower explanation of the prophecy of the Seven Times is examined and shown to be based on historical errors and inconsistent reasoning, leaving no reason to say that 1914 is of any relevance to us today.

Conclusion

Russell was not guided by Jehovah to uniquely understand Daniels prophecy of the Seven Times; he took his interpretation from Adventists such as Barbour. He adamantly stated that 1914 would be “the final end” of this system of things. The Watchtower has not presented a consistent understanding of 1914 and the current interpretation was not finalised until 1943.

“In the year 1943 the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society published the book “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” This moved forward the end of six thousand years of man’s existence into the decade of the 1970’s. Naturally this did away with the year 1874 C.E. as the date of return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the beginning of his invisible presence or parousia. Page 324 of the above book positively says: “The King’s presence or parousia began in 1914.”” God’s Kingdom on a Thousand Years Has Approached p.209

That Jesus started ruling in 1914 can not be proven as the Watchtower describes this as an unseen event.

It is disappointing to read how the Watchtower describes those individuals in the early 1900’s that thought the end was to come in 1914.

“There is no doubt that many throughout this period were overzealous in their statements as to what could be expected. Some read into the Watch Tower statements that were never intended ” Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose p.52

The Watchtower Society blames those who believed they were going to heaven on misunderstanding the Watchtower message. Similarly, the Proclaimers book indicates that those who left were serving out of wrong motives.

“There were also other expectations concerning 1914. Alexander H. Macmillan, who had been baptized in September 1900, later recalled: “A few of us seriously thought we were going to heaven during the first week of that October. Had some been attracted by the thought of their own early salvation rather than love for God and a strong desire to do his will?” Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom p. 61

This is a common Watchtower formula; blame the members. Rather then apologise for error, say the followers were overzealous, misunderstood things or read into things. As prior quotes showed, this is just not true. The statements flowed unendingly, ‘this is an established truth’, there is ‘proof’, these things ‘will’ occur. It was spelled out so clearly there was no need for the members to read in what was not intended.

Possibly worse is that these mistakes are also handed off to be the fault of God.

“This was a natural mistake to fall into, but the Lord overruled it for the blessing of His people.” Studies in the Scriptures – The Time is at Hand 1916 ed. foreword

The Watchtower Society spent decades promoting its most prominent doctrine that the end would occur in 1914. Can a person trust the Watchtower Society when it was proven so dramatically wrong? Can a person trust the Watchtower Society when it continues to resort to deception when presenting its history? How can a person want to belong to an organization that refuses to accept responsibility for its mistakes, passing the blame to its faithful followers?

The admonition from Paul at 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 appears apt:

“However, brothers, respecting the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we request of YOU not to be quickly shaken from YOUR reason nor to be excited either through an inspired expression or through a verbal message or through a letter as though from us, to the effect that the day of Jehovah is here.”

In view of how the Watchtower refers to its past mistakes, Is This Life All There Is? asks a pertinent question on page 46:

“Knowing these things, what will you do? It is obvious that the true God, who is himself “the God of truth” and who hates lies, will not look with favor on persons who cling to organizations that teach falsehood. (Psalm 31:5; Proverbs 6:16-19; Revelation 21:8) And, really, would you want to be even associated with a religion that had not been honest with you?”

Carl Sagan – Regarding Watchtower predictions
“Doctrines that make no predictions are less compelling than those which make correct predictions; they are in turn more successful than doctrines that make false predictions.But not always. One prominent American religion confidently predicted that the world would end in 1914. Well, 1914 has come and gone, and — while the events of that year were certainly of some importance — the world does not, at least so far as I can see, seem to have ended. There are at least three responses that an organized religion can make in the face of such a failed and fundamental prophecy. They could have said, “Oh, did we say ‘1914’? So sorry, we meant ‘2014.’ A slight error in calculation. Hope you weren’t inconvenienced in any way.” But they did not. They could have said, “Well, the world would have ended, except we prayed very hard and interceded with God so He spared the Earth.” But they did not. Instead, they did something much more ingenious.They announced that the world had in fact ended in 1914, and if the rest of us hadn’t noticed, that was our lookout. It is astonishing in the face of such transparent evasions that this religion has any adherents at all. But religions are tough. Either they make no contentions which are subject to disproof or they quickly redesign doctrine after disproof. The fact that religions can be so shamelessly dishonest, so contemptuous of the intelligence of their adherents, and still flourish does not speak very well for the tough-mindedness of the believers. But it does indicate, if a demonstration were needed, that near the core of the religious experience is something remarkably resistant to rational inquiry.” Broca’s Brain, Carl Sagan (New York: Ballantine Books, 1979, pp. 332-33)

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