|core concepts | changed teachings | questionable doctrine | scandal | interesting | quotes|
1925 - "Millions Now Living Will Never Die"
In 1918, Rutherford prophesied that the resurrection would commence on earth in 1925, with the return of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. People alive at that time could expect to never die. This article provides quotes regarding this failed doctrine, and shows how the Watchtower dishonestly presents the failure of Rutherford's doctrine in recent times.
The failure of the 1914 predictions and death of Russell in 1916 left his followers in disarray. After legalistic wrangling1 Rutherford became next President of the Watchtower Society. Credit must go to Rutherford for his ability to rebuild the Watchtower Society. He was able to re-ignite urgency into the remaining followers by announcing through public discourse in February 1918 that "The World Has Ended - Millions Now Living May Never Die!", declaring that the earthly resurrection was scheduled for 1925. In March the title was changed to the more compelling “The World Has Ended — Millions Now Living Will Never Die”.2
"What an exciting message they proclaimed--"Millions now living will never die!" Brother Rutherford had given a discourse on this subject in 1918. It was also the title of a 128-page booklet published in 1920. From 1920 through 1925, that same subject was featured again and again around the world in public meetings in all areas where speakers were available and in upwards of 30 languages." Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.425
Between 1918 and 1925, this was the focus of the Watchtower preaching work. Reading the brief mention of this booklet in the Proclaimers book, and the way the predictions for 1925 are neither mentioned nor known by most Witnesses today, one could be mistaken for thinking 1925 was of little relevance in the history of Jehovah's Witnesses; yet this was the defining prophecy of Rutherford's leadership. "Millions Now Living Will Never Die!" introduced Rutherford's prediction that the earthly resurrection was to begin in 1925, starting with the faithful men of old, men such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
"Seventy jubilees of fifty years each would be a total of 3500 years. That period of time beginning 1575 before A.D. 1 of necessity would end in the fall of the year 1925, at which time the type ends and the great antitype must begin. What, then, should we expect to take place? The chief thing to be restored is the human race to life; and since other Scriptures definitely fix the fact that there will be a resurrection of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other faithful ones of old, and that these will have the first favour, we may expect 1925 to witness the return of these faithful men of Israel from the condition of death, being resurrected and fully restored to perfect humanity and made the visible, legal representatives of the new order of things on earth." Millions Now Living Will Never Die p.88
Expectations for 1925 included:
The Way to Paradise described 1925 are the year for "God's favour returning to the Jewish people", Jerusalem becoming capital of the world and "ancient worthies" being awakened. This book goes on to make the following outrageous predictions:
"The Bible and "The Bible in Stone" [the Pyramid of Giza] give the date 1914: for the beginning of the great change. History proves that the ouster proceedings began promptly on time. Prophecy indicates that 1925-1926 will see the greater part of the ousting completed. All the world's statesmen are dreading the next few years." p.171
Rutherford wrote that his chronological predictions were "of God" himself and 1925 was proclaimed a "fixed" date beyond doubt.
"... this chronology is not of man, but of God.... the addition of more proofs removes it entirely from the realm of chance into that of proven certainty.... the chronology of present truth [is]... not of human origin." Watch Tower 1922 Jul 1 p.217
Could there be any more direct evidence of an organization that promoted false prophecy in the name of God? How could Rutherford say that his followers had more reason to accept his prediction of 1925 than Noah had to believe the words directly spoken by Jehovah?
Another quote gloated over the expected failure of those criticising the 1925 predictions.
"We cannot be blamed for presenting from the Scriptures such evidence as they afford which leads us to believe that a certain event will take place at a given time. Some times the Lord has let His people looking for the right thing at the wrong time, and more frequently they have looked for the wrong things at the right time. But all the enemies of the cause of present truth in the earth are fervently hoping that the Bible students will not be so successful in 1925 in looking for the right thing at the right time as they were in 1914. if they are, however, it will be the other fellow that will have to do the explaining, and not we." Golden Age 1924 Feb 13 p.314
The following quote shows the superstitious nature of Watchtower followers, including the ongoing believe of the relevance of the pyramid.
"As constructed, the Grand Gallery is narrow and steep, and its ascent must be made cautiously and circumspectly. The ascent has always been difficult, until recently. On entering it this time, we discovered that steps have been built the full length of the passage, with an iron hand-railing on either side, so that now one walks up it as he would up a staircase in a building, with supports on either side. The writer was interested to know when this was installed. There are men about the Pyramid who have acted as guides for years. Several of these were sent for and closely questioned. They all agreed that the material was brought there and the construction of this stairway and iron supports began early in July, 1919, and the work was completed about the first of October, 1919. Immediately the writer recalled that it was about the first of July 1919, that the idea was conceived of publishing THE GOLDEN AGE, the first issue of which appeared October 1, 1919. THE GOLDEN AGE announced, and continues to announce, that the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom is at hand, that the time of restitution is here, that the old world has ended and the new is beginning, and that millions now living will never die." Watchtower 1920 Dec 15 p.379
After 1918 the Millions teaching became the central focus of the preaching effort, being delivered through a series of public lectures by Rutherford and other brothers. These were advertised in local newspapers, as displayed in the following clippings.
(Click on the thumbnails to enlarge. Collage courtesy of Leolaia - jehovahs-witness.com)
Predicting the resurrection to start in 1925 resulted in tremendous growth for the Watchtower Society.
"This resulted in bringing into the sanctuary many more to be members of this remnant consecrated by Jehovah. This was evident from the increasing attendance at the annual celebrations of the Lord's evening meal, 32,661 participating in 1922; 42,000 in 1923; 62,696 in 1924; and 90,434 in 1925" Watchtower 1960 May 1 p.282
The converse occurred after the failure of the resurrection in 1925. Accurate figures are hard to find as for several years after 1926 memorial attendance stopped being reported. However, it is estimated that as many as 75% left and by 1935 memorial attendance was still only 63,146.3
It is reprehensible that from the moment Rutherford's prediction proved wrong (and continuing to this day) the Governing Body shifted the blame for the false expectation away from themselves and onto the members.
"Question: Have the ancient worthies returned? Answer: "Certainly they have not returned. No one has seen them, and it would be foolish to make such an announcement. It was stated in the 'Millions' book that we might reasonably expect them to return shortly after 1925, but this was merely an expressed opinion; besides it is still shortly after 1925. ... Some anticipated that the work would end in 1925, but the Lord did not state so. The difficulty was that the friends inflated their imaginations beyond reason; and that when their imaginations burst asunder, they were inclined to throw away everything." Watch Tower 1926 pp.196, 232
The Proclaimers book properly indicates that early Bible Students believed the majority of worldly people would survive Armageddon.
"[Bible Students] Understood that people then living-mankind in general-had the opportunity to survive right into the time of restitution and that they would then be educated in Jehovah's requirements for life. If obedient, they would gradually attain to human perfection. If rebellious, they would, in time, be destroyed forever." Proclaimers p.163
More often though, the Watchtower misleadingly indicates that the teaching of 'millions now living' was overoptimism and coincides with the current doctrine that only Witnesses would be saved as part of the Great Crowd.
"In the early 1920's, a featured public talk presented by Jehovah's Witnesses was entitled "Millions Now Living Will Never Die." This may have reflected overoptimism at that time. But today that statement can be made with full confidence." Watchtower 1997 Jan. 1 p.1
These statements are complete falsehoods. Rutherford's message was not that a Great Crowd of millions of Witnesses were never to die - it was in fact the very opposite.
"He takes mankind as he finds them, and during the Millennial age will deal with each individual of the world according to his own particular condition, having mercy upon the weak and requiring more of the stronger " Studies Series VI - The New Creation p.114
Rutherford continued to promote this teaching. In the New System, freed from the influence of Satan, Jesus would directly teach all people and give them the opportunity to choose if they wished to live forever serving him. Salvation was not contingent on becoming a Watchtower follower, or even a believer in Jesus. In fact, the churches were criticised for teaching that their members exclusively would be saved.
"The church systems would have the people believe that only those who become church members can be saved. The Bible never taught any such doctrine. ... Jesus died not only for those who will constitute the members of the church, but for all. St. John plainly stated: "He is the propitiation [satisfaction] for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world".-l John 2:2. It would be impossible for the human race, therefore, to accept the gift of life everlasting before it is offered. It will be offered only in God's due time and the divine plan shows that his due time is after the seed of promise is developed, after the kingdom is setup; and then each one in his order will be brought to a knowledge of the fact that a plan of redemption exists and that the way is open for him to accept the terms of it and live. The remainder of mankind could not keep it. They hear, however, in due time after the establishment of the kingdom. Then it shall come to pass that every one who will keep the saying of the Lord shall never see death. Based upon the argument heretofore set forth, then, that the old order of things, the old world, is ending and is therefore passing away, and that the new order is coming in, and that 1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies of old and the beginning of reconstruction, it is reasonable to conclude that millions of people now on the earth will be still on the earth in 1925. Then, based upon the promises set forth in the divine Word, we must reach the positive and indisputable conclusion that millions now living will never die." Millions Now Living Will Never Die pp.89-98
The 1921 book The Harp of God had inscribed on the cover "Proof Conclusive that Millions now Living will never Die". This book went into great detail to explain the generosity of God to save the majority of humankind to be educated in this new system of things. After describing life in a New Sytem with reference to Isaiah 35:4-6 The Harp of God p.331 said:
"when these great miracles begin to be performed on the earth, then the most sceptical it is to be hoped, will believe that the Lord Jesus reigns."
Page 333 goes on the describe God's promise to Noah never again to "smite every living thing" as proof Armageddon will not result in a great human slaughter. "The majority of mankind practice unrighteousness" (p.334) and these are the ones that will be given the opportunity to learn to practice righteousness during the reign of the Messiah. This was a fair concept that showed God's love and reasonableness towards humankind.
Following his failed 1925 prophecy Rutherford embarked on a dramatic overhaul of Watchtower doctrine, distancing his followers from Russell. Almost all of Russell's time prophecy predictions were discarded. There was a name change for Watchtower followers from Bible Students to Jehovah's Witnesses. Furthermore, it was stated that between 1918 and 1919 Jesus cleansed the Watchtower Society, in effect implying that the time of Russell was one of uncleanness, and it was under himself that Jesus chose the Organization as his sole provision for salvation. He distanced his followers from other Christians by stating as wrong and pagan most of Christendom's symbols and holidays. Finally, the great crowd was brought to earth to become the sole survivors of Armageddon. These changes made it simple to introduce a concept of 'narrow salvation', the concept that only a handful of the world were deserving salvation. Conveniently, survivors all had to belong to one earthly Organization, the Watchtower Society. God was now prepared to kill billions of people, most that have never even heard of the Watchtower Organization.
Romans 5:6 "For, indeed, Christ, while we were yet weak, died for ungodly men at the appointed time …"
Rutherford's post 1925 belief structure removed the value of Jesus sacrifice from "all mankind" and placed his followers alone amongst the living as worthy of its benefits. This unfortunate view eliminates most of the value of Jesus sacrifice for those alive at Armageddon and paints a cruel and unjust God. This viewpoint cannot be justified by reason or Scripture, yet is common amongst fundamentalist religious groups, due to being an effective way to encourage Organizational membership and prevent defection.
Similar intellectual dishonesty can be identified in the 1980 Yearbook, which misquotes from the Watchtower of 1926 in an attempt to downplay the sentiment of 1925. Notice how only half a sentence is quoted, with a full stop replacing a semi-colon.
Yearbook 1980 p.62
Watchtower 1926 p.196
1 Russell's will appears in Studies in the Scriptures - Series I - The Plan of the Ages, 1927 Edition "Biography" pp.8-14. Here he directed that rather than a single person having full control as he had done, an Editorial Committee of five (the names of which are listed in the will) be in charge of approving Watchtower truth. Rutherford contested this and took control as president.
"1918 - The discourse “The World Has Ended — Millions Now Living May Never Die” is first delivered, on February 24, in Los Angeles, California. On March 31, in Boston, Massachusetts, the talk is entitled “The World Has Ended — Millions Now Living Will Never Die” - Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.719
3 M. James Penton. Apocalypse Delayed-The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses p.61, Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.717
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2013
1800s - Changed Date Doctrine