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Changed Dates :: Failed Predictions
This section covers some of the lesser known failed predictions and changed date doctrine of the Watchtower Society. For the more important dates see the pages on 1914, 1925, 1975. Many of the following quotes are from the Watchtower Society's Studies in the Scriptures Series. Links to free scanned copies of these books are at Historical Publications.
Jesus said he would provide his followers Holy Spirit to correctly understand what the future holds.
"However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide YOU into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own impulse, but what things he hears he will speak, and he will declare to YOU the things coming." John 16:13
Whereas doctrine is subjective and un-provable, time prophecy leaves no room for error. On a number of occasions the Watchtower put a line in the sand when saying a specific event was going to happen on a specific date. When those dates passed without event those statements proved beyond argument to be false. When something predicted to happen does not occur there is irrefutable evidence that Jehovah did not direct the interpretation. In line with the Scriptures above, the following incorrect dates prove the Watchtower Society is not guided by Jehovah.
In 1876, Russell became interested in time prophecy, after reading a copy of Barbour's publication Herald of the Morning. The end had not come in 1874, as the Adventists had predicted. However, Barbour explained that Matthew 24:27 meant Jesus' invisible presence commenced in 1874, the rapture would be 1878, and the end of the world was to occur in 1914. (See Watch Tower, 1906 July 15 for a detailed account.)
In Russell's doctrinal chronology the most important dates were 1874 and 1914:
"The chapter in SCRIPTURE STUDIES, Vol. II, showing the parallels between the Jewish and Christian Dispensations, makes prominent four dates, viz., (1) October, 1874; (2) April, 1878; (3) October, 1881, and (4) October, 1914;" Watch Tower 1911 June 15 p.190
"The careful student will have observed that the period designated 'The Time of the End' is very appropriately named, since not only does the Gospel age close in it, but in it, also, all prophesies relating to the close of this age terminate, reaching their fulfillments. The same class of readers will have noticed, too, the special importance of the last 40 of these 115 years (1874-1914), called 'The End' or 'Harvest.'" Studies in the Scriptures Series III - Thy Kingdom Come p.121
The above timeline shows Russell's preached the Second Coming of Jesus was 1874, and the start of the 1000 year earthly reign was 1914, as it was to end in 2914 A.D.
For Rutherford the important dates were:
"WE HAVE no doubt whatever in regard to the chronology relating to the dates of 1874, 1914, 1918, and 1925." Watchtower 1922 May 15 p.147
Over time, Rutherford replaced 1874, such that his time line was as follows.
Other significant dates the Watchtower no longer refer to are;
- 1799 A.D. - The beginning of the Last Days.
- 539 A.D. - Thought to be the start of Catholic Papal rule and the start point of many prophetic interpretations.
Of these above dates only 1914 is still considered significant, and even then, mostly for different reasons than originally prescribed. Though part of Watchtower lore for 60 years, most current Jehovah's Witnesses are unaware of their significance and that each one failed to eventuate as predicted.
Each time the Watchtower has predicted an occurrence, it has not eventuated as foretold, a 100% failure rate. Does this inspire confidence in Watchtower interpretation? Jehovah's Witnesses promoted these falsehoods in the past, and continue to zealously advocate current doctrine as unfailing truths.
It is claimed that Jesus found a cleansed Slave Class dispensing truthful food in 1919. However, Rutherford continued to promote Russell's interpretation of the dates for the 1700's, 1800's and 1914 until the 1930's. Many of the date prophecies were re-explained between 1930 and 1932; the remainder were adjusted in 1943. Rutherford even dismissed the majority of his own 1900's predictions.
Chapter 10 of Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom is devoted to the subject "Growing in Accurate Knowledge of the Truth". This discusses that truth is progressive, yet makes little reference to the failed dates. Relegated to a footnote on page 133 is the statement that;
"A clearer understanding of Biblical chronology was published in 1943, in the book "The Truth Shall Make You Free" and it was then refined the following year in the book "The Kingdom Is at Hand," as well as in later publications.
Scant mention is made of the incredible list of dates that had been abandoned. Nor does it clarify that it was not until 1943 that the beginning of Christ's presence was specifically changed from the year 1874 to 1914. This change was in The Truth Shall Make You Free, released in the time of Knorr and the first book to be printed that did not list the author's name. This was after the death of Rutherford and well after 1919 when Jesus inspection supposedly found a spiritually cleansed Organization.
One can imagine that over time most of the current doctrine describing events of the 1900's will eventually be seen to be of little relevance and relegated to the forgotten annals of Watchtower history. It is yet to be seen what will become of 1914; being the most significant doctrine it will be the most difficult to eradicate without overwhelming consequences.
May 19, 1780 was the date for the first sign of the last days, "The Dark Day." Certain Adventists still hold to this date. It was said by Ellen that "Since the time of Moses no period of darkness of equal density, extent, and duration, has ever been recorded." (Great Controversy, p. 308) This was touched on in Studies in the Scriptures - The Day Of Vengeance (1897) p.604;
"Reckoning a hundred years from 1780, the date of the first sign, the limit would reach to 1880; and, to our understanding, every item predicted had begun to be fulfilled at that date"
The time of darkness, the first sign of the end, was caused by fires in New England and was confined mostly to the North-Eastern part of the United States. Quite typically a new religion will think their country is predicted in prophecy. The Adventists, Mormons and Watchtower Society all began as US centric religions.
"And, perhaps we can answer: the "time, times, and a-half," ended in 1798, at the taking away of the papal dominion, and is one of the great landmarks of prophecy." Three Worlds and The Harvest of This World (1877) p.158
The 1260 days in Revelation 12:7 were said to extend from 538 A.D. to 1798 A.D. and marked by the end of Papal rule. In 1889, Russell changed the last days from 1798 to 1799, based on a new understanding that papal rule started in 539 A.D.
Few Witnesses today are aware of the relevance of the year 1799, that this year is pivotal to the very existence of Jehovah's Witnesses. 1799 was the beginning of "the time of the end." This concept started the era of enlightenment and Adventist movement of the 1800's, resulting in Russell's end time belief system.
In no uncertain terms, Watchtower presented "proof" that 1799 was "definitely" the start of the time of the end.
"THE "Time of the End," a period of one hundred and fifteen (115) years, from A.D. 1799 to A.D. 1914, is particularly marked in the Scriptures. "The Day of His Preparation" is another name given to the same period." Studies in the Scriptures - Thy Kingdom Come p.23
In 1796, George Bell postulated that the Pope was the Antichrist and would fall in 1797. The war that started shortly afterwards, along with Napoleon debasing the Pope, was seen as evidence of the fulfilment of this. So dramatic was the apparent fulfilment of this prophecy that it led to the start of the Adventist movement and belief that the last days started 1799. The reasoning was related to Daniel's prophecy of the King of the North and prophecies of the 1260 days in Daniel 7:25, Revelation 12:7 and 11:1-3.
Studies in the Scriptures - The Time is as Hand and Zion's Watch Tower 1889 discussed this as relating to the 1799 date.
Catholic Papal rule started in 539 A.D. and was said to have ended 1260 years later in 1799, thus starting the beginning of the time of the end. The prophecy of the 1355 days was similarly calculated to extend from 539 A.D. to 1874, another key date in Russell's understanding of the end times. Although Russell did not get involved in the Adventist movement until the 1870's, he accepted this date as truth and felt that God had chosen him as his mouthpiece to preach the urgency of the times.
Despite Russell's death, and the failure of his teaching that Jesus earthly rulership would commence 1914, Watchtower continued with this doctrine, and even well after Jesus apparent cleansing of Watchtower in 1919.
"Napoleon began this Egyptian campaign in 1798, ... and being completed in 1799, marks, according to the Prophet's own words, the beginning of the "time of the end". The Harp of God (1921) pp.228,229
"The time of the end" embraces a period from A.D. 1799, as above indicated, to the time of the complete overthrow of Satan's empire and the establishment of the kingdom of the Messiah." The Harp of God p.231
"Twelve-hundred sixty years from A.D. 539 brings us to 1799-another proof that 1799 definitely marks the beginning of "the time of the end"." The Harp of God p.230
"How is the beginning of the “time of the end” definitely fixed at 1799 A. D.?" The Harp of God p.269
"This great increase in knowledge and the tremendous running to and fro of the people in various parts of the earth without question is a fulfilment of the prophecy testifying as to "the time of the end"." The Harp of God p.234
It is amusing to see the lengthy list of inventions The Harp of God used as proof that the 1800's was the time of the end. The locomotive and "flying machine" (p.231) were considered fulfilment of the "day of God's preparation" spoken of in Nahum 2:1-6. Evidence the Lord's presence commenced 1874 included - adding machines, aeroplanes, aluminium, antiseptic surgery, artificial dyes, automatic couplers, automobiles, barbed wire, bicycles, carborundum, cash registers, celluloid, correspondence schools, cream separators, Darkest Africa, fireless cookers, shoe-sewing machines, the telegraph, the telephone, Panama Canal, Pasteurization, and vacuum cleaners (page 235).
This teaching continued throughout the nineteen twenties in other publications.
"The indisputable facts, therefore, show that the "time of the end" began in 1799; that the Lord's second presence began in 1874." Watchtower 1922 Mar 1 p.73
"Napoleon began this Egyptian campaign in 1798, finished it, and then returned to France on October 1, 1799. The campaign is briefly, yet graphically described in the prophecy, verses 40-44; and its being completed in 1799 marks, according to the prophet's own words, the beginning of "the time of the end. Twelve hundred and sixty years from 539 A.D. brings us to 1799, which is another proof that 1799 definitely marks the beginning of "the time of the end." This also shows that it is from the date 539 A.D. that the other prophetic days of Daniel must be counted." Creation (1927) 2,175,000 ed. p.293
"These physical facts cannot be disputed and are sufficient to convince any reasonable mind that we have been in "the time of the end" since 1799." The Harp of God p.234
Then as now, Watchtower resorted to insult, with Rutherford indicating above that a person is not of "reasonable mind" if they do not believe the time of the end started in 1799. Today, a Witness that does not believe 1914 was the start of the end is labelled as apostate or even the antichrist and disfellowshipped.
1829 was the start of the Miller movement, as supposedly prophesied by the 1290 days of Daniel 12:11. This was 1290 years from the beginning of papal rule in 539 A.D, as explained in Studies in the Scriptures - Thy Kingdom Come p.84 and Studies in the Scriptures - The Finished Mystery pp.40, 60, 163.
"The Prophet Daniel's statement that "the wise shall understand" apparently refers to the end of the 1290 days mentioned in the same chapter. This period terminated in 1829. Shortly after 1829 the message of the nearness of the Second Advent of Christ began especially to be promulgated by William Miller. As a result of the exaltation of the Word of God, certain doctrines were brought forth in a very prominent way." Watchtower 1914 Nov 1 p.326
Sounding of the Seventh Trumpet.
"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.27
This was a key date for the Adventist movement. In the early 1800's John Aquila Brown taught that the Daniel chapter 8 prophecy of 2,300 days ended in 1844. Miller took up this theme and said that the end of the world would come in this year. When it did not Miller renounced his teaching but the Adventists stuck to it. They reinterpreted it to be the start of the time of the end and that the end would be 1874. This did not occur either.
In the 1870's Russell became interested in time prophecy. He followed Barbour's concept that the 1700 and 1800 dates put forward by the Adventists were correct; it was the understanding of what was going to happen that was wrong. Studies in the Scriptures Series 2 p.240 discusses Russell's understanding of 1844.
The Sanctuary was cleansed in 1846, another understanding of the end of the 2,300 day prophecy. The cleansing was meant to be when G. Storrs abandoned false doctrines. Storrs was one of the preachers that Russell took his doctrines from. This is discussed in Studies in the Scriptures - Thy Kingdom Come p.108 and Studies in the Scriptures - The Finished Mystery p.163.
"The 2,300 days point to 1846 as the time when God's sanctuary would be cleansed of the defiling errors and principles of Papacy; and we have noted the cleansing there accomplished." Studies In the Scriptures - Thy Kingdom Come p.306
1873 was the year that Second Adventists and Russell thought the 6,000 years of creation had ended.
"We are already living in the seventh millennium - since October 1872" Studies In the Scriptures - The Time Is At Hand 1915 ed. p.363
"Here we furnish the evidence that from the creation of Adam to A.D. 1873 was six thousand years. And though the Bible contains no direct statement that the seventh thousand will be the epoch of Christ's reign, the great Sabbath Day of restitution to the world, yet the venerable tradition is not without reasonable foundation. If, then, the seventh thousand-year period of earth's history be an epoch specially noted as the period of Christ's reign, we shall, by showing that it began in A.D. 1873, be proving that we are already in it." Studies In the Scriptures - The Time Is At Hand 1915 ed. p.39
"Looking back to 1871, we see that many of our company were what are known as Second Adventists, and the light they held briefly stated, was that there would be a second advent of Jesus-- that he would come to bless and immortalize the saints, to judge the world and to burn up the world and all the wicked. This, they claimed would occur in 1873, because the 6,000 years from the creation of Adam were complete then." Zion's Watch Tower 1881 Feb p.3
This began the reign of Christ and the period of darkness on the earth. The signs of the last days were apparently proven by the start of political systems such as Socialism, Communism and Nihilism. Studies in the Scriptures - The Finished Mystery The Watchtower did not change their workings on the 6,000 years until 1943, when they started to say that due to inaccuracies in the King James Bible they had wrongly stated 1873 and that the 6,000 years actually ended in 1975. (See Proclaimers footnote p.133)
1874 was a key date for Russell. In many ways, 1874 was to Russell what 1914 is to Jehovah's Witnesses today. 1874 was the time of the second coming or second advent, the start of Jesus' invisible presence, the start of the harvest work and the beginning of the time for the generation that would see the end.
"The second advent of our Lord in the end or harvest of the Gospel age, occurring in the fall of 1874, proves to be at a point of time exactly parallel to the time of his first advent, in the end of the Jewish age. ... the Jubilee Cycles show October 1874 to be the date of our Lord s return. ... While the time-prophecies thus point to and harmonize with 1874 as the date of our Lord s second presence, assuring us of the fact with mathematical precision, we find ourselves overwhelmed with evidence of another character; for certain peculiar signs, foretold by the Lord and the apostles and prophets, which were to precede his coming, are now clearly recognised as actually fulfilled. ... The cleansing of the sanctuary was also accomplished as predicted, and at a time sufficiently in advance of 1874 to make ready "a people prepared for the Lord" a people in devout expectancy of his coming"" The Time of the Harvest (1911 ed.) pp.125,127,129
"... the beginning of the harvest period, in the fall of 1874." The Time of the Harvest (1911 ed.) p.234
"So short a time ago as 1870 we saw, in addition to the first principles of the Gospel, only the two bare facts - the Lord's second coming and the Restitution - and these but vaguely; for though we then saw restitution taught in Scripture, we were much in doubt as to its comprehensiveness, questioning often whether it would include all the billions of the dead whom the god of this world had in the present life blinded. And concerning the Lord's second coming, while we realized that he is no longer a man, but is now the new creature--the express image of the Father's person-- a quickening spirit, yet we failed somehow to make a proper application of this to his second coming, and unthinkingly and ignorantly, rather expected his coming to be as a glorified man, than as a spiritual being. It was not until about 1874 that these things became clearer, so that we realized that when Jesus should come, it would be as unobserved by human eyes as though an angel had come; and that it could be known only by some miracle, by some manifestation or demonstration....
Next our attention was drawn to the subject of the TIME of our Lord's coming. Before this we had strenuously ignored time, partly because of its being made so much of by "Second Adventists," and because of the frequent failures of their expectations. Moreover, the fact that they claimed the destruction of the world to be the impending event, and used the periods of time mentioned in Scripture to mark the time of that destruction, was another reason why we were disposed to ignore the subject of time. Their erroneous theory of the destruction of the world cast discredit on the time which they associated with it.
When, however, the manner of our Lord's coming was seen in the light of what he is--a spiritual, and no longer a human being--then we saw that our Father had provided TIME in the Bible, that thus we might know, or see with the eye of our understanding, what we could not see with our natural eyes-- viz., the Lord's presence. A careful study of times and seasons taught in Scripture convinced us that the Lord was due to be present in 1874, and other time teachings of the Word showed that in the spring of 1875 the restitution of all things was due to commence." Zion's Watch Tower 1883 Aug p.1
Initially, Russell felt that the battle of Armageddon started in 1874, based on his understanding that this was a social upheaval.
"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
"... the "battle of the great day of God Almighty" (Rev. 16:14), which will end in A.D. 1915, with the complete overthrow of earth's present rulership, is already commenced." The Time is at Hand p.101
From 1904 onward, Watchtower articles show Russell changed the start of Armageddon to be 1914.
There was a great deal of Scriptural "proof" used to show Jesus' presence began in 1874, such as:
- The end of the jubilee cycles (Zion's Watch Tower 1881 January).
- It was the end of 6000 years after creation
- Daniel's prophecy of the 1335 days. This was interpreted to mean 1335 years after papal rule had started in 539 AD. Historical years were changed and adjusted in order to fit the year to the prophecy.
- Russell followed Barbour's idea that the Adventists were wrong to think the end of the world would be 1874 as this was just 30 years from 1844. As a generation is 70 years, the end of the world itself would not be until 1914. This fitted nicely with Barbour's understanding of the seven times.
It is interesting that prophecies vigorously used today to point to special events in the 1900's were used to point to completely different events in the 1800's. Even the methodology to work out these prophecies has changed. For instance, the 1335 days were said to represent years, now we are supposed to believe they represent lunar days; that is, about 1320 solar days! These prophecies are meant to strengthen faith in the Watchtower interpretation of the Bible, when they are obviously being used to fit any situation the Watchtower Society desires.
1874 was still being used well after 1914.
"Bible prophecy shows that the Lord was due to appear for the second time in the year 1874. Fulfilled prophecy shows beyond a doubt that he did appear in 1874. Fulfilled prophecy is otherwise designated the physical facts; and these facts are indisputable." Watchtower 1922 Nov 1 p.333
"Surely there is not the slightest room for doubt in the mind of a truly consecrated child of God that the Lord Jesus is present and has been since 1874;…" Watchtower 1924 Jan 1 p.5)
"The Scriptural proof is that the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 A.D." Prophecy 1929 1,589,000 ed. p.65
"Applying the same rule then, of a day for a year, 1335 days after 539 A.D. brings us to 1874 A.D. at which time, according to Biblical chronology, the Lord's second presence was due." Creation 1927 2,175,000 ed. p.298
"The Scriptural proof is that the period of his presence and the day of God's preparation is a period from 1874 A.D. forward. The second coming of the Lord, therefore, began in 1874; and that date and the years 1914 and 1918 are specially marked dates with reference to his coming. Prophecy can not be understood until it has been fulfilled or is in the course of fulfillment. From 1874 to 1914 the prophecy concerning the Lord's coming was being fulfilled and could be understood, and was understood, by those who were faithful to the Lord and who were watching the development of events, but not by others." Creation 1927 2,175,000 ed. p.289
The Harp of God contains many references to 1874 in both the 1921 and 1928 editions. The 1927 edition of Creation uses inventions from 1874 onwards as evidence of the Lord's presence since that date. These included:
"But mention is made of some of those things that have come to light since 1874, as a further evidence of the Lord's presence since that date, as follows: Adding machines, aeroplanes, aluminium, antiseptic surgery, artificial dyes, automatic couplers, automobiles, barbed wire, bicycles, carborundum, cash registers, celluloid, cream separators, disc plows, electric railways, electric welding, elevators, escalators, fireless cookers, gas engines, harvesting machines, illuminating gas, induction motors, linotypes, monotypes, motion pictures, pasteurization, radium, railway signals, Roentgen rays, skyscrapers, smokeless powder, submarines, subways, talking machines, telephones, television, typewriters, vacuum cleaners, wireless telegraphy and wireless telephony." Creation 1927 2,175,000 ed. p.297
1874 was not dropped as the start of the second coming until the 1930s, when articles such as the following started to be released.
"The prophecy of the Bible, fully supported by the physical facts in fulfilment thereof, shows that the second coming of Christ dates from the fall of the year 1914." What is Truth? (1932) p.48
1874 was not removed entirely from Watchtower doctrine until 1943, when a change in how the 6000 years were calculated meant it could no longer be used as the end of the 6000 years. (see God's Kingdom on a Thousand Years Has Approached p.209)
The Society generally glosses over its history and wrong interpretations. However, some of the excuses it provides for these errors are quite shocking;
"According to an inaccurate chronology that had been worked out from the King James Authorized Version Bible, Russell calculated Christ's "presence" had begun in the year 1874 C.E., unseen to human eyes and seen only by the eye of faith." Man's Salvation Out Of World Distress At Hand (1975) p.287
Is indicating that God allowed the Bible to come down to us incorrectly really the best way to exonerate Russell's wrong teachings? Doesn't this raise more problems than it answers?
1878 was expected to fulfil many events, on the basis it was 3 ½ years after 1874, a period paralleling Jesus' 3 ½ year earthly ministry. 1878 was the year Jesus would take rulership in heaven, was the start of the heavenly resurrection, and expected to result in the rapture.
Jesus Heavenly Rulership
1878 was the year Jesus took rulership in heaven.
"... he would in reality assume the kingly office, power, etc., viz., in the spring of 1878, three and a half years after his second advent at the beginning of the harvest period, in the fall of 1874." Studies in the Scriptures - The Time of the Harvest (1911 ed.) p.234
"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... " Studies In the Scriptures - The Time Is At Hand (1889) p.101
"... 1874 as the time of our Lord's second presence as Bridegroom and Reaper, and to April 1878 as the time when he began to exercise his office of King of kings and Lord of lords ..." Studies in the Scriptures - Thy Kingdom Come (1911 ed.) p.150
"The spring of A.D. 1878 (three and a half years later) corresponds to the date at which our Lord assumed the office of King, rode on the ass, cleansed the temple of its money-changers, and wept over and gave up to desolation that nominal church or kingdom; and it marks the date when the nominal church systems were "spewed out" (Rev. 3:16), and from which time (A.D. 1878) they are not the mouth pieces of God, nor in any degree recognized by him." Studies In the Scriptures Series - The Time Is At Hand 1915 ed. p.235
"Based on the premise that events of the first century might find parallels in related events later, they also concluded that if Jesus' baptism and anointing in the autumn of 29 C.E. paralleled the beginning of an invisible presence in 1874, then his ride into Jerusalem as King in the spring of 33 C.E. would point to the spring of 1878 as the time when he would assume his power as heavenly King." Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom (1993) p.632
Jesus earthly rulership was expected to follow in 1914. In the 1920's, after 1914 had failed to deliver upon its expectations, Watchtower shifted the start of Jesus invisible heavenly rulership from 1878 to 1914.
Rapture or Heavenly Resurrection
Russell expected he and his followers would be raptured to heaven in 1878.
In January 1876, Charles Russell read a copy of Barbour's publication Herald of the Morning. This explained that Jesus had returned invisibly in 1874, and the Rapture would occur in 1878. As the kingdom had not come to earth in 1874 as predicted by Second Adventists, Barbour started to preach that Jesus arrived invisibly in 1874, (exactly the same justification used years later by Rutherford to explain why the kingdom did not manifest itself in 1914.) Russell was deeply influenced by Barbour and started to fund Barbour's publication, believing his resurrection to heaven would be only two years away.
"1878 ... They also thought they would be given their heavenly reward at that time." Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p. 632
"Then Pastor Russell explains an erroneous view that had been held by all up to this point. Based on Paul's statement at 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52, it had been expected "that at some time the living saints would be suddenly and miraculously caught away bodily, thenceforth to be forever with the Lord." Believing this would take place in 1878, some were disappointed because nothing occurred that they could see. However, Pastor Russell was led to a reexamination of the scripture and realized that their "mistake lay in expecting to see all the living saints changed at once, and without dying - an erroneous view shared in by the whole nominal church, and one which we had not yet observed or discarded." Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose (1959) p.19
When questioned about this later, Russell played down such expectation.
"Expecting the Lord Jesus to come in 1878 to catch them up miraculously to be with him in heaven, some who had been Second Adventists (including Barbour) were disappointed when that miracle did not occur. Russell, though, "did not for a moment feel cast down," but "realized that what God had so plainly declared must some time have a fulfillment"; and he "wanted to have it just in God's time and way."
On one occasion while talking with Russell about the events of 1878, I told him that Pittsburgh papers had reported he was on the Sixth Street bridge dressed in a white robe on the night of the Memorial of Christ's death, expecting to be taken to heaven together with many others. I asked him, "Is that correct?"
Russell laughed heartily and said: "I was in bed that night between 10:30 and 11:00 P.M. However, some of the more radical ones might have been there, but I was not. Neither did I expect to be taken to heaven at that time, for I felt there was much work to be done preaching the Kingdom message to the peoples of the earth before the church would be taken away." FAITH ON THE MARCH pp.26-27
Today, Jehovah's Witnesses longingly look forward to their own reward, though now as being on earth. The idea their reward will be "soon" has been used as the carrot for over a century, dating to the very formation of the Watch Tower Society.
Shortly after this time, Russell split from Barbour and in 1879 started his own magazine, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. Whilst the rapture had not occurred, Russell retained 1878 as the date for the start of Jesus heavenly rulership.
Beginning of Heavenly Resurrection from the Grave
1878 was the start of the resurrection of the dead saints.
In 1906, Russell claimed that the "Lord has helped and guided" him to reveal the truth, explaining that whilst wrong about the living being taken to heaven in 1878, it was the date those already dead were taken to heaven. This was a handy interpretation, since it could not be proven false.
"We did not then see, as we now do,* that that date (1878) marked the time for the beginning of the establishment of the Kingdom of God, by the glorification of all who already slept in Christ, and that the "change" which Paul mentions (I Cor. 15:51) is to occur in the moment of dying, to all the class described, from that date onward through the harvest period, until all the living members ("the feet") of the body of Christ shall have been changed to glorious spirit beings. But when at that date nothing occurred which we could see, a re-examination of the matter showed me that our mistake lay in expecting to see all the living saints changed at once, and without dying--an erroneous view shared in by the whole nominal church, and one which we had not yet observed or discarded." Zion's Watch Tower 1906 Jul p.230
"Our Lord's resurrection occurred three and a half years after his advent as the Messiah, in A.D. 29; and the resurrection of his body, the Church, we have seen, was due in the year 1878, three and a half years after his second advent, in October 1874." Studies In the Scriptures Series - Thy Kingdom Come p.305
"In the year 1878, the dead in Christ were resurrected, as shown by number 8. It was time for them to be engaged in kingdom work. In that same year a call was issued for the saints on this side of the "veil" to come out of Babylon. The 1845 years of fleshly Israel's disfavor ended in 1878." Explanation of Chart Representing the Plan of the Ages
Despite the Lord's help, this interpretation too was wrong, as Watchtower now claims this event occurred in 1914.
End of Gospel Age, Favour to the Jews
1878 was to see the return of God's favour to the Jews. This was discussed in the 1877 book Three Worlds, co-authored by Barbour and Russell.
"The people called out of Babylon must refer to the Jews, we think, because they are to be gathered out of all nations, and restored to their own land ..." Three Worlds (1877) p.165
Russell continued to hold a zionist stance after his separation from Barbour. Jews were to came back into God's favour after the end of the gospel age with the rejection of Catholicism in 1878.
" ... the spring of 1878, the nominal gospel church was given up and their house left desolate.... But since the spring of 1878 we believe that the nominal church is cast off and now only the wheat - “the little flock” - is to be considered the church; and we believe this to be the date of the beginning of the fall of Babylon Church...."Zion's Watch Tower 1879 Oct reprints p.46
Rutherford also presented 1878 as part of God's plan for the Jews in his early writings, though strongly turned against them over time.
"In the summer of 1878, exactly on time and when we should look for God's favor to return to the Jew, we find there transpired a certain event of the greatest importance that had happened to Jewry in more than 1800 years. ... Accordingly from June 13 to July 13, 1878, the Berlin Congress was held. Beaaonsfield compelled Russia to greatly modify her treaty. Turkey was enfranchised and made independent, but upon condition that civil and religious rights be granted to the Jews. This had an important bearing on the history of the Jews." Millions Now Living will Never Die (1920) p.28
Barbour used the concept of "new light" to explain the failure of the rapture to occur in 1878. This concept of new or brighter light was seized upon by Russell, and has been used by generations of Witnesses ever since as justification for failed doctrine.
"The spring of A.D. 1878 (three and a half years later) corresponds to the date at which our Lord assumed the office of King, rode on the ass, cleansed the temple of its money-changers, and wept over and gave up to desolation that nominal church or kingdom; and it marks the date when the nominal church systems were "spewed out" (Rev. 3:16), and from which time (A.D. 1878) they are not the mouth pieces of God, nor in any degree recognized by him. So it was in this harvest also up to A.D. 1878 the time prophecies and the fact of the Lord's presence, substantially as here presented, though less clearly, was our message. Since then the work has widened, and the view of other truths has become brighter and clearer; but the same fact and scriptures, teaching the same time and presence, stand unchallenged and incontrovertible." Studies In the Scriptures Series - The Time Is At Hand 1915 ed. p.235
1878 was considered "incontrovertible" for decades, with necessary changes in understanding repositioned under the guise of "brighter light." Eventually the "brighter light" faded and 1878 is now considered completely irrelevant.
By 1880 all the signs of the end were said to have started, great earthquakes, war, pestilence, bad behaviour of people and so forth.
"A "generation" might be reckoned as equivalent to a century (practically the present limit) or one hundred and twenty years, Moses' lifetime and the Scripture limit. (Gen. 6:3.) Reckoning a hundred years from 1780, the date of the first sign, the limit would reach to 1880; and, to our understanding, every item predicted had begun to be fulfilled at that date;-the "harvest" or gathering time beginning October 1874; the organization of the Kingdom and the taking by our Lord of his great power as the King in April 1878, and the time of trouble or "day of wrath" which began October 1874, and will cease about 1915; and the sprouting of the fig tree." Studies in the Scriptures Series IV - The Day of Vengeance p.604
The exact opposite is now stated. You Can Live Forever In Paradise on Earth claims that the time before 1914 was a period of peace, and it was not until 1914 that all these signs of the last days started to be fulfilled.
"Yet what were prominent world leaders foretelling just before 1914? They were saying that conditions promising world peace were never more favourable. Yet the terrible troubles the Bible foretold began right on time, in 1914!" You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth p.5
This would seem to indicate that these signs can be comfortably fit to any generation.
1881 became the next prophesied year that the sealing of the 144,000 was to be complete. This was to be at the end of 7 harvest years after the jubilee cycles had ended in 1874.
"the gathering of the bride into the place of safety, will occupy a parallel of seven years of time, ending in 1881" Zion's Watch Tower 1881 January p.1
"To our understanding the general call to this joint heirship with our Redeemer as members of the New Creation of God, ceased in 1881." Studies In the Scriptures Series VI - New Creation 1915 ed. p.95
"As in the type that date - three and a half years after the death of Christ - marked the end of all special favor to the Jew and the beginning of favor to the Gentiles, so we recognize A.D. 1881 as marking the close of the high calling, or invitation to the blessing peculiar to this age - to become joint-heirs with Christ and partakers of the divine nature." Studies In the Scriptures Series II - The Time Is At Hand 1915 ed. p.235
"The General Call To The High Calling Ceased-9 Even though the general call ceased in 1881, the door to the high calling remains open, as shown by number 9. However, it is only when one who is spirit begotten has to be replaced, (on account of being overcharged with the cares of this world, or sinful living, or loss of faith), that one, desirous of doing the Father's will, is invited to enter the narrow way as a replacement. The door to the high calling will remain open until the bride has made herself ready." Explanation of Chart Representing the Plan of the Ages
"It was also reasoned that the end of God's special favor to natural Israel down to 36 C.E. might point to 1881 as the time when the special opportunity to become part of spiritual Israel would close." Jehovah's Witnesses-Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.632
Once again it was believed that the remaining of the 144,000 would be taken by the rapture straight to heaven. In January 1881 the Watchtower stated that "the translation or change from the natural to the spiritual condition, [is] due this side or by the fall of our year 1881."
Russell predicted a great war for 1906. As early as the Zion's Watch Tower 1892 January 15 Russell had stated;
"Then "Woe to the man or nation who starts the next war in Europe; for it will be a war of extermination." if not brought to an end by the establishment of god's Kingdom in the hands f his elect and then glorified Church, it would exterminate the race - Matt. 24:22."
The European War was said to be fulfilment of prophecy. When the Russo-Japanese war began in 1904, Russell suggested in Zion's Watch Tower 1904 March 1 that it would suck in all Europe fulfilling his prophecy for 1906.
1910 was another date for the 'rapture', with the Bible Students expecting to be taken to heaven. Studies in the Scriptures Series 3 p.364 (versions printed before 1910) based this teaching on measurements from the Great Pyramid of Gizeh. It was also to Herald the time of Great trouble upon the Churches.
"It is but a few years before the full close of the time of trouble which ends the Gentile times; and when we remember the Lord's words-that the overcomers shall be accounted worthy to escape the severest of the trouble coming upon the world we may understand the reference to be to the anarchous trouble which will follow October, 1914; but a trouble chiefly upon the Church may be expected about 1910 A.D. The four years from 1910 to the end of 1914, indicated thus in the Great Pyramid, will doubtless be a time of "fiery trial" upon the Church (1 Cor. 3:15) preceding the anarchy of the world, which cannot last long- "Except those days should be shortened there should no flesh be saved." Matt. 24:22" Studies In the Scriptures Series III - Thy Kingdom Come p.364
1914 has been a pivotal date for the Watchtower. The expectations prior to 1914 included it being the end of the Gentile Times, the end of Armageddon, the fall of false religion, the end of all governments, the resurrection, the start of Jesus 1000 year reign and paradise on earth. See 1914 for a in-depth article regarding this date.
In 1912 Russell explained that he did not know how to account for the year 0 between B.C. and A.D. and that the end could be in either 1914 or 1915. The 2520 years of Daniels seven times prophecy extends from 606 to 1915 once the year zero between B.C. and A.D. is removed.
"Then, we were content to say, "606 B.C. seems a well authenticated date for the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and B.C. 536 the date when the seventy years' appointed desolation of the land ceased." …
As to the methods of counting, Encyclopaedia Britannica says, "Astronomers denote the year which preceded the first of our era as 0 and the year previous to that as B.C. 1-the previous year B.C. 2, and so on."
Whichever of these ways we undertake to calculate the matter the difference between the results is one year. The seventy years of Jewish captivity ended October, 536 B.C., and if there were 536-1/4 years B.C., then to complete the 2,520 years' cycle of the Times of the Gentiles would require 1913-3/4 years of A.D., or to October, 1914. But if the other way of reckoning were used, then there were but 535-1/4 years of the period B.C., and the remainder of the 2,520 years would reach to A.D., 1914-3/4 years, otherwise October, 1915.
Since this question is agitating the minds of a considerable number of the friends, we have presented it here in some detail. We remind the readers, however, that nothing in the Scriptures says definitely that the trouble upon the Gentiles will be accomplished before the close of the Times of the Gentiles, whether that be October, 1914, or October, 1915. The trouble doubtless will be considerable before the final crash, even though that crash come suddenly, like the casting of a great millstone into the sea. (Rev. 18:21.) The parallel between the Jewish Harvest and the present Harvest would corroborate the thought that the trouble to the full will be accomplished by October, 1915." Watch Tower 1912 Dec 1 pp. 377-8
With the outbreak of World War One in August 1914, Russell reconfirmed that the end would be October 1914. When nothing happened in October 1914 Russell reused the idea that 1915 would signal the end.
"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 near the end of A.D. 1915. ...
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. 1915, with the complete overthrow of the earth's present rulership, is already commenced. ...
The "Gentile Times" prove that the present governments must all be overturned about the close of 1915 A.D." Studies In the Scriptures Series II - The Time Is At Hand 1915 ed. pp.99, 101, 242
1915 was to herald the end of worldly government and the reestablishment of Palestine.
"Be that as it may, there is evidence that the establishment of the Kingdom in Palestine will probably be in 1925, ten years later than we once calculated." Studies In the Scriptures Series VII - The Finished Mystery p.128
When nothing happened in 1915 the Watchtower went back to using 1914.
It was not until 1943 that the Watchtower Society explained once more that there is no year zero. However this time they did not use 1915 as Russell had done when acknowledging his mistake. The Watchtower decided to retain 1914, and was able to do so by changing the date for the destruction of Jerusalem from 606 B.C. to 607 B.C.
"Providentially, those Bible Students had not realized that there is no zero year between "B.C." and "A.D." Later, when research made it necessary to adjust B.C. 606 to 607 B.C.E., the zero year was also eliminated, so that the prediction held good at "A.D. 1914."-See "The Truth Shall Make You Free," published by the Watch Tower Society in 1943, page 239." Revelation - Its Grand Climax at Hand! p. 105
Since it was prior to 1914 that Russell and the Bible Students identified there was "no year zero," the above comment is dishonest. The year zero was not removed because research led to 607 B.C., but rather the elimination of the year zero led to moving from 606 B.C to 607 B.C.
The Society changed history with the stroke of a pen, however neither 607 B.C. nor 606 B.C. is correct. All historical evidence shows that Jerusalem fell in 587 B.C. an understanding that undermines the entire basis for 1914.
The first printing of Studies In the Scriptures Series VII - The Finished Mystery was June 1917, in which the end of World War One was predicted for October 1st, 1917. Subsequent printings retrospectively stated the war ended 1918.
75,000 edition "Is not yet come.- But is due to make its appearance with the close of the war, some time about October 1st, 1917. (See comments on Rev. 16:17-21; Ex. 10:23.)" Click here for scan
2,604,000 edition "Is not yet come. - But is due to make its appearance after the close of the war, probably early in the year 1918. (See comments on Rev. 16:17-21; Ex. 10:23.)" Click here for scan
It did not take long for the extension of the chronology following the failure of the end to come in 1914. In 1916, Rutherford predicted the "harvest work" would end in 1918, with the destruction of all religion. It also became the year that the resurrection for the heavenly ones was to start.
"Incidentally we remark that some historians put the end of the Jewish Time of Trouble as April A.D. 73, which would correspond to April 1918." Watch Tower 1916 Sep 1 p.265
"The parallel, therefore, would establish definitely that the harvest would close forty years thereafter; to wit, in the spring of A.D. 1918. If this be true, and the evidence is very conclusive that it is true, then we have only a few months in which to labor before the great night settles down when no man can work." Watch Tower Oct 1 1917 p.292,293
"That the harvest began in 1878, there is ample and convincing proof. The end of the harvest is due in the spring of 1918." Watch Tower May 1 1918 p.132
This was covered in detail with the release of the last book of Studies in the Scriptures - The Finished Mystery.
"The data presented in comments on Rev. 2:1 prove that the conquest of Judea was not completed until the day of the Passover, A.D. 73, and in the light of the foregoing Scriptures, prove that the Spring of 1918 will bring upon Christendom a spasm of anguish greater even than that experienced in the Fall of 1914. Reexamine the table of the Parallel Dispensations in STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES, Vol. 2, pages 246 and 247; change the 37 to 40, 70 to 73, and 1914 to 1918, and we believe it is correct and will be fulfilled with great power and glory. (Mark 13:26)" p.62
"The awakening of the sleeping saints, A. D. 1878, was just half way (three and one-half years each way) between the beginning of the Times of Restitution in 1874 and the close of the High Calling in 1881. Our proposition is that the glorification of the Little Flock in the Spring of 1918 A. D. will be half way (three and one-half years each way) between the close of the Gentile Times and the close of the Heavenly Way, A. D. 1921." p.64
"It seems conclusive that the hour of Nominal Zions travail is fixed for the Passover of 1918. (See Rev. 3:14.) That will be 7 years prior to 1925. At that time there is every reason to believe the fallen angels will invade the minds of many of the Nominal Church people, driving them to exceedingly unwise conduct and leading to their destruction at the hands of the enraged masses, who will later be dragged to the same fate." p.128
"Brother Russell put the question to three prominent brethren, all of whom replied that they did not know, but were willing to wait and see. When he called upon me I said, Since the year 73 A.D. saw the complete overthrow of nominal Natural Israel in Palestine, so in the parallel year 1918, I infer we should look for the complete overthrow of nominal Spiritual Israel; i.e., the fall of Babylon. (Rev.18.) Brother Russell replied; Exactly. That is exactly the inference to draw. The conclusion of the Churchs career comes first. (Rev. 3:14.)" p.129
"The people who are the strength of Christendom shall be cut off in the brief but terribly eventful period beginning in 1918 A.D. A third part are 'burned with fire in the midst of the city.' Fire symbolizes destruction. One large part of the adherents of ecclesiasticism will die from pestilence and famine. (Deut. 32:24.) After 1918 the people supporting churchianity will cease to be its supporters, be destroyed as adherents, by the spiritual pestilence of errors abroad, and by the famine of the Word of God among them. The Sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), which is the Word of God, will be wielded in the hands of 'Present Truth' believers in such a manner as to cause conscientious supporters of ecclesiasticism to cease to be supporters." pp.398-399
"Also, in the year 1918, when God destroys the churches wholesale and the church members by millions, it shall be that any that escape shall come to the works of Pastor Russell to learn the meaning of the downfall of Christianity." p.485
The Finished Mystery was heralded as further proof that the end of the harvest was nigh, and the heavenly class were due to be called beyond "the veil".
"It is with sincere joy that we are privileged to report that amongst the activities of the WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY for 1917 the Seventh Volume of STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES has been published and is now going forth. We count this as another one of the strong proofs that the harvest is nearing the end, and that in all probability the Spring of 1918 will mark the beginning of the closing up of all activities of the kingdom class on this side the veil." Watch Tower Dec 15 1917 pp.373-374
A later quote claims that though these predictions were wrong, the dates were correct. That too has turned out to be wrong, since 1925 no longer holds significance to Jehovah's Witnesses.
There was a measure of disappointment on the part of Jehovahs faithful ones on earth concerning the years 1914, 1918, and 1925, which disappointment lasted for a time. Later the faithful learned that these dates were definitely fixed in the Scriptures; and they also learned to quit fixing dates for the future and predicting what would come to pass on a certain date. Vindication I (1931) pp.338-339
1920 was another of Rutherford's foretold ends for Christendom and all government. Notice how this prediction was changed between the 1918 and 1926 edition of Studies In the Scriptures - The Finished Mystery
1918 ed. We anticipate that the "earthquake" will occur early in 1918, and that the "fire" will come in the fall of 1920.
1926 ed. We anticipate that the "earthquake" will occur early in 1918, and that the "fire" will follow in due course.
1918 ed. Even the republics will disappear in the fall of 1920. The three days In which Pharaoh's host pursued the Israelites into the wilderness represent the three years from 1917 to 1920 at which time all of Pharaoh's messengers will be swallowed up in the sea of anarchy.
1926 ed. Even the republics will disappear in the time of anarchy. The three days in which Pharaoh's host pursued the Israelites into the wilderness may represent the three years preceding the time of anarchy at which time all of Pharaoh's messengers will be swallowed up in the sea of angry humanity.
1918 ed. The masses of mankind, not under religious restraint - the condition of the whole world in the time of anarchy due in its full severity in the fall of 1920.
1926 ed. The masses of mankind, not under religious restraint - the condition of the whole world in the time of anarchy due in its full severity in the end of the time of trouble.
1918 ed. "As the fleshly-minded apostates from Christianity, aiding with the radicals and revolutionaries, will rejoice at the inheritance of desolation that will be Christendom's after 1918, so will God do to the successful revolutionary movement; it shall be utterly desolated, "even all of it" Not one vestige of it shall survive the ravages of world-wide all-embracing anarchy, in the fall of 1920."
1926 ed. "As the fleshly-minded apostates from Christianity, siding with the radicals and revolutionaries, will rejoice at the inheritance of desolation that will be Christendom's after 1918, so will God do to the successful revolutionary movement; it shall be utterly desolated, "even all of it." Not one vestige of it shall survive the ravages of world-wide all-embracing anarchy, in the end of the time of trouble."
1921 was another foretold closing of the calling and for the 144,000 to go to heaven. Rutherford drew on a string of interesting prophetic reasoning's that the Watchtower no longer refers to, such as 'half way' signs.
"This confirms the hope of the Church's glorification forty years (a year for a day) after the awakening of the sleeping saints in the Spring of 1878. The Seventh-days before the Deluge may represent seven years, from 1914 to 1921, in the midst of which "week of years' the last members of the Messiah pass beyond the veil. Our proposition is that the glorification of the Little Flock in the Spring of 1918 A.D. will be halfway between the close of the Gentile Times and the close of the heavenly way, A.D. 1921." Studies In the Scriptures - The Finished Mystery p.64
The half way signs in the article above went on the include;
- Abrahamic covenant 2045 B.C. was half way between Adam 4127 B.C. and Cornelius 36 A.D.
- Last typical jubilee 626 B.C. was half way between end of Adam's day 3127 B.C. and 1914 A.D.
- Captivity 606 B.C. was half way between fall of man 4127 B.C. and full restoration 2914 A.D.
- Christs death 33 A.D. was half way between his baptism and the conversion of Cornelius
- Awakening of the Saints 1878 was half way between 1874 and the close of the calling in 1881.
It is mind boggling to see the number of teachings Rutherford presented, some from Russell and some of his own, that he later changed. Could Rutherford have really believed that the Angels directed him to write such a string of mistakes?
1925 was a date set by Rutherford for the commencement of the earthly paradise and the resurrection onto earth of people such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. See 1925 for a full discussion on Watchtower expectations for this date.
Another date for the destruction of Christendom, apparently promoted within the congregations by elders.
"They [elected elders] had preached that in an early time God would overthrow "Christendom". Many had emphasized the year 1925 as the date, and then when that date did not materialize the date was moved up to 1932. Again, 1932 came and "Christendom" was not destroyed.... Because men tried to fix the date when God would destroy modern Nineveh and God did not back up their prophecy... is that any reason to be peeved?" Watchtower 1938 Feb 15 p.55
1935 - Sealing of the Anointed
With the progression of time obscure Watchtower interpretation relating to the 1700's, 1800's and 1900's fade into irrelevance. These are thrust aside, relegated to obscurity and replaced with new date concepts more palatable to current generations.
A noteworthy example is the date for the sealing of the 144,000, a date constantly changed. Russell originally set it as being 1878. This was moved to 1881, 1910, 1914, 1925, 1931 and finally 1935. In 2007 it has admitted as unknown.
The Watchtower 1933 Nov 15 p.343 explained the parable of Matthew 20:1-16 related to the 12 years from 1919 to 1931 and hence the close of the sealing. "Let God be True" 1946 ed. p.298 also discussed 1931 as closing the sealing. (See Watchtower 2007 May 1 pp.30-31)
In 1966 this was reassigned to coincide with the introduction of the Great Crowd doctrine in 1935. From that time forward it was presented as gospel that the sealing concluded in 1935, such as in the following article. This is despite no Scriptural reasoning to support the 1935 date, or any other date for that matter.
"Logically, the calling of the little flock would draw to a close when the number was nearing completion, and the evidence is that the general gathering of these specially blessed ones ended in 1935." Watchtower 1995 Feb 15 p.19
Exactly what 'evidence' is that? Apparently none, as admitted in 2007.
"Thus it appears that we can not set a specific date for when the calling of Christians to the heavenly hope ends." Watchtower 2007 May 1 p.31
There are a number of likely contributors to this admission. By the year 2005 1935 was 70 years prior, somewhat of an irrelevant embarrassment. Even the Governing Body contained few born prior to 1935. Of utmost importance to Watchtower doctrine is the concept that the Great Crowd must obey the direction of the Anointed. In order to be identified as sheep rather than goats and saved at Armageddon they must have demonstrated good works towards the Anointed. With few new admissions to this class eventually who would be left for the Great Crowd to follow. Furthermore, from around 1980 the number of memorial partakers was no longer declining, stable at around 8,000 people.
As Rutherford was approaching his final years he wrote ever more directly that the end was about to happen. Though not stating a particular year he was adamant that the end was about to occur, prompting the release of articles including topics on why marriage and child bearing should be put off until after Armageddon. In 1941 the book Children was released discussing such things. The Watchtower summed up the atmosphere after release of the book;
"Receiving the gift, the marching children clasped it to them, not a toy or plaything for idle pleasure, but the Lord's provided instrument for most effective work in the remaining months before Armageddon." Watchtower 1941 Sep 15 p.288
Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D, 37 years after Jesus death. In 1950 Watchtower articles made comparison to this. In 1951 it was stated we are 37 years into the ""time of the end" of Satan's world", hinting that it could be the end of the world.
"More proof that such system had ended was given thirty-seven years later when the Jewish priests were forcibly deprived of their sacrificial work by the destruction of their typical temple, which has continued unrestored till this very day. Today, after more than thirty years of similar harvest work, how well we see prefigured in that Jewish harvesting and threshing what is in progress in Christendom today! When we call to mind the horrible end that came upon the Jewish capital and its besieged inhabitants back there, we shudder at the more terrible end that is shortly to come upon hypocritical Christendom and its confusion of religions." Watchtower 1950 Nov 1 pp.407-408
"The instruction these examples of divine help contain should not now be lost upon us. They were recorded for the benefit of God's people now "upon whom the accomplished ends of the systems of things have arrived". (1 Cor. 10:11, NW) Counting from the end of the "appointed times of the nations" in 1914, we are 37 years into the "time of the end" of this world." Watchtower 1951 Mar 15 p.179
"WHEREAS the "appointed times of the nations" ended in 1914, it is now 37 years that we have been in the "time of the end" of Satan's world. (Dan. 12:4; 11:40) During all this time Jehovah's witnesses have become increasingly active and prominent. Why? Who commissioned them and gave them their message? Has their witness accomplished its purpose after all these years? Or must it be classed as a failure? All this was answered in Isaiah's vision at the temple." Watchtower 1951 Apr 1 p.214
In 1952 this 37 year concept was abandoned. Rather the idea of a 'generation' was discussed.
"The Bible does speak of a man's days as being threescore and ten or fourscore years; but it assigns no specific number of years to a generation.-Ps. 90:10." Watchtower 1952 Sep 1 pp.542-543
Even if it did, we could not calculate from such a figure the date of Armageddon, for the texts here under discussion do not say God's battle comes right at the end of this generation, but before its end. To try to say how many years before its end would be speculative. The texts merely set a limit that is sufficiently definite for all present practical purposes. Some persons living A.D. 1914 when the series of foretold events began will also be living when the series ends with Armageddon. All the events will come within the span of a generation. There are hundreds of millions of persons living now that were living in 1914, and many millions of these persons could yet live a score or more years. Just when the lives of the majority of them will be cut short by Armageddon we cannot say."
The "generation" concept is another doctrine that has had to go through numerous revisions. In 1995 it was extended to be able to include several generations of people, no longer just those "living A.D. 1914". In 2010, it was changed to an "overlapping" generation, which extends it to two full lifetimes from 1914; potentially as far as the year 2114.
It was implied that the end would occur in 1975, since this was 6,000 years from the creation of Adam. See 1975 for a full discussion of this date.
1980 was said to potentially be the year that the Jews are resurrected, based on it being a 70 year period from Russell's 1910 lecture to the Jews.
"It is possible that A. D. 1980 may have something of special interest for Fleshly Israel, but certainly not for us. It is 70 years beyond 1910, the date when Pastor Russell gave his great witness to the Jewish people in the New York Hippodrome." Studies in the Scriptures - The Finished Mystery p.62
"The date 1980, mentioned on pages 61, 62, [of The Finished Mystery] probably marks the regathering of all of Fleshly Israel from their captivity in death." The Parable of the Penny p.6
1986 was the United Nations year of peace. This was an exciting time for Witnesses, due to the implication that it could be the 'cry of peace and security' that precedes Armageddon, something I remember discussing at great lengths.
"Yet one more event will come as an unmistakable signal that world destruction is imminent. Of this the apostle Paul wrote: "Jehovah's day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. Whenever it is that they are saying: 'Peace and security!' then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them . . . and they will by no means escape."-1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3; Luke 21:34, 35. The world's leaders know that a nuclear war means virtual extinction. Also, critical problems such as pollution, the population explosion, and domestic problems demand attention and money. So they want to relax the strained international relations. An evidence of this is the proclamation by the United Nations of 1986 as the 'international year of peace and security.' This, no doubt, is a step toward the fulfillment of Paul's above-quoted words." True Peace and Security - How Can You Find It? (1986) p.85 When Will the Foretold World Destruction Come?
2000 was not stated to be the end, but there was strong indication that it would be impossible for Armageddon not to come before 2000.
"And if the wicked system of this world survived until the turn of the century, which is highly improbable in view of world trends and the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, there would still be survivors of the World War I generation." Watchtower 1980 Oct 15 p.31
"Shortly, within our twentieth century, the "battle in the day of Jehovah" will begin against the modern antitype of Jerusalem, Christendom." The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah p. 216
"Some of that "generation" could survive until the end of the century. But there are many indications that "the end" is much closer than that!" Watchtower 1984 Mar 1 pp.18-19
"He was laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our 20th century". Watchtower 1989 Jan 1 p.12.
The 1989 Watchtower used the term "in our 20th century" in the magazine, but this was changed to "in our day" for the bound volume and subsequent CD library. Click on the thumbnails to compare the magazine version to the bound volume.
I pioneered during the late 1980's and was strongly influenced by the statements in the 1980's articles. I told my Bible studies and many people when preaching that it would be almost impossible that the end would not have arrived by the year 2000.
2033 is not a changed date but shows the attitude of serving to a date still seems to exist within the Organization. In 2003 a concept was touched upon, with attention being draw to the fact that Noah's last days went for 120 years.
In Noah's day, Jehovah declared: "My spirit shall not act toward man indefinitely in that he is also flesh. Accordingly his days shall amount to a hundred and twenty years." (Genesis 6:3) The issuance of this divine decree in 2490 B.C.E. marked the beginning of the end for that ungodly world. Just think what that meant for those then living! Only 120 years more and Jehovah would bring "the deluge of waters upon the earth to bring to ruin all flesh in which the force of life is active from under the heavens."-Genesis 6:17. Noah received the warning of the upcoming catastrophe decades in advance, and he wisely used the time to prepare for survival. "After being given divine warning of things not yet beheld," says the apostle Paul, "[Noah] showed godly fear and constructed an ark for the saving of his household." (Hebrews 11:7) What about us? Some 90 years have passed since the last days of this system of things began in 1914. We are certainly in "the time of the end." (Daniel 12:4) How should we respond to warnings we have been given? "He that does the will of God remains forever," states the Bible. (1 John 2:17) Now is therefore the time to do Jehovah's will with a keen sense of urgency." Watchtower 2003 Dec 15 p.15 "Warned of "Things Not Yet Beheld"
There is no specific statement in the article that the end must come by the end of 120 years or exactly on the 120th year. However, like with 1975, a parallel is drawn to yet another concept that is supposed to indicate that the end is soon to be upon us.
Knowing what has been written in the pages of the Watchtower in regards to Armageddon's arrival at many different years in the past how can anyone trust the Society after reading a quote like the following?
"A real champion of God's Word, the Holy Bible, and of God's kingdom that will restore God's rightful place in the hearts of men is The Watchtower. For ninety years this faithful journal has been pointing forward to this very time, urging people to turn to the Bible because of the spiritual famine that the Bible itself foretold was to come in our generation." Awake! 1970 Jan 8 p.32
An aware Watchtower reader cannot help but see the irony in the following statement.
"Down through the centuries since Jesus day, so many unfulfilled predictions have been made that many no longer take them seriously. … Undeterred by previous failures, some seem to have been spurred on by the approach of the year 2000 and have made further predictions of the end of the world. … The flood of false alarms is unfortunate. They are like the wolf-wolf cries of the shepherd boy people soon dismiss them, and when the true warning comes, it too is ignored." Awake 1993 Mar 22 3-4 Why So Many False Alarms?
It is sad to see how the Watchtower accounts for the wrong predictions of the past. Rather than accepting responsibility, subtle wording deflects the fault to the members.
"Out of zeal and enthusiasm for the vindication of Jehovah's name, Word and purposes, and the desire for the new system, some of his servants have at times been premature in their expectations." Watchtower 1979 Jul 1 p.29 How Jehovah Guides His People
It is an interesting attitude that the Governing Body shows towards its followers. It appears to feel that people will not serve Jehovah if the do not think he is about to shortly reward them with paradise; that if there is no urgency and no date to work for and pin hopes on, then people will drift away. This is an insult to individual motives. Many Churches are undergoing great growth without any such date as motivation. People have served God for generations based purely on the concept that they will see him in heaven at the end of their earthly life. Seventh-day Adventists follow the Witness concept of this being the last days; yet they have reached similar numbers of people sharing similar morals not based on working to a date but knowing that the time left is short and love of God is what is of primary importance.
Ongoing Date Implications
Watchtower incorrectly promoted teachings on the following dates that they no longer accept:
Despite being known for their failed predictions of Armageddon, Watchtower does not hold back from criticising other religions that do the same.
"RELIGIOUS LEADERS sometimes predict tragic worldwide events to warn mankind and gather followers. Doomsday prophet Harold Camping and his disciples widely advertised that the earth would be destroyed in 2011. Needless to say, the world is still here." Watchtower 2014 May 1 p.3
Watchtower history is based around the doomsday message that the end is about to come. Statements abound such as in the 1930's book The New World;
"The Scriptures give good reason to believe that it shall be shortly before Armageddon breaks."
Toward the end of the twentieth century, the Watchtower Society refrained from issuing specific dates for Armageddon, but still has not stopped implying dates and time frames.
Luke warned about those whose message is that the "due time has approached."
"He said: "Look out that YOU are not misled; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, 'I am he,' and, 'The due time has approached.' Do not go after them." Luke 21:8
Moses warned against those that make predictions in the name of Jehovah that do not come true.
"And in case you should say in your heart: "How shall we know the word that Jehovah has not spoken?" When the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true, that is the word that Jehovah did not speak..." Deuteronomy 18:20-22
The Watchtower says that the standard by which to judge a false messenger is whether their messages "come true."
"Jehovah is the Grand identifier of his true messengers. He identifies them by making the messages he delivers through them come true. Jehovah is also the Great Exposer of false messengers." Watchtower 1997 May 1 p.8
Ironic, considering the Watchtower specifically said the end would come in 1914 and then 1925. This section demonstrated over 20 "messages" promoted by the Watchtower for decades that turned out not to be "true." What does this prove about them as messengers and prophets ?
Watchtower articles sometimes present two different years for the same event. On occassion, this has been because Watchtower originally erroneously included a year "zero" in prophetic calculations and rectified some calculations by extending dates by one year. Another reason is when Watchtower applies October as the start of the year for Biblical prophecy, such that their prophetic fulfilment span two years.
Written Aug 2008, latest update Jan 2019.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2023