1914 : Failed Watchtower 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. Rather, Watchtower falsely predicted 1914 to be the “end” of the system of things, the conclusion of Armageddon and the start of the earthly paradise.
It is important to know what Watchtower preached would happen in the years leading up to and including 1914, and compare this with what it now claims was said.
|What Watchtower said
prior to 1914
|What Watchtower claims it said
prior to 1914
|"The year A.D. 1878 … clearly marks the time for the actual assuming of power as King of kings, by our present, spiritual, invisible Lord - …" The Time is At Hand (1911 ed) p.239
|"The Watchtower has consistently presented evidence to honesthearted students of Bible prophecy that Jesus’ presence in heavenly Kingdom power began in 1914." Watchtower 1993 Jan 15 p.5
|"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 contradictory statements above help identify two critical facts:
- Watchtower falsely predicted this system would end in 1914
- Watchtower is not entirely honest about its history
Governing Body member Samuel Herd makes the statement in Watchtower's 2016 documentary The Kingdom 100 Years and Counting;
"At the kingdom's birth in 1914, the Bible Students were not exactly sure what was going to happen, but they knew it would be a pivotal year."
This is a fabrication, as Watchtower was dogmatic as to exactly what was going to occur in 1914. Expectations for 1914 were forcefully presented as fact, as shown in the following quotes.
- "the deliverance of the saints must take place some time before 1914 is manifest" Thy Kingdom Come (1911 ed.) p.228
- "the Day of Vengeance ... will end in October, 1914" The Day of Vengeance p.547
- "the great "time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation," will reach its culmination" The Time Is at Hand (1889 ed.) page 77 - page 78
- "we present proofs that the setting up of the Kingdom of God is already begun" The Time Is At Hand (1889 ed.) p.101
- "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.1914." Studies in the Scriptures - The Time is at Hand (1889) 1911 ed. p.99
- "October, 1914, will witness the full end of Babylon" Watch Tower 1911 Jun 15 p.190 (reprints p.4842)
- "Christendom, will have passed away, as already shown in prophecy." Thy Kingdom Come (1891 ed.) p.153
The early followers were as convinced they knew what was going to happen in 1914 as current followers are convinced the Great Tribulation and Armageddon will come at any moment, resulting in the destruction of all worldly people. This is because the same manipulative terminology used prior to 1914 is still used in Watchtower publications to this day.
1914 is the pivotal date for the existence of Jehovah's Witnesses, currently explained as the date:
- the Gentile times ended
- Jesus started ruling in heaven
- the Last Days began
1914 is the basis for the interpretation of the majority of other Bible prophecies. Most importantly, this was the time during which Jesus is said to have come to inspect and cleanse the Watchtower Society, resulting in Jesus choosing it in 1919 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 original teachings. Prior to 1914, 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 the:
- end of Armageddon
- fall of false religion
- end of all earthly governments
- heavenly and earthly resurrections
- paradise on earth
The 1914 doctrine has changed by necessity, and continued to change in the twenty first century, as it has been falsified by the progression of history. It has progressed from:
- The last days started in 1799, ending in 1914.
- The last days started in 1914, ending within a single lifetime/generation of those born prior to 1914.
- The last days started in 1914, with an unspecified ending, after a period of an "overlapping generation."
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 Watchtower said prior to 1914. Nothing Russell said about 1914 came to pass. For Russell and early Watchtower followers, the 2nd of October 1914 was expected to be the the conclusion of this system of things.
“Quite a few delegates stayed at Bethel, and, of course, members of the headquarters staff were present at the breakfast table on Friday morning, October 2. Everyone was seated when Brother Russell entered. As usual, he said cheerily, “Good morning, all.” But this particular morning was different. Instead of proceeding promptly to his seat, he clapped his hands and joyfully announced: “The Gentile times have ended; their kings have had their day.” “How we clapped our hands!” exclaims Cora Merrill. Brother Macmillan admitted: “We were highly excited and I would not have been surprised if at that moment we had just started up, that becoming the signal to begin ascending heavenward—but of course there was nothing like that, really.” Sister Merrill adds: “After a brief pause he [Russell] said: ‘Anyone disappointed? I’m not. Everything is moving right on schedule!’ Again we clapped our hands.”” Yearbook 1975 pp.72,73
The expectation was 1914 would see the final end of worldly kingdoms, replaced by God's Kingdom fully established on earth.
"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 by the end of A.D. 1914." Studies in the Scriptures - The Time is at Hand (1889) 1911 ed. p.99
From the 1911 edition forward, this quote gave an additional year for these events to be fully accomplished, extending to A.D.1915.
The Time is at Hand (1889 ed.) p.99 The Time is at Hand (1911 ed.) p.99
Watchtower quotes prior to 1914
Russell taught that Jesus invisible presence began in 1874 and rulership in 1878.
"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 - The Day of Vengeance (1897) p.621
The heavenly kingdom was shown Scripturally to begin before the end of the Gentile Times.
"But the kingdom of God is to be set up before the days of the Gentile end, for "in the days of theses kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom; and it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms" (Dan. 2:44)."" Three Worlds and the Harvest of This World (Barbour & Russell, 1877) p.27
As shown at Freemasonry & Adventist Links, Russell used pyramidology to support this belief.
Prior to forming the Watchtower, Russell wrote that 1914 would see the end of all governments.
“… the seven times will end in A.D. 1914; when Jerusalem shall be delivered forever, and the Jew say of the Deliverer, “Lo, this is our God, we have waited for Him and He will save us.” When Gentile Governments shall have been dashed to pieces; when God shall have poured out of his fury upon the nation, and they acknowledge him, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” Bible Examiner C. T. Russell Oct 1876
Russell originally was a follower of the teachings of Barbour, and together they co-authored works such as the 1877 book Three Worlds, and the Harvest of This World. After splitting from Barbour in June 1879, Russell began publishing the magazine Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence in July 1879. This became distinctly his own religion with the incorporation of the organization "Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society" shortly thereafter. Russell continued to publish many of the prophetic interpretations he had received from Barbour, as can be seen in what follows when comparing Three Worlds and Watchtower quotes.
1874 to 1914 were described as the greatest period of trouble in human history, the period of Armageddon itself, with the end of trouble to be in 1914.
"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 (reprints 1677)
The following quotes during the lead up to 1914 show there could be no doubt as to what Watchtower followers expected. The end of the Last Days in 1914 was to initiate a number of endings and new beginnings.
- 1914 - the end of the preaching work
- 1914 - the end of all religion
- 1914 - the wholesale destruction of all government
- 1914 - the end of the Great Tribulation
- 1914 - the end of Armageddon
- 1914 - Russell and his followers to be raised to heaven
- 1914 - Jesus' Kingdom established as paradise on earth
- 1914 - commencement of the earthly resurrection
The following Watchtower quotes are just a small selection that highlight how they promoted these assertions.
Harvest Work (Preaching) 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; ..." Studies In the Scriptures - Thy Kingdom Come pp.149-150
Babylon the Great (Christendom) 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 reprints p.4842
"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; but we are living in a special and peculiar time, the "Day of Jehovah,"...
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."
Studies In the Scriptures - The Time Is At Hand (1889) pp.98-99
"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) p.101
End of the "Time of Trouble" (Great Tribulation)
Barbour and Russell published that the time of trouble would end in 1914, a teaching Russell continued to promote in Zion's Watch Tower.
"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
"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 End the "Day of Vengeance" (Armageddon)
Armageddon, also referred to as the Day of Vengeance, and the Battle of the Great Day, was to end in October 1914.
"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." Studies In the Scriptures - The Day of Vengeance 1911ed pp.546,547
"… 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. ... The Scriptures show also that the battle of the great day will begin with the church of God, and that the overthrow of the great nominal church systems will precede the overthrow of the present civil powers; for the Lord is about to shake, not only the earth (the civil organisation for society), but heaven (the ecclesiastical powers) also (Heb. 12:26), to the end that great "Babylon," falsely called Christendom -Christ's kingdom- may be completely destroyed." Zion's Watch Tower 1892 Jan 15 pp.21-23
"... 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."
Studies In the Scriptures - The Time Is At Hand (1889) p.101
144,000 Resurrected to Heaven
The 144,000, also known as the "body of Christ" or "the saints", were to all be in heaven by 1914, prior to the completion of Armageddon.
"That the deliverance of the saints must take place some time before 1914 is manifest, since the deliverance of fleshly Israel, as we shall see, is appointed to take place at that time... Just how long before 1914 the last living members of the body of Christ will be glorified, we are not directly informed;..." Studies In the Scriptures - Thy Kingdom Come (1908 ed.) p.228
"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. In fact, recalling the morning that Russell announced the end of the Gentile Times, MacMillan admitted: "We were highly excited and I would not have been surprised if at that moment we had just started up, that becoming the signal to begin ascending heavenward-but of course there was nothing like that."" Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom pp.61-62
"As October 1914 approached, some of the Bible Students expected that at the end of the Gentile Times they, as spirit-anointed Christians, would receive their heavenly reward. Illustrating this is an incident that took place at a convention of the Bible Students in Saratoga Spring, New York, September 27-30, 1914. A. H.Macmillan, who had been baptized 14 years earlier, gave a discourse on Wednesday, September 30. In it he stated: " This is probably the last public address I shall ever deliver, because we shall be going home [to heaven] soon."" Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.62
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
The end of the harvest was to be followed by both the heavenly and earthly paradise.
"When this is fully accomplished, as it must be within this harvest period, then will follow the resurrection of the ancient worthies, then the kingdom of God, in both its heavenly and earthly phases, will be established and manifested to the world, - an event due at the close of this harvest period and time of trouble." Watchtower 1895 May 15 p.123-124 reprints 1816
Earthly 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) pp.165-166
"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 - The Day of Vengeance p.625
The Time is At Hand - 7 (Unfulfilled) Expectations
The Time Is at Hand (1889) pages 76 to 78 claimed 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. Firstly, That 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 Series II - The Time Is at Hand (1889) pp.76-78
Proof or Not?
Watchtower presented its conclusions as undeniable. Closer to the date, there was some back pedalling, saying the conclusions are not positive, but based on evidence and proof.
"We do not know positively that the month of October, 1914, will see the church all glorified, and the time of trouble ushered in. We merely say, Here are the evidences. Here are the proofs. Look at them for yourself and see what you then think. It is for each to accept or reject the facts." Watch Tower 1913 Oct 15 p308-309 reprints 5329
Was Watchtower, or was it not, presenting it was positive about its predictions for 1914? What were followers supposed to think when words like proof, facts and evidence were used? Russell was messing with minds - "We do not know positively", but are you brave enough to "reject the facts?"
Studies in the Scriptures - Editions 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, prior to 1914, editions of Studies In the Scriptures - Thy Kingdom Come stated on p.228 that the resurrection would occur before 1914. From the 1915 edition onwards, this was changed to state that the resurrection was to occur soon after 1914.
|Studies In the Scriptures - Thy Kingdom Come pre 1914
|Studies In the Scriptures - Thy Kingdom Come post 1914 editions
"That the deliverance of the saints must take place some time before 1914 is manifest, since the deliverance of fleshly Israel, as we shall see, is appointed to take place at that time, and the angry nations will then be authoritatively commanded to be still, and will be made to recognize the power of Jehovah's Anointed.
Just how long before 1914 the last living members of the body of Christ will be glorified, we are not directly informed;
but it certainly will not be until their work in the flesh is done; nor can we reasonably presume that they will long remain after that work is accomplished. With these two thought in mind, we can approximate the time of the deliverance."
Click here for scan of 1911 edition
"That the deliverance of the saints must take place very soon after 1914 is manifest, since the deliverance of fleshly Israel, as we shall see, is appointed to take place at that time,
and the angry nations will then be authoritatively commanded to be still, and will be made to recognize the power of
Jehovah's Anointed. Just how long after 1914 the last living members of the body of Christ will be glorified,
we are not directly informed; but it certainly will not be until their work in the flesh is done; nor can we reasonably presume that they will long remain after that work is accomplished."
Click here for scan of 1923 edition
Instead of being slated to "end in October 1914", rewrites claimed (still erroneously) that Armageddon was to "end very shortly" and "very soon after".
Studies In the Scriptures - The Day of Vengeance pp.546,547
1911 edition compared to 1927 edition
The 1915 Mar 1 issue of the Watch Tower admitted to these changes in the following article.
"CHANGES IN "SCRIPTURE STUDIES"
We call attention to a few slight changes which have been made in four pages of Vol. II. and six pages of Vol. III., "STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES." These are all trivial and do not alter the real sense and lesson, but conform to the facts as we have them today. The pages containing these corrections are as follows:
Vol. II., page 77, line 1, "will be the farthest limit," reads "will see the disintegration."
Vol. II., page 77, line 6, "will obtain full universal control," reads "will begin to assume control."
Vol. II., page 77, lines 16,17, "end of A.D. 1914," reads "end of the overthrow."
Vol. II., page 81, line 9, "can date only from A.D. 1914," reads "could not precede A.D. 1915."
Vol. II., page 170, line 16, "at that time they will all be overturned."*
*How long it will require to accomplish this overturning we are not informed, but have reason to believe the period will be short.
Vol. II., page 221, line 25, "full favor until A.D. 1914," reads "full favor until after 1915."
Vol. III., page 94, line 29, "in this end or harvest," reads "at the end of this harvest."
Vol. III., page 126, line 12, "at A.D. 1914," reads "after 1914."
Vol. III., page 133, line 21, "ere the harvest is fully ended."+
+The end of the harvest will probably include the burning of the tares.
Vol. III., page 228, line 11, "some time before 1914," reads "very soon after 1914."
Vol. III., page 228, line 15, "just how long before," reads "just how long after."
Vol. III., page 362, line 11, "some time before," reads "some time near."
Vol. III., page 364, line 14, "must not only witness," reads "may not only witness.""
Watch Tower 1915 Mar 1 (reprints 5649)
Watchtower's Dishonest Presentation of its' History
Watchtower claims its foresight of 1914 as proof of Jehovah's direction. Is this justified, knowing the Watchtower was incorrect in virtually every aspect?
The following quotes show the positive spin the Watchtower puts on Russell's inaccurate teachings, in an attempt to make people believe holy spirit directs Watchtower interpretation of Bible prophecy. These quotes range from misleading but technically true, through to blatantly false. Phrases stating Watchtower foretold 1914 to be the end of the Gentile Times are strictly accurate, but lead the reader to the incorrect conclusion that the expectations for what would occur were accurate. Statements abound that Watchtower pointed forward to 1914 as "the start of "the conclusion of the system of things,"" the start of "Jesus Presence," or the start of his "rulership."
When reading these quotes, it is important to remember that in 1914 the Watchtower was teaching Jesus' presence began in 1874 and his heavenly rulership began in 1878.
"Our belief that the Kingdom began to be setup, 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." Studies in the Scriptures - Thy Kingdom Come p.235
As late as 1930, the Watchtower was still referring to 1874 as the start of Jesus presence.
"… from the beginning of the Lord’s presence in 1874 the Devil used the Papal system as the chief opposing instrument of God’s kingdom …" Watch Tower 1930 Sep 15 p.275
Those in Watchtower's writing department are well aware of the organisation's history. For instance, the 1993 Proclaimers book states:
"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 riding 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 p.632
Yet in that very same year, Watchtower articles falsely claim:
"The Watchtower has consistently presented evidence to honest hearted students of Bible prophecy that Jesus’ presence in heavenly Kingdom power began in 1914. Events since that year testify to Jesus' invisible presence." Watchtower 1993 Jan 15 p.5
"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 Aug 15 p.9
The following examples of untruthful Watchtower statements regarding its teachings prior to 1914 span decades, and the leadership of numerous Presidents and Governing Body members, showing that manipulation through deception is systemic to how Watchtower leaders control Jehovah's Witness members.
"Decades before 1914, Jehovah's worshippers declared to the nations that the end of "the appointed times of the nations" would come in that year and that the world would enter into an unequaled period of trouble." Watchtower 2013 Feb 15 p.18
"As that “time” approached, Jehovah took steps to reveal the answer to a group of humble Bible students. With the help of God’s spirit, they discerned that “the appointed times of the nations” began with the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. and that those “times” were 2,520 years in length. From this, they deduced that 1914 marked the end of “the appointed times of the nations.” They also came to realize that 1914 was the beginning of the end for this system of things." Watchtower 2004 Feb 1 p.19
"... 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
"Back in 1904, the book The New Creation called attention to this new organization that came into existence in the first century C.E. (Studies In The Scriptures, Series VI, Study V, entitled "The Organization of the New Creation") Owing to its view of what the end of the Gentile Times would mean, that book did not envision the remarkable organizational work that was due to take place after the crippling effects of the first world war of human history." Watchtower 1989 Sep 1 pp.12-13
"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 far back as 1876, Jehovah's Witnesses realized that Bible prophecy marked the year 1914 C.E. as a time when major events would take place that would have far-reaching effects on human affairs. They gave the reason for this fact wide publicity." True Peace And Security (1986) p.70
"How did Jehovah's Witnesses know more than 30 years in advance that 1914 would be an important date for divine rulership? Though the Witnesses at the time did not understand the full implication of events about to take place, the Watch Tower magazine as far back as December of 1879 pointed to 1914 as a marked date in regard to Bible prophecy. And the Mar 1880 issue of the Watch Tower linked God's Kingdom rule with the ending of what Jesus Christ referred to as "the appointed times of the nations," or "the times of the Gentiles." (Luke 21:24; Authorized Version) That Watch Tower said: "'The Times of the Gentiles' extend to 1914, and the heavenly kingdom will not have full sway till then."" Watchtower 1984 Apr 1 p.6 1914 a Marked Year-Why?
"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
"This remnant of anointed ones have identified themselves on the pages of history since 1914 C.E. Before this year members of this anointed remnant had been earnestly studying God' s Word apart from Christendom. They put the Holy Bible ahead of man-made religious traditions. 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
"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
"When in 1914 C.E. the 2,520 years of the Gentile Times ended for the Gentile nations to trample on Jerusalem’s right to a Messianic kingship in the royal line of David, the Most High God Jehovah installed the Messiah Jesus on the heavenly throne in order to reign and go subduing among his enemies. (Psalm 110:1-6; Acts 2:34-36; Hebrews 10:12, 13) During World War I (1914-1918 C.E.) the dedicated, baptized remnant of spiritual Israelites publicly proclaimed that the Gentile Times had ended and that the Most High God had made his Son Jesus Christ reigning King in the heavens." Paradise Restored to Mankind - By Theocracy! (1972) p.273
"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
"His rule would be from the heavens. This was a new revelation of great importance to God's people who had been anxiously awaiting his second presence toward the end of the nineteenth century. The truth that 1914 marked the end of the "times of the nations" that started in 607 B.C. and the beginning of the "time of the end" for the nations and hence the beginning of his presence, was new knowledge over which God's people could rejoice." Watchtower 1965 Jul 15 p.428
"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
"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
"Under the guidance of God's spirit of freedom the magazine today known as The Watchtower but known back there as Zion's Watch Tower, began to be published in Jul, 1879. In the first year of its publication it pointed to the date 1914 as marked in the Bible." What Has Religion Done For Mankind? (1951) p.308
It is disappointing to learn that your religion incorrectly predicted the end would occur in 1914, as it shows it is directed by humans and not God. To find that the leaders continue to lie about what was said is more disturbing, as it shows the leaders actively colluded to deceive and manipulate their followers.
The only aspect of Russell's 1914 prediction to remain is the term "end of the 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, unnoticed, and unfalsifiable.
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 1335 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 explained as wrong by Watchtower, and few Jehovah's Witnesses 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 1914. 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 Jan 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 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 (reprints 5374)
When Jesus earthly kingdom did not eventuate in 1914, Watchtower publications began to promote 1915. When 1915 amounted to nothing, the entire meaning of all Russell's prophetic interpretation required rewriting. It took until 1943 for the new understanding to finally be clarified.
"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 of a Thousand Years Has Approached pp.209-210
Why has the Watchtower Society discontinued its belief in all their original date interpretations but retained 1914? The occurrence of World War One appeared to give 1914 historical significance whilst none are able to 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.
Blame the Members
As soon as proven wrong about 1914, Russell went into damage control, dishonestly rewriting history. Reading through the older publications, it is evident how forcefully the predictions for 1914 were presented as truth. Russell began claiming his teachings were nothing more than inference.
“The Lord did not say that the Church would all be glorified by 1914. We merely inferred it and, evidently, erred.” Watch Tower 1916 Apr 15 reprints p.5888
“We did not say positively that this would be the year. We merely left every one to look at the facts of history and reckon for himself. ... But would it be a reasonable expectation that the Gentile Kingdoms would be snuffed out inside of an hour or inside of a day? ... We do not think that any would have been justified in so thinking. If any had such expectation, it was unwarranted.” Watch Tower 1914 Nov 1 pp.325-326 reprints p.5565
Even more unsavoury is the manner in which Russell attacked the motives of those that stopped being his followers.
"If there is any reason that would lead any to let go of the Lord and His Truth and to cease sacrificing for the Lord’s Cause, then it is not merely the love of God in the heart which has prompted interest in the Lord, but something else; probably a hoping that the time was short; the consecration was only for a certain time. If so, now is a good time to let go.” Watch Tower 1914 Nov 1 reprints p.5570
"The present is a time of testing, we believe, to many of the Lord's people. Have we in the past been active merely because we hoped for our glorious change in A.D. 1914, or have we been active because of our love and loyalty to the Lord and his message and the brethren!" Watch Tower 1915 Mar 1 reprints p.5649
Those that stopped following Russell did so because they came to the conclusion he was a charlatan. They did not "let go of the Lord", but rather came to realise that Russell and his interpretations could not be trusted. It is of extreme arrogance for Russell to equate those that stopped following his failed teachings with leaving the Lord, and of impure motives, and it is of little wonder that many came to recognise him as a false teacher.
Rutherford continued with this strategy of blaming members for their enthusiasm in accepting Watchtower information as truth.
"It seems to be a weakness of many Bible Students that if they locate a future date in the Bible, immediately they center as many prophecies upon that date as possible. This has been the cause of many siftings in the past. As far as we recall, all the dates foreseen were correct. The difficulty was that the friends inflated their imaginations beyond reason; and that when their imaginations burst asunder, there were inclined to throw away everything. ... Many can remember how "absolutely sure" some were about 1914. No doubt the Lord was pleased with the zeal manifested by his servants; but did they have a Scriptural basis for all they expected to come to pass that year? Let us be cautious, therefore about predicting particulars." Watch Tower 1925 Feb 15 p.57
It is disappointing to note Watchtower continues being critical of these individuals in the early 1900's, rather than lay blame where it squarely belongs, on Watchtower leaders.
"Tom: You stated earlier that Pastor Russell was not too certain as to exactly what would take place in 1914. Was that the general attitude of the Witnesses at that time?
John: 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, and while it was necessary for Russell to call attention to the certainty that a great change was due at the end of the Gentile times, he still encouraged his readers to keep an open mind, especially as regards the time element." Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose p.52
Watchtower blames those who believed they were going to heaven on misunderstanding the message and labels those that stop following the Watchtower leaders as having been serving out of wrong motives.
"Disappointed expectations as to the return of the Lord Jesus had in the 19th century caused many followers of William Miller and various Adventist groups to lose faith. But what about the Bible Students associated with Russell? 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.62
"Their thoughts and desires had been fixed primarily on the prospect of being changed to heavenly life. When this did not occur at the anticipated time, they closed their minds to the significance of the amazing things that did take place in 1914. They lost sight of all the precious truths that they had learned from God’s Word, and they began to ridicule the people who had helped them to learn these." Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.636
This is such a conceited comment. Bible Students were attracted to Russell's message because they thought it was truth, and when he was proven to be a fraud they stopped following him. If some believed in a resurrection prior to Russell, whilst following Russell's teachings, and after they ceased to believe his interpretations, it is irrelevant whether they hoped the resurrection would come "early." At least, they were honest enough to admit they had been deceived.
The Yearbook 2014 discusses how some members carried a countdown card that ended with the date 1st October 1914. It avoids mentioning the Watchtower's responsibility for such expectations.
“Some Bible Students even carried a countdown card so that they could mark off each passing day. Many felt that they would be called beyond the veil, or to heaven, on that date.” Yearbook 2014 p.174
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 the Lord. Rather than admit he had spent decades misleading people, Russell passes blame to the Lord for overruling these lies and false prophecies.
"The author acknowledges that in this book he presents the thought that the Lord's saints might expect to be with Him in glory at the ending of the Gentile Times. 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 foreword iv
The 1916 foreword to The Time is At Hand introduced the comment that the book "makes no claim to infallibility".
"This Volume makes no claim to infallibility, and no claim of any direct inspiration from God in the interpretation of His Word. On the contrary, it does claim that the Divine Revelation is the Bible. Its endeavour has been to collate the Bible evidences to offer suggestions in respect to the significance." Studies in the Scriptures - The Time is At Hand 1916 foreword i
Russell had attracted thousands of convinced followers with statements that his interpretations were beyond doubt, and then when proven wrong excused this deception by adding a simple foreword that he never claimed to be infallible.
The Governing Body continues to use this strategy to great effect,
"The Governing Body is neither inspired nor infallible. Therefore, it can err in doctrinal matters or in organizational direction." Watchtower 2017 Feb p.26
The Governing body take this concept even further than intended by Russell, by demanding absolute allegiance to their interpretation as spirit directed truth, then allowing an escape route by claiming they are not inspired. This is disingenuous, as being directed by holy spirit is the same as being inspired.
Carl Sagan regarding Watchtower predictions
Carl Sagan made an important observation regarding a "prominent American religion [which] confidently predicted that the world would end in 1914." Whilst not naming the religion, there is little doubt who he was referring to. He is not at all flattering about people that choose to accept the reasoning for why the world did not end as expected then, and continue to follow such evasive religious leaders.
"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)
The stream of time has proven all Watchtower predicted for 1914 wrong, either by it changing its doctrine on specific points, or definitive predictions not occurring. Yet, Watchtower boasts about this part of its history, choosing to gloat over its remarkable foresight that the Gentile Times would end in 1914.
"Very noteworthy was the striking accuracy with which that book pointed to the end of the Gentile Times, "the appointed times of the nations."" Yearbook 1975 p.37
The end of the Gentile times are a vague and unverifiable concept, and it cannot be proven they ended in 1914, making it hardly noteworthy that a prediction was made that cannot be proven or disproven. Likewise, it cannot be proven that Jesus started ruling in 1914, as the Watchtower describes this as an unseen event. What is noteworthy that the verifiable predictions Watchtower made for 1914, such as the end of religion, the end of government, and the earthly resurrection, all failed to eventuate.
Russell was not guided by Jehovah to uniquely understand Daniel's prophecy of the Seven Times; he took his interpretation from Adventists such as Barbour. His interpretation was wrong, as he adamantly stated that 1914 would be "the final end" of this system of things. Watchtower has not presented a consistent understanding of 1914 and the current interpretation was not finalised until 1943.
Watchtower spent decades promoting its most prominent doctrine that the end would occur in 1914. Should a person trust Watchtower when it was proven so dramatically wrong? Can a person trust it when it continues to resort to deception when presenting its history? How can a person 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 is 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 Watchtower lies about its past mistakes, Is This Life All There Is? page 46 asks a pertinent question:
"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?"
"A religion that teaches lies cannot be true." Watchtower 1991 Dec 1 p.7
 Some Watchtower apologists may try to reason that the Jan 15 1993 quote is accurate, since The Watchtower only took that title since October 15 1931, by which time Jesus presence had been moved to 1914. Any false statements regarding 1874 had appeared when the magazine was called The Watch Tower. If that truly was the writers intend, it must be seen as deliberately misleading. Nor it is a fair comment, since The Watchtower refers to its older magazines collectively as The Watchtower. For instance The Watchtower 1936 p.382 says "It was about that date  that the second presence of the Lord began to be considered in the pages of The Watchtower, which since then until now has been the means of communicating truth to those who love the Lord."
 God's Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached p.209 states the understanding of 1874 changed in 1943. Although 1874 ceased being a millennium marker in 1943, the reasoning that changing "the six thousand years ... did away with the year 1874 C.E. as the date of return of the Lord Jesus Christ" is quite dishonest, since 1874 had already been changed to 1914 in 1930.
In the 1920's, Watchtower was still teaching that Jesus presence started in 1874.
"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." Watch Tower 1922 Nov 1 p.333
"The Scriptural proof is that the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 A.D. This proof ... " Prophecy 1929 pp.65,66
Golden Age 1930 Apr 30 first indicated that Jesus arrival was 1914. ("The end of the world would therefore mean the arriving of the time when Satan's rule would be disputed by Christ, whose right it is to rule. That period of 2520 years ended in the fall of 1914." p.505) This was discussed again in the 1931 booklet, The Kingdom, the Hope of The World and then the Watchtower in 1932.
What is Truth? made clear that the Second Coming had shifted to 1914.
"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
This was clarified in the 1933 Watchtower.
"The year 1914, therefore, marks the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of glory." Watchtower 1933 Dec 1 p.362
The following poster incorporates quotes from Studies in the Scriptures - The Battle of Armageddon (1897) with images from The Photo Drama of Creation (1914), concisely depicting that despite the doomsday similarities with current teachings, Watchtower prophetic interpretation was a complete failure.
The following video presents discussion from the Aug 2009 Watchtower. Most interesting are the comments at 2:30 minutes.
Scanned copies of Studies in the Scriptures and other historical Watchtower publications are linked to for free from Classic Watchtower Publications.
Ukrainian translation of this article.
Written 2006, latest update November 2022.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2024