Early 1914 Predictions
Regarding the Watch Tower's core doctrine of Christ's second coming ("presence," Gr. parousia) in the year 1914, there is a prevailing popular notion among Jehovah's Witnesses that their founder, C.T. Russell, predicted and evangelized this glorious event for the better part of 40 years in advance of its fulfillment, as they believe it to be. It is a general concept that Russell's Bible Students heralded a warning, pointing to the Advent in 1914, and that its fulfillment was made evident by the outbreak of World War I in that year, thus proving Jehovah's favor on the Bible Students' movement. The 1914 parousia being the nucleus of Jehovah's Witnesses' present "good news of the Kingdom" message, the Watch Tower has served to nurture that misconception about their predecessors' early teaching with misleading inferences in their publications over the past half century.
For example, as recently as the September 15, 1998 Watchtower, an article titled "Waiting in 'Eager Expectation' carries this statement:
". . . 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."Such misleading statements belie their known history and the fact that Russell's Bible Students hailed 1874 as the year when Christ had returned, invisibly, and was presumed already ruling from heaven in their time. That was Russell's belief until his death in 1916. The 1874 parousia teaching remained with his successor, J.F. (Judge) Rutherford, for years to come. Ignoring their well-document history, Watch Tower literature in later years has alluded countless times to Russell and his followers looking ahead to 1914 for Christ's invisible return to heaven, to support their present belief.
This is not to overlook the fact that Russell did predict an awsome event for 1914. Based on a Biblical interpretation that a 40-year generation must transpire from Christ's parousia until the "end of the world," he predicted that the "times of the gentiles" (world rule by the nations under Satan) would end in the prophetic "battle of Armageddon" in that year (1914 being 40 years thence from 1874). When the war broke out in Europe, Russell actually believed it was the beginning of Armageddon. These things are thoroughly documented in Watch Tower publications prior to 1914. Obviously, Armageddon did not occur as anticipated. Nevertheless, Russell maintained that the "gentile times" had indeed ended in 1914. He died two years later. And to this day, Jehovah's Witnesses stand on the belief that Russell correctly identified 1914 for fulfillment of the "end of the gentile times." It was well over a decade thereafter that the doctrine of Christ's return was changed, moving that event foreward to coincide with Russell's "end of the gentile times." And that premise remains the Watch Tower's official doctrinal position of the matter at this writing (1999). But the 1874 parousia of Christ doctrine continued to be preached in the Watch Tower, as seen here:
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.While this point is glossed over in Jehovah's Witnesses-Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, the astute reader will note at the top of page 47 that: "Barbour succeeded in convincing Russell that Christ's invisible presence had begun in 1874." And again, in the last paragraph on page 133 that: ". . . Russell also came to be persuaded that Christ's invisible presence had begun in 1874." This last statement contains a footnote reference which reads:
Zion's Watch Tower, 15 January 1892, page 1355
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, 15 July 1894, page 1677
The Scriptures show that the second presence [of the Lord] was due in 1874 . . . . This proof shows that the Lord has been present since 1874.
--The Watch Tower, 1 March 1923, page 67
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.
--The Watch Tower, 1 January 1924, page 5
On pages 138-139 (Proclaimers book), the March 1, 1925 Watch Tower's feature article is quoted:
A real milestone was reached, therefore, in 1925, when The Watch Tower of March 1 featured the article "Birth of the Nation." It presented an eye-opening study of Revelation chapter 12. The article set forth evidence that the Messianic Kingdom had been born--established--in 1914, that Christ had then begun to rule on his heavenly throne, and that thereafter Satan had been hurled from heaven down to the vicinity of the earth. This was the good news that was to be proclaimed, the news that God's Kingdom was already in operation. How this enlightened understanding stimulated these Kingdom proclaimers to preach to the ends of the earth!"So according to Jehovah's Witnesses own documentary, the 1914 Advent was not their teaching until the year 1925, eleven years after 1914. But even then, it was evidently not a firm position, for in the book Prophecy (published in 1929) on pages 65 and 66 it clearly states:
The Scriptural proof is that the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 A.D. This proof is specifically [spelled] out in the booklet entitled Our Lord's Return.Thus, in 1929 appeared the last mention, in the Watch Tower Society's publications, of 1874 as the year of Christ's parousia. The doctrinal change clearly had not yet been established to teach the 1914 "invisible return" of Christ until sometime after 1929. The shift from 1874 to 1914 for the parousia surfaced most notably in the mid-1930s. And one might even get an impression for a later time from what Frederick Franz wrote in 1973, in the Society's book, God's Kingdom of a Thousand Years." On page 209, paragraph 55, he says:
In the year 1943 the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society published the book The Truth Shall Make You Free. In its chapter 11, entitled "The Count of the Time," it did away with the insertion of 100 years into the period of the Judges and went according to the oldest and most authentic reading of Acts 13:20, and accepted the spelled-out numbers of the Hebrew Scriptures. This moved forward the end of six thousand years of man's existence to 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.So we must ask, with all this history, what is the point of misleading statements about their 1914 teaching in later Watchtower literature? For example, the following quote is from a 1954 Watchtower which states:
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.How could The Watchtower make such an untrue claim knowing full well that both prior to World War I and for at least 15 years thereafter they preached that "this great event" had occurred in 1874. Again in a 1965 Watchtower:
--The Watchtower, 15 June 1954, page 370, para.4
As we look back over the years, we can clearly see how God's organization in modern times has progressed in understanding. For example, it learned that Christ's second presence was to be in the spirit, and not in the flesh as many professed Christians believe. 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.Russell's followers were not "anxiously awaiting his second presence toward the end of the nineteenth century"; they believed and preached that it had already occurred years past in 1874.
--The Watchtower, 15 July 1965, page 428, "Jehovah's Advancing Organization"
In the May 1, 1988 Watchtower, on page 22, a Witness, Matsue Ishii, recalls her first encounter with the Bible Students in 1928:
At the back of our house in Tojo-cho, Osaka, there was a house with a sign: "Osaka Branch of the International Bible Students Association." Assuming it to be a Christian group, I visited the house. "Do you believe in the second advent of the Lord?" I asked the young man who came to the door. "Christ's second advent was realized in 1914," he answered. In astonishment, I told him that was impossible. "You should read this book," he said, handing me The Harp of God.Yet, what does it say about this in The Harp of God? Beginning on page 235:
This date, therefore, when understood, would certainly fix the time when the Lord is due at this second appearing. 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 is due. . . . The searcher for truth can find an extensive treatment of this question in Volumes 2 and 3 of Studies in the Scriptures .Another long-time faithful Witness, Jack H. Nathan, recalls his first meeting with the Bible Students:
After the war ended in 1918, there was no work available in England, so I rejoined the army and went off to India as part of the peacetime garrison. In May 1920 the malaria flared up again, and I was sent up into the hills to recuperate. There I read all the books I could get my hands on, including the Bible. Reading the Scriptures intensified my interest in the Lord's return. Months later, down in Kanpur, I started a Bible study group, hoping to learn more about the Lord's return. It was there that I met Fredrick James, a former British soldier who was now a zealous Bible Student. He explained to me that Jesus had been present since 1914, invisible to man. This was the most thrilling news I had ever heard."This fellow's recollection is also not supported by the Society's doctrinal history. His own account placed his experience in or about the year 1920, more than a decade before the Society switched their official doctrine of Christ's second coming from 1874 to 1914.
--The Watchtower, 1 September 1990, page 11
It is not to question the integrity of the people who recall such personal experiences. Surely it was not their intention to confuse the details of their own story. Rather it illustrates the power of repetitious indoctrination over time to distort a person's recollection. But the real question here is how do such discrepancies could get past the editors of the Watchtower. Are their writers and editors so unfamiliar with their own history, as published in their own literature? Or do even those who write the supposed spiritual nourishment from Jehovah, themselves, become subject to the mind alterating effects of their own indoctrination? Otherwise, how can such blatant misrepresentation be defined as anything less than dishonest? Yet does an organization, which claims to speak for the Almighty Sovereign of the Universe, not bear a heavy responsibility to speak the truth? In conclusion, perhaps they have answered the question as well as anyone:
A religion that teaches lies cannot be true."
--The Watchtower, 1 December 1991, page 7
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