A Christian writer aptly observed that “dangerous religious groups draw their strength from the growing expectation of a coming apocalypse” and that “each turn of the century is marked by movements of people who separate themselves from society in an attempt to renew faith in God and save themselves from the coming judgement.” (Martin De Haan, How To Identify a Dangerous Religious Group, 1994, 2)
The Jehovah’s Witness religion emerged from one of such groups. As a result, they place so much emphasis on eschatology (the last days, the earthly paradise, Armageddon etc). This apocalyptic shroud casts a huge shadow on their teachings and prevents people from seeing the troop of heresies lurking in their bushes.
When JWs come to your door, they talk about the signs of the “last days” which as a Christian you would agree with, but as you progress in their study, they gradually lace your feed with some yak milk and powdered sparrow eggs until you suddenly realize you have been introduced to a set of strange and unbiblical doctrines grafted on half truths and bland novelties.
The 1914 “pivotal sign” is a good place to start. According to Watchtower teaching, the last days began in 1914 when Jesus became king. Before then is termed ‘the waiting period’:
“During the 19th century, sincere Bible students calculated the waiting period would end in 1914…World events that began in 1914 confirm that the calculation of these sincere Bible students was correct. The fulfillment of Bible prophecy shows that in 1914, Christ became King and God’s heavenly Kingdom began to rule.” (What Does the Bible Really Teach? pp 84-85)
“In the year 1914, Jesus was enthroned as king of God’s heavenly kingdom, and ‘the Lord’s day’ began.” (The Watchtower, Sept. 1, 2005, 19)
Two things can be deduced here. One, the idea that Jesus became king in 1914 was not taught or believed by Christians for 1900 years. Two, since Jesus has returned “invisibly” in 1914, that implies that all Christians who are still expecting (or proclaiming) the return of Jesus Christ today are sincerely deluded. In other words, the Bridegroom came over 9 decades ago, and no one knew…except that little group in Pittsburgh. Quite hilarious, if not scary.
Let us see if these two deductions have any weight.
1. If the 1914 “kingdom-rule” theory escaped the minds of Christians until the 19th century, then we need to examine if the “Bible students” who arrived at it had some sincerity (or a good calculator) on their side. The Watchtower’s early practice of setting dates can be traced to N. H Barbour who predicted Jesus’ visible return in 1874 in his Herald of the Morning publication. He later modified his stance and claimed that Jesus would return “invisibly” in 1874 and the world would end in 1914. This influenced Charles Russell in setting his own dates of Christ’s “invisible presence” in 1874 and the end in 1914:
“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 prophecies relating to the close of this age terminate reaching their fulfillments. The…special importance of the last 40 of these years (1874 -1914), called ‘The End’ or ‘Harvest.'” (Studies in the Scriptures 3:121)
To support his predictions, Russell resorted to the occult art of pyramidology – seeking omens through pyramids – and spent a fortune to travel to Egypt to measure the lengths of the Great Pyramid in Giza, claiming that the lengths of its corridors confirmed his 1874 date of Christ’s return.
When Rutherford came on board, he de-emphasized the pyramid superstition and shifted the dates ahead of 1914 to favour his own prediction:
“We have no doubt whatever in regard to the chronology relating to the dates 1874, 1914, 1918, and 1925.” (The Watchtower, May 15, 1922, 147)
Cult researcher, Ronald Enroth observes, “To accommodate the change, a new edition of Russell’s Studies (1923) simply added forty-one inches to the corridor’s length in order to locate the starting point for the final years of earth’s existence in 1914” (A Guide to Cults and New Religions, 1983, 104).
It’s clear that these “sincere Bible students” were neither sincere nor students of the Bible. Their calculations were based on falsehood.
2. How could Jesus have returned invisibly in 1914 and no one knew? JWs respond:
“All the foretold marks of the ‘last days’ are here. They prove without a doubt that we have been in the ‘last days’ since 1914. Hence it was in that year that God’s heavenly kingdom came to power!” (The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, 1968, 90).
Apart from the signs in Matthew 24 taking place after 1914, JWs are also taught that Satan and his angels were cast down that year, bringing woes and trouble upon those on earth. Therefore, 1914 is “the ‘turning point’ of modern history, a pivotal one for mankind, because that is when the world entered a period of difficulty never before experienced on such an earth-wide scale.” (The WT, Oct. 15, 1980, 14-15)
The “signs” Jesus listed out in the Olivet Discourse – wars, famine, earthquakes – apply to every century of the church since that time until the end of the Church Age when He returns. These are the “beginnings of birth pains” (Mt. 24:8); they do not in themselves prove that the final fulfillment is here. To safeguard their 1914 theory, the Watchtower Society resorts to historical revisionism and outright distortion of facts when citing last days events.
“The war that began in 1914 fits this description…For the first time in history the whole world was at war.” (The Truth, 86)
The WW1 was not the first world war. The Wars of Napoleon (1792-1815) was fought for more than 20 years and was fought on all continents, whereas the WWI was only limited to Europe. Outrageous figures of deaths are also thrown about:
“More than 100 million people have died as a result of wars since 1914.” (Bible Teach, 89).
This proves nothing. The Taipan Rebellion in the 19th century claimed 40 million lives. Add this to the war of Spanish succession (1702-1713), the 7 years war (1756-1763), the wars of American Independence (1775-1783) and other brutal wars in past centuries and we have over a 100 million deaths. The Norwegian Academy of Sciences has estimated that there have been 14,531 wars fought since 3600 BC and 3.6 billion people have been killed.
“In 1929, famine caused an estimated 3 million deaths in China. In the 1930’s, 5 million died of hunger in the USSR.” (WT, Apr 15, 1983, 5)
These have happened before 1914. In India, the famine between 1876-78 claimed 5 million lives. 14 million deaths resulted from the 1849 famine in China while an additional 9 million died of the same in 1876. The Watchtower quotes the WHO that “malnutrition plays a major role in the deaths of more than five million children each year.” (Bible Teach, 89)
Malnutrition is not famine. Aside that, malnutrition didn’t start in 1914. The population decline in Europe before 1750 AD was due to poor nutrition. There were famines in Ireland, France and Persia in the 19th century which claimed millions of lives. In fact, the devastating effects of famine has reduced in the 20th century due to advanced crop sciences.
“Also, after 1914 a series of earthquakes rocked the earth, causing great damage. In 1915, in Italy, nearly 30,000 were killed. In 1920, in China, 180,000 died. In 1923, 143,000 died in Japan.” (The Truth, 87)
The 1556 earthquake in China killed 800,000 people (whereas those in the 1990s killed about 240,000). The 1703 earthquake in Japan claimed 200,000; India (1737), 300,000 and Syria (1201) 1.1 million. There have been 49 earthquakes between 1900-1904, and 44 between 2000-2004. Paul Gundy documents that of the 5 earthquakes in the last 1,500 years, only 1 since 1914 has been serious.
“Right after WWI more people died of the Spanish flu than had died of any disease epidemic in the history of mankind. The death toll was some 21 million.” (You Can Live Forever on Planet Earth, p 181)
This is an exaggeration. Countless number of people have died of pestilences long before 1914. There are evidences that the great epidemics of AD 160-180 and 221-226 which severely weakened the Roman Empire and aided its decline were caused by measles and small pox viruses. Between 1346-1720, Europe suffered a plague every 6 years which affected 30% of the population. During the 13th and 17th centuries, the bubonic plague (or Black Death) killed millions of people in Europe. The Aztec empire was easily conquered because of a small pox epidemic which wiped out one-third of the whole population in 1520.
If not for the advent of Microbiology and medical sciences in the 20th century which have helped to deal with diseases, a minor infection would have wiped out entire populations within a short time.
Date-Setting, Not a New Trade
The Watchtower Society also link the societal conditions described by apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 with 1914. According to Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible, the expression ‘in the latter times’ used in this passage, “does not necessarily imply the last ages of the world, but any times consequent to those in which the Church then lived.”
These events have always been there before 1914. This is why at different periods of church history, people have set dates for the return of Christ based on conjecture and guesswork.
Hippolytus (170-236) predicted that Christ would return in 500 A.D. based on the dimensions of Noah’s ark. On New Year’s Eve of 999 A.D., Pope Sylvester II celebrated the last mass of the first millennium as 1000 A.D approached. He and the others believed Satan’s 1000-year binding had elapsed since the birth of Christ and that Satan would again be loosed. Panic swept through Europe and thousands of people flocked to Jerusalem to wait for Christ to return to the holy city (Russell Chandler, Doomsday, 1993, 39-48).
Hugh Broughton (1549-1612) in his work, A Revelation of the Apocalypse, dated creation at 3926 BC, added 6,000 years to it and arrived at 2072 AD, which he termed the date of Christ’s return (cited in Ed Hindson, Earth’s Final Ages, 1999, 48).
John Napier of Scotland (1550-1617) mixed his mathematical genius with Bible prophecy and speculated that “the star that fell” with the fifth trumpet in the book of Revelation was Muhammad and wrote: “The last trumpet and vial beginneth anno Christ 1541 and should end in anno Christ 1786” (John Napier and Apocalyptic Thought, 16th Century Journal, 1974 5:101-14).
The date-setting games of Charles Russell and Rutherford were not new after all.
What God’s Kingdom is Not
Let me briefly point out another masked heresy.
“God’s Kingdom is a government established by Jehovah God with a King chosen by God. Who is the King of God’s Kingdom? Jesus Christ…God’s Kingdom is – in heaven. That is why the Bible calls it a ‘heavenly kingdom.’ (2 Timothy 4:18) Although God’s Kingdom is in heaven, it will rule over the earth.” (Bible Teach, 77)
Here, they have muddled up two different things. God’s kingdom is not the same as the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God is the universal, reign of God over all people, including angels, the church, and those in the Old and New testaments, while the kingdom of heaven refers to a future kingdom in which Jesus would reign as king.
A Bible scholar notes the differences: “The kingdom of God can only be entered by the new birth (John 3:3, 5-7), while the kingdom of heaven is entered by the coming rule of Jesus Christ on earth. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is primarily an earthly rule, while the kingdom of God includes both earth and heaven. The kingdom of God does not ‘come outwardly’ (Luke 17:20), but is an inward, spiritual rule (Rom. 14:17), while the kingdom of heaven is an outward rule whereby Jesus Christ will put ‘all things under His feet’ and shall ‘deliver the kingdom to God the Father’ (1 Cor. 15:24-28).” (Elmer Towns, Bible Answers for Almost All Your Questions, 2003, 422)
After quoting Daniel 2:44, they declared that: “God’s Kingdom was to be established ‘in the days of those kings,’ or while other kingdoms still existed.” (Bible Teach, 81)
Another error. The kingdom being referred to in Dan. 2:44 is not God’s kingdom, but the kingdom of heaven which God will set up on earth. This kingdom will have Jesus as its king (Jn. 17:37) unlike God’s kingdom which has God as king (1Cor. 15:28). The kingdom of heaven begins at the second advent of Christ (Zech. 14); it has a beginning, whereas God’s kingdom is now and timeless (Ps. 90:2).
On pg 79 they stated: “Satan and the angelic spirit creatures who chose to follow him- called demons- were allowed to stay in heaven for a while…The newly enthroned King, Jesus Christ, was to wage war on Satan.” (Ibid, 79)
Satan and his demons did not stay in heaven for “a while” of ages until 1914. They were cast out when they sinned (Lk 10:17, 2Pet 2:4). Jesus didn’t wage war against Satan in heaven, rather it was Michael and his angels. JWs used one heresy (“Jesus is archangel Michael”) to prop up another heresy. This is how the Watchtower system of falsehood works.