Watchtower Obsession With 1914

J.S. Smith

The year 1914 has great meaning to the Jehovah's Witnesses. From an objective outsider's standpoint, it is the fulcrum of that sect's history: Before 1914 they anticipated it as the time of Christ's return and judgment; since 1914 they call that year the time of Christ's invisible presence and the beginning of the slide toward judgment. According to the Watchtower, Jesus appeared in 1914 to become king over Jehovah's kingdom and begin the last times that will eventually lead to final judgment before the generation aware of events in 1914 completely passes from the earth.

Russell's Ruminations

In 1879, Charles Taze Russell told his disciples that the Lord actually returned in "the character of a bridegroom in 1874" (Watchtower, Oct. 1879) and that the end of the time of the Gentiles would come in 1914 (Watchtower, Nov. 1880). To Witnesses, the phrase "time of the Gen-tiles" signifies the period between the fall of Judah and the supposed full establishment of the kingdom of God on earth.

As 1886 dawned, Watchtower proclaimed that the time was ripe for the "messiah to take the dominion of earth and to overthrow the oppressors and corrupter of earth" (Jan. 1886). Two years later nothing had happened and The Time Is At Hand was written to present the Bible evidence proving the full end of the times of the Gentiles . . . will be reached in 1914." Then, they said the kingdom would be "firmly established, in the earth, on the ruins of present institutions" (76-77). Certainly, the Watchtower prophets had secured 1914 as the inauguration date.

In the 1889 edition of Studies in the Scriptures, Russell taught that earth's present rulership would be overthrown in 1914: "In the coming 26 years, all present governments will be overthrown and dissolved" (98-99).

In 1894, in response to skeptics, Russell wrote "... that the end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble" (Watchtower, July 15, 1894). He steadfastly refused to change the date from 1914, claiming it was God's.

1914 Comes and . . . Nothing Happens!

Throughout the next decade, the Watchtower continued to trump the same theme: 1914 was it. When the greatly anticipated year rolled around and then began to expire, Watchtower began to pull back. "We did not say positively that this would be the year" (Nov. 1, 1914). "Armageddon may begin next Spring" (Sept. 1, 1914).

Suddenly 1915 was the year. The Armageddon war was to ". . . end in A.D. 1915 with the complete overthrow of the earth's present rulership" (The Time Is At Hand, 101). The Gentile times prove that the present governments must all be overturned about the close of A.D. 1915" (242).

By 1917, the Watchtower was looking unreliable. So, they changed the date again, to 1925. "There will be no slip-up ... Abraham should enter upon the actual possession of his promised inheritance in the year 1925" (Watch-tower, Oct. 15, 1917). "No doubt Satan believed the Millennial kingdom was due to be set up in 1915 . . . 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, 7:128). "Therefore, we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the apostle in Hebrews 11, to the condition of human perfection" (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, 1918, 89).

As 1925 drew near, enthusiasm grew strong. "The period must end in 1925" (Golden Age, 217). "1925 is definitely settled by the scriptures" (Watchtower, April 1, 1923).

1925 Comes and . . . Again Nothing Happens!

But when 1925 arrived, suddenly the Watchtower editors applied the brakes again and chastised people who had believed earlier articles concerning the momentous year that had now come. "Many have confidently expected that all members of the body of Christ will be changed to heavenly glory during this year. This may be accomplished. It may not be" (Watchtower, Jan. 1, 1925). Naturally 1925 passed and nothing happened to fulfill the Watchtower prophecies.

Judge J.F. Rutherford took over the organization and put an end to date setting for the time being as he saw that disappointment over failed predictions dealt great blows to membership numbers (Vindication, 1931). Still, the date 1914 maintained a prominent place in Watchtower philosophy, if only because it had become so noted and dear, it was impossible to jettison. The inside page of Watchtower magazine continued to proclaim that the end would come before the generation aware of events in 1914 passed from the earth.

But after eight decades and millions of deaths, that claim also began to lose its shine and in 1995, the Witnesses discreetly dropped it from such prominence.

The history of Watchtower date setting for the end of this earth is a very consistent one. Never have they gotten anything right.

You Can Live Forever In Paradise on Earth

Because the Jehovah's Witnesses have made so much about the year 1914, they are compelled to attempt to prove their fascination by Scripture. What results is sophistry and mishandling of the word of God beyond any conception.

The Watchtower staff undertakes this dubious assignment in You Can Live Forever In Paradise on Earth. Starting with a prophecy snatched out of its context in Daniel4, the Witnesses tell us that the kingdom of God on earth would be established at the conclusion of the "seven times" mentioned by the prophet in chapter 4, verses 16 and 23. Turning presumptuously to Revelation 12:6 and 14, we are instructed that "seven times" equals 2,520 days and that 2,520 days is really 2,520 years by a Bible rule in Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6.

Next, calculating from Daniel's day in 607 B.C., a span of 2,520 years brings us to A.D. 1914 when "Jesus Christ began to rule as king of God's heavenly government" (141). Were it not for a number of nagging truth issues, that would make for fine research.

Why Start With 607 B.C.?

First, why start our calculations with 607 B.C.? Witnesses claim that this was the year that Judah was destroyed (139). But that is untrue. Nebuchadnezzar in-deed invaded Judah and took Daniel captive about 606-605 B.C., but Davidic kings continued to reign on Judah's throne until the actual fall of the nation in 587-86 B.C.

The Watchtower cites the prophecy of Ezekiel 21:25-27 to prove that Zedekiah was the last divinely anointed king of Judah and that the kingdom ceased to exist in God's approval at this time. Indeed, Ezekiel tells Zedekiah to "lift off the crown" until the messiah comes to claim it. Unfortunately for the Watchtower, this event took place at least a decade after 607 B.C. Jehoiakim was actually the king when Nebuchadnezzar began to besiege Judah in 606 B.C. Daniel attests to that himself (1:1) and the record of the kings concurs (2 Kings 24:1). This explanation is more than a little off. Zedekiah did not even begin to reign until about 597 B.C. Oops!

What Does Daniel 4 Say in Context?

Second, does Daniel 4 say what Witnesses claim? In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar explains that he had a dream and asked Daniel to interpret it. In this dream, he saw a great tree that a holy one commanded to be chopped down, leaving only the stump bound with a band of iron and bronze. Seven times were to pass over it before it could begin to grow again. Witnesses claim the tree represents God's kingdom, chopped down when Nebuchadnezzar invaded and allowed to grow again when the messiah comes "seven times" later  1914.

But, we do not need to wait for a Witness to interpret this dream for us. Daniel gave its meaning immediately! He said the tree that originally grew so great represented Nebuchadnezzar himself (Dan. 4:20-22): "It is you, 0 king, who have grown and become strong." Because of his insolence, God commanded that Nebuchadnezzar be cut down to size, but permitted the prospect of sprouting again one day. "And let him graze with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him" (Dan. 4:23). His grazing will end when the seven times are up, then.

Fortunately, Daniel's record even gives the fulfillment of the prophecy, more than 2500 years before the Watch-tower permits. All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel claims, just as he dreamt. "And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me" (Dan. 4:34). He left his grazing and returned to his throne  the "seven times" were up!

Whatever was precisely meant by the seven times, Nebuchadnezzar saw the end of them himself in his own lifetime. The seven times cannot meant 2,520 years then.

Since God's purpose was to show Nebuchadnezzar who was Lord, the writers of You Can Live claim that this tree actually represents the supreme rulership of God (139), but this is not at all what Daniel said. The tree represented the king; the holy one shouting "Timber!" represented God.


When one examines the prophecies of Daniel with an attempt to read knowledge out of the Scriptures, rather than opinion into them, it is simple to see when the kingdom of God was to be established. Clearly Daniel 2:36-44 points to the days of the Roman empire when Jesus came and lived and died. It was the fourth empire to rule the world, beginning with Daniel's contextual starting point, Babylon itself, followed by Medo-Persia and Greece. In the midst of his mission, the Lord told one audience, "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power" (Mark 9:1). Unless some of those folks were still tooling around Palestine 1900 years later, the kingdom had to have come far earlier than Witnesses will allow.

Indeed, Peter announced the coronation of King Jesus, according to David's psalmic prophecy in Acts 2:30-31: "Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God has sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ" Jesus was resurrected to sit as King of kings (1 Tim. 6:15) on the throne over his spiritual realm, peopled by the spirits of the redeemed (Col. 1:13) and traversing all national boundaries and human treaties (Col. 1:23).

Guardian of Truth XLI: 16 p. 17-19
August 21, 1997