This is a large topic. There is a plethora of information readily available for anyone wanting to research the matter in detail. The approach I have taken here is to gather what is, in my opinion, the best of that information, and distill it into an analysis that can help the reader come to an informed decision on the truthfulness or otherwise of the teaching.
Jehovah’s Witnesses uniquely believe that Jesus Christ began ruling as King of God’s Kingdom in the year 1914 and has been invisibly ruling from heaven since then. This is held by the Watchtower Society to be a fundamental belief that all Jehovah’s Witnesses must accept in order to have an approved standing in the organisation. Candidates for baptism must confirm they believe it. Any Jehovah’s Witness who expresses doubts about the teaching becomes vulnerable to disfellowshipping.
It is therefore reasonable to expect that a teaching as fundamentally important to Jehovah’s Witnesses should rest on solid Biblical foundations, that it should be firmly rooted in scripture and not be doubtful or speculative.
An official version of the teaching can be found here on the Watchtower Society’s website: http://www.watchtower.org/e/bh/appendix_10.htm
The following is a summary of how 1914 is arrived at:
- God’s rulership on earth is said to have been represented by the Kingdom of Judah, when King Zedekiah reigned in Jerusalem. Ezekiel 21:25-27 foretold this rulership would be interrupted until “he comes who has the legal right”.
- Ezekiel 21:25-27 is then linked with Daniel 4:9-32, which describes a vision of an immense tree that is cut down by a “holy watcher” until “seven times” pass over it, after which it will grow again. The tree is said to represent the Kingdom of Judah when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, which the Watchtower Society says occurred in 607 B.C.
- The “seven times” is then converted into 2,520 days by doubling the 3 ½ “times” in Rev 12:6,14 which is the same as the 1260 days in Rev 11: 2,3. Each “time” is 360 days only.
- The 2,520 days are then converted to 2,520 years by saying “a day for a year” – Eze 4:6; Num 14:34.
- Counting forward 2520 years from 607 B.C. arrives at 1914 A.D., when “he who has the legal right”, Jesus Christ, is given God’s rulership.
- This 2520 year period is called ‘the gentile times’ taken from Luke 21:24.
The first thing one notices about this is how complicated it appears. Various scriptures from different parts of the Bible are lifted from their immediate context and linked together to form a chronological formula. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot explain it without having to refer to one of their publications.
This complicated, almost cryptic method for calculating 1914 naturally suggests the teaching is more speculative than concrete truth. The principle of Occam’s Razor states that in a choice between a complicated explanation and a simple one, it is usually the simplest explanation that is true. What seems to be the simplest explanation for when Christ returns in Kingdom power? That he hasn’t returned yet and begun ruling as King, or that it can deduced from a sophisticated analysis of various bible clues that he began ruling in 1914, invisibly and unknown to the world except Jehovah’s Witnesses?
It must be kept in mind that Russell never taught that 1914 was the beginning of the last days and that Jesus’ parousia would commence then. Rather, he taught that the parousia and the last days began in 1874, and that these would culminate in 1914 when Armageddon would occur and he and his fellow Bible Students would be raptured to heaven. In other words, Russell taught that Jesus’ coming and being enthroned as King in 1914 would happen at the conclusion of an invisible spiritual presence that began in 1874. Russell felt that the Great War that began in 1914 would lead directly to the destruction of Satan’s system. Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe a sort of reverse order of those events. They believe that Jesus was enthroned as King in 1914 (but didn’t “come” then) thus commencing his invisible presence as evidenced through a “composite sign,” culminating in his “coming” (as a Judge and executioner) at the great tribulation.
Of course, the ultimate test of whether the Jehovah’s Witnesses 1914 teaching is true is how it measures up against the Bible as a whole, especially the words of Jesus Christ, in whom is concealed all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3).
With that in mind, the idea that the year of Jesus’ return in Kingdom power can be confirmed in advance is immediately at odds with Jesus’ clear statement that “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows.” (Matt 24:36) Jesus is referring to the inability of knowing when “the Son of man” is coming (Matt 24:30, 44). This phrase “Son of man” is of course taken from Daniel 7:13,14, with Jesus identifying himself as that Son of man. In other words, the “coming” of the Son of man at Matthew 24:29-31 occurs at the same time as the “someone like a son of man” is given rulership and dignity and kingdom at Daniel 7:13,14. However, the Watchtower Society officially teaches that Daniel 7:13,14 occurred in 1914, while at the same time teaching that Matt 24:29-31 is a future event. This artificial distinction allows the Watchtower Society to assert that nobody knows when the future “coming” per Matt 24:29-31 will be, not when Jesus is “given rulership…and kingdom” per Daniel 7:14. This is just one of many glaring contradictions that become apparent when we apply our “intellectual capacity” to the subject (1 John 5:20).
But let’s start at the beginning. The whole teaching rests on the premise that ancient Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E, which is the starting point of their chronological formula that ends at 1914 CE (AD). Is it a proven fact that 607 BC is when ancient Jerusalem was destroyed, as illustrated below?
607 or 587 BC for Jerusalem’s Destruction?
Many Jehovah’s Witnesses are aware that Bible and secular historians put the date of Jerusalem’s destruction at 586/587 BC, not 607 BC. A Jehovah’s Witness who visits their library and researches this for themselves using any encylopaedia or academic publication will always see 586/587 BC given as the date for Jerusalem’s destruction, never 607 BC.
The historical arguments for and against either date are very technical, requiring a detailed analysis of extensive Babylonian historical records and various lines of evidence. It is beyond the bounds of this article to go into those aspects in detail (a summary by Ed Schnoop is contained in an appendix* at the end of this article). The Society’s reasoning in favour of 607 BC is outlined in the publication ‘Insight on the Scriptures‘ (volume 1) under the heading ‘Chronology’. This material is mostly taken from the Watchtower Society’s 1971 publication Aid to Bible Understanding, which was the predecessor of the Insight Volumes. The material on Chronology in the Aid book was mostly researched and written by now deceased former Governing Body member, Raymond Franz. Some years after resigning from the Governing Body, Franz wrote the following in his book “Crisis of Conscience” (p.25 & 140):
“When the subject “Chronology” was assigned to me this similarly led to questions. A major teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that Bible prophecy had pointed to the year 1914 as the end of the “Gentile Times” of Luke chapter twenty-one, verse 24, and that in that year Christ Jesus actively took up his Kingdom power and began to rule invisibly to human eyes. In Daniel chapter four, references to a period of “seven times” were the foundation for the calculations leading to that date and, by the use of other texts, these “seven times” were translated into a period of 2520 years beginning in 607 B.C.E. and ending in 1914 C.E. The starting date, 607 B.C.E., was held to be the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonian conqueror Nebuchadnezzar. I knew that the 607 B.C.E. date seemed to be peculiar to our publications but did not really know why.
Months of research were spent on this one subject of “Chronology” and it resulted in the longest articles in the Aid publication. Much of the time was spent endeavoring to find some proof, some backing in history, for the 607 B.C.E. date so crucial to our calculations for 1914. Charles Ploeger, a member of the headquarters staff, was at the time serving as a secretary for me and he searched through the libraries of the New York city area for anything that might substantiate that date historically. WE FOUND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IN SUPPORT OF 607 B.C.E.
As discussed in a previous chapter, the research I had to do in connection with the book AID TO BIBLE UNDERSTANDING brought home to me that the Society’s date of 607 B.C.E. for Jerusalem’s destruction by Babylon was contradicted by all known historical evidence. Still, I continued to put trust in that date in spite of the evidence, feeling that it had scriptural backing. Without 607 B.C.E. the crucial date of 1914 would be placed in question. I took the view that the historical evidence was likely defective and argued that was the case in the Aid book.”
It is disconcerting to learn that a Governing Body member (even if he later left the organisation) who wrote the Society’s chronology material could find no historical evidence to support the 607 BC date. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, will be tempted to ignore Franz’s views on the basis that he was an ‘apostate’, but this is simply shooting the messenger. Franz is far from alone in his conclusions.
Carl Olof Jonsson, a former elder from Sweden, published what is probably the most exhaustive analysis of the subject in his book The Gentile Times Reconsidered (1983). Jonsson concluded that Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BCE. He debated with the Watchtower Society on their chronology and was eventually disfellowshipped for standing by his research.
Franz and Jonsson were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses when they did their research. They felt that the evidence was so overwhelming that they had no choice but to reject the Watchtower Society’s position. Apart from these two former Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is extensive academic research on the subject, with all of it pointing to 586/7 as the correct date for ancient Jerusalem’s destruction.
The Watchtower Society has tried to defend its chronology in the face of such formidable criticism. One example of this is found in an appendix to the book Let Your Kingdom Come (1981). After presenting its version of the historical evidence, the Society basically admitted the evidence was strongly against them in making this statement on page 187:
“Even if the discovered evidence is accurate, it might be misinterpreted by modern scholars or be incomplete so that yet undiscovered material could drastically alter the chronology of the period.”
This is what Carl Jonsson had to say about that:
“Evidently the Watch Tower Society realizes that all the evidence discovered hitherto since the middle of the last century unanimously points to 587 B.C.E. instead of 607 B.C.E. as the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. Among the thousands of discovered documents from the Neo-Babylonian era they have not been able to find the slightest support for their 607 B.C.E. date – hence, the reference to “yet undiscovered material”. A chronology that has to be based on “yet undiscovered material”, because it is demolished by the discovered material, is resting on a weak foundation indeed. If an idea, refuted by an overwhelming mass of discovered evidence, is to be retained because it is hoped that “yet undiscovered material” will support it, all ideas, however false, could be retained on the same principle.”
The attitude of the Society today is much the same as that of Pastor Russell when it comes to being challenged on its chronology. In defending his choice of 606 BCE against Watchtower readers who considered that he might be in error for not accepting 587/586 BCE, Russell challenged the reliability of all ancient histories except for the Bible, although Russell at least recognized that his chronology was not infallible – See “Knowledge and Faith Regarding Chronology,” reprint page 4067; “Views from the Watch Tower,” Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, January 1, 1908, reprint page 4110.
Basically, the Society’s position essentially comes down to the view that it’s a matter of either believing the Bible or secular historians. While there are certainly examples of historical and archaeological evidence being discovered that vindicated the Bible’s position, in those cases the historical evidence was scanty if there was any at all. In this case, however, there is a massive amount of existing historical information, so much so that the date 539 BC (Babylon’s fall) is one of the best attested dates in Bible chronology. There is more archaeological and historical information around this period in ancient history than just about any other.
On one hand, Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that archaeological evidence will always support the Bible eventually. On the other hand, when it comes to their own 607 BC chronology they are being told to ignore the mountain of historical evidence that points to 587 BC. Thus Jehovah’s Witnesses are effectively being asked to exercise credulity, ie, to just believe what they are being told in the face of all the evidence to the contrary.
Despite all this, The Watchtower Society has recently published a further defense of its chronology, in the October 1st and November 1st 2011 public editions of the Watchtower. Detailed rebuttals of those Watchtower articles can be found at this link:
That there is such a strong evidential argument against 607 BC should be reason enough for any Jehovah’s Witness to have doubts about the whole 1914 teaching. The Watchtower Society’s position is so problematic on this level that it is essentially impossible for any fully informed, intellectually honest Jehovah’s Witness to be convinced of it.
Since the historical evidence weights so strongly against 607 BC, what the Watchtower Society’s position comes down to is how it interprets certain passages of scripture regarding Jerusalem’s exile and periods of 70 years, in particular Jeremiah 25:10-12, Jeremiah 29:10, Daniel 9:1-2 and 2 Chronicles 36:20-21. Upon examining these interpretations in detail, scholar and long-time Jehovah’s Witness Greg Stafford, in an Appendix to his book Three Dissertations on the Teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses (2002), makes the following conclusion:
“Have the Gentile times ended? No one knows for sure. We do not even know if Jesus’ reference to the Gentile times relates to the seven times of Daniel. But it is not necessary to know when the Gentile times ended to be secure in one’s faith. Due to uncertainties or even historical contradictions in secular sources or between secular sources and the Bible, it is unwise to place prophetic applications or speculations about the implications of Bible chronology on so high a level that persons who do not fall in line with all the details of a particular doctrine are viewed as unfaithful. Bible chronology does not appear to be a touchstone for faithfulness in the Holy Scriptures; therefore, neither should it be one for Christians today.”
I think any reasonable Jehovah’s Witness who objectively considers the evidence and arguments for and against would have to agree with this statement.
Apart from the problems in believing 607 BC was the date for Jerusalem’s fall, there are other serious difficulties with the 1914 teaching.
Does the tree in Daniel 4 represent the Kingdom of Judah?
A rule for interpreting scripture is that “interpretations belong to God” (Gen 40:8).
When we apply this rule to the vision of the immense tree at Daniel 4, we indeed find that the Bible interprets itself on what the tree means. At Daniel 4: 20-22, Daniel (Belteshazzar) says that the tree represents Nebuchadnezzar and his vast rulership. One year later, Nebuchadnezzar goes insane and becomes like a beast in the field for seven years (Daniel 4:32). After that, Nebuchadnezzar’s rulership is restored and he praises the Most High.
This is the scripturally self-interpreted and internally obvious fulfillment of the tree vision in Daniel four. To say that there is any meaning and fulfillment beyond the 7 literal years of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness is debateable. However, it is not unreasonable to speculate, as the Watchtower does,, that there is a secondary fulfillment to the tree vision. Most of the prophecies in Daniel are concerning the subject of world rulership as it affects God’s people and the passing of time. It could be said that God teams up Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel in giving two parallel prophetic visions concerning future world rulerships. Nebuchadnezzar receives the visions and Daniel explains and records them, the first in Daniel chapter 2 (image), the second in chapter 4 (tree).
These two visions were specifically given by God to Nebuchadnezzar because they both started from him and related to the same subject. The head of gold in the first statue vision and the tree in the second vision were both confirmed as representing Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian dynasty. The subject was the passing of time from the Babylonian world power until the takeover of world rule by God’s Kingdom. It could be said that Nebuchadnezzar experienced minor illustrative fulfilments of both these visions, but that these were not the main application or meaning of the visions and that he was a puppet used to act out greater events.
But whatever date is ascribed to Jerusalem’s destruction, whether 587 BC or 607 BC, the tree vision in Daniel 4 could not represent the Kingdom of Judah and its King Zedekiah, as the Watchtower Society teaches, for the following reasons:
- Both visions were given to Nebuchadnezzar, not Zedekiah. They both relate to a period starting when the Babylonian dynasty was chopped down, not God’s. The previous vision to Nebuchadnezzar of a symbolic statue (Daniel 2) was a parallel vision of the same time period. In no way would anyone argue that the head of Gold represented Zedekiah’s rulership at Jerusalem. Both these visions related to the same things: the Babylonian rulership.
- Jehovah actually sets the date for this chopping down, having an angel (the “holy one” of Daniel 4:23) write on the wall in Belteshazzar’s royal court the proclamation (‘mene mene tekel parsin’) to cut down the Babylonian dynasty on the very day the dynasty is brought to its end in 539 BC (Daniel Chapters 4 & 5).
- As mentioned, Daniel’s prophecy of “seven times” following the cutting down of the tree could not be applied to Zedekiah in Jerusalem as Daniel explicitly says at 4:22 that the tree symbolises the king of Babylon and his empire, not Gods representative ruler in Jerusalem. God established a unique relationship with Babylon. Not only was Nebuchadnezzar his servant but God backed his authority as a world ruler. This was a unique situation, something God had not done with any previous national power outside of Israel. The exiled Daniel reminded Nebuchadnezzar of this in Daniel 2:37.
- Zedekiah could hardly be reckoned as God’s representative king. God had already arranged for the previous king Jehoiachin to be removed by Nebuchadnezzar as punishment to the nation. He would hardly have replaced him with another king in contradiction of his express warnings (Jer 27:6,12-14,17,20-22).
- Zedekiah was not anointed by God to reign as king in Jerusalem, he was appointed to the job of vassal representative by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:17). Later he rebelled against his Babylonian master despite God warning him against carrying out this totally unnecessary self-destructive action. It cannot be construed that his rule was on behalf of Jehovah.
- 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 607 B.C. Daniel attests to that himself (1:1) and the record of the kings concurs (2 Kings 24:1). Zedekiah did not even begin to reign until about 597 B.C.
- The tree is said to be visible to the whole earth under which all animals would seek shade and all birds would dwell; this majestic description could hardly be describing the small Kingdom of Judah. Rather, it depicts the vast Babylonian world empire, with the animals and birds representing the nations and peoples subject to it and reliant on it.
- The seat of God’s rulership continued at Jerusalem with or without an anointed king being present. Some 600 years later, Jesus in 33 AD recognised that God’s symbolic seat of rulership was still the temple at Jerusalem without any anointed king representing God at the time. Just before his death, Jesus presented himself at this seat of rulership as its appointed king (Luke 19:34-44). Although the covenants changed in 33 AD and special favour to the Jews was extended to 36 AD, along with the temple and city of Jerusalem, God did not tear them down until the year 70 AD. Jesus foretold that after the temples destruction in 70 AD the nations would trample on literal Jerusalem, and continue to do so until the Gentile times ended, when the new temple and City would be constructed in the heavens (Luke 21:24). Thus Jerusalem’s being trodden on, according to Jesus, did not start in 607 BC but in 70 AD.
So the tree does not represent the Kingdom of Judah, as Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. Instead, by letting the book of Daniel interpret itself, we can conclude that the immense tree symbolizes world rulership as appointed by God, the Most High. That rulership was represented by the Babylonian world empire, which was chopped down in 539 BC. A period of “seven times” would then pass over the tree stump until a new world ruler would appear who would be appointed by Jehovah.
Seven times – how long?
The founder of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Charles Taze Russell, and Jehovah’s Witnesses ever since, claim that the “seven times” equals 2520 years. Is this correct?
As outlined at the beginning of this article, 2520 years is calculated by doubling the 3 ½ “times” and 1260 days in Rev 12:6 & 14. Rev 11: 2 & 3 also describes the holy city being trampled on by the nations for 1260 days, which reminds us of Jesus’ words about the nations trampling Jerusalem at Luke 21: 24. Since the Society believes gentile nations began trampling on Jerusalem when the Babylonians destroyed it in 607 BE (or more likely 587 BC), they regard the ‘seven times’ in Daniel four as being the same as the 2,520 days in Rev 11: 2 & 3. These days are then converted to 2,520 years by saying “a day for a year” – Eze 4:6; Num 14:34.
These might be reasonable connections to make if we can be sure that scriptures from one end of the Bible to the other with numerical features can be interlocked to reveal a hidden formula. This style of interpreting scripture is inherently doubtful. Far flung scriptures are being taken out of context and presumed connections between them made that we cannot be certain God intended. Are the connections obviously there or are they more a matter of calculated guess-work? We can use this style of linking otherwise unconnected scriptures to come up with all manner of speculative chronological ‘prophecies’.
For example, using similar chronological reasoning as the Watchtower uses, the 7th Day Adventist church calculates that in 1843, Jesus Christ began an ‘investigative judgment’ from heaven. Adventists feel this date is as surely marked in scripture as the Jehovah’s Witnesses feel about their 1914 date, and SDA’s can defend 1843 as adroitly as any Jehovah’s Witness can.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and the early Bible Students in fact have a long history of failed chronological speculations. A comprehensive record of the Watchtower Society’s chrono-prophetic interpretations is presented by Greg Stafford in the second dissertation of his “Three dissertations” book (any Jehovah’s Witness with access to the organisation’s oldest publications can confirm these). Stafford outlines how the Watchtower Society officially published the following dates as chronologically significant: 1798, 1799, 1829, 1840, 1844, 1846, 1859, 1873, 1874, 1875, 1878, 1881, 1908, 1910, 1914, 1915, 1918, 1919, 1921, 1922, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1975.
Out of all these discarded dates, only 1914, 1918, 1919, and 1922 (the latter still officially taught to have been the year certain ‘trumpet blasts’ in the book of Revelation occurred) are still officially taught as dates earmarked by Bible chronology. The latter three dates fall down if 1914 is wrong. Is such a long legacy of failed chronological speculations what we would expect to see of the true religion?
That speculation is all it really is was even admitted by Pastor Russell, when he wrote the following about whether the resurrection might occur in 1915:
“Nor should we “speculate’ on these subjects, not clearly revealed, in the sense of accepting or setting forth our ideas as anything more than our opinions or suggestions – carefully guarding, lest we ourselves or others should take our suppositions for the Word of the Lord, which liveth and abideth forever. What follows, then, is not the Word of the Lord – nor our opinion based upon certain explicit statements of God’s Word, but merely inference or mental deductions, based upon general principles, and, so far as we can see, in harmony with the Scriptural declarations, touching the divine character and general dealings, past and present, and as revealed for the future.” – “Resurrection Without Commotion,” Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, May 15, 1983, reprint page 1528.
Until 1931, it was officially taught that Jesus’s parousia began in 1874 as a ‘spiritual presence’ and that the last days began then, with the world to end in 1914. From 1944, however, the 1874 chronology was officially discarded by Judge Rutherford and 1914 became the date the last days began. When 1914 came and went with no Armageddon, Judge Rutherford dogmatically asserted that the end of the system and resurrection of the ancient patriarchs would occur in 1925. Rutherford categorically asserted “There can be no more question about 1925 than there was about 1914” and that 1925 was “a date definitely and clearly marked in the Scriptures, even more clearly thank of 1914.”
In recent times, the Society has had to ditch more date-based beliefs. In 2007, it announced that “evidently” the calling of the heavenly class did not close in 1935, and in 1995 it finally ditched the view that the “generation” of Matt 24:34 is the life-span of the human generation born in 1914.
Given this long history of numerous failed date-based predictions, is it really fair for Jehovah’s Witnesses to be expected to sincerely belief the 1914 teaching without question? Is it fair for the Watchtower Society to continue to expect Jehovah’s Witnesses to publicly preach the teaching as established truth, and for persons studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses to have to affirm their belief in it in order to qualify for baptism?
But if the seven times of Daniel chapter four does not mean 2520 years, then what do the seven times mean?
There are a number of possibilities, but the following is offered as just one possible alternative interpretation that is no more speculative than the Watchtower Society’s interpretation:
Seven in the scriptures is a number that signifies ‘completeness’, or ‘bringing a period or work to a completion’. In historical sections of the scriptures, seven frequently occurs to denote ‘completeness’ or ‘finishing a work completely’ Jos 6: 2-4, 15, 1Ki 18:42-44, 2Ki 5:10, 12 Ps 12:6, Pr 24:16, Ps 119:164.
‘Times’ is translated in the scriptures on ten occasions from the Aramaic word “iddan” as ‘an appointed time period’ or ‘set season’.
The phrase Seven Times at Daniel 4 could therefore be said to carry the scriptural meaning: ‘an appointed time period set for completely finishing some activity’.
If the seven times start to count when the Babylonian tree is chopped down in 539 BC (when the head of gold changed to the silver chest in the statue vision of Daniel 2), then ‘an appointed time period set for completely finishing the activity’ would follow when God would have no representative ruling king enthroned from 539 BC until world rulership is presented to the one whom God appoints, who the scriptures identify as Jesus Christ. As for the precise year this is, ie, when the seven times end? Jesus said “Nobody knows the day or the hour.”
A more general interpretation such as this would be a much safer alternative than insisting that “the seven times” means a definite period of 2520 years with a questionable starting point. (credit goes to John Denton for this interpretation on his fascinating website http://www.tangotango.org.uk, Appendix 18).
Interestingly, in 1995 the Society did this very thing, by swapping a specific “rule for measuring time” approach for interpreting the meaning of “generation” for a more general, secular meaning as follows (see Generation article on this website):
“Rather than provide a rule for measuring time, the term “generation” as used by Jesus refers principally to contemporary people of a certain historical period, with their identifying characteristics.” – Watchtower Nov 1, 1995, p.20.
The Gentile Times
Another difficulty with the 1914 teaching is that it arbitrarily links the seven times in Daniel 4 with the Gentile times referred to by Jesus at Luke 21:24 “…Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations (Gentiles) until the times of the nations (Gentiles) are completed (fulfilled)”.
The Watchtower interprets this to mean that Jesus was referring to the first time that Jerusalem was trampled on by a Gentile nation, ie, by ancient Babylon, back with Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 BC (or 587). This is asserted as another reason to start counting the 2520 years from then.
The problem with making this connection is that the context of Jesus’ words at Luke 21: 20-24 indicate he was talking about a trampling to occur in the future, not the distant past. Jesus describes Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, about woe occurring “in those days”, and of being led captive into all the nations. In the parallel account in the book of Matthew 24, in verse 15 Jesus talks about the “disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken of through Daniel.” Luke 21:20 describes the same event but this time the thing that causes desolation is identified as “Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies confirming destruction is close” (L21:20). This is an important point, because it shows Jesus is not harking back to any ancient fulfillment of Daniel’s words regarding Gentile nations, he is describing future events.
Jesus words were of course fulfilled by the Roman armies’ destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. Many Christians back then remembered Jesus’ warning about encamped armies and fled Jerusalem. Jesus states at Luke 21: 24 that the destroyed city would continue being trampled on until the appointed period for the nations is completed. In 33 AD, the outpouring of the holy spirit at Pentecost signaled the building of a new spiritual nation, with human stones making up the foundation of heavenly Jerusalem (1 Peter 2:5) .
This period of the nations or Gentile times trampling on spiritual Jerusalem during its building with human stones could be said to end at the same time as the ‘seven times,’ but they do not start at the same time. The ‘seven times’ period started in 539 BC when God arranged defeat of the Babylonians by the Persians. The ‘Gentile times’ started in 33 AD when the first human stone of heavenly Jerusalem was trampled on They both end when Christ returns in Kingdom power at a future unknown day and hour.
As we postulated earlier, the ‘seven times’ might be suggested to be the full period of time when God would have no representative ruling king enthroned from 539 BC (being the destruction of ancient Babylon, which represents the immense tree of Daniel 4) until Christ’s second coming.
The ‘Gentile Times’ deals with the general period of time when Gods spiritual temple arrangement while under construction would be trampled on by the world’s nations, from 33 AD until Christ’s second coming.
There is another important reason why the “times of the nations” (Gentile times) of Luke 21:24 are not the same as the “seven times” of Daniel 4. It is unlikely that the phrase “Gentile times” is referring to a specific pre-announced time period, because the entire phrase is anarthrous. The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT comments, “More likely, the “times of the Gentiles” is a general way to describe the current period in God’s plan, when the Gentiles are prominent but that will culminate in judgment on those nations.”
Carl Oloff Jonsson (Gentile Times Revisited, p.279) says, “In Greek, the use of the definite article would point to a definite and well-known period. Since, however, the definite article is not found in the Greek text, the phrase “times of Gentiles” can refer to an imprecise period rather than one specific period already known to the readers (or listeners).
But if there is a relationship between Luke 21:24 to the book of Daniel, it probably corresponds to the image in Daniel 2 and ends when the image is destroyed and ground to powder. If so, then the Society is, in general terms, close with regard to when the “times” started (the Babylonians), but somewhat off as to when they end (the future, not 1914).
We have so far examined the Watchtower Society’s chronological formula for arriving at the year 1914 and have encountered serious problems at every stage. At this point of our analysis, the foundations of the belief are shaky. To recap the problems so far:
- Jesus categorically said that nobody knows the day or the hour of his return.
- the Society’s insistence that the date 607 BC was when ancient Jerusalem was destroyed conflicts with all the archaeological and historical evidence and is rejected by secular authorities;
- the chopped down tree at Daniel 4, if it has any secondary application, more likely represents the Babylonian world power, not the Kingdom of Judah;
- chronological, date-based teachings are inherently speculative and the organisation has a long history of failures with them.
- there is no scriptural reason to link the ‘Gentile times’ with the ‘seven times’. The Gentile times are better seen as starting in 70 AD, not 607 BC.
The case supporting 1914 at this point is extremely unconvincing. By further testing the teaching against Jesus’ own words, and other scriptures, we can determine with more certainty if the doctrine is reliable or not.
The Watchtower Society still officially teaches that Daniel 2:4, Daniel 7:14, and Matthew 24:3 were fulfilled in 1914. Yet, in two 1995 Watchtower study articles, the Society reinterpreted every statement by Jesus about his returning in kingdom rule as occurring in the future, not in 1914. Here are the passages of scripture that the Watchtower now says all have a future fulfilment:
Mathew 24: 29-31 (parallel account at Mark 13: 24-27) – The sign of the Son of man appears in heaven and he comes on the clouds sending forth his angels with a great trumpet.
Matthew 25: 31-34 – The Son of man arrives in glory with the angels and sits on his glorious throne and separates the sheep from the goats amongst the nations.
Luke 21: 27 – Son of man is seen coming on a cloud with power and great glory.
In October 2012, “new light” was announced at the Society’s annual shareholders meeting during a two hour symposium delivered by members of the Governing Body, that Jesus’ “arriving” at Matthew 24:46 (to appoint the faithful and discreet slave over all his belongings) also occurs in the future at the great tribulation, not in 1914 as had been taught since Judge Rutherford’s time.
All of these passages are now (correctly) said to have a future fulfillment. For the Watchtower Society to still teach that Daniel 2: 44; 7: 13,14 and Matthew 24:3 were fulfilled in 1914 while admitting that all these other passages have a future fulfillment is a glaring and disturbing contradiction. As mentioned earlier in this article, it is particularly reprehensible of the Society to maintain that Daniel 7:14 was fulfilled in 1914 when Jesus at Matthew 24:3 is alluding directly to Daniel 7:14 in identifying himself as the “Son of man” given rulership.
Another disturbing contradiction is that even though Jesus is taught as having begun ruling as King in 1914, Satan is still obviously the ruler of this world. The July 2011 Awake (p.5) says:
“The Ruler of This World”
“The Bible states: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (John 12:31; 1 John 5:19) That “wicked one” is Satan the Devil, a powerful spirit creature who is described as “the ruler of the authority of the air.” Satan promotes “the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2) Some crimes, such as genocide and child abuse, have been so horrific that many find it hard to attribute them to mere human origin. However, does this mean that God is indifferent to our suffering? Can he—will he—do anything to end it?”
How can it be that Satan is the ruler of this world and “the whole world” is in his power, and yet in 1914 “The kingdom of the world did become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will rule as king forever and ever.” (Rev 11:15). Amazingly, the Watchtower Society still officially teaches that Rev 11:15 was fulfilled in 1914.
It goes without saying that Satan and human governmental systems are still ruling the world. Humans governments still hold complete sway over earth’s affairs as they always have. All authority and the glory of the world’s kingdoms belonged to the Devil when he tried to tempt Jesus at Luke 3:5-7 and that is still the case today. Yet at the same time, the Watchtower Society perpetuates the belief that Jesus has been ruling as king over “the kingdom the world”. It’s one thing for them to say that Jesus has been ruling over Jehovah’s Witnesses, but to say he has been ruling over the world is patently absurd, a doctrinal equivalent of the story of of the emperors new clothes.
Consider also that Revelation 13 describes a future wild beast on a throne which gets its power from the dragon, Satan. This beast on its diabolical throne is said in verse 7 to have authority over “every tribe and people and tongue and nation.” Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus sat on a throne of kingdom rule in 1914 in fulfillment of Daniel 7:14 where all “peoples, national groups, and languages should all serve” him, while the Devil and a political wild beast would also be exerting authority over “every tribe and people and tongue and nation?
The Watchtower Society also claims that in 1918 the heavenly resurrection occurred, when Jesus resurrected his anointed followers to be co-rulers with him in heaven. These are said to partake of the “first resurrection” at Revelation 20:4 and 6, and are there described as sitting on thrones to rule with Christ for a thousand years. We can immediately see a problem here. The Watchtower Society asserts that the Kingdom began ruling in 1914 and that most of the dead 144,000 were resurrected to heaven shortly after 1914, but they also say that the millennial reign of Jesus and the 144,000 does not start until after Armageddon.
There is nothing in scripture to suggest that Jesus and the 144,000 will rule any longer than 1000 years. If they began ruling in 1914, the 1000 year reign must have started in 1914. The Society tries to get around this by saying that although Jesus was enthroned as King of God’s Kingdom in 1914, he does not extend his dominion over the earth until the millennial reign starts. This is despite the fact that every scripture touching on the matter makes it clear that when he becomes king it is with power and glory with immediate action taken towards the earth.
But even if we assumed, despite all of the above, that Jesus did begin his kingdom reign in 1914, we must ask “what has he actually been ruling over”?
Who has Jesus been ruling over since 1914?
Every King rules over someone when he is enthroned, but who exactly has Jesus been ruling over since 1914? Who are the subjects of the Kingdom? The answer is far from obvious.
As we have noted, it cannot be the general world of mankind that Jesus is ruling over, since the whole world is still lying in the power of the wicked one and its political beasts (despite the ‘Gentile times’ purportedly ending in 1914). Human political systems and rulers obviously still hold complete governmental control over humankind. Daniel 2:44 is a future event, which the Society acknowledges.
Perhaps Jesus has only been ruling over heaven and the angels only since 1914, since the Watchtower claims that Jesus’ first action on becoming king in 1914 was to cleanse the heavens of Satan and his demons who were hurled to the earth? There is nothing in any Watchtower publication or scripture that supports the idea that Jesus began ruling over the angels since 1914. All scriptures concerning Jesus’ return as King make it clear that his rule over earth, over humankind, not over angels.
So, is it the ‘anointed remnant’ that Jesus began ruling over since 1914? That could not be so since Christ has been ruling over his anointed brothers in the “kingdom of the son of his love” since Pentecost 33 CE (Col 1:13).
Is it the organisation itself that Jesus has been ruling over since 1914? Basically, this is what the Society effectively teaches. Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves are the only “subjects” that the Watchtower Society can point to as being reigned over by Jesus, despite the fact it teaches that the “great crowd” does not form until the great tribulation.
This is shown from the following Watchtower article of November 1st, 2012, pages 16,17, quoted in part below. The article highlights the glaring contradictions that become apparent when the Watchtowers 1914 teaching is mixed with scriptures clearly describing Jesus’ rule as a future event:
“Will God Provide a World Government?
3. Is a world government really feasible?
God has appointed his Son to rule the earth from heaven. (Daniel 7:13, 14) Just as a human ruler does not have to be present in every city he rules, Jesus does not need to be physically present on earth in order to rulemankind.—Read Matthew 8:5-9, 13.
Will everyone accept Jesus as Ruler? No. Only people who love what is good will accept him. Jehovah will clear the earth of those who reject the loving and righteous Ruler whom he has appointed.—Read Matthew 25:31-33, 46.
4. What will the world Ruler do?
As a shepherd gathers his sheep, Jesus is already gathering meek people from all nations and teaching them God’s ways of love. (John 10:16; 13:34) Such people become eager supporters of Jesus and his kingship. (Psalm 72:8; Matthew 4:19, 20) Worldwide, Jesus’ loyal subjects are unitedly announcing that Jesus has become King.—Read Matthew 24:14.
Jesus will soon act with power to relieve mankind of corrupt government. He has chosen some of his loyal followers to rule over the earth as kings with him in heaven. (Daniel 2:44; 7:27) Jesus’ Kingdom will fill the earth with the knowledge of Jehovah and will establish the kind of paradise that was lost at the beginning of human history.—Read Isaiah 11:3, 9; Matthew 19:28.”
Notice that in the first paragraph, God is said to have (past tense) appointed his Son to rule, with Daniel 7:13, 14 referred to. The Watchtower Society officially interprets Daniel 7:13,14 as being fulfilled in 1914.
In the final paragraph quoted, notice that two other verses in Daniel 7 are referred to, this time 2:44 and 7:27, but those verses are spoken of as future events.
This is a completely untenable contradiction. It cannot be accepted that verses 13,14 of Daniel 7 were fulfilled in 1914 but verses 44 and 27 are fulfilled in the future. They are clearly fulfilled at the same time.
Notice also that the third paragraph says that essentially Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves are unitedly “Jesus’ loyal subjects” of his current rule as King. In the same paragraph, Jehovah’s Witnesses are referred to as the “other sheep”, quoting John 10:16. But when do these other sheep “inherit the kingdom” per Matthew 25: 34? In the future of course, which since 1995 is when the Watchtower Society states Matt 25:31-33 is fulfilled.
If the “other sheep” do not “inherit the kingdom” until the future, how can they already be “loyal subjects” of Jesus’ heavenly rule as King? The truth is, of course, that the event described at Matt 25:31 when Jesus “arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne” is when Jesus really becomes King. This verse is not describing a separate throne of judgement in addition to a throne of kingship in 1914.
Further, if it is only Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves who are the “subjects” of Christ’s invisible reign since 1914, then it must mean that most of the 144,000 who were supposedly resurrected to heaven in 1919 must also now be ruling over Jehovah’s Witnesses. But in the last paragraph, Daniel 7:13,14, which is about the kingdom being given to the “holy ones” (the 144,000), is said to have a future fulfillment. So are Jesus’ co-rulers in heaven, ie, most of the resurrected 144,000, presently ruling or not? If they have been ruling since 1914 but only over sheep-like Jehovah’s Witnesses only as their “subjects”, then surely the millennial reign must have started? Revelation 20:6 says they will rule as kings with Christ for a thousand years, not a thousand years plus some additional year from 1914 until Armageddon.
So in answer to the question “Who has Jesus been ruling over since 1914?” we see that the Watchtower Society can only point to persons who accept Jesus’ rule since 1914, ie, Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. This is circular reasoning, effectively saying “since we alone recognised and accepted Jesus invisible rule in 1914, this proves we alone are the subjects of his kingdom, which in itself proves that he has been ruling since 1914.” In other words, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that their very own existence and organisational growth proves that Jesus has been reigning since 1914.
The Watchtower Society’s belief that Jesus has only been reigning over Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves since 1914 is similar to the chronologically derived belief of the Seventh Day Adventists that Jesus began an “Investigative Judgement” from heaven in 1843. The SDA’s believe their very existence is proof of this. As the Watchtower Society has gradually moved more and more scriptures forward in time away from 1914, their 1914 belief has begun to look more like this peculiar Seventh Day Adventist belief.
God’s kingdom – the full picture
What has also contributed to the incredulous idea that the kingdom came into existence in 1914 is the tendency to confine the meaning of the kingdom to being a ‘heavenly government’.
While the Society has, to its credit, done a lot to try and dispel the idea that the Kingdom is simply something in one’s heart, or is the ‘church’ itself (ideas taught in broader Christendom), the Watchtower Society’s published view of what the Kingdom of God really means tends to be misleading.
“God’s Kingdom” is repeatedly taught in the Watchtower publications as basically meaning a “heavenly government” of 144,001 persons. For example, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses defines it like this:
“God’s Kingdom This is an actual heavenly government with a King—Jesus Christ—and 144,000 co-rulers, who are “bought from the earth.” (Revelation 5:9, 10; 14:1,3, 4; Daniel 2:44; 7:13, 14) They will rule over the earth, which will be cleansed of all wickedness and will be inhabited by many millions of God-fearing humans.—Proverbs 2:21, 22.”
The Wikipaedia article “Kingdom of God” has an entry on the Jehovah’s Witnesses understanding of what it means, and this idea that the Kingdom is just a heavenly government is repeated with no broader meaning given. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_God
But let’s think about this logically. To say that the Kingdom is only a government makes about as much sense as saying the government of a country is the same as the country itself. It’s like saying that the American federal government is America. When we think about a king ruling over his kingdom, we naturally understand the kingdom to mean the king’s entire dominion extending out to the boundaries of all his land, and including all the subjects he reigns over within that realm. In a nutshell, a kingdom means both the rulers and subjects together; it is not just the rulers, which is the meaning the Watchtower Society usually portrays.
The term “kingdom” as found in the Christian Scriptures comes from the Greek term basileia, which does not have the modern sense of a “government” which the Watchtower Society has confined it to. The word denotes “sovereignty, royal power, [and] dominion” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, “Kingdom”). As the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament states, the term “refers to the being or nature or state of a king, ie, his dignity, and secondarily the expression of this in the territory he governs. The sense of dignity is primary in the NT.”
This natural and correct scriptural meaning, that a king’s royal authority is inseparable from the realm or domain he rules over with its subjects, is what the scriptures really teach. The Bible describes the Kingdom of God as something more expansive, broader, all encompassing than just a heavenly governmental rulership of 144,000. The “Insight On the Scriptures” (Vol 2) p.158-159 even states this.
In the Hebrew scriptures, we are helped in understanding what “the Kingdom” is by considering the vision in Daniel chapter 2 of the immense image made up of different metals that is describing a procession of world powers (as they affected God’s people) through history. Those different metals, kingdoms, were all real world empires made up of rulers and subjects over vast territories. Those kingdoms were obviously not just the rulers of the kingdom.
In Daniel chapter 7, Jesus (‘someone like a son of man’) receives the kingdom in which ‘peoples, national groups and languages’ all serve him. When later it talks about the “holy ones” receiving the kingdom, this is referring to the co-rulers with Christ in that kingdom territory that encompasses the earth, which we see reflected in Jesus promise about thrones at Luke 22: 28-30. These examples demonstrate the correct understanding of “Kingdom of God.”
1 Cor 15: 24-28 also helps clarify our understanding of what “the kingdom” really means. In that passage, Jesus is said to hand “the kingdom” back to his God (the Father) after “all government and all authority and all power…all enemies” have been brought to nothing, including death itself, the “last enemy”. What is Jesus handing back to God? Is it just a government of 144,000 heavenly persons? No, that would make no sense since the rulership of those 144,000 in heaven has accomplished its purpose and ceases at the end of the thousand years. Their millennial reign with Christ is completed because Jesus hands a perfected human race back to God at the end of the 1,000 year reign. Since Jehovah is always the ultimate King of the universe, it follows that “the kingdom” that Jesus hands back at that future time is the territory, the domain of faithful human beings living on earth at that time and the rulership over that domain. This shows that the “Kingdom” is much more than just a “heavenly government”.
Similarly, the sheep on Jesus right hand at Matt 25: 33,34, who are believed to be an earthly class, are said by Jesus to “inherit the kingdom” (Matt 25:33,34). If the Kingdom is just a heavenly government of 144,001, how can the “other sheep” inherit it? These sheep are the subjects of the kingdom, the ones who are ruled over. When do the sheep inherit the kingdom? In the future, as the Society correctly states. They did not inherit the kingdom in 1914.
So while “flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s Kingdom” (1 Cor 15:50), that is only in relation to the rulers in that kingdom, who reign from heaven. Flesh and blood human beings certainly do inherit the earthly part of the kingdom domain as subjects of the kingdom’s kingly rulers.
This kingdom is not a reality until it simultaneously comprises both rulers and subjects, which are both future events. No ruler of any kingdom starts ruling without anyone to rule over first, yet that is effectively what Jehovah’s Witnesses teach has been the case since 1914. The Watchtower Society tries to subtly get around this absurdity by hinting that Jehovah’s Witnesses already are loyal “subjects” of Jesus’ rule since 1914, while at the same time telling these “other sheep” that they do not inherit the earthly part of the Kingdom until the future. On the contrary, it is only in the future when Jesus sits on his glorious throne and separates the sheep from the goats, at Matthew 25:31-33, when the Kingdom is established..
As mentioned earlier, this future throne is not a throne of ‘judgment’ only as distinct from a throne of kingdom rule, as the Watchtower Society began to teach from 1995, as if Jesus sits on two separate thrones. The throne at Matt 25:31 is in fact the throne of “rulership and dignity and kingdom” Jesus is prophesied to receive in Daniel 7:14, which is a future event.
Jesus stated in Matt 24: 30 that his coming in power would be a sudden, glorious event. This is the same “glorious throne” he sits on at Matt 25:31. This event will unmistakably be seen by a supernatural “sign” in heaven (Matt 24:30). No, Jesus’ return and enthronement as King was not a secret thing known only to a few thousand bible students 99 years ago through their “eyes of understanding”.
The Watchtower’s secret, invisible return of Jesus, taught as having occurred back in the time of the horse and cart and still known only to a few million Jehovah’s Witnesses, reminds us of Jesus’ warning: “Then if anyone says, ‘Look! Here is the Christ,’ or, ‘There!’ do not believe it…Therefore, if people say to you…’Look!’ He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; ‘Look!’ He is in the inner chambers,’ do not believe it.” Matt 24: 23-28.
As for the wars, famines, pestilence, etc, that Jesus predicted, the record of history indicates that we have seen these things on an unprecedented scale since 1914, at least in the period 1914 to 1945. So it is perhaps not unreasonable to suggest that we may be in the “season” when “summer is near”, when Jesus and the Kingdom are “near at the doors” (Matt 24:33; Mark 13: 28, 29). But being “near” means just that. It means he is close, not that he has already arrived and is now present. Such calamities might mean that Jesus is relatively close to returning in glory and power, not that he already arrived in kingdom power 99 years ago.
This is what Jesus meant when he compared the days of Noah to his presence (Matt 24:37-42). The days leading up to the arrival and subsequent presence of the flood will be similar to the days leading up to the arrival and subsequent presence of Jesus as king. The Society has it all back to front. If Jesus began an invisible parousia in 1914 then he would, by logical necessity, have had to have come first, to have arrived (see ‘parousia’ article on this website). Yet the Society also teaches that it is in the future that Jesus “…arrives in his glory…[to] sit down on his glorious throne.”- Matt 25:31. The Society is thus preaching that Jesus returns/arrives twice, once in 1914 and again in the future.
The horseman of the apocalypse in Revelation 6 did not begin riding in 1914. The horses begin their ride at the outbreak of the great tribulation, and the white horse symbolizes righteous warfare, not the person of Jesus Christ as king, just as the other horses are symbols of woeful conditions, not of persons. The horses are released from their stables at the same time the angels release the four winds of the earth at Rev 7:1. The tribulation to befall the earth at the time will be far worse than anything experienced in the 20th century.
Eschatalogical double vision
By perpetuating the belief that God’s Kingdom was established in 1914 and that Jesus has been ruling as King since then, the Watchtower Society is forced to give double meanings to numerous scriptural events that really only have a single fulfillment. As a result, the organisation is suffering from a sort of spiritual ‘double vision’ when it comes to the timing of Jesus return, and a confusing patchwork of contradictions and absurdities is served up as fine spiritual food given at the proper time (Matt 24:45-47), such as:
- The Son of man’s rule in Daniel 2:44 and 7:14 began in 1914, but the son of man’s coming and enthronement in Matthew 24: 30 and 25:31 are in the future.
- Jesus sat on a throne (as king) in 1914, but will sit on another throne (as judge) at the great tribulation.
- Jesus arrived in 1919 to appoint a faithful and discreet slave but will arrive again in the future as king.
- Jesus began ruling in 1914, but the millennial (1000 years) reign of Christ does not begin until after the great tribulation.
- The separation of the wheat and the weeds began in 1919, but the separation of the sheep and the goats happens during the great tribulation.
- Jesus became the ruler of kingdom of the world (Rev 6) in 1914, but Satan is still the ruler of the world (1 John 5:13).
- Jesus was given all authority in heaven and earth after his resurrection (Matt 28:19, 20), but received even more authority in 1914 and will get more again at Armageddon.
- Jesus came as the messenger of Malachi 3:1 in 1919 to judge all of Christendom, but does not sit on a throne ‘of judgement’ (Matt 25:30-31) until the great tribulation.
- Babylon the Great was judged and fell in 1919, but false religion is yet to be destroyed.
- The Anglo-American world power received a ‘death-stroke’ in World War 2, but the stone carved with human hands from the mountain is yet to strike the feet made of iron and clay (Daniel 4).
- The ‘gentile times’ ended in 1914, but human gentile governments and rulers still exercise complete power over all the earth’s affairs to this day.
- The resurrection of most of the dead anointed occurred in 1919, but the marriage of the Lamb occurs at Armageddon.
- The bridegroom returned in 1914, and the doors to the marriage feast were closed after throwing out the foolish virgins, but many more thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses have received an anointing since then.
- The master of the household went away in 33AD, then he returned to appoint the FDS in 1919, and then he “arrives” at the great tribulation to appoint the faithful slave over “all his belongings”.
- The Kingdom was established in 1914 but the “sheep” do not “inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the founding of the world” (Matt 25) until after Armageddon.
This is an untenable eschatological mess, and Jehovah’s Witnesses should be embarrassed to publicly preach it.
The whole thing is so obviously riddled with contradictions that there can be no doubt that many of the Governing Body and their senior colleagues are aware of it. Why don’t they do something about it? Perhaps because the authority of the Watchtower Society rests very heavily on the 1914 teaching. Without it, the Society’s claim to having been appointed in 1919 by Jesus as the “faithful and discreet slave” of Matthew 24:45 crumbles and the unity of the organisation is threatened.
The inexorable march of time is now painting the Society into a doctrinal corner, with increasing numbers of disillusioned Jehovah’s Witnesses seeing the teaching for what it is – the proverbial emperor’s new clothes. With the 100 year anniversary of Christ’s invisible rule now here, the suspicions that something is wrong about the teaching are intensifying.
How can the Watchtower fix this mess up?
All these inconsistencies and contradictions could be resolved by simply admitting that every reference in scripture to Jesus’ enthronement as king has a future application. This would require moving forward in time all of the following events that are currently linked to 1914-1919, like sliding beads forward on an eschatological abacus:
- Jesus return and enthronement as King
- Jesus ‘parousia’ as King
- The resurrection of the dead anointed
- The establishment of the Kingdom in heaven
- The war in heaven and Satan’s ousting in Rev 12 followed by a ‘short period of time’
- The beginning of the ride of the four horseman of the apocalypse in Rev 6
- The judgment and fall of Babylon the Great
The sensible scriptural interpretation is that these are all future events to be fulfilled during the great tribulation.
The great tribulation is the “short period of time” in Rev 12:12 when Satan and his demons have great anger and bring unprecedented woe upon the earth. The riders of the apocalypse also commence their ride at the outbreak of the great tribulation, they have not been riding since 1914. The period of unprecedented wars, famines, earthquakes, lawlessness, etc, that Jesus foretold at Matt 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13 indicate the ride of the 4 horseman is approaching, not that they are already riding, for Jesus said that these things must take place but the end is not yet. The beginning of their ride is what triggers the outbreak of the great tribulation, which will bring horrors on the earth on a far grander scale than anything seen in the 20th century.
The Society might fear that abandoning their cherished 1914 chronology in favour of so many changes might cause a large number of Jehovah’s Witnesses to reject the Watchtower leadership and be stumbled out of the organisation. After all, World War 1 did start in 1914, a date that C T Russell predicted. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses are convinced that this is real proof that 1914 is a marked year in the Bible. If there is a desire to concede that Jesus did not begin to reign as King in 1914 and the Kingdom was not established then, but still hold to the view that 1914 is a date marked in Bible chronology, the Society could offer the following suggested refinement:
Reinterpret the tree of Daniel chapter four to mean that God’s heavenly Kingdom was not immediately established in 1914, but that Jesus’ enthronement as heavenly king occurs in the future once the rootstock that was unbanded in 1914 has fully regrown into a majestic tree that once again reaches into the heavens. At Daniel 4:20, the tree “grew great and became strong and…finally reached the heavens..” So it took time for the tree to initially grow to its full glory for all to see during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign; likewise, after the cut tree’s rootstock is unbanded, it would take time for it to regrow to full maturity again and reach the heavens and be “visible to all the earth” in its glory again.
Nebuchadnezzar’s “grandeur” as King was only evident when the tree was in its full-grown glory, likewise Jesus’ “grandeur” as King over the earth does not occur until a future time when the unbanded tree in 1914 has regrown to its full glory. The unbanding of the rootstock occurred in 1914, with the tree slowly regrowing since then. It reaches full mature at the great tribulation, when Jesus is enthroned, the Kingdom is established in heaven, the dead anointed are resurrected, and the marriage of the lamb occurs. This is when the “sign of the son of man” appears in heaven (Matt 24: 30), which is when Jesus, as “someone like a son of man” is given “rulership and dignity and kingdom” (Daniel 7:13,14). The “gentile times” would thus end at this future time, when not in 1914.
This re-growing tree reinterpretation would also fit with the idea that the birth of God’s Kingdom at Rev 12: 5 is as a “child” that is caught away for a while. Jesus being enthroned as glorious King in 1914 does not sit comfortably with the Kingdom being portrayed as a “child” in 1914. A better view is that the “child” corresponds to the unbanded rootstock, with both growing over a period of time until they reach full maturity. The unbanded tree is fully regrown and the symbolic “child” reached adult maturity at the same time, at the great tribulation.
The ‘last days’ can continue to count from 1914 since Jesus said that all the wars, famines, pestilences, etc , mean he is “near at the door” in the same way spring leaves indicate summer is near. The tree of Daniel 4 is therefore only regrowing and budding from 1914 onwards, but is not fully grown and in full summer bloom until the great tribulation or start of the 1,000 year reign.
The ‘parousia’ of Matt 24:3 can be refined to mean that Jesus is only spiritually present with his anointed followers since 1919 as the true messenger who comes to his temple per Malachi 3:1, not as ruling King of God’s Kingdom. A parallel with this can be drawn from Matt 28:20, where Jesus said he would in a sense be spiritually invisibly present with his disciples from his resurrection until the conclusion of the (Jewish) system of things, in 70 CE.
Such a reinterpretation would allow the 607 BC chronology leading to 1914 to remain along with the crucial 1919 date that is linked to it, from which the current Governing Body derives its claimed legitimacy as a composite faithful and discreet slave group or class.
Such a reinterpretation would be accepted by the great majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses without much question. Provided the Watchtower Society never departs from its core teachings concerning the trinity, the human soul being mortal, the condition of the dead, a heavenly and earthly resurrection, Jehovah’s name, and the hope of everlasting life soon in paradise on earth, Jehovah’s Witnesses will undoubtedly accept anything new put forward by the Governing Body as “new light” from heaven.
The trend we have seen in recent years of decreasing publisher growth is likely to worsen if the end does not come by 2014, which will mark the 100th anniversary of Christ’s invisible reign. Nevertheless, I doubt there will be any such major revision to the Society’s 1914 teaching any time before 2034.
I say this because in a December 15, 2003 Watchtower study article, a comparison was made between the 120 year time limit God declared for the antediluvian world of Noah’s time and our world since 1914 (the relevant portion of that article is found at the foot of the ‘generation’ article on this blog). It is possible that this comparison to the God-given time limit on the world of Noah’s time will be emphasized more in coming years if the growth of the organisation continues to drop-off over the next 20 or so years. But if 2034 comes and goes with no end to this old system of things in sight, a reinterpretation along the lines of what I have suggested may be devised and presented as “new light”.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for Jehovah’s Witnesses to believe the teaching themselves yet alone confidently preach it publicly. The level of cognitive dissonance can only increase as more time passes. They are already accused of being “false witnesses” concerning Christ’s return and presence.
What will become the issue for the Watchtower Society as time goes on is whether the 1914 teaching is something that attracts people to the organisation or is a cause of stumbling to them.
We have seen that the Society has from time to time been prepared to change or abandon certain time-based interpretations. Will they ever be prepared to make the changes to the 1914 teaching that are clearly needed? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, the least that should be done is to remove the requirement that belief in this very questionable doctrine is essential to remain in good standing in the congregation. Greg Stafford makes this point very well in “Three Dissertations on the Teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses”:
“The natural consequence of any kind of eschatological or “end time” date-setting is that many will become disillusioned not only with prophecy, but also with other important Christian beliefs associated with the chronology. Why should one’s faith in the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ depend on his or her acceptance of what may or may not have occurred in 1914, or 1925, or 1975? There is certainly nothing unscriptural with giving some consideration to possible interpretations of biblical numbers and symbols, but should this be a Christian’s primary focus? Should it even be a concern at all given the fact that no one can or will know the day or hour of ‘the coming of the son of man’ (Mark 13:32)? The apostle Paul seemed convinced that it was not essential for Christians to be aware of anything other than that Jesus would come as a “thief in the night.” For this reason, Christians should always be alert, not because of some date or time period, but because of their loyalty to God and his Son. However, when it comes to “the times and seasons,” as Paul wrote, Christians ‘do not need anything to be written’ since such dates and times are not capable of being identified with absolute certainty (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6). In view of the failed expectations associated with many of the dates chosen by Jehovah’s Witnesses, perhaps it is time to eliminate all of the prophetic dates from the category of essential Christian doctrine and accept them for what they really are – speculation, not “Gospel.”
Stafford further states:
“Now as for the times and the seasons, brothers, you need nothing to be written to you.” In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul specifically warned not 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….Let no one seduce you in any manner…” (2 Thess 2:2, 3).
The Watchtower Society categorically teaches that “the day of Jehovah” began in 1914. It is interesting that the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses claims to be a modern-day replica of the first century apostolic/elder arrangement in Jerusalem, and likens its directives issued to the congregations today to be akin to the “letters” issued to the congregations in the first century (Acts 15:30). As seductive as the 1914 teaching is because it coincides with the outbreak of WW1, whether the 7 times of Daniel 4 and the Gentile times ended in 1914 or end in the future (I have suggested ending at the great tribulation makes much more sense scripturally), we simply cannot be certain. We need nothing dogmatic written to us either way. All we need to keep in mind is that Jesus and Paul told us it will come “suddenly,” and as a “thief in the night” (1 Thess 5:2-5).
In a similar vein, C T Russell wrote the following in response to a question about whether his chronology might be in error:
“[We] have never claimed our calculations to be infallibly correct…suppose that A.D.1915 should pass with the world’s affairs all serene and with evidence that the “very elect” had not all been “changed” and without the restoration of natural Israel to favor under the New Covenant. (Rom. 11:12,15) What then? Would that not prove our chronology wrong? Yes, surely! And would that not prove a keen disappointment? Indeed it would! It would work irreparable wreck to the parallel dispensations and Israel’s double, and to the Jubilee calculations, and to the prophecy of the 2,300 days of Daniel, and to the epoch called “Gentile Times,”…We could still worship a God so great and grand that none other could compare with him. We should still see the grandeur of his salvation in Christ Jesus – “a ransom for all” [“Knowledge and Faith Regarding Chronology,” reprint page 4067].
If Charles Taze Russell was resurrected today, some 98 years after his death in 1916, what would he make of the fact that millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses still believe his chronology, a chronology that he himself said would be irreparably proven wrong if the date passed by with the world’s affairs unchanged? Would he say that the fact that World War 1 occurred in 1914 followed by the Spanish flu, the great depression, World War 2, and major famines was proof that his chronology was correct and evidence that Jesus had taken up his rule in 1914? Or would he regard these wars, pestilences, etc, as just signs indicating that Jesus was near, that we might be in the season before his return? Each Jehovah’s Witness must decide for themselves what they believe is the truth.
* Appendix A
Reprint of Ed Schnopp’s work on the Gentile Times
THE GENTILE TIMES
`Appointed Times of the Nations’
607 BCE to 1914 CE?
by Ed Schnopp
It has been said concerning the Bible, that `you can make it say anything you want.’ If by that statement, it means that by weaving one’s way through isolated verses, making arbitrary cross-references, and by using one of many possible definitions for a particular word without giving attention to the context of that word, then yes, the Bible can be twisted to conform to almost any pre-conceived notion or teaching. There are many examples of those who have taken a few Scriptures out of their context and, by adding convoluted logic, have formed some rather strange doctrines. This is the case with the Watchtower Society’s (WTS’) explanation stemming from Luke 21:24, which reads, “and they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.” (NWT) What might be noticed first is the WT’s rendering of ethnos as nations. Granted, one of the definitions of ethnos is `nations,’ but a better translation would be `Gentiles’ (nonJews). Israel is also a nation, yet is excluded from `the nations’ of Luke 21:24.
Assembling the Doctrine
According to the Watchtower Society, the `trampling of Jerusalem’ refers not to the literal city, but to that which Jerusalem represented the typical kingdom of God operating through the kings of the line of David. They say the `trampling’ of that Davidic dynasty began centuries earlier with the overthrow of Jerusalem in 607 BCE  by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. As they explain it, “With Jerusalem’s fall in 607 BCE the Gentile powers exercised dominion over the entire earth. The Davidic dynasty and rule suffered interruption and so Jerusalem or what it stood for would continue to be `trampled on’ as long as God’s kingdom, as functioning through David’s house, was kept in a low inoperative condition under the Gentile powers.” (Aid to Bible Understanding, 1969, p. 95) This domination continued until 1914 CE when, as the WT says, Christ was enthroned in heaven, and took dominion of the earth away from the nations. How the WT arrived at this is a study in bizarre Scriptural interpretation. After saying that the “Jerusalem” of Luke 21:24 actually means the Jewish kingdom of David’s line, they cross-reference Luke’s account with Matthew 24, there noting that verse 15 refers the reader to the book of Daniel. Matthew 24:15 doesn’t say what part of Daniel’s books, so the WT begins with the great image of Daniel chapter 2, which represents the order of world powers, beginning with the Babylonian Empire. They then `connect’ this to the vision of Daniel 4, of a tree that is chopped down, and has “seven times” pass over the banded stump. 
The WT, however, takes it upon itself to give the vision/dream a further interpretation. In the Aid book (p. 95) it states,
The vision definitely had a fulfillment in Nebuchadnezzar himself. (See Daniel 4:31-35.) Therefore, some view it as having direct prophetic application only to him….Yet, an examination of the entire book of Daniel reveals that the element of time is everywhere prominent in the visions and prophecies it presents….Additionally, the book repeatedly points forward toward the conclusion that forms the theme of its prophecies: the establishment of a universal and eternal Kingdom of God….
In view of the above, it does not seem logical to evaluate the vision of the symbolic “tree” and its reference to “seven times” as having no other application….
The Watchtower thereby links the “seven times” of Daniel chapter 4 to “the appointed times of the nations” of Luke 21:24. God’s sovereignty, as represented by the Davidic dynasty, would be interrupted for a period of “seven times.” To arrive at a definition of these “seven times,” the WT turns to Revelation 12:6, 14. Since verse 6 has “the woman in the wilderness” for 1,260 days, and verse 14 has “the woman in the wilderness” for “a time, times, and half a time” (3 1/2 times), each `time’ is determined to be 360 days; hence, 7 times would be 2,520 days. Next they apply the unrelated formula of Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6, “a day for a year,” and translate the 2,520 days of the calculations into 2,520 years. Thus the “appointed times of the nations” becomes 2,520 years. The WT begins this count of time from when Nebuchadnezzar overthrew Jerusalem, which the Watchtower states is 607 BCE. Finally they count forward to 1914 CE to arrive at the time when the lease of Gentile domination expired, and the Davidic Kingdom was to be re-established.
An Examination of the Facts
Is there any merit to the WT’s reckoning of time? Let’s start at the focal point, 607 BC. The WT places the desolating overthrow of Jerusalem in that year, and they do so primarily on the basis of the 70-year prophecy of Jeremiah 25:10-12 and 29:10. This 70-year prophecy, according to the WT, refers to the period of time the Jews were held in captivity by Babylonia, beginning with Jerusalem’s fall. Since the Jews were freed in 537 BC (historically correct), the WT simply counted backward 70 years and arrived at 607 BCE as the year Jerusalem was overthrown. Actually, the 70-year prophecy of Jeremiah is not to be applied in this way, which will be explained later. Let’s concern ourselves for the moment with 607 BCE, which disagrees with the scholarly accepted date of 587/586 BCE as the time of Jerusalem’s fall.
The WT denies and ignores the following secular evidence against the 607 BCE date: In the 3rd century BCE, a Babylonian priest named Berossus wrote a history of Babylonia which dealt with the lengths of reigns of kings during the Neo-Babylonian period (Nabonassar to Nabonidus). Another historian, astronomer, and writer, Claudius Ptolemy (70-161 CE), put together his listing of kings and dates of reign of the same period. The WT dismisses as inaccurate the writings of these two ancient historians by quoting the words of a Professor Olmstead: “…only the merest fragments, abstracts, or traces, have come down to us” and that “Today we must consult a modern Latin translation of an Armenian translation of the lost Greek original of the Chronicle of Eusebius, who borrowed in part from Alexander Polyhistor who borrowed from Berossus direct, in part from Abydenus who apparently borrowed from Juba who borrowed from Alexander Polyhistor and so from Berossus.” (Aid, p. 328). While we do not have to consult a Latin translation (the Armenian translation is still preserved), admittedly the rest of what the WT said is true, and does cast some doubt upon the accuracy of the copiers. However, we will see this doubt erased as we go on. Ptolemy, says the WT, “is thought to have used the writings of Berossus.” (Aid, p. 328) However, scholars believe Ptolemy’s canon was written independent of Berossus, because of the order and forms of the kings names. (see The Gentile Times Reconsidered, Carl Olof Jonsson, 1983, p. 42). The WT does concede, however, that “even though [modern historians generally credit Ptolemy with accuracy] and even though the reigns of the Kings of Babylon and Persia as set forth in Ptolemy’s canon may be basically correct, there seems to be no reason for holding that the canon is necessarily accurate in every respect or for all periods.” (Aid, p. 327) The WT’s ambiguity here betrays their lack of confidence. In actuality, there are many reasons why we should accept Ptolemy’s canon, especially for the Neo-Babylonian era.
Both Berossus and Ptolemy are in almost complete agreement with regard to the succession of kings and their lengths of reign during that era. The only difference is that Berossus lists the 5th king, Labashi-Marduk, and Ptolemy doesn’t. The reason is that this king reigned less than a year, and Ptolemy dealt only in whole years. The table of reigns is:
|Name of King||Berossus||Ptolemy||BCE|
|Nabopolassar||21 years||21 years||625-605|
|Nebuchadnezzar||43 years||43 years||604-562|
|Evilmerodach||2 years||2 years||561-560|
|Neriglissar||4 years||4 years||559-556|
|Nabonidus||17 years||17 years||555-539|
As you can see, both historians have listed Nebuchadnezzar’s first year as 604, three years after the 607 date the WT ascribes to him. So now, the question is, Can these king lists be corroborated by any other known sources?
Several Lines of Evidence
In the Aid book, p. 327, the WT deceptively states: “…Babylonian historical records that could either substantiate or undermine Ptolemy’s figures for the lengths of reigns of certain kings are largely lacking.” Perhaps for the `certain kings’ of Persia, but not for the Neo-Babylonian period! Actually, seven lines of evidence can be given to support both Berossus and Ptolemy. These have come from cuneiform clay tablets which have been unearthed during the last 100 years. The first of these is the Babylonian Chronicles which are all kept in the British Museum in London. Though these Chronicles are incomplete for the entire Neo-Babylonian period, they do provide support for a portion of Berossus’ and Ptolemy’s lists. The second line of evidence is the Uruk King List, unearthed during an excavation campaign in 1959/60. Portions of it are eaten away, but what is still preserved agrees with Berossus’ and Ptolemy’s lengths of reigns of the first two kings, Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar.
The third and fourth lines of evidence are the preserved Royal Inscriptions of Nabonidus. One, designated Nabon. No. 8, helps to establish the whole Neo-Babylonian era, since it states that from the 16th year of Nabopolassar to the accession year of Nabonidus was a period of 54 years (in complete agreement with Berossus and Ptolemy). The other Royal Inscription, Nabon. H 1 B, gives the lengths of all the reigns of the Neo-Babylonian kings up to the 9th year of Nabonidus (except for Labashi-Marduk, whose short reign is ignored). The figures given are again in complete harmony with Berossus and Ptolemy.
The fifth line of evidence, which is very decisive, is the thousands of business document texts that have come down to us from that period. There are dated tablets in existence from every year during the whole era. The records of a banking house centered in Babylon, the house of “The Sons of Egibi,” verify each year of every king’s reign during the period. This aligns exactly with Berossus, Ptolemy, the Chronicles, and the Royal records. Sixth, there are the preserved documents of Babylonian astronomers, termed “Astronomical Diaries.” These have been designated VAT 4956 (kept in the Berlin Museum) and B.M. 32312. They contain dated astronomical positions which are not duplicated in the heavens for thousands of years, thus pinpointing with precise accuracy Nebuchadnezzar’s eighteenth regnal year (in which he conquered Jerusalem–Jer. 52:12) as 587/586 BCE. Seventh and last are the synchronic links provided by comparing the chronology of Egypt to that of Babylon. There are at least four such dated connecting links, giving excellent proof of the correctness of Berossus’ and Ptolemy’s king-lists. (For a study on these seven lines of evidence, see The Gentile Times Reconsidered.)
The historical date proven as 587/586 for the overthrow of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in his 18th year of reign is thus confirmed by at least seven lines of secular evidence in addition to Berossus and Ptolemy. The 607 date of the WT leaves a gap of 20 years, which is unaccounted for in any record of that period. Assume for the moment that Berossus’ figures contain an error of 20 years, as required by the WT. This would mean that 400 years after Berossus, and independent of him, Ptolemy made the same 20 year error. It would also mean that the sources of the Babylonian Chronicles, the Royal Inscriptions, and the banking business documents, in turn, made the same 20-year mistake. Is it really likely that the scribes and businessmen who wrote during the Neo-Babylonian era did not know the lengths of the reigns of the Kings under whom they lived? If such a thing could be found likely, could it also be possible that contemporary scribes in Egypt would have made the same error? Then too, the Babylonian astronomers would have had to make a similar mistake in their diaries. This kind of irrational thinking does not `stretch’ the imagination–it snaps it in two! Still more incredible is the idea that scribes and astronomers could work in collusion to remove any reference to a 20-year period in this era. On top of all this would be a fantastic coincidence that of all the thousands of dated documents for the Neo-Babylonian period, covering every year of that period, not one single tablet has been found for the missing 20 years. Could it be that there was an international ‘coverup’ of these 20 years? If there were, then it was so successful that in all the thousands of unearthed documents, nary a word is mentioned indicating that such a 20 year period ever existed. To suggest such a thing would be preposterous, and so we are led forcefully to the conclusion that the WT’s chronology is in error.