On October 2 1914 Charles Taze Russell, the founder of what was later to become the Jehovah’s Witnesses is said to have come down to breakfast at the New York Headquarters of The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, briskly clapped his hands and proclaimed,
“The Gentile times have ended; the kings have had their day”
This month marks the 100th anniversary of that still significant date in JW thinking. It seems appropriate to mark the anniversary by looking at the WBTS re4cord of failed prophecy. This major article written by Tony Piper treats the subject thoroughly and is packed with useful facts and information. It is essential reading if we are to understand the numerous changes in JW teaching and its impact in the lives of our JW neighbours. There is also an excellent Bible Study on the subject by Mike Troke, 1914 Is It Marked in Scripture? on the Reachout website.
Summary of this Article
This article traces the history, beliefs and subsequent developments of the Society’s teachings regarding the year 1914.
It begins with the teachings regarding 1874 that were made by the then leader and first president of the WBTS, Charles Taze Russell.
It then examines the expected changes predicted to occur by 1914
- looks at the development of teachings on ‘the generation’ and ‘the great tribulation’ and how these are changing in line with the Society’s policy of ‘reinterpreting’ its accepted teaching on 1914;
- brings the reader up to date with the Society’s current beliefs on 1914 and ‘the great tribulation’;
- shows the reader how the Society has manipulated its teaching to cover up wrong predictions and how it has put the blame for wrong beliefs on its membership rather than on its own leaders;
- and concludes with Scriptures that teach the assurance of salvation for the true believer in Christ.
The doctrine of 1914 is extremely complicated and it is only possible to give the main points of interest here.
The year 1914 and the events alleged to have taken place in that year have been a central pillar of the teachings of the WBTS for over one hundred years. Why has this date been so important and is 1914 still viewed in the same way that it used to be? To answer this it is necessary to go back to the Society’s earliest beginnings and its founder Charles Taze Russell.
Charles Taze Russell
C T Russell was born on February 16, 1852 in Old Allegheny, (now a part of Pittsburgh) Pennsylvania, USA. His parents were Presbyterians of Scottish descent and as a young man he attended the Congregational Church and the YMCA. He soon came to the decision that, if he wanted to believe the Bible, he had to eliminate the doctrine of eternal punishment. At age 18 he came across the teachings of a group of Second Adventists, and there is good evidence to believe that,
“…from the Adventists Russell received his ‘light’ on the non-existence of eternal punishment, the second coming of Christ, and Biblical chronology” – Apostles of Denial, [Apostles] p. 39.
There is evidence that would suggest that at first Russell and his followers were expecting a physical return of Christ, however, after a while, Russell began to differ with Adventism on the manner and object of the Lord’s return.
“It was in the mid-1870s that Brother Russell and those who were diligently studying the Scriptures along with him discerned that when the Lord returned he would be invisible to human eyes” – Jehovah’s Witnesses Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, [Proclaimers] p.132.
Russell crystallised his views in 1877 and encompassed them in a pamphlet called The Object and Manner of the Lord’s Return. In this publication he said:
“We felt greatly grieved at the error of Second Adventists, who were expecting Christ in the flesh, and teaching that the world and all in it except Second Adventists would be burned up in 1873 or 1874, whose time-settings and disappointments and crude ideas generally as to the object and manner of his coming brought more or less reproach upon us and upon all who longed for and proclaimed his coming Kingdom…We believe the scriptures teach that, at His coming and for a time after He has come, He will remain invisible; afterward manifesting or showing Himself in judgments and various forms, so that ‘every eye shall see Him’”- Proclaimers, pp.132-133.
In other words Jesus’ returned presence would be limited to observable events and not an actual visible, bodily arrival.
In support of this opinion Russell discussed Acts 1:11 which states that Jesus will return ‘in the same way’ (NIV), ‘in like manner’ (KJV) or ‘in the same manner’ (NWT) as He left. This was taken to mean that, except for His chosen disciples, no one saw Jesus disappear from view. The rest of the world was not aware of what had happened, and therefore His return would be likewise invisible and only His disciples (Russell’s followers and, later on, Jehovah’s Witnesses) would be aware of it. Ron Rhodes correctly points out the error of the Society’s teaching in that they confuse the manner of Jesus’ leaving with the result of Jesus’ leaving. The manner of His leaving was visible and bodily; the result of His leaving was His disappearance .
Russell also made reference to the ‘Emphatic Diaglott,’ an interlinear New Testament, in which the Greek word parousia, usually translated to indicate an actual, physical ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’, had been translated ‘presence’. Orthodox Christian teaching asserts that the Lord’s return will be visible and that the whole world will know about it (see Zech 14:4; Matt 24:27; and Acts 1:9, 11). Revelation 1:7 tells us that “every eye will see him” (NWT). Trevor Willis puts this into context for us,
“Whether this is meant to refer to the literal eye or not, there is no doubt that according to the Bible, Jesus will make himself known.” – Opening the Door to Jehovah’s Witnesses, [Opening] p.65.
A few years later this teaching was developed, so that,
“… on the basis of further study of the Scriptures, Russell realised that Christ would not only return invisibly but also remain invisible, even when manifesting his presence by judgment upon the wicked” – Proclaimers, p.133.
At this point Russell came across the magazine The Herald of the Morning. It was edited by N H Barbour, another Adventist, and Russell was pleased to see that Barbour agreed with his view concerning the invisible return of Christ.
In a few years Russell had gained a number of followers and together they began using Zion’s Watchtower in their Bible studies along with the Millenial Dawn series of books, written by Russell, that were later reissued as Studies in the Scriptures .
It was from Barbour that Russell came to be persuaded that Christ’s invisible presence had begun in 1874 [Proclaimers p.133].
“Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present, since October 1874 AD…and the formal inauguration of his kingly office dates from April 1878 AD.” – Studies in the Scriptures Series 4, The Battle of Armageddon, 1949 reprint, p.621 (originally published by WBTS 1897).
The two men worked together until 1878, when they separated over disagreements on the atonement. In 1879 Russell founded the forerunner of today’s Watchtower, Zion’s Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.
The Society continued to teach 1874 as the ‘invisible return’, even after the passing of 1914 when all things were supposed to come to a conclusion:
“… the second coming of the Lord therefore began in 1874…” – Creation, p.310.
“… the Scriptural proof is that the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 AD” – Prophecy, p.65.
To further prove his theory that Christ had returned in 1874 Russell made use of the Great Pyramid at Gizeh in Egypt, calling it God’s second witness in stone:
“Then measuring down the ‘Entrance Passage’…we find it to be 3,416 inches, symbolising 3,416 years from the above date, BC 1542. This calculation shows AD 1874 as marking the beginning of the period of trouble…” Studies in the Scriptures Series 3 – Thy Kingdom Come, WBTS, 1901, p.342.
However, when the Society needed to change the dates because 1914 did not bring the end of the period of trouble that allegedly started in 1874, the pyramid seems to have stretched:
“Then measuring down the Entrance Passage’…we find it to be 3,457 inches, symbolising 3,457 years from the above date, BC 1542. This calculation shows AD 1915 as marking the beginning of the period of trouble…” – Studies in the Scriptures Series 3 – Thy Kingdom Come, WBTS, reprint 1916, p.342.
The year 1914 is still a fixed and important date in the mind of every Jehovah’s Witness. It is the year that Jesus definitely and invisibly returned. Very few Witnesses will have been at all disturbed by reading in Proclaimers (pp. 132-4) that Jesus was, in fact, supposed to have returned in 1874 and that C T Russell got the date wrong. The Society has made so many false predictions in its time, that to allay any fears that the Society is confused or wrong or lying, it only needs to dismiss wrong predictions,
“… as a quaint burst of over-enthusiasm, something to smile affectionately about and promptly forget” – Fearless Love, [Fearless] p.99.
This is what it does on pp.134 and 135 of Proclaimers, “but they did not yet clearly discern all the details,” to divert attention from 1874 to 1914.
For almost fifty years the Watchtower Society announced and heralded, in their role as prophet, that Christ returned invisibly in 1874 (indeed this date did not finally disappear until 1942) and that He began His Kingdom rule in 1878. They also taught that the ‘harvesting’ work would run from 1874 to 1914, and that by 1914 the destruction of all human institutions of this world would take place (see Crisis of Conscience, [Crisis] pp.147-148). When this did not take place they changed these dates to 1914 when Christ returned invisibly and 1919 the harvesting work began; climaxing with the complete overthrow of all human institutions ‘any time now’.
However their literature shows that the Society expected everything to be accomplished before or by 1914,
“… not only are the harvest of Jewish and Gospel ages parallel in point of beginning, but also in length of duration…So, ours, beginning in 1874 closes with the end of the ‘day of wrath’ and end of the ‘times of the Gentiles’, 1914 – a similar and parallel period of 40 years…We find the law and the prophets declaring him present at the culmination of the ‘Jubilee cycles’ in 1874…then the harvest began…the gathering of the bride into the place of safety, will occupy a parallel of seven years of time, ending in 1881…We believe that Christ is now present, in the sense of having commenced the work of taking to himself his great power and reigning.” – Zion’s Watch Tower, January 1881.
See Crisis of Conscience pp.150-152 for more evidence to show that 1874 and the intervening time between 1878 and 1914 were considered to be the critical time rather than 1914. However, before we proceed any further I want us to see how one high-ranking member of the Society, and indeed, one of Russell’s closest allies, actually viewed 1914 and its approach. It shows just how convinced Russell and his followers were that they had got it right, by quoting from the book
“The year 1914 is marked for all time to come…On our hope’s horizon, for months, yes years, that date had loomed ahead of us…Time prophecies of the Bible had been checked and rechecked…Opinions as to what, exactly, was to occur varied. Of course The Watch Tower had stated the matter rather clearly, but at that time there was far more independent thinking than the Scriptures themselves allowed for… On August 23, 1914…Pastor Russell started on a trip to the Northwest…ending at Saratoga Springs…That was a highly interesting time because a few of us seriously thought we were going to heaven during the first week of that October…I believed it myself sincerely – that the church was ‘going home’ in October…[At Saratoga Springs] I made this unfortunate remark: ‘This is probably the last public address I shall ever deliver because we shall soon be going home’” – Faith on the March, [FOTM] A H Macmillan, pp. 46-47.
Macmillan goes on to say how excited everyone was at the Society’s New York headquarters when Russell came down to breakfast on Friday October 2, 1914, briskly clapped his hands and proclaimed:
“The Gentile times have ended; the kings have had their day” – FOTM, p. 47.
“We were highly excited and I would not have been surprised if at that moment we had just started up, that becoming the signal to begin ascending heavenward – but of course there was nothing like that, really”- FOTM, pp.47-48.
Why did “nothing like that” happen? Had Macmillan and others been guilty of over-expectation, or had Charles Taze Russell and The Watch Tower magazine been guilty of giving people a false expectation of events? The blame, of course, goes to Russell’s followers for their ‘independent thinking’ (see above quote) rather than to Russell himself.
What was the Society going to do now that 1914 had not fulfilled expectations? The emphasis shifted from the intervening years between 1874 and 1914 to 1914 itself and what would ensue there from.
1914 and onwards
As was said at the start of this article, 1914 has been a critical date for the Watchtower Society. How did it arrive at the date 1914? Edmond Gruss  gives a brilliant assessment and is well worth reading. The following, from is how Trevor Willis explains it.
“One of the most important dates upon which the Watchtower Society build their own dating system is 607 BCE. This is the date that Pastor Russell originally claimed Jerusalem was destroyed. The Society has never changed their mind on the accuracy of this inherited date.” – Opening, p.93.
It is by counting from 607 BCE as the beginning of the Gentile times that they arrive at 1914. They calculate the reference in Daniel 4:16 of “seven times” to be seven lots of 360, the number of days in a Jewish year. This comes to 2,520 years. Counting from 607 BCE the date 1914 is arrived at. [607 BCE + 2,520 = 1914 CE]. However, if 607 BCE is inaccurate then 1914 and all that it stands for falls to the ground.
Trevor Willis lists six sources that all point to the fall of Jerusalem as taking place in 586 BCE, not 607 as the Society would have us believe [Opening, pp.93-94]. For a full investigation into this date see here. Another source that gives the orthodox Christian dating of the fall of Jerusalem is the New Bible Dictionary 2nd Ed:
“Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon captured Jerusalem in 597 and in 587 BC destroyed the city and Temple” – p.569.
For further discussion of this see Apostles pp.16-19 and ATTW pp.150-154. For an all-encompassing review of the date ’1914′ see Mike Troke’s article ’1914 is it marked in Scripture?’.
The Society had now firmly established that, from 1914, the world was in its ‘last days’ . But how long were those ‘last days’, and when will the end finally come? One way it determined this was “by noting what Jesus said when He gave His great prophecy about the ‘last days’. After He listed the many events that would mark this period, He stated:
“‘Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur’ (Matt 24:34)” .
The Society therefore believed that Jesus was saying that some of those alive in 1914, who witnessed the appearance of the ‘sign of the last days’ [i.e. the invisible return of Jesus to claim His kingdom] would still be alive when God brought the world system to an end.
1914 is such a key date in Watchtower theology that it has been the subject of numerous articles. Thus it is from primary sources that we are able to demonstrate that the Society’s prediction that some of those alive in 1914 would witness the end of Satan’s present world system has, in fact, become a millstone around its neck, and, perhaps for that reason, the Society is slowly but surely diminishing the importance of 1914. This may not seem to be such a great thing in our eyes but it is akin to changing a central doctrine in orthodox Christian teaching.
Awake! 8 October, 1968, p.13 stated that those at least 15 years old who would be perceptive enough to realise the importance of the events of 1914 would be included in ‘the generation’ .
Ten years later The Watchtower 1 October, 1978, p.31 stated that “‘the generation’ logically would not apply to babies born during World War 1.” The Society still held the view that the teenagers of 1914 would see the culmination of all things.
In The Watchtower 15 October, 1980, p.31, however, it was reported that
“It is the generation of people who saw the catastrophic events that broke forth in connection with World War 1 from 1914 onward…if you assume that 10 is the age at which an event creates a lasting impression.”
The Watchtower Society was now beginning to stretch the interpretation of what ‘the generation’ meant!
The Watchtower 15 May, 1984, p.5 stated that
“If Jesus used ‘generation’ in that sense and we apply it to 1914, then babies of that generation are now 70 years old or older…Some of them ‘will by no means pass away until all these things occur’”.
Now, it is babies born in 1914, not those who were fifteen, that will experience the ‘end of the world’.
Awake! 8 April, 1988, p.14 stated that
“Most of the generation of 1914 has passed away. However, there are still millions on earth who were born in that year or before it…Jesus’ words will come true, ‘this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened’”.
These successive quotations illustrate very clearly that the Watchtower Society has changed the age of ‘the generation’ from fifteen years to ten years and then to babies, so that they could cling to their belief that the generation living in 1914 would not pass away before Armageddon.
We are now in 2004 and someone who was fifteen in 1914 would be 105 years old. Was the Society beginning to panic as the last decade of the 20th century approached? In connection with this question the writer here includes a piece of less that honest editorial work on the part of Watchtower writers. In The Watchtower 1 January, 1989, p.12 we read, referring to Paul’s ministry:
“…he was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our 20th century” .
This effectively highlights the belief that the 1914 generation would not pass 1999. However, by the time the 1989 bound volume appeared, the wording had been discreetly changed to
“…he was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our day” .
Here is further evidence that teaching on 1914 is subject to more and more change as the years go by. This not only shows up the hopelessness of believing that Jesus began His heavenly rule in 1914, but also that the Society is confused and willing to resort to dishonest measures to cover its errors.
Perhaps the most obvious sign that the Society is losing faith in 1914 is its removal from the masthead of the Awake! magazine. On p.5 of the Awake! 8 January, 1990 is the statement:
“Most importantly, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away.”
Compared this with a more recent copy of the magazine,
“Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things” – Awake! 22 April, 2004 p.4.
1914 has been dealt a further deathblow!
‘The Great Tribulation’
Trevor Willis asks:
“How long would it be before the Society were forced by the passage of time, to admit that they had been wrong for a hundred years? Many were wondering how much longer ‘this generation’ could last” – Opening, p.88.
Both he and Anne Sanderson [Fearless p. 98] show that the Society need not be overly troubled by this dilemma. Older members, after a lifetime of conditioning and reliance on the Society, would find it difficult or even impossible to exist without its guidance. Those entering the Society now are not being exposed to the amount of 1914 teaching that older members experienced. The only casualties may be from those members still old enough to remember something of 1914 and who may be putting two and two together and coming up with five! However, even these potential casualties will probably accept whatever the Society feeds them as ‘new light’. Indeed, the Society is doing just that as will now be demonstrated.
With the gradual but inevitable demise of teaching on 1914 is the concurrent rise in teaching about the ‘Great Tribulation’. Like the Biblical passage “Truly I say to YOU that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur” (Matt 24:34) on which the Society has based ninety years of doctrine; “for then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again” (Matt 24:21) is a quote which the Society has built another false doctrine. The Great Tribulation is not a new idea; it has always been a part of Watchtower thinking, but now it has a new twist.
In 1958 we read, in From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained (p.197) that the great crowd has come out of the great tribulation. This is a reference to those Jehovah’s Witnesses who are not of the anointed class of 144,000, whose hope is to inherit eternal life on an earthly paradise. Further we read that
“This is the great tribulation or trouble that Jesus said would mark this ‘time of the end’. This tribulation began on the Devil’s organisation AD 1914 when Jehovah’s newly enthroned King took action against his enemies in heaven. Jesus said that this tribulation would be cut short so that some flesh could be saved [Matt 24:22] How was it cut short? By God’s stopping the war action up in heaven against the Devil’s organisation. So after the Devil was hurled down out of heaven the first part of the ‘great tribulation’ ended. Soon now the climax or last part of the ‘great tribulation’ will take place…The last part of the ‘great tribulation’ means destruction of this world…It is during this in-between period, between the first part and the last part of the ‘great tribulation’ on the Devil’s organisation, that the great crowd of ‘other sheep’ come out. Now is that time” .
This means that the great tribulation began in 1914; stopped in 1918 and then between 1918 and 1958 (the date of the publication of From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained) and onward, the great crowd of other sheep, those who come into membership of the WBTS and who could not be part of the anointed class, were being gathered because the time of the great tribulation had been cut short so that some flesh could be saved. For almost another fifty years the Society allowed that belief to continue.
To prove this Proclaimers says:
“… the great crowd must not simply profess love for God but must also do his will” – p.167.
“… they have come forward in great numbers (and they are still coming)…are being baptised…they are the people marked for survival…these are loyal servants of God who will survive Armageddon with the prospect of living forever on an earth restored to the condition of Paradise.” – pp.169-170
Proclaimers also showed that at that point in time 1914 was still very much on the agenda and the great tribulation does not even get a mention in the index.
“We are living now, since 1914, in ‘the time of the end’ of this wicked world” – p. 144.
However, as those words were being published in 1993 The Watchtower 1 May, 1993, pp.21-26 carried a lengthy article entitled “Deliverance at the Revelation of Jesus Christ”, which first states that Jesus comes to execute judgement. This invisible coming is portrayed as a future occurrence and that all God’s opposers will discern that Jesus has come as Jehovah’s Executioner (paragraph 7).
How will people know that the great tribulation is here? [Note - still to come]. Babylon the Great – the world empire of false religion [Christendom] will be judged (paragraphs 10-11). This act will be “the opening salvo” of the great tribulation (paragraph 13).
In 1958 we were told that the great tribulation began in 1914 and was temporarily stayed in 1918 but now, in 1993, its opening salvo (not recommencement) is still to come.
In 1994 the Society said that deliverance was getting nearer.
“We can look forward to the start of the great tribulation, then the sign of the Son of man, and then God’s gathering of the chosen ones. Finally, as Jehovah’s Executioner at Armageddon, our Warrior-King, the enthroned Jesus, will ‘complete his conquest’ (Rev 6:2). That day of Jehovah, when he executes vengeance, will come as a grand finale to the conclusion of the system of things that has marked the day of the Lord Jesus from 1914 onward.” – The Watchtower 15 February 1994, p.21.
So, far from Armageddon coming within the time-span of the generation of 1914 it is now put off to the indefinite future. At some point during this timetable of events the 144,000 will be gathered [Ibid., paragraph 23] and so the 8,000 odd remaining anointed ones have longer to live than before.
Later in 1994 we read that the great tribulation is expected to break out “shortly” [The Watchtower 1 July, 1994 p.12].
However, The Watchtower 15 October, 1995 has some even more extraordinary revelations. Firstly it affirms that we are indeed living in the last days (p.18). Secondly it reveals that the earlier teaching that Jesus, on entering into His capacity as King in 1914, began to judge the nations, sending the sheep to everlasting life and the goats to permanent death, needs an “adjusted understanding of its timing and what it illustrates” (p. 18).
Now, from the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46, esp. vv.32-33), we are to understand that this separating work will not begin until after the tribulation and after Jesus has come in his glory and sat down on his glorious throne to judge all the nations (p.22-3).
What does this mean for Jehovah’s Witnesses? Those that believed that being part of ‘Jehovah’s Organisation’ guaranteed them immunity from the end time judgement, provided they stayed loyal to Jehovah and His organisation, they can no longer say this as the separating work between the sheep and the goats is still future. This refinement of understanding “reinforces the importance of our preaching work…” (p. 18). In other words ‘work even harder and perhaps you might just make it’.
To reinforce this new teaching The Watchtower 1 November, 1995 reveals the Society again blaming its followers for being eager to see the end of this evil system and having
“… at times speculated about the time when the ‘great tribulation’ would break out, even tying this to calculations of what is the lifetime of a generation since 1914″ – p.17.
However, the Society ‘bring[s] a heart of wisdom in’, not by speculating about how many years or days make up a generation, but by thinking about how we ‘count our days’ in bringing joyful praise to Jehovah” – p.17.
The Society has now dispensed with ‘this generation’ and dug itself out of the hole over its lengthening of ‘the generation’. However they are surely guilty of blatant deception towards the trusting people of the organisation that claims to be God’s only provider of Biblical wisdom today.
Just to ‘ice the cake’ of deception, that same issue of The Watchtower reminds readers that
“We do not need to know the exact timing of events. Rather, our focus must be on being watchful, cultivating strong faith, and keeping busy in Jehovah’s service…” – p.17.
For further discussion on ‘this generation, ‘the great tribulation’ and assurance of salvation please see Fearless pages 98-114.
With the definite change in emphasis from the past, 1914 and ‘this generation’ to the future and ‘the great tribulation’ it may not be surprising that the Society has announced that Jesus is still yet to come in some sense or another. This will be a third, fourth or even fifth coming if we include the incarnation [see Fearless p.100]. The following extended quote brings the reader up to date on the Society’s teaching.
“In Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Jesus is said to “come” in different senses. He does not need to move physically in order to “come”. Rather, he “comes” in the sense of turning his attention to mankind or to his followers, often for judgment. Thus, in 1914 he “came” to begin his presence as enthroned King (Matt 16:28; 17:1; Acts 1:11). In 1918 he “came” as messenger of the covenant and began judging those claiming to serve Jehovah (Mal 3:1-3; 1 Pet 4:17). At Armageddon, he will “come” to execute judgment on Jehovah’s enemies (Rev 19:11-16).
“The coming (or, arrival) referred to a number of times at Matthew 24:29-44 and 25:31-46 is at “the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). On the other hand, the coming referred to a number of times at Matthew 24:45 to 25:30 has to do with his judging professed disciples from 1918 onward. It would not be reasonable to say, for example, that the rewarding of the slave, the judgment of the foolish virgins, and the judgment of the sluggish slave, who hid the Master’s talent, will take place when Jesus “comes” at the great tribulation. That would imply that many of the anointed will be found unfaithful at that time and will thus have to be replaced. However, Revelation 7:3 indicates that all of Christ’s anointed slaves will have been permanently “sealed” by that time.” – The Watchtower 1 March 2004, p.16.
Confused? You have every right to be! This writer was present at a Kingdom Hall when the teaching was discussed and even some of the Jehovah’s Witnesses present were confused and had to be corrected from the front. Jesus’ ‘presence’, which was said to have begun in 1874 or 1878 or 1914 or 1918 (whichever you prefer) is now referred to as His ‘coming’. ‘Coming’, rather than ‘presence’, is actually a closer translation of the Greek parousia. The Society is now using the correct term (coming) although still teaching that it will be an invisible.
From the above quote it is clear that 1914 is still a part of Watchtower teaching, but the Society brings changes in gradually so that the believing Jehovah’s Witness is not confronted with a dramatic change in belief. Jesus is due to come any day now in the great tribulation and at Armageddon. In fact it is of course true that Jesus may very well come any day now. His return may, however, be a couple of thousand years away. But please remember that, however convinced the Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door are that Jesus is due to come very soon they will, if they are honest, have no conviction that they will make it through when Jesus does return.
In contrast, this writer believes that the Scriptures clearly state that we can be certain of our salvation, whether we knock on doors or not, if we are truly “in Christ.” Verses such as Hebrews 7:22; 2 Corinthians 1:21-2; 5:5; and Ephesians 1:13-14 speak of the guarantee that the Holy Spirit brings of our eternal future, without good works, which are a sign of conversion not a way to merit it. Romans 8:38-39 and John 10:27-28 both give assurance of salvation for all true believers.
Above all, in John 5:24, Jesus tells us that “whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (NIV). This tells us that true believers are in a right relationship with Jehovah God now. They will not have to face judgment at the end of time as to whether they are worthy enough to enter the Kingdom of God. They have already believed and have already passed from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Light.
Share these verses, from their own New World Translation, with the next Jehovah’s Witness you meet.
“Most truly I say to YOU, He that hears my word and believes him that sent me has everlasting life, and he does not come into judgement but has passed over from death to life”.
Ask them what it means when their own Bible says, “has [past tense] everlasting life”. Ask them what it means when their Bible says “does not [and therefore "will not"] come into judgment”. Ask what it means when it says “has [past tense] passed over from death to life.”
You will never win an argument with a Jehovah’s Witness, but such questioning will hopefully plant seeds of doubt in the mind, that the Holy Spirit can cause to grow and mature in the future.
What an opportunity for Christians to be are prepared to engage with Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door and offer a question or two, and testify of their secure relationship with Jehovah God – through Jesus. Jehovah’s Witnesses need to hear the true gospel of Jesus Christ and come to know Him for themselves – this is our privilege!
1 Reasoning From The Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Rhodes, 1993 p. 358
2 In 1881 Russell had written Tabernacle Shadows of the “Better Sacrifices” and Food For Thinking Christians. By this time he had been given the title ‘Pastor’. However, as with any religious movement that holds to progressive revelation, Russell later discouraged his followers from reading these because they were immature. “Being a self-educated theologian, Russell put down his ‘truths’ for others before his own theology was fully developed” [Apostles p. 42]. In 1882 Russell wrote: “The Bible is our only standard, and its teachings our only creed, and recognising the progressive character of the unfolding of Scriptural truths, we are ready and prepared to add to or modify our creed (faith – belief) as we get increase of light from our Standard” [Watch Tower April 1882 page 7; cited Proclaimers page 133]. This is standard Watchtower practice to the present day. The Studies in the Scriptures volumes appeared as follows: Series 1 The Divine Plan of the Ages (1886); Series 2 The Time Is At Hand (1889); Series 3 Thy Kingdom Come (1891); Series 4 The Day of Vengeance/The Battle of Armageddon (1897); Series 5 The Atonement Between God and Man (1899); Series 6 The New Creation (1904); Series 7 The Finished Mystery (1917 published posthumously).
3 In his book The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Prophetic Speculation pp. 16-58
4 Awake! 8/10/1968 p. 13 cited in Prophetic Speculation p. 18
5 Awake! 8/10/1968 p. 13 cited in Prophetic Speculation p. 18
6 Cited in RFTS pp. 363-4
7 Cited in Reachout Trust Newsletter Number 41 p. 9
8 Cited in Reachout Trust Newsletter Number 41 p. 9
9 Cited in Fearless p. 101
Apologist and Other Literature
Edmund Charles Gruss, Apostles of Denial, (no place: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing 1970) [Apostles]
Edmond Charles Gruss, The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Prophetic Speculation, (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing 1977) [Prophetic Speculation]
Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience, (Atlanta: Commentary Press 1992) [Crisis]
Doug Harris, Awake! To the Watchtower, (Twickenham: Reachout Trust 1988) [ATTW]. Since republished as Jehovah’s Witnesses – their beliefs and practices.
D F Payne, “Jerusalem” in New Bible Dictionary 2nd ed, org Ed J D Douglas, (Leicester: IVP, 1982)
Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, (Eugene OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1993) [RFTS] #
Anne Sanderson, Fearless Love, (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications 2000) [Fearless]
Trevor Willis, Opening the Door to Jehovah’s Witnesses, (Worthing: Pinpoint Press, 2001) ##
# This book is not to be confused with the WBTS publication Reasoning from the Scriptures
## Trevor Willis is an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, but it is not apparent, from his book whether he is born again. The following quote would seem to exclude even the claims of Christianity to contain all truth in the person of Jesus Christ: “All religions contain an element of truth but can any one religion claim to contain all truth and exclude all others”? (p. xiv).
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Publications (published anonymously unless noted) and Related Material
A H Macmillan, Faith on the March, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc 1957) [FOTM]
Awake! Volume 71 (New York: WBTS 1990)
“Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules, (New York: WBTS, 1963 first edition)
Creation (by J F Rutherford), (New York: WBTS, 1927 300,000 edition)
From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, (New York: WBTS 1958)
Insight on the Scriptures Vol 2, (New York: WBTS, 1988)
Jehovah’s Witnesses Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, (New York: WBTS 1993) [Proclaimers]
Our Incoming World Government – God’s Kingdom (New York: WBTS 1977) [Incoming]
Prophecy, (by J F Rutherford) (New York: WBTS, 1929 1,212,000 edition)
Reasoning from the Scriptures (New York: WBTS 1985) [Reasoning]
Studies in the Scriptures Series III Thy Kingdom Come (by C T Russell) (East Rutherford, NJ: Dawn Bible Students association, 1949)
Studies in the Scriptures Series IV The Battle of Armageddon (by C T Russell) (East Rutherford, NJ: Dawn Bible Students Association, 1949)