Author: Mike Troke
Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that the key date of 1914 has a solid basis in Scripture. Around the end of December 2002 Jehovah’s Witnesses handed me a little booklet called ‘What Does God Require of Us?’ (WB&TS, 1996) Inside the front cover is a paragraph designed to aid the reader in the use of the booklet. This includes the following:
“This brochure is designed as a Bible study course…At the beginning of each lesson there are questions…Read the questions through first…Then read each paragraph, and look up the Scriptures in your Bible…When you have finished a lesson, go back to the questions and try to recall the Bible’s answer to each question.” (Emphasis mine.)
On page 12, the lesson is ‘What is the Kingdom of God?’ and the questions that need Biblical answers are;
- Where is the Kingdom of God located?
- Who is its King?
- Do others share in ruling with the King? If so, how many?
- What shows that we are living in the last days?
- What will God’s Kingdom do for mankind in the future?
1914 A Turning Point?
All are good questions and below I quote extensively from the text on pages 12 and 13, to show the material that the Biblical answers are to be drawn from.
“God promised that Jesus would become the King of His Kingdom. (Luke 1: 30-33) When Jesus was on earth, he proved that he would be a kind, just and perfect Ruler. When he returned to heaven, he was not enthroned as King of God’s Kingdom right away. (Hebrews 10: 12, 13) In 1914, Jehovah gave Jesus the authority He had promised him. Since then, Jesus has ruled in heaven as Jehovah’s appointed King – Daniel 7: 13, 14… As soon as Jesus became King, he threw Satan and his wicked angels out of heaven and down to the locality of earth. That is why things have become so bad here on earth since 1914. (Revelation 12: 9, 12) Wars, famines, pestilences, increasing lawlessness – all these are part of a ‘sign’ indicating that Jesus is ruling and that this system is in its last days. – Matthew 24: 3, 7, 8, 12; Luke 21: 10, 11; 2 Timothy 3: 1 – 5.”
Twice in the above passage, the year 1914 is mentioned as the time when Jesus became the King of God’s Kingdom, although none of the Bible references cited support this information.
Similarly, in a leaflet entitled ‘Is Time Running Out For Mankind?’, the following statements are made:
“…how do we know that we live in the generation of which Jesus spoke? Because people now living have seen the foretold events take place, all of them, and on a global scale. Furthermore, Bible prophecy pinpoints the year 1914 as one of great significance. That is why, over thirty years before that date, Jehovah’s witnesses, careful students of the Bible, widely announced this… What does all this mean? That 1914 was the start of what the Bible calls ‘the last days’… The generation seeing the start of ‘the sign’ in 1914 is now far along in years. Time is obviously running out.”
What did the early Jehovah’s Witnesses “widely announce” about 1914, “over thirty years before that date”, from the publications of the time. A selection of relevant quotes appear in Appendix 1.
The back cover of The Watchtower 1 Jan 1989, carries an advertisement for the book “True Peace and Security – How Can You Find It?” with the headline ‘1914 A TURNING POINT’ saying that,
“Historians say that 1914 was a turning point in history. Yet the Bible long before had foretold it would be. What does the Bible say regarding 1914?”
In the light of what we have seen so far, this is a most important question! Before investigating what the Bible says about 1914, we shall cite more WB&TS references to the importance of the year and what they believe the Bible says.
“Hence it was in the invisible heavens that the year 1914 C.E. witnessed the fulfilment of Revelation 11: 15… The Bible clearly pinpoints the generation alive in 1914 CE as the one that will yet witness the ushering in of Kingdom rule free from Satanic interference.” – Is This Life all there is?, 1974, pp.160&164
“In the year 1914 CE an even more marvellous event of universal importance took place…Before the generation that witnessed the events of 1914 dies off, God will crush the entire Satanic system of things.” – United in Worship of the Only True God, 1963, pp.169-170
“Years in advance Bible scholars realized that 1914 was to be a year of great significance. Bible chronology specifically points to that year, and careful students of God’s Word knew that. They expected great changes to take place, and the facts confirm that 1914 was, indeed, a marked year…The London ‘Evening Star’ commented that…some historian in the next century may well conclude that the day the world went mad was August 4, 1914.” – The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, 1968, p.91 (see also pp.95-96)
“But the Bible had foretold the opposite – that the unprecedented war of 1914 to 1918 would highlight the beginning of ‘the last days.’ (2 Timothy 3:1) The Bible also provided chronological evidence that 1914 would mark the birth of God’s heavenly Kingdom… 1914 A TURNING POINT IN HISTORY” followed by a page of quotes from ‘The Scientific Monthly’, July 1951; ‘The New York Times Magazine’, September 27, 1953; ‘The Seattle Times’, January 1, 1959; James Cameron’s ‘1914’, published in 1959; ‘American Medical News’, November 21, 1977; ‘The Economist’, London, August 4, 1979; ‘St. Louis Post – Dispatch’, January 27, 1980 and British statesman Harold Macmillan in ‘The New York Times’, November 23, 1980.” – Life – How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or Creation?, 1985, pp.227-228 (see also pp.229&231)
“In 1914 CE Jesus Christ began to rule as King of God’s heavenly government… we considered Bible evidence that Christ returned and began ruling in the midst of his enemies in the year 1914.” – You can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 1982, pp.141&149.
“Bible evidence shows that in the year 1914 CE God’s time arrived for Christ to return and begin ruling.” – Ibid, p.147
“In that year (1914) ‘the appointed times of the nations’ were fulfilled, and God gave rulership to ‘the lowliest of mankind’ – Jesus Christ – who had been considered so base by his foes that they even had him impaled.” – Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy!, 1999, p.97
“What about Jehovah’s people? They had long declared that ‘the appointed times of the nations’ would end in 1914. (Luke 21: 24) In that year, God’s Kingdom in the hands of King David’s Heir, Jesus Christ, was established in the heavens. (2 Samuel 7: 12 – 16; Luke 22: 28,29). As far back as March 1880, the Watch Tower magazine linked the rule of God’s Kingdom with the ending of ‘the appointed times for the nations,’ or ‘the times of the Gentiles.’ (King James Version)…God’s ‘time appointed’ to end Gentile domination of the earth came in 1914 when he set up the heavenly Kingdom. In June 28 of that year, Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by a Serbian terrorist in Sarajevo, Bosnia. That was the spark that touched off World War I.” – Ibid, p.261
“As far back as 1876, Jehovah’s Witnesses realized that Bible prophecy marked the year 1914 CE as a time when major events would take place that would have far-reaching effects on human affairs. They gave the reason for this fact wide publicity.” – True Peace and Security, how can you find it?,1986,p.70
“After going on record that the Bible pointed to 1914, Jehovah’s Witnesses had to wait several decades before they saw the outcome. Early in 1914 the peacefulness of the world made it appear to many that nothing was going to happen. But before the summer was over, the Witnesses’ confidence was justified when the world plunged into a war that was without precedent.” – Ibid, p.73
“In their investigation of God’s Word, those Bible Students (under Russell) were keenly interested in the prophecies of the Christian Greek Scriptures related to the ‘end of the world’ and to Christ’s ‘coming.’ (Matthew 24:3 KJ) By turning to the Greek text, they discovered that Christ’s ‘coming’ was, in fact, a ‘parousia, ‘ or ‘invisible presence.’ Therefore, Christ had given his disciples information about the evidence of his invisible presence in the time of the end, not a future visible coming. Along with this study, those Bible students had a keen desire to understand the Bible’s chronology in relation to Christ’s presence. Without understanding all the details, Russell and his associates realized that 1914 would be a crucial date in human history. – Matthew 24: 3 – 22; Luke 21: 7 – 33…There was a sense of urgency to the activity of those Bible Students prior to 1914. They believed that their preaching activity would culminate in that year, and therefore they felt they should expend every effort to help others to know ‘this good news of the kingdom.” – Mankind’s Search for God,1990, pp.353&354
“Humans cannot see angels in their heavenly glory. So the arrival of the Son of man, Jesus Christ, with the angels must be invisible to human eyes. The arrival occurs in the year 1914.” – The Greatest man that ever Lived, 1991, section 111.
“A careful study of Bible prophecies, including Jesus’ own prophecy regarding the last days, reveals that ‘the Lord’s day’ began in the history-making year 1914, yes within this generation! So it was in 1914 that Jesus returned invisibly, without public fanfare and with only his faithful servants being aware of his return. In that year Jehovah gave Jesus the command to go subduing in the midst of his enemies! Obeying his Father’s order, Jesus cleansed the heavens of Satan and his demons, hurling them down to the earth. After seeing this occur in vision, John hears a heavenly voice proclaim: ‘Now have come to pass the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ!’ Yes, in 1914 Christ began ruling as King!” – Ibid, Section 132.
The Path to 1914
In all of the above quotations from past and present Watchtower Bible and Tract Society publications there is a definite unity on the issue of the year 1914. It is also evident from the words in red that the Society claims authority for this teaching from the Bible.
It is clear that the actual date of 1914 would not appear in the Bible text, as the system of dating it was not in use when the canon of Scripture was completed. However, the preceding statements are so bold and confident that the date is explicitly marked out in the Bible.
So how was the date of 1914 arrived at? We must review the actual statements in Watchtower Society publications in order to find out. I have highlighted in mauve the different steps mentioned.
“The only city in all the earth upon which Jehovah placed his name was Jerusalem. (1 Kings 11: 36) it was also the capital of a God – approved earthly kingdom typical of God’s heavenly Kingdom. Therefore, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E. was very significant…Some six centuries later, Jesus indicated that this period of interrupted rule was still in effect, for he said: ‘Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.’ – Luke 21: 24…That period began with the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.CE., and Daniel indicated that it would go on for ‘seven times.’ (Daniel 4: 23 – 25) How long is that? The Bible shows that three and a half ‘times’ equal 1,260 days. (Revelation 12: 6, 14) twice that period, or seven times would be 2,520 days. But nothing noteworthy happened at the end of that short period of time. By applying ‘a day for a year’ to Daniel’s prophecy and counting 2,520 years from 607 B.C.E., however, we arrive at the year 1914 CE – Numbers 14: 34; Ezekiel 4: 6.” – Knowledge that Leads to Eternal Life, 1995, pp.96-97.
“Many centuries ago Jehovah God revealed the specific time for the conferring of rulership upon the one whom he would designate to be king over all the world of mankind. He used symbols to do so and transmitted some of the information by means of a dream…In the fourth chapter of that book [Daniel] you will find narrated a divinely sent dream of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon…So this dream had an initial fulfilment upon King Nebuchadnezzar. For ‘seven times’ or seven literal years, Nebuchadnezzar was insane…But this detailed account…was not limited in its fulfilment to King Nebuchadnezzar. How do we know this? Because, as stated in the vision itself, it relates to God’s kingdom and rulership by the one whom he designates. And who is God’s choice for the kingship?…The one…described [in Daniel 7: 2 – 8] is none other than Jesus Christ…the prophetic dream…must point to the time when he would receive rulership over the world of mankind. This would be at the end of ‘seven times.’ How long are these ‘times’? When do they start? When do they end?… The evidence is that these ‘seven times’ amounted to 2,520 days, that is, seven prophetic years of 360 days each. This is confirmed in other parts of the Bible that mention ‘times,’ ‘months,’ and ‘days.’ For example, Revelation 11: 2 speaks of a period of ‘forty – two months,’ or three and a half years. In the next verse the same period is mentioned as being ‘a thousand two hundred and sixty days.’ Now, if you were to divide 1,260 days by 42 months, you would get 30 days for each month. A year of 12 months would therefore be 360 days long. ON THIS BASIS, ‘SEVEN TIMES,’ OR SEVEN YEARS, WOULD BE 2,520 DAYS LONG (7 x 360). [Emphasis in caps. mine] The correctness of this computation is verified by Revelation 12: 6, 14 where 1,260 days are spoken of as ‘a time and times and half a time,’ or ‘three and a half times’ (‘three years and a half, New English Bible’). Seven being the double of three and a half, ‘seven times’ would equal 2,520 days (2 x 1,260)… Is there a way to ascertain the length of each of these ‘days’? Yes, the Bible’s formula for prophetic days is ‘a day for a year,’ (Numbers 14: 34, Ezekiel 4: 6). Applying this to the ‘seven times,’ we see that they amount to 2,520 years… Knowing the length of the ‘seven times,’ we are now in a position to investigate when they began…At one time the government that had its seat in Jerusalem was a kingdom of God…Jerusalem was…the seat of God’s government in a representative sense. So when the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, and the land was completely desolated, world rulership passed into Gentile hands without any interference from a kingdom representing Jehovah’s sovereignty…That means…that the ‘seven times’ had their start at the time that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the land of Judah was completely desolated. When did that event occur? The Bible and secular history can be used to establish 607 BCE as the date for this event.“
A footnote at this point reveals the following information:
“Modern secular historians do not generally present 607 BCE as the date for the event (so in what sense does secular history help to establish 607 BCE as the date? M.T.), but they are dependant on the writings of men who lived centuries after it happened. On the other hand, The Bible contains testimony from eyewitnesses, and it sets out factors that are ignored by secular writers. Furthermore, the fulfilment of Bible prophecy at the end of the ‘seven times’ establishes the date beyond doubt. As to why the Bible’s chronological data is more reliable than secular history, see the book ‘Aid to Bible Understanding,’ pp. 322 – 348. Secular historians are in agreement that Babylon fell to Cyrus the Persian in 539 BCE This date is substantiated by all available historical records of ancient times…Cyrus’ first year of rule toward Babylon evidently extended from 538 to 537 BCE…it must have been by the seventh month of 537 BCE that the Israelites were back in their cities, ending the desolation of Jerusalem…Second Chronicles (36: 19 -21) shows that a period of seventy years passed from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem…until the restoration…Counting back seventy years from…537 BCE brings us to 607 BCE Jesus Christ referred to this trampling on Jerusalem when he said to his disciples ‘Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nation are fulfilled.’ (Luke 21: 24) Those ‘appointed times’ were to end 2,520 years after 607 BCE This would be in the year 1914 CE“ – Is this Life All There Is?, 1974, pp.151-159
This, rather lengthy, information is confirmed by the following:
“…Zedekiah, the last king in the typical Kingdom of God, was removed from the throne in Jerusalem by the Babylonians. (Ezek. 21: 25 – 27) Finally, by early October of 607 BCE the last vestige of Jewish sovereignty was gone…Counting 2,520 years from early October of 607 BCE brings us to early October of 1914 CE“ – Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, p.96.
All of the above passages have been taken from publications of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, and give the Society’s teaching on the importance of the year 1914.
As expected, statements about the importance of 1914, as being a year marked in Scripture, means that its importance needs to be deduced by an interpretation of a variety of Bible passages and an interpretation of certain historical events deemed to pinpoint particular dates of these events. The date of 1914 itself is then calculated by identifying 607 BCE as the date of the destruction of Jerusalem, then counting forward 2, 520 years – each year containing 12 months with 30 days in each month.
Reliable Sources Say
What do other sources tell us about this subject? Having given careful consideration to the material published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is important to ensure that these are balanced by other sources which relate to the subject.
It is clear that the text of the Bible itself – the true and only foundation for Christian faith and practice and a historically accurate record, does not provide explicit information by which the dating of certain events can be established. Bible students, therefore, need to take into account helpful non-Biblical data regarding the periods of history covered by the Bible record. In the following, the author’s title (if any) is given as it appears in their publication or article.
A. The Destruction of Jerusalem
D.F. Payne, lecturer in Semitic Studies at the Queen’s University, Belfast, wrote:
“Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon destroyed the city and Temple in 587 B.C.” – The New Bible Dictionary, IVP, 1977, p.616
K.A. Kitchen, lecturer in Egyptian and Coptic at the University of Liverpool; and T.C. Mitchell, Research Assistant in the Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities at the British Museum, state:
“From Hezekiah’s reign until that of Jehoiachin, dates can still be worked out to the year, culminating in that of the Babylonian capture (NOTE: This is the first capture NOT the final Fall) of Jerusalem in 597 BC, precisely dated to 15/16 March (second of Adar) 597 by the recently published Babylonian chronicle tablets covering this period. But from this point to the fall of Jerusalem, some uncertainty reigns over the precise mode of reckoning of the Hebrew civil year and of the various regnal years of Zedekiah and Nebuchadrezzar in 2 Kings and Jeremiah. Consequently, two different dates are current for the fall of Jerusalem: 587 and 586 BC The date 587 is here preferred, with Wiseman and Albright (against Thiele for 586).” – Ibid, see the article “Chronology of the Old Testament”
Bernhard W. Anderson, Professor of Old Testament Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, in a chronological chart places this entry:
“Fall of Jerusalem Second Deportation, 587.” – The Living Word of the old Testament, Longman, 1982, p.395
John Bright elaborates on one of the points touched on by Kitchen and Mitchell:
“Though Jerusalem held out with heroic stubbornness until the following summer, its fate was sealed. Zedekiah wished to surrender (Jer. 38: 14 – 23) but feared to do so. In July 587 (II Kings 25: 2f; Jeremiah 52: 5f), just as the city’s food supply was exhausted, the Babylonians breached the walls and poured in.”
A footnote at the date in the above says:
“Some scholars believe that the city did not fall until July 586: recently, A. Malamat, ‘Israel Exploration Journal’, 18 (1968) pp. 137 -156; K.S. Freedy and D.B. Redford, ‘Journal of the American Oriental Society’, 90 (1970) pp. 462 – 485. But 587 seems preferable; cf. E. Kutch, ‘Zeilschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft’ , 71 (1959) pp. 270 – 274.” – A History of Israel, 1976, p.329.
Arthur E. Cundall, lecturer in Old Testament Studies at London Bible College, gives more detail on one important non – Biblical source of information, which is contemporary with the Bible record:
“The Babylonian Chronicle. These tablets, some only recently published, deal with Babylonian history during the period from Hezekiah to the fall of Jerusalem. They are of special interest to biblical scholars for the period when Judah was subject to Babylon, i.e. after 605 BC Many facts, which before were not clear, have now been resolved. For instance, it was not known what encouraged the Judean king, Jehoiakim, to rebel against the Babylonians in 601/600 BC, or why the revolt was not put down until 598/597 BC The Babylonian Chronicle tells us that in 601 BC there was a fierce between Babylonia and Egypt on the borders of Egypt. Although the battle was indecisive, Babylonian losses were great and meant a withdrawal from the area and a regrouping of the army. It was this apparent weakness which led Jehoiakim to rebel. The Chronicle gives the ONLY EXACT DATE FOR AN EVENT IN OLD TESTAMENT HISTORY, THE CAPTURE OF JERUSALEM ON 15 – 16 MARCH 597 B.C. One minor problem remains. It is not certain whether the Hebrew civil year uniformly followed the Babylonian pattern. This makes for an uncertainty of one year in dates during the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. The fall of Jerusalem, for example, is given as either 587 or 586 BC The two modes of reckoning appear in Jeremiah 52: 12 and 29 where, on first sight, the prisoners were taken from Jerusalem a year before it was captured!” – The Lion Handbook of the Bible, 1975, p.271
It will be recalled that the 1974 Watchtower book ‘Is This Life All There Is?’ said that
“Modern secular historians do not generally present 607 BCE as the date for this event, but they are dependent on the writings of men who lived centuries after it happened.” (p.159)
This is now, of course, no longer the case. The Babylonian Chronicle is a witness from the actual time these events happened, and proves beyond doubt that 607 BCE for the fall and desolation of Jerusalem is an impossibility! More from the Chronicle later.
J.A. Thompson, Chairman of the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Melbourne, whose particular interest in archaeology, especially where it relates to the Bible, writes:
“Bible history makes it clear that the people of Judah were invaded more than once by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, and each time captives were taken. In 597 BCE King Jehoiachin and many of his notables, among whom was the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 1: 2), were taken away to Babylonia. When Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, another group of people from Judah joined the party that had been exiled some eleven years before.“ – The Bible and Archaeology, Paternoster, 1976, pp.155-156
Thompson, here, may account in part for the seeming difficulty expressed by Cundall, that Jeremiah 52 seems to have prisoners being taken from Jerusalem a year before it was captured.
Leon J. Wood, in a work revised by David E. O’Brien, offers the following:
“In accordance with Jeremiah’s warning, the city fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC”
A footnote at this point says
“Siege began in the tenth month of Zedekiah’s ninth year (588 BC) and continued until the fourth month of his eleventh year (July 586 BC), a total of eighteen months.”
“With Jerusalem destroyed, Gedaliah established a new capital at Mizpah. Perhaps he was active earlier in the court during the reign of Zedekiah. A seal found at Lachish and bearing the inscription ‘Belonging to Gedaliah who is over the house,’ is archaeologically dated to the time of the general destruction of 586 BC If reference is to Gedaliah, the man had filled a supervisory position in Zedekiah’s palace.” – A Survey of Israel’s History, Zondervan, 1985, pp.319&322
Professor Ninian Smart, of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Lancaster, concurs:
“Jeremiah, whose ministry spanned the years between 626 BC to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, is important because he gave the ethical dimension of Hebrew religion new emphasis, making the ethical code incumbent upon each individual worshipper.” – The Religious Experience of Mankind, Fount, 1969, p.356.
In reviewing the Watchtower Society material, it was seen that emphasis was laid on the fact that ‘modern historians’ do not accept 607 BCE Also, it will be recalled that the year 1914 was ‘announced as a year of great significance over thirty years before that date’ – in other words, before 1884. This raises a possible question as to whether 607 BCE was generally understood to be the date of the fall of Jerusalem in the thirty years before the turn of that century.
In order to answer this, I quote from H.H. Milman, under the heading of BC 587:
“The capture of Jerusalem took place on the ninth day of the fourth month: on the seventh day of the fifth month (two days on which Hebrew devotion still commemorates the desolation of the city by solemn fast and humiliation) the relentless Nebuzaradan executed the orders of his master, by levelling the city, the palaces, and the temple in one common ruin.” – The History of the Jews, Routledge, 1878, p.176
The unanimous verdict of these many witnesses is that Jerusalem was devastated in 587/586 BCE, not twenty years earlier as the Watchtower Society would like us to believe. There is another good reason why 607 must be erroneous, and that is:
B. The dates of Nebuchadrezzar’s reign
Joyce G. Baldwin, Dean of Women at Trinity College, Bristol, writes:
“The publication of the Babylonian Chronicles in the British Museum made available an independent source of precise information relating to the events of Nebuchadrezzar’s accession. The following table sets out the details as they can be reconstructed from the Babylonian data for 605 BC:
January/February – Army returned from a campaign to Babylon.
April/August (probably May/June) – Battle of Carchemish, after which Nebuchadrezzar pursued the Egyptians south and conquered the whole of Hatti-land (i.e. Syria – Palestine).
August 15 – Death of Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadrezzar.
September 7 – Accession of Nebuchadrezzar.” – Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries – Daniel, 1978, pp.19-20
Thompson (The Bible and Archaeology, p.448), in his King Lists, under ‘Babylonian Kings’ gives the dates of Nebuchadnezzar as 605 – 562 BC
D.J. Wiseman, professor of Assyriology at the University of London, offers further help on Nebuchadrezzar:
“The king of Babylon (605 – 562 BC) frequently named by the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, and in the history of the last days of Judah. His name in Hebrew (nebukadre’ssar) transliterates the Bab[ylonian] Nabu – kudurri – usur, meaning perhaps ‘Nabu has protected the succession-rights’. The alternative Heb[rew] rendering (nebukadne’ssar; cf. Gk. Nabochodonosor) may be derived from the Aramaic form of the name. According to the Bab[ylonian] Chronicle this son of the founder of the Chaldean dynasty, Nabopolassar, first commanded the Bab[ylonian] army as ‘crown prince’ in the fighting in N. Assyria in 606 BC In the following year he defeated Necho II and the Egyptians at Carchemish and Hamath (2 Ki. 23: 29f.; 2 Ch. 35: 20ff.; Je. 46: 2). ‘At this time he conquered the whole of Hatti’ (i.e. Syria and Palestine, so Bab. Chronicle; 2 Ki. 24: 7; Jos[ephus] Ant[iquities] 10: 6). Daniel was among the hostages taken from Judah (Dn. 1: 1), where Jehoiakim was in his fourth regnal year (Je. 36: 1). While in the field Nebuchadrezzar heard of his father’s death and rode across the desert to claim the Babylonian throne, which he ascended to on 6 September 605 BC“ – The New Bible Dictionary, IVP, 1977, p.873.
The unmistakable conclusion of these sources is that the Nebuchadrezzar, who sacked Jerusalem in 587/586 BCE, ascended to the throne of Babylon in 605 BCE. Also, he did not lead the army as ‘Crown Prince’ until 606 BCE Therefore, the desolation of Jerusalem could not have taken place in 607 BCE when Nabopolassar was clearly still king, and commander-in-chief of the army. These facts undermine the whole basis of the teaching that Jesus Christ came into His invisible temple in 1914, since the date used to calculate this is proven to have been false. If the date of 1914 is unreliable, then so must be the whole notion of Jesus Christ receiving the Kingdom of God in that year.
There is one area of Bible interpretation used by the Watchtower Society that needs to be examined:
C. What about those ‘prophetic days’?
It should be recalled that a major factor in calculating the date of 1914 is the length of the ‘prophetic day’ as a Biblical principle.
“Is there any way to ascertain the length of each of these ‘days’? Yes, the Bible’s formula for prophetic days is: ‘A day for a year.’ (Numbers 14: 34; Ezekiel 4: 6) Applying this to the ‘seven times,’ we see that they amount to 2,520 years.” – Is This Life All There Is?, p.156 (See also Reasoning from the Scriptures, p.96)
We need to be clear as to whether this is a valid Bible formula, therefore a Biblical principle; or more properly seen as an interpretation of the Bible, and therefore open to comparison and criticism.
In deciding this, we need to see what the texts actually say:
Numbers 14: 34 (NWT)
“By the number of days that YOU spied out the land, forty days, a day for a year, a day for a year, YOU will answer for YOUR errors forty years, as YOU must know what my being estranged means.”
Ezekiel 4: 6 (NWT)
“And you must complete them. And you must lie upon your right side in the second case, and you must carry the error of the house of Judah forty days. A day for a year, a day for a year, is what I have given you.”
Looking at these two verses we can see certain parallels. For example, forty days is the period of time in both cases, but in the ‘Numbers’ verse, it is clear that this is because of the number of days the spies were in the land. Also clear is that the forty years spoken of is God’s judgement for errors having been committed, therefore for a specific point in time. Matthew Henry on the ‘Numbers’ verse:
“Thus long they were kept wandering…To answer the number of days the spies were searching the land. They were content to wait forty days for the testimony of men, because they could not take God’s word; and therefore justly are they kept forty years waiting for the performance of God’s promise.” – Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson,1991, p.206
D.D. Bartlett, Lecturer at St. David’s College, Lampeter, agrees:
“The forty years in the wilderness are clearly to be understood here…as a time of unrelieved punishment.” – A New Commentary on Holy Scripture, S.P.C.K., 1928, p.131
J.A. Thompson reinforces the same point:
“According to the number of days the spies spent in reconnaissance, forty, would be the number of years spent in the wilderness. The number is probably a symbolic one denoting a generation.” – The New Bible Commentary revised, IVP, 1977, p.184
Certainly in its context, the ‘Numbers’ verse is clearly a statement of God’s judgement on the people who grumbled against God, so that none of them would live to enter the ‘promised land’, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb. On that basis, Thompson’s assessment of the meaning of the number appears to be accurate.
Moving on to the ‘Ezekiel’ verse, Matthew Henry is, once again, informative:
“He was ordered to lie upon his side before it [a portraiture of Jerusalem], as it were, to surround it, representing the Chaldean army lying before it to block it up, to keep the meat from going in and the mouths from going out. He was to lie on his left side 390 days (v. 5), about thirteen months; the siege of Jerusalem is computed to last eighteen months (Jer. 25: 4 – 6), but if we deduct from that five months interval, when the besiegers withdrew upon the approach of Pharaoh’s army (Jer. 37: 5 – 8), the number of the days of the close siege will be 390. Yet that also had another signification. The 390 days, according to the prophetic dialect, signified 390 years; and , when the prophet lies so many days on his side, he bears the guilt of that iniquity which the house of Israel, the ten tribes had borne 390 years, reckoning from their first apostasy under Jeroboam to the destruction of Jerusalem, which completed the ruin of those small remains of them that had incorporated with Judah. He is to then lie forty days upon his right side, and so long to bear the iniquity of the house of Judah, the kingdom of two tribes, because the measure – filling sins of that people were those which they were guilty of during the last forty years before their captivity, since the thirteenth year of Josiah, when Jeremiah began to prophesy (Jer. 1: 1, 2), or as some reckon it, since the eighteenth, when the book of the Law was found and the people renewed their covenant with God.” – pp.1345-1346
Henry makes an important point here in the context of this investigation. Another major difference has now been highlighted between the ‘Numbers’ and ‘Ezekiel’ verses, in that whilst the ‘Numbers’ verse is foretelling the fate of wandering Israelites over a certain age to be fulfilled in their immediate future, the ‘Ezekiel’ verse is wrenched right out of its natural context of judgements against Israel and Judah, reflecting time, the majority of which was in the past. Therefore, it does not fulfil the same purpose as the ‘Numbers’ verse, making it unlikely to be any kind of ‘prophetic formula’ for working out dates.
However, if this objection is unconvincing to some, who still maintain that these two verses out of the whole Bible contain “the Bible’s formula for prophetic days”, how does 2 Peter 3: 8 fit in?
“However, let this one fact not be escaping YOUR notice, beloved ones, that one day is with Jehovah as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day.” (NWT)
Also, Psalm 90: 4 says:
“For a thousand years are in your eyes (Jehovah, see v. 1) but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch during the night.” (NWT)
On the basis of these verses and, for the sake of argument, using the date 607 BCE as the fall of Jerusalem, why is not the significant year 394 CE? While this seems to be an absurd question, it is just as valid, and offered with as much justification as the ‘Numbers’ and ‘Ezekiel’ verses, and with as much Biblical support! According to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 2 Peter 3: 8 and Psalm 90: 4 do have an interpretative bearing on Genesis 1:
“Are God’s ‘days’ of work controlled by the rotation of this globe? Obviously not. Of God, the Bible says: ‘One day is with Jehovah as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.’ (2 Peter 3: 8) And that even to God a ‘day’ can have more than one meaning is seen when comparing this text with Psalm 90: 4, which says: ‘A thousand years are in your eyes [not a full day] but…as a watch during the night.’” – Is the Bible Really the Word of God, 1969, pp.18-19
So, why can this ‘prophetic day’ not be used at other places? The above evidence shows that there is no actual Biblical justification for using any of these isolated verses as a formula for calculating the length of a ‘prophetic day.’
It is notable that in the publications these claims appear, the Watchtower Society, who can usually muster some external support for what they teach, offer no opinions of external, scholarly sources in order to support their assertions. Therefore, it should be noted that the idea of a ‘prophetic day’ formula is a dubious interpretation, which insists on the verses being wrested out of their contexts and without any justification from the Bible whatsoever.
The verses from ‘Numbers’ and ‘Ezekiel’ can be seen to relate to particular circumstances, and are certainly ‘prophetic’ in the sense of revealing God’s perspective on definite situations which affected the nation of Israel (including Judah), but it cannot be substantiated that they can also refer to any other number, or to any other part of Scripture.
Do you believe that 1914 is a year marked in Scripture?
That is really the question every person must be able to answer with confidence.
Historically, 1914 was an important and significant year. It brought about the start of World War I – a time of conflict that transformed the whole concept of conflict, and other issues. It was hailed as ‘ the war to end all war’ – another prediction which, sadly, was in error.
However, it is not this importance or significance that is really the point here. The date 1914 is so central to Watchtower teachings that it appears, somewhere, in almost all Watchtower publications. As an example, consider the following:
“Just before Jesus was impaled, he gave a grand prophecy about his future presence. He also indicated that he would be resurrected and would sit at God’s right hand awaiting the time to deal with his enemies…When would all of that happen? Jesus gave his disciples ‘the sign of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things.’…Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that fit together, the things that Jesus prophesied have occurred. Since the outbreak of World War I in 1914, we have seen the composite evidence of the invisible presence of Jesus Christ. He is reigning as the King of God’s Kingdom and is wielding tremendous influence…To appreciate further the effect of Jesus’ existence, you need to study the Bible. Why not ask Jehovah’s Witnesses about the details of Jesus’ presence?” – The Watchtower, 15 June 2003, p.7
There are many facets to this quotation that need further exploration, such as the ‘invisible presence of Jesus Christ’. However, it does demonstrate the importance of 1914 in Watchtower thinking. Consideration of the following should reveal the truth of the matter:
“Jesus Christ referred to this trampling on Jerusalem when he said to his disciples: ‘Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.’ (Luke 21: 24) Those ‘appointed times’ were to end 2,520 years after 607 B.C.E, This would be in the year 1914 CE Did the trampling on Jerusalem cease then? True, the earthly city of Jerusalem did not witness the restoration of a king in the royal line of David in 1914 CE But such a thing was not to be expected. Why not? The earthly city of Jerusalem no longer had any holy significance from God’s viewpoint. While on earth, Jesus Christ stated: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her – how often I wanted to gather your children together in the manner that a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you people did not want it. Look! Your house is abandoned to you.’ (Luke 13: 34, 35) Moreover, the kingdom in the hands of Jesus Christ is not an earthly government with Jerusalem or any other city as its capital. It is a heavenly kingdom. Hence, it was in the invisible heavens that in the year 1914 CE witnessed the fulfilment of Revelation 11: 15. ‘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.’ What Jerusalem represented, that is, the Messianic government ruling with divine approval, was then no longer being trampled on. Once again there was a king of the Davidic dynasty who, by divine appointment, exercised rulership over the affairs of mankind. The visible events that have taken place here on earth in fulfilment of Bible prophecy since 1914 CE prove that this is the case.” – Is This Life All there Is?, 1974, pp.159-160
This rather lengthy quote is very, very important in finding the truth here. The reference to Jesus’ prophecy in Luke 21: 24 is instructive. Jesus said “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations.” This clearly shows that, according to Jesus Christ, the trampling had not yet started. This also sheds light on something else that this passage said. It would have been very simple for Jesus, as he was prophesying, to have stated that it was not the physical city of Jerusalem but an invisible counterpart in heaven, which He was referring to.
On the contrary, He made clear that physical Jerusalem would be physically trampled by the nations. The Watchtower Society freely admit that the city of Jerusalem did not stop being trampled on in 1914. However, by what stretch of credibility can Jerusalem – a heavenly city, complete with temple – which had never been trampled by the nations, fulfil the expectations of the prophecy? It certainly is not consistent with the Bible.
One key principle of Biblical interpretation is to interpret Scripture with Scripture, in other words to allow passages which describe the same event to interpret each other. In order to support what I have said about Revelation 11: 15 in this way, I offer the following.
In the above passage, the Watchtower Society claim that in 1914, Jesus Christ established His heavenly kingdom which the physical city of Jerusalem, in its time, typified. This meant that God’s ‘theatre of operations’ became transferred, at that time, from the physical city to its spiritual antitype. Revelation 11: 15 seems to contradict this, and ignored is the following passage of Scripture, from the New World Translation, found in Hebrews 12:18 – 24:
“For YOU have not approached that which can be felt and which has been set aflame with fire, and a dark cloud and a thick darkness and a tempest, and the blare of a trumpet and the voice of words; on hearing which voice the people implored that no word be added to them: ‘And if a beast touches that mountain, it must be stoned.’ Also, the display was so fearsome that Moses said: ‘I am fearful and trembling.’ But YOU have approached a Mount Zion and a city of [the] living God, heavenly Jerusalem, and myriads of angels, in general assembly, and to the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens, and God the Judge of all, and all the spiritual lives (‘spirits’, N.I.V., N.A.S.B., R.S.V., K.J.V., G.N.B., Barclay, R.V., N.E.B., J.N.D., J.B., Emphatic Diaglott, K.I.T. Interlinear, Berkeley, Living, Amplified, N.K.J.V., N.L.T.) of righteous ones who have been made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, which speaks in a better way than Abel’s [blood].”
Notice two things;
First, in agreement with Revelation 11: 15, this passage is, at the time of writing, in the past tense. “…YOU have not approached…” (verse 18); “…YOU have approached…” (verse 22), indicating an event or occurrence having taken place already. What is that event or occurrence? Second, this past event includes mention of the antitype of the physical Jerusalem. According to the Table of Books of the Bible in the New World Translation (1984 revision), p. 1547, the book of Hebrews was completed c. 61 CE
The conclusion we must come to, according to the Watchtower Society’s own Bible, is that the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ was already in place prior to 61 CE, which means that it cannot have been set up in 1914. In order to check this interpretation (again, Scripture with Scripture), we need only to turn to Galatians 4, culminating with the following words of verses 24 to 26 (NWT):
“These thing stand as a symbolic drama; for these [women] mean two covenants, the one from Mount Sinai, which brings forth children for slavery, and which is Hagar. Now this Hagar means Sinai, a mountain in Arabia, and she corresponds with Jerusalem today, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”
We have to conclude, from this, that the Apostle Paul taught, and was himself aware of, the antitype of the physical Jerusalem in his own day. This is inescapable (according to the above table, Galatians was completed c. 50 – 52 CE). If Paul knew, and was aware of it in his own experience (implied by the phrase “…and she is our mother.”), why not the Apostle John when he wrote of: “…the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God and prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…” (Revelation 21: 2, NWT)?
Could not John also be using words, which would be well known to his readers as something that is in place already? What a comfort that would be to those going through persecutions, and had perhaps lost loved ones. But how could a concept, which was to be fulfilled approximately 1,818 years later (Revelation having been completed c. 96 CE) encourage John’s readers?
The calculation which the Watchtower Society use to arrive at 1914, based on 607 as the destruction of Jerusalem, is historically and Biblically unsound. The years 587 and 586 have been given repeatedly, and not “…dependent on the writings of men who lived centuries after it happened…” but on evidence from no less a source than the Babylonian Chronicle.
Also relevant is the fact that Nebuchadrezzar became king in 605 BCE – two years after the Watchtower Society have repeatedly claimed that he sacked Jerusalem. If 607 BCE was not the date of the destruction of (the physical) Jerusalem, then neither can 1914 CE have the spiritual importance attributed to it
The events of spiritual significance, claimed to have taken place in 1914 CE, had already taken place in the first century, according to the Bible. If the heavenly Jerusalem was known and in place in c. 50 to 52, 61 and 96 CE, then Jesus did not return invisibly in 1914 to set it up! Thus, doctrine after doctrine of the Watchtower Society tumbles like a house of cards when the foundation has been taken away. They cannot stand.
The main doctrines to fall are that the Watchtower Society’s Governing Body and its past Presidents cannot be the ‘Faithful and Wise servant’, the idea of 144,000 spiritual ‘Israelites’ is bolted into the 1914 teaching, and the refusal to “…honour the Son just as they honour the Father…” (John 5: 23 NWT)
There are many issues not yet considered here. For example, other interpretations of Jeremiah’s 70 years and how the Watchtower Society account for the missing time (12 months of 30 days each, when some of these became 28 and 31 days long respectively). But the main issues have been given due attention.
The Real Issue!
In the crucial teachings about 1914 and its spiritual significance, the Watchtower Society is at variance with known history and with the Bible itself.
True Christian religion is rooted in historical fact, as The Watchtower, June 15, 2003 testified in its article ‘Jesus Christ – Evidence That He Walked The Earth.’ For a religion that claims to be made up of the only true Christians today, to ignore history in order to perpetuate its own particular teaching, whilst claiming to be in accordance with history is a very serious matter.
As serious as this is, it is not the most serious. This is a time to take stock:
“Since we do not want our worship to be in vain, it is important for each one of us to examine his religion. We need to examine, not only what we personally believe, but also what is taught by any religious organization with which we may be associated. Are its teachings in full harmony with God’s Word, or are they based on the traditions of men? If we are lovers of the truth, there is nothing to fear from such an examination…If a religion really accepts the Bible as God’s Word, it is not going to use certain parts of it and reject other parts.” – The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, 1968, p.13
This is the issue that needs to be addressed now!
The question to answer, the decision to make, is, are you going to believe the Bible – The Word of God, or The Watchtower Society?
It is clear from this study that it has to be one or the other. Both cannot be true, as their teachings are plainly opposite.
Is the teaching on 1914 in “full harmony” with the Bible? If so, why do the very Scripture texts they quote, in their own translation, contradict what they are saying?
Are YOU prepared to examine the Watchtower Society’s teachings the way they suggest others should? Listen to the words of Jesus Christ:
Jesus, when questioned by Pilate, said:
“My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18: 36 NWT)
Notice, in his words, ‘my kingdom is‘, not ‘will be’! Jesus also said:
“Then if anyone says to YOU, ‘Look! Here is the Christ’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it…Look! I have forewarned YOU, 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.” (Matthew 24: 23, 25, 26 NWT)
Now that you know that there is neither a historical or Biblical (spiritual) reason for upholding 1914 CE as the year of Christ’s return, Jesus’ words about not believing in an invisible return are appropriate. Check the following also (all RSV):
Matthew 24: 27: “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man”
Acts 1: 11: “…and said ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Revelation 1: 5 -7: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, every one who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so, Amen.”
It is only by knowing the truth, and letting that truth set us free that we can ever be free of traditions taught by men. The Bible alone is God’s Word. And God’s true Congregation (ekklesia) is waiting to welcome you!
Quotes about 1914 from Watchtower Society publications produced prior to that year.
“The date of the close of that battle (Armageddon) is definitely marked in scripture as October, 1914. It is already in progress, its beginning dating from October 1874.” – Zion’s Watch Tower, January 15, 1892.
“In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished at the end of A.D. 1914.” – Studies in the Scriptures, vol. II, “The Time is at Hand,” 1908 edition, p. 99.
“In this chapter we present the Bible evidence proving that the full end of the times of the Gentiles, i.e., the full end of their lease of dominion, will be reached in AD 1914; and that date will be the farthest limit of the rule of imperfect men.” – Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. II, “The Time is at Hand,” 1908 edition, pp. 76-77.
“…1914…at that date the Kingdom of God, for which our Lord taught us to pray, saying, ‘Thy Kingdom come,’ will obtain full, universal control, and that it will then be ‘set up’ or firmly established, in the earth…It will prove that some time before the end of AD 1914 the last member of the divinely recognized Church of Christ, the ‘royal Priesthood,’ ‘the body of Christ,’ will be glorified with the Head…” – Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. II, “The Time is at Hand,” 1908 edition, p. 77.
“…the ‘battle of the great day of God Almighty’ (Rev. 16: 14) which will end in AD 1914 with the complete overthrow of the earth’s present rulership, has already commenced.” – Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. II, “The Time is at Hand,” 1908 edition, p.101.
“We see no reason for changing the figures – nor could we change them if we would. They are, we believe, God’s dates, not ours. But bear in mind that the end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble.” – Zion’s Watch Tower, 7/15/1894, reprint p. 1677.
“As nearly as we were able to reckon, we did not positively say that this would be the year,” – Zion’s Watch Tower, Nov. 1 1914, p. 325.
And, as a matter of comparison, Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. VII, The Finished Mystery, pages 484 & 485 records the following:
“Until 1878 the nominal church had been in a sense God’s sanctuary or temple; but he was from then on, culminating in 1918, to remove it with a stroke or plague…Also, in the year 1918, when God destroys the churches wholesale and the church members by the millions, it shall be that any escape shall come to the works of Pastor Russell to learn the meaning of the downfall of ‘Christianity’.”
Also, from Millions Now Living Will Never Die, p. 97, J. F. Rutherford, second President of the Watchtower Society, wrote:
“Based on the argument heretofore set forth, that the old order of things, the old world, is ending and is therefore passing away, and that the new order is coming in, and that 1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies of old and the beginning of reconstruction, it is reasonable to conclude that millions of people now on the earth will still be on the earth in 1925. Then, based on the promises set forth in the divine Word, we must reach the indisputable conclusion that millions now living will never die.”
“The date 1925 is even more distinctly indicated by the Scriptures than 1914.” – The Watchtower, Sept. 1, 1922. p. 2.
“Our thought is that 1925 is definitely settled by the Scriptures.” – The Watchtower, Apr. 1, 1923. p. 106.
“Some anticipated that the work would end in 1925, but the Lord did not state so. The difficulty was, the friends inflated their imaginations beyond reason, and that when their imaginations burst asunder, they were inclined to throw away everything.” – The Watchtower, Oct. 15, 1925. p. 232.
Rutherford, in Vindication, Vol.1, page 338, admitted:
“There was a measure of disappointment on the part of Jehovah’s faithful ones on earth concerning the years 1914, 1918, 1925, which disappointment lasted for a time. Later the faithful learned that these dates were definitely fixed in the Scriptures; and they also learned to quit fixing dates for the future and predicting what would come to pass in a certain date…”
The Awake! magazine, Aug. 10 1968. p. 23:
“True, there have been those in times past who predicted an end to the world, even announcing a specific date…The end did not come. They were guilty of false prophesying. Why? What was missing? Missing was the full measure of evidence required in fulfilment of Bible prophecy… But what about today: Today we have evidence (Evidence for 1975, that is!!)required, all of it. And it is overwhelming!”
What we clearly see in the above is that whilst 1914 has been retained as a key date 1918, 1925 and 1975 are not mentioned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Yet the disappointment was about 1914 as well. And the Watchtower Society has proclaimed itself as guilty of false prophecy.
The Watchtower, May 15, 1976:
“It is a serious matter to represent God and Christ in one way, then find out that our understanding of the major teachings and fundamental doctrines of the Scriptures was in error, and then after that, go back to the very doctrines that, by years of study, we had thoroughly determined to be in error. Christians cannot be vacillating – ‘wishy-washy’ – about such fundamental teachings. What confidence can one put in the sincerity or judgment of such persons?”