Updated: Nov 26, 2020
For some of our brothers, the doctrine of 1914 is viewed much like Christendom's trinity. A teaching viewed by many as a mystery simply needing to be accepted with faith. Any who question it are viewed as questioning the congregation, which is the same as questioning Jehovah himself. It is a distressing reality to observe our friends in the congregation embrace that disposition today.
As we delve into this topic it might be best to start by considering some scriptural admonition related to the subject at hand. All of Christ's followers, from the very beginning until now, have always wanted details as to the establishment of the kingdom. The disciples asked Jesus himself when he appeared to them after his resurrection “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” His reply is fundamentally related to the topic at hand. “He said to them: “It does not belong to you to know the times or seasons that the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.” (Acts 1:6,7)
Did Jesus instruct us to brush up on our math and logic puzzles so we could figure out when his presence would begin? No, he said “It does not belong to you to know.” Rather than being told when these things will occur we are admonished to have a continuously watchful disposition. As Jesus said “keep looking, keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is.” (Mark 13:33) Jehovah also gave us pointed admonition on this subject through his apostle, Paul. He said “However, brothers, concerning the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ - - - we ask you not to be quickly shaken from your reason nor to be alarmed either by an inspired statement or by a spoken message or by a letter appearing to be from us, to the effect that the day of Jehovah is here.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1,2)
It is so important to reflect on Jesus statement “It does not belong to you to know”. The words he used there matter because when it comes to the Scriptures we are specifically told “all the things that were written beforehand were written for our instruction”. (Romans 15:4) Indeed, the things God had written down in his Word are “for our instruction”, so in a sense they belong to us.
Comparing the two verses at Acts 1:7 and Romans 15:4, we could ask ourselves a very simple question. If portions of the Scriptures, such as Daniel chapter four, contained specific information about when Jesus presence would begin, why would Jesus provide a seeming contradiction to Paul’s future instruction to the Romans stating that 'it does not belong to us'? Was Jesus unfamiliar with what was written in Daniel, or was he suggesting that his disciples should not concern themselves with the study of recorded prophecies? Was Daniel overstepping when he researched Jeremiah's writings to determine the end of the 70 year exile? (Daniel 9:2) Pondering these questions leads us to the inevitable conclusion that clearly there is nothing in God's Word to discern or to calculate a date or year when Christ's presence will start. Our Lord was being truthful when he said “you do not know when the appointed time is."
In light of the verses just considered, why would anyone try to calculate a date from the Scriptures? Certainly it would not be at the direction of Jesus, as the head of the congregation, or could it be deduced as a result of being directed by holy spirit. Nevertheless, there were many self proclaimed 'Pastors' and Bible students making various attempts to come up with a date throughout the 19th century, and 'Pastor' Russell certainly was not the first.
One of the more well known end times seers was William Miller. Miller calculated the Lord would return on October 22, 1844. He apparently based his calculations on Scriptures in Daniel chapter eight, and applied the day for a year 'rule' in his calculations. Needless to say, the Lord was otherwise engaged that day and failed to appear in support of Miller's calculations. This false prophecy led to what is known today as the “great disappointment” which can be easily researched on the internet. Miller paved the way for Adventists who, in turn, heavily influenced the mind of young Charles Russell.
Russell promoted the ingenious idea of an “invisible return” of Christ. This way no one could claim his predictions were wrong, because after all, who could prove something invisible was not here. Charles, in turn, had no need to wait for some future date so he boldly proclaimed Christ's presence as an established reality that had begun in 1874. However, the Bible students still 'yearned for the day of Jehovah' so they embraced Charles' calculations that Armageddon would commence in the year 1914 and they would all be taken to heaven at that time. (Amos 5:18)
From where did he contrive this date? Truthfully, it was a nice round number of 40 years from 1874 and the number 40 is certainly mentioned a few times in the Bible. Charles had a knack for using anything and everything to come up with the year 1914. He published six volumes of 'Studies in the Scriptures', that can be a tedious read, but if you possess the time and patience you can see the many ways he contrived this date. A noteworthy passage is found in volume 3 “Thy Kingdom Come” pages 341-342. It reads as follows.
“The “Descending Passage,” from the entrance of the Great Pyramid, leading to the “Pit” or “Subterranean Chamber,” represents the course of the world in general (under the prince of this world), into the great time of trouble (the “Pit”), in which evil shall be brought to an end. The measuring of this period and determining when the pit of trouble shall be reached are easy enough if we have a definite date—a point in the Pyramid from which to start. We have this date-mark in the junction of the “First Ascending Passage” with the “Grand Gallery.” That point marks the birth of our Lord Jesus, as the “Well,” 33 inches farther on, indicates his death. So, then, if we measure backward down the “First Ascending Passage” to its junction with the “Entrance Passage,” we shall have a fixed date to mark upon the downward passage. This measure is 1542 inches, and indicates the year B.C. 1542, as the date at that point. Then measuring down the “Entrance Passage” from that point, to find the distance to the entrance of the “Pit,” representing the great trouble and destruction with which this age is to close, when evil will be overthrown from power, we find it to be 3457 inches, symbolizing 3457 years from the above date, B.C. 1542. This calculation shows A.D. 1915 as marking the beginning of the period of trouble; for 1542 years B.C. plus 1915 years A.D. equals 3457 years. Thus the Pyramid witnesses that the close of 1914 will be the beginning of the time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation—no, nor ever shall be afterward. And thus it will be noted that this “Witness” fully corroborates the Bible testimony on this subject, as shown by the “Parallel Dispensations” in Scripture Studies, Vol. II, Chap. VII.”
After having just read what Charles wrote, could a disciple of Christ find it to be anything other than pure nonsense? Those endeavoring to establish themselves as Christ's disciples are repulsed at the very idea of ingesting the nonsense above and calling it 'spiritual food'. It is "filthy vomit" now the same as it was back on the date he printed and published it. (Isaiah 28:8)
The doctrine as presented to the congregation today has had all of the ridiculousness, as exemplified above, strained out. All we are left with today is Daniel chapter four and Luke 21:24 which will subsequently be discussed.
The fourth chapter of Daniel has many beneficial lessons for us today. It is clearly seen that those whom Jehovah appoints as his representatives must maintain a humble disposition. There is a drama demonstrating that the one exalting himself will be humbled and when we are humble Jehovah can exalt us. We take to heart the fundamental truth that any rulership on the earth is only by Jehovah’s permission, and that he can take it from or give it to whomever he chooses.
Could the events that transpired in the fourth chapter of Daniel be taken as a “symbolic drama” depicting events that will be fulfilled in the future? (Galatians 4:24) Since the prophetic expression “seven times” is used in lieu of stating seven years it would seem to have a grander application beyond the days of Nebuchadnezzar. Indeed, there is an overwhelming amount of prophetic information contained in the book of Daniel that all of us are anxiously awaiting insight on. We should be mindful though that Daniel was told to “keep the words secret, and seal up the book until the time of the end.” (Daniel 12:4) Also Jehovah has made known that there are “guarded secrets” that he is waiting to reveal. (Isaiah 48:6) So while we may study and prayerfully ponder these prophetic dramas it would be inappropriate to push ahead with any “private interpretation”. (2 Peter 1:20)
Russell, however, looked at the fourth chapter of Daniel the same way he looked at the great pyramid. He viewed it as a passage of Scripture that would enable him to divine the future. He made some seemingly reasonable comparisons. Nebuchadnezzar's rulership was paralleled with the kings ruling in Jerusalem. His being humbled was compared to the kingship being removed from Jerusalem, when it was destroyed by Babylon. He therefore made the assumption that the “seven times” was something he could use as a means to prophetically calculate when the Christ would ascend to his throne and begin asserting rulership over the earth. A reasonable assumption as long as you ignore absolutely everything Jesus said about being watchful because “you do not know when the appointed time is.”
Alas, Charles apparently felt no need to trouble himself with Christ's counsel, so he proceeded to start divining a date. He took the “seven times” or seven years and said they were 2,520 days. We might argue with that number by pointing out that it falls about 37 days short of seven years. By our precise solar calendar used today seven years is 2,556.75 days. The lunar calendar would occasionally add an extra month to make up for those days as it was necessary to avoid rotating their seasons by more than a month every seven years. Nevertheless, Revelation chapter twelve clearly states that “time, times and half a time” is the prophetic equivalent of 1,260 days. So since three and a half times is 1,260 days stating that seven times is 2,520 is not out of harmony with God's Word.
Russell took the 2,520 days and changed the days to years so that he could bring it right to the time he was living in. He started in 606 B.C.E. and added a zero year to come up with the date 1914. That's right, he started in 606 not 607 and forgot to not count the year zero.
“At this point some will inquire why Charles T. Russell in 1877 used the date 606 B.C. for the fall of Jerusalem whereas The Watchtower of late years has been using 607 B.C. This is because, in the light of modern scholarship, two slight errors were discovered to have been made which cancel each other out and make for the same result, namely, 1914. Concerning the first error, Russell and others considered 1 B.C. to A.D. 1 as being two years whereas in fact this is only one year because, as has been said above, there is no “zero” year in the B.C.-A.D. system for counting years. “The Christian era began, not with no year, but with a 1st year.” - (WT 52 5/1 p.271 par.21)
Was all this by the direction of Jehovah's spirit? Did Jehovah show Charles by means of two mistakes in his calculations that the year 1914 was when his son would start ruling as king? Remember when Charles embraced this he was publishing Christ's presence had already begun in 1874. According to Russell 1914 was not the beginning of Christ's presence, but rather was when he said the “gentile times” would end and begin Christ's dominion over the earth. So what are the “gentile times”?
The “gentile times” is a direct reference to the one and only verse in the Bible used by the congregation today to show that there was a prophesied time period from Jerusalem’s last king until Christ's enthronement. That verse is Luke 21:24. This is the only verse that is offered as evidence that Daniel chapter four should be used to calculate a date for Christ to begin ruling as king. It reads as follows: “And they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.”
It was asserted by Russell that the Jerusalem Jesus mentioned to his disciples was the one desolated six centuries beforehand. The “appointed times of the nations” or “gentile times” he subsequently mentions are professed to be from that desolation in 607 B.C.E. until Christ's future rulership. All that needs to be done for this to make sense is to ignore the context and all the words Jesus used except for “Jerusalem” and “appointed times of the nations”. However, since we are striving to worship Jehovah with spirit and truth let's not ignore the context and take a closer look.
First, was Jesus talking about Jerusalem’s destruction six centuries ago? No. He was not. His disciples specifically asked him about Jerusalem's future destruction. Here is how it is described for us in the Scriptures: “Later, when some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with fine stones and dedicated things, he said: “As for these things that you now see, the days will come when not a stone will be left upon a stone and not be thrown down.” Then they questioned him, saying: “Teacher, when will these things actually be, and what will be the sign when these things are to occur?” (Luke 21:5-7) The Scriptures clearly show the disciples were inquiring about the future destruction of Jerusalem. The context of the answer Jesus gave clearly shows he was giving them a direct answer to their question. Notice what he said in verse 20, “However, when you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near.” It can be clearly seen, with a bit of prayerful meditation, that he was describing the destruction destined to occur in the year 70 C.E.
Second, words matter. Men did not speak using a form of caveman grunts back then. They used words with past, present, and future tenses like we do today. In verse 24, Jesus is clearly talking about Jerusalem's future destruction as he said “Jerusalem will be trampled on”. “Will be” is future tense not past tense. Jesus did not speak in the present tense and say 'Jerusalem will continue to be trampled on' as if to signify some prophetic period was currently undergoing fulfillment.
For a fact, the verses in Luke 21:20-24 have a very meaningful prophetic significance for us today. Jesus words in these verses have a minor and major fulfillment. The minor obviously pertaining to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E., and the major during Christ's presence. We know, for a fact, that a symbolic Jerusalem is going to be trampled on by the nations “in the Lord's day” because it was stated again in another prophecy over two decades after the literal city was destroyed in 70 C.E (Revelation 1:10).
Speaking of the symbolic Jerusalem today, Jehovah's angel told the apostle John “it has been given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city underfoot for 42 months.” (Revelation 11:2) The verse in Revelation adds further detail to the prophecy Jesus originally gave in that the “appointed times of the nations” to trample Jerusalem is specified as “42 months”. A simple comparison of the two verses shows that they are both describing the same thing. Only a blatantly obtuse individual would argue that Revelation 11:2 and Luke 21:24 are not describing the same event.
All things considered, we are still left asking the question of - When? When is Christ's presence? How will we know that his presence has begun? If the “invisible presence” is a man-made doctrine, how will Christ “appear” and to whom? Indeed, the more we learn the more questions we have, and so it goes when we draw close to our heavenly father. There will never be an end to our gaining insight knowledge and wisdom from him. As we continue to mature spiritually so does our appetite for “solid food”. (Hebrews 5:14) Yet as Paul aptly stated “solid food belongs to mature people”. If we are to prove ourselves “mature” we must first make sure that we are “strong enough” in our faith. (1 Corinthians 3:2) This will be addressed in the next post.