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Jehovah's Witnesses' end of the world predictions

Overview.
Predictions for the years 1914 to 1920.

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Overview:

The Watchtower Society's (WTS) predictions about the timing of TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) are similar to the beliefs of many other conservative Protestant denominations. End events will include the War of Armageddon, and the return of Jesus Christ to earth to establish his kingdom. God will conduct a mass genocide during this time which will involve the deaths of billions of people. This will be the greatest mass execution the world has seen.

However, the WTS teaches two beliefs not shared by other conservative Protestants:

bullet Disfellowshipped Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Muslims, most Christians,  followers of other religions, and followers of no religion will be exterminated. Almost seven billion humans -- the vast majority of people on Earth -- will be slaughtered. The WTS teaches that only active adults in good standing of the Jehovah's Witnesses will survive the killing fields. The fate of children and of mentally disadvantaged adults will be up to God. Many other conservative Christian churches teach that only about 2 billion will be slaughtered for their religious beliefs. Even that lesser number would represent more than 300 times the number of murders when compared to the religiously motivated genocide of the Jews by the German Nazis during the 1930's and early 1940's.
 
bulletThey believe that the Rapture has already happened in an invisible form during 1918-9. They do not believe in the concept of the Rapture as taught by other conservative Christian groups. The latter involves Christians being elevated to meet Jesus in the sky at the time of the world's end.

All of the WTS past prophecies about the date of the end of the world have failed. They still teach that Armageddon will happen in our near future. However, they no longer predict a specific year.

1914:

Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), the WTS founder, believed that Christ had secretly arrived in the year 1874 and that he would establish the Kingdom of God on Earth in 1914-OCT. Russell based this prophecy on a "bewildering number of dates" which he recovered from his studies of the Bible and the Great Pyramid.

A key component to the calculation was derived from the book of Daniel, Chapter 4. The book refers to "seven times". He interpreted each "time" as equal to 360 days, giving a total of 2,520 days. He further interpreted this as representing exactly 2,520 years, measured from the starting date of 607 BCE. This resulted in the year 1914-OCT being the target date for the Millennium. 1 Russell's belief became a key teaching of the Jehovah's Witnesses (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society). Since late in the 19th century, they had taught that the "battle of the Great Day of God Almighty" (Armageddon) would happen in that year.

Some specific predictions by Russell:

bullet"And, with the end of A.D. 1914, what God calls Babylon, and what men call Christendom, will have passed away, as is already shown from prophecy." Studies In The Scriptures, Vol. III, (1897) 2
bullet"...we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished by the end of A.D. 1914" (1889). 3
 
bullet "In the coming 26 years, all present governments will be overthrown and dissolved." Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. II, (1889) 2

However, in 1912, he back-pedalled somewhat:

bullet"...he wrote that, while the prophecy remains valid, the power of the Gentiles could end either in October 1914 or in October 1915." 4

"Russell's movement expanded rapidly" in the years leading up to 1914. 1

However, the year 1914 came and passed without the visible appearance of Christ, the massive genocide, and the new Kingdom of God. The WTS regarded the start of the World War 1 as confirmation that the process leading to TEOTWAWKI, and to Christ's return, had started. They decided that 1914 was the year that Jesus invisibly began his rule from heaven. 

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1915, 1918, & 1920

In 1914-NOV, immediately after Russell's prophecy had failed, he wrote that the period of transition could run a "good many years." 4

The Watchtower magazine suggested that the destruction would happen "...shortly after 1914 with the utter destruction" of other Christian denominations and the inauguration of Christ's millennial reign. They first predicted that this would happen in 1915. Drawing a parallel with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Army in 70 CE, the authors of the 1915 Edition of "The Time Is At Hand" wrote:

"The Gentile Times prove that the present governments must all be overthrown about the close of A.D. 1915; and Parallelism above shows that this period corresponds exactly with the year A.D. 70, which witnessed the completion of the downfall of the Jewish polity." 5

After Russell's death in 1916, the WTS rewrote large portions of his Studies in the Scriptures to reflect the new belief that the year 1914 was merely the beginning of the end of Gentile times. 4

The WTS later delayed the millennium to 1918. 6 A 1917 WTS publication, "The Finished Mystery" stated:

"...in the year 1918, when God destroys the churches wholesale and the church members by millions, it shall be that any that escape shall come to the works of Pastor Russell to learn the meaning of the downfall of Christianity." 7

That year also passed uneventfully, except for the end of World War I.

The WTS introduced the concept that Christ would establish his millennial kingdom on earth "before the generation who saw the events of 1914 passes away." With many humans achieving a life span of over 90 years, this could place the War of Armageddon at any time between 1914 and the early 21st century.

For subsequent predictions, see the next essay

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Mathew Schmalz, "When Festinger Fails," Chapter 13 of Jon Stone, Ed., "Expecting Armageddon: Essential readings in failed prophecy," Routledge, (2000), Page 236. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  2. Cited in: Rado Vleugel, "2004: Jehovah's Witnesses still on the watch for the end of this world," WatchTowerInformation Service.org, at: http://www.watchtowerinformationservice.org/
  3. Charles Taze Russell, "The Time is at Hand," Page 99. Cited in The Finished Mystery, (1917), Page 485.
  4. Op Cit, Schmalz, Page 237.
  5. The Time Is At Hand," 1915 Edition.
  6. "Jehovah's Witnesses and the History of 1914," Watchman Fellowship, Inc., at: http://www.watchman.org/jw
  7. he Finished Mystery, (1917), Page 485.


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Copyright © 2003 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-DEC-28
Latest update: 2011-APR-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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