[Note: I’ve already touched on some of these subjects in another post, but from a different viewpoint.]
When Apollo first suggested to me that 1914 was not the end of the “appointed times of the nations”, my immediate thought was, What about the last days? It is interesting that among those with whom I’ve raised this subject, that also has been the first question to cross their lips.
Why should that be? It’s only a year. Jesus didn’t even mention it when he gave us his sign of the time of the end. Likewise, Paul, when he added to our knowledge about the last days, failed to mention any kick-off year. Neither of them make the slightest allusion to any chronology intended to identify the start of the last days. Yet we seem to hold 1914 as of greater prophetic significance than the actual signs of the last days that Jesus and Paul gave us.
Perhaps you think they omitted pointing Bible readers to the chronological significance of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision in Daniel as a way of keeping this truth from the unworthy and revealing it only to true Christians in the time of the end. Ah, but there’s a rub. We didn’t come up with the 2,520 year-for-a-day calculation. William Miller, the founder of the Seventh-day Adventists, did.
In any case, if Jehovah had intended to use it to distinguish his people by giving us a date no one else had, why did we believe that it marked the end of the last days and the start of the Great Tribulation? Jehovah wouldn’t reveal a date to us and then mislead us as to its fulfillment, would he? Of course not.
The real question is, Why should even the thought that 1914 is not significant cause us doubts about whether or not these are the last days?
We are not the first to go through the abandonment of long-cherished prophetic dates. The brotherhood of Charles Taze Russell’s day believed in many such dates: 1874, 1878, and 1881 to name only a few. All were abandoned by the end of the first quarter of the 20th Century, with the exception of 1914 which was changed from being the end of the last days to the start of them. Why hold on to only one and abandon the rest? If the First World War had broken out in 1913 or 1915, do you think we’d still teach that 1914 was the start of the last days? Is our belief in the significance of this year the result of an historical coincidence?
The First World War and the Spanish influenza are two events of such monumental impact on humanity that they virtually cry out to be part of some larger prophetic fulfillment. If you are persuaded to think that way, consider that back in the 14th Century, people thought they were in the last days when the Black Death and the 100-years war decimated Europe and seemed to fulfill Jesus’ words. What we have all overlooked—myself included—is that Jesus didn’t foretell the “beginning of pangs of distress” to be marked by a really big war and a really big pestilence. He didn’t talk about size and scope at all, but only of sheer numbers. The significant increase in the number of wars, pestilences, famines and earthquakes is what holds prophetic significance.
So let’s take him at his word and just analyze the events he predicted would come, so that we can see whether or not we are really in the last days. Since our 19th Century brethren had to abandon their dates, and rethink their theology, let’s follow suit and approach this discussion without the burden of 1914 on our shoulders.
Right away we can realize that abandoning 1914 frees us from our current stretched-to-the-breaking-point interpretation of ‘this generation’. (Mt. 24:34) Since we don’t have to tie the start of this generation to a year now almost a century in the past, we are free to take a fresh look at it. There are many other doctrinal interpretations that need to be re-examined once we’ve discarded the legacy of 1914, but our purpose here is to determine whether we are in the last days based solely on the signs that Jesus and Paul gave us; so we’ll stick with that.
To start off, Jesus talked about wars and reports of wars. Consider this chart. It lists numbers of wars only, since that’s all Jesus referred to.
If you were to pick from this chart the times when the number of wars increased significantly—again without any preconceptions involving so-called prophetically significant dates—which period would you select? 1911-1920 is the highest bar at 53 wars, but only by a count of two. 1801-1810, 1851-1860, and 1991-2000 all show similar numbers at 51 wars each. So the difference between these four bars is not statistically significant.
Let’s look at periods of 50 years. After all, the last days is supposed to span a generation, right? The four decades after 1920 don’t show an increase in wars. In fact, they show a marked decrease. Perhaps a bar chart grouping by 50 years will be helpful.
Of course, increase in the number of wars isn’t the only sign. In fact, it is meaningless unless all other aspects of the sign exist simultaneously. What about number of pestilences? The Watchtower web site lists 13 new infectious diseases plaguing mankind since 1976. So they seem to be in the increase of late. What about famines? A quick internet search will reveal that food shortages and starvation are now worse than they have ever been. What about earthquakes. Again, an internet search will not point to the early 20th Century as a time period of increased activity by comparison with the last 50 years.
Then we have the other aspects of the sign. It is marked by an increasing of lawlessness, persecution, false prophets, betrayal and hatred, and the love of the greater number cooling off. With 1914 in the equation, we consider the false church to have been judged, so they don’t really count anymore. However, these verses make no sense if applied only to the true Christian congregation. Take 1914 out of the equation and there is no judgment yet on Christianity, true or false. Jesus is speaking about all who claim to follow the Christ. Only in the last 50 years have we seen a marked acceleration of all the events depicted from Mt. 24:8-12.
Then there is the fulfillment of Mt. 24:14. This was not even close to being fulfilled at the start of the 20th Century.
Taking into account now the conditions depicted by Paul in 2 Tim. 3:1-7 (again referring to the Christian Congregation) can we truly say that those conditions were in common worldwide from 1914 to 1960? The era of the hippie generation was a global turning point in how people acted socially. All of Paul’s words have come true since that time forward.
So with all of the foregoing, when would you conclude the last days started? Remember, this isn’t something that has to be interpreted for us by some higher authority. We are meant to determine it for ourselves.
Okay, the question isn’t a fair one, because asking for the start is like asking where a fog bank starts and ends. The last days didn’t start with a single event. Rather, it is the conglomeration of events seen historically that allows us to identify the time period. What does it matter exactly what year it started. What’s important is that we are now undeniably deep within that time period.
All of us who support his forum have no doubt that brother Russell was used by Jehovah God to get the work underway and to organize his people in preparation for the last days. However, like many of his contemporaries, he fell prey to the presumption that the secret to determining exactly when the end would come lay deeply buried in prophetic anti-types, parallels, and hidden chronologies. His fascination with the pyramids and how the dimensions and measurements of same could be used to determine our future is undeniable testimony to this unfortunate penchant of his. With all due respect to the man and his position in Jehovah’s service, I think it is fair to say that he did us a great disservice by this unscriptural emphasis on dates and made-up prophetic parallels.
There is a presumptuousness we have all fallen prey to makes us think we can get knowledge of the times and seasons of God. At Acts 1:7, Jesus explicitly states that is not within our jurisdiction, but we still try, assuming that the rules have changed, at least for us, his chosen ones, since those words were first spoken.
“Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap…” (Gal. 6:7) True, those words are applied to the pursuit of the flesh over the spirit. Nevertheless, they state a universal principle. You cannot ignore Jehovah’s universal principles, and expect to come out unscathed.
Brother Russell and the brotherhood of his day thought they could ignore the injunction against knowing the times and seasons of God. As a result we, as a people, have suffered embarrassment down to this day. Brother Rutherford and the governing body of his day thought the same thing and as a result continued to support some of brother Russell’s questionable chronology resulting in the misguided and ingenuous belief that the ancient “Worthies” like Abraham and Moses would be resurrected in 1925. As ridiculous as that sounds today, we believed it back then and even went so far as to build a house to host them on their arrival. Brother Fred Franz and the governing body under brother Nathan Knorr promoted the idea that the end might come in 1975 which teaching haunts us to this day. And let’s be fair, most of us around at the time were fully on board with these predictions. As a young man, I certainly bought into the 1975 prediction, I am now embarrassed to say.
Okay, all of that is in our past. Will we learn from our mistakes so as to repeat them exactly? Or will we learn from our mistakes so as to avoid them in the future? It is time for us to throw off the legacy of the past. I fear that abandoning 1914 and all that it entails will send shockwaves throughout the worldwide brotherhood. It will be a severe test of faith. Nevertheless, it is unwise to build on a faulty foundation. We are going to be facing a time of tribulation like none we have ever experienced before. It appears that there are prophecies to guide us through that time which, because he had to fit 1914 into the equation, we have misapplied to the past. They were put there for a purpose. We will need to understand them correctly.
Of course, all of this is in Jehovah’s hands. We trust him to make all things happen in their appointed time. Still, it is not right that we sit with folded hands expecting him to do all things for us. There are many examples of Bible characters who, working modestly within their own ‘jurisdiction’, demonstrated the kind of faith and zeal we would all like to call our own.
Are we right in calling for a change in this forum? Or are we acting presumptuously? I know how the governing body feels because they have told us so through this year’s district convention program. However, given the many mistakes they have made and given what the Bible says about putting absolute trust in nobles and the son of earthly man, I find it hard to give them pre-emptive determination over my life course. If we are wrong, may Jehovah correct us, but only not in his anger. (Ps. 146:3; Rom. 14:10; Ps. 6:1)