Why do we hold on to 1914 so tenaciously? Is it not because a war broke out in that year? A really big war, at that. In fact, “the war to end all wars.” Challenge 1914 to the average Witness and they won’t come at you with counter-arguments about the end of the gentile times or even 607 B.C.E. and the so-called 2,520 prophetic years. The first thing that springs to mind for the average JW is, “It has to be 1914, doesn’t it? That’s the year World War I broke out. That’s the start of the last days.”
Russell had many dates of prophetic significance—one even going back to the 18th Century. We’ve abandoned all of them, but one. I challenge you to find one Witness in a thousand who is aware of any of them, except for 1914. Why did we keep that one? Not because of the 2,520 years. Secular scholars agree that 587 B.C.E. is the date of the Jewish exile, so we could have easily adopted that and given ourselves 1934 at the start of Christ’s presence. Yet we gave that possibility not a moment’s thought. Why? Again, the coincidence of the Great War occurring in the very year we had publicized worldwide as the start of the Great Tribulation was too good to be passed over. Or was it a coincidence? We say NO! But why? There is nothing in our interpretation of Scripture that suggests a single big war on earth would mark the invisible enthronement of Christ. Matthew chapter 24 talks of “wars and reports of wars”. Many wars! There were only three wars reported in 1914, one famine and one earthquake. It hardly sweeps us away in the prophetic fulfillment department.
Ah, but we said the World War did fulfill prophecy connected with Christ’s enthronement in heaven. We say that it was caused by Satan who was cast out of heaven as the first action of the newly enthroned King. This angered Satan and brought woe to the earth and sea. The trouble with this interpretation is that the chronology doesn’t work. The Devil would have been cast down some time after the enthronement in October, 1914, but the War broke out in August of that year.[i] (Rev. 12:9, 12)
If 1914 had passed with nothing significant happening on the world stage, you can bet that our teaching about that year would have been quietly dropped just like 1925 and 1975 were. We’ve shown in the pages of this forum that there is no scriptural support for the idea of a 1914 commencement of Christ’s presence. So was it a coincidence; some sort of prophetic serendipity? Or is the Organizaion right? Did the Devil actually cause the war? Perhaps he did, but not for the reasons we think; not because he was angry at been cast down.[ii]
The reason we’re discussing this is to engage in a little bit of speculation. Now unlike they-who-must-be-obeyed, our speculation is just that—speculation, and nothing more. You should never believe speculation. You should merely keep it in mind if you find it plausible, ever ready for the proof that either confirms or denies it.
So here goes:
The Devil’s main purpose is the eradication of the seed. That’s clear from scripture. One of his most effective methods is to corrupt the seed. He sows “weeds among the wheat”. He is the great apostate and does whatever he can to mislead. Looking back from the middle of the 19th Century, it was evident that he’d done a pretty good job of corrupting Christianity. However, the 1800s were a time of enlightenment; of free thought and free expression. Many were looking into the Scriptures and old apostate teachings were being overturned.
One in particular who was notable for this was C.T. Russell. He actively and widely denounced that the Trinity, Hellfire, and the immortal soul teachings were false. He called people back to the Christ and promoted the idea that true worship must be free from the domination of a clergy class. He eschewed the very idea of organized religion. Organized religion was Satan’s great tool. Put men in charge and things just start to go wrong. Freedom of thought? Unrestricted investigation into God’s word? All this was anathema to the Prince of Darkness. What could he do? Satan doesn’t have new tricks. Just old ones that are tried and true and very reliable. After observing imperfect humans for close on six millennia, he knew just how to exploit our weaknesses.
Russell, like many of his time, had a penchant for numerology. It appears that Barbour, an Millerite (Adventist) set him down that path. The thought of decoding the supposedly hidden secrets of the Scriptures was too enticing to resist. Russell eventually dove into Egyptology and drew chronological calculations from measurements of the great pyramid of Giza. In most other ways he was an outstanding example of a disciple of Christ, but he failed to heed the Bible injunction against trying to know the times and the seasons that the Father has put in his own jurisdiction. (Acts 1:6,7) There’s no getting past it. You just can’t ignore any of the counsel of God, not matter how good your intentions, and expect to come away unscathed.
This fascination with numbers must have seemed to Satan like the perfect weapon to use against us. Here was the great manipulator faced with a community of Christians gradually returning to the teachings of Christ and freeing themselves from bondage to false religion. Remember, once the number of the seed is filled, Satan’s time is up. (Rev. 6:11) Talk about your great anger at having a short time.
The Bible students were coming up on the last and most important of all their date calculations. Having nailed their colors to the mast, should it fail, they would come away with their tail between their legs. (Forgive the mixed metaphor, but I’m only human.) A humbled Christian is a teachable Christian. It would have been hard for us, but we’d have been much better for it. However, if he could make us think we’d got it right, he would essentially be enabling us. Like the gambler who is about to quit for good because he’s lost almost everything, but whose last bet scores big time, we would just be emboldened by success.
The Devil didn’t have to guess. He knew the year we were predicting as the start of the great tribulation. What could be better than to give us a ‘war to end all wars’. The biggest war there ever was. He’d have to work at it. He doesn’t control the governments like some mad dictator. No, he can only influence and manipulate, but he’s really very good at doing that. He’s had thousands of years of practice. The events that produced the First World War were years in the making. There is an excellent book called The Guns of August that details the buildup. Sometimes on the most trivial of events the course of the 20th Century changed. An astonishing series of mishaps chained together involving the flight of the German warship, the Goeben. Change a single one of them and the course of world history would have been drastically altered. What befell that vessel was responsible for bringing Turkey into the war, dragging with it, Bulgaria, Rumania, Italy, and Greece. This caused exports and imports to virtually cease in Russia, contributing in great measure to the 1917 revolution with all its consequences. It resulted in the demise of the Ottoman empire and resulted in the subsequent history of the Middle East which plagues us to this day. Blind chance, or master manipulation? Evolution or intelligent design?
You be the judge. The fact is that the war gave us a reason to believe we had got it right. Of course, the great tribulation didn’t come in that year. But it’s easier to say we got it right but misread the true nature of the fulfillment than to admit there never was any fulfillment at all.
Emboldened by our success, Rutherford—no shrinking violet himself when it came to prophetic interpretations based on numerology—chose to preach in 1918 that by the middle of the next decade, the great tribulation would end.[iii] 1925 was to be the year that the ancient worthies—men like Abraham, Job, and David—would return to life to rule. “Millions now living will never die!” became the battle cry. There was ample reason to be bold. We’d got 1914 right, after all. Okay, so 1925 failed. But we still had 1914, so onward and upward!
What a coup this was for the Devil. He sidetracked us into putting our trust in the calculations of men. Rutherford took the helm and the loose association of Christian congregations under Russell was brought into a tight Organization where truth was channelled by one person and eventually one tiny group of men—just like every other organized religion. Rutherford used his power to lead us further astray by the belief we were not sons of God, but merely friends. It was the “children of God” that the Devil was afraid of. They comprise the seed and the seed will crush him in the head. (Gen. 3:15) He is at war with the seed. (Rev. 12:17) He’d love to make them disappear altogether.
The belief that 1914 is set in bedrock has enabled our human leaders to tie other prophecies to that year, key of which is the supposed appointment of a slave class to leads Jehovah’s people as his one appointed channel of communication. Disagreement with them on any grounds is dealt with most harshly: utter cutting off from all family and friends.
And now here we are, one hundred years later, still clinging tenaciously to a failed doctrine, twisting scriptures like Mat. 24:34 to fit with our increasingly frail theology.
All of this was made possible by the timely occurrence of the First World War. It missed absolute precision by only two months, but then, Satan doesn’t have absolute control. Still, that slight miss was ignored by those eager to find support for their prognostications.
Just think what might have happened if the War had not come for another five or ten years. Perhaps by then we would have given up on this unhealthy love of numbers and consolidated in the true faith.
“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”
[i] Lately we’ve backed quietly away from this teaching because of this fact. Not only did the war break out two months before the supposed heavenly enthronement, but it hardly sprung out of nothingness. The nations had been making preparations for war for over a decade. That would mean the Devil’s anger predated his ousting by at least ten years. We used to argue that the Devil started it early to confuse the issue, but besides being a lame argument, it ignores the fact that the Devil would have had to know ahead of time the day and hour of Christ’s enthronement and presence. How could the Devil be privy to information that Jehovah’s loyal servants didn’t know. Would this not be a failure of the fulfillment of Amos 3:7? Recall that we thought the presence began in 1874 and it wasn’t until 1929 that we began to teach 1914 as the start of his presence.
[ii] The actual year of the Devil’s oust from heaven cannot be known with certainty at the present time. There is a basis for thinking it occurred in the first century, but an argument can also be made for a future fulfillment. Whatever the case, there is no evidence supporting 1914 as the year it happened.
[iii] We didn’t abandon the idea that the great tribulation started in 1914 until the international assemblies of 1969.