No year has more profoundly been pointed to for Jehovah’s Witnesses than 1914. It is such a pivotal part of their theological superstructure that the following quote can be found in the book Benefitting From Theocratic Ministry School Education on page 279:
“THIS GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM”
WHEN providing details regarding the sign of his presence and the conclusion of the system of things, Jesus foretold: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”—Matt. 24:14.
Exactly what is this message that is to be given such wide publicity? It is about the Kingdom for which Jesus taught us to pray to God, saying: “Let your kingdom come.” (Matt. 6:10) Revelation 11:15 describes it as “the kingdom of our Lord [Jehovah] and of his Christ” because the ruling authority originates with Jehovah and is conferred upon Christ as King. Note, however, that the message that Jesus said would be proclaimed in our day goes beyond what his followers preached in the first century.
The prophet Daniel was given a vision of this development. He saw “someone like a son of man,” Jesus Christ, receiving from “the Ancient of Days,” Jehovah God, “rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.” (Dan. 7:13, 14) That event of universal significance took place in heaven in the year 1914.
But we also confidently make known that Jehovah has already conferred full ruling authority on his Son. Are you emphasizing this good news when you witness about the Kingdom?
The belief that Jesus received “full ruling authority” in the year 1914 is directly tied in with the message of the “good news of the kingdom”. Thus it is reasonable to thoroughly examine this belief—especially if it is to be one’s responsibility to pass this belief on to others.
The book What Does the Bible Really Teach?—used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to conduct studies with interested ones—relegates the detailed explanation for this particular teaching to its Appendix section at the end of the book. If indeed this message is so vital for people to hear, one wonders why it would not be discussed thoroughly in the main portion of this book, as was done in one of yesteryear’s books, You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth. While this does not necessarily suggest anything sinister—as the information is there for an interested one to look up and/or to ask questions about—it certainly diminishes its importance to a new student of the Bible who may be overwhelmed with even the basic activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses (meetings, study of other publications, field ministry requirements) and may barely complete the publication itself before getting baptized.
Since this is an “event of universal significance”, to put it bluntly, we had better be sure that (1) we understand it fully and (2) it is a correct, true teaching from God’s Word, the Bible.
These are critical issues, as they are directly connected to other doctrines and part of what must be accepted if one is to remain one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
April 1, 1986 Watchtower, page 31:
Approved association with Jehovah’s Witnesses requires accepting the entire range of the true teachings of the Bible, including those Scriptural beliefs that are unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses. What do such beliefs include?
That the great issue before humankind is the rightfulness of Jehovah’s sovereignty, which is why he has allowed wickedness so long. (Ezekiel 25:17) That Jesus Christ had a prehuman existence and is subordinate to his heavenly Father. (John 14:28) That there is a “faithful and discreet slave” upon earth today ‘entrusted with all of Jesus’ earthly interests,’ which slave is associated with the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Matthew 24:45-47) That 1914 marked the end of the Gentile Times and the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the heavens, as well as the time for Christ’s foretold presence. (Luke 21:7-24; Revelation 11:15–12:10)
Of course, this same article makes clear that “teaching dissident or divergent views is not compatible with true Christianity,” said “true Christianity” being what Jehovah’s Witnesses feel they have. It would be easy to see, however, if one ponders it, that what constitutes “dissident or divergent views” is dependent on someone’s point of view. Who decides what is a dissident point of view?
Jehovah’s Witnesses would say—and certainly with validity for a Christian—that the Bible should be the final authority. This brings us to the question, is the Bible the final authority for Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or are there other factors to consider?
A quote from the September 15 th , 2010 Watchtower might prove enlightening. On page 13, it says:
The Governing Body publishes spiritually encouraging literature in many languages. This spiritual food is based on God’s Word. Thus, what is taught is not from men but from Jehovah.—Isa. 54:13
The implications of such a statement can hardly be lost on anyone. The literature published by the Governing Body is here stated in no uncertain terms as coming, not from men, but from Jehovah God. Jehovah’s Witnesses accept this as being true. But what does it mean?
Consider an example of what has been printed in literature published by the Governing Body. The May 15 th , 1984 Watchtower, pages 6-7 says the following with regards to the Governing Body’s understanding of Matthew 24:34:
From a purely human viewpoint, it could appear that these developments could hardly take place before the generation of 1914 disappears from the scene. But fulfillment of all the foretold events affecting the generation of 1914 does not depend on comparatively slow human action. Jehovah’s prophetic word through Christ Jesus is: “This generation [of 1914] will by no means pass away until all things occur.” (Luke 21:32) And Jehovah, who is the source of inspired and unfailing prophecy, will bring about the fulfillment of his Son’s words in a relatively short time.—Isaiah 46:9, 10; 55:10, 11
Here, the Governing Body boldly proclaimed—and authorized Jehovah’s Witnesses to proclaim—that those born in 1914 would not die before Armageddon occurred. A person born in 1914 would be 95 years old today, and there are very few of them remaining. Time has proven these declarations to be highly unlikely, if not absolutely false quite yet. Even if Armageddon did occur this year, it would still negate any notion that the Governing Body received this information from Jehovah. Why?
Consider what the Governing Body currently believes about Matthew 24:34, which is a direct contradiction of the aforementioned previous belief. It is found in the April 15, 2010 Watchtower, on page 10:
For example, consider our understanding of those who make up “this generation” mentioned by Jesus. (Read Matthew 24:32-34.) To what generation did Jesus refer? The article “Christ’s Presence—What Does It Mean To You?” explained that Jesus was referring, not to the wicked, but to his disciples, who were soon to be anointed with holy spirit…How, then, are we to understand Jesus’ words about “this generation”? He evidently meant that the lives of the anointed who were on hand when the sign began to become evident in 1914 would overlap with the lives of other anointed ones who would see the start of the great tribulation.
If Armageddon came before all those born in 1914 died, the Governing Body would have been safer sticking with what was published in 1984, and they would have proven to be genuine prophets who spoke truth. However, they have revised their understanding of Matthew 24:34 three times since the bold declarations in the May 15, 1984 issue. For such revisions to be necessary indicate the reality—they do not have clear knowledge of future events from above, as true prophets did, even if said prophets did not know exactly how their words would be fulfilled. Time proves true prophets to be right, not wrong—much less wrong several times.
God’s Word, information that comes from Jehovah, does not need multiple revisions. The Bible has not been revised in nearly 2,000 years. It is unreasonable, then, to conclude that literature published by the Governing Body can measure up to the authority of scripture. To be in error so many times means that the Governing Body’s understanding is not based on God’s Word at all, because if it were, they would be right the first time.
Inevitably, then, Jehovah’s Witnesses are faced with the only possible conclusions if we accept what the aforementioned September 15 th , 2010 Watchtower said: (1) The Watchtower Society’s publications have equal authority to the Bible, as both come, not from men, but from Jehovah. (2) The Watchtower Society’s publications have greater authority than the Bible, as the Bible itself must be somehow incomplete or incomprehensible without Watchtower publications.
In the face of the latest explanation of Matthew 24:34, one has to ask, where did Jesus refer to those who were born in 1914 as being the ones that his signs would apply to? Where did Jesus refer to those whose lives would overlap with such ones? To suggest that his words evidently mean something like this, especially in the face of just how many different things Jesus evidently meant according to the Watchtower itself over the years, is to take considerable liberties with those words, is it not?
Jesus was indeed speaking to his disciples, but the year was 33 C.E. Consider the apostles’ reaction if Jesus says to them: “Truly I tell you, the generation of anointed ones whose lives overlap with the generation of anointed ones who will see the events of the year 1914 will not pass away until all these things occur.” Would this create in any sound mind, alive in the year 33 C.E., any sense of urgency? For that matter, would it not seem a peculiar thing to say altogether, especially given that the whole point of his warnings to them were about their need to be alert because they would not be able to figure out when he would come? It is obvious, then, that the warnings given to “this generation” were warnings that applied directly to the apostles while they and their generation were alive.
Is it possible, though, that the need to keep awake applied to Christians beyond that era? Certainly. If God’s Word has value, then keeping spiritually awake is critical for every Christian, no matter when he or she is alive. Every generation should feel that Jesus is near for them.
Consider the basis for the 1914 belief:
Daniel chapter 4 refers to a dream that Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had while the Jews were under his domination. In this dream, he is symbolically described as a massive tree, a tree that would be cut down and experience humiliation for “seven times”, after which he would be restored to his kingship.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that this dream symbolically points to a future time, that is, the year 1914, when Jesus was presumably enthroned as King in heaven. They believe that the “seven times” that Nebuchadnezzar faced symbolically parallel a time period of Gentile domination over the Jews, a time period that is presumed to be connected to Jesus’ words about “the appointed times of the nations”. (Luke 21:24) This period was allegedly started when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E. These seven times presumably amount to seven symbolic years of 360 days each, or 2,520 years. Counting from the date of 607 B.C.E. brings us to 1914 C.E.
But before accepting such a belief as valid, we first have to ask, is there a reason to follow this logic?
The entire conclusion, the end point of 1914, hangs upon one important premise: God’s rulership and kingdom over the earth were interrupted in 607 B.C.E. by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. What does the Bible tell us regarding this point?
Daniel 4:2-3 records Nebuchadnezzar saying the following about Jehovah:
The signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed with me, it has seemed good to me to declare. How grand his signs are, and how mighty his wonders are! His kingdom is a kingdom to time indefinite, and his rulership is for generation after generation.
Consider the conclusion Nebuchadnezzar reaches at Daniel 4:34:
“And at the end of the days I, Neb·u·chad·nez′zar, lifted up to the heavens my eyes, and my own understanding began to return to me; and I blessed the Most High himself, and the One living to time indefinite I praised and glorified, because his rulership is a rulership to time indefinite and his kingdom is for generation after generation.
Note that Nebuchadnezzar does not say that the Most High’s rulership WILL BE to time indefinite, or that his kingdom WILL BE for generation after generation; he says that God’s rulership IS to time indefinite. He speaks in the present tense. Yet, his words are taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses to mean that this prophetic dream’s fulfillment is about a time period in the distant future, beyond Nebuchadnezzar. Did Nebuchadnezzar mean what he said, then, or not?
A better question: Is it possible for human rulers to dethrone Jehovah himself? Apparently so, if Jehovah’s Witnesses are correct about what happened in 607 B.C.E. If Jehovah could be dethroned by a man in any way, shape, or form, then it undercuts the very notion that his rulership is, was, or ever could be absolute. In which case, any holy book will suffice for those interested in religion, and any god will do.
More important than that, Nebuchadnezzar’s words destroy any reason to begin trying to figure out if these “seven times” have a larger fulfillment. Here we have the very king who supposedly interrupted Jehovah’s rulership as extended towards the earth recognizing Jehovah as the one whose rulership is to time indefinite, the one whose kingdom is for generation after generation.
If this king recognizes Jehovah’s sovereignty, then he was not involved in removing it. If he was not involved in removing it, then even if “the appointed times of the nations” were “seven times”, 607 B.C.E. cannot be the starting point for any calculation. Further, if Jehovah is always the Ruler, as he clearly proved to Nebuchadnezzar, then it is impossible for his rulership to be interrupted. No activity on earth would have any bearing whatsoever on the supremacy of the true God, on his unlimited authority over mankind.
But there is a far simpler reason why the 1914 doctrine serves no meaningful purpose for Christians. Jesus Christ said to his apostles, who were equally interested in when certain things would happen, “It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his jurisdiction.” (Acts 1:7) If Jesus was unwilling to share detailed information about when the kingdom would be restored with his closest friends on earth, why would he then share such information with anyone else? Secondly, Jesus made clear who had this knowledge—the Father, who placed said knowledge in his “jurisdiction”. Jurisdiction, according to The New Oxford American Dictionary, means “the official power to make legal decisions and judgments.” The apostles, then, as mere men, were suggesting, albeit out of sincerity, that they should receive classified information that was under the official authority of the Father alone.
For men such as the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not even receive the guidance the apostles received, to enter the scene and claim that they have received information that not even the Lord Jesus Christ was willing to divulge to his closest friends is, at best, supreme arrogance, and at worst, a form of spiritual theft. It would be the equivalent of an employee sneaking into his employer’s office, obtaining confidential information, then informing everyone that he received this information with his employer’s invisible approval. How would the employer feel if he caught the employee rummaging in his confidential files? Would the Father feel any differently about those who claim to know the unknowable?
Those who choose to go along with the 1914 teaching place themselves in the position of inheriting the choices of C.T. Russell and the Governing Body. As a Christian, the question to be faced is, will you accept these teachings for the sake of remaining in a particular organization, or will you grant the Bible itself—and indeed, the Christ himself--the final authority? The Christ will be the one to judge as to whether or not this teaching—and its implications—are something necessary for his approval.