The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the undisputed world champions of false prophecy.
Formally known as The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the organization was founded by Charles Taze Russell in 1879. Its doctrines were originally based on some bizarre teachings which Russell revealed in his six volume series of books called Studies in Scripture.
Russell denied the doctrine of the Trinity and argued that Jesus was a created being who was, in fact, the archangel Michael. He also denied that the Holy Spirit was a person, arguing instead that He is an “impersonal, invisible, active force.”
A Series of Strong Leaders
When Russell died in 1916, he was succeeded by Joseph F. Rutherford who proved to be a strong leader and a prolific author. The result was phenomenal growth. In 1928 the organization had 44,000 members. When Rutherford died in 1942, the membership had more than doubled to 115,000.
Nathan H. Knorr took over in 1942. He streamlined the organization and developed a worldwide outreach strategy. It was also under his leadership that the New World Translation of the Bible was published. This translation, which was issued in six volumes between 1950 and 1960, ignores all accepted rules of translation. Basically, it constitutes a re-wording of all passages that contradict Watchtower doctrines.
When Knorr died in 1977, the Watchtower had over 2.2 million members. Under the leadership of Frederick W. Franz, the fourth president, the Watchtower reached a total membership of over 4 million members. With the death of Franz in 1992, the current president, Milton G. Henschel, took the helm.
A Dismal History of False Prophecies
From its inception, the organization has been characterized by false prophecy. Originally, the prophecies were issued in the name of the president — first, Charles Taze Russell and then Joseph F. Rutherford. But since Rutherford’s death in 1942, the prophecies have been issued in the name of the organization’s governing body which is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York.
The first date the organization set for the Lord’s Second Coming was for the year 1914. It was later narrowed down to October of that year. Listed below are just a few of the prophecies that were issued over the years pointing to the date of October 1914.
1880 — “We need not here repeat the evidences that the seventh trump began its sounding in 1840 and will continue until the end of the time of trouble, and the end of the times of the Gentiles in 1914.” (Zion’s Watchtower, November 1880, page 1)
1888 — “… the full end of the times of the Gentiles, i.e., the full end of their lease of dominion, will be reached in 1914… at that date the Kingdom of God… will obtain full, universal control… and it will then be set up, or firmly established, in the earth on the ruins of the present institutions.” (The Time is at Hand, 1888, pp. 76-77)
1889 — “… the setting up of the Kingdom of God has already begun… and the battle of the great day of God Almighty (Revelation 16:14) which will end in 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth’s present rulership, is already commenced. Remember that… the Gospel age harvest will end October, 1914, and that likewise the overthrow of ‘Christendom,’ so-called, must be expected to immediately follow.” (Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 2, 1889, pp. 101 and 245)
1894 — “We see no reason for changing the figures — nor would we change them if we could. They are, we believe, God’s dates, not ours. But bear in mind that the end of 1914 is not the date of the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble.” (Watchtower, July 15, 1894, p. 266)
1897 — “Complete destruction of ‘the powers that be’ of ‘this present evil world’ — political, financial, ecclesiastical — [will occur] about the close of the ‘time of the Gentiles’ in October 1914.” (Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 4, 1897, p. 622)
1902 — “In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, 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 1914.” (The Time is at Hand, 1902 edition, p. 99) Note: this same statement was contained in the 1908 edition of the same book.
1904 — “According to our expectations, the stress of the great time of trouble will be on us soon, somewhere between 1910 and 1912, culminating with the end of the ‘Times of the Gentiles’ in 1914.” (Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 6, 1904, p. 579)
Covering Their Tracks
As you can readily see from the statements quoted above, the date of October 1914 was no casual slip of the tongue. Furthermore, the date was declared to be “God’s date, not ours.” When October 1914 came and passed without anything of consequence taking place, the Watchtower leaders issued an incredible statement denying that they had ever “positively” stated that 1914 would be the year! Here’s how they put it:
“Studying God’s Word we [predicted] October 1914 as nearly as we were able to reckon. We did not say positively that this would be the year.” (Watchtower, November 1, 1914, p. 325)
Resuming the Charade
The next year, the Society’s president, Charles Taze Russell, issued a bold prophecy about World War I. He stated:
“The present great war in Europe is the beginning of the Armageddon of the Scriptures (Revelation 19:16-20). It will eventuate in the complete overthrow of all the systems of error which have so long oppressed the people of God and deluded the world.” (Pastor Russell’s Sermons, 1915, p. 676)
In the same year (1915), the Watchtower boldly proclaimed a new date for the Lord’s return:
“In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, 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 near the end of 1915.” (The Time is at Hand, 1915 edition, p. 99)
A year later in 1916, the 1915 date had been forgotten and an attempt was being made to salvage the original date of 1914:
“We see no reason for doubting therefore that the Times of the Gentiles ended in October 1914; and that a few more years will witness their utter collapse and the full establishment of God’s Kingdom in the hands of Messiah.” (Watchtower Reprints, vol, 6, p. 5950, September 1, 1916)
Setting a New Date
A year later in 1917, undeterred by all their failures, the Society issued a new date for the Lord’s return — namely, 1925: “There will be no slip-up… Abraham should enter upon the actual possession of his promised inheritance in the year 1925” (Watchtower, October 15, 1917, p. 6157). Before he died in 1916, Russell personally stated: “… there is evidence that the establishment of the Kingdom in Palestine will probably be in 1925, ten years later than we once calculated” (Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 7, p. 128).
In the years following, the 1925 date was reconfirmed over and over again — in 1922, 1923, and 1924. Again, there were no “ifs, ands, or buts.” The date was firmly established:
“The period must end in 1925… [This date] is definitely fixed in the Scriptures. Every thinking person can see that a great climax is at hand. The scriptures clearly indicate that the climax is the fall of Satan’s empire and the full establishment of the Messianic kingdom… Therefore, it can be confidently said at this time that millions now living will never die.” (Golden Age, January 4, 1922, p. 217)
Once again, as with the 1914 date, the revelation was attributed to God:
“This chronology is not of man, but of God. Being of divine origin and divinely corroborated, present-truth chronology stands in a class by itself, absolutely and unqualifiedly correct…” (Watchtower, July 15, 1922, p. 217)
Yet, despite such absolute predictions, when 1925 came and passed without the return of the Lord, the Watchtower leaders had the audacity to blame the error on their over-zealous followers:
“Some anticipated that the work would end in 1925, but the Lord did not state so. The difficulty was that friends inflated their imaginations beyond reason…” (Watchtower, 1926, p. 232)
Focusing on Armageddon
Following the disappointing failure of the 1925 prophecies, the Watchtower shifted its prophetic focus to predictions about the timing of the battle of Armageddon, the battle that would usher in the Messianic Age.
1940 — “The year 1940 is certain to be the most important year yet because Armageddon is very near.” (Informant, April 1940, p. 1)
1941 — “Armageddon is surely near…” (Children, 1941, p. 366)
1942 — “Now, with Armageddon immediately before us…” (Watchtower, April 1, 1942, p. 139)
1946 — “The disaster of Armageddon… is at the door.” (Let God be True, 1946, p. 194)
1955 — “In the light of the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, it is becoming clear that the war of Armageddon is nearing its breaking-out point.” (You May Survive in God’s New World, 1955, p. 331)
1966 — “Armageddon is, in fact, very close indeed.” (Watchtower, October 15, 1966, p. 629)
As you can see, for twenty-six years Jehovah’s Witnesses were told repeatedly that they were living on the threshold of the Tribulation. All the prophecies proved false.
Then, in the mid-Sixties, the focus of Watchtower prophecies shifted again. All the organization’s publications began to teach that the six thousand years of Man’s existence since the time of Creation would end in the fall of 1975, and that the Seventh Millennium, marking the beginning of the reign of Jesus, would begin at that time. (See All Scripture is Inspired of God and Beneficial, 1963, p. 286, and Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God, 1966, pp. 29-30.)
In July of 1969, President Nathan H. Knorr addressed 81,000 Witnesses at Dodger Field in Los Angeles. “Why are we looking forward to 1975?” he asked. And then he answered his question by stating, “It is firmly maintained that by the autumn of the year 1975, the battle of Armageddon will have been fought and God’s new world will have been established” (Los Angeles Herald Examiner, July 21, 1969).
When 1975 came and passed, the faithful were once again berated by the Watchtower leaders for “thinking that Bible chronology reveals the specific date of the Lord’s return” (Watchtower, July 15, 1976, p. 440).
Rutherford’s Great Scam
In 1929, during the Great Depression, the president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Joseph F. Rutherford, built himself a beautiful villa in San Diego which he used as his winter palace.
While most people were suffering greatly from the economic devastation of the Depression, Rutherford lived like royalty. He drank imported liquor, smoked big cigars, and drove a Cadillac.
Rutherford conned his Witness followers into believing that he had built the house for the soon returning patriarchs, judges, and kings named in Hebrews 11. He named the mansion “Beth Sarim,” which in Hebrew means the House of Princes. In an interview with Time magazine in March of 1930, Rutherford said, “I have purposely landscaped the place with palm and olive trees so that these princes of the universe will feel at home.”
At the time he built the house, Rutherford was predicting that any moment God would kill every man, woman and child on planet earth except faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses. The biblical heroes of Hebrews 11would then return to earth, and under the leadership of King David, they would use Beth Sarim as their headquarters to rule the world.
Most Jehovah’s Witnesses today know nothing about this scam. The property was quietly sold in 1948, and the teaching that David and the patriarchs would soon return was dropped in 1950. Since that time, the Watchtower leaders have gone to great lengths to cover up this hoax.
In the deed it specifies that Joseph F. Rutherford is entitled to use the property as he sees fit until “the appearing of David or some of the other men mentioned in the Eleventh Chapter of Hebrews…” The deed goes on to specify that when King David appears, he must “prove or identify” himself to the officers of the Watchtower Society before he can take possession of the property!
The Inevitable Conclusion
I could continue ad nauseam, but I think the point is clear: the “prophets” of the Watchtower are false prophets. They fail the biblical test of accuracy (Deuteronomy 18:22), and they fail to pass the test which they themselves have established in their own words:
“True, there have been those in times past who predicted an “end” to the world, even announcing a specific date. Yet, nothing happened. The “end” did not come. They were guilty of false prophesying. Why? What was missing? Missing from such people were God’s truths and the evidence that He was using and guiding them.” (Awake, October 8, 1968)
So, how do the Watchtower leaders justify their many false prophecies? Incredibly, they argue that because they admit they have been wrong, they cannot be false prophets because “false prophets do not admit to making mistakes” (Watchtower, November 1972, p. 644).
The continuing growth of the Jehovah’s Witnesses despite their long and sordid history of false prophecies is a testimony to the gullibility of fallen Man. Let us pray for the eyes of their very sincere but deceived followers to be opened to the truth of the Gospel.
Good Internet sources about the Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Watchers of the Watch Tower World: www.freeminds.org.
- The Watchman Fellowship, Inc.: www.watchman.org.
- Let Us Reason Ministries: www.letusreason.org.
- Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry: www.carm.org.
- Beacon Light for Former JW’s: http://www.xjw.com.