Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Did The “Alarm Clock” Go Off Too Soon?

Source : The WT Society Dissident Blog.

In my last post I talked about how Russell calculated the end of the gentile times to occur in the year 1914, at which time Christ would put an end to all earthly governments. As it turns out this did not happen. How did those early Bible students handle the disappointment? The next section of chapter 10 of the Proclaimers book has this to say...

*** jv chap. 10 pp. 135-137 Growing in Accurate Knowledge of the Truth ***

Did the “Alarm Clock” Go Off Too Soon?

Great turmoil certainly burst forth upon the world in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I, which for many years was called simply the Great War, but it did not immediately lead to an overthrow of all existing human rulerships. As events in connection with Palestine developed following 1914, the Bible Students thought they saw evidence of significant changes for Israel. But months and then years passed, and the Bible Students did not receive their heavenly reward as they had anticipated. How did they react to that?

The Watch Tower of February 1, 1916, specifically drew attention to October 1, 1914, and then said: “This was the last point of time that Bible chronology pointed out to us as relating to the Church’s experiences. Did the Lord tell us that we would be taken [to heaven] there? No. What did He say? His Word and the fulfil[l]ments of prophecy seemed to point unmistakably that this date marked the end of the Gentile Times. We inferred from this that the Church’s ‘change’ would take place on or before that date. But God did not tell us that it would be so. He permitted us to draw that inference; and we believe that it has proven to be a necessary test upon God’s dear saints everywhere.” But did these developments prove that their glorious hope had been in vain? No. It simply meant that not everything was taking place as soon as they had expected.

Several years before 1914, Russell had written: “Chronology (time prophecies in general) was evidently not intended to give God’s people accurate chronological information all the way down the path of the centuries. Evidently it is intended more to serve as an alarm clock to awaken and energize the Lord’s people at the proper time. . . . But let us suppose, for instance, that October, 1914, should pass and that no serious fall of Gentile power would occur. What would this prove or disprove? It would not disprove any feature of the Divine Plan of the Ages. The ransom-price finished at Calvary would still stand the guarantee of the ultimate fulfillment of the great Divine Program for human restitution. The ‘high calling’ of the Church to suffer with the Redeemer and to be glorified with him as his members or as his Bride would still be the same. . . . The only thing [a]ffected by the chronology would be the time for the accomplishment of these glorious hopes for the Church and for the world. . . . And if that date pass it would merely prove that our chronology, our ‘alarm clock,’ went off a little before the time. Would we consider it a great calamity if our alarm clock awakened us a few moments earlier in the morning of some great day full of joy and pleasure? Surely not!”

But that “alarm clock” had not gone off too soon. Actually, it was the experiences to which the “clock” had awakened them that were not exactly what they had expected.

Some years later, when the light had grown brighter, they acknowledged: “Many of the dear saints thought that all the work was done. . . . They rejoiced because of the clear proof that the world had ended, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and that the day of their deliverance drew nigh. But they had overlooked something else that must be done. The good news that they had received must be told to others; because Jesus had commanded: ‘This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations: and then shall the end come.’ (Matthew 24:14)”—The Watch Tower, May 1, 1925.

As the events following 1914 began to unfold and the Bible Students compared these with what the Master had foretold, they gradually came to appreciate that they were living in the last days of the old system and that they had been since 1914. They also came to understand that it was in the year 1914 that Christ’s invisible presence had begun and that this was, not by his personally returning (even invisibly) to the vicinity of the earth, but by his directing his attention toward the earth as ruling King. They saw and accepted the vital responsibility that was theirs to proclaim “this good news of the kingdom” for a witness to all nations during this critical time of human history.—Matt. 24:3-14.

What exactly was the message about the Kingdom that they were to preach? Was it any different from the message of the first-century Christians?

The first sentence is a little misleading. "Great turmoil certainly burst forth upon the world in 1914 ... but it did not immediately lead to an overthrow of all existing human rulerships." Actually not only did it not 'immediately' lead to an overthrow of all existing human rulerships, it never did. The quote from the Feb 1st 1916 Watchtower makes it seem as though Russell and company had adjusted their thinking in regards to 1914 being the beginning of Christ's invisible return. However, the March 1st, 1916 issue had this comment from Russell:

The Apostle’s words near the close of his Epistle, should
be of special comfort and cheer to us now, in this brief wait-
ing time since the close of Gentile Times. He says, "And
account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation." (2
Peter 3:15) How glad of this little extended time some of
the Lord’s dear ones are, who have come into the knowledge
of present truth and consecrated themselves to God since
October, 1914! And how glad are many of Christ’s followers
who have longer known of these precious truths, that the Lord
has mercifully granted them a little further time to make
their calling and election sure! Perhaps some of these were
not ready when the Gentile Times closed.

So really, even in 1916 there was an expectation that the end of all human government was going to happen soon. The next quote sited as being written 'several years' before 1914 appeared in the January 1st 1911 issue of the Watchtower. The quote selection seems to indicate that it would not be a disappointment if the end of this system of things did not happen in 1914. However, this is the beginning of a new type of message delivery where there are two messages given. One that the writers are not infallible followed by a statement of certainty about some future event. Notice how the paragraph quoted in the Proclaimers book reads in its entirety.

Suppose that our chronological calculations (never set forth
as infallible) should prove to be fallible and in error. Our
conclusion would merely be that the error could not be very
great. Outward signs of restitution multiplying on every hand
tell us that the rising of the Sun of Righteousness is near at
hand. Church federation tendencies attest the same thing,
corroborating the Scriptures respecting the conditions which
will prevail’at the very closing of this age. The movement
amongst the Jews similarly implies an awakening and a prep-
aration for Messiah much in harmony with what we must
expect in the close of this age. The stress along the lines of
social, political and financial affairs all indicate that the
great time of trouble and anarchy with which this age will
end cannot be far off--cannot lie much, if any, beyond October,
1914. And if that date pass it would merely prove that our
chronology, our "alarm clock," went off a little before the
The paragraph begins by stating that the calculations were "never set forth
as infallible", but by the end of the paragraph the writer is back to asserting the correctness of the predictions "The stress along the lines of social, political and financial affairs all indicate that the great time of trouble and anarchy with which this age will end cannot be far off--cannot lie much, if any, beyond October, 1914. And if that date pass it would merely prove that our chronology, our "alarm clock," went off a little before the time." So by 'a little before the time', the writer means that the end would come soon after 1914.

The concept that a prediction for a certain event to happen on a certain date is an 'alarm clock' for the rank and file adherents has been very effective over the years. In a future post, I plan to correlate membership with the various predictions for the end of this system of things to illustrate a reason other than 'the brothers were eager for the new system' as has been printed.

Moving on to the next quote from the May 1st 1925 Watchtower cited in the Proclaimers book: "...But they had overlooked something else that must be done. The good news that they had received must be told to others;... " 'They' being the rank and file members. Once again, see how the Watchtower Society has blamed those who believed what was printed in earlier publications instead of admitting how they were completely wrong about the date?

Next we read from the Proclaimers book:

They also came to understand that it was in the year 1914 that Christ’s invisible presence had begun and that this was, not by his personally returning (even invisibly) to the vicinity of the earth, but by his directing his attention toward the earth as ruling King.
This is merely an extension to the technique used in 1874 only this time in addition to Christ's invisible return (which has been moved to 1914 ), they also decided that He did in fact begin ruling in heaven. The problem is that they only 'came to realize' these things after what they had been confident about previously did not come to pass. Is it not reasonable to insist that the group of men claiming to be God's sole channel of information from Jehovah be accurate in advance?

Next the leaders of these Bible students had to figure out the direction that the organization would take. After the death of Russell, a man named J. F. 'Judge' Rutherford became president of the Watchtower Society where he moved the focus from predicting dates ( well, he did make some predictions ) to evangelizing. Why did he shift the focus and what was the result? I'll cover that in my next post.
The Shift To 607.

Source : The WT Society Dissident Blog.

In 1880, we see a shift to using the destruction of Jerusalem as opposed to the death of Jacob. At this point in their history, the Bible students believed that the physical nation of Israel needed to be restored on earth before the second coming of Christ (Zionist).

WT June, 1880

Bible students of the past, as well as those of the present
day, have noticed that the dispersion, and ultimate restoration
of the Jewish nation-literal Israel-is the subject of con-
siderable portions of both Old and New Testament prophecies.
As prophecy cannot be understood with any great degree of
clearness until about the time of its fulfillment; the subject
has necessarily been enveloped in a good deal of mystery in
the past; and it is still, with those who do not keep pace
with the development of prophecy. Various attempts have been
made, by those who discard the millennial reign of the king-
dom of God, to show that these prophecies would never have
a literal, but a mystical fulfillment. Some have taken the
position that they were conditional, and that the conditions
have not been met; and others affirming that they were all
fulfilled at the restoration from the Babylonian captivity. But
it will be observed that the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah
were made after that; and those of the New Testament, several
hundred years after. Jesus, in giving the signs which would
precede the complete development of the kingdom of God,
says: And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies,
then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. . . . . For these
be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may
be fulfilled , . . . For there shall be great distress in the land,
and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the sword, and
shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall
be trodden down of the Gentiles [Ethnon Nations] until the
times-years-of the Gentiles be fulfilled. Luke xxi. 20-24.
This prophecy involves the inference that the times-
years-of the Gentiles, have been foretold, or they could not
be fulfilled; that Jerusalem represents the Jews among the
nations ; and that the treading down will cease, when the
times are fulfilled, and the kingdom established-vs. 31. As
has been many times shown, the times of the Gentiles last
about thirty-five years from the spring of 1880; and the re-
turn of the Jews to Palestine is rapidly becoming an indisput-
able fact.
...we read of their last king Zedekiah: And thou, profane,
wicked prince of lsrael, whose day is come, when iniquity shall
have an end; thus saith the Lord God; remove the diadem,
and take off the crown. . . I will overturn, overturn, overturn
it; and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is, and
I will give it him-xxv. 28.
They were overturned, 1st at the Babylonish captivity, 606
B. C., where their treading down began; 2nd, at the destruc-
tion of Jerusalem, A. D., 70; the 3rd time will be the one
spoken of in Zech. xiv., and right there he will come whose
right it is: or will then complete the conquering of the na-
tions; and the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom
of our Lord and his Anointed ones. And so we might quote
largely from Is . Jer., Ezek., Amos., Zeph., Zech., and other
plophets, showing that the children of Israel will return to
thier own land. And the united testimony of Prophets and
Apostles is that it was designed of the Lord to prove a glorious
blessing to themselves and all other nations; bringing them to
acknowledge that God is the Lord.
And how could it be otherwise? When such a vast amount
of prophecy becomes a fact, it will prove the scriptures true;
and when they are proved true by fulfillment, it can but be a
terrible blow to scepticism and infidelity. Jesus said: I tell
you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may
believe that I am he-John xiii. 19.
And so the result will be to the nations, when they see so
much come to pass; and probably on this account Israel were
scattered among all nations. Then it will be true that: The
wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein-Is. xxxv.
8. The apology for presenting this subject, is, that the return
of the Jews, and the time of trouble are becoming apparent
facts; and it is believed that the two facts will be the means,
in the next 35 years, of the conversion of the 144,000 Jews.
and the great multitude of all nations, who will come up out
of or after the great tribulation, with their robes washed white
in the blood of the Lamb-Rev. vii. B. W. K.

In Leviticus xxvi, the expression “ seven times” is four
times repeated in reference to the duration of the rule of its
enemies over Jerusalem. It has often been shown that this is
the basis and key of the Times of the Gentiles (Luke xxi. 24))
or the duration of Gentile rule over Jerusalem. A time is a
year ; a prophetic year is 360 common Years and has been so
fulfilled. “ A time, times and a half” (i. e., 3 1/2 times) has
been fulfilled as 1260 literal years in the Papal dominion over
the nations, between A. D. 538 and A. D. 1798.
If three times and a half are 1260 years, seven times are
2520 years. From B. C. 606, where the desolation of Jerusalem
began, 2520 years reach to A. D. 1914. According to this
application of the number seven, Jerusalem will be free at that
time, and thence-forward be a praise in the earth. The appl-
cation is clearly confirmed by the events of to-day-the trouble
brewing among the nations, and the beginning of Jewish res-
The prophetic argument on the Two Dispensations shows
that favor was due to that people in 1878, and the door was
legally opened for their return; by the Anglo-Turkish treaty
of that year. From 1878 to 1914, is a period of 37 years for
their rise, and is equal to the period of their fall, from the
time Jesus left their house desolate in A. D. 33. until their
complete destruction in A. D. 70.
Their fall was from natural nationality, and they will rise
to the same. “ This child is set for the fall and the rising
again of many in Israel.” Jesus has the work of restoring
the natural, and of imparting all manner of spiritual blessings.
The long period of 2520 years and their bitter experience - _
under the dominion of the beasts, (human government, Dan.
vii.) is clearly represented in Dan. iv., by the “ seven times”
of Nebuchadnezzar and his bitter experience among the beasts.
This being a type covers only seven literal years. Why, if
there is nothing in all these things, can such a harmony be
developed on the basis of number seven ? .J. H. P.

So 1880 + 35 years = 1915. They still think 1915 ( or the end of 1914) is when all earthly governments will be eliminated and a global theocracy will be reinstated. It seems that the ideas around Zionism ( which was in vogue at the time ) provided much more compelling support for the chronology and calculations used to arrive at the year 1914. Using the destruction of Jerusalem, the captivity of the Jews and the eventual rebuilding of the temple to foreshadow the second coming of Christ provided a hook for 'nominal Christians' who were intrigued by the notion that the literal nation of Israel needed to exist before God would initiate Armageddon. In this way the pre-Watchtower Society adapted to appeal to a larger audience while still holding onto belief that the end of this system of things could be distilled from prophesies that had already been fulfilled.

What does that present-day Watchtower Society have to say about the matter? My next few posts will examine the history of Jehovah's Witnesses and the Watchtower Society as recorded in the book "Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom".