1914 JW Doctrine — Rich Kelsey

JW 1914 Coverup
JW 1914 artwork revised by Rich Kelsey

1914, An Important Year in Watch Tower History:

“… the second coming of Christ dates from the fall of the year 1914.” (What is Truth? 1932, p. 48)

1914, for Jehovah’s Witnesses, was the year Jesus Christ’s invisible second coming occurred. They proclaimed that message for 70 years in a row!

Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916)
Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916)

Founder of a Movement Which Branched into the Jehovah’s Witnesses:

When Charles Russell was a teenager, he was influenced[1] by Christian Adventists who were teaching that Jesus Christ was going to return to earth in 1873. Christ’s return was expected to be visible, powerful, with Christians taken to heaven, and the earth immediately cleansed by fire.

Thousands of people were looking forward to this advent, or as it was often called, “second advent.” Charles Russell was one of them. When it looked like none of the things forecast for the mid 1870s came to pass, Russell was left disillusioned, looking for answers. Then in January of 1876, Charles Russell read a magazine entitled, 

The Midnight Cry and Herald of The Morning,

written by an Adventist preacher named Nelson Barbour. Barbour claimed that Jesus had returned to earth in the autumn of 1874, yet his return was invisible. Barbour also claimed that Christians would be caught up to heaven three-and-one-half years later, in the spring of 1878.

Russell was so moved by the news of Christ’s invisible return and the prospect of the impending rapture that he went to work with Barbour helping to publish and promote Barbour’s magazine. Russell, along with thousands of Adventists fully expected to be caught up to heaven in 1878.

When 1878 came to a close with Christ’s followers still firmly on the ground, Russell was once again looking for answers. He eventually came to believe that the expected rapture could also have been invisible. Charles Russell surmised that the dead in Christ were raised and ascended to heaven in 1878 — 3 & 1/2 years after Christ’s supposed return. One thing is certain: In Russell’s mind, Jesus Christ’s second coming took place in 1874.

After a falling out with Barbour, in 1879 Russell created his own magazine heralding the 1874 presence of Jesus Christ, entitled:


Throughout Russell’s lifetime he never lost faith in the idea that Jesus had returned to earth invisibly in 1874, nor did Russell lose faith in the significance of the year 1878. The years 1874 and 1878 were spelled out many times in Watchtower publications.

Here is one example:

Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present, since October 1874, A.D., according to the testimony of the prophets, to those who have ears to hear it: and the formal inauguration of his kingly office dates from April 1878, A.D.” (The Battle of Armageddon, 1913, p. 621)

In 1916 Charles Russell died.

From 1917 through 1921 the Watch Tower Society, under Russell’s successor, Joseph (Judge) Rutherford, still taught that Christ’s presence began in 1874, not in 1914.

In 1922 the Society penned these words,

“No one can properly understand the work of God at this present time who does not realize that since 1874, the time of the Lord’s return in power, there has been a complete change in God’s operations.” (The WATCH TOWER, September 15, 1922, p. 278)

In 1923 the Society claimed,

“The Scriptures show that the second presence was due in 1874… This proof shows that the Lord has been present since 1874.” (The WATCH TOWER, March 1, 1923, p. 67)

Then in 1924, ten years after the supposed actual 1914 return of Christ occurred, this was written in the Watchtower magazine,

“Surely there is not the slightest room for doubt in the mind of a truly consecrated child of God that the Lord Jesus is present and has been since 1874.” (The WATCH TOWER, January 1, 1924, p. 5)

During the years 1925 and 1926 the Watch Tower Society still maintained that Christ’s presence began in 1874, not 1914.

Then in 1927 the Society wrote,

“To understand the events concerning the Lord’s second presence from 1874 to 1914 requires one to be spiritually minded.” (Creation, 1927 p. 312)

Throughout the year 1928 it was still taught that Christ’s presence began in 1874.

Then in 1929 the Society said,

“The Scriptural proof is that the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 AD.” (Prophecy, 1929, p. 65)

1914, The Record Gets Worse:

In 1929 the Society under Rutherford was still publishing material claiming an 1874 return of Jesus.

The first publication to mention a 1914 return is The Golden Age magazine, 1930 p. 503, in which Judge Rutherford spelled out,

Jesus has been present since 1914.”  

However, the Judge gave no supporting chronology for this statement.

From 1930 to 1940, other Watch Tower publications, such as The Harp of God, 1940 edition, continued to maintain the old 1874 date for Christ’s return. 

Then, in 1943, which is 63 years after the Watch Tower Society first announced Christ’s 1874 presence, the change in the year of Christ’s return from 1874 to 1914 became official doctrine.

Consider the heart-wrenching-confusion Witnesses went through as they contemplated the implications of the new teaching; if the year 1874 was no longer valid, how could they now be sure 1914 was a valid year?

Countless people walked away from the Society due to this change in the year of Christ’s return. Others had to face the fact that remaining would make them objects of scorn like never before. Skeptics had a heyday when the Society itself admitted they were wrong about 1874. The faithful were assured that this change in the “Time” and the resulting shakeup was part of God’s plan to remove the tares which had been planted among the wheat.

1914, Let’s do some math:

Charles Russell maintained that 40 years after Christ’s return in 1874, the Battle of Armageddon would occur. By adding 40 years to 1874 we arrive at the year 1914. Russell taught that during Armageddon, Christianity would be destroyed. Here is an example of this Watchtower teaching:

Christendom will be completely destroyed by October 1914.” (ZION’S WATCH TOWER, January 15, 1892, p. 1355)

Armageddon did not occur in 1914, so it was pushed ahead to 1915. Russell died still believing that Armageddon was at the door. Year after year went by and Armageddon was still nowhere in sight; could this be the reason why the Society changed the 1914 date which had originally been set for Armageddon, to mark Christ’s return instead? One thing is certain: in 1943 modifications were made to the Watch Tower Society’s timetable, which pushed Armageddon off until the 1970’s.

Changes in Watchtower Magazine Titles:

A modern Watchtower magazine is entitled,

The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom.

But it wasn’t always called that. The magazine was first called:


"Christendom will be completely destroyed by October 1914." (ZION'S WATCH TOWER, January 15, 1892, p. 1355)

In 1909 The Society dropped the word ZION from the title and called it:

The WATCH TOWER and Herald of Christ’s Presence

The WATCH TOWER Herald of Christ's 1874 Presence

From its first issue in 1879 to 1938, that is for the first 60 years, the Watch Tower magazine’s title contained the words

“Herald of Christ’s Presence.”

Then, on January 1st 1939 the magazine’s title was changed to:

“The Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Kingdom.”

On March 1st, 1939, the Society changed the title to its present form:

The Watchtower magazine

The reason the Watchtower magazine was originally created was to


Yet, there came a day when

“Christ’s Presence”

was eliminated from the title.


Doctrinal changes concerning Christ’s presence accompanied this change in the magazine’s title.

Charles Russell Maintained:

“Some may have confounded our remarks on the presence of Christ in a spiritual body, with the presence of the spirit of Christ; but they are quite distinct. The latter never left the church…” (Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return, 1877, p. 51)

Russell made it clear that he believed Jesus’ return encompassed him returning,

“in a spiritual body.”

This is what,


meant to those reading the Watch Tower magazine for the first 60 years.

Russell went on to say,

“… we have Christ’s own words to prove that He will be present in the world, and the world will know not of it. Matt. 24:37.” (Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return, 1877, p. 52)

Again, speaking of Christ’s return, Russell used the words,

“His arrival.” (ZIONS WATCH TOWER, June 1881)

He also claimed,

“… both the King and the Kingdom are not only coming, but are here…” (The WATCH TOWER, July 1, 1916)

The original teaching was that Christ returned to the confines of earth’s atmosphere. The earth’s atmosphere is where it was taught that Satan and his demon host dwell since they were cast out of heaven. It was in this way that Jesus Christ began ruling in the midst of his enemies.

In the 1950s this teaching was retracted:

“… we should not even think of his [Christ] leaving heaven and coming within the confines of earth’s atmosphere for him to be present. He returns or ‘visits’ the earth as did Jehovah in times past, by turning his attention to things of earth.” (The Watchtower 2-15-1955, pp. 102-103)

Some may wonder how,

“turning his attention to things of earth”

can mean he was,


Former publications, which speak of,

“… his actual coming” (The Time is at Hand, 1902, p. 32)

are in disagreement with this teaching.

The 1914 Generation:

Another changing claim of the Watch Tower Society is the teaching that the majority of the generation alive in 1914 would still be living when Armageddon takes place. This doctrine was a direct spinoff of their now abandoned 1914 return-of-Christ-teaching:

There are hundreds of millions of persons living now that were living in 1914Just when the lives of the majority of them will be cut short by Armageddon we can not say.” (The Watchtower, September 1, 1952, p. 543) 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses were so sure about the 1914 generation living to see Armageddon that in 1962 the following statement was included in their Awake!  magazine:

“Was Jesus using the word ‘generation’ in a symbolic way? No, we should not say that the word “generation” here has a symbolic meaning… The “generation” of Matthew 24:34 includes persons alive at the time that the war in heaven began in 1914 … Members of that generation will see the end of this world.” (Awake!, September 22, 1962, p.27)

Every two weeks for almost[2] 43 years — from 1952 to 1995 — the Watch Tower Society’s “Awake!” magazine’s masthead use to read:

“Why Awake is Published— Awake is for the enlightenment of the entire family… Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away.” (Awake!, October 22, 1995)


This picture from the Jehovah Witness publication The Truth That Leads To Eternal Life, 1968, illustrates this promise. Yet, there came a day when the promise was changed. With the release of the Nov. 8, 1995 Awake!, the masthead was altered to read: 

“Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things.”

Why the elimination of the year “1914″ and the term “generation” from the Awake! magazine’s masthead? The reason is simple. 1914 was over 109 years ago. The generation who were alive in1914 are now dead.

This failed Watch Tower prophecy about the majority of the 1914 generation having their lives,

“… cut short by Armageddon …”

is more evidence that in reality, the foundational 1914 Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine has nothing to do with Jesus Christ’s actual return, a war in heaven, the Battle of Armageddon, or for that matter, the Truth.

Articles of interest:

■ The Watch Tower Society — Rich Kelsey

■ Charles Russell / JW History — Rich Kelsey

Full Article Index / JW Article Index


1. “Looking back to 1871, we see that many of our company were what are known as Second Adventists, and the light they held briefly stated, was that there would be a second advent of Jesus– that he would come to bless and immortalize the saints, to judge the world and to burn up the world and all the wicked. This, they claimed would occur in 1873, because the 6,000 years from the creation of Adam were complete then.

Well 1873 came, the end of 6,000 years, and yet no burning of the world, &c.; but prophecies were found which pointed positively to 1874 as the time when Jesus was due to be present …” (Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1881)

2. With the January 8, 1987 issue of the Awake! magazine; the traditional masthead on page 4 discontinued the original statement saying that “the generation that saw 1914 would not pass away,” only to resume the original reading with the March 8, 1988 issue. Then on November 8, 1995, the Awake! magazine again discontinued its reference to “the 1914 generation.”