The next time we find ourselves having a conversation with Jehovah’s Witnesses, this guide can provide well thought out responses from their own publications:
The Barbour / Russell connection:
The Watch Tower Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses is an Adventist movement which was born on the heels of the Great Disappointment of 1843/44 followed by the lesser disappointment of 1873/74. Many of the Adventists in those days believed that immediately after Christ caught up the faithful, the world would be destroyed by fire. Nelson H. Barbour who had been among the 1843/44 movement led by William Miller eventually bought into the prevailing idea that 1843 was the beginning of a 30 year tarrying time, which would culminate with Christ’s Second Coming in 1873. Feeling obligated to warn the world of their danger, in 1871 Barbour began publishing a magazine entitled:
“EVIDENCES FOR THE COMING OF THE LORD IN 1873: OR THE MIDNIGHT CRY.”
As far as Nelson Barbour could tell, nothing happened in 1873, so he looked for Jesus to return in 1874. When apparently nothing happened in 1874, Barbour pored over his TIME prophecies once more to see if any mistakes had been made. He found none. Barbour then gave further consideration to the “two-stage-return of Christ doctrine;” a view which his associate Benjamin W. Keith held. Keith was convinced that Jesus had indeed returned in 1874; yet, Christ was invisible. With this understanding in mind Barbour renamed his publication,
“THE MIDNIGHT CRY and HERALD OF THE MORNING.”
Then, one winter’s day in January 1876 Charles Russell read a copy of Barbour’s publication. Russell became satisfied with Barbour’s reasoning. Soon thereafter Russell moved to New York, backed the publication financially, and went to work as Barbour’s assistant. It was at the office of Herald of the Morning that Russell published his first pamphlet:
THE OBJECT AND MANNER of Our Lord’s Return.
In his pamphlet Russell explained,
“I am deeply impressed and think not without good scriptural evidence, that the Master is come and is now inspecting the guests to the marriage. (Matt. 22:11).” (Object and Manner, 1877, p. 62).
Then, after having a falling out with Barbour, Russell started printing a monthly publication entitled:
Charles Russell explained:
“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; but prophecies were found which pointed positively to 1874 as the time when Jesus was due to be present . . . The autumn of 1874 anxiously expected finally came, but the earth rolled on as ever; ‘all things continued as they were from the beginning of creation.’ All their hearts were sad; they said, surely we have been in error—but where? Surely it is clearly taught that Jesus will come again; perhaps our calculation of time is at fault. Carefully they examined the chronology but it seemed faultless and positively declared that the 6,000 years ended in 1873. Then the prophetic arguments were carefully re-examined: Was an error found? No, they stood the test of all investigation.” (Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence, Zion’s Watchtower, Feb. 1881)
Answers for Jehovah’s Witnesses:
For the first 63 years the Watch Tower Society claimed Christ’s presence / return / second coming, began in 1874.
Here are some examples of the 1874 return-of-Christ doctrine as spelled out in Watch Tower publications:
“Christ came in the character of a Bridegroom in 1874 … at the beginning of the Gospel harvest.” (Watch Tower, Oct 1879, p. 4)
“The fact of our Lord’s second coming is definitely settled by the Scriptures.. The Scriptures show that his second presence was due in 1874.. This proof shows that the Lord has been present since 1874 .. The indisputable facts, therefore, show that … the Lord’s second presence began in 1874.” (Watch Tower, Mar 1 1922, p. 67)
“Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present, since October 1874, A.D., according to the testimony of the prophets …” (Battle of Armageddon, 1913 ed, p. 621)
“Bible prophecy shows that the Lord was due to appear for the second time in the year 1874. Fulfilled prophecy shows beyond a doubt that he did appear in 1874. Fulfilled prophecy is otherwise designated the physical facts; and these facts are indisputable.” (Watch Tower, Nov 1, 1922, p. 333)
“The Scriptural proof is that the period of his presence and the day of God’s preparation is a period from A.D. 1874 forward. The second coming of the Lord therefore began in 1874 …” (Creation, p. 310)
“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.” (Watch Tower, Jan 1, 1924, p. 5)
Reinventing the Watchtower Society — 1943:
In the 1930s and 40s, Jehovah’s Witnesses were facing a crisis: People were losing faith in the 1874 return of Christ teaching. So, The Watch Tower Society changed the teaching by choosing the year 1914 to mark the beginning of Christ’s presence; before that 1914 was understood to be the year Armageddon would take place.
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.
Here is a quote on the supposed 1914 return:
“Christ returned and began ruling in the midst of his enemies in the year 1914” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society 1982).
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, Rutherford gave no supporting chronology for this statement. Then in 1932, in the publication What is Truth?, it was written,
“…the second coming of Christ dates from the fall of the year 1914.”
It’s interesting that 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.
One thing is certain: The primary reason Charles Russell got into the publishing business in the 1870s was to herald the message that Jesus Christ had already come; and, Russell maintained that Christ was present from 1874 on, until he died in 1916:
“The Greek word generally used in referring to the second advent— Parousia, frequently translated coming — invariably signifies personal presence, as having come, arrived…” (THE OBJECT AND MANNER OF OUR LORD’S RETURN, by C. T. RUSSELL)
Let’s do some math: For the first 134 years, the Watchtower magazine insisted that, at one time and in one way, or another, Jesus Christ had already returned.
Reinventing the Watchtower Society — 2013:
In the year 2013, Jehovah’s Witnesses were once again facing a crisis: 99 years had passed since 1914. The 100 year anniversary of Christ’s supposed 1914 invisible return was at the door; and, people were losing faith in the 1914 return of Christ teaching.
So, the Watchtower abandoned the 1914 “coming” and or “arriving” of Jesus teaching by stating:
“In the verses that lead up to Matthew 24:46, the word “coming” refers consistently to the time when Jesus comes to pronounce and execute judgment during the great tribulation. (Matt. 24:30, 42, 44) Also, as we considered in paragraph 12, Jesus’ ‘arriving’ mentioned at Matthew 25:31 refers to that same future time of judgment.” (Watchtower, July, 2013, “Tell Us, When Will These Things Be?”)
Yet, they still kept 1914 as an important year:
“… the harvest season began in 1914. In that year, a number of important developments began to unfold. Jesus was enthroned as King, and the last days began. (Rev. 11:15) From 1914 to the early part of 1919, Jesus accompanied his Father to the spiritual temple to do a much-needed inspection and cleansing work. * (Mal. 3:1-4) Then, starting in 1919, it was time to begin gathering the wheat. Was it finally the time for Christ to appoint one organized channel to dispense spiritual food? Yes, indeed!” (Watchtower, July, 2013, Feeding Many Through the Hands of a Few)
Now, the Watchtower maintains that Christ’s presence / coming / arriving, is a future event; yet, Christ still picked the Watch Tower Organization in 1919 as the,
“… one organized channel to dispense spiritual food”.
Does history tell a different story?
In 1909, Russell wrote these words:
“… of his [Christ’s] presence, he [Jesus] would bring forth from the storehouse of Grace, Wisdom and Truth things ‘new and old,’ and that he would select at that time one special channel through which those blessings would be called to the attention of the household of faith—” (Watch Tower 1909, October 1, 1909 p. 292.)
What Russell expressed in that 1909 Watch Tower magazine is the understanding that the Watch Tower Society had been selected by Christ as the,
“one special channel,”
Obviously, the significance of Christ picking the Society in 1919 is completely lost if they had already been picked as the
“one special channel”
which God was using for the past 41 years.
“Applying the same rule then, of a day for a year, 1335 days after 539 A.D. brings us to 1874 A.D. at which time, according to Biblical chronology, the Lord’s second presence was due.” (Creation 1927, p. 298)
Please notice how Daniel’s prophecy in the afore-mentioned quote pointed to the year 1874; then, in the following quote, a similar prophecy from Daniel points to the year 1914:
“Applying the prophetic rule “a day for a year,” the 2,520 days represent 2,520 years. Therefore, the “seven times,” or 2,520 years, would end in October 1914.—Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6.” (JW.org. current teaching)
Starting with the 2013 Watchtower magazine, Daniel’s prophecy is no longer about Christ’s coming; now it points to the year
“God’s Kingdom was established in heaven.”
Also, a close look into the Watch Tower Society’s past publications demonstrates that something was seriously wrong:
“In the year 1918 God will destroy the churches wholesale and the church members by the millions. Any that escape shall come to the works of pastor Russell to learn the meaning of the downfall of ‘Christianity.'” (The Finished Mystery, 1917, p. 485)
And, that is just the tip of the iceberg!
“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 was the full measure of evidence required in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Missing from such people were God’s truths and the evidence that he was guiding and using them” (Awake!, 8 October 1968, p. 23).