Historical Development of the Interpretation
Holy Spirit did not reveal an understanding of the seven times to Pastor Russell. It was promoted throughout the 1800’s prior to Russell by John Aquila Brown, William Miller, E. B. Elliott, Robert Seeley, Joseph Seiss and Barbour.
In 1823, John Aquila Brown published in The Even-Tide that the “seven times” of Daniel 4 were prophetic of 2,520 years, running from the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign in 604 B.C. to 1917 A.D. He did not equate this to the end of the Gentile Times.
In the 1830’s, a farmer named William Miller explained that a number of prophecies were to conclude in 1843, and so came to the conclusion that Daniel 4 was also to end in 1843. To do so, he claimed the seven times started when Manasseh was taken as a captive to Babylon in 677 B.C. This was to signify the ‘time of the end’, the destruction of Babylon and when the dead would be raised. Apollos Hale and Sylvester Bliss corrected this date by removing the year zero that Miller had used in the calculation, promoting the time of the end to the year 1844. At Miller’s suggestion, Samuel Snow calculated that the end would arrive on October 22. This was to correspond with the tenth day of the seventh Jewish month, the Day of Atonement for the year 1844. Rather than using the current Jewish calendar he used an older calendar invented by the Karaite Jews. Jehovah’s Witnesses still use the Karaite calendar in their calculations, including for the date of the memorial.
Millers Chart – Click on images to enlarge
In 1840, John Dowling predicted Miller’s 1843 prophecy would not come true. The following quote from Dowling’s article An Exposition of the Prophecies, Supposed by William Miller to Predict the Second Coming of Christ, in 1843 , is equally applicable to the Watchtower Society.
“Mr. Miller is not the first expounder of prophecy that has attempted dogmatically to decide upon the very year of the coming of Christ. I will not occupy these pages by relating the individual histories of the wise and positive interpreters of prophetic times, who have preceded Mr. Miller in fixing the year of the Judgment. Their histories were all alike. They succeeded as Mr. M. has, in awakening a degree of alarm in the bosoms of some simple people, who forgot that Christ has said “of that day and hour knoweth no man” — the time drew on — the year passed by, and the prophet and his doctrine were forgotten. ”
The reader but partially acquainted with the history of the world, and not aware of the manner in which Mr. M. continues to make his calculations all meet in the year 1843, thinks upon perusing the book that there are, to say the least, some very striking coincidences, and feels considerably staggered, if not convinced.
Let the reader peruse this passage and the chapter (Daniel 4) from which it is taken, and then imagine, if he can, by what stretch of ingenuity Mr. M. draws from it a proof of the coming of Christ to judgment in 1843.
He then looks into his Bible chronology, and finds that in the year BC 677 one of the kings of Judah, named Manasseh, was carried a prisoner to Babylon. Here, then, says Mr. M., must begin this punishment of seven times.”
When 1844 proved to be false prophecy it was reworked by Second Adventists, such as Barbour. The start date was moved to 606 B.C., based on an incorrect date for the destruction of Jerusalem, to end in 1914 A.D.
The Herald of the Morning, edited by Barbour, Cogswell and Paton, stated in 1875;
“I believe that though the gospel dispensation will end in 1878, the Jews will not be restored to Palestille, until 1881; and that the “times of the Gentiles,” viz. their seven prophetic, times, of 2520, or twice 1260 years, which began where God gave all, into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, 606 B.C.; do not end until A.D. 1914; or 40 years from this.” The Herald of the Morning 1875 Sep
Barbour wrote that the measurement of the great pyramid confirmed that the Gentile times would end in 1914.
“… this 33 inches added to the measure of the Grand Gallery floor 1881, make 1914, the date of the end of “The Times of the Gentiles.” The Herald of the Morning 1876 Jan
Russell became aware of Barbour in 1876, and joined with him in publish his doctrines. It was from Barbour that Russell took the idea that Daniel 4 is an end time prophecy, with the Gentile times expected to herald the conclusion of Armageddon, and that measurements of the great pyramid could be used to calculate prophetic fulfilment, all pointing to 1914.
Studies in the Scriptures Series III – Thy Kingdom Come
“We find it to be 3457 inches, symbolizing 3457 years from the above date, B. C. 1542. This calculation shows A.D. 1915 as making the beginning of the period of trouble; for 1542 years B.C. plus 1915 years A.D. equals 3416 years. Thus the Pyramid witnesses that the close of 1914 will be the beginning of the time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation-no, not ever shall be afterward. ” Studies In the Scriptures Series III – Thy Kingdom Come p.342
Did the Watchtower predict 1914 or 1874?
Current Watchtower publications are not transparent about the history of their interpretation of 1914. Russell and Rutherford believed that Jesus’ invisible presence started in 1874. The end of the Gentile times in 1914 was to signify God’s visible rulership returning to earth.
“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.” Studies in Scriptures Series IV (1897) p.621
“The Scriptural proof is that the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 A.D.” Prophecy (1929) p.65
“From 1874 onward is the time of the Lord’s second presence, as above stated his circumstantial evidence fulfilling prophecy is what constitutes the physical facts, and is proof corroborative of the Lord’s presence since 1874. … His presence beginning in 1874, he has carried on his harvest work from 1874 forward” Our Lord’s Return (1929) pp.27, 33, 37
It was not until the Golden Age 1930 p.503 that Rutherford stated for the first time that Christ’s return and “presence” were 1914, instead of 1874.
Knowing this, it is eye opening to find Watchtower articles dishonestly claiming that the Organization always understood that 1914 was the year that began Jesus presence and rulership.
“Why, then, do the nations not realize and accept the approach of this climax of judgment? It is because they have not heeded the world wide advertising of Christ’s return and his second Presence. Since long before World War I Jehovah’s witnesses pointed to 1914 as the time for this great event to occur.” Watchtower 1954 Jun 15 p.370
“… a prophecy providentially caused sincere 19th-century Bible students to be in expectation. By linking the “seven times” of Daniel 4:25 with “the times of the Gentiles”, they anticipated that Christ would receive Kingdom power in 1914.” Watchtower 1998 Sep 15 p.15
(For additional quotes see the section on 1914 under Changed Teachings)
What do the preceding mistruths suggest about the honesty and integrity of the Watchtower? If the Watchtower has no qualms about falsifying its own history, it should come as no surprise that they ignore the facts about the date 607 B.C.E. as well.
The original expectation that Jesus returned invisibly in 1874, and that the end of the Gentile times in 1914 would mark his kingdom’s visible return was far more logical than the current view that it started invisibly in 1914. If the prophecy of the seven times was to signify the time that the end of God’s visible rulership ended, then it would also be expected that it was to signify the time God’s visible rulership would return to replace the kings of the earth. With the current interpretation, there is no way to prove whether or not God’s invisible kingdom has begun ruling.
With the failure for the world’s end to eventuate in 1914, most Adventist groups came to recognise that Daniel 4 was not intended to have a second prophetic fulfilment and stopped referring to it.
Over the last century there has been an accumulation of evidence that proves beyond doubt that the destruction of Jerusalem occurred between 586 and 587 B.C. An objective reading of the Bible and history accepts this without issue. The Watchtower Society has a vested interest in 1914 and hence 607 B.C., and so stringently attempts to dismiss any evidence to the contrary.
Daniel 4 is the only Scripture used by the Watchtower to specifically pinpoint 1914 as the year Jesus started to rule. If the Watchtower misapplies Daniel 4, there is no reason to think that the Last Days began October 2nd 1914. Related to this topic is whether the signs of Jesus’ presence indicate the Last Days started in 1914.