Article contributed by jwfacts.com (original is linked here.)
In 1918, Rutherford exclaimed in a series of public lectures, “Millions now living will never die!” This was related to his prophecy that the resurrection would commence on earth in 1925, with the return of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to earth. This article provides quotes regarding this failed doctrine of Rutherford, and shows how in recent times the Watchtower dishonestly presents this historical episode.
Click Here to download a 32Mb searchable PDF of the 1920 booklet “Millions Now Living Will Never Die”.
The failure of the 1914 predictions and death of Russell in 1916 left his followers in disarray. After legalistic wrangling1 Rutherford became next President of the Watchtower Society. Credit must go to Rutherford for his ability to rebuild the Watchtower Society. He was able to re-ignite urgency into the remaining followers by announcing through public discourse in February 1918 that “The World Has Ended – Millions Now Living May Never Die!” In March the title was changed to the more compelling “The World Has Ended — Millions Now Living Will Never Die”.2
“What an exciting message they proclaimed–“Millions now living will never die!” Brother Rutherford had given a discourse on this subject in 1918. It was also the title of a 128-page booklet published in 1920. From 1920 through 1925, that same subject was featured again and again around the world in public meetings in all areas where speakers were available and in upwards of 30 languages.” Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom p.425
Largely unknown by most Jehovah’s Witnesses today, this was the focus of the Watchtower preaching work between 1918 and 1925. Reading the brief mention of this booklet in the Proclaimers book, one could be mistaken for thinking 1925 was of little relevance in the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses; yet this was the defining prophecy of Rutherford’s leadership. “Millions Now Living Will Never Die!” introduced Rutherford’s prediction that the earthly resurrection was to begin in 1925, starting with the faithful men of old, men such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The 1925 teaching seems to have originated between 1914 and 1916, possibly from Rutherford, or some other person, whilst Russell was still living, but without his consent. Watch Tower 1916 Apr 15 contained a letter asking;
DEARLY BELOVED PASTOR:… A sister recently arrived from — tells us that the Class there are teaching that the church must not expect to be glorified until 1925, and that this is your thought;…”
“Our kindest thought must be that they are not giving much head to its teachings. Otherwise they would know from its columns that we are not looking forward to 1925, nor to any other date.”
“Seventy jubilees of fifty years each would be a total of 3500 years. That period of time beginning 1575 before A.D. 1 of necessity would end in the fall of the year 1925, at which time the type ends and the great antitype must begin. What, then, should we expect to take place? The chief thing to be restored is the human race to life; and since other Scriptures definitely fix the fact that there will be a resurrection of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other faithful ones of old, and that these will have the first favour, we may expect 1925 to witness the return of these faithful men of Israel from the condition of death , being resurrected and fully restored to perfect humanity and made the visible, legal representatives of the new order of things on earth.” Millions Now Living Will Never Die p.88
“As we have heretofore stated, the great jubilee cycle is due to begin in 1925. At that time the earthly phase of the kingdom shall be recognized.” Millions Now Living Will Never Die p.89
“Hence these faithful men may be expected on earth within the next few years.” The Harp of God p.340
“The year 1926 would therefore begin about October first, 1925. … We should, therefore, expect shortly after 1925 to see the awakening of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Melchisedec, Job, Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, John the Baptist, and others mentioned in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.
No doubt many boys and girls who read this book will live to see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Daniel, and those other men of old, come forth in the glory of their “better resurrection,” perfect in mind and body. It will not take long for Christ to appoint them to their posts of honor and authority as his earthly representatives. The world and all the present conveniences will seem strange to them at first, but they will soon become accustomed to the new methods. They may have some amusing experiences at first; for they never saw telephones, radios, automobiles, electric lights, aeroplanes, steam engines, and many other things so familiar to us.” The Way to Paradise (1925 ed.) pp.224,226-227
Expectations for 1925 included:
- the end of Christendom
- the return of earth to a paradise
- the resurrection of the dead onto earth
- the Zionist teaching of the reestablishment of Palestine
The Way to Paradise described 1925 are the year for “God’s favour returning to the Jewish people”, Jerusalem becoming capital of the world and “ancient worthies” being awakened. This book goes on to make the following outrageous predictions:
“The Bible and “The Bible in Stone” [the Pyramid of Giza] give the date 1914: for the beginning of the great change. History proves that the ouster proceedings began promptly on time. Prophecy indicates that 1925-1926 will see the greater part of the ousting completed. All the world’s statesmen are dreading the next few years.” p.171
“For those who are now living and who will never die…” p.211
“When you take up a more advanced study of the Bible, you will find that the year 1925 A. D. is particularly marked in prophecy.” p.220
“Seventy times 50 are 3,500. The whole period would therefore have been 3,500 years from the time the Jews entered Canaan until all the types would have been fulfilled. As they entered Canaan 1,575 years before Christ there would be 1,925 years of types after Christ, or 1925 A. D.” p.223
“Of course it will take some time to get things in smoothly running order after the great stress between now and 1926. It may be ten years or more before you get your home all fixed up, and the gardens bringing forth the luscious fruits and appetizing vegetables in abundance. Even if it takes a while longer you will be that much better prepared. You will have secured the services of the best decorators you can find. Some of them used to be undertakers; but since there are no more people dying, they have had to seek some new occupation. Their experience as undertakers prepared them to become decorators with very little difficulty.” p.228
Rutherford wrote that his chronological predictions were “of God” himself and 1925 was proclaimed a “fixed” date beyond doubt.
“… this chronology is not of man, but of God…. the addition of more proofs removes it entirely from the realm of chance into that of proven certainty…. the chronology of present truth [is]… not of human origin.” Watch Tower 1922 Jul 1 p.217
“The date 1925 is even more distinctly indicated by the Scriptures because it is fixed by the law God gave to Israel. Viewing the present situation in Europe, one wonders how it will be possible to hold back the explosion much longer; and that even before 1925 the great crisis will be reached and probably passed.” Watch Tower 1922 Sep 1 p.262
“Our thought is, that 1925 is definitely settled by the Scriptures. As to Noah, the Christian now has much more upon which to base his faith then Noah had upon which to base his faith in a coming deluge.” Watch Tower 1923 Apr 1 p.106
“The year 1925 is a date definitely and clearly marked in Scriptures, even more clearly than that of 1914;…” Watchtower 1924 Jul 15 p.211
Could there be any more direct evidence of an organization that promoted false prophecy in the name of God? How could Rutherford say that his followers had more reason to accept his prediction of 1925 than Noah had to believe the words directly spoken by Jehovah?
Another quote gloated over the expected failure of those criticising the 1925 predictions.
“We cannot be blamed for presenting from the Scriptures such evidence as they afford which leads us to believe that a certain event will take place at a given time. Some times the Lord has let His people looking for the right thing at the wrong time, and more frequently they have looked for the wrong things at the right time. But all the enemies of the cause of present truth in the earth are fervently hoping that the Bible students will not be so successful in 1925 in looking for the right thing at the right time as they were in 1914. if they are, however, it will be the other fellow that will have to do the explaining, and not we.” Golden Age 1924 Feb 13 p.314
The following quote shows the superstitious nature of Watchtower followers regarding Watchtower publications, and at the time their continued belief in the relevance of the pyramid.
“There are men about the Pyramid who have acted as guides for years. Several of these were sent for and closely questioned. They all agreed that the material was brought there and the construction of this stairway and iron supports began early in July, 1919, and the work was completed about the first of October, 1919. Immediately the writer recalled that it was about the first of July 1919, that the idea was conceived of publishing THE GOLDEN AGE, the first issue of which appeared October 1, 1919. THE GOLDEN AGE announced, and continues to announce, that the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom is at hand, that the time of restitution is here, that the old world has ended and the new is beginning, and that millions now living will never die.” Watchtower 1920 Dec 15 p.379
Increase, then Decrease
After 1918, the Millions teaching became the central focus of the preaching effort, being delivered through a series of public lectures by Rutherford and other brothers. These were advertised in local newspapers, as displayed in the following clippings.
(Click on the thumbnails to enlarge)
Preaching that the earthly resurrection would commence in 1925 resulted in tremendous growth for the Watchtower Society.
“This resulted in bringing into the sanctuary many more to be members of this remnant consecrated by Jehovah. This was evident from the increasing attendance at the annual celebrations of the Lord’s evening meal,
32,661 participating in 1922;
42,000 in 1923;
62,696 in 1924; and
90,434 in 1925”
Watchtower 1960 May 1 p.282
The converse occurred after 1925 came and went without incidence. No figures were reported for 1926 or 1927, but in 1928 numbers were around half that of 1925, with memorial attendance of only 17,380, and 44,080 average publishers. (Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose p.313) It is estimated that as many as 75% of publishers left the religion and by 1935 memorial attendance was still only 63,146.3. It took until 1940 to once again reach the same number of Watchtower followers as the 1925 era.
It is reprehensible that from the moment Rutherford’s prediction proved wrong (and continuing to this day) the Governing Body shifted the blame for the false expectation away from themselves and onto the members.
“Question: Have the ancient worthies returned? Answer: “Certainly they have not returned. No one has seen them, and it would be foolish to make such an announcement. It was stated in the ‘Millions’ book that we might reasonably expect them to return shortly after 1925, but this was merely an expressed opinion; besides it is still shortly after 1925. … Some anticipated that the work would end in 1925, but the Lord did not state so. The difficulty was that the friends inflated their imaginations beyond reason; and that when their imaginations burst asunder, they were inclined to throw away everything.” Watch Tower 1926 pp.196,232
“Instead of its being considered a ‘probability,’ they read into it that it was a ‘certainty’.” Yearbook 1975 p.146
“Ever since the 1870’s, Bible Students had been serving with a date in mind – first 1914, then 1925. Now they realized that they must serve for as long as Jehovah wishes.” Watchtower 1993 Nov 1 p.12
“On the basis of what was said there, many hoped that perhaps the remaining ones of the little flock would receive their heavenly reward by 1925. … Though mistaken, they eagerly shared it with others.” Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom p.632
Rather than accept responsibility for stumbling followers with their false 1925 teachings, Watchtower derogatively describes these ones as chaff.
“Although these tests resulted in a sifting and some blew away like chaff when wheat is winnowed, others remained firm.” Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom p.633
The Proclaimers book properly indicates that early Bible Students believed the majority of worldly people would survive Armageddon.
“[Bible Students] Understood that people then living-mankind in general-had the opportunity to survive right into the time of restitution and that they would then be educated in Jehovah’s requirements for life. If obedient, they would gradually attain to human perfection. If rebellious, they would, in time, be destroyed forever.” Proclaimers p.163
More often though, the Watchtower misleadingly indicates that the teaching of ‘millions now living’ was overoptimism and coincides with the current doctrine that only Witnesses would be saved as part of the Great Crowd.
“In the early 1920’s, a featured public talk presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses was entitled “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” This may have reflected overoptimism at that time. But today that statement can be made with full confidence.” Watchtower 1997 Jan 1 p.1
“This must be the class of persons that are often described as ‘the millions now living that will never die’.” Today, it is thrilling actually to see millions of these being marked for preservation, as they put on the true Christian personality, in a dedicated relationship to Jehovah through Christ Jesus. Presented at that time was conclusive proof identifying the “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9 with the Lord’s “other sheep” of John 10:16, with the Jehonadab class, with those marked in the forehead for survival, with the millions now living who will never die, and with “the sheep”.” Watchtower 1985 Mar 1 p.14
“The “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” slogan applied only to the “great crowd” of “other sheep,” mentioned in the Scriptures at Revelation 7:9 and John 10:16, whose destiny is an earthly paradise.” Watchtower 1963 May 15 p.294
These statements are complete falsehoods. Rutherford’s message was not that a Great Crowd of millions of Witnesses were never to die – it was in fact the very opposite.
Rutherford was writing that the few thousand Bible Students would die and go to heaven, as either the Great Crowd or the Little Flock. At that time, the teaching was that the Great Crowd went to go to heaven. The “Millions” that Rutherford was referring, whom would never die, were the rest of humankind alive at that time.
Russell had proposed that followers of the Watchtower Society were to go to heaven, whilst most of humanity would survive Armageddon to be educated personally by Jesus in paradise earth.
“He takes mankind as he finds them, and during the Millennial age will deal with each individual of the world according to his own particular condition, having mercy upon the weak and requiring more of the stronger, …” Studies in the Scriptures – The New Creation p.114
Rutherford continued to promote this teaching. In the New System, freed from the influence of Satan, Jesus would directly teach all people and give them the opportunity to choose if they wished to live forever serving him. Salvation was not contingent on becoming a Watchtower follower, or even a believer in Jesus. In fact, the churches were criticised for teaching that their members exclusively would be saved.
“The church systems would have the people believe that only those who become church members can be saved. The Bible never taught any such doctrine. … Jesus died not only for those who will constitute the members of the church, but for all. St. John plainly stated: “He is the propitiation [satisfaction] for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world”.-l John 2:2. It would be impossible for the human race, therefore, to accept the gift of life everlasting before it is offered. It will be offered only in God’s due time and the divine plan shows that his due time is after the seed of promise is developed, after the kingdom is setup; and then each one in his order will be brought to a knowledge of the fact that a plan of redemption exists and that the way is open for him to accept the terms of it and live. The remainder of mankind could not keep it. They hear, however, in due time after the establishment of the kingdom. Then it shall come to pass that every one who will keep the saying of the Lord shall never see death.
Based upon the argument heretofore set forth, then, that the old order of things, the old world, is ending and is therefore passing away, and that the new order is coming in, and that 1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies of old and the beginning of reconstruction, it is reasonable to conclude that millions of people now on the earth will be still on the earth in 1925. Then, based upon the promises set forth in the divine Word, we must reach the positive and indisputable conclusion that millions now living will never die.” Millions Now Living Will Never Die pp.89-98
The 1921 book The Harp of God had inscribed on the cover “Proof Conclusive that Millions now Living will never Die”. This book went into great detail to explain the generosity of God to save the majority of humankind to be educated in this new system of things. After describing life in a New Sytem with reference to Isaiah 35:4-6 The Harp of God p.331 said:
“When these great miracles begin to be performed in the earth, then the most skeptical, it is to be hoped, will believe that the Lord Jesus reigns.”
Page 333 goes on the describe God’s promise to Noah never again smite “every living thing” as proof Armageddon will not result in a great human slaughter. “The majority of mankind practice unrighteousness” (p.334) and these are the ones that will be given the opportunity to learn to practice righteousness during the reign of the Messiah. This was a fair concept that showed God’s love and reasonableness towards humankind.
Proclaimers deceptively claims that the failure of 1925 affected just a small minority, whereas we have seen from Watchtower statistics that over half left the organisation.
“The year 1925 came and went. Some abandoned their hope. But the vast majority of the Bible Students remained faithful.” Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom p.78
An interesting tactic that downplays the importance is seen in the following quote. It is admitted that attendance dropped “in France and Switzerland”, which can misleadingly make it seem other countries were not equally affected.
“But some of their time calculations and the expectations that they associated with these gave rise to serious disappointments. Following 1925, meeting attendance dropped dramatically in some congregations in France and Switzerland.” Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom p.78
Similar intellectual dishonesty can be identified in the 1980 Yearbook, which misquotes from the Watchtower of 1926 in an attempt to downplay the sentiment of 1925. Notice how only half a sentence is quoted, with a full stop replacing a semi-colon.
“Indicative of this testing was the question meeting held by Brother Rutherford during the Basel, Switzerland, assembly, which took place May 1-3, 1926. The report on this convention stated:
Question: Have the ancient worthies returned?
Answer: Certainly they have not returned. No one has seen them, and it would be foolish to make such an announcement. It was stated in the “Millions” book that we might reasonably expect them to return shortly after 1925, but this was merely an expressed opinion.”
“Question: Have the ancient worthies returned?
Answer: Certainly they have not returned. No one has seen them, and it would be foolish to make such an announcement. It was stated in the “Millions” book that we might reasonably expect them to return shortly after 1925, but this was merely an expressed opinion; besides it is still shortly after 1925. There is no good reason why we should expect the ancient worthies to return until the church is complete and the work of the church on earth is done.”
1925 was Rutherford’s defining prophecy, as Rutherford used it to rebuild Watchtower membership after the failure and disappointment of 1914. However, it was the failure of 1925 and what it led to that resulted in even more important consequences for today. Following his failed 1925 prophecy, Rutherford embarked on a dramatic overhaul of Watchtower doctrine, distancing his followers from Russell.
Almost all of Russell’s time prophecy predictions were discarded. Use of the word Jehovah began to be emphasised (see God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached p.288; Proclaimers p.152), leading up to a name change for Watchtower followers from Bible Students to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Furthermore, it was stated that between 1918 and 1919 Jesus cleansed the Watchtower Society, in effect implying that the time of Russell was one of uncleanness, and it was under Rutherford that Jesus chose the Organization as his sole provision for salvation. Rutherford distanced his followers from other Christians by stating as wrong and pagan most of Christendom’s symbols and holidays.
Finally, the great crowd was moved from heaven to earth, to become the sole survivors of Armageddon. These changes made it simple to introduce a concept of ‘narrow salvation’, the concept that only a handful of the world were deserving salvation. Conveniently, survivors now had to belong to one earthly Organization, the Watchtower Society. God was prepared to kill billions of people, most that have never even heard of the Watchtower Organization.
The Bible explains that Jesus Ransom was for all mankind, even the ungodly.
Romans 5:6 “For, indeed, Christ, while we were yet weak, died for ungodly men at the appointed time …”
2 Corinthians 5:14 “For the love the Christ has compels us, because this is what we have judged, that one man died for all …”
Rutherford’s post 1925 belief structure removed the value of Jesus sacrifice from “all mankind” and placed his followers alone amongst the living as worthy of its benefits. This unfortunate view eliminates most of the value of Jesus sacrifice for those alive at Armageddon and paints a cruel and unjust God. This viewpoint cannot be justified by reason or Scripture, yet is common amongst fundamentalist religious groups, due to being an effective way to encourage membership and prevent defection.
1 Russell’s will appears in Studies in the Scriptures – The Plan of the Ages, 1927 Edition “Biography” pp.8-14. Here he directed that rather than a single person having full control as he had done, an Editorial Committee of five (the names of which are listed in the will) be in charge of approving Watchtower truth. Rutherford contested this and took control as president.
2 “1918 – The discourse “The World Has Ended — Millions Now Living May Never Die” is first delivered, on February 24, in Los Angeles, California. On March 31, in Boston, Massachusetts, the talk is entitled “The World Has Ended — Millions Now Living Will Never Die” – Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom p.719
3 M. James Penton. Apocalypse Delayed-The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses p.61, Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom p.717
Paul Grundy 2005 – 2014