1831: William Miller begins preaching Christ’s return in the fall of 1843.
1842: Miller and followers begin publishing a journal, The Midnight Cry.
1843, late: Miller and followers disappointed; fix Christ’s return in the spring of 1844.
1844, spring: Miller and followers disappointed; fix Christ’s return on October 22, 1844.
1844, late: Miller and followers anticipate disappointment.
1844, October 21: Miller says: “I told some of my brethren Christ would not come on the morrow” because the Second Coming would be “in an hour they think not”. He was not responsible for the deception: “No one can honestly say that he has been deceived by me. My advice has always been for each to study the evidence of his faith for himself.” God may have designed the delay so that people would turn to the Bible to study further and be reconciled to God. After all, to have erred in the precise date did not reduce the urgency of the times. Every passing day was one day nearer the end.
1844, November 10: Miller safely revises the date and overcomes all possibility of disappointment: “I have fixed my mind upon another time, and here I mean to stand until God gives me more light. — And that is Today, TODAY, and TODAY, until He comes.”
1845: Miller admits his mistake: “That I have been mistaken in the time, I freely confess; and I have no desire to defend my course any further than I have been actuated by pure motives, and it has resulted in God’s glory. My mistakes and errors God, I trust, will forgive.”
1845: George Storrs, one of Miller’s leading followers, declares that God had not been in the “definite time” movement, that they had been “mesmereized” by mere human influence, and that “the Bible did not teach definite time at all.”
1840s, late: Seventh Day Adventists, Second Adventists, and many other groups form from splinters of Miller’s movement, carrying on with new prophetic speculations. Some decide that Miller had been right after all, that Miller had “expected the wrong thing at the right time”.
1860: Nelson H. Barbour discovers that certain chronological calculations show 6,000 years of human history ending in 1873; he begins preaching that the Second Coming of the Lord would be in 1873.
1869: Barbour publishes 1st edition of the pamphlet Evidences for the Coming of the Lord in 1873; or the Midnight Cry.
1871: Barbour publishes 2nd edition of Evidences.
1873: Barbour begins publishing a monthly journal, The Midnight Cry, and Herald of the Morning.
1873, late: Barbour revises his prediction to autumn, 1874; ceases publication of The Midnight Cry, and Herald of the Morning.
1875: Barbour and followers decide that Christ had returned invisibly in 1874, that they had merely “expected the wrong thing at the right time”; in June Barbour restarts his journal as Herald of the Morning and lays the foundation for further predictions; in the September issue he makes a prediction that “the Gentile times” would end in 1914; in later issues he expands on this theme.
1870s: Charles Taze Russell forms Bible study classes, adopts many teachings from former Millerites including George Storrs, and various prophetic speculators
1876, January: Russell reads Barbour’s magazine, invites him to teach him all about Bible chronology.
1876, early: Russell convinces Barbour to cease publication of Herald of the Morning so that they can work on a book that would be a compilation of articles that would otherwise have been published in Barbour’s magazine.
1876, late: in the October issue of George Storrs’ periodical The Bible Examiner Russell restates Barbour’s prediction that “the Gentile times” will end in 1914.
1877: Russell and Barbour publish the book Three Worlds, and the Harvest of This World, predict that “the saints” would be resurrected in 1878 and teach that “the parable of the Ten Virgins” began to be fulfilled in 1844 by Miller’s followers; Russell publishes his booklet Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return.
1878: Russell and Barbour restart publication of Herald of the Morning; “the saints” do not appear and so Russell spiritualizes their “resurrection”, saying that it had indeed occurred but invisibly, and that he had been expecting “the wrong thing at the right time”, just as Christ had invisibly returned in 1874; Russell and Barbour disagree on whether “the saints” had been resurrected, and this creates the first major disagreement between them.
1879: Russell and Barbour split company; in July Russell begins publishing his own journal, Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence; Russell continues to proclaim that Christ had returned in 1874 and that “the Gentile Times” would end in 1914; Russell reaffirms his teaching that Miller’s movement in 1844 began the “modern day” fulfillment of end-times prophecies.
1880, late and early 1881: Russell predicts another earthly “resurrection of the saints” in October, 1881.
1881, late: Russell spiritualizes the October “resurrection”, saying that it closed a period of “the high calling”.
1880s: Russell refines beliefs, including exactly what would happen in 1914.
1889: Russell publishes volume 2 of The Millennial Dawn, The Time Is At Hand; predicts that by 1914 “the Kingdom of God” will have obtained full control in heaven and on earth, that Christ would be reigning visibly, that “the saints” would all be resurrected, that the city of Jerusalem would be highly honored again, that “the Battle of Armageddon” (which had begun in 1878) would have culminated in worldwide anarchy and given way to “new heavens and new earth” with peaceful blessings, and that “God’s Kingdom” would be “in the earth and then smite and crush the Gentile image” and would “fully consume the power of these kings”.
1904: Russell decides that 1914 was not necessarily the proper date for “the Gentile times” to end after all, that perhaps it would be 1915 and that other things he had predicted might turn out rather differently.
1914, early: Russell waffles about the certainty of his dating scheme, wonders if he had been “expecting the wrong thing at the right time”.
1914, late: Russell and followers decide that the outbreak of “the Great War” is a fulfillment of Russell’s predictions and that the war would culminate in the Battle of Armageddon.
1916: Russell writes that some of his predictions had indeed not been fulfilled, but much like William Miller did, that they “certainly did have a very stimulating and sanctifying effect upon thousands, all of whom accordingly can praise the Lord — even for the mistake. Many, indeed, can express themselves as being thankful to the Lord that the culmination of the Church’s hopes was not reached at the time we expected; and that we, as the Lord’s people, have further opportunities of perfecting holiness and of being participators with our Master in the further presentation of His Message to His people.”
1917: The book The Finished Mystery predicts that the War would soon end in the Battle of Armageddon.
1918: The Watchtower Society begins delivering public lectures titled “Millions Now Living May Never Die” which were quickly changed to “Millions Now Living Will Never Die”.
1920: In the booklet “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” the WTS begins predicting that 1925 would see the resurrection of the faithful prophets of old and the beginning of the Battle of Armageddon.
1925: Armageddon does not come.
1920s, late: The Bible Students lose 3/4 of their membership; those who remain begin to forget about 1925.
1940: The Watchtower informs the public that Armageddon is only months away.
1942: After J. F. Rutherford’s death Nathan Knorr announces that the end of the War would not see the Battle of Armageddon after all, but that it would soon follow.
1950s: The Society tells its followers to expect Armageddon very soon.
1961: In the book Let Your Name Be Sanctified Fred Franz tells JWs that in 1942, when upon his deathbed Rutherford appointed Franz and Knorr to head up the Society, the “Elijah” work was finished and the “Elishah” began. This work, he wrote, began in the 1870s with Russell. Putting this together with Russell’s teachings on “the Ten Virgins”, it would seem that William Miller really began this modern-day Elijah work and is the spiritual father of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of course, Miller has many other “daughters”.
1966: In the book Life Everlasting in the Freedom of the Sons of God Fred Franz tells JWs that 6,000 years of human history would be finished in 1975 and that it was a good bet that Armageddon would come by then.
1967: The Society instructs District Overseers to deliver speeches at circuit assemblies announcing that Armageddon would definitely have arrived by 1975.
1968: The Society institutes a six-month Bible Study campaign in anticipation of the great influx of new converts in the few years before Armageddon.
1960s, late, through early 1970s: JWs inform the world that it is extremely likely that Armageddon will come by 1975.
1975: The Society informs its followers that Armageddon did not arrive.
1976: Fred Franz blames the JW community: “it didn’t come because YOU were expecting it”. The Watchtower blames the JW community for being disappointed by listening to it.
1970s, late: Many JWs abandon ship.
1980: The Society admits to having had some share in the disappointment.
1980s: The JW community and WTS leaders forget about 1975; some expect Armageddon in 1984 or 1994 based on the time for 70 or 80 years for a generation from 1914 to expire; a small number of WTS publications hint or state outright that “it will all be over” by the year 2000.
1990s: Many JWs quietly expect “the end” by 2000; the WTS keeps up their expectations with general statements of “real soon now”.
1995: The WTS changes its teaching on “the generation” but keeps up with the “Real Soon Now” theme.
The above brief chronology documents some 170 years of “crying wolf” by prophetic speculators. Not a single prediction has ever come true. Contrast this with what happened when God spoke through Moses — “it all came true.” (Joshua 21:45)
Even if some of the predictions of today’s prophetic speculators should come true, it would be purely by accident, just as when the wolf came after the boy had “cried wolf” every day for years. It would be no credit to the boy.
In fact, because Jesus said that “at an hour that you do not think to be it, the Son of man is coming”, anyone who correctly “predicts” the time of his coming cannot be his follower. Conversely, no one who is Jesus’ true follower would presume to make such predictions.
William Miller ultimately learned the proper attitude the hard way: “I have fixed my mind upon another time, and here I mean to stand until God gives me more light. — And that is Today, TODAY, and TODAY, until He comes.”