Watchtower – October 2014
(as it appears on jw.org, with some additional space added where necessary to allow the article to line up with the commentary to the right.)
The following is a typical conversation that one of Jehovah’s Witnesses might have with a neighbor. Let us imagine that a Witness named Cameron has come to the home of a man named Jon.
“KEEP SEARCHING” FOR UNDERSTANDING
Cameron: Jon, I’ve really enjoyed the regular discussions we’ve been having about the Bible. * The last time we spoke, you raised a question about God’s Kingdom. You asked why Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Kingdom began ruling in the year 1914.
Jon: Yes, I was reading one of your publications, and it said that God’s Kingdom started ruling in 1914. That made me curious because you say that you base all of your beliefs on the Bible.
Cameron: That’s right, we do.
Jon: Well, I’ve read through the Bible myself. But I can’t remember ever seeing a passage that mentioned the year 1914. So I went to an online Bible and did a search for “1914.” Sure enough, the search engine said: “0 results.”
Cameron: I have to commend you on two counts, Jon. First, that you’ve read through the entire Bible. You must really love God’s Word.
Jon: I do. There’s nothing like it.
Cameron: I agree. Second, I want to commend you for turning to the Bible when trying to find an answer to your question. You did exactly what the Bible encourages us to do: “Keep searching” for understanding. * It’s good that you are putting forth effort like that.
Jon: Thank you. I do want to keep learning. In fact, I dug around a little more and found some information about 1914 in this book we’ve been studying. It mentions a dream that a king had—it was about a big tree that was cut down and then grew back or something like that.
Cameron: Ah, yes. That’s the prophecy recorded in Daniel chapter 4. It involves a dream that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had.
Jon: Yes, that’s the one. I read the prophecy over and over. But to be honest, I still don’t see what it has to do with God’s Kingdom or the year 1914.
Cameron: Actually, Jon, even the prophet Daniel didn’t understand the full meaning of what he was inspired to record!
Cameron: Yes. Here at Daniel 12:8, he says: “Now as for me, I heard, but I could not understand.”
Jon: I’m not the only one then. That makes me feel a little better.
Cameron: The truth is, Daniel didn’t understand because it was not yet God’s time for humans to discern completely the meaning of the prophecies in the book of Daniel. But now, in our time, we can understand them more fully.
Jon: Why do you say that?
Cameron: Well, notice what we read in the very next verse. Daniel 12:9 says: “The words are to be kept secret and sealed up until the time of the end.” So these prophecies would only be understood much later, during “the time of the end.” And as we will soon discuss in our Bible study, all evidence indicates that we are now living in that time period. *
Jon: So, can you explain the prophecy in Daniel to me?
Cameron: I’ll do my best.
Cameron: To begin, let me briefly summarize what King Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream. Then we can talk about what it means.
Cameron: In the dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw an enormous tree that reached all the way to heaven. Then he heard God’s messenger command that the tree be cut down. However, God said for its rootstock to be left in the ground. After a period of “seven times,” the tree would grow again. * This prophecy initially applied to King Nebuchadnezzar himself. Although he was a prominent king—like the tree that reached clear to heaven—he was cut down for “seven times.” Do you remember what happened?
Jon: No, I don’t recall.
Cameron: That’s all right. The Bible shows that Nebuchadnezzar lost his sanity, evidently for seven years. During that time, he was unable to rule as king. But at the end of the seven times, Nebuchadnezzar regained his sanity and started ruling again. *
Jon: OK, I’m with you so far. But what does all of this have to do with God’s Kingdom and the year 1914?
Cameron: In a nutshell, this prophecy has two fulfillments. The first fulfillment happened when King Nebuchadnezzar’s rulership was interrupted. The second fulfillment involved an interruption of God’s rulership. So it is this second fulfillment that is related to God’s Kingdom.
Jon: How do you know that the prophecy has a second fulfillment in regard to God’s Kingdom?
Cameron: For one thing, we find an indication in the prophecy itself. According to Daniel 4:17, the prophecy was given “so that people living may know that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind and that he gives it to whomever he wants.” Did you notice the expression “the kingdom of mankind”?
Jon: Yes, it says that “the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind.”
Cameron: Right. Who do you suppose is “the Most High”?
Jon: I guess that’s talking about God.
Cameron: Correct. So that tells us that this prophecy is not only about Nebuchadnezzar. It also involves “the kingdom of mankind”—that is, God’s rulership over mankind. And that makes sense when we look at the prophecy in its context.
Jon: What do you mean?
THE BOOK’S CENTRAL THEME
Cameron: Time and again, the Bible book of Daniel develops a central theme. It keeps pointing forward to the establishment of God’s Kingdom under the rulership of his Son, Jesus. For example, let’s turn back a couple of chapters. Would you please read Daniel 2:44?
Jon: OK. It says: “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. And this kingdom will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it alone will stand forever.”
Cameron: Thank you. Would you say that this verse sounds as if it is referring to God’s Kingdom?
Jon: Hmm. I’m not sure.
Cameron: Well, notice that it says that this Kingdom “will stand forever.” That’s true of God’s Kingdom, but it’s not something that we can say of any human government, can we?
Jon: No, I guess not.
Cameron: Here’s another prophecy in the book of Daniel that points to God’s Kingdom. It’s the prophecy recorded at Daniel 7:13, 14. Regarding a future ruler, the prophecy says: “To him there were given rulership, honor, and a kingdom, that the peoples, nations, and language groups should all serve him. His rulership is an everlasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom will not be destroyed.” Is there anything in this prophecy that sounds familiar?
Jon: It mentions a kingdom.
Cameron: That’s right. And not just any kingdom. Notice it says that this Kingdom would have authority over “peoples, nations, and language groups.” In other words, this Kingdom would have global rulership.
Jon: I didn’t pick up on that, but you’re right. It does say that.
Cameron: Also, notice what else the prophecy says: “His rulership is an everlasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom will not be destroyed.” That sounds a lot like the prophecy we just read at Daniel 2:44, doesn’t it?
Jon: Yes, it does.
Cameron: Let’s briefly review what we’ve discussed so far. The prophecy in Daniel chapter 4 was given so that people would know that “the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind.” This in itself indicates that the prophecy has a bigger fulfillment than just the one involving Nebuchadnezzar. And throughout the book of Daniel, we find prophecies about the establishment of God’s Kingdom under the rulership of his Son. Do you think it’s reasonable to conclude, then, that this prophecy in Daniel chapter 4 also has something to do with God’s Kingdom?
Jon: I suppose so. But I still don’t see the connection with 1914.
“LET SEVEN TIMES PASS”
Cameron: Well, let’s go back to King Nebuchadnezzar. He was represented by the tree in the first fulfillment of the prophecy. His rulership was interrupted when the tree was chopped down and left for seven times—that is, when he lost his sanity for a period of time. That period of seven times ended when Nebuchadnezzar regained his sanity and resumed his rulership. In the second fulfillment of the prophecy, God’s rulership would be interrupted for a period of time—but not because of any deficiency on God’s part.
Jon: What do you mean?
Cameron: In Bible times, the Israelite kings who ruled in Jerusalem were said to sit on “Jehovah’s throne.” * They represented God in governing his people. So the rulership of those kings was really an expression of God’s rulership. In time, however, most of those kings became disobedient to God and most of their subjects followed suit. Because of the Israelites’ disobedience, God allowed them to be conquered by the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E. From that time on, no more kings represented Jehovah in Jerusalem. In that sense, then, God’s rulership was interrupted. Are you with me so far?
Jon: I think so.
Cameron: So 607 B.C.E. marked the beginning of the seven times, or the period when God’s rulership would be interrupted. At the end of the seven times, God would install a new ruler to represent Him—this time, someone in heaven. That’s when the other prophecies we read about in Daniel would be fulfilled. So the big question is: When did the seven times end? If we can answer that question, we will know when God’s Kingdom began ruling.
Jon: I see. Let me guess—the seven times ended in 1914?
Cameron: Exactly! You got it.
Jon: But how do we know that?
Cameron: Well, during his earthly ministry, Jesus indicated that the seven times had not yet ended. * So they must be a very long period of time. The seven times started hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth, and they continued until sometime after he returned to heaven. Remember, too, that the meaning of the prophecies in Daniel was not to become clear until “the time of the end.” * Interestingly, during the late 1800’s, sincere students of the Bible were moved to examine this and other prophecies very carefully. They began to discern that the seven times would end in the year 1914. And major world events since then confirm that 1914 was indeed the year that God’s Kingdom began ruling in heaven. It was the year when this world entered its last days, or the time of the end. Now, I know this is probably a lot to digest . . .
Jon: Yes. I’m definitely going to have to go over this again to get it all straight.
Cameron: Don’t worry. It took me a while to see how all the pieces fit together too. But at the very least, I hope our discussion has helped you to see that Jehovah’s Witnesses do base their beliefs about the Kingdom on the Bible.
Jon: For sure. I’ve always been impressed with how you rely on the Bible for your beliefs.
Cameron: And I can see that you have a similar desire. As I said, this is a lot to take in all at once. You probably still have some questions. For example, we’ve established that the seven times relate to God’s Kingdom and that they began in 607 B.C.E. But how, exactly, do we know that these seven times ended in 1914? *
Jon: Yes, I’m wondering about that.
Cameron: The Bible itself helps us to determine the precise length of the seven times. Would you like to examine that topic the next time I’m here? *
Jon: That sounds good.
[Note: where either the commentary or the original takes up too much space, additional blank lines may be added to either side to help align the paragraphs of the original article with the paragraphs of commentary.]
[Note too that, instead of answering all questions, issues, objections, criticisms here, there are places on this website or other resources that can be linked to where a more in-depth explanation is avaialble, and we will sometimes provide links of this kind, usually to additional articles on this site.]
It should also be clear that we don’t intend to speak for either a specific interpretation, no do we try to cover any and all opinions and explanations of Bible passages. If the case the Watch Tower publications attempts to make is not sound, we will try to point that out. If a good Biblical case can be made for one or more alternate explanations, we may mention it, or point to a more in-depth discussion. We do not believe it is necessary to replace one explanation with another one, even if we hold another one. For these purposes it is merely sufficient to show the failure of the Watch Tower’s position.
That said, we are aware that a very good case can be made based on Biblical teachings, that there are only two Biblical solutions to when the “Kingdom” begins. One is around 33 CE (assuming this is about the time of Jesus death and resurrection). The other is at the time when Jesus appears in glory at a time of judgment. Both these events are also accepted in Watch Tower publications as times when it might be appropriate to discuss, in some manner, a beginning of the Kingdom of God at those times. These alternatives are discussed in more detail under the topic “Kingdom” on this site.
The conversational method, used in Plato’s writings, and known to Jehovah’s Witnesses through the John & Mary conversations in Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose (dp), is a good teaching method. In this case the names are Jon and Cameron. And we don’t really notice Cameron’s gender.
Note: Keep in mind that this is a publicly distributed Watchtower article that may also encourage readers who are not currently studying with JWs to do so.
Although 1914 is not a typical subject that JWs bring up at the door voluntarily, there have been several articles throughout recent months, especially since January 2014, and some updated material on the subject for the past several months. The August and September “Our Kingdom Service” which can be seen on the jw.org site, discuss how this particular article can be used (along with Part 2, of course) in door-to-door ministry and Bible studies.
The question about whether 1914 is a Bible-based belief has been considered an awkward question in the past, and here it is being addressed head-on. It might be of interest to Jehovah’s Witnesses that the date has never before appeared inside their Bibles until now that the 2013 Edition of the NWT has included a lot more additional material that previous Bibles never had. Along with additional maps and appendixes. A small booklet was published in years past called “Sermon Outlines.” It was printed on the same type of paper used to print the NWT Bibles. I don’t currently recall if it contained a direct mention of 1914.
This could potentially come across as Jon being sarcastic to Cameron, but is not apparently intended that way. It might seem odd that someone who has read the entire Bible could ask this question sincerely. in the context of Bible reading a date like 1999, or even 100 would necessarily stand out as a huge surprise. There is no “YEAR” of any kind mentioned, not even in the form 10 years before Christ was born. The closest we get is “when Jesus was 12, or when Jesus was 30.
Cameron’s Embracing and commending the idea of using a search engine as a means to “keep searching” [the Bible] is a surprising touch for those of us who were raised with “old school” methods of studying. Yet, it’s clearly not sarcasm. It reminds me, however, that one of the reasons this site “celebrates” the 100th anniversary of the doctrine is that the doctrine is now easily testable through faster searching techniques. We believe it will now be more easily seen as non-sense, and we argue elsewhere, that this is a good thing. All who embrace technology will have no trouble seeing through the failings of this doctrine, and can thus be more easily freed from all the “non-sense” that has been tied up with this doctrine.)
When Jon mentions the book they’ve been studying he no doubt refers to “What Does the Bible Really Teach?” which is commented on in general here as a means to touch on several 1914-related topics.
A more in-depth discussion of Daniel 4 from the viewpoint of a Biblical analysis is found at the link.
Jon’s point is valid. It’s the one that the public readers of the Watchtower will surely agree with. Not only is it not about 1914, it’s not even about God’s Kingdom.
Cameron’s response deserves criticism. Cameron has to use the mix-and-match method of Biblical interpretation. Daniel 12:8, about “the vision(s),” is used as a proof-text and made to apply to a portion of Daniel that is fully explained. Daniel has a chapter on Daniel being thrown in the lion’s den. The three Hebrews in the Babylonian court. Are these supposed to be accounts that Daniel didn’t understand. In Chapter 4 we have a dream that Daniel explains completely and where Daniel tells him exactly what it means, and the fulfillment is then shown that it came true exactly as Daniel understood it. It is dishonest to go an unrelated verse and apply it here. It would not be dishonest to stay in the context of Daniel 4 and point out that the opposite is indicated: that Daniel understood the dream perfectly.
Cameron reveals the flaw in the thinking. The idea in Daniel 12 is best applied to how it was not yet God’s time for humans to completely discern…THE PROPHECIES in the book of Daniel. But Daniel 4 is not about a future prophecy. It’s about a fulfilled prophecy, the chapter explicitly claims that the fulfillment happened to Nebuchadnezzar. Not only does the Bible say it was fulfilled, but a further fulfillment creates contradictions and non-sensical, illogical problems. Most importantly, one would have to fight against the clear statements of the Bible to make this a future prophecy.
Daniel 12:9 is fine for explaining the unfulfilled visions and prophecies in the book that were set for the “time of the end.” A further study of Daniel 4 makes it impossible to apply this same idea to that Chapter. The same could be said about the fulfillment of the “writing on the wall” to Belshazzar, or Daniel in the lion’s den, or the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace. Also, a very strong Biblical case can be made that “the time of the end” from Daniel’s perspective had a more obvious applicaiton than our day. This will be discussed here. later article on the parallels between Daniel “shutting up the book” until the time of the end, and John’s comments in Revelation about opening up the scrolls now that the time is at hand for the revealing. This of course ties to a varied explanation of the purpose of the book of Revelation and there is no rush to add a controversial article about Revelation
Jon has blindly accepted that Daniel 4 is going to refer to some future prophecy that was sealed up until the time of the end. Yet there will be no explanation as to why this is a future prophecy, while the experience of the three Hebrews is not a future prophecy.
This is a fair representation of the dream. Note that Cameron merely makes a claim, completely unsubstantiated that this dream “initially” applied to King Nebuchadnezzar. In fact there is no hint in the dream that he is only the “initial” fulfillment. He is “the fulfillment.”
It’s of interest that the Watchtower states that what happened to Nebuchadnezzar was “evidently” for seven years, not a “definite” seven year period. Yet a further fulfillment is discussed later where it is quite definite that these can only be “seven times” that are equal to 360 day years. In fact, historically, all of Nebuchadnezzar’s years are accounted for, although 7 years of absence for a period of insanity could have historically been an affliction for one of his sons or grandsons on the throne where another had to rule in his place while
Jon is made to think what the public would still be thinking.
Cameron gives away the game here again. That it is simply a claim, pulled out of thin air, that the prophecy has two fulfillments. The conversational style can come in handy here. So sophisticated Bible exegesis or commentary-speak that uses words like “evidently” which was fine for what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. It makes Neb seem like a more nebulous fulfillment, when it’s exactly the opposite. There is NO evidence for a second fulfillment, so Cameron just needs to claim it, a bit flippantly, as if he’s skipping over the reasons and boiling it down for Jon. But there was nothing to boil down…as we’ll see.
Jon’s question is right.
But Cameron’s answer is wrong. In fact Daniel 4:17 could have just as easily been used as proof that there is NO second fulfillment. And that would actually make sense.