In November of the year 1886, Charles Taze Russell wrote in the Preface of his new book, MILLENNIAL DAWN, of his intentions to publish a total of seven volumes under that name which would “… set forth the wondrous things of the divine plan” of God. The name of the first book in the series was, The Plan of the Ages.
Russell’s hope as stated in Volume One was, “…that all classes of honest thinkers may be enabled to realize the Bible as indeed God’s Word and to recognize his plan therein revealed to be one sublime exhibition of Justice, Wisdom, Love and Power.”
Regarding that “plan,” discussed on p. 94 of Volume One, Russell commented:
For God has evidently designed the permission of evil for six thousand years, as well as that the cleansing and restitution of all shall be accomplished during the seventh thousand.
And on p. 167, there was more said about this period of six thousand years:
According to the plan revealed in his Word, God purposed to permit sin and misery to misrule and oppress the world for six thousand years, and then in the seventh millennium to restore all things, and to extirpate evil—destroying it and its consequences by Jesus Christ whom he hath afore ordained to do this work.
Was this “plan” of God Russell spoke of regarding the six thousand years of wickedness, starting from the date of creation until the Messiah would appear, plus, one thousand years of righteousness, totaling seven thousand years, something new he alone discovered from deep study of the Bible? Or was it part of the divided teachings of Christendom’s many denominations for centuries?
An Historical Review
The following list contains names and information about some of the people who taught that the world would end 6,000 years from creation. They lived long before Charles Taze Russell came on the scene with his doctrine that the end of the world would culminate soon—in his day—some 6,000 years from the time of creation.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (1451-1506), following the earliest teachings of Augustine, thought the world would last 7,000 years. [6,000 years from creation plus 1,000 years of Jesus’ rule. Info. added by author of this article.] He adopted the creation date of King Alfonso, which date was about 534 years before Christ. He believed that there were only about 150 years remaining until the end of the world.
Talmud: In this Jewish book of instructions, began in the second century and completed by the fifth century, many rabbis believed, on the basis of the creative week recorded in Genesis that the world would last six thousand years and be in chaos the last thousand years.
MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546) In 1545 Luther wrote that the world was in its sixth and last thousand years, before the eternal Sabbath rest, typified by the six days of the creation week. He believed the end near, and hoped he might see it in his day. Luther said, “The world cannot stand much longer, perhaps a hundred years at the outside.”
PHILLIPP MELANCHTHON (1497-1560) was the second leader in the German Reformation. Melanchton believed that the judgment was less than 500 years away. He declared that the great day of God will soon come, and adverting to the six-thousand-year theory, he said, “It is settled that Christ was born about the close of the fourth millennium, and now 1545 years have passed. Therefore we are not far from the end.”
ANDREAS OSIANDER (1498-1552), a co-reformer of Luther. Osiander published in 1544 his Conjectures Concerning the Last Times and the End of the World. In chapters 1 and 2 he cites and supports the 6,000-year expectation held both by the Jews in the Talmud and by certain Christian writers. He drew the analogy of the six days of the creation week – 6,000 years of toil to be followed by the eternal rest in the seventh day made up of 1,000 years.
DAVID CHYTRAEUS (1530-1600), a pupil of Melanchthon and last of the “Fathers of the Lutheran church” believed that the judgment was “not far hence” based on the cumulative evidence of Daniel 2 and 7, Matthew 24 and Mark 13, 2 Thessalonians 2, and Revelation 13. He also connected the six-thousand-year theory and the thought that the seventh thousand years would usher in the eternal state. The second-advent was tied in as the climax of the prophecies.
Who else held to the “six-thousand-year” premise, and that God had given the time prophecies of Daniel and of Revelation by which the approach of the judgment might be known?
JOHN GILL (1697-1771), Ordained in 1718, and thoroughly versed in Hebrew and Latin, Gill was an eminent Baptist expositor on prophecy. He held that the millennium will be bounded by the two literal, corporeal resurrections, and the eternal kingdom is to be on earth, not in heaven. He lectured extensively on the year-day principle of prophetic time prophecies from Daniel and Revelation calculating that certain year-days mentioned therein would close at the end of the sixth millennium cleansing the church from all corruption.
ABRAHAM BAR HIYYA HANASI (1065-1136), Spanish astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher. Hanasi sought to determine the apocalyptic end. His calculations were derived from the date of creation, as he believed that the world would last 6,000 years, with the seventh as the millennial Sabbath. His is the first eschatological work, The Scroll of the Revealer, of a European rabbi, and it later influenced Nahmanides.
NAHMANIDES, or Moses ben Nahman (1195-1270), of Spain, was a practicing physician and rabbi. He set 1358 C.E. for the Messiah’s coming and believed that the six days of creation represented six millennia, at the end of which the Messiah would appear. The seventh would be the millennial Sabbath.
ANDREAS MUSCULUS (1514-1581), a fervent Lutheran professor of theology at Frankfurt der Oder, Germany, lecturing on the last days, death, resurrection and judgment. Musculus wrote a number of tracts, such as, “About the Last Days,” and “Consider the End.” He said, “The world will not stand longer than 5,000 years. It has continued already for 5,556 years and should have some other 500 years to go…”
THEODOR BIBLIANDER (1504-1564), lecturer on the Apocalypse, was born near Constance. He studied Hebrew at Zurich. In 1531, he was made Zwingli’s successor as professor of theology and Old Testament literature at Zurich. Bibliander believed that after six thousand years of prevailing wickedness there would come the still future predicted millennium of righteousness.
HUGH LATIMER (1490-1555), one of the most distinguished prelates of the Church of England. Latimer believed the end was less than 400 years distant. As to the approximate time to the end, he held to the six-thousand-year theory, as did many of his contemporaries. Latimer wrote, “The world was ordained to endure, as all learned men affirm and prove it with scripture, 6,000 years. Now of that number there be passed 5552, so that there is no more left but 448. … Therefore all those excellent learned men, which without doubt God hath sent into this world in these latter days to give the world warning, all those men do gather out of scripture that the last day cannot be far off.”
THOMAS BURNET (1635-1715), English divine and author, Burnet believed that paradise would be restored on a renewed earth, after it had run its predicted course—creation week being the type. He stated that the “Six-millennial” duration of the world (the 6,000-year theory) was very much insisted upon by the Christian fathers and cited nearly a score of early fathers in its behalf.
John Napier (Neper) (1550-1617), distinguished Scottish mathematician and devoted adherent of the Protestant cause. Napier is celebrated as the inventor of logarithms and devised certain formulas in trigonometry and introduced the present use of the decimal point. He looked for the Day of Judgment about the year 1700 and believed the latter day “beginneth to approach.” This view he based on the sex-thousand-year premise, and on the fact that God had given the time prophecies of Daniel and of Revelation by which the approach of the judgment might be known.
JOSHUA WILLIAM BROOKS (1790-1882) prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral, author, and editor of The Investigator, as well as compiler of A Dictionary of Writers on the Prophecies, was prominent in prophetic exposition circles between 1831 and 1844. The Investigator, published by Brooks from 1831-1836, indicated approaching end of 6,000 years for about 1836, which Bengel had set and which was looked to by John Wesley, W. A. Holmes, and Joseph Wolff. This had stimulated the “general expectations of some great crisis being at hand” irrespective of differences in detail.
Frederick Nolan (1784-1864), Nolen notes the 6,000-year argument, with the seventh thousand years as a Sabbath of rest, which originated with the rabbinical Jews, “passed into the Christian Church,” and was adopted by the early Fathers.
For instance, the final editor of the “Slavonic Enoch” was a Hellenistic Jew in Egypt. (The Secrets of Enoch, also called the Slavonic Enoch, or sometimes 2 Enoch.) Confirmed date is between A.D. 1 and 50. This is the first time in Jewish literature the equation that one day of creation corresponds to one thousand years of world history. Here the stage was set for speculation of a world-week of seven thousand years—six thousand years of labor and toil from creation to the judgment, followed by a millennium of rest.
Irenaeus held to the 6,000 year theory from Jewish tradition. Hippolytus apparently was the first to fall into the error of setting a specific date for the Second Advent calculation, fixing upon A.D. 500 on the basis of the generally held six-thousand-year theory of the world’s duration. He assumes, like Irenaeus his teacher, that, inasmuch as God made all things in six days, and these days symbolize a thousand years each, in six thousand years from the creation the end will come.
The information provided in the above list was taken from Leroy Froom’s The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Volumes I-III. In addition to making available from Froom’s books selected names of various early writers who taught the six-thousand year belief, Froom adds information about the influence of pagan concepts upon Christianity in this matter. (See http://watchtowerdocuments.org/examining-apocalypticism)
Failure Didn’t Stop Predictions
In spite of all the prediction failures, most nineteenth-century Christian denominations taught that God would bring an end to an evil and selfish world in their century although details varied. Disagreements were plentiful as to when in that century the end would occur; nevertheless, all date-setters used some sort of date for creation and added the 6,000 years to calculate when Jesus would come back again. Outside and inside of mainline religion there was a keen interest in deciphering the date when the second-coming of Christ would begin.
Charles Taze Russell was well-acquainted with the account of Baptist William Miller’s (“Father Miller”) efforts to pinpoint when the second-coming of Christ would begin on the earth. Miller’s date-setting based upon his use of the 6,000-year theory resulted in what one prominent writer called, “Millennial fever,” when thousands of keyed-up people expected Jesus to return in 1843. When nothing of the kind took place then, Miller’s close associates convinced him that the right date was in 1844. Likewise, nothing happened that year either. The upshot of the failed predictions was a shattering of the lives of thousands of nonmembers and also members of many different Christian denominations who put faith in Miller’s calculations.
Russell was personally conversant with other well-known believers of the 6,000-year theory who lived during the nineteenth century, men such as George Storrs, George Stetson, Jonas Wendell and Nelson Barbour, all men connected with the “Second Adventist” movement that came out of the “Millerite” debacle. Each man subscribed to the 6,000-year theory to decipher when the second-coming of Christ would begin. In his later years, Storrs denounced date-setting due to his earlier support of William Miller and the negative outcome of that group. However he still pinned his hopes on the correctness of using the 6,000-year theory.
Most of these men lived long enough to see their hopes collapse just like millions of people before them that just knew in their hearts that the time they lived in was the end-time which calculation was rooted in the same 6,000-year-creation-theory used for thousands of years by pagans, Judaism and Christian denominations. In reality, Russell wasn’t any different than the Christian denominations he separated himself from because at one time or the other, they all believed in the 6,000-year-theory.
Sad to say, Charles Taze Russell didn’t learn a lesson from all the failed predictions but continued the same apocalyptic delusions based on the same 6,000-year theory due in part “…to the unprecedented currents of change which were beginning to churn the mainstreams of American society in the 1870s” (Zygmunt 1970).
It was in 1876 when Russell adopted the view of certain Second-Adventist preachers that believed Christ returned in his second coming as a spirit being in 1874 and not in the flesh as they previously thought. Russell even went so far as to claim in his last sermon before he died in1916 that:
“We have been in the Millennium dawn ever since the year 1874. Bible chronology quite clearly teaches that the six thousand years from Adam’s creation have ended. … Now the great Seventh Day, also a thousand years long, has commenced.”
Russell’s expectations that by 1914, or forty years into that Millennial rule of Christ, there would be anarchy or class war, which would destroy civilization, did not happen although the Great War, or WWI, did begin then. He felt sure that soon after 1914 the Messiah would take his great power and extinguish anarchy, or as Russell called it, the war between Capital and Labor and Christ’s Reign of Righteousness and Peace would begin. Nothing quite like what Russell prophesied to happen, happened, but he clearly didn’t give up on predictions. That’s why on October 4, 1914, he commented in a sermon,
“As I read my Bible with clearer eyes than once I read it, I see so many things different from what once I thought that I have great sympathy with people who are confused on this matter.” Russell was talking about the Great War commencing in 1914, something that he clearly didn’t expect because “the time of trouble” would, he thought, be over by then. However, he reconsidered and based on some scriptures in the Bible book of Joel, he concluded that the Great War was part of God’s plan to be followed by “the terrible Armageddon.” Again he was wrong!
Rutherford Continued the Predictions
As time passed, Russell’s immediate successor, Joseph F. Rutherford, radically altered the religion. He was the man that came up with the new name, Jehovah’s Witnesses, for those who didn’t quit the movement Russell began. One thing Rutherford did not change though was the use of the 6,000-year theory. That theory was the legacy that Russell left Rutherford and Rutherford left to succeeding leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a legacy that almost brought the religion down.
How can we be sure Rutherford used the 6,000 year theory? Because of the dozens of times he mentioned it in Watch Tower literature. For instance, Rutherford wrote in the January 1, 1921 Watch Tower:
“The poor groaning creation has suffered oppression for more than six thousand years. They are groaning and travailing in pain, waiting for the manifestation of Messiah’s kingdom.… The Scriptures clearly show that this old order began to pass away in 1914 with the coming of the World War, and that it is rapidly disintegrating. … that the old world is passing away; that Messiah’s kingdom is at the door; and that millions now living will never die.”
In the March 14, 1923 GOLDEN AGE, this point was made:
“…it can be confidently stated now that millions living at this time on the earth will never die. We are in the transition period. Instead of becoming discouraged, the student of prophecy should look by faith beyond this dark night to the new day, the Golden Age that is just dawning. The whole plan of God relative to man, which covers a period of 7,000 years, reaches a climax in the restoration of man and his perfect home on earth.”
In Rutherford’s 1924 book, THE WAY TO PARADISE, he made this point:
“Christ’s kingdom is to undo in one thousand years all the evil brought about in the previous six thousand years.”
Beginning in 1918 and in the early 1920s, the term, “millions now living will never die” was the slogan that the Bible Students were talking about even though the prophetic failure of the 1914 date to see the end of the “time of trouble,” was obvious. Of course, many were disappointed that 1914 did not fulfill their exciting expectations based on this strong statement made in 1889 by Russell: “In view of the strong Bible evidence, we consider it an established fact that the final end of the kingdoms of this world and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God will be accomplished by the end of A.D. 1914.”
Although such expectations did not materialize, it did not prevent the Bible Students’ leaders, Rutherford and his associates, from pointing to other dates postulated to keep the flock still interested. In the book, The Finished Mystery, notice a new date: “Also, in the year 1918, when God destroys the churches wholesale and the church members by millions, it shall be that any that escape shall come to the works of Pastor Russell to learn the meaning of the downfall of ‘Christianity.’”
Further, in that same book it states,
“And every island fled away – even the republics will disappear in the fall of 1920. And the mountains were not found – every kingdom of earth will pass away, be swallowed up in anarchy.” To make sure the dangling carrot of hope that the establishment of the kingdom of God would soon rule the earth remained in front of the Bible Students, in February of 1918, Rutherford, for the first time, lectured in California on the theme, “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” Then in that other marked year, 1920, the lecture was published in booklet form and given wide distribution.
Note what the “Millions” booklet said on page 97: “Based upon the arguments heretofore set forth, then, that the old order of things, the old world, is ending and is therefore passing away, and 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 [in 1920] will be still on the earth in 1925. Then, based upon the promises set forth in the divine Word, millions now living will never die.” When 1925 was right at the door, Rutherford unwaveringly stated in the September 15, 1924 Watch Tower,
“Assured of the fact that we are standing now in the presence of the Lord at the beginning of his reign, and certain of the fact that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and that we are standing at the portals of the Golden Age, it is with confidence that we announce that millions now living will never die.”
However, by the time 1925 rolled in, Rutherford’s backpedaling about that date was in high gear when he said in the February 15, 1925 Watch Tower: “No one may safely predict exactly what will take place, even within the next year; but God has given general indications in his Word of many things which are yet to come to pass. He has not specified exactly their chronological order. Therefore let us first note some of the prophecies which are still unfulfilled.”
Rutherford then lists eight unfulfilled prophecies. He concludes the paragraph by saying, “All the prophecies relating to the Millennial Age are yet to be fulfilled.” In this same article, Rutherford plays the “blame” game.
“It seems to be a weakness of many Bible Students that if they locate a future date in the Bible, immediately they center as many prophecies upon that date as possible. This has been the cause of many siftings in the past. As far as we recall, all the dates foreseen were correct. 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. No doubt Mr. Miller was correct in locating 1844 as a Bible date. But he expected too much. 1874 was also easily located. 1878 was also a marked date, and one which caused Brother Russell a severe trial until he corrected his expectations, as noted in his ‘Harvest Siftings’, of April, 1894, now out of print. Many can remember how “absolutely” sure some were about 1914. No doubt the Lord was pleased with the zeal manifested by his servants; but did they have a scriptural basis for all the expected to come to pass that year? Let us be cautious, therefore, about predicting particulars. The Lord will make them clear as fast as they become meat in due season. However, we feel sure that he will not chide us if we earnestly and reverently search for what may be revealed, watching also the facts about us.”
With that statement, the case was closed. It must have been comforting to the Bible Students to know that the Lord was not going to chide them for their over eagerness in expecting something big to happen in 1925, but what must they have thought when their leader, Joseph F. Rutherford did just that.
Speculative date-setting continues
One would think that such prophetic failures would bring an end to speculative date-setting but it did not. The fact is that some forty-years later, Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders used the 6,000-year theory in a formula that began with the year of creation, 4026 B.C.E., to arrive at the year 1975. An example of what was said about 1975 is found in the 1966 Witness publication, Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God:
“According to this trustworthy Bible chronology 6000-years from man’s creation will end in 1975, and the seventh period of a thousand years of human history will begin in the fall of 1975 C.E. So 6,000 years of man’s existence on earth will soon be up, yes, within this generation. So in not many years … we are reaching what Jehovah God could view as the seventh day of man’s existence. … It would not be by mere chance or accident … for the reign of Jesus Christ … to run parallel with the seventh millennium of man’s existence. … Shortly, within our own generation, the symbolical trumpet will be sounded by diving power, proclaiming liberty in the land to all its inhabitants… The Long awaited time is at hand.”
Did the Witnesses consider their organization’s calculations to be foolproof? Richard Singelenberg, in his article, It Separated the Wheat from the Chaff, observed:
“Let it be clear from the outset that the [Watchtower] Society in its literature never proclaimed flat out that 1975 would be the definite end of this world and its population. Nevertheless, the formulations from 1966 onward on what might happen in that year, the sense of urgency on a probable apocalyptic event, later followed by a possibility of a cataclysm, had a startling impact on the proselytizing activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Singelenberg’s observations were on target. The 1975 prediction, although cautious, became an emotional stimulant for the Witnesses. Although there was an indefinite feature to the calculation, just like in Russell’s assertions, the possibility was exciting to think about and urgent enough to increase proselytizing activities. With constant reminders in Witness literature about the nearness of the “new order,” Witnesses sold their homes, property and businesses and went into proselytizing full-time.
When the forecast of 1975 came and went, many Witnesses expressed their disappointment and chagrin especially at the reaction of their leaders to blame the rank and file for misreading the Bible’s premises just like Rutherford did in the 1925 failure. It took four years before an expression of regret for their error came from those responsible for the failed prophecy. In confidence, I was told by a senior writer at the Witnesses corporate headquarters that over 500,000 people left the religion because of the religious movement’s 1975 prophecy.
Former Witness and WT critic, Ronald Fry, observed the failures when he said: “The pattern or modus operandi of the Watchtower Society has evolved over the years but has basically remained the same. The same magazine that counseled the Witnesses against looking to a date (WT. 7/15/76) reaffirmed the strong prediction that the generation of 1914 would not pass away until the end came. They have not learned from past failures and persist in their efforts to ‘reveal’ what only God knows. (Deut. 29:29)”
Fry’s comment reminded me of what Elmer T. Clark observed in his 1949 book, THE SMALL SECTS IN AMERICA:
“It has been said that more than a hundred speculators predicted that the advent would occur within the decade following the end of the American Civil War.”
Of course, in that number was the small American “sect” directed at first by C. T. Russell and then by others under the direction of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, Inc. of Pennsylvania. During their tenures, four administrations of Watch Tower leaders – Russell, Rutherford, Knorr, and a Governing Body made up of many members – loudly proclaimed three dates and softly offered to insiders other dates for the return of Jesus during more than one hundred and thirty years. Now a fifth administration, for the most part, a different group of Governing Body members – is being more coy about date-setting, but reminds members over and over again that these are the “last days” and Armageddon is coming “soon.”
Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses select certain scriptures to back up their dates. However, they sure ignore scriptures that don’t. Notice what Fry went on to say about one such scripture:
“It is appropriate to consider what Jesus Christ said in warning about those who would claim special knowledge about the time of his return: ‘Look out that you are not misled; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying ‘I am he,’ and ‘The due time has approached.’ Do not go after them.’”
How can any date-setters or even those who say, “The due time has approached” ignore this warning? Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders have! As it stands now, Jehovah’s Witnesses have set more dates for the return of Jesus than any other religion. Accordingly, they have been wrong just like date-setters for thousands of years have been wrong and there is no way to get around that.