The Prophecies Of The Watchtower
If you hear a knock at your front door and find two people carrying religious paraphernalia with them, chances are good that they a members of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Possibly more than any other religious organization, the Jehovah's Witnesses do more in door to door "evangelism", to the shame of Bible-believing Christians. But zeal for witnessing is meaningless if the witness is not of God. In reality, the Witnesses are the people that need to be witnessed to. Many people turn the witnesses away, without sharing the true gospel with them, probably because they tried to do so in the past and failed, only to wind up in an argument about the deity of Jesus Christ, or the identity of the 144,000. Jehovah's Witnesses have their stock answers to these issues and to argue with them most times is fruitless. However, I do believe there is a way to at least open the door for meaningful witness to the Witnesses without getting frustrated, and that is by examining the failed prophecies of the Watchtower.
To understand these prophecies, a little historical background is helpful. The Jehovah's Witnesses were founded by Charles Taze Russell. He was born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1852. When he was 16, he came under the influence of Jonas Wendell, a Advent Christian Church preacher. The Advent Christian Church was similar in doctrine to the Seventh Day Adventist Church except it worshipped on Sunday rather than Saturday. William Miller, the founder of the Seventh Day Adventists, had predicted that Christ would return in His second Advent in 1844. The year had come and gone and was called the great disappointment. By 1868, the movement had recouped from its losses and had once again gained some respectability. The date for the second Advent had been changed to 1874. Once again, the date came and went, with many becoming completely discouraged. In 1876, Russell learned of a Adventist magazine that was affirming that Christ did actually return in 1874, but His Advent was invisible. Russell latched onto this teaching but in 1879 came in conflict with the magazine publisher. Russell broke ties with the magazine and founded the "International Bible Students Association." He also began publishing his own magazine, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. Focusing on the year 1874 as the beginning of Christ's invisible presence, Russell began to make other prophetic predictions. His most significant prediction was that believers would be raptured in 1910 and that the world would come to an end in 1914. Russell died in 1916, having seen the failure of his predictions.
Russell was succeeded by "Judge" Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Rutherford renamed the group "The Jehovah's Witnesses" in 1931. Rutherford also made some prophetic predictions. He predicted that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be resurrected in 1925. Apparently this was to be a visible resurrection for the year came and went and everyone realized the prophecy had failed. Rutherford, himself, said of his prophetic failure, "I made an ass of myself."
Nathan Homer Knorr succeeded Rutherford as president of the Witnesses. Knorr greatest contribution to the Witnesses was the training programs that he instituted. Knorr largely left doctrinal issues alone, concentrating his efforts or organization and recruitment. he died in 1977.
Knorr was succeeded by Fredrick W. Franz. Franz was vice president under Knorr and chiefly responsible for doctrinal matters. Franz revised Russell's prophecy concerning Christ's return in 1874 to the year 1914 and began pointing to the year 1975 as the most likely time for the end of the world. Franz died in 1992 leaving Milton G. Henschel as president of the Witnesses.
Henschel inherits two major problems that the Witnesses must overcome to retain any credibility before the public. Both problems are tied to teaching of Christ's invisible presence and the inauguration of His Kingdom in 1914. The first problem is that with the beginning of the kingdom, it was taught that the world would end within the lifespan of the generation that saw the events of 1914. That generation is quickly passing away. The second problem is that the qualified leaders of the witnesses must come from the group of people that form the chosen 144,000, which began in 1914 and was concluded in 1935. That group of people is also quickly becoming extinct, leaving the Witnesses without any "God-ordained" leadership.
The calculations of how Christ came in 1914 are riddled with interpretational errors. However, the year 1914 is the year that the Witnesses have held to and have based all there prophetic understandings upon. For a detailed description of how the Witnesses arrived at 1914 as the year of Christ's Advent, see the article by David A. Reed on the Christian Research Institute's web page WITHER THE WATCHTOWER?: An Unfolding Crisis for Jehovah's Witnesses.
Seeing the doctrinal problems the Witnesses face, all one needs to do when the Witnesses come to witness is ask five direct questions.
1. Did Charles Taze Russell predict the end of the world in 1914?
2. Did Judge Rutherford predict the resurrection of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in 1928?
3. Did Fredrick Franz predict the end of the world in 1975?
4. Did any of these predictions come to pass?
5. Since the predictions of the three most prominent theologians of the Jehovah's Witnesses never came true, why should I or any one else, believe anything else that you say when Scripture tells me that these "prophets" were not sent by Jehovah, Himself?
At this point show them in your Bible, or better, have them read in their own New World Translation, Deuteronomy 18:20-22. There, Jehovah states that if a prophet makes a prediction that does not come to pass, that prophet has spoken of his own imaginations and did not speak the Word of God. Now they may be ready to hear the true gospel of the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, without argument.