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Did Christ Become Present in 1914?

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Did Christ Become Present in 1914?

Answers to Jehovah’s Witnesses #18
Robert M. Bowman Jr.

Summary: Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that what Christians historically have understood as Christ’s second coming is an invisible “presence” that began in 1914 when Christ started exercising his authority as king over the whole earth. The year 1914 marked the beginning of “the time of the end,” which will culminate sometime soon in Armageddon.

This article is one of a series of articles explaining in detail the doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses and showing why those teachings are not in harmony with the facts and teachings of the Bible. For an overview, see our article on what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe.

What the Watchtower Teaches

As we mentioned in the previous installment in this series of articles,1 the central doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witness religion is its teaching that Christ became invisibly “present” in 1914. In that article we showed that the Bible does not teach that Christ’s coming will be an invisible (and figurative) presence. Rather, Christ will return personally and visibly to the world to bring salvation to his people and judgment to the unrepentant. In this article, we will examine the Watchtower’s chronological system by which it interprets the Bible to teach that Christ’s rule as king over the whole earth began in 1914.

The cornerstone of the Watchtower’s doctrine of 1914 is its teaching on the “appointed times of the nations” (Luke 21:24 NWT), more commonly known as the “times of the Gentiles.” According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, this was a period of uncontested rule by ungodly governments that began in 607 BC and ended in AD 1914, when Jesus Christ became king.2 This new status as king over all people is the meaning of Christ’s invisible “presence” (rather than the orthodox Christian belief that Christ was going to come personally to the earth). That presence will culminate in the destruction of the wicked at Armageddon:

In 1914 he “came” to begin his presence as enthroned King…. At Armageddon, he will “come” to execute judgment on Jehovah’s enemies.3

The Watchtower teaches that we are now in the “last days,” a period marked by worldwide wars, famines, earthquakes, and other calamities, and that Armageddon will take place “soon,” “in the near future”:

We can be confident that the destruction of false religion and the battle of Armageddon will soon come. God has revealed these details in advance.4

Michael is another name for our ruling King, Christ Jesus. He has been “standing in behalf” of God’s people since 1914 when his Kingdom was established in the heavens. In the near future, he will “stand up,” or take significant action, at the war of Armageddon.5

The key points of the current Jehovah’s Witness doctrine of 1914 may be summarized as follows: 

  • The “appointed times of the nations” (Luke 21:24 NWT), more commonly known as the “times of the Gentiles,” was a period of uncontested rule by ungodly governments that began in 607 BC and ended in AD 1914.
  • Christ’s role as ruler of God’s kingdom over the earth began in 1914.
  • This period of Christ’s new role as king over the earth from heaven that began in 1914 constitutes his invisible “presence.”
  • Worldwide phenomena including wars, famines, and earthquakes confirm that we have been in the “last days” since 1914.
  • The last days will end “soon” with Armageddon, in which Christ will lead a heavenly army to conquer the world and destroy the wicked.

Understanding the Watchtower’s Prophetic Chronology

The Watchtower has an extremely elaborate argument for its teaching about 1914. It will be necessary to summarize this argument before we offer a biblical response.

The foundation of the Watchtower’s argument is its interpretation of Daniel 4. Daniel 4 tells about a dream that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had about a large tree that was chopped down and kept from growing for “seven times” (Dan. 4:9-17). Daniel explained that this dream was a warning from God that Nebuchadnezzar would suffer madness that would prevent him from ruling for seven years, after which he would be restored (Dan. 4:20-27). The passage goes on to tell about the literal fulfillment of the dream, when Nebuchadnezzar indeed went mad and was unable to rule for seven years (Dan. 4:28-37). The larger point that Daniel said the experience was meant to teach, and which Nebuchadnezzar confessed after it was over, was that “the Most High” is the true “King of heaven” who does whatever he chooses (Dan. 4:25, 32, 34-37).

Daniel 4 says nothing about Christ, his future coming, the establishment of the kingdom of God at the end of the age, or 1914. Nevertheless, according to the Watchtower, “The prophecy in Daniel chapter 4 teaches us that God would set up his Kingdom in 1914…. The tree represents God’s rulership.” The “seven times” during which Nebuchadnezzar did not rule thus referred prophetically to the period of time during which God’s Kingdom would not rule over the earth. Those seven times were seven years for Nebuchadnezzar, but for the larger prophetic meaning each day of those seven years—which the Watchtower calculates as 7 multiplied by 360 days, for a total of 2,520 days—itself represents a full year, “because of the prophetic rule ‘a day for a year’” (Num. 14:34; Ezek. 4:6).6 Thus, the “seven times” are said to represent a period of 2,520 years.

What remains to be determined is when this period began. Here the Watchtower cross-references Jesus’ statement that “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Putting this statement together with its interpretation of Daniel 4, the Society concludes that the “times of the Gentiles” (or “appointed times of the nations,” NWT) began when the Babylonians started “trampling” on Jerusalem by destroying the city. The Watchtower claims that the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem occurred in 607 BC. From 607 BC to AD 1914 is 2,520 years; therefore, the times of the Gentiles were prophesied to end in 1914.7

Finally, the Watchtower argues that the two world wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945), the first of which began in 1914, along with such phenomena as earthquakes and famines, confirm that we have been in the last days since 1914. In support, Jehovah’s Witnesses cite Jesus’ warnings in the Olivet Discourse about wars, earthquakes, and famines (Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:10-11). They also claim that their own “preaching work” fulfills Jesus’ prophecy that the “gospel of the kingdom” was to “be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Matt. 24:14).8

Biblical Response

Practically every step of the above argument for 1914 as the date when Christ was to become “present” as king is flawed.

In the previous article in this series, we have already refuted the key claim of the Watchtower doctrine of 1914, which is that Christ’s second coming is really an invisible presence that began over a century ago. Our focus here will be on the Watchtower’s prophetic arguments for pinpointing the year 1914 as the date when Christ’s “presence” was to begin.

The “Seven Times” of Daniel 4

First, as we have already noted, Daniel 4 says nothing about Christ or the timing of his kingdom. Daniel interprets the “seven times” as referring to the period of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness. While a large tree could be used as a symbolic image of God’s kingdom, in Daniel 4 it represents Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom.

Moreover, it is awkward, to put it mildly, to interpret the period during which the Gentile king Nebuchadnezzar did not rule as symbolizing a period during which Gentiles would be permitted to rule. It is even worse to claim that it represents a period during which God’s kingdom would be absent from the earth. Indeed, that interpretation is essentially the direct opposite of what Daniel 4 says: “Seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Dan. 4:25, 32). “For his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation” (Dan. 4:34).

Second, there is absolutely no justification for interpreting the seven times as a period of 2,520 years. Most biblical scholars agree that the “seven times” simply represent seven years. This was also the dominant ancient understanding of the text, as seen in the ancient Greek translation of the passage (commonly called the Septuagint), the Jewish historian Josephus’s reference to the passage in his Jewish Antiquities (10.10.6), the church father Jerome’s commentary on Daniel, and the rabbinical traditions.9

Other numbered time references in Daniel are consistent with understanding the seven times as seven years. Daniel’s prophecy about seventy sevens (Dan. 9:24-27) is most naturally and plausibly interpreted as referring to seventy periods of seven years (not seventy periods of 2,520 years!). Daniel’s references to “a time, times, and half a time” (Dan. 7:25; 12:7) both refer to a period of three and a half years. The Book of Revelation reflects this understanding, since it refers to “forty-two months” and “1,260 days” (Rev. 11:2-3), and later refers again to “1,260 days” and “a time, and times, and half a time” (Rev. 12:6, 14), using the same wording as Daniel 7:25 and 12:7. The reference to 42 months would seem to settle the matter that these references all pertain to a period of three and a half years.

The “Day-Year” Principle

The proof texts that the Watchtower cites as the basis for interpreting a day as a year teach no such concept. The Lord told the Israelites in the wilderness who rebelled against him that they would be punished for forty years. “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure” (Num. 14:34). Here God told the Israelites that they would be punished “a year for each day” that they had spied out the land. This statement was not setting forth a code for interpreting prophecy. The “forty days” were not prophetic code for forty years; rather, they were simply the factual basis on which the duration of their punishment was set.

In the book of Ezekiel, the Lord had Ezekiel act out a visual illustration of “the years of their punishment” for the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. He was to lay on his left side (facing the northern kingdom of Israel) and then his right side (facing the southern kingdom of Judah) for certain numbers of days, “a day for each year” of their punishment (Ezek. 4:4-6). Here again, we do not find some sort of code for interpreting prophecy. As in Numbers, the text specifically explains in what way a day represented a year. The Book of Daniel does not contain any such explanation—and it does not even use the word “days” in Daniel 4.

We have already given an example of the absurdities that this supposed “day-year” principle would lead if applied consistently. Daniel’s prophecy of seventy sevens (Dan. 9:24-27) clearly refers to a total of 490 years; this cannot be converted into a prophecy of 176,400 years (490 years multiplied by 360 days per year)! Likewise, Jeremiah’s prophecy of servitude to the king of Babylon for “seventy years” (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10) does not refer to a period of time of 25,200 years. The day-year principle should be abandoned as useless for interpreting biblical prophecy.

Mathematical Mistakes and Inconsistencies

The Watchtower’s 1914 doctrine originated on the basis of some questionable mathematical assumptions and even a simple mistake in counting.

First, the figure of 2,520 years for the Gentile times assumes that a year in biblical prophecy is 360 days in length (twelve months of 30 days each), rather than a true solar year (which is about 365.24 days). Yet the period of 2,520 years is then calculated using solar years, because from 607 BC to AD 1914 is 2,520 solar years. If the Watchtower were to be consistent in using 360-day years, then 2,520 years of 360 days each would be equivalent to 2,484 solar years, which is 36 years less than the Watchtower calculates for the Gentile times. On the other hand, if it consistently used solar years in its calculations, then the Gentile times would have lasted about 2,557 years (7 multiplied by 365.24).

Second, the Watchtower originally claimed that the Gentile times began in 606 BC and ended in AD 1914. This is actually a period of 2,519 years, because there is no zero year between 1 BC and AD 1. Russell more or less acknowledged the problem in an article he published in 1912, though he seemed uncertain as to whether a zero year should be counted.10 The Watchtower did not fully resolve the problem until 1943, when it explained that although Jerusalem was destroyed in 606 BC, the ancient calendar year in which that event occurred began in our year 607 BC. On this basis, the Watchtower claimed that the 2,520 years should really begin in 607 BC.11 Eventually, this distinction (which seems like sleight of hand) was dropped and the Watchtower claimed that Jerusalem was actually destroyed in 607 BC.12

The Date of the Babylonian Destruction of Jerusalem

A key premise of the 1914 date is that the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, including its temple, in 607 BC. However, as the Watchtower has acknowledged, essentially all historians agree that this event took place about twenty years later, in 587/586 BC. The Society claims that these scholars “rely primarily on secular information for the chronology of the period,” whereas Jehovah’s Witnesses “are willing to be guided primarily by God’s Word rather than by a chronology that is based principally on secular evidence or that disagrees with the Scriptures.”13 The Watchtower argues that the 607 BC date is required by Jeremiah’s prophecy that the desolation of the land would last “seventy years” (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10). Since Cyrus decreed in 539 BC that the Jews were to be allowed to return to their land, and since (the Watchtower argues) the first wave of Jewish resettlement would have occurred in 537 BC, Jeremiah’s prophecy requires us to accept 607 BC as the beginning of those seventy years.

A great deal has been written about this aspect of the Watchtower’s doctrine. Here we will make just two brief points. The first is that the date of 539 BC for Cyrus’s decree is based on the same “secular evidence” as the date of 587/586 for the destruction of Jerusalem. Specifically, the evidence for the 539 BC date comes from Babylonian astronomical texts and other Babylonian records. This date is consistent with the Bible but does not derive directly from the Bible, which does not provide astronomical data that could be used to fix absolute dates for the Babylonian period. Yet, inconsistently, the Watchtower accepts the 539 BC date for Cyrus’s decree but rejects the date of 605 BC for Nebuchadnezzar’s first incursion into Judah, almost twenty years before he destroyed the city, even though these two dates derive from the same Babylonian records.14

Second, the Watchtower’s argument assumes that there is only one way to interpret Jeremiah’s references to “seventy years.” The Old Testament makes several references to these “seventy years,” and they appear to give somewhat varying (though not contradictory) descriptions of their precise significance (2 Chron. 36:21; Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10; Dan. 9:2; Zech. 1:12; 7:5). It is quite plausible to interpret the seventy years as a round number referring to the period of Babylonian domination over the land, which lasted almost seventy years based on the generally accepted dates (605-539 BC).15 Alternatively, it is possible to take Jeremiah’s statement that “these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jer. 29:11) to indicate that the seventy years cover the entire period of the Babylonian Empire from 609 BC, when it supplanted the Assyrian Empire, to 539 BC, when it was itself conquered by the Persians.16 Thus, one need not impugn the truth or accuracy of Jeremiah’s prophecy in order to reconcile it with the external evidence for the dates of the relevant events.

Please note that in order for the Watchtower’s 1914 date to be valid, the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem must be dated to 607 BC. Even allowing for a one-year deviation, their position is simply untenable. Their date is not off by one or even two years, but by twenty years. This one point alone should be sufficient to discredit the Watchtower’s 1914 doctrine.

The Times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24)

In Luke’s account of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, Jesus prophesies the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman armies:

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near…. For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-24).

Jesus gave this prophetic discourse to his disciples in about AD 30 or 33, a few days before his execution. Obviously, he was warning them about events concerning Jerusalem that were going to happen in the future. As everyone agrees, this warning referred to the Roman siege of Jerusalem that climaxed in the destruction of the temple in AD 70.

In this context, Jesus said, “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles” (v. 24). The natural way to take this wording, both grammatically and contextually, is that Jerusalem’s “trampling” would begin with this future conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans. Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, understand the “trampling” to have begun almost seven centuries earlier in (they claim) 607 BC with the destruction of the first Jerusalem temple by the Babylonians. This interpretation ignores not only the context of Luke 21 but the historical facts. The Jews were allowed to return to their land by the Persians, rebuilt Jerusalem, and rebuilt the temple. After they were conquered by the Greeks, the Jews rebelled in the second century BC and established the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled Judea for about a century (140-37 BC). It simply is not true that Gentile nations trampled Jerusalem throughout the period from the Babylonian conquest to the first century AD.

The bottom line is that there does not seem to be any coherent way of interpreting Luke 21:24 to refer to a period beginning with the Babylonian conquest and ending in 1914.

Wars, Famines, Earthquakes

Finally, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus predicted the worldwide wars and other calamities of the past century as a “sign” that he had become present and begun ruling as king in 1914. This is the statement from the Olivet Discourse that the Watchtower uses as its proof text for this claim:

“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; see also Luke 21:10).

The problem with this interpretation is that in context Jesus was saying explicitly that these occurrences were not the sign of his presence or even of the time of the end. Look at what Jesus said immediately before and immediately after the statement the Watchtower quotes:

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matt. 24:6-8; Mark 13:7-8).

Not only did Christ deny that these wars and disasters were the sign of the end, he said nothing to indicate that these events would be more severe than in previous eras. For example, Jesus did not say that these wars would be different because they would be worldwide in scope, or that there would be a significant increase in famines or earthquakes (or in fatalities from such events). Jehovah’s Witnesses have been taught to read these ideas into the text, but they just are not there.

Conclusion: An Extremely Problematic Theory

Although still more problems with the Watchtower’s doctrine of 1914 could be considered, we have found more than enough reason to reject that doctrine. Here is a quick list of the main points we have made: 

  • The 1914 doctrine assumes an invisible, spiritual “presence” of Christ instead of a personal, visible return of Christ to the earth.
  • The “seven times” of Daniel 4 were fulfilled in Nebuchadnezzar’s seven years of madness and do not contain a hidden revelation of a greater length of time of prophetic significance.
  • There is no such thing as a “day-year” principle to interpret days in biblical prophecies as coded references to years.
  • The Watchtower’s calculations to reach 1914 as the end of the 2,520 years are mathematically flawed and inconsistent.
  • The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 587/586 BC, not in 607 or 606 BC.
  • The “times of the Gentiles” in Luke 21:24 began with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, not with the earlier Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem.
  • Jesus did speak about wars, famines, and earthquakes, but to make the point that such things were not the sign of his coming (Matt. 24:6-8; Mark 13:7-8).

In order to vindicate the Watchtower’s 1914 date, all seven of these objections would need to be refuted. If even one of these objections is sound, then the 1914 date fails.

One more problem with the Watchtower doctrine of 1914 should be mentioned: it misinterprets the biblical gospel, or good news, of the kingdom. Jesus did not wait until 1914 to begin ruling as king over the whole earth from heaven. He began doing that in AD 33, when he conquered sin and death on the cross, rose bodily from the dead, sat down on God’s throne at the Father’s right hand, and began working through his disciples to bring people from all nations to him for salvation. That is the good news of the kingdom according to the New Testament (Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 2:30-38; 13:26-39; Rom. 1:1-4, 16-17; 14:17; 1 Cor. 15:3-5; Eph. 2:4-10; Heb. 1:3-5). By so badly misinterpreting the message of the Bible—and misrepresenting its own history—the Watchtower demonstrates that it does not speak for the God of truth.



1. Robert M. Bowman Jr., “Does Christ Return Invisibly?” Answers to Jehovah’s Witnesses #17 (IRR, 2020).

2. Pure Worship of Jehovah—Restored at Last! (Watchtower, 2018, 2019 printing), 89; Reasoning from the Scriptures (Watchtower, 1989), 97.

3. “‘The Faithful Slave’ Passes the Test!” Watchtower, March 1, 2004, 18.

4. “Jehovah Reveals What ‘Must Shortly Take Place,’” Watchtower, June 15, 2012, 18.

5. “Who Is ‘the King of the North’ Today?” Watchtower (Study), May 2020, 16.

6. What Can the Bible Teach Us? (Watchtower, 2014), 217.

7. Ibid.

8. Reasoning from the Scriptures, 97.

9. Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, New American Commentary 18 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 134–35.

10. “The Ending of the Gentile Times,” Watch Tower, Dec. 1, 1912, 377-78.

11. “The Truth Shall Make You Free” (Watchtower, 1943), 239.

12. E.g., “Let Your Kingdom Come” (Watchtower, 1981), 189.

13. “Let Your Kingdom Come”, 188, 189.

14. The definitive work refuting the Watchtower’s arguments on this issue is Carl Olof Jonsson, The Gentile Times Reconsidered: Chronology and Christ’s Return, 4th rev. and expanded ed. (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 2004), esp. 72-190. Jonsson is a former Jehovah’s Witness.

15. E.g., Miller, Daniel, 241–42; John A. Thompson, 1, 2 Chronicles, NAC 9 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 391–92.

16. See Jonsson, Gentile Times Reconsidered, 191-235, who cites a number of academic studies supporting this interpretation.