“Brother Russell…recognized that the year 1914 would mark the end of the Gentile Times… He urged others to check his writings carefully against God’s inspired Word so that they would be satisfied that what they were learning was in full harmony with it.” – Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Proclaimers –
On October 2nd, 1914, the Founder of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Charles Taze Russell, confidently strode into the Bethel dining hall and made the startling announcement to the headquarters staff: “The Gentile times have ended; their kings have had their day.” And what far-reaching effects that bold proclamation has had upon the modern movement of Jehovah’s Witnesses! Since that announcement almost 100 years ago, the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been made to revolve around the core belief that Jesus Christ began ruling in his heavenly kingdom back in 1914. The Watchtower has since then sponsored the proclamation—“Jehovah himself has become king”!
Without question 1914 was a crucial strategic turning point in world history. Because by means of chronology the International Bible Students had already been anticipating earthshaking events to commence in 1914, the start of the First World War seemed to confirm their expectations. In fact, many of the Bible Students were certain Armageddon was then imminent. But was that date, now nearly a century in our past, “the most important date for all human creation,” as the Watchtower once claimed?
That question need not arise out of any lack of faith in the sacred promise of God. On the contrary, Jehovah’s Witnesses should follow the apostle’s counsel and “make sure of all things.” It should be our utmost desire to know, at least as clearly as can be humanly ascertained, whether Jehovah actually became king in 1914, or whether that momentous event is still in our future. In the spirit of Charles Russell’s own urging, let us check the Watchtower’s writings—carefully—against God’s inspired Word in order to make sure that our understanding of the Gentile times is in full harmony with it.
So, what exactly are the Gentile times, as they are commonly called? The exact expression “the times of the Gentiles,” or “the appointed times of the nations,” as the phrase is rendered in the New World Translation, is only found in one place in the Scriptures. At Luke 21:24, Jesus said the following: “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”(NIV)
Bible students have long recognized that Jesus’ prophecy had a much greater application than to just the ancient city of Jerusalem, which has on more than one occasion been laid waste by trampling invaders. Jerusalem, according to the prophets and apostles, would come to represent the very kingdom of God since it was in the literal city of Jerusalem where the Davidic kingdom was originally established. And as the legitimate heir to the throne of David, Christ Jesus also presented himself as the messianic king to the citizens of Jerusalem when he rode into the city seated upon an ass’s colt. Jerusalem was thus considered to be the capital city of Jehovah’s royal kingdom. For that reason, the city of Jerusalem is used in prophecy to represent various aspects of God’s heavenly kingdom.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have understood that the present political system that has dominated the earth for approximately 4,000 years will at some point give way to the rule of God’s kingdom. So, in the context of the coming to power of the kingdom of the heavens, which is what Jesus was ultimately discussing in the 21st chapter of Luke, the Gentile times is understood to be an interval when the rule of God’s kingdom is suppressed by the nations and the expiration of that period of Gentile domination is understood to mean the end of the allotted time for the nations to rule the earth.
As all of Jehovah’s Witnesses know the Watchtower has connected the “seven times” in the fourth chapter of Daniel to the so-called “appointed times of the nations,” about which Christ spoke. According to the Watchtower, the appointed times for Jerusalem to be trampled on by the nations began over 600 hundred years before Christ even uttered his prophecy – back in 607 BCE, when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Judean kingdom. Zedekiah was to be the last king of the line of David to sit upon the throne until the Messiah would be given a heavenly kingdom. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the appointed times for the nations to rule in place of God’s appointed king expired 2,520 years later, in 1914. The outbreak of WWI, followed by the horrific Spanish Flu pandemic—along with many other developments since then—have served to convince Jehovah’s Witnesses that the sign of Christ’s invisible presence began to display itself in 1914.
There are a number of reasons to question the Watchtower’s application of the seven times equation, as well as the chronology that is used to affix the seven times to the year 607 BCE. But setting the chronology aside for others to argue the logical question to ask is if the kingdom of the world actually gave way to Christ’s kingdom in 1914, why do the nations still exercise total domination over the earth? What has changed since 1914? Clearly, as regards the political nations of this world doing as they please,nothing has changed.
Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the end of the Gentile times merely means that the nations can no longer interfere with the work of true Christians, but that they are otherwise free to dominate mankind as before. But the error of Jehovah’s Witnesses long-held belief that God’s kingdom was established in 1914 becomes evident when we reason upon the Scriptures. For example, the second Psalm pertains to the reaction of the nations to Jehovah’s giving his Messiah rulership over the world. Psalms 2:1-2 says:“Why have the nations been in tumult and the national groups themselves kept muttering an empty thing? The kings of earth take their stand and high officials themselves have massed together as one against Jehovah and against his anointed one…”
The prophetic second Psalm is one of many prophecies the Watchtower applies to 1914. Supposedly the Psalm was fulfilled when the nations were thrown into tumult during the First World War and forced to unite against God’s kingdom by banding together to form the League of Nations. However, there are several problems with that interpretation.
Foremost among the Watchtower’s interpretive difficulties is that the Psalm indicates that when the nations attempt to throw off the restraints imposed upon them Jehovah will immediately respond in anger. Psalms 2:4-6 goes on to say: “The very One sitting in the heavens will laugh; Jehovah himself will hold them in derision. At that time he will speak to them in his anger and in his hot displeasure he will disturb them, saying: ‘I, even I, have installed my king upon Zion, my holy mountain.’”
Reasoning further on the Watchtower’s application of the Psalm, if Jehovah installed his king upon heavenly Mount Zion back in 1914 and the nations have been in defiance of his kingdom ever since, how then are we to understand the words of the Psalm that indicate that Jehovah disturbs them “at that time”? According to the wording of the 2nd Psalm, God’s judgment upon the defiant nations is more or less immediate. Yet, it has now been nearly a century since the nations were supposed to have been thrown into tumult and “massed together as one” to destroy God’s kingdom and still Jehovah has not disturbed them “in his hot displeasure.”
Isaiah chapter 17 is a related prophecy describing the tumult of the nations, likening their commotion to the “noise of mighty waters.” Isaiah reads: “Ha for the commotion of many peoples, who are boisterous as with the boisterousness of the seas! And for the noise of national groups, who make a din just like the noise of mighty waters! The national groups themselves will make a din just like the noise of many waters. And He will certainly rebuke it, and it must flee far away and be chased like the chaff of the mountains before a wind and like a thistle whirl before a storm wind. At evening time, why, look! there is sudden terror. Before morning—it is no more. This is the share of those pillaging us, and the lot belonging to those plundering us.”
Jesus used a similar expression when he foretold that there would be anguish of nations not knowing the way out of the calamity that had befallen them, while men become faint with fright due to the roaring of the sea. Although some who should know better have foolishly suggested that the “roaring of the sea” has to do with literal tsunamis, Isaiah’s prophecy makes clear that the roaring, boisterous sea is merely a symbol describing the “national groups”; that is to say, the roaring, churning sea symbolizes a global civilization engulfed in chaos and turmoil. And like the second Psalm, the 17th chapter of Isaiah depicts Jehovah rebuking the nations immediately after they become “boisterous”; as if in the “morning” after the “evening” of their uproar the nations are “no more.”
Another serious difficulty with the 1914 doctrine is that the League of Nations was a relatively ineffectual organization that eventually went out of existence. Not only that, but the United States was not even a member of the League. So, how can it be claimed that the scripture was fulfilled regarding the high officials of the earth and national groups massing together as one? In reality, the nations were not all under the umbrella of the League of Nations and the impotent League hardly had the sort of impact on the world one would expect from a political entity that is presumed to have challenged Christ for global supremacy. Also, how many times are the nations and their rulers gathered together in total opposition to Jehovah’s kingship? Reasonably, there can only be one gathering or amassing of all the kingdoms of the earth to war against God. And according to the 16th chapter of Revelation all the kings of the earth are gathered together by demonic propaganda to fight against God at a place called Har-Magedon.
According to the prophecy in the seventh chapter of Daniel, when God gives the kingdom to the Son of man and the holy ones, afterwards only a brief extension of time is given to the beastly political system, during which time the holy ones “will be given into his hand for a time, and times and half a time.” The period of time cryptically written as “a time and times and half time,” may be thought of as the changing of the guard. Daniel 12:7 makes reference to the same period of time, saying: “And as soon as there will have been a finishing of the dashing of the power of the holy ones to pieces, all these things will come to their finish.”
“All these things,” to which the prophet refers, logically has to do with the end of the human system of things and the complete transfer of sovereignty into the hands of Christ Jesus and his deputy rulers. After all, that is the theme of the book of Daniel. But if the holy ones were supposedly dashed to pieces back during the 1916-1919 period of wartime persecution, as the Watchtower teaches, why then have not “all these things” come to their finish?
The eighth chapter of Daniel similarly foretells how the holy ones will be brought to ruin and the holy place will be trampled underfoot for a period amounting to 2,300 “evenings and mornings,” which the Watchtower attributes to a period during the Second World War. But, again, the question—If the symbolic Jerusalem ceased to be trampled on by the nations in 1914, why is it that the nations continue to trample on the sons of the kingdom for an appointed time after the time for such trampling has supposedly ended?
Truly, what the Watchtower has produced is a contradictory and confusing patchwork of prophecy that has the appointed times for the nations to trample God’s kingdom ending in 1914; but Watchtower doctrine then assigns an additional three and a-half year period during WWI when the nations again harass and trample God’s people underfoot. But that is not all: the Watchtower has also applied another prophecy to a period during WWII, during which time Jehovah’s Witnesses were again trampled underfoot by the political powers.
By such arbitrary interpretations of prophecy the Watchtower has rendered the words of Christ regarding the end of the Gentile times more or less meaningless. That is because if the appointed times of the nations ended in 1914, and yet year after year since then the nations are allowed to carry on in business-as-usual fashion just as before, we must either conclude that the kingdom of Christ is a powerless institution, or more reasonably, that the kingdom of the world has not yet been given to Christ.
WHAT ARE THE GENTILE TIMES?
A careful examination of the context of the prophecy regarding Jerusalem being trampled on until the appointed times of the nations have ended reveals that Jesus made no reference or allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, which had occurred over five centuries earlier. The reason the apostles directly asked Jesus for a sign was because their Lord had earlier told them that the temple was going to be completely destroyed, so that not even a stone would be left upon a stone. The destruction of Solomon’s temple over 500 years before was of no immediate concern to the apostles. They wanted to know the future—not the past. And Jesus was clearly prophesying about a future time when the temple and the holy city of Jerusalem would be desolated by the Roman legions.
Besides that, the Watchtower seems to have overlooked one very fundamental truth; namely, that Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt after the Babylonian conquest. Though it may be said that the Chaldean invaders stomped Jerusalem into the dust, Jehovah intervened and reversed that situation. While it is true that Jerusalem forever after remained under authority of a succession of Gentile kingdoms, including Persia, Greece and Rome during the time of Christ, according to the prophets, though, when Babylon was overthrown by Cyrus God’s chastened womanlike organization then arose from the dust and Jehovah bestowed upon Jerusalem her former glory. And although the Jews during the time of Christ may have despised their Roman occupiers, mainly because of the taxes and tributes that were imposed upon them, the fact of the matter is that the Jews were given a great measure of autonomy, particularly in matters of worship. Most importantly, the worship of Jehovah in Jerusalem was not suppressed. That is why it was such an outrage when the Roman “disgusting thing” violated the Jewish temple in 66 C.E. in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy.
So, it is simply out of the question that the apostles would have understood Jesus to mean that the nations had been trampling upon Jerusalem from the time of Nebuchadnezzar.
There is, therefore, no scriptural justification in applying the seven times of Daniel to “the appointed times of the nations” about which Christ spoke. However, neither is there any scriptural indication that “the appointed times of the nations” began when the Roman imperial legions trampled the Jewish holy place in 70 C.E.
Clearly, the prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction had a much further-reaching application, foreshadowing a modern-day disgusting thing that would bring desolation to a place holy to God. It may be properly concluded that the appointed times have to do with the interval that God allows the symbolic Jerusalem and its holy place to be trampled underfoot and lay desolate. Furthermore, there is compelling reason to believe that the appointed times of the nations are still future.
At Matthew 24:15-16 Jesus indicated that the desolation and trampling of the holy place in Jerusalem would be in fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel. Specifically, Jesus stated:“Therefore, when you catch sight of the disgusting thing that causes desolation, as spoken through Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place, (let the reader use discernment,) then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains.”
The discerning reader of the book of Daniel is sure to take note of the fact that the prophecy foretells in several places that the holy ones and “the land of the Decoration,” along with the holy place, sanctuary and “constant feature,” are brought to ruin and trampled upon by the nations for a specified period of time.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, though, believe that Christendom is the modern-day holy place for the reason that ancient Jerusalem was unfaithful to God, which was why God decreed that she should be destroyed. If that is the case though, why does the parallel version of Christ’s prophecy in the book of Mark say that the disgusting thing will be “standing where it ought not”? If the holy place actually represents the unholy place of Christendom’s multitude of contradictory denominations and sects, it would seem that the political disgusting thing should find a welcome home, instead of “standing where it ought not.”
The prevailing belief is that as an organization the Watchtower and Jehovah’s Witnesses are in an approved standing before God. Because Christ foretold that the holy place will be desolated as a result of God’s meting out justice, for that reason it is naively assumed that the holy place must mean something other than the spiritual temple made up of God’s holy ones. Yet, a few verses further on in that very same context Jesus spoke about Jerusalem being trampled on for an appointed time, which the Watchtower interprets to represent God’s heavenly kingdom. Surely it is inconsistent and contradictory and indicative of an artificial interpretation of Christ’s words for the Watchtower to attach two different interpretations of what Jerusalem and the holy place symbolize, especially given the fact that the desolation of the holy place and Jerusalem and the appointed times for the nations to trample Jerusalem are in context.
Most importantly, Christ himself recognized Jerusalem as the holy city. He even called Jerusalem “the city of the great King.” Not only that, but Jesus cleansed Jehovah’s temple on two separate occasions, calling it “the house of my Father.” So even though the Jewish religion at that time was corrupt, Jesus did not view the temple itself and what it represented as something unholy. Otherwise, why would Jesus have even gone to the trouble of throwing the moneychangers out of the temple? As a faithful Jew, Jesus showed reverence for God’s temple. It grieved him deeply to have to pronounce woe upon Jerusalem and its beautiful temple. Indeed, on the occasion of his last trip to the holy city Jesus wept as he viewed Jerusalem from afar. In view of Jesus’ feelings toward Jerusalem and the temple it is not likely that he intended his references to the holy place and Jerusalem to symbolize unholy Christendom.
Let the reader take note that on the occasion when Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he also foretold that “days will come upon you when your enemies will build around you a fortification with pointed stakes and will encircle you and distress you from every side…because you did not discern the time of your being inspected.”(Luke 19:43)
Now, consulting the Hebrew prophets, upon which, Jesus based his own teachings and prophecies, the 29th chapter of Isaiah begins by pronouncing woe upon God’s servant, Ariel. Verse one reads: “Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the town where David encamped!”The town where David encamped is none other than the city of Jerusalem, which David captured from the Jebusites in order to make it the capital of the Israelite kingdom. That is why Jerusalem was called “the City of David.”
Verse three goes on to say: “And I must encamp on all sides against you, and I must lay siege to you with a palisade and raise up against you siegeworks.”
The dictionary definition of a “palisade” is a “row of pointed stakes.” Not coincidently, at Luke 19:43 that is exactly what Jesus said the enemy would do to Jerusalem.
The question then arises: Was Isaiah foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans? No, he was not. Does this portion of Isaiah’s prophecy pertain to Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem? No, it does not. The reason being, further on in verses seven and eight the prophecy refers to the attackers as being a plurality of nations. In part, those verses read: “And it must occur just as in a dream, in a vision of the night, regarding the crowd of all the nations that are waging war against Ariel, even all those waging war against her…thus it will occur with the crowd of all the nations that are waging war against Mount Zion.”
Elsewhere the prophets confirm that a combine of all the nations will pillage spiritual Jerusalem. For example, Zechariah 14:2 says: “And I shall certainly gather all the nations against Jerusalem for the war; and the city will actually be captured…” The significance of the complimentary prophecy in Zechariah is that the prophecy was given after the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem. The atrocities to be committed against God’s people during that attack upon “Jerusalem” are what will ultimately provoke Jehovah’s fearsome wrath and the destruction of all the nations on the symbolic battlefield of Armageddon. Isaiah 29:5-6 reveals that Jehovah immediately responds to the attack upon Ariel by annihilating the attackers by means of a supernatural army.
Since Jesus quoted nearly word for word from the prophesy of Isaiah when he was pronouncing woe upon Jerusalem, and since God did not destroy the Roman empire or its imperial legions in response to their having destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish temple, it is evident that both prophecies have application to spiritual Israel. That means that the holy place that is destined for desolation during the oncoming worldwide great tribulation is Jehovah’s earthly organization and not Christendom.
With that knowledge it may now be understood what the appointed times of the nations actually are.
Since “no prophecy of Scripture springs from any private interpretation,” as the apostle Peter wrote, God’s own word must interpret itself. Consider: In the book of Revelation, which was written over twenty years after Jerusalem was trampled upon by the Romans, Christ revealed that there is indeed an appointed time for the nations to trample God’s holy place. The appointed time is forty-two months. Revelation 11:2-3 states: “But as for the courtyard that is outside the temple sanctuary, cast it clear out and do not measure it, because it has been given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. And I will cause my two witnesses to prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days dressed in sackcloth.”
Forty-two months and 1,260 days are the equivalent of three and a-half years. The prophecy in the seventh chapter of Daniel similarly foretold a three and one-half year period during which time the sons of the kingdom would be trampled down by the wild beast.
Oddly, the Watchtower teaches that the forty-two month period of trampling occurred immediately after the appointed times supposedly ended in 1914. But since the only true scriptural interpretation of “the appointed times of the nations” points to a three and one-half year period and not the artificially contrived 2,520-year period, there is no valid basis for affixing the conclusion of the Gentile times to 1914. Finally, since the book of Revelation situates the trampling of the holy city as occurring immediately before God brings “to ruin those ruining the earth,” it is apparent that not only have the appointed times of the nations not ended, they have not even begun!