reprinted from the Nov/Dec 1995 Free Minds Journal
reprints of the Free Minds Journal

"1914 Generation" Discarded by Watchtower

by Randall Watters

Few Jehovah's Witnesses understood the far-reaching implications of two public talks delivered at the Watchtower's Divine Teaching Conventions in 1993. To veteran cult watchers, however, it was no surprise that they were seeding the ground for the inevitable changes that had to come sooner or later.

Changing Light

For several decades now, the Watchtower magazine (henceforth designated as WT) has taught that 1914 marked the invisible presence of Christ, and that the generation that saw the world events that occurred since 1914 would be the one to witness the end of the earthly governments and the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth. The May 1, 1985 WT (p. 4) makes the statement that "Before the 1914 generation completely dies out, God's judgment must be executed." Originally, it was taught that those who were old enough to understand the events that occurred in 1914 comprised such a generation [See WT 01/10/78 p.31, 10/15/80, p. 31], but in more recent years the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses hinted that those who were born around 1914 comprised this generation (apparently to buy out more time until the end--see WT 05/15/84, p. 5)

While the passing of this "generation" necessitated a change of interpretation, there has apparently been some vacillation on the part of their Governing Body in recent years regarding just how they were going to reinterpret the "1914 generation" doctrine. The first printed evidence1 of such vacillation came with the January 8, 1987 issue of the Awake! magazine. The traditional masthead on page 4 discontinued the statement saying that the generation that saw 1914 would not pass away, only to resume the statement with the March 8, 1988 issue. With the release of the Nov. 8, 1995 Awake!, the masthead has been altered to avoid mentioning "1914" or "generation" at all (see page 11).

A similar seldom-noticed change occurred back in 1989 when they reprinted the Jan. 1, 1989 Watchtower in book form ("bound volumes"). On page 12 in the magazine it had said that "He [the apostle Paul] was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in the 20th century," but by the end of the year when the bound volumes were completed, that sentence was changed to "...would be completed in our day," inadvertently revealing their own insecurity about being in that "special generation." Apparently the WT Society was no longer confident that Armageddon would occur in the 20th century after all.

It now appears the Governing Body has found a solution to the dilemma, and are "seeding the ground," giving Witnesses a taste of the changes to come, without disclosing the full implications of this major shift in doctrine.

1993 Convention Talks

Two special talks, "What Will Be The Sign of Your Presence?" and "Tell Us, When Will These Things Be?" were given on Saturday afternoon of their 1993 Divine Teaching District Conventions. These were meant to prepare the way for "new light" on their teaching that we are living in the generation that will see the end of the world, with a view to changing such understanding.

The changes or "clarifications" being made by the Governing Body in 1993 with regards to their understanding of Matthew 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13 were as follows:

1) When Matt. 24:14 says "then the end will come" this initially refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and WAS IN REFERENCE TO THE JEWISH SYSTEM OF WORSHIP. (Previously, they had a hard time applying this "end" to the first century events.) Verse 14 was understood as applying primarily in our day, and not to the end of the Jewish system. But as will be seen, they now leaned towards making more of the passage apply to the first century than was previously acknowledged.

2) The application of Matt. 24:29 which says, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heaven will be shaken" has been changed to a more "realistic" interpretation. (Previously, "immediately after" actually meant almost 2000 years later, meaning that the celestial events did not occur until our day! The celestial events were interpreted to mean the proliferation of rockets, satellites, etc. that made the heavens appear ominous-see WT 3/1/83, p. 27.) But now, the Governing Body is saying that the celestial events had their initial fulfillment during the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., but will also have a greater fulfillment after the start of the great tribulation.

Since the WT recognizes Acts 2:14-21 to be an account similar to Matt. 24:29, they now interpret both in somewhat the same way. Since the events that occurred in Acts surrounding Pentecost did not seem to include "the sun being turned into darkness and the moon into blood," this apparently referred more to the events that occurred a few years later in 70 A.D. (Josephus the Jewish historian records the occurrences of "rain, lightning, and darkness" as accompanying the destruction of Jerusalem.) These signs would occur even more so in the secondary, or contemporary fulfillment of events (in the form of an attack on all other religions during the "great tribulation."

Similarly, Matt. 24:30, 31 is interpreted as occurring after the beginning of the great tribulation. After its beginning (verse 29), the "sign of the Son of man that appears in heaven, the tribes of the earth beating themselves, and the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and glory" will be manifest. (Supposedly "obvious" due to the cataclysmic nature of events that will occur.) No new change here, but a clarification is made with regards to verse 31: The angels are sent forth to gather the chosen (remaining "anointed") ones DURING this time period, and not before! So, technically, the "gathering" of the anointed has not happened yet. The choosing has already occurred (as previously understood), but not the gathering of the "remnant." The point is, verses 29-31 technically apply only during the great tribulation!


In review thus far, the Governing Body points to Matt. 24, Luke 21 and Mark 13 as indicating this ORDER OF EVENTS:

a) the start of the great tribulation with the attack on Christendom (Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24,25; Luke 21:25, 26)

b) the appearing of the sign of the Son of man (Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27)

c) the gathering of the "anointed" (Matt. 24:31; Mark 13:27; Luke 21:28)

d) the final destruction of this wicked system

3) Since the passage, "this generation will by no means pass away until all things occur" FOLLOWED the verses describing the great tribulation, they were eyeing the interpretation that "this generation" could be THOSE WHO ARE OLD ENOUGH TO SEE THE START OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION! This would leave the door wide open for WHEN the great tribulation might begin. Armageddon could be delayed for a hundred years or more!

Further debate among the Governing Body since 1993 on this subject has resulted in a "clarified" understanding of this "generation." With the Oct. 15, 1995 Watchtower, they have decided to identify the "generation" with wicked, unruly mankind, and stripped it of any calculable time frame (i.e., simply an "era" of people who do not know God). They repeat the old sayings that we are deep in the last days, and that Christ did return invisibly in 1914, but that one cannot count 70 or 80 years from 1914 to arrive at Armageddon.

Note what the Nov. 1, 1995 Watchtower says on p. 31:

Consequently, when the apostles heard Jesus refer to "this generation," what would they think? While we, with the benefit of hindsight, know that Jerusalem's destruction in the "great tribulation" came 37 years later, the apostles hearing Jesus could not know that. Rather, his mention of "generation" would have conveyed to them, not the idea of a period of great length, but the people living over a relatively limited period of time....

The same Nov. 1 Watchtower also says on page 19:

Therefore, in the final fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy today, "this generation" apparently refers to the peoples of the earth who see the sign of Christ's presence but fail to mend their ways. In contrast, we as Jesus' disciples refuse to be molded by the life-style of "this generation." -WT, 11/1/95, p. 19.

The WT has attempted to cover over Christ's failure to do anything they wanted him to do over the years by claiming a type of "gradual enthronement." When he failed to bring an end to the world at his supposed enthronement in 1914, they later claimed he had not yet exercised full kingship in the sense of JUDGING the earth. Up until the current Watchtower, they claimed that Christ became king over the Christian congregation in 33 C.E., then became king over the whole world in 1914, and then began judging the "remnant" of Christ's brothers (favorably) and Christendom (unfav-orably), and began separating the sheep and the goats for judgment.

Now, although still retaining the "judging of Christendom," Christ is said to have "judicially inspected" the "anointed remnant," and the separating of the sheep from the goats has not yet begun. The "separating" supposedly starts at the "great tribulation," SOON to come.

Witnesses are already learning to "play down" the significance of these changes, yet most do not realize the implications.

Witnesses have held onto 1914 for decades as the "final curtain" on the world stage, soon to be followed by a paradise earth. In expectation of that, countless thousands have sold their homes, given up careers and forgone a college education for a lower-paying job and a leaner way of life. Many gave up having children, neglected vital medical attention, and vowed celibacy to give more time to the Watchtower. Most Witnesses have bitten their lips and go out on cold, stormy days to distribute the words of a few old men in Brooklyn, who amazingly exercise control over nearly 10 million people. For many of the older, long-time Witnesses, their hopes are shattered. For some time they have suspected that all is not inspired at Brooklyn after all, but now is the time for decision. Some, out of the corner of their eye, notice the little dog Toto in the Wizard of Oz pulling the curtain back, exposing a silly old man. What it will mean for many is anger, depression, and possibly many more suicides. Let's hope that many who cry out for help find the love of God, manifest in Jesus. 

1 Ray Franz, former Governing Body member of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society notes in his book Crisis of Conscience that the Watchtower has attempted to buy out more time for Armageddon for a number of years, as their expectations failed, particularly with regards to the prediction that 1975 would bring Armageddon. According to Franz, they even considered changing the start of such generation to 1957, but such a change was rejected by popular vote in the secret Governing Body sessions. (Crisis, p. 218)


The "generation of 1914" has been redefined. Now, it is no longer the generation born around the year 1914 that will see the prophecies of Matthew 24 come to pass before they all die off; rather it is anyone who is a member of that wicked generation who witness the troublesome events of Matthew 24 who will see Christ return to execute judgment (invisibly of course). The information has been hinted at but has officially begun with the Oct. 15, 1995 Watchtower and further expounded upon with the Nov. 1, 1995 Watchtower. Also, the work of separating the "sheep and the goats" which at one time began in 1914 now hasn't even started yet and won't until after the Great Tribulation.

follow-up: 1914 "Generation" Returns?

see original speculation on 1993 Convention talks

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