In 1931, Watchtower president Joseph Rutherford admitted that “God’s faithful people on earth emphasized the importance of the dates 1914 and 1918 and 1925. They had much to say about these dates and what would come to pass, but all they predicted did not come to pass.” (Vindication, Vol. 1, p. 146).

He further asserted that they had learned to quit fixing dates or making specific predictions.

There was a measure of disappointment on the part of Jehovah’s faithful ones on earth concerning the years 1914, 1918 and 1925, which disappointment lasted for a time. Later the faithful learned that these dates were definitely fixed in the Scriptures; and they also learned to quit fixing dates for the future and predicting what would come to pass on a certain date, but to rely (and they do rely) upon the Word of God as to the events that must come to pass. (Vindication, p. 338-339)

In fact, after 1925, the Watchtower had a dilemma.

They wanted to continue growing by fanning the flames of the nearness of Armageddon, but they didn’t want to prophesy about another specific date and risk a repeat of the failures of its prophecies regarding 1914, 1918, and 1925.

So Watchtower president Joseph Rutherford focused on Jesus’ phrase “this generation.”

One day Jesus’ disciples had pointed out to him the magnificence of the temple. But Jesus warned them that it would soon be destroyed: “Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2)

A little while later, they said to him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3)

He described many signs, including a great tribulation, adding, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:34)

What did Jesus mean by “this generation”? Which generation? Within the lifetime of his original disciples and their contemporaries? The destruction of the temple occurred within that time frame (70 A.D.), but Christ did not return then, not did the world’s wicked system end.

When he was promoting the idea of a gospel harvest period, Charles Taze Russell thought that “it would not be inconsistent to reckon the ‘generation” from 1878 to 1914—36 1/2 years—about the average of human life today.” (Studies in the Scriptures – The Day of Vengeance 1897 ed. pp. 604-605)

But 1914 wasn’t the farthest reach of human governments and false religion, as Russell had expected.

So Rutherford had to come up with something else.

He concluded that when he referred to “this generation,” Jesus was referring to the new creation he spoke about to Nicodemus.

“The irresistible conclusion therefore is that Jesus referred to the new creation [the anointed] when he said: ‘This generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled.’ This then would be a strong indication that some members of the new creation will be on the earth at the time of Armageddon.” (The Watchtower, February 15, 1927, p. 62)

So “this generation” wasn’t tied to 1914.

It applied to anyone in the new creation regardless of the date.

Most Jehovah’s Witnesses today have no idea that the Watchtower once taught this.

Peter, James, John, and the other first century apostles and disciples were included.

“This generation” extended to members of the new creation—including Rutherford and others living in the 20th century.

Whenever Armageddon did come, there would be members of this new creation on the earth; they would not all have gone to Heaven.

A few years after 1927, Rutherford began teaching that—although since the first century all true Christians had been part of the new creation—in these last days, Jehovah was calling out another class, the great crowd of other sheep.

These witnesses of Jehovah wouldn’t be part of the new creation, nor would they ever go to Heaven.

Instead, they would live forever in paradise on earth.

Nonetheless, Jehovah’s main focus was on the anointed—the new creation.