- You study the scriptures intently.
- You develop unique insights into Bible prophecy.
- You check and recheck your assumptions and calculations.
- Everything makes sense—everything fits.
- Multiple lines of analysis confirm your conclusions.
- Now confident, you make specific predictions and teach them to others.
- You develop a significant following.
- Then the day arrives and nothing you predicted comes to pass.
- Your disappointed followers demand an explanation and threaten to leave you.
Now what do you do?
Many Bible teachers have faced this dilemma, including numerous leaders of the Watchtower Society since its inception in 1879.
Of course, you could just admit that you were wrong, apologize, stop making prophetic pronouncements, and disband.
Obviously, this is a last resort, a “nuclear option” that proves that all your time, effort, and sincerity was wasted. You look like a fool. Rarely does anyone take this option.
Let’s look at the other options—each of which the Watchtower has employed at one time or another.
Option #1: Advise patience.
All that you predicted couldn’t take place instantly. It’s possible that it did begin on schedule but will take time to unfold.
For example, the Watchtower said that 1914 would be “the farthest limit of the rule of imperfect men” and that God’s Kingdom would “obtain full, universal control, and that it will then be set up, or firmly established, in the earth, on the ruins of present institutions.” (The Time Is At Hand, 1888, pp. 76-77)
When that didn’t happen, Charles Taze Russell made an adjustment: “The present great war in Europe is the beginning of the Armageddon of the Scriptures (Rev 19:16-20). It will eventuate in the complete overthrow of all the systems of error which have so long oppressed the people of God and deluded the world. We believe the present war cannot last much longer until revolutions shall break out.” (C.T. Russell, Pastor Russell’s Sermons, p. 676)
Option #2: Admit your own disappointment but resolve to continue to refine your understanding.
“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. (J. F. Rutherford, Vindication, 1931, p. 338-339)
Option #3: Claim that what you predicted did take place after all—in a sense.
Your date was right, but you were expecting the wrong thing. Jesus did return when you said he would—but invisibly.
Satan was cast out of heaven when you said it would happen, but we can’t see it with our eyes. Just look at the evidence of the increase of evil, disasters, and pandemics in our world today.
What more proof do you need?
Option #4: Stress that you never claimed to be infallible or inspired.
You are just humble servants of God, doing your best. Why, didn’t Jesus’ own disciples mistakenly expect him to restore God’s kingdom to Israel within their lifetimes? (Matthew 20:21; Luke 24:21; Acts 1:6)
“We cannot be blamed for presenting from the Scriptures such evidence as they afford which leads us to believe that a certain event will take place at a given time. Sometimes the Lord has let His people look for the right thing at the wrong time, and more frequently they have looked for the wrong things at the right time.” (The Golden Age, February 13, 1924, p. 314)
Option #5: Blame your followers for expecting too much.
Chide your followers for being overly zealous and for “running ahead of Jehovah’s chariot,” for presuming to know God’s exact timetable.
You quit your job and sold your home so you could witness full time before the end? Very commendable, but that was your choice. God will reward you someday.
What are you complaining about?
Option #6: Turn your mistakes into virtues.
Unlike others, you and your followers were watchful and zealous for Jesus’ return.
Despite setbacks, you remained faithful.
God tests us sometimes and rewards patient endurance.
Option #7: Recalculate and reinterpret Scriptures.
Maybe your calculations were off just a bit:
- You were off a year because you forgot that there was no Year 0 between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D.
- You neglected to account for the time gap between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve.
- The date you used as your starting point (such as the year Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians) was misreported by secular historians on whom you relied.
Option #8: Blame Satan for discouragement and urge patient endurance.
Describe Satan as a faultfinder who uses disappointments to lure Christians away from God. Stress the need to stay faithful until the end.
Option #9: After some time has passed, distract your critics by ridiculing other religious leaders for their own false prophecies.
“True, there have been those in times past who predicted an ‘end’ to the world, even announcing a specific date. Yet nothing happened. The ‘end’ did not come. They were guilty of false prophesying. Why? What was missing? Missing from such people were God’s truths and the evidence that He was using and guiding them.” (Awake!, October 8, 1968)
“RELIGIOUS LEADERS sometimes predict tragic worldwide events to warn mankind and gather followers. Doomsday prophet Harold Camping and his disciples widely advertised that the earth would be destroyed in 2011. Needless to say, the world is still here.” (The Watchtower, May 1, 2014, p. 3)
Most Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t know about the Watchtower’s prophetic failures.
Or if they do, they don’t see the double standard.
Others are aware of the problems but have invested too much of their lives and money to quit now.
Option #10: Make more prophecies and keep on going.
Example: “Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews 11, to the condition of human perfection.” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, p. 89)
You might think no one would believe you yet again, but many do.
Most Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t know of the past failures of Watchtower prophecy.
They consider as lies or persecution any attempt to point them out and hold the Watchtower to account.