Question: "What are the Jehovah's Witnesses' beliefs about Jesus' return in 1914?"
Answer: It is the view of Got Questions Ministries that all authority belongs to Christ Jesus: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Jesus has “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9–11) and is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). We believe that Jesus will return to the earth, personally and physically, sometime in the future.
Before we look at the current beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses with regard to the year 1914, it is worth noting that prior to 1914 Jehovah’s Witnesses believed the following:
The Last Days began 1799 (The Harp of God, 1928 ed., p. 235–36, 239).
Jesus started being present with His people in 1874, and He started ruling in heaven in 1878 (ibid., p. 236, 239–40).
The times of the Gentiles would end in 1914, resulting in the end of Armageddon, the fall of false religion, the end of all earthly governments, the heavenly and earthly resurrections, and paradise on earth (Watchtower, July 15, 1894, p. 226).
With hindsight the Jehovah’s Witnesses were obliged to admit their earlier expectations were wrong, and they made adjustments to correct previous misunderstandings; however, they retained the view that 1914 was a special year.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Christ Jesus had to wait till October 1914 before all authority was given to Him, and it was at that time that He became King of God’s heavenly kingdom: “Jesus, after his death and resurrection, ascended to heaven and sat down at his Father’s side waiting till he was given ‘rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.’ . . . By comparing conditions on earth since World War I (1914—1918) with Jesus’ prophecy, one can see that he depicted conditions in our time. Therefore, Jesus must now be ruling in heaven.” The same article goes on to claim that only Jehovah’s Witnesses are the true and loyal subjects of this heavenly King (“What Is Jesus Christ Doing Now?” Awake! magazine, December 20, 1980, p. 3–4).
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1914 did not mark a literal “coming” of Christ but His invisible “presence.” Only those with “with eyes of understanding” could perceive what was going on. In October 1914, they say, Jesus cast Satan and his demons out of heaven to the vicinity of Earth, and this is what started World War I. It is worth noting that, although Jesus supposedly became King in heaven in October 1914, the First World War had already been going for some three months. Since then, Jesus has been busy refining, educating, and organizing His loyal subjects (i.e., Jehovah’s Witnesses) for greater activity. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ theology, after the tribulation period, Jesus (who is known in heaven as Michael the Archangel) will bring judgment on all who oppose Him and who persecute His people (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
Here is how Jehovah’s Witnesses explain the meaning of the Greek word parousia, which they translate as “presence” in Matthew 24:3 and Mark 13:3–4 in their New World Translation:
“‘Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence [pa·rou·siʹa, Greek] and of the conclusion of the system of things?’ . . . What is the meaning and significance of the Greek word pa·rou·siʹa? It literally means ‘a being alongside,’ the expression being drawn from the Greek preposition paraʹ (‘alongside’) and ousía (a ‘being’). . . . The pa·rou·siʹa or ‘presence’ of the Lord Jesus Christ is, therefore, his presence or visit as King, invisibly, in royal power and glory. Consequently a ‘sign’ is required so that persons on earth may discern that presence” (“For What ‘Sign’ Are Christians Looking?” Watchtower, July 1, 1974, p. 397–400).
Regarding the special nature of October 1914, the Jehovah’s Witnesses say this: “‘The appointed times of the nations’ ended, and Jesus Christ was installed as God’s heavenly King. . . . Just as Jesus predicted, his ‘presence’ as heavenly King has been marked by dramatic world developments—war, famine, earthquakes, pestilences. (Matthew 24:3–8; Luke 21:11) Such developments bear powerful testimony to the fact that 1914 indeed marked the birth of God’s heavenly Kingdom and the beginning of ‘the last days’ of this present wicked system of things.—2 Timothy 3:1–5” (What Does the Bible Really Teach?, Appendix: “1914—A Significant Year in Bible Prophecy,” p. 217–218).
Since 1914 Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus, the Messianic King “has cleansed a people for Jehovah’s name. He has directed the preaching of the Kingdom good news in 239 lands and has educated millions about Jehovah’s ways. He has united more than seven million loyal subjects, each one offering himself willingly to do his Father’s will. . . . By the end of Christ’s Thousand Year Reign, the Messianic Kingdom will have achieved its purpose. Then Jesus will hand the Kingdom over to his Father” (“100 Years of Kingdom Rule—How Does It Affect You?” The Watchtower—study edition, January 15, 2014, § 13, 16).
As late as 1961, Jehovah’s Witnesses believed that the generation alive in 1914 who witnessed the events that shook the world then would be “the generation alive that will not pass away till there is fulfilled that ‘great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again’” (Watchtower, April 15, 1961, p. 236). They were wrong. The Great Tribulation predicted in the Bible is still some time in the future. Notwithstanding, Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to believe that, since 1919, they were chosen by Jehovah God to be His earthly organization and that they alone will survive the battle of Armageddon:
“We will be impelled to serve Jehovah loyally with his organization if we remember that there is nowhere else to go for life eternal” (Watchtower, November 15, 1992, p. 21).
“Genuine Christians are now being gathered into a united brotherhood earth wide. Who are they? They are the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses” (Watchtower, July 1, 1994, p. 7).
“But Jehovah’s servants already belong to the only organization that will survive the end of this wicked system of things” (Watchtower, December 15, 2007, p. 14).
In contrast to what the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, the Bible tells us that no man knows the day or the hour when Christ Jesus will return. And nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus had to wait until the year 1914 before being granted all authority.