A 20th Century Flop or Future Drama?

(Investigator 205, 2022 July)


The sect Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) predicts that their final, provocative and greatest preaching effort will lead straight into Armageddon and billions of violent deaths.

They will stop making converts and use all their resources to denounce religions and governments worldwide, announcing their destruction.

They compare that final, climactic proclamation to a catastrophic storm of enormous hailstones.


The JWs' doctrine of a final worldwide denunciation is based on The Bible in Revelation 15-16 which outlines "seven last plagues". The seventh plague consists of:

… huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, dropped from heaven upon people… (Revelation 16:21)

The Watchtower interprets this verse:

Since hailstones are congealed water, this hailstorm pictures that heaven would send down upon worldly mankind a barrage of hard Biblical truths. Jehovah's witnesses are now preaching a message of deliverance… But the hailstones picture, not a message of deliverance, but the hard, unyielding proclamation of God's vengeance against Satan's visible organization. (Watchtower 1967, January 15, p. 60)

Old JWs, informed about the history of their sect, think of the final global denunciation as a greatly-intensified replay of Judge Rutherford's verbal mudslinging offensive against "Christendom" in the 1930s. This provoked thousands of confrontations, mobbings and riots, and about 20,000 arrests (of JWs).


Judge Rutherford (1869-1942), the president of the JWs Organization from 1917 to1942, had a powerful hatred of religions and governments.

The JWs sect, known a century ago as Russellites, had predicted the end of civilization including governments and "Christendom" for 1914-1915 and when that failed rescheduled it to 1917-1920:

Be not surprised then, when in subsequent chapters we present proofs that the setting up of the Kingdom of God is already begun, that it is pointed out in prophecy as due to begin the exercise of power in A.D. 1878, and that the 'battle of the great day of God Almighty' (Rev. 16:14) which will end in A.D. 1915, with the complete overthrow of earth's present rulership, is already commenced. (Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 2, 1889, p. 101)

In one short year, 1917-1918, the vast and complicated system of sectarianism reaches its zenith of power, only to be suddenly dashed into oblivion. (The Finished Mystery 2017, p. 285)

Even the republics will disappear in the fall of 1920. (ibid p. 258)

Such predictions emboldened the cult, despite numbering only 5000 active members in 14 countries, to zealously proclaim the imminent destruction of Christendom and the wider world. They did this by distributing tracts and pamphlets (29 million in 1917) and their latest book The Finished Mystery (also known as Studies in the Scriptures Volume VII).

That vigorous campaign was the Russellites' attempt to fulfil the "great hail" prophecy of Revelation 16:21:

A great hail out of heaven.— Truth, compacted, coming with crushing force. A concluding statement of how the seventh volume of Scripture Studies appears to the worshipers of the beast and his image. (The Finished Mystery 1917, p. 258)

Rutherford and other Russellite leaders were charged under the Espionage Act. Slosson (1958) writes:

The espionage act of June 15, 1917, forbade false statements which might injure the prosecution of the war, incitements to disloyalty, obstruction of recruiting, and similar attempts to impede the activities of the government.

Arrest warrants were issued in May 1918, sentencing occurred on June 21, and Rutherford with seven fellow leaders went to prison, and the cult's activities declined drastically.

The Finished Mystery suggests:

...the realization that Christendom is smitten by the onslaughts of revolution, might be expected to flash throughout the world on or about April 27, 1918... (p. 530)

Ironically, close to the date predicted for Christendom's demise, came the demise of Rutherford and the Russellites! For a bigot steeped in hatred toward governments and churches this fitting reversal must have been unbearably humiliating!

Rutherford blamed the churches for his imprisonment and declared: "I'll take the dagger of truth, and I'll rip the innards out of old Babylon." (Yearbook of JWs, 1975, p. 115) Probably he said "guts" instead of "innards" but, either way, meant church members — he'll rip the people out of all the churches.

In 1930 Rutherford interpreted the hail plague:

This is not literal hail, but cold, hard and destructive truths which fall from Jehovah's heaven and which he has 'reserved for this time of trouble, against the day of battle and war'. (Light Volume II, 1930,  p. 66)

Judge Rutherford authored up to 25 books and about 80 booklets of combined circulation about 400 million, besides pamphlets, leaflets and magazines. Apparently all this paper together with radio sermons and other methods constituted his hail storm "for this time of trouble".

We'll skip Rutherford's release from prison, the Russellites' recovery from their 1918 humiliation, and the JWs' incredibly antagonistic preaching methods of the 1930s (apparently also to fulfil Revelation 16:21), and jump forward to the 1960s.


In 1967 when The Watchtower, as quoted above, explained the "hailstorm" prediction of Revelation 16, JWs anticipated Armageddon around 1975.

This meant that their "hail-storm" ministry had to start shortly before 1975.

Did it occur?

First, consider 1975:

When the many factors are put together, we find that our generation, our day is the one that is identified in the Bible as the "last days." In fact, in this year 1967 we are actually living in the final part of that time! This can be compared to, not just the last day of a week, but, rather, the last part of that last day… (Watchtower 1967, April 1, p. 197)

All the lines of the “fingerprint” are there to show conclusively that we have been in the “last days” since 1914, over fifty-two years now! (p. 200)

According to this trustworthy Bible chronology six thousand years from man's creation will end in the fall of 1975 C.E…. How appropriate it would be for Jehovah God to make this coming seventh period of a thousand years a sabbath rest and release… It would be most fitting on God's part… (Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God 1966, pages 28-29)

Interestingly, the autumn of the year 1975 marks the end of 6,000 years of human experience. This is ascertainable from reliable chronology preserved in the Bible itself. What will that year mean for humankind? Will it be the time when God executes the wicked and starts off the thousand-year reign of his Son Jesus Christ? It very well could, but we will have to wait to see. Yet of this we can be certain: the generation that Jesus said would witness those events is nearing its close. The time is close at hand. On God’s “timetable” we are in the closing days of a wicked system of things that will soon be gone forever. A glorious new order is immediately before us (Watchtower1967, May 1, p. 262)

JWs were not at first dogmatic regarding Armageddon occurring exactly in 1975, because Adam was created before Eve and the interval between them had to be added to 1975 but was unknown.

Aid to Bible Understanding (1969; 1971) settled the matter: "At the age of 130 another son was born to her. Eve called his name Seth…" (p. 538) The Bible says that Adam was 130 when he became father to Seth. (Genesis 5:3) Adam and Eve were therefore (according to JWs) both aged 130 at the same time, therefore created in the same year.

What about the pre-Armageddon, hailstorm-like, proclamation? Did the sect attempt it?


In 1973 the JWs Organization recommenced publishing Kingdom News pamphlets (suspended since 1946) of 4 pages each and titled:

•    1973: Kingdom News No. 16, Is Time Running Out for Mankind?
•    1973: Kingdom News No. 17, Has Religion Betrayed God and Man?
•    1974: Kingdom News No. 18, Government By God - Are You For It Or Against It?

Kingdom News No. 17

Approximately 150 million copies of each were circulated in about 150 countries!

The confronting titles, vast distribution, and the nearness of 1975 suggest that the Kingdom News pamphlets were the start of the "hailstorm" work (although The Watchtower did not explicitly state this).

In 1969 The Watchtower predicted:

Very shortly now God will put it in the minds of the rulers of the earth to destroy completely what remains of the world empire of false religion, "Babylon the Great". (Watchtower 1969, October 1, p. 584)

JWs believe that "God" acts through their Governing Body as intermediaries. Therefore Kingdom News 17, titled Has Religion Betrayed God and Man?, looks like an attempt to: "put it in the minds of the rulers of the earth to destroy … Babylon the Great."


No great public outcry resulted. The media barely acknowledged the pamphlets. All religions were not destroyed. Armageddon did not occur.

The most noteworthy consequence was that the worldwide number of active JWs passed 2 million for the first time. Many newcomers were activated because distributing free pamphlets was easier than selling Watchtower magazines or starting "home Bible studies".

In 1975 the JWs' Governing Body realized that the global massacre of Armageddon showed no signs of starting.

The Kingdom News pamphlets, however, continued to be published, but the topics from 1976 to 1981 were tamer, less confronting. The Governing Body reassured the followers that Armageddon in 1975 had been only a "maybe". Definite, however, was that the generation of 1914 would live to see Armageddon which would occur within the 20th century.

The sect experienced unofficial expectations of Armageddon for 1984 because 1984 was 70 years after 1914 and the number 70 has some importance in the Bible. The 1984 anticipation was stoked with the Kingdom News titles:
•    Is Planet Earth Near the Brink? (1981)
•    Are We Nearing Armageddon? (1982)


It is thought-provoking to compare the JWs' Kingdom News effort with "Key 73".

Key 73 was: "the biggest evangelical drive ever undertaken". (Blau 1973) About 140 Protestant denominations cooperated to try to visit all the households in North America to leave 50 million Bibles or Bible-portions.

The timing of Kingdom News distributions to coincide with Key 73 looks as if the JWs leaders were using the opportunity to test and show off the unique capabilities of the JWs Organization.

By distributing about 150 million Kingdom News pamphlets, not once but repeatedly, and not just in North America but in more than 150 countries, JWs exceeded the combined evangelistic efforts of Protestantism!

The 1973-1974 Kingdom News distributions, however, look also like an attempt to fulfil their prediction of a worldwide proclamation which leads into Armageddon. The timing relative to the predicted end-point of 1975 makes this probable.

Logistically the distributions were impressive, but prophetically a flop because Armageddon, like on previous dates, failed again.

The JWs prophecy of a final global denunciation, comparable to a catastrophic worldwide hail storm, however is not cancelled. It is merely postponed to be re-run when the sect is many times bigger:

The soft waters of truth will congeal to become the hard hailstones of truth. (Watchtower 1984, March 15, page 19)

Perhaps next time there will be real drama!


Blau, E. Major Evangelical Drive Appears a Failure Over-All, The New York Times,
September 2, 1973, Page 23

Coleman, R.J. Key 73: Winning the Continent for Christ Again i001_a008

Judge Rutherford

Slosson, P.W. 1958 The Great Crusade and After, Quadrangle Paperbacks, p. 67

Dictionary of Jehovah's Witnesses at: