Why do we say that God’s people were freed from bondage to Babylon the Great in 1919? A combination of Bible prophecy and the facts of history helps us arrive at that conclusion.
Bible prophecy and history show conclusively that Jesus began reigning as King in heaven in 1914, signaling the start of the last days of Satan’s system here on earth. What did Jesus do upon becoming King? Did he immediately free his earthly servants from bondage to Babylon the Great? Did he appoint his “faithful and discreet slave” in 1914 and begin in the great work of the harvest?—Matt. 24:45.
Evidently not. Remember, the apostle Peter was inspired to note that judgment would “start with the house of God.” (1 Pet. 4:17) In a similar vein, the prophet Malachi foretold the time when Jehovah would come to His house of worship accompanied by “the messenger of the covenant,” the Son of God. (Mal. 3:1-5) That time would be a period of refinement and testing. Does history harmonize with those prophetic indications?
It certainly does! The period of 1914 to early 1919 was a difficult time of tests and refinement for the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. In 1914 many of God’s people on earth were disappointed when the end of the system did not arrive as they had hoped. Disappointment deepened in 1916, with the death of Charles T. Russell, who had been taking a dynamic lead among God’s people. Some who were overly attached to Brother Russell actively resisted the efforts of Joseph F. Rutherford, who succeeded Russell in taking the lead. Divisions erupted and almost split the organization in 1917. Then, in 1918, evidently at the instigation of the clergy, Brother Rutherford and seven of his associates were tried, wrongly convicted, and sent to prison. Headquarters in Brooklyn closed down. Clearly, God’s people were not yet freed from Babylon the Great!
What happened in 1919, however? Why, things turned around with almost dizzying swiftness! Early in the year, Rutherford and his associates were released from prison. And they got right back to work! Within short order, a landmark convention was planned, and the publication of a new journal, The Golden Age, (now Awake!) was under way. The new journal was designed for campaigns in the public ministry. Additionally, in each congregation an overseer was appointed to organize and promote the ministry. That same year, the Bulletin (now Our Christian Life and Ministry—Meeting Workbook) was published to help in organizing the preaching work.
What had happened? Clearly, Christ had freed his people from captivity to Babylon the Great. He had appointed his faithful and discreet slave. The work of harvesting was under way. Ever since that pivotal year of 1919, the work has forged ahead to an astounding degree.