The group known as Jehovah's Witnesses began in 1872 under the teaching of Charles Taze Russell. Russell had been raised with a historic Protestant background, but had abandoned his faith because he refused to believe that God could send anyone to hell.
In his early twenties he chanced upon an Adventist meeting and became fascinated with the idea that one could predict the end of time through Bible chronology.
Still in his early twenties, he began teaching Bible studies. Among his first subjects, of course, was a "proof" that there is no hell. Then, his focus moved to end time events and timing.
Russell concluded that the measurements of the Great Pyramid of Egypt verified biblical predictions of the Second Coming of Christ. He worked out a complex system of date-setting.
He taught that Christ had returned invisibly in 1874 and would set up his millennial kingdom in 1914, following forty years of preparation (1874 - 1914). Such date setting appeals to great masses, and Russell gained an increasing number of followers.
In 1879 Russell began publishing Zion's Watchtower magazine, which later grew into the chief propaganda tool of the Witnesses. Although having only seven years of schooling, he wrote six volumes entitled Studies in the Scriptures, claiming that people would "go into darkness" if they studied the Bible alone without the aid of his Studies.
Held together by Russell's driving personality and his claim that he used only the Scriptures, the movement grew, surviving Russell's much-publicized trial for fraud and charges of adultery in his divorce proceedings.
Russell died two years after the failure of his prophecy that the end of the age would come in 1914, and was succeeded by "Judge" Rutherford.
Rutherford virtually saved the movement. He abandoned Russell's notion regarding the Great Pyramid and taught that the world did end in 1914, officially. He claimed Christ was enthroned and the kingdom began in heaven. (This has since been modified again.) In a short time the kingdom would be extended to earth.
He called upon the Witnesses to quickly preach the message of the "Kingdom" to the world, before Armageddon. He allowed Russell's books to go out of print, replacing them with his own. It is he who gave the Russellites their present name, "Jehovah's Witnesses."
Rutherford coined the phrase "Millions now living will never die!" which promised that faithful Witnesses would survive the approaching battle between Jehovah God and Satan. The message was spread with missionary fervor.
The Organization predicted the end of the world in 1975, and many members sold their homes and property, devoting themselves to full-time witnessing. When it failed to happen, many left the organization.
As the years march on, the clock continues to run out on various Watchtower prophecies, marking the seers of the Organization as false prophets. But anyone daring to think for himself is threatened with becoming a member of the "slave class" at the end of time, quickly silencing all independent thought.
Here is a classic example of the danger of building a religious movement upon prophecy, instead of the completed work of Christ. It leads to extremism and error. As expressed by William J. Schnell, former Witness for 30 years, these people are "slaves" of the Organization, lost and without hope.