80 Years Ago: False Date Setting In Zion, Illinois


A few weeks ago, someone (Brad Herman) posted a very interesting photo in a Facebook group I belong to (photo shown below). This photo captures the front page of a newspaper, published in October 1934 in Zion, Illinois by Wilbur Glenn Vilova. A few decades earlier, this newspaper had been titled “Leaves of Healing,” but in 1934 it was called “The Final Warning.” This particular edition reveals a lot about some of the dispensationalist/Christian Zionist thinking of the time:

  • Signs from Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) were supposedly fulfilled in 1922-1923 (earthquakes and famines).
  • The fig tree (Matthew 24:32) supposedly began to bud in 1922 with “the restoration of the Jewish nation.” (This was when the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was accepted into the Palestine Mandate).
  • Luke 21:25 (the “distress of nations“) was supposedly being fulfilled in 1934, the time of this publication.
  • The year 1943 was supposedly the absolute deadline for the “complete destruction” of “the Gentile nations.”

In 1906 Wilbur had taken over the leadership of the city of Zion, founded by John Alexander Dowie, who began to proclaim in 1901 that he was “Elijah the Restorer.” Dowie died in 1907 and Wilbur filled in as Zion’s leader until close to his death from cancer in 1942. A few years prior to his death, Wilbur put out this publication, sprinkled with some bold and false date-setting:

The Final Warning

Brad says he picked up this newspaper at a garage sale. Isn’t it interesting? I was especially struck by the deep pessimism about world affairs (they were in the midst of the Great Depression at the time), the emphasis on coming destruction for all non-Jewish nations, and the idea that “the fig tree” began to bud in 1922.

On this last point, it’s well known that numerous Bible prophecy teachers have taught that “the fig tree” began budding in 1948 when Israel became a nation, and that “God’s prophetic time clock was then restarted” after many centuries of prophetic postponement. The restarting of the clock in 1948, they said, left mankind with a maximum of one generation until the Olivet Discourse would be completely fulfilled. Hal Lindsey and others were, at one time, adamant that a Biblical generation is 40 years. When “the Rapture” and the Great Tribulation didn’t take place by 1988, some pushed the idea that a Biblical generation is 70 years, and more recently that it might even be 100 years long.

Others said that 1948 was “the wrong time marker” for the budding of “the fig tree,” and that the correct time marker was the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan. Now, based on this newspaper from 1934, there is evidence that speculation on the budding “of the fig tree” goes back to at least 1922. This chart shows the range of speculation discussed here, and how it has evolved over the last few decades as end-times prophecies continue to fail:

When did the fig tree start to bud? How long is a Biblical generation?
1922 40 years
1948 70 years
1967 100 years

Of course, I believe far differently about the Olivet Discourse, i.e. that it was entirely fulfilled in Jesus’ own generation in the first century. 

I also observe, from this newspaper, that Wilbur noted the rapidly increasing number of Jews in Palestine (57,000 in 1919 and 250,000 just 15 years later in 1934), without acknowledging the Arabs (Muslims and Christians alike) who also lived there. I also observe Wilbur’s expectation that “a Jewish nation” would be created there.

I’m very curious as to why he taught that “Gentile nations” had a “Lease to Life” of precisely 2520 years. Since he prophesied their “Complete Destruction” by 1943 at the very latest, he apparently believed the lease began in 577 BC. I’m not sure what is significant about that date, although it’s fairly close to 586 BC, when Babylon destroyed Judah and Jerusalem. Approximately 2520 years had transpired from 586 BC to 1934, when Wilbur wrote this (586 + 1934 = 2520), so maybe that’s what he had in mind.

What are your thoughts when you see this newspaper from 1934?

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10 thoughts on “80 Years Ago: False Date Setting In Zion, Illinois

    • Thanks, Jerry. They sure have. I’m glad the “Gentile nations” didn’t bite the dust by 1943, or we wouldn’t be here and millions of people who have received salvation and eternal life in Christ would have never had that chance.

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  1. Adam, You are constantly a source of Godly contemplation and thought. We do not agree on everything, but this is the beauty of our relationship. I agree completely that there are too many speculations and date setting. Unfortunately, this takes many people’s eyes off the truth. We do not learn the truth or what is real by constantly examining the counterfeits and so many people get caught up on debating the counterfeits. they lose sight of the grace, mercy, sanctification or redemption given at the cross. No man shall know the hour or the day. He will come as a thief in he night, I do believe it is wise to keep an eye on he signs, but not at the expense of losing sight of he basic salvational message of scripture. I love you brother. Keep up the good work and thank you for your astounding observations and your though provoking, stimulating considerations. I do believe there is much foretelling of what is to come, some already completed, and some yet to come. Now we see through a glass dimly, then we will see all.

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    • Hey Paul,

      Thank you, brother, and I love you too. We do disagree concerning things to come in the future, things that I believe are fulfilled and you believe are still to come, but there is plenty that we do agree upon. By the way, I think the “t” might be broken on your keyboard, as this letter is missing from your last name and is also missing in your email address (which means you probably won’t be notified that I replied to your comment).

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  2. Thanks for posting this Adam. I always enjoy seeing stuff like this. As to your question about the “Gentile Nations having a lease of life approximately 2520 years” here’s what one source has to say about it:
    “In Luke 21:24 Jesus says that Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the TIMES OF THE GENTILES be fulfilled. There are those who claim that Jesus meant by the word TIMES, Prophetic Times, and that a Prophetical TIME is a year of 360 days, each day standing for a year, thus making a TIME equal to 360 years. They also claim that Moses in the book of Leviticus (Lev. 26:18-21, 24-28), foretold, and four times repeated it, that if the Children of Israel disobeyed God, He would punish them “SEVEN TIMES” for their sins and that Jesus referred to these SEVEN TIMES when He spoke of the TIMES of the Gentiles. Therefore if a TIME is 360 years, SEVEN TIMES would be 7 X 360 = 2520 years.”
    Interesting article – keep up the good fight and earnestly contend for the faith of our fathers!
    God bless.

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    • You’re welcome, GWLough, and thank you for the information about the 2520 years. I do agree with whoever created that quote that there’s significance in the sevenfold judgments prophesied against rebellious Israel in Leviticus 26. That’s why we see seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls in the book of Revelation. I’ve been meaning to create a post on this very point. God bless you too.

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  3. Hi Adam! Yes, this is interesting. I followed the link to Wilbur Glenn Vilova’s Wiki page because i’d never heard or read anything about him. According to the info gathered about him on the page, he was one “interesting” guy. Had you heard or read anything about him before seeing this newspaper?

    Quote: Others said that 1948 was “the wrong time marker” for the budding of “the fig tree,” and that the correct time marker was the Six-Day War in 1967..

    Believe Hal Lindsey was one of those “others”. I recall reading after 1988 came and went he changed his marker to 1967. If i recall correctly, in one of his later books he just went ahead and changed his idea of what constitutes a generation 🙂

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    • Hi PJ,

      I’m glad you found this interesting. I had briefly heard of Wilbur Glenn Vilova before, when learning about John Alexander Dowie. All I knew was that Vilova took over for him. I learned more about Vilova the other day when preparing this post. He was an odd one for sure, and he and Dowie ran a cult by any definition.

      Yes, I’ve heard that Hal Lindsey changed his idea of what a generation is in his later books. I suppose there is more than one scenario that could happen in Israel (e.g. greater Jewish control of all of Jerusalem) which would compel some to change the time marker once again.

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  4. Frankly this all seems very confusing. I think we need to trust that God is a God of clarity and not confusion. Our starting point for the whole thing is the Oliver discourse. With the context as you and I both believe it to be, it becomes clear and there is no real difficulty with sorting the more obscure stuff out. The arrogance of our generation thinking it is about our own time… Just ridiculous

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    • Hi Jeremy. Do you mean that the 1934 newspaper itself seems confusing? For me, I thought it was a very interesting find, and one of the things that intrigued me was what these folks were saying about Palestine, “the Jewish nation,” and “the fig tree” 14 years before Israel became a nation.

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