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?