Development of a Chart of the Ages

Divine Plan at a Glance

“Write down the vision and make it plain upon the tables, that everyone may read it
fluently” (Habakkuk 2:2, Leeser).

By James Parkinson

Divine Plan at a Glance

The earliest form of a chart of the ages may be in Herald of the Morning 4, 2 (March 1876). The three worlds were shown by three partial ellipses, with three smaller ones within “The world that now is”(“Patriarch,” “Jewish,” “Gospel”), and two more in the “World to come” (“Millennial,” and “ages”). It is seen also in The Three Worlds (1877, page 4). The chart, with unlabeled suggestion of harvests at the ends of “Jewish Age” and “Gospel Age,” was placed on the front page of each Herald, beginning ca. 1877.

“C. T. Russell, Pittsburgh, Pa” disappeared from the front page beginning with the June 1879 issue, and the simple chart no longer appears on the front cover by the July, 1880, issue.

A chart was given in J. H. Paton’s book, Day Dawn, 1st edition (1880), on page 188, in Chapter 15, “Trumpets and Voices.” This edition of the chart emphasizes chronology and shows two harvests (not so named on the chart, but named under it) each of 3½ + 37 years. Chronological dates are given under the chart for Daniel 8 and 9, and 12, and additional topics. (No horizontal lines yet.) The only other kind of chart is given on page 323 and gives parallel chronologies for the Jewish and Gospel Ages.

A Full Chart of the Ages

The first Chart of the Ages to employ both vertical and horizontal lines was given by Pastor Charles Taze Russell in the 164 page Food for Thinking Christians tract, also given months later in Zion’s Watch Tower, September 1881.

In time past, vertical lines were often drawn to show a sequence of events over time. Vertical lines are also employed to represent ages of God’s plan and related details. The Chart of the Ages adds horizontal lines to represent the faithful Christian’s steps from human depravity to spiritual glory. Segmented pyramids are added to represent several different kinds of people. A very few changes may be noted over thirty-five years.

1881 Chart. Note the extension of Plane K into the Tabernacle Most Holy (later omitted), the label of Age G, and the left side of truncated pyramids u and v. (This Chart is not in the Reprints. The Reprints use a chart with some errors that was prepared in 1911 on R272. See the August 15, 1911 Tower.)

1914 Edition (1917 printing). Note termination of Plane K before reaching the Tabernacle, the correction of pyramid v, and the change of “Millennial Age” to “Messianic Age,” though not in the explanatory text (Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 1, Study XII, page 222)

(1) In the original Chart of the Ages, truncated pyramid, v, represents the tares (Christians of false pretense), but the left end was shown on Plane N, the plane of God’s favor to humans. Likely that was an artist’s mistake, because on the 1914 Volume 1 chart (and later), as expected, all of v is below Plane N.

(2) The end of each “Harvest” ends with a dashed line, but some charts end it with a solid line (e.g., Reprints 272, though not in the original September 1881 ZWT). Likely, the dashes suggest that Jews lived past the destruction of the nation (AD 70-73), and were still eligible to become Christians and that many people will live through Armageddon into Christ’s Kingdom.

(3) The age following the Gospel Age is called “Millennial Age” in both Food for Thinking Christians and Millennial Dawn / Studies in the Scriptures (1886-1913), but in 1914 it was re-named “Messianic Age” (in all languages), yet nowhere was the change explained. Perhaps their author wanted to avoid being dogmatic as to whether the Millennium begins at Christ’s return or when the church will be complete.

(4) Pastor Russell’s charts show Satan’s “little season,” or “short time,” beginning when the Millennial Age ends. Some others put the “little season” within the Millennial Age and ending when that age ends. The latter chart fits the entire duration of sin and death neatly within seven thousand years, while Pastor Russell’s charts are easier to harmonize with Revelation 20:3, 7.

(5) Little pyramid r was defined in the Food for Thinking Christians tract (September 1881, R275): “The second advent of Jesus, leaving the plane of glory, K, and coming to the unglorified spiritual plane, L, is shown by figure r. As has been stated heretofore, we believe that the prophets, etc., each that we are now in the “harvest” of the age; that our Lord has come, and that the work of the harvest, or separating wheat from tares, has been progressing since AD 1874. The first work of the Lord in this harvest will be to separate the true from the false, and the truly consecrated children from the unconsecrated ones. This work is now going on.”

Little pyramid r is not defined in Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 1 (page 238). The planes are intended to show the Christian’s steps to glory; so it suggests that at Jesus’ return he is not glorified in the eyes of the world. Perhaps many readers thought it might teach that Jesus left the divine nature to come down to some other spirit nature. However, the planes show differences in glory, not necessarily differences in nature. (E.g., Planes N and R [and P] each represent human nature, but with differences in glory.)

(6) There are numbers from 1 to 11 at the divisions of the ages of the chart, but they are not defined. Perhaps they were intended to later be identified with specific dates, but they never were identified in print. (Likely, “3” was intended to represent Jesus’ baptism and begettal of the holy Spirit, AD 29, right after the Feast of Tabernacles; and “4” was to represent Jesus’ crucifixion, AD 33 April 3.)

Christ’s First Advent Christ’s Second AdventChrist’s Second Advent
3 Christ’s baptism and begettal of the holy Spirit7 Christ’s Return
4 Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and Pentecost
(to begin the church)
8 Beginning of the resurrection of the saints
(those having already fallen asleep in death)
5 Conversion and baptism of Cornelius (a gentile)9 Call to come out of Babylon begins
6 Destruction of Jerusalem (and all Judea?)10 Armageddon
The numbers 3-6 are intended to signify things paralleled by 7-10.

Various Notes

The spacing of the horizontal lines on the chart was arbitrary. The Tabernacle, shown to the right side of the Plan, was reshaped to match the appropriate corresponding horizontal lines. But the extension of Plane K into the Tabernacle was discontinued. The greater space between Planes M and L implies the great difference between human natures and heavenly natures.

Truncated pyramid, s, represents the 144,000 faithful (Bride) class being resurrected to the divine nature and joining their Lord Jesus, r, until the “marriage” takes place. It might be that s was once thought to be completed 3½ (or 7) years after Christ’s return, prior to the greater phase of the time of the world’s trouble. But it is better now to think of it as extending to the completion of the Bride, just at the beginning of Armageddon (shown by the dashed line, #10). The Great Company (or Great Multitude), t, also is shown extending to Armageddon; they will be resurrected only after the 144,000 is complete.

A Question about Plane “M”

Question (1913) — On the chart, the Great Company is represented above plane M of spirit
begetting, yet we are told in the finished picture in the Tabernacle type they will be in the court condition below the spirit begetting. Please harmonize this.

Answer — The chart is a picture of the progress of the Church upward to the attainment of the High Calling, and then in the large pyramid at the end of the chart the different relationships of these the one to the other is pictured. We cannot say that we can harmonize it to everybody’s mind. Take as much of it as you can and leave the rest. (Question Book, What Pastor Russell Said, page 315).‑

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