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The Great Disappointment and the Birth of Adventism
Publish date: Jul 7, 2011
Summary: The 1800s were a period of intense disappointment—and intense growth—for God's Church.
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In the early 1800s, a young Baptist farmer named William Miller (1782-1849) published a series of articles in the Baptist weekly Vermont Telegraph about the prophecies of Daniel. He used a simple set of rules to unravel the great themes of prophecy:
- The New Testament is the expositor of the Old Testament
- Scripture must be its own expositor
- The symbolism of type and antitype
- Every word must be taken into consideration
- Prophecy compliments prophecy
Miller's study of Daniel 8 led him to believe that the cleansing of the sanctuary, which was to take place at the end of the 2300-year period (Daniel 8:14), referred to the cleansing of the earth from sin. He concluded that this meant Christ would return at that time.
Miller was just beginning to understand the sanctuary message, and misunderstood its connection to the 2300-day prophecy. He believed that the cleansing of the sanctuary meant the cleansing of the earthly sanctuary—the cleansing of the Church at the return of Christ. However, the sanctuary referred to here is instead the heavenly sanctuary.
Using the day-year principle, he at first calculated that Christ would return in 1843. He believed the “spiritual sanctuary,” the Church, would be cleansed at that time.
Miller rejected the popular interpretations of the day such as futurism, preterism, and dispensationalism. He stressed the premillennial return of Christ, and reintroduced the old Protestant, Christ-centered interpretation, which saw the followers of Jesus at the heart of the end-time prophecies. And even though Scripture tells us that we cannot know the hour of Christ's return (see Matthew 24:36 and Luke 12:40), Miller eventually set a definite date for this event: October 22, 1844.i
The Great Disappointment
Miller, together with some 100,000 others were expelled from their churches for their beliefs. These believers in the soon advent of Christ came from all denominations, and included at least 200 ministers from prominent Protestant churches.
Drawing from the parable of the ten virgins, Miller's message became known as the “midnight cry," the return of the bridegroom. There was a return to primitive godliness, as the various groups of believers awaited the return of the Lord.
As we know, Jesus did not return to this earth in 1844. Those that eagerly awaited His return were devastated, and the day became known as the Great Disappointment. Many were disillusioned and left the movement. Those that remained were ridiculed and became objects of scorn.
Rediscovering the Truth
Centuries before the Great Disappointment, the Church experienced a similar disappointment. The followers of Christ had awaited His coronation as the Messiah in Jerusalem. They had hailed Him as their King and thrown palm branches before His feet (John 12:12-13). But instead of a coronation, they had to witness a crucifixion. Their disappointment was real, and many lost their faith. Even the disciples were filled with fear and hid themselves “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19).
Two followers of Jesus were contemplating His death when Jesus Himself joined them and, "beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27 NKJV).
Similarly, the Great Disappointment of 1844 led to ardent study of the Scriptures and the truths uncovered by the Reformation. Those who remained in the Advent movement after 1844 considered themselves “the remnant.” The prophecies of Daniel were reexamined and a number of believers discovered that the books of Hebrews and Revelation are full of references to a sanctuary in heaven—the very topic of Daniel's sealed prophecy in Daniel 8.
They rediscovered the great doctrine of the sanctuary. The role of Jesus as our sacrificial lamb and high priest in heaven were understood in the correct context. The typology of the Jewish feasts and their meaning and fulfillment were also uncovered.
Along with this breakthrough in understanding came the realization of what the ancient Day of Atonement symbolized, and what its relevance was in terms of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary or the judgment in heaven. The standard of judgment—the law—and its significance was also understood in its relationship to the plan of salvation. The truths that had served as a guard against evil were being rebuilt, as Isaiah had prophesied.
The law and the Sabbath were rediscovered, as was the correct relationship between the law and grace. The commandments of God and faith in Jesus Christ became pillars on which the faith of the remnant rested, fulfilling Revelation 12:17's description of the last generation of believers before the return of Christ:
And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
The Birth of Adventism
Out of the ashes of the Millerite movement grew the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They adopted, coordinated, and continued reforms that had been lost since the Reformation. These doctrines were grounded on Scriptural teaching about the following concepts:
- The Second Coming of Christ
- The binding claims of the Seventh-day Sabbath
- The Third Angel’s Message in relation to the First and Second Angels' Messages
- The ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary
- The non-immortality of the soul
i. Miller originally calculated the end of the 2300-day prophecy to be in 1843. However, he was a year off because he had not considered the transitional year when the calendar moved from BC to AD. This is why, upon recalculation, Miller's date was moved to 1844.
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