When will Jesus return? Christ warned that no man knows that day and hour. This has not stopped rash theologians from announcing dates. All have subsequently been disappointed by events. One of the most prominent prediction makers was Baptist preacher William Miller.
Miller gained a large following, predicting that Christ would return on this day, October 22, 1844. His theories were not far-fetched if one accepted interpretations in vogue through much of church history. The argument goes something like this: The prophet Daniel's eighth chapter speaks of 2,300 days. Many of the greatest scholars of the church (Augustine and Bede for example) took these days to stand for years. 490 years (the seventy "weeks" mentioned in Daniel 9:24) were "cut off" from the 2,300 years, leaving 1810 years. It was assumed that Christ died early in 31 ad. with 3-1/2 years of Daniel's 70th week still to run. Adding those 3-1/2 years to 31 ad. brings us to late 34 ad, at which time the 1810 remaining years supposedly began. 1810 + 34 brings us to 1844. Technical considerations placed the date in October 1844.
Under this interpretation, it seemed possible to match actual historical events with the sequence of events in Daniel chapter eleven. Byzantium, the pope, Egypt, Turkey, France and other countries, supposedly fulfilled various predictions derived from the Bible. The whole argument was developed at length and convinced vast numbers of people.
As many as 100,000 followers gathered at the predicted time in makeshift temples and on hillsides to "meet the bridegroom." Maxwell Pierson Gaddis attended one of these rallies and reported the result. When midnight came and Christ had not returned, people grew restless. Some walked out. One person said allowance must be made for differences of latitude and longitude between Palestine and the US. At about one o'clock one of the leaders rose and said "I never did fix upon the precise time myself, and I always told my brethren they would get into trouble if they did; but they would not listen to me, but followed other leaders...I believe the most important thing after all is, to be ready..."
Humiliated by what has been called "The Great Disappointment," some Millerites shucked their faith completely. Led by Miller, others formed the Adventists. The majority returned to more traditional churches.
- Gaddis, Maxwell Pierson. Foot-Prints of an Itinerant. Cincinnati: Printed at the Methodist Book Concern, 1855.
- Miller, William. Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ, About the Year 1843; Exhibited in a Course of Lectures. Troy, N. Y. : Elias Gates, 1838.
- Smith, Uriah. The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation. Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1944.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated April, 2007.