During the spring of 2011, Harold Camping made the news with his prediction that on May 21, 2011 Jesus Christ would return to Earth, the righteous would fly up to heaven, and that there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011 with the end of the world.
To promote “Judgment Day 2011,” Camping’s followers reportedly spent millions of dollars on billboards, subway advertisements, literature distribution and personal canvassing. After the date passed, Mr. Camping was the butt of late night TV jokes, unflattering articles in the newspaper, and even parties held by atheists in his honor.
Seventh-day Adventists can empathize, since Adventism was born in large measure out of the prophecy interpretations of William Miller and the Great Disappointment of 1844.
William Miller was a captain in the War of 1812. Following a period of years in which he proclaimed Deism, Miller joined the Baptist Church of Low Hampton. Following his conversion, he was asked by Deist friends how he knew the Bible was true. He determined to prove the Bible true. After studying for two years he was convinced he understood the Bible —especially Daniel 8:14: "Unto 2,300 days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." The cleansing of the sanctuary, Miller believed, could only mean the purging of the earth by fire—in short, the end of the world. By interpreting these prophetic days as years and beginning from the date of the prophecy, Miller concluded that the end of the 2,300 "days" would fall in 1843.
By 1831 he found the courage to share his discovery with neighbors and friends. When asked to discuss his views in a nearby church, he suddenly discovered that on this one subject he could be eloquent.
Invitations multiplied, and Miller gained a bit of local notoriety. In 1838 he published a book on prophecy. Joshua V. Himes heard Miller speak and was impressed by the power in the message of the quiet, middle-aged farmer. So he eagerly joined Miller as his manager and publicity agent. Himes equipped Miller with a great chart displaying the millennial calculations in graphic form, purchased the biggest tent in the country for his meetings, and edited two journals—New York's Midnight Cry and Boston's Signs of the Times.
Miller the man was transformed overnight into the Millerite Movement. Himes and his associates recruited other evangelists and sent them on speaking tours; organized camp meetings; and published tracts, books, and pamphlets.
As the final year approached, Miller's preaching drew larger crowds. In six months, he delivered more than 300 lectures with the constant theme: Are you ready to meet your Savior? The crowds grew larger and the number of converts mounted. As many as a million people believed the teachings of William Miller.
With excitement rising, people began to demand a definite day for the Lord's appearance. Miller was reluctant to be more specific, but in January 1843, he announced that this Hebrew year—March 21, 1843, to March 21, 1844—must see the end of time.
Then March 21, 1844, came—and nothing happened. After a month, Miller confessed his error and acknowledged his disappointment. In August 1844 at a camp-meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, Samuel S. Snow presented his own interpretation, what became known as the midnight cry. Snow presented his conclusion (still based on the 2300 day prophecy in Daniel 8:14), that Christ would return on, "the tenth day of the seventh month of the present year, 1844". This date was determined to be October 22, 1844. The midnight cry message spread among the Millerites.
As we know, Jesus did not return to this earth in October 1844. Those that eagerly awaited His return were devastated, and the day became known as the Great Disappointment. Thousands of followers who had given away their possessions and waited in expectant belief were disillusioned and left the movement. Those that remained were ridiculed and became objects of scorn.
One of those who experienced the great disappointment wrote "Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. It seemed that the loss of all earthly friends could have been no comparison. We wept, and wept, till the day dawn."
I can’t imagine how those people felt. Instead of seeing Jesus and being transported to heaven, they had to pick up the pieces of their lives and listen to the ridicule of their neighbors.
I don’t want to be disappointed. I’m sure you don’t want to be either.
I believe that Jesus is coming back for me and for you. But Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:36, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." It is not about knowing the day or the hour that he comes. It is about being ready when He does come. The time we have is limited. Each one of us have a limited amount of time to prepare for when we will meet Christ. It is limited by either His return or our death.
If Jesus came for you right now, would you be ready? Have you really received Him as your Savior? Jesus is coming back, and this we can know for sure. We are closer to his arrival today than we were yesterday. The time to get ready is limited.
If you have not done so already, the time to get ready is now. Don’t delay. I want to be part of the group that says, “ Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation”. Don’t be part of the group that says to the rocks and mountains, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!
Don’t be disappointed!