Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Great Disappointment

Over the years, countless people have tried to interpret the writings in the Bible — usually in an attempt to understand the meaning behind apocalyptic prophecies.

The Second Coming of Christ usually plays a role in these interpretations. In 2,000 years, though, every calculation that was intended to pinpoint when the Second Coming would occur has been wrong.

Those who have believed these miscalculations — and, in many cases, made great sacrifices because of them — have been profoundly disappointed. But perhaps none have been as disappointed as the followers of a Baptist preacher named William Miller in the mid–19th century.

Based on his studies of the Bible, Miller determined that, in biblical terms, a "day" did not mean a 24–hour period but rather a calendar year. Daniel 8:14 stated that the "sanctuary" would be "cleansed" after 2,300 days. Miller interpreted that to mean the cleansing of the sanctuary — purification of the earth by fire upon the Second Coming — would occur in 1843. He reached this conclusion based on his assumption that the 2,300–day period began in 457 B.C. with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem.

The "Millerites," as his followeres were called, believed Miller's prediction in spite of the fact that there were a few false alarms. Miller told his followers that Jesus would return between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844, but March 21, 1844, came and went without Jesus' return and so did Miller's revised prediction of April 18, 1844.

Miller was unfazed, writing that "I still believe that the day of the Lord is near, even at the door."

Thus, the stage was set for a Millerite preacher named Samuel Snow, who calculated that the exact date of the Second Coming would be Oct. 22, 1844, and many Millerites gave away their belongings in anticipation of the event. Then, on this day 165 years ago, thousands of Millerites gathered together to wait for Jesus, but he did not return, and the day went down in history as "The Great Disappointment."

Miller, who died in 1849, is remembered as the man who began the Advent movement. One of its spiritual descendants, the Branch Davidians, made headlines in 1993, first for the siege of their compound in Waco, Texas, by federal agents and then for the compound's fiery destruction more than seven weeks later.

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