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The Great Disappointment in the Millerite movement was the reaction that followed Baptist preacher William Miller's proclamations that Jesus Christ would return to the Earth by 1844, what he called the Advent. His study of the Daniel 8 prophecy during the Second Great Awakening led him to the conclusion that Daniel's "cleansing of the sanctuary" was cleansing of the world from sin when Christ would come, and he and many others prepared, but October 22, 1844, came and they were disappointed.[1][2][3][4]

These events paved the way for the Adventists who formed the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They contended that what had happened on October 22 was not Jesus' return, as Miller had thought, but the start of Jesus' final work of atonement, the cleansing in the heavenly sanctuary, leading up to the Second Coming.[1][2][3][4]


Miller believed the Second Coming of Christ imminentEdit

Between 1831 and 1844, on the basis of his study of the Bible, and particularly the prophecy of Daniel 8:14—"Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed"—Miller, a rural New York farmer and Baptist lay preacher, predicted and preached the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. Miller's teachings form the theological foundation of Seventh-day Adventism. Four topics were especially important: 1. Miller's use of the Bible; 2. his eschatology; 3. his perspective on the 1st and 2nd angel's messages of Revelation 14; and 4. the seventh-month movement that ended with the "Great Disappointment".[5]

1. Miller's use of the BibleEdit

Miller's approach was thorough and methodical, intensive and extensive. Central to Miller's general principles Biblical interpretation was that "all scripture is necessary" and that no part should be bypassed. To understand a doctrine, he said one needed to "bring all scriptures together on the subject you wish to know; then let every word have its proper influnce, and if you can form your theory without a contradiction you cannot be in error." He held that the Bible should be its own expositor. By compring scripture with scripture a person could unlock the meaning of the Bible. In that way the Bible became a person's authority, whereas if a creed of other individuals or their writings served as the basis of authority, then that external authority became central rather than the teaching of the Bible itself."[6] Miller's guidelines concerning the interpretation Bible prophecy was built upon the same concepts set forth in his general rules. The Bible, so far as Miller and his followers were concerned was the supreme authority in all matters of faith and doctrine.[7]

2. Second AdventEdit

The Millerite movement was primarily concerned with the return of Jesus, literally, visually, in the clouds of heaven. The French Revolution was one of several factors that caused many Bible Students around the world who shared Millers concerns to delve into the time prophecies of Daniel using the historicist methodology of interpretation. They concluded, to their satisfaction, that the end of the 1260 “day” prophecy of Daniel 7:25 in 1798 started the era of “time of the end.” They next considered the 2300 "days" of Daniel 8:14.[8]

There were three things that Miller determined about this text:[9]

  1. That the 2300 symbolic days represented 2300 real years as evidence in Ezekiel 4:6 and Numbers 14:34.
  2. That the sanctuary represents the earth or church. And,
  3. by referring to 2 Peter 3:7, that the 2300 years ended with the burning of the earth at the Second Advent.
Miller's interpretation of the 2300-day prophecy timeline and its relation to the 70-week prophecy.

Miller tied the 2300-day vision to the Prophecy of Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9 where a beginning date is given. He concluded that the 70-weeks (or 70-7s or 490 days/years) were the first 490 years of the 2300 years. The 490 years were to begin with the command to rebuild and restore Jerusalem. The Bible records 4 decrees concerning Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity:

Beginning of the 70 Weeks: The decree of Artaxerxes I of Persia in the 7th year of his reign (457 BC) as recorded in Ezra marks beginning of 70 weeks. King reigns were counted from New Year to New Year following an 'Accession Year'. The Persian New Year began in Nisan (March–April). The Jewish civil New Year began in Tishri (September–October).
  1. 536 BC: Decree by Cyrus to rebuild temple.[10]
  2. 519 BC: Decree by Darius I to finish temple.[11]
  3. 457 BC: Decree by Artaxerxes I of Persia.[12]
  4. 444 BC: Decree by Artaxerxes to Nehemiah to finish wall at Jerusalem.[13]

The 457 BC decree by Artaxerxes empowered Ezra to ordain laws, set up magistrates and judges; i.e. to the restore Jewish state. And gave him unlimited funds to rebuild whatever he wanted at Jerusalem. To Miller, this tied the beginning of the 70 weeks prophecy to history.[14]

End of the 70-weeks: Tiberius Caesar began ruling in the Fall of 13 CE. So,his 15th year began in the Fall of 27, the year of the baptism of Jesus. This is 69 weeks (i.e. 483 years) after 457 BCE.

The appearance of an "anointed ruler" at the end of the sixty-nine weeks of years in v. 25a refers to the baptism of Jesus in 27 CE, and the "cutting off" of the "anointed one" in v. 26a is then understood to refer to the crucifixion of Jesus three and a half years later—bringing an atonement for iniquity and "everlasting righteousness." In this way, Jesus "confirms" the "covenant" mentioned in v. 27a. To Miller, this tied the end of the 70 weeks prophecy to history also.[15]

Miller concluded that 457 BC was the beginning of the 2300 day/year prophecy which meant that it would end about 1843-1844 (-457 BC + 2300 years = 1843 AD). And so, too, the Second Advent would happen about that time.[9]

3. Revelation 14's 1st & 2nd Angels' messagesEdit

The first angel of Revelation 14 proclaimed both the "everlasting gospel" and "the hour of [God's] judgment is come." While Miller believed that the first angel's message represented "the sending out of Missionaries and Bibles into every part of the world, which began about 1798," his followers came to see "the hour of his judgment" as the judgement day when Jesus would return. During the 1830s more and more Protestant churches opened their doors to his preaching, largely because of his ability to bring converts to fill ther churches. Millerism had not bcome a separate movement at that time and the majority of believers remained members in their churches. As 1843 approached, and Millerites became more assertive on the truth of the Bible over creeds. Increasingly, they found themselves forbidden to speak of their beliefs. When they persisted they were disfellowshipped. Also, many congregations expelled pastors who supported Miller's teachings, and refused to listen to such preaching. Millerite preacher Charles Fitch tied this to the second angels message of "Babylon is fallen .. come out of her my people." Fitch now included those Protestant churches which rejected the Millerite teachings of the imminent second Advent with the Rome Catholic Church as being "Babylon." He called for his hearers to "come out of Babylon or perish." Then Charles Fitch provided a theological rationale for leaving their churches. By 1844 some estimate that more than 50,000 Millerite believers had left their churches.[15]

4. 7th-month movementEdit

An 1843 prophetic chart illustrating multiple interpretations of prophecy yielding the year 1843.

Miller originally resisted being too specific about the exact time of Christ's return. But he did narrow the time period to sometime in the Jewish year 5604, stating: "My principles in brief, are, that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, cleanse, purify, and take possession of the same, with all the saints, sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844."[16] After further discussion and study, he adopted a new date—April 18, 1844—one based on the Karaite Jewish calendar (as opposed to the Rabbinic calendar).[17] Like the previous date, April 18 passed without Christ's return. In the Advent Herald of April 24, Joshua Himes wrote that all the "expected and published time" had passed and admitted that they had been "mistaken in the precise time of the termination of the prophetic period". Josiah Litch surmised that the Adventists were probably "only in error relative to the event which marked its close". Miller published a letter "To Second Advent Believers," writing, "I confess my error, and acknowledge my disappointment; yet I still believe that the day of the Lord is near, even at the door."[16]

In August 1844 at a camp meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, Samuel S. Snow presented a new interpretation, which became known as the "seventh-month message" or the "true midnight cry". In a complex discussion based on scriptural typology, 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".[18] Using the calendar of the Karaite Jews, he determined this date to be October 22, 1844. This "seventh-month message" "spread with a rapidity unparalleled in the Millerites experience" amongst the general population.[19]

October 22, 1844: The Great DisappointmentEdit

October 22 passed without incident, resulting in feelings of disappointment among all Millerites[20] and encouraged scoffers and the fearful. The Millerites were in total disarray. Whereas once the movement knew exactly where it was going, it was now in a state of uncertainty and crisis.[19]

Henry Emmons, a Millerite, later wrote,

I waited all Tuesday [October 22] and dear Jesus did not come;– I waited all the forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o'clock I began to feel faint, and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain– sick with disappointment.[21]


The Millerites had to deal with their own shattered expectations, as well as considerable criticism and even violence from the public. Many followers had given up their possessions in expectation of Christ's return. On November 18, 1844, Miller wrote to Himes about his experiences:

Some are tauntingly enquiring, 'Have you not gone up?' Even little children in the streets are shouting continually to passersby, 'Have you a ticket to go up?' The public prints, of the most fashionable and popular kind ... are caricaturing in the most shameful manner of the 'white robes of the saints,' Revelation 6:11, the 'going up,' and the great day of 'burning.' Even the pulpits are desecrated by the repetition of scandalous and false reports concerning the 'ascension robes', and priests are using their powers and pens to fill the catalogue of scoffing in the most scandalous periodicals of the day.[22]

There were also the instances of violence: a Millerite church was burned in Ithaca, and two were vandalized in Dansville and Scottsville. In Loraine, Illinois, a mob attacked the Millerite congregation with clubs and knives, while a group in Toronto was tarred and feathered. Shots were fired at another Canadian group meeting in a private house.[23]

Theological development following the Great DisappointmentEdit

Both Millerite leaders and followers were left in utter confusion following the wake of the October 22 disappointment. The majority of Millerites left the faith and even Christianity altogether, while some members rejoined their previous denominations.[24][25]

By mid-1845, the minority that remained began to emphasize their differences and split into several camps along doctrinal lines--a process George R. Knight terms "sect building".[24][25] The most basic theological dividing line centered on whether anything had happened on October 22.[24] During this time, there were left three main Millerite groups.[25]

The first major division of the Millerite groups who retained a belief in Christ's Second Advent were those who focused on the "shut-door" belief. Popularized by Joseph Turner, this belief was based on a key Millerite passage: Matthew 25:1-13—the parable of the ten virgins.[26] The shut door mentioned in Matthew 25:11-12 was interpreted as the close of probation. As Knight explains, "After the door was shut, there would be no additional salvation. The wise virgins (true believers) would be in the kingdom, while the foolish virgins and all others would be on the outside."[27]

The widespread acceptance of the shut-door belief lost ground as doubts were raised about the significance of the October 22, 1844, date—if nothing happened on that date, then there could be no shut door. The opposition to these shut-door beliefs was led by Joshua Himes and make up the second post-1844 group. This faction soon gained the upper hand, even converting Miller to their point of view. Their influence was enhanced by the staging of the Albany Conference. The Advent Christian Church has its roots in this post-Great Disappointment group.

Among the shut door groups were the "Spiritualizers" who offered a spiritualized interpretation concluding that the Millerites had been correct on both the time and event, but Jesus' Advent had been spiritual, coming to the hearts of the believers rather than visible in the heavens.[24] Some of these Spiritualizers theorized that the world had entered the seventh millennium—the "Great Sabbath", and that therefore, the saved should not work. Others behaved like children, basing their belief on Jesus' words in Mark 10:15: "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." Millerite O. J. D. Pickands used Revelation 14:14-16 to teach that Christ was now sitting on a white cloud and must be prayed down.[28] A substantial number joined the Shakers.[29]

By far the smallest group of Millerites consisted of a few Bible students scattered across New England who did not personally know one another before about 1847. They accepted the fulfillment of the 2300 days prophecy of Daniel 8:14, but disagreed with the other Millerites on the event that took place.[30] Rather than Christ having returned invisibly they concluded that the event that took place on October 22, 1844, was quite different.[28]

The theology of this third group appears to have had its beginnings as early as October 23, 1844—the day after the Great Disappointment. On that day, during a prayer session with a group of Advent believers, Hiram Edson became convinced that "light would be given" and their "disappointment explained." Later that day, Edson was struck by the idea that the sanctuary to be cleansed was not the earth by fire, but rather something related to the heavenly sanctuary.[28] His experience led him into an protracted and extensive study on the topic with O. R. L. Crosier and F. B. Hahn. They eventually came to the conclusion that Miller's assumption that the sanctuary represented the earth was in error. Rather, "The sanctuary to be cleansed in Daniel 8:14 was not the earth or the church, but the sanctuary in heaven." Therefore, October 22 marked not the Second Coming of Christ, but rather a heavenly event. Their interpretations were published in early 1845 in the Day Dawn, became known as the Investigative Judegment.[31][30] It was from this group that future leaders of Seventh-day Adventism came.[30]

Reaction of Millerites to the Great Disappointment[32]
What happened on October 22, 1844? Attitude toward prophecy Reaction Numbers of Millerites Current Groups
No Second Advent 1844 date invalid
prophecy invalid
Abandoned their beliefs Tens of thousands Majority left Christianity
Minority rejoined former churches
No Second Advent 1844 date invalid
prophecy valid
Jesus still coming soon
Some set other dates
Many hundreds Advent Christian Church,
Jehovah’s Witnesses
Second Advent occurred - spiritualized 1844 date valid
prophecy valid
Short lived “holy flesh” movement Hundreds Some joined Shakers
Date not about Second Advent 1844 date valid
prophecy valid
Cleansing of Sanctuary meant
Pre-Advent judgement.
Second Advent still coming
Dozens Seventh-day Adventist Church

Protestants and Evangelicals abandon HistoricismEdit

Following the very public humiliation of the October 22, 1844, Great Disappointment there was widespread abandonment of historicism in eschatology among American Protestant and Evangelical churches in favor of the new Dispensationalism that is composed of elements of Futurism, which focuses on the tribulation period of the unrighteous left behind to be punished by suffering through the chronology of wars and famines laid out in Revelation, and mutually exclusive Preterism, which eschews the idea of a millennium entirely.[33] The Seventh-day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the few larger groups that still adhere to a historicist interpretation of Bible prophecy.[33]

The Bahá'í FaithEdit

The Bahá'ís have been teaching about connections between the start of their religion and the fulfillment of the Daniel 8:14 prophecy since its earliest teachers began to teach in the West in the 1890s.[34] Their interpretation of this prophecy closely matches the interpretation of William Miller. They believe that Miller's interpretation of signs and dates of the coming of Jesus were, for the most part, correct.[35] and that a forerunner of their own religion, the Báb, who declared that he was the "Promised One" on May 23, 1844, and began openly teaching in Persia in October 1844, was fulfillment of biblical prophecies of the coming of Christ.[36][37] Several recent Bahá'í books and pamphlets make mention of the Millerites, the prophecies used by Miller and the Great Disappointment, most notably Bahá'í follower William Sears' Thief in the Night.[38][39][40]

The year 1844 was also the Year AH1260. Sears tied Daniel's prophecies in with the Book of Revelation in the New Testament in support of Bahá'í teaching, interpreting the year 1260 as the "times, time and half a time" of Daniel 7:25 (3 and 1/2 years = 42 months = 1260 days). Using the same day-year principle as did William Miller, Sears decoded these texts into the year AH 1260, or 1844 in his book.[41]

Bahá'ís believe that if William Miller had known the year 1844 was also the year AH1260, then he may have considered that there were other signs to look for. Bahá'í teachings on the implications of their interpretations of chapters 11 and 12 of the Book of Revelation, together with the predictions of Daniel as used by William Miller, were explained by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, to Laura Clifford Barney and published in 1908 in "Some Answered Questions".[42]

Naturalistic ExplanationEdit

The Great Disappointment is viewed by some scholars as an example of the psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance[43] and True-believer syndrome[by whom?][citation needed]. The theory was proposed by Leon Festinger to describe the formation of new beliefs and increased proselytizing in order to reduce the tension, or dissonance, that results from failed prophecies.[44] According to the theory, believers experienced tension following the failure of Jesus' reappearance in 1844, which led to a variety of new explanations. The various solutions form a part of the teachings of the different groups that outlived the disappointment.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Seventh-day Adventist Church emerged from religious fervor of 19th Century". 4 October 2016. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Apocalypticism Explained - Apocalypse! FRONTLINE - PBS". Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  3. ^ a b "The Great Disappointment and the Birth of Adventism". Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Adventist Review Online - Great Disappointment Remembered 170 Years On". Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  5. ^ Knight 2000, pp. 38.
  6. ^ Miller, William (November 17, 1842). "Midnight Cry". p. 4.
  7. ^ Knight 2000, pp. 39-42.
  8. ^ Knight 2000, pp. 42-44.
  9. ^ a b Knight 2000, pp. 44-45.
  10. ^ Ezra 1:1-4
  11. ^ Ezra 6:1-12
  12. ^ Ezra 7
  13. ^ Nehemiah 2
  14. ^ Smith 1898, pp. 208-209.
  15. ^ a b Knight 2000, pp. 47-50.
  16. ^ a b Bliss, Sylvester (1853). Memoirs of William Miller. Boston: Joshua V. Himes. p. 256.
  17. ^ Knight 1993, pp. 163–164.
  18. ^ Samuel S. Snow, The Advent Herald, August 21, 1844, 20.
  19. ^ a b Knight 2000, pp. 50-54.
  20. ^ "The Great Disappointment | Grace Communion International". Retrieved 2015-11-20.
  21. ^ Knight 1993, pp. 217–218.
  22. ^ White, James (1875). Sketches of the Christian Life and Public Labors of William Miller: Gathered From His Memoir by the Late Sylvester Bliss, and From Other Sources. Battle Creek: Steam Press of the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association. p. 310.
  23. ^ Knight 1993, pp. 222–223.
  24. ^ a b c d Knight 2000, p. 55.
  25. ^ a b c Knight 1993, p. 232.
  26. ^ Dick, Everett N. (1994). William Miller and the Advent Crisis. Berrien Springs, Michigan: Andrews University Press. p. 25.
  27. ^ Knight 1993, p. 236.
  28. ^ a b c Knight 1993, p. 305.
  29. ^ Cross, Whitney R. (1950). The Burned-over District: A Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 310.
  30. ^ a b c Knight 2000, pp. 55-58.
  31. ^ Knight 1993, p. 305-306.
  32. ^ Derived from Knight 2000
  33. ^ a b Barnard, John Richard (August 2012). The Millerite Movement and American Millenial Culture, 1830-1845 (Thesis). Southern Illinois University: Carbondale. p. 63. Another lasting legacy of the Millerite movement is the widespread abandonment of the method of prophetic interpretation used by Miller: historicism. The very public humiliation of October 22, 1844 greatly limited the use of historicism. Instead, new eschatological methods came to dominate American theology regarding the end times, most notably futurism, which focuses on the tribulation period of the unrighteous left behind to be punished by suffering through the chronology of wars and famines laid out in Revelation, and preterism, which eschews the idea of a millennium entirely.
  34. ^ Stockman, Robert H. (1985). The Baha'i Faith in America-Origins 1892-1900 (1st ed.). Wilmette, Illinois: Baha'i Publishing Trust. p. 75-76. ISBN 0-87743-199-X.
  35. ^ Momen, Moojan (1992). "Fundamentalism and Liberalism: towards an understanding of the dichotomy". Bahá'í Studies Review. 2 (1).
  36. ^ Cameron, G.; Momen, W. (1996). A Basic Bahá'í Chronology. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. pp. 15–20, 125. ISBN 0-85398-404-2.
  37. ^ Shoghi Effendi Rabbani. God Passes By. p. 9.
  38. ^ Sears, William (1961). Thief in the Night. London: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-008-X.
  39. ^ Bowers, Kenneth E. (2004). God Speaks Again: An Introduction to the Bahá'í Faith. Baha'i Publishing Trust. p. 12. ISBN 1-931847-12-6.
  40. ^ Motlagh, Hushidar Hugh (1992). I Shall Come Again (The Great Disappointment ed.). Mt. Pleasant, MI: Global Perspective. pp. 205–213. ISBN 0-937661-01-5.
  41. ^ Sears, William (1961). Thief in the Night (1st ed.). Oxford, England: George Ronald. p. 26. ISBN 0-85398-008-X.
  42. ^ 'Abdu'l-Baha (2014). Some Answered Questions (2014 ed.). Haifa, Israel: Baha'i World Centre. p. 46-81. ISBN 978-0-87743-374-3.
  43. ^ O'Leary, Stephen (2000). "When Prophecy Fails and When it Succeeds: Apocalyptic Prediction and Re-Entry into Ordinary Time". In Albert I. Baumgarten (ed.) (ed.). Apocalyptic Time. Brill Publishers. p. 356. ISBN 90-04-11879-9. Examining Millerite accounts of the Great Disappointment, it is clear that Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance is relevant to the experience of this apocalyptic movement.CS1 maint: Extra text: editors list (link)
  44. ^ James T. Richardson. "Encyclopedia of Religion and Society: Cognitive Dissonance". Hartland Institute. Retrieved 2006-07-09.


  • Knight, George R. (1993). Millennial Fever and the End of the World. Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press. ISBN 9780816311781.
  • Knight, George (2000). A Search for Identity. Review and Herald Pub.
  • Rowe, David L. (2008). God's Strange Work: William Miller and the End of the World. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0-8028-0380-1.

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