The Great Disappointment II

Posted on 21 May 2011

Between 1831 and 1844, William Miller – a Baptist preacher later credited with founding the Seventh Day Adventist Church – predicted that Christ’s Second Coming would occur in 1843.  Prompted by followers to set a more specific date for Jesus’ return, Miller – using the Hebrew calendar year 5604 – refined his earlier prediction simply indicating that the Return would occur sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.  A further revision, based on use of the Karaite Jewish calendar, led to extension of the date to April 18th.  In August 1844, Samuel Snow – a Miller follower or Millerite – propounded his own interpretation based on what he referred to as the “seven-month message,” extending the date of Christ’s return to October 22, 1844.  This final prediction spread like wildfire among the general public, already familiarized with Miller’s preaching during the preceding 13 years.  The passage of October 22 without event came to be known as “The Great Disappointment.”

Miller based his prediction on information in the Old Testament Book of Daniel.  Daniel 8:13-14 states, “Then I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?  And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”  Using an interpretive principle known as the “day-year principle,” Miller began dating these 2300 “years” with the decree by Artaxerxes I of Persia in 457 B.C. to rebuild and restore Jerusalem and its Temple.  Thus, his simple calculation that Jesus would return in 1843 or 1844.

Fast forward to 1970 when Harold Camping published The Biblical Timeline of History that he later refined and expanding in Adam When? Using genealogies from Genesis and a starkly different interpretative method than that employed by Bishop James Ussher in his landmark Biblical chronology published in 1650, Camping established the date for the Creation of the World as 11,013 B.C. and the Flood as 4990 B.C.  Using a combination of historical and Biblical sources, he calculated that the most logical date for the birth of Jesus was October 4, 7 B.C and for his crucifixion, April 1, 33 B.C.

Having created a timeline and determined the date of our Savior’s birth, Camping later turned his attention toward determining when that timeline would end.  Firmly believing in the Bible as the literal word of God and relying heavily on numerology as proofs of his theories, Camping initially determined that 1994 might be the date for Christ’s return.  In John 21:1-14, Jesus tells the disciples who were about 200 cubits out in the Sea of Galilee to throw their net on the right side of the boat, resulting in a catch of 153 fish.  Camping interpreted this to mean that 2,000 years would intervene between Christ’s First and Second Comings.  Since there are 2,000 years between Jesus’ birth (7 B.C.) and 1994 (note that there is no year 0 and hence you must subtract 1 from your calculations), Camping speculated that Jesus would return in 1994.

Although uncertain of his 1994 prediction, Camping later refined his analysis, and – comparing “Scripture with Scripture” and interpreting the spiritual meaning of Biblical events – established May 21, 2011 as the authoritative date for Jesus’ momentous return.  He further identified numerous Biblical “proofs” for this date.  These proofs relied heavily on the “spiritual meaning” that Camping applied to certain numbers – 3 representing “God’s purpose,” 5 representing “atonement” or “redemption,” 7 “spiritual perfection,” 10 or its multiples “completion,” 17 “Heaven,” and 23 “destruction.”  Included among these were that May 21, 2011 was exactly 7,000 years from the date of the Great Flood (4990 + 2011 – 1) and that there are 722,500 days between Jesus’s crucifixion and his return with 722,500 being the product of two repeating sets of spiritually significant numbers:  5 x 10 x 17 x 5 x 10 x 17.

Obviously, Harold Camping exerted a great deal of research, Biblical scholarship, and critical thinking into developing his theories.  Also, quite evidently, he – like William Miller and everyone else who have ever attempted to predict the world’s end – was wrong.  Does this mean that he should become the subject of derision and branded a “false prophet?”

Mr. Camping has been a source of controversy among Christians for more than two decades.  His views ultimately led to his excommunication by the Church with which he had been associated in 1988.  Coincidentally, he later determined from his Biblical scholarship that his excommunication coincided with what he refers to as the “end of the Church Age” in Christian history, the time at which the Holy Spirit left the Christian churches and Satan took over as their ruler.

Since that “revelation,” Camping has maintained that no one can be saved in the churches and that when Christ returns to Rapture his “elect,” those in the churches will be left behind.  Undoubtedly, this point of view has not been cheerfully embraced by the leaders and congregations of these churches.

Another thing that has been a source of frustration and consternation to those who would question Camping’s views is his absolute certainty in their rectitude.  On his call-in radio program “The Open Forum,” Camping has resolutely refused to entertain any questions conditioned on the possibility – no matter delicately stated – that his interpretations were incorrect.  His response has always been that to do so would be to deny The Bible and its truthfulness.

Like many before him, Camping confused his own interpretations with Biblical truths.  And, although he never suggested to anyone that they should make any personal or financial decisions based upon his predictions, one wonders how many did.  At the time of the Millerite’s Great Disappointment, there were reports that many of the “believers” had sold or given away their property in reliance on the belief that they would shortly be leaving this world.  I hope that that is not the case with Camping’s followers.

While Camping’s personal demeanor of certitude may have been divisive and his approach to interpretation seriously flawed, I believe that he has made a significant contribution to Biblical scholarship.  I also believe that, advanced in age, he will likely disappear from the limelight and that Family Radio will ultimately return to a more mainstream Christian message.

And, to those “true believers” that May 21, 2011 would be the date of Christ’s return, I offer the following consolation:  your efforts in promoting this message have not been in vain.  Your message, although inaccurate, has spanned the world, gained the attention of both mainstream and alternative media, introduced countless thousands to Christianity, and placed thinking about God squarely into the forefront of the minds of people worldwide sorely in need of His merciful intervention.  Countless others have delved seriously into the Word of God for the very first time in their lives.  Some of these will, undoubtedly, continue to read and study the Word.

And so, your “Great Disappointment” may produce great joy in Heaven.

Related Stories:

Countdown to Judgment

May 21, 2011: Judgment Day!

Harold Camping: False Prophet or Herald of God?

It is Finished: God’s Final Warning

Assembling the Timeline of History – Part I

Assembling the Timeline of History – Part II

Assembling the Timeline of History – Part III

Assembling the Timeline of History – Part IV

Judgment Day: Less than One-Half Year Away

A Word of Warning

Signs of the Times

May 21, 2011: Judgment Day Scenario Unfolds

The Great Anticipation

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4 Responses to “The Great Disappointment II”

  1. Jack S. Fogbound says:

    It’s all over but the cheering, Thank God

  2. Michael says:

    I learned about this years ago in a college history class and was curious what I could find out about after this weekend. You seem to have put together the definitive account according to Google. Hopefully this story will spread and people don’t fall so hard for a false prophet next time.

  3. Dawn Daniels says:

    Your writing on this subject is superb! I enjoyed the historical perspective.

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