Search This Blog

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Millerite Eschatology

1. Miller's Views Summarized. In William Miller's study of Bible prophecies one of his first major conclusions was that "the popular views of the spiritual reign of Christ" through the church on earth were "not sustained by the Word of God." He wrote:

I found it plainly taught in the Scriptures that Jesus Christ will again descend to this earth, coming in the clouds of heaven, in all the glory of his Father: . . . that at his coming the bodies of all the righteous dead will be raised, and all the righteous living be changed from a corruptible to an incorruptible, from a mortal to an immortal state, that they will all be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air, and will reign with him for ever in the regenerated earth: . . . that the bodies of the wicked will then all be destroyed, and their spirits be reserved in prison until their resurrection and damnation: and that when the earth is thus regenerated, the righteous raised, and the wicked destroyed, the kingdom of God will have come, when his will will be done on earth as it is done in heaven, that the meek will inherit it, and the kingdom become the saints[']. I found that the only millennium taught in the word of God is the thousand years which are to intervene between the first resurrection and that of the rest of the dead as inculcated in the xx[th chapter] of Revelation; and that it must necessarily follow the personal coming of Christ and the regeneration of the earth: that till Christ's coming and the end of the world, the righteous and wicked are to continue together on the earth . . .; so that there can be no conversion of the world before the advent: and that as the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness, is . . . the same for which we look, according to the promise of Isa. Ixv. 17, and is the same that John saw in vision after the passing away of the former heavens and earth, it must necessarily follow that the various portions of Scripture that refer to the millennial state, must have their fulfillment after the resurrection of all the saints that sleep in Jesus. I also found that the promises respecting Israel's restoration, are applied by the apostle to all who are Christ's,-putting on of Christ constituting them Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise....

Another kind of evidence that vitally affected my mind, was the chronology of the Scriptures. I found, on pursuing the study of the Bible, various chronological periods extending, according to my understanding of them, to the coming of the Savior....

Reckoning all these prophetic periods from the several dates assigned by the best chronologers for the events from which they should evidently be reckoned, they all would terminate together, about A.D. 1843 (Apology and Defence, 1845, pp. 7-11).

2. Differences From Views of Contemporaries. The Millerites held that the millennial reign introduced at the Second Advent would be that of the glorified righteous in the immortal state, on a purified and renewed earth, and not, as many held, a triumphant reign of the church or of literal Jews in a mortal state (see PremillenniaIism).

In opposition to these concepts of a "temporal millennium" and world conversion either before or after the Second Advent, the twelfth general conference of the Adventists, held at Boston, voted:

Resolved, That we regard the notion of a Millennium previous to the coming of Christ, when all the world shall be converted, and sinners in great multitudes saved, as a fearful delusion, . . . and that the nearer such a millennium is represented, the more dangerous is its tendency, because the more likely to encourage present impenitence, with the hope of future conversion to God.

Resolved, That no portion of the New Testament scriptures give[s] the most indirect intimation of the literal restoration of the Jews to old Jerusalem, we believe that the arguments drawn from the Old Testament prophecies are based on a mistaken view of those prophecies: and that they have been fulfilled in what the gospel has already done, or remain to be fulfilled in the gathering all the spiritual seed of Abraham into the New Jerusalem....

Resolved, That the notion of a probation [opportunity for conversion] after Christ's coming, is a lure to destruction, entirely contradictory to the word of God, which positively teaches that when Christ comes the door is shut, and such as are not ready can never enter in (The Signs of the Times 3:69, June 1, 1842).

3. "Midnight Cry." The reference is to the cry heard at midnight in Christ's parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-13), "Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him." The Millerites regarded this scripture as a prophetic parable and used it as one of the bases of their message. For this application and the special emphasis placed on it the summer of 1844, see Midnight Cry; Seventh-Month Movement.

4. Various Prophecies. Several Millerite publications set forth detailed interpretations of various prophecies: the already widely accepted view of the four kingdoms of Dan 2 and 7 as the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires; the ten horns as the barbarian kingdoms that succeeded Rome; the dragon of Rev 12 as pagan Rome; the two beasts of chapter 13 as papal Rome and "the infidel French government" (Miller originally had civil and papal Rome, with the number 666 in Rev 13:18 representing 666 years of Roman paganism); 1260 years as the period of the papacy from the time of Justinian to 1798; the "seven times" (Lev 26:18, etc.) interpreted as 2520 years, ending in 1843; the 70 weeks (Dan 9:25) as 490 years, extending to A.D. 33, the crucifixion; the 2300 days (Dan 8:14) as years from the same starting point, ending in 1843; and the thousand years of Rev 20 as literal years between the resurrection of the righteous at the Second Advent and the resurrection of, and final execution of judgment on, the wicked. The Millerites generally believed that the 1290 years (of Dan 12:11) ended jointly with the 1260 years in 1798, and that the 1335 years (Dan 12:12) would end 45 years later, along with the 2300 years in 1843.

5. The 2300 Days. The key prophetic period was that of the 2300 (Dan 8:14) years (see Twenty-three Hundred Days), ending with the cleansing of the sanctuary, which the Millerites believed to involve the final purification of the earth at the Second Advent. As noted earlier, Miller ended this period in or about 1843, but he never preached an exact date. Pressed to be more specific, he finally, by December, 1842, defined "1843," by which he meant the Jewish year, as probably "sometime between March 21st, 1843, and March 21st, 1844" ( The Signs of the Times, 4:47, Jan. 25, 1843)-for he knew the Jewish religious year ran from spring to spring. (Other Millerite leaders, knowing that the Jewish calendar was lunar, began and ended the year with the new moon of April.)

When the "Jewish year 1843" passed (in the spring of 1844) without the return of the Lord, and the public expected the Millerites to "yield the whole question," Litch wrote:

The doctrine does not consist in merely tracing prophetic periods.... But the whole prophetic history of the world . . . affords indubitable evidence of the fact, that we have approached a crisis. And no disappointment respecting a definite point of time can move them, or drive them from their position, relative to the speedy coming of the Lord ("The Rise and Progress of Adventism," The Advent Shield, 1:80, May, 1844).

Then he quoted the "Fundamental Principles" of the Millerites as published in their periodicals in 1843, adding this footnote:

The above was written in the Jewish year 1843, which has now expired. . . . We can only wait, . . . continually looking for, and momentarily expecting, his appearing (ibid.).

6. The Shift From 1843 to 1844. It was not until the summer of 1844 that the majority of the Millerites began to pay serious heed to a few who had been insisting that the correct computation of the 2300 years and the 70 weeks would lead to an ending date in the autumn, on the day of the month the ancient sanctuary was cleansed, the tenth day of the seventh Jewish month which they understood to fall in 1844 on Oct. 22. (For the basis and development of this expectation, see Seventh-Month Movement; Twenty-three Hundred Days.) On this day they believed that Christ would end His priestly ministry and emerge from the holy of holies, or heaven, to return to the earth to "bless His waiting people."

7. The Three Angels' Messages. The Millerites believed also that they were fulfilling the prophecy of the flying angel of Rev 14:6, 7, the first of three (see Three Angels' Messages), proclaiming, "The hour of his judgment is come," and many of them also gave the second angel's message, to come out of fallen Babylon (v 8; cf. ch 18:4), advocating separation from hostile churches. They gave little or no attention to the message of the third angel (v 9).

8. Aftermath-Three-Way Split. After the great disappointment of Oct. 22, 1844, the Millerites-at least those who did not fall away in their disillusionment-split into three groups, differing according to their respective views of the cause of their error in expecting the return of Christ in 1844.

(1) The majority group, including, by April, 1845, Miller and most of the leaders. These held that they had been right in applying the 2300-day prophecy and the parable of the Bridegroom to the Second Advent; and that, therefore, since the Lord had not come they had been in error in the chronology; that there had been no fulfillment of prophecy in 1843-1844 and the "definite time" movement had been a mistake.

(2) A minority group known as the "spiritualizers," or "spiritualists." These held that they had been right both in chronology and in the expected event: the Second Advent had actually occurred at the time specified, but as a spiritual coming, in His saints (the spiritualizers). For their fanatical doctrines, see Spiritualisim [1]. Many of these went into extreme splinter groups, and a number of them joined the Shakers.

(3) Another minority group, intermediate between the other two groups. Holding that the prophetic chronology had been correct, but that the error lay in the event expected, they rejected on the one hand the "spiritualist" view of an invisible Advent and a spiritual kingdom (they insisted that the Advent was personal, literal, and still future); on the other hand, they rejected the majority contention that the 2300 days had not ended and that the 1844 movement had been a complete mistake.

To this third group (as to the second) the majority party appeared to have abandoned the Adventist message by denying their past experience in the 1844 movement. The majority group, in turn, were inclined to condemn the third group, along with the second, for holding that the 2300 days had ended and that the "midnight cry" was valid.

Among this third group were the leaders of the future SDA's, who arrived at the conclusion that the proper interpretation of the symbols indicated a different fulfillment-not the Second Advent by the final phase of Christ's ministry (see Sanctuary).

9. Albany Conference. The main body led by Miller and, especially, Himes, in the Albany conference in April, 1845, took its stand on a series of statements, some of which may be summarized thus:

(1) They retained their principle of a non-"Judaizing" premillennialism that is opposing the "Judaizing doctrine" of the restoration of the literal Jews as a fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.

(2) They made what appears to be a rather vaguely worded concession toward the new view of conditional immortality taught by a few Millerite leaders.

(3) They abandoned, necessarily, the 1844 date for the Second Advent, but in so doing they also abandoned the idea that the 1844 movement was a fulfillment of prophecy, or that a prophetic landmark had been passed that would explain the disappointment.

(4) Since they had emphasized the close of human probation (which they held was symbolized by the "shut door" of the parable of the Ten Virgins) as involved in the ending of the 2300 days, and since they were convinced that probation had not ended, they now insisted also that the 2300 years, and the parable with its shut door, had likewise not been fulfilled. (This left an opening for revisions of the chronology and later dates set for the Advent by the leaders.)

(5) They declared themselves opposed to all "new tests," and thereby barred not only various forms of fanaticism, but any advance in prophetic exposition based on the premise of a valid prophetic landmark in the 1844 movement. (For a fuller discussion of the Millerite teachings, see L. E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4, part 2, especially chs 22, 34, 36, 37, 39.)

- From the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Volume 10, 1976. Review and Hearld Publishing Association.