Friday, December 21, 2012

The Great Disappointment - Trusting in Man

William Miller (1782-1849)
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life (Revelation 22: 16-17).

After 14 years of studying the Bible, William Miller (1782-1849), a U.S. revivalist who predicted the second coming and earned a large but temporary following, became convinced that Christ would return in 1843. When Miller announced April 3 as the day, some disciples went to mountaintops, hoping for a head start to heaven. Others were in graveyards, planning to ascend in reunion with their departed loved ones. Philadelphia society ladies clustered together outside town to avoid entering God's kingdom amid the common herd.

When April 4 dawned as usual the Millerites, as they came to be known, were disillusioned, but they took heart. Their leader had predicted a range of dates for Christ's return. They still had until March 21, 1844. The devout continued to make ready, but again they were disappointed. A third date – October 22, 1844 – was set, but it also passed. It is estimated that the Millerites numbered nearly 50,000. Miller recorded his personal disappointment in his memoirs: "Were I to live my life over again, with the same evidence that I then had, to be honest with God and man, I should have to do as I have done I confess my error, and acknowledge my disappointment." (Memoirs of William Miller, Sylvester Bliss, p. 256).

William Miller came to his strange conclusions about the end of time from his study of Old Testament prophecy, particularly the book of Daniel. The eighth chapter of Daniel records this prophecy:

…Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled – the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, and the surrender of the sanctuary and of the host that will be trampled underfoot?” He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”

Even more well known are these words from Daniel, chapter nine:

“Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and build Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” (Daniel 9: 25-27).

The Mayan Calendar

From these passages, as well as others, many Christians have attempted to work out a formula for predicting the end times, just as secular doomsday prophets have attempted to do from they Mayan calendar and the predictions of Nostradamus. All have fallen short of the mark. These Biblical prophecies, according to most Christian theologians, give us a picture of God’s direction of world events. These “sevens” may not necessarily be meant to be computed arithmetically. They may, however, in apocalyptic language, show the full attainment of God’s goal in history – the universal redemption of mankind.

According to Evangelical Lutheranism, the division of the 70 “weeks” into the unequal segments of seven, sixty-two, and one gave the assurance that man’s redemption would take place in a historical setting. The first “seven” weeks were God’s pledge to restore Jerusalem. The next 62 weeks confirmed that the rebuilt Jerusalem would be Israel’s religious center when the Messianic Age was to begin. The last week would bring the consummation of all things decreed and predicted: 1) The death of “the Anointed One, the ruler” to atone for sin; 2) the ratification of a covenant – one without sacrifices and offerings for sin; 3) the destruction of rebuilt Jerusalem, no longer a holy city, but filled with abominations. However confusing these words of prophecy may be to us, we can be certain of one thing: God would (and did) carry out his plan for man’s salvation. Whether or not we understand the details is, quite frankly, irrelevant.

We know from Holy Scripture that Christ will return visibly and with great glory on the Last Day.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”...Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him. So shall it be! Amen (Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7).

He will return to judge the world, not to set up an earthly government.

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, with all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Matthew 25: 31-32; John 18:36).

Christ will return on a specific day known by God the Father alone.

You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him…No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son but only the Father…He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed (Matthew 24:44; Mark 13:32; Acts 17:31).

Finally, before Christ returns, there will be increasing turmoil and distress for the church and the world.

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places…The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons (Matthew 24:7; 1 Timothy 4:1).

Christ's failure to appear in 1844 has come to be known as the Great Disappointment. However, it wasn’t really Christ’s “failure” to appear that caused the disappointment. Instead, it was the people’s trust in one man’s logic and reason – rather than faith in Christ to keep his promise – that was the source of their disappointment. Any time we rely on man rather than God, we will be disappointed, no matter what the circumstance. St. Peter realized this, and described this concept in his first epistle:

As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (1 Peter 2: 4-6).

If you trust in St. Peter, you will be put to shame. If you trust in Martin Luther, you will be put to shame. If you trust in William Miller, or the ancient Mayans, or anyone else who claims to have some hidden or special knowledge revealed to no one else, Scripture tells us that you will be put to shame. A person can have one of two attitudes toward the “Cornerstone” – you can trust in him or reject him. If you reject him, you will stumble and fall:

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and “A stone that causes ment to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for (1 Peter 2: 7-8).

Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, the foundation stone upon which our life of faith is built. Even though we may not fully understand now the omniscient thinking and working of God, we can rejoice that Christ – with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death – has redeemed us fully. For what purpose? To quote Dr. Martin Luther, “…that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.