“Coming again, coming again, Jesus is coming again.” The words of the hymn have been playing their tune in my head since I was in Kindergarten. The words of John 14:1-3 and the promise therein have been my comfort and strength through many heartaches, tears, and funerals. I believed it as a child, I believed it as an adult, and I believe it now. It still comforts, instills hope, gives perspective, and dries away the tears.
But the promise of His coming did not always bring joy and hope. There was a day, 175 years ago, on October 22, 1844, that this same hope of the Second Coming brought sadness and shock, disbelief and depression to many. How could an event that has brought so much hope and courage to many be an event that could also bring so much discouragement and deep disappointment?
William Miller and the Advent believers of the time firmly believed that the prophecy of Daniel 8 & 9 pointed to Jesus’ coming in 1844. Why did Jesus not come? Why did they interpret the prophecy incorrectly after so much careful study? I have sometimes said to myself that I would not have been fooled or caught off guard. Oh, really?
Listen to this quote written by someone who herself had suffered this great disappointment: “As the disciples of old failing to understand the exact character of events to take place in fulfillment of prophecy relating to the first advent of Jesus suffered disappointment, so the Adventists in 1844 were disappointed concerning the development of prophecy relating to the expected second coming of Christ” (Ellen G White in Early Writings, xv). We did no better than the disciples who walked and talked with Jesus, she says. That’s a sobering thought.
What happened to the disappointed and decimated believers after 1844? The majority gave up their faith in the soon coming of their Savior. A small minority kept the faith and trusted that God was still in control and would lead them to their error through this time of darkness to His light. It was soon after 1844 that God did just that. He gave His scattered believers hope by speaking to a teenage girl, 17 years of age, Ellen Harmon. She was at the home of a Mrs. Haines in South Portland, Maine, with four other ladies, praying together. She says, in her own words, “While praying, the power of God came upon me as I never had felt it before . . .” and she was given a vision of the people of God traveling to the celestial city on a narrow winding path rising high above this earth. Those that kept their eyes on the Savior kept going, while those that looked away, and got distracted by the things of this world, fell from the path into the abyss below.
This vision encouraged the believers in their faith, they grouped together, studied the Word, prayed earnestly, and God confirmed their faith by adding to their number, and soon the Seventh-day Adventist Church was born. So my question is as follows. As we celebrate the 175th anniversary of the 1844 Disappointment, what is the take-away lesson for you and me? What have we learned? I hear someone say, “. . .lest we forget how God has led us in the past.”
Have you kept the faith? Are you inviting the Holy Spirit to fill and control your thoughts, words, and actions each moment of each day? Do you take intentional time to read the Word and talk to Jesus in prayer each day? And lastly, are you still singing the refrain in your mind, “coming again, coming again, Jesus is coming again”?