On This Day

William Miller, preacher William Miller, William Miller great disappointment
Ohio Historical Society
William Miller

On This Day: The Great Anticipation Becomes the Great Disappointment

October 22, 2011 06:00 AM
by Caleb March
On Oct. 22, 1844, the followers of American preacher William Miller expected the Second Coming of Christ. The day later became known as the Great Disappointment.

The Great Anticipation

In the late 1810s, after a lengthy study of the Bible, New York farmer William Miller came to believe the Second Coming would occur in 1843. In 1831, he began preaching at camp meetings and in print to prepare for the day when humanity’s souls would be judged. Nearly 1 million people heard his message, and Miller’s most devoted adherents, who were known as Millerites, numbered between 50,000 and 100,000.

But 1843 passed without incident, and Miller’s colleagues announced a new date, Oct. 22, 1844, as the official time for the Second Coming, called the Advent or the Great Anticipation.

As October 1844 approached, many Millerites were reported to have sold all of their worldly goods; some may even have climbed mountains to be closer to heaven. When October came and went, the day became known as the Great Disappointment.

Attempts by Miller to recalculate a third date for the Second Coming were met with skepticism by his followers, who had by this time mostly turned away from Miller and joined the Adventist Church, a church co-founded by Miller that believed in an inevitable Second Coming without giving a specific date for the event to occur. The last meeting of Miller’s church occurred in April 1845.

Key Player: William Miller

William Miller was born in 1782, in Pittsfield, Mass. In 1803, Miller and his wife moved to Vermont, where they earned their living as farmers. After serving as a lieutenant and later a captain in the War of 1812, he moved his family to northern New York and became more interested in Christianity.

The skepticism of his neighbors led Miller to make an in-depth study of the Bible. He believed that its words should be taken literally, and within the Bible’s prophetic sections, he found indications that the Second Coming was imminent. His main source for this conclusion was Daniel 8:14: “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”

After the Great Disappointment, Miller said, "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.”

In spite of Miller’s personal failure, his ideas led directly to the formation of the Seventh-day Adventists, a group that still believes in many of Miller’s doctrines.

The Seventh-day Adventists

Several followers of Miller, in particular, Joseph Bates and James and Ellen White, quickly came to the conclusion that William Miller had not been entirely wrong. They believed that something significant had happened on Oct. 22 in heaven: Jesus had moved to a heavenly sanctuary.

White claimed to have visions that helped form the doctrine of Adventism in the modern era. The visions helped define the belief held by Seventh-day Adventists that a Second Coming would happen at some unknown date in the future, on which day all people would be judged by God. The Seventh-day Adventist Church engages in missionary work all over the world, and claims 8 million followers.

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