The Apocalyptic Cry is Not New
The violent events outside Waco, Texas have surprised most people. David Koresh and his followers are declaring that God's judgement on this sinful world is imminent. It is imminent because Koresh claims to be the Lamb of Revelation who has the power to loose God's judgement. His preaching, he believes, will bring about his martyrdom and the end of the world. While his beliefs are bizarre, these apocalyptic predictions are not unique to David Koresh and his Branch-Davidians.
Peter the Hermit, in 1095, led one of the first crusades to liberate the Holy lands. He believed that his actions, which included the massacre of a community of Jews in Germany, would usher in the events of the Book of Revelations.
Joachim of Flor, a Cistercian monk, began an end-time movement which lasted half a century. He calculated Christ's return in the year 1260 and that an elite group of priests would arise to convert the Jews. Followers of the movement believed that the messiah would reincarnate in the person of a national ruler. When Fredrick II came to power, he encouraged speculation that he was God's instrument of deliverance for the Holy lands and the expected messiah. He led an army against the Turkish forces which held Jerusalem. After his victor Fredrick II declared himself King of Jerusalem. However the movement ended in 1250 with his death.
Thomas Muntzer tried to incite the German people to march against the Turks in 1524. The defeat of the Turks, who were seen as the anti-Christ, would bring the millennial kingdom. He was killed in battle by the German princes.
The parade of end-time prophets and messiahs has marched down through the ages to the present day. The most famous and certainly the most influential of these was Williams Miller. He was converted to Christianity in 1816 and began an intensive two year study of the Bible. At the end of his study he had formed this opinion: "I was thus brought, in 1818, at the close of my two year study of the Scriptures, to the solemn conclusion, that in about twenty five years from that time (1818) all the affairs of our present state would be wound up" (The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Froom, Vol. IV, p. 463).
Miller began to present his findings publicly in 1831. Based on Daniel 8-9, Miller counted 2300 years from the time Ezra was told he could return to Jerusalem to reestablish the Temple. The date of this event was calculated to be 457 B.C. Thus, 1843 became the date of Christ's return. As the appointed year grew closer, Miller specified 21 March 1843 to 21 March 1844 as his predicted climax of the age. The date was revised and set as 22 October 1844.
Failure of this event has come to be know as the "great disappointment." It is estimated that the Millerites, as they came to be known, 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).
Many Adventists, as they called themselves, left the movement. But many sought answers to the failure. Hiram Edson, one of Miller's followers, reported that he had a vision shortly after a prayer vigil. In his vision he saw Christ enter the heavenly Holy of Holies to begin purifying the heavenly sanctuary. His conclusion was that Miller was correct in his date setting but wrong about where Christ would appear. Christ was to cleanse the sanctuary in heaven, not on earth.
Another Millerite named Ellen G. White also had visions while in prayer. Her visions convinced the remaining Adventists that their movement was God's end-time remnant. She also confirmed Edson's interpretation because of a vision she had in February 1845. In time, White was proclaimed a prophetess whose revelations were held to be equal with scripture.
The question of the proper day of worship was raised by Fredrick Wheeler and Joseph Bates. Wheeler was challenged by a Seventh day Baptist to keep Saturday as the Lord's day. Bates, a retired sea captain, came to the same conclusion after a study of Sabbaterian material. Ellen G. White confirmed the seventh-day sabbath in another vision. The Seventh Day Adventist Church was a direct product of the apocalyptic teachings of William Miller. An emphasis on last days events and the belief in the soon return of Christ are cornerstones of Adventist theology.
The adoption of the seventh day Sabbath from the Seventh day Baptist also brought an emphasis on Old Testament law, especially the ten Commandments and food laws. The investigative judgement (see glossary of terms) doctrine offered by Hiram Edson added to the attention of law keeping.
All of these post-Miller Adventist leaders are important because of their doctrinal contributions to the original prediction of Christ's return. They are also important because of their influence on many non-Christian groups. What had started as a simple end-of-the-world prediction had evolved into a major new denomination with a complete system of theology.