Baptist preacher William Miller developed a large following based on his interpretations of the prophecies in the Book of Daniel 8:14 “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” Millerite congregations sprang up after Miller began to preach his doctrine of the Earth scourged by fire and the Second Advent of Christ come to save believers in 1831. He calculated that Jesus Christ would return to earth and appear to the saved some time in 1843-44. The movement spread over northern states which had previously been gripped the religious frenzy of the Second Great Awakening.William Miller looked like a small town school master in this popular etching. More idealized portraits sans spectacles followed making him look more masterful and handsome. The movement knew how to use media.
Although Miller never set a precise date he argued that the Advent would occur during the Jewish Year 5604, between March 21, 1843 and March 20, 1844. Many of his followers gave up all their possessions to await the end. When March 20, 1844 came and went without either Fire or Jesus, many of his disciples were discouraged. But many kept the faith, even when Miller admitted that he had been in error and sought explanations.One of the widely circulated versions of Miller's Prophetic Chart explaining the meanings of the visions reported in the Book of Daniel and in the New Testament Book of Revelations.
At a Millerite camp meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire in August Samuel S. Snow, announced that he had discovered the error in Miller’s original calculation, which were based on one day=one year from 457 B.C. when Artaxerxes I of Persia granted permission for the Jews to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. Using the calendar of the Karaite Jews instead of the Rabbinic calendar consulted my Miller, Snow determined that “The tenth day of the seventh month [Jewish] of the present year, 1844” as the true date. He equated that with October 22, 1844.
Aided by sensationalized press accounts, Snow’s prediction spread like wildfire. Not only was it accepted by—with Miller’s approval—by the sect, but it spread to other Evangelicals.
|After the Great Disappointment, the Millerites were widely mocked but many clung to their faith although they splintered on explanations for the failure of the prophesy.|
On October 22 tens of thousands gathered, on high ground if possible, surrounded by their families. Many, taking a cue from Scripture wore white robes for the Rapture. When nothing happened, they drifted off faced with rebuilding their lives. October 23 was called the Great Disappointment.
Many, if not most of the Millerites abandoned their faith and returned to the conventional and orthodox denominations from which they had come. Those who had not been committed Millerites, but accepted the prophesy were especially bitter. Millerite churches in several towns and cities were attacked or burned and adherents violently assaulted. Miller himself commented on the cruel mockery of small children.
But a core group remained true believers. However, they soon split into three factions. The first faction, initially the largest, believed that Oct. 22 had shut the door to salvation to all but the Wise Virgins—those who believed in the message. This group awaited daily rapture.
The second group soon eclipsed the first. It held that the Oct. 22 date was in err. Led by Joshua Hines who eventually recruited Miller himself, argued that since the door was not shut, people newly coming to the faith might also be saved in an imminent, if unknowable, Second Coming. This group eventually founded the Advent Christian Church.
The third group was the most successful of all. The believed that Oct. 22 was a correct and significant date, but that it had been misinterpreted. The sanctuary cleansed that day was not on Earth but in Heaven. Eventually a “light would be given and their disappointment explained.” Out of this group arose the Seventh Day Adventist Church and all of its many splinters, each with its own interpretation.
A splinter of one of those splinters was the Branch Davidians, whose Waco, Texas compound was famously assaulted by Federal Agents which killed 82 of them on April 19, 1993. The tragically bungled operation was truly the End of the World for them.The Seventh Day Adventists are the largest of the sects or denominations inspired by Miller's vision. This is from a contemporary tract.
Oddly the Baha’i incorporated Miller’s prophesy and identified the return of Christ with their avatar the Báb who proclaimed himself in Persia in 1844.
Miller, the founder of all of this excitement, died in 1849 still waiting daily for the End.
There were other reported “ends of the world” in American history. Notably the Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted the end in 1914, 1918, 1925, and 1942. They were wrong, too. As were Chuck Smith and Edgar Whisenant in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s and radio evangelist Harold Camping as recently as 2011.
It is apparently a game anyone can play. Anybody up for an End of the World pool? Winner takes the pot and has eternity to spend it.