by David A. Reed COMPLETE BOOK ONLINE
Much of my time during the past two decades has been devoted to researching failed prophecies concerning the return of Christ. The prophecies that failed were not found in the Bible, but, rather, originated in the sermons and writings of various religious leaders here in America during the past two hundred years. Yet, the promulgators of these predictions setting specific dates for the apocalypse all claimed to be interpreting biblical prophecy.
The American date-setting spree began with the prophecies of Baptist lay preacher William Miller, who declared that Christ would return in March of 1843. He gained a large following from many mainline churches, but the date came and went without the predicted event. So, he recalculated his chronology and came up with a new date; he blamed the revision on a one-year error in the first calculations. Now, Christ would return in March of 1844. That prophecy, too, proved to be false, so Miller made a third attempt, this time specifying October of 1844.
As if catching the prophetic bug from Miller, or perhaps to compete with his contemporary whose predictions captured newspaper headlines, Joseph Smith, the founder, leader and official "Prophet" of the Mormon Church, set his own timetable that would have had Christ returning around the year 1890.
Mormons never made a big fuss over Joseph Smith's off-the-cuff predictions, and quickly forgot about them, but a remnant of William Miller's movement persisted, although fragmented into several schismatic Adventist groups. The Advent Christian Church, the Life and Advent Union, the Seventh-day Adventists, and various small Second Adventist groups all sprang from the Millerite movement. Some Adventists recalculated Miller's dates, found what they believed to be a thirty-year error, and began proclaiming after the American Civil War that Christ would return in the autumn of 1874. When that date passed and nothing occurred, however, some die-hard sect members took a new approach: they insisted that their calculations could not possibly be in error, so Christ must have returned on schedule, only invisibly. This viewpoint found expression in a periodical titled Herald of the Morning, published by Nelson H. Barbour of Rochester, New York.
After associating with Adventist groups for about ten years, in 1879 the young assistant editor of Herald of the Morning broke away to start his own magazine, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. Watchtower founder Charles Taze Russell succeeded in reaching a much wider audience with his assertions that Christ had returned invisibly in 1874 and that the world would end in the autumn of 1914. Those dates were later abandoned, but Russell's successors in the modern day Jehovah's Witnesses went on to teach during the late 1960's that Christ's triumphant battle of Armageddon could be expected to occur in the autumn of 1975.
Details and documentation of these failed prophecies can be found in several of my books, including Answering Jehovah's Witnesses Subject by Subject (1996, Baker Book House) and Mormonism: Changes, Contradictions and Errors (by John R. Farkas and David A. Reed, 1995, Baker Book House).
My research made me conversant also with the failed prophecies of various other groups, too, both cultic and those closer to mainstream Christianity. All of these forays into date-setting failed for fairly obvious reasons. In some cases corrupt cult leaders stirred up false expectations for their own selfish purposes. In other cases sincere Bible believers got carried away in their eagerness for Christ's return and went beyond what was written in Scripture, adding their own imagination and wishful thinking to what the Word of God actually said.
In all cases, however, regardless of the motives behind those making these pronouncements, they all abandoned sound methods of biblical interpretation in favor of twisted reasoning and bogus logic.
On the receiving end of all these false prophecies were millions of real people who were deeply disappointed and who suffered very real hurt. The failure of William Miller's predictions that Christ would return in 1844 was labeled by historians as "the Disappointment of 1844." Some victims of failed prophecies lost faith entirely, while others were forced to undergo a painful re-examination of what they believed and why. Some had quit jobs, sold homes, or made other sacrifices on the assurance that money and possessions would no longer be needed after the predicted date.
In every case it was human interpretation the failed, not the prophecies of Scripture itself. To the contrary, Bible prophecy has an excellent track record, as I will document in several chapters of this book.
Researching the lives and works of false prophets has made me painfully aware of the danger of going "beyond what is written" in Scripture. (1 Corinthians 4:6 NIV) Yet, at the same time, Jesus told us to "keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." (Matthew 24:42 NIV)
Watch for what? For Jesus to come? No, rather he indicated that there would be signs to watch for that would signal the imminence of his return. "When these things begin to take place," we would know that the time was near. (Luke 21:28 Jerusalem Bible) Keeping on the watch involves efforts to match the things happening in the world -- current events -- with the things prophesied in Scripture. However, that is not an easy task.
Human understanding of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy has always been better in hindsight than in foresight. The faithful Hebrews watched to see how the prophetic words of the inspired prophets among them would be fulfilled. But they were often surprised when the fulfillment actually took place before their eyes, and it was not what they had expected.
This was especially true in regard to the prophecies about the long expected Messiah. The Jews weren't anticipating Jesus' lowly birth, his teachings contrary to the established authorities of the day, and his untimely and shameful death. The New Testament points back to dozens of verses in the Old Testament that foretold details of the Messiah's life and death, but most of them had gone unrecognized or been misunderstood before their fulfillment in Christ. (See the chapter titled "Promised Messiah" in this book.)
Similarly, many noble efforts have been made in our day to puzzle out the details of how the book of Revelation and other New Testament end times prophecies will be fulfilled. Yet sincere Christians who are knowledgeable of the Scriptures still may find themselves in opposite camps as to when the 'rapture' will occur in relation to the 'tribulation period' and in regard to other details of those prophetic passages, as I will explain later.
Scripture says that 'no man knows the day or the hour' of Christ's return (Matt. 24:36), but Jesus did say to watch for certain things that would indicate his return was very near, and a number of recent world events stand out as red flags in that regard. My aim in this present book is not to the fine tune the minor details of eschatology, nor to get into a theological debate over questionable interpretations. Rather I am grabbing hold of one of those red flags, taking it up, and waving it in air. I am calling attention to fulfillment of prophecy that anyone who reads it will be able to recognize.
This is the new red flag: as never before in human history, Jerusalem has become a problem for the whole world, and, also as never before in human history, the nations of the world are united in their determination to find a solution to that problem. In the light of Bible prophecy, the implications are staggering.
Whether you are a Bible believer or a skeptic sincerely exploring all possibilities, at least consider the evidence presented in the following chapters of Blue Helmets to Jerusalem.