The Great Disappointment of 1844. The Birth of Fractionalisation of the Christian Faith.

Title Image: William Miller (1782-1849). Credit: Public Domain

As a person with some experience of the Christian Church, I am often asked about why there are so many different types (Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Presbyterians etc.) – does that mean that there are many different versions of God and Jesus or is it a version of Commercial Branding?

This post is not designed to explain the politics of the Christian World. The fruit of the different denominations of churches is there for all to see. This is an historical account of the birth of three particular branches of Christianity:

• The Seventh Day Adventists (Adventist Movement)
• The Jehovah’s Witnesses and
• The Advent Christian Church

On October 22, 1844, as many as 100,000 Christians gathered on hillsides, in meeting places and in meadows. They were breathlessly and joyously expecting the return of their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Others flung themselves off roof tops, convinced of their salvation.


Image: Pixabay

William Miller (1782-1849) was a Baptist preacher in upstate New York who rose to prominence in the 1840s. His prominence came about due to his prophecy that Christ would return in 1843.

He based this prophecy upon a verse from the Bible, Daniel, 8,14: ‘Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed’. Converting days into years and convinced that the 2,300-day period started in 457 B.C. with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem by Artaxerxes I of Persia, his interpretation led him to believe and promote the year 1843.

Despite the urging of his supporters, Miller never announced an exact date for the expected Second Advent. But he did narrow the time period to sometime in the Jewish year 5604, stating: “My principles in brief, are, that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, cleanse, purify, and take possession of the same, with all the saints, sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.”

March 21, 1844, passed without incident, but the majority of Millerites maintained their faith.

In August 1844 at a meeting in New Hampshire, Samuel S. Snow, a colleague of Miller’s, presented his own interpretation. By virtue of Biblical studies and calendar anomalies, he concluded that Christ would return on October 22nd 1844.
October 22nd came and went. Miller was reduced to a laughing stock, eventually dying a broken man in 1849. The Millerite movement was attacked violently with churches burned and desecrated and neighbourhoods attacked.

Eventually, the stalwarts regrouped. The prophecy was reinterpreted: “The sanctuary to be cleansed in Daniel 8:14 was not the earth or the church, but the sanctuary in heaven.” Therefore, the October 22 date marked not the Second Coming of Christ, but rather a heavenly event.

This was the start of the Seventh Day Adventists.

Other factions of the Miller Movement regrouped. One formed the Advent Christian Church in Salem in 1860, now headquartered in Charlotte. Today there are several ‘Adventist’ church groups.


Zion’s Watch Tower Oct1, 1907 Source Wikimedia

Charles Taze Russell was another of the Millerite adherents, though he disagreed with the reasons for the return of Christ, believing that he would return before Armageddon to oversee the destruction of earth.


Image: World’s Last Chance

In 1879 Russell started to publish a pamphlet: ‘Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence’, now ‘The Watch Tower’.
By 1904, Russell’s doctrinal development was almost complete. His sixth and final part of “Studies in the Scriptures”, The New Creation, established that Revelation 7 spoke of two heavenly classes of Christians — 144,000 who would serve as a royal priesthood with Christ and a Great Company who would be brought to perfection on a lesser plane, similar to that of angels, serving the 144,000.

1914 was set as the start of the generation of the 144,000 and was prescribed as the date of the start of Armageddon. 1975 was then proclaimed as being the date of the ‘end of days’. Thousands sold their homes and quit their jobs to become evangelists for the little time they had left.

The climb-down and embarrassment from the 1975 fiasco caused a huge shake-up in the whole movement. In 2010, the definition of the ‘generation’ was changed again, wherein the lives of anointed individuals living in 1914 overlap with a second group alive in the present day.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to teach that Armageddon is imminent.

All Rights Reserved. ©Edward Bryans 2017. No unauthorised reproduction of this post in whole or in part is permitted without the express written consent of the author


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