What happened in 1844?

Book pages.

I've been wondering what really happened in 1844 and why Adventists believe it happened. I presume it's based on the bible, but I can't find it. Will you explain it to me? -Lars from Denmark.

The whole issue of 1844 is based on the 2300 day prophecy of Daniel 8:14. To understand anything in Daniel you need to remember what the purpose of the book is. Daniel's very name means "God is my judge" and the stories in the first part of the book, along with the prophecies that get more and more complex as the book goes on, are there to show us that God is in control, and that even while bad things may be going on down here on earth (Israel in captivity, a pagan king in power, God's people oppressed, Messiah not yet come), victory is already assured in heaven (Dan 2:44, 7:9-14, 12:1-3). The same theme is continued in the Book of Revelation. Both books were written to give hope to people in times of difficulty. That hope, quite rightly, transferred itself into the development of the Adventist church in the 1800's.

Many people from the 18th century on, started to take a particular interest in the Book of Daniel and realised that it had a message not just for the people of Daniel's day, not just for the people of the time of Jesus, but also for people living at what they saw as the climax of this earths history, the time just before Jesus would come again. They read Daniel 12:4, "But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge." 

As they read Daniel they found they were understanding the prophecies. People like the scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, famous for discovering gravity, also were deep students of Daniel and came to understand and appreciate the various prophe cies and the times elements indicated in some of them. There was a growing awareness that Jesus second coming would be soon. While people were discovering this all across the world, the largest group was in the United States under the leadership of William Millar, again an avid Bible Scholar.

They took the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed" and asked the question, which sanctuary is the angel in Daniels vision talking about? 

  • The literal sanctuary or temple in Jerusalem? This was already destroyed in AD70 and the preceding part of the prophecy already took us way beyond that date.

  • The sanctuary Daniel had seen in vision in heaven? If it is there then surely it would not need cleansing. It should already be pure.

  • The sanctuary of each individual person who accepts Christ? (1 Cor 3:16 ) But this would be an individual cleansing and therefore would not seem to fit the prophecy.

  • The sanctuary of God?s people here on earth made up of the church? (Eph 2:21)

Following the idea of the Jewish temple being cleansed each year on the Day of Atonement they came to the conclusion that God?s temple, the church, would be totally cleansed of sin at the end of the 2300 day period. They then needed to work out when that period ended.

They did this by using the principle in prophecy of one day equaling a year (e.g. Ezekiel 4:6). In brief, they took the starting date of the 2300 days as the same as the starting date for the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem in Daniel 9:25. This is totally logical as Daniel 9 is an explanation and expansion of Chapter 8. The decree was issued in 457 BC. Add 2300 and it will take you to 1843. That is when the Millerites first thought Jesus would return and is known in Adventist history as the first disappointment. They then looked at the maths a little more closely and realized that in jumping from BC to AD there is no zero year and so they needed to add one more year. As the Jewish day of atonement in 1844 landed on October 22 they settled on that as the day Jesus would return. Of course, he didn?t, and the day is known in history as the ?Great Disappointment?. 

What was most disappointing is that they had carefully studied through he prophecies of Daniel 7 & 9 and had rightly worked out the time periods leading up to Christ's ministry, death, and the opening up of his mission to the gentiles with the stoning of Stephen in AD44. What they had misjudged was the event in 1844. Further study, particularly of the book of Hebrews (e.g. 9:11-12, 22-23) led them to understand that what happened in 1844 was not Christ coming again but a change in the role of his ministry as he moved into the last phase before he does literally return, a hope that all Adventists hold dear to (1 Thess 4:16-18, etc.) This phase is sometimes called the pre-Advent judgment or as Revelation 14:7 puts it, "the hour of his judgment". The sanctuary was, indeed, the one in heaven as seen more clearly in the Book of Hebrews. 

A fuller explanation of all this (and there is a lot of it) can be found by reading Mervyn Maxwell's Book on Daniel, "God Cares". 

In recent times various groups within Adventism see this period in slightly different ways. Whichever way you look at it we can be clear that:

  • The last time prophecy of the Bible has happened

  • That we do live in what the Bible calls ?the last days?.

  • That God is doing as much as he can to have as many people as possible ready and waiting for him when he returns.

  • That Daniel and Revelation, along with the rest of the Bible, are there to give us hope and to show us that our God is a God of Victory and that he wants us to be winners with him.

  • That it is very clear from Scripture that God has a special place for each of us and that we have nothing to fear for the future as long as we trust in God.

This is a very brief answer to a very complicated question. I hope it is of some help to you.



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