|New Light in the New World
One of the most solemn and yet most glorious truths revealed in the Bible is that of Christ’s second coming to complete the great work of redemption. When the Savior was about to be separated from His disciples, He comforted them in their sorrow with the assurance that He would come again: “In My Father’s house are many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go, . . . I will come again, and receive you unto Myself (John 14:1–3). “The Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him.” “Then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations” (Matthew 25:31, 32).
The coming of the Lord has been in all ages the hope of His true followers. Amid suffering and persecution, the “appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” was the “blessed hope.”
Bible prophecy not only gives details regarding the manner and object of Christ’s coming, but presents signs by which men are to know when it is near.
"Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." Amos 3:7
Prophecy not only foretells the manner and object of Christ’s coming, but presents tokens by which men are to know when it is near. Said Jesus: “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars” (Luke 21:25). “The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:24–26). The revelator thus descries the first of the signs to precede the second advent: “There was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood” (Revelation 6:12).
In the fulfillment of this prophecy there occurred, in the year 1755, the most terrible earthquake that has ever been recorded. Though commonly known as the earthquake of Lisbon, it extended to the greater part of Europe, Africa, and America. It was felt in Greenland, in the West Indies, in the islands of Madeira, in Norway and Sweden, Great Britain and Ireland. It pervaded an extent of not less than four million square miles.
Twenty-five year later appeared the next sign mentioned in the prophecy—the darkening of the sun and moon. What rendered this more striking was the fact that the time of its fulfillment had been definitely pointed out. “In those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light” (Mark 13:24). On the 19th of May, 1780, this prophecy was fulfilled.
“The darkness was most dense shortly after eleven o'clock.” (The Essex Antiquarian, April, 1899, vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 53, 54). “In most parts of the country it was so great in the daytime, that the people could not tell the hour by either watch or clock, nor dine, nor manage their domestic business, without the light of candles” (William Gordon, History of the Rise, Progress & Establishment of the Interdependence of the U.S.A., vol. 3, pg. 57).
May 19, 1780, stands in history as “The Dark Day.” Since the time of Moses no period of darkness of equal density, extent, and duration, has ever been recorded. The description of this event, given by eye witnesses, is but an echo of the words of the Lord, recorded by the prophet Joel, twenty-five hundred years previous to their fulfillment: “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come” (Joel 2:31).
“When these things begin to come to pass then look up, and lift up your heads; for our redemption draweth night” (Luke 21:28).
Absorbed in worldliness and pleasure seeking, the professed people of God were blinded to the Savior’s instructions concerning the signs of His appearing. The doctrine of the second advent had been neglected. Especially was this the case in the churches of America.
To prepare a people to stand in the day of God, a great work of reform was to be accomplished. God saw that many of His professed people were not building for eternity, and in His mercy He was about to send a message of warning to arouse them from their stupor and lead them to make ready for the coming of the Lord.
This warning is brought to view in Revelation 14. Here is a threefold message represented as proclaimed by heavenly beings and immediately followed by the coming of the Son of man to reap “the harvest of the earth.” The first of these warnings announces the approaching judgment. The prophet beheld an angel flying “in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Revelation 14:6, 7).
This message is declared to be a part of “the everlasting gospel.” The work of preaching had not been committed to angels, but has been entrusted to men. Holy angels have been employed in directing this work, they have in charge the great movements for the salvation of men; but the actual proclamation of the gospel is performed by the servants of Christ upon the earth. Faithful men, who were obedient to the promptings of God’s Spirit and the teachings of His Word, were to proclaim this warning to the world.
William Miller, an upright, honest-hearted farmer, who had been led to doubt the divine authority of the Scriptures, yet who sincerely desired to know the truth, was the man specially chosen of God to lead out in the proclamation of Christ’s second coming.
Endeavoring to lay aside all preconceived opinions, and dispensing with commentaries, he compared scripture with scripture. As he studied with earnest prayer for divine enlightenment, that which had before appeared dark to his understanding was made clear. He experienced the truth of the psalmist’s words: “The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Psalm 119:130).
With intense interest he studied the books of Daniel and the Revelation, and found, to his great joy, that the prophetic symbols could be understood. He saw that the prophecies, so far as they had been fulfilled, and had been fulfilled literally; that all the various figures, metaphors, parables, similitudes, etc., were either explained in their immediate connection, or the terms in which they were expressed were defined in other scriptures, and when thus explained were to be literally understood. Link after link of the chain of truth rewarded his efforts, as step by step he traced the great lines of prophecy. Angels of heaven were guiding his mind and opening the Scriptures to his understanding.
Miller found the literal, personal coming of Christ to be plainly taught in the Scriptures. Says Paul: “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God” (1Thessalonians 4:16). And the Savior declares: “They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:30, 27). He is to be accompanied by all the hosts of heaven. “The Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him” (Matthew 25:31). “And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect” (Matthew 24:31).
At His coming the righteous dead will be raised, and the righteous living changed. “We shall not all sleep,” says Paul, “but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). And in his letter to the Thessalonians, after describing the coming of the Lord, he says: “The dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).
The prophecy which seemed most clearly to reveal the time of the second advent was Daniel 8:14: “Unto two thousand and three hundred days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” Following his rule of making Scripture its own interpreter, Miller learned that a day in symbolic prophecy represents a year (Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6.); he saw that the period of 2300 prophetic days, or literal years, would extend far beyond the close of the Jewish dispensation, hence it could not refer to the sanctuary of that dispensation. Miller accepted the generally received view that in the Christian age the earth is the sanctuary, and he therefore understood that the cleansing of the sanctuary foretold in Daniel 8:14 represented the purification of the earth by fire at the second coming of Christ. If, then, the correct starting point cold be found for the 2300 days, he concluded that the time of the second advent cold be readily ascertained.
With a new and deeper earnestness, Miller continued the examination of the prophecies, whole nights as well as days being devoted to the study of what now appeared of such stupendous importance and all-absorbing interest. In the eighth chapter of Daniel he could find no clue to the starting point of the 2300 days; the angel Gabriel, though commanded to make Daniel understand the vision, gave him only a partial explanation. As the terrible persecution to befall the church was unfolded to the prophet’s vision, physical strength gave way. He could endure no more and the angel left him for a time. Daniel “fainted, and was sick certain days.” “And I was astonished at the vision,” he says, “but none understood it.”
Yet God had bidden His messenger, “Make this man to understand the vision.” That commission must be fulfilled. In obedience to it, the angel some time afterward returned to Daniel, saying: “I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding;” “Therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision” (Daniel 8:27, 16; 9:22, 23, 25-27). There was one important point in the vision of chapter 8 which had been left unexplained, namely, that relating to time—the period of the 2300 days; therefore the angel, in resuming his explanation, dwells chiefly upon the subject of time:
“Seventy week are determined upon they people and upon thy Holy City. . . . Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself: . . . And He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.”
The angel had been sent to Daniel for the express purpose of explaining to him the point which he had failed to understand in the vision of the eighth chapter, the statement relative to time—“Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” The very first words of the angel are: “Seventy weeks are determined upon they people and upon they Holy City.” The word here translated “determined” literally signifies “cut off.” Seventy weeks, representing 490 years, are declared by the angel to be cut off, as specially pertaining to the Jews. But from what were they cut off? As the 2300 days was the only period of time mentioned in chapter 8, it must be the period from which the seventy week were cut off; the seventy weeks must therefore be a part of the 2300 days, and the two periods must begin together. The seventy weeks were declared by the angel to date from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem. If the date of this commandment could be found, then the starting point for the great period of the 2300 days would be ascertained.
In the seventh chapter of Ezra the decree is found. Verses 12-26. In its completest form it was issued by Artaxerxes, king of Persia, in 457 B.C. Three kings, in originating, reaffirming, and completing the decree, brought it to the perfection required by the prophecy to mark the beginning of the 2300 years. Taking 457 B.C. when the decree was completed, as the date of the commandment, every specification of the prophecy concerning the seventy weeks was seen to have been fulfilled.
“From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks”—namely, sixty-nine weeks, or 83 years. The decree of Artaxerxes went into effect in the autumn of 457 B.C. From this date 483 years extend to the autumn of A.D. 27. At that time this prophecy was fulfilled. In the autumn of A.D. 27 Christ was baptized by John and received the anointing of the Spirit. After His baptism He went into Galilee, “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled” (Mark 1:14, 15).
“And He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.” The “week” here brought to view is the last one of the seventy: it is the last seven years of the period allotted especially to the Jews. During this time, extending from A.D. 27 to A.D. 34, Christ at first in person and afterward by His disciples, extended the gospel invitation especially to the Jews. As the apostles went forth with the good tidings of the kingdom the Savior’s direction was “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10: 5, 6).
“In the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” In A.D. 31, three and a half years after His baptism, our Lord was crucified. With the great sacrifice offered upon Calvary, ended that system of offerings which for four thousand years had pointed forward to the Lamb of God. Type had met antitype, and all the sacrifices and oblations of the ceremonial system were there to cease.
The seventy weeks, or the 90 years, especially allotted to the Jews, ended, as we have seen, in A.D. 34. At that time, through the action of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the nation sealed its rejection of the gospel by the martyrdom of Stephen and the persecution of the followers of Christ. Then the message of salvation, no longer restricted to the chosen people, was given to the world. The disciples, forced by persecution to flee from Jerusalem, “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
Thus far every specification of the prophecies is strikingly fulfilled, and the beginning of the seventy weeks is fixed beyond the questions at 45 B.C., and their expiration in A.D. 34. From this data there is no difficulty finding the termination of the 2300 days. The seventy weeks—490 days—having been cut off from the 2300, there were 1810 years days remaining. After the end of the 490 days, the 1810 days were still to be fulfilled. From A.D. 34, 1810 years extend to 1844. Consequently the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 terminate in 1844. At the expiration of this great prophetic period, upon the testimony of the angel of God, “the sanctuary shall be cleansed.” Thus the time of the cleansing of the sanctuary—which was almost universally believed to take place at the second advent—was definitely pointed out.
In 1833, two years after Miller began to present in public the evidences of Christ’s soon coming, the last of the signs appeared which were promised by the Savior as tokens of His second advent. Said Jesus: “The stars shall fall from heaven” (Matthew 24:29). This prophecy received a striking and impressive fulfillment in the great meteoric shower of November 13, 1833. That was the most extensive and wonderful display of falling stars which has ever been recorded.