The churches of northeastern America grew rapidly in the early 1800s, fueled by one revival after another. The new Christians had little theological education, yet many of them began to discuss details of biblical prophecy with great vigor. Speculation boiled over as to the exact day and year when Christ would return, and among the speculators was William Miller of New York.
Miller, when newly converted, had torn into the prophecies of Daniel, concluding in 1818 that Christ would return in 1843 or 1844. When he later began preaching, this became a keynote of his messages, and his listeners, finding him earnest, eloquent, and sincere, multiplied. He finally announced that Christ would return to earth on October 22, 1844.
The financial panic of 1839 contributed to the belief that the end of the world was approaching. Enthusiasm for Christ’s return became so great that prophetic charts were added alongside stock-market listings and current events in the newspapers. Miller’s teachings swept through New England, and large numbers espoused Millerism.
As the morning of October 22, 1844 dawned, a sense of fear and foreboding fell over New England. People gathered on mountaintops and in churches. Normal activities ceased as everyone awaited the sudden rending of the skies and the end of the world. When the day passed uneventfully, many Christians grew disillusioned. The unsaved became cynical. The following years saw a decline in conversions, and the period of revivals came to an abrupt end. The event became known as “The Great Disappointment.”
Some of Miller’s followers, however, pressed on, and their efforts evolved into the Seventh Day Adventist movement.
No one knows the day or hour. The angels in heaven don’t know, and the Son himself doesn’t know. Only the Father knows. When the Son of Man appears, things will be just as they were when Noah lived. People were eating, drinking, and getting married right up to the day that the flood came and Noah went into the big boat. They didn’t know anything was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man appears. (Matthew 24:36-39)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Oct.22.