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Regarding His words, that the Son of man shall “come in the clouds of heaven.” By the term “clouds” is meant those things that are contrary to the ways and desires of men. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, p. 56.
On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse telegraphed the world’s first long distance message – “What hath God Wrought?” The question, selected from the Bible’s Book of Numbers 23:23, could be rightly asked of the scientific invention that formed the crude but undeniable basis of the 21st century miracle of global connectivity. This question could also be asked of the religious fervor for the return of Christ that climaxed during that same year.
The religious implications of this breakthrough scientific innovation inflamed the imagination of a global community of Adventists, who had come to the conclusion that the Return of Christ would occur between the years 1843-1844. To understand how they had arrived at this time; let’s consider the rationale and calculations of William Miller, one of the most influential leaders of the Advent, whose several thousand copies of Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ helped to lend rigor to the Advent movement. See a copy of the original publication.
Miller started his book with well-known prophecies of the Return of Christ found in the prophecies of Matthew and Daniel:
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place. – Matthew 24:14-15
How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot? And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed. – Daniel 8:13-14
Here’s Miller’s rationale for his conclusion, in his own words:
What must we understand by days? In the prophecy of Daniel it is invariably to be reckoned years; for God hath so ordered the prophets to reckon days. Numb. xiv. 34, “After the number of days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall you bear your iniquities, even forty years. – Evidence from Scripture, p. 46.
When did the 2300 years begin? …Let us begin it where the angel told us, from the going forth of the decree to build the walls of Jerusalem in troublous times, 457 years before Christ; take 457 from 2300, and it will leave A.D. 1843; or take 70 weeks of years, being 490 years, from 2300 years, and it will leave 1810 after Christ’s death. Add his life, (because we begin to reckon our time at his birth,) which is 33 years, and we come to the same A.D. 1843. – Ibid.
From 1843 through the fall of 1844, earnest Adventists and their detractors looked to the heavens expecting to see Jesus descend on the clouds, sweeping the faithful to heaven and destroying the world. They nurtured a vision of their Lord’s spectacular return not necessarily consistent with science but based on various interpretations of passages like this from Matthew 24:30:
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. – Matthew 24:30-31.
Despite their pious devotion and renunciation of worldly possessions, neither Miller nor his followers observed the Return of Christ in the manner they had imagined. Instead of being triumphantly ushered into heaven, they were left disillusioned on earth, wondering how something so fantastic and so predictable could have gone so horribly wrong.
Shortly after this, a group of German Adventists led by Christoff Hoffman and George David Hardegg formed the German Templar Society. They also believed in the imminent Return of Christ. However, they argued that the bible’s more incredible elements like “…unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 were allegorical, not literal.
The German Templars reasoned that Christ would return to the Holy Land in a way that no one had imagined. Perhaps Christ had already come while the people were unaware: “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:2
Hoffman and Hardegg led their followers to Haifa, Israel, arriving on October 1868, where to their surprise they discovered the leaders of a new religious movement that had begun on May 22, 1844 in Iran—exactly when they had predicted Christ would return.
In the Templars’ own words:
I can give notice of yet another spiritual phenomenon which can strengthen our belief. This concerns 70 Persians, who have been banished to Akka on account of their beliefs. – Suddeutsche Warte, June 29, 1871.
The German Templars held discourse with the Baha’is, and then established a thriving community at the foot of Mount Carmel, directly adjacent to the Baha’i shrines. Baha’is believe, of course, that the Templars and the Adventists correctly sensed the prophetic advent of a new religious dispensation, and that the Baha’i Faith fulfills and completes those prophecies.