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William Miller: Jesus to return in 1843

The idea of dating the return of Jesus is not new. Yet probably no one was more specific than William Miller (1782-1849). Miller was a Baptist preacher (although not ordained as far as I could tell). He spent most of his life as a farmer, with part of the time serving as sheriff and justice of the peace.

In 1816 Miller left his previous belief in Deism (God created the world and then left it to run on its own) and became a Christian. Having come from skeptical Deism, which challenged many Christian beliefs, Miller set out to defend his new-found faith. He searched the Bible for passages which clearly defined Christianity. What he ended up with was a prediction of the return of Jesus.

In the midst of his studying, he turned to the book of Daniel. He focused on Daniel 8:14: "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." He interpreted the "days" as "years," meaning that after 2300 years "the sanctuary [will] be cleansed." He interpreted the cleansing of the sanctuary to be the return of Jesus. But 2300 years after what? He believed this pivotal event to be the decree of the Greek king Artaxerxes in 457 BC to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem [which had been destroyed in 586 BC].

Doing the math: 2300 – 457 = 1843. So, Miller became convinced that Jesus would return around 1843. He began preaching his views in 1831 and attracted a large number of followers (estimates range from 30,000 to 100,000). Yet his followers wanted a more specific date than "about 1843." Miller studied Jewish calendars and celebrations and announced that Jesus would return between March 21, 1843 to March 21, 1844.

When March 22, 1844 arrived with no Jesus, Miller lost some followers. Yet other followers believed the true date to be October 22, 1844, which was the Jewish Day of Atonement. At first Miller did not accept this, but he changed his mind on October 6. With great anticipation, Miller and his followers prepared for October 6. October 7 arrived and no Jesus, yet Miller did not lose hope. He wrote on December 5, 1844: "Although I have been twice disappointed, I am not yet cast down or discouraged." He still believed that Jesus’ return was imminent when he died five years later, having lost most of his followers.

Some of his followers later formed into the Seventh-day Adventists.