As October 22, 1844, approached, Adventist businessmen closed their stores, and merchants locked their shops. Farmers abandoned their harvests. Potatoes remained in the ground. Apples rotted in the orchards. Teachers resigned from their schools. Large donations were given to publish the Midnight Cry. Hundreds of thousands of copies of this and other papers had been printed in New York and Boston during the previous three weeks.
“Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!” (Matt. 25:6).1
On October 19 the presses stopped running. Millerite preachers returned to their homes to be with their families. Young Ellen Harmon later wrote, “This was the happiest year of my life. My heart was full of glad expectation.”2
October 20. October 21. October 22. The world waited in suspense.
On the morning of October 22, 1844, Millerites gathered eagerly in tabernacles and churches, homes or tents. William Miller and his friends gathered by the maple grove beside his house, known today as Ascension Rock. All day they waited, but the Bridegroom did not appear. Evening came and deepened into night. At the tolling of the clock at midnight, all they had left were the taunts of their neighbors ringing in their ears. October 22 had ended, and Jesus had not come.
Oh, how their hearts were broken when Jesus’ coming failed to materialize. What confusion, doubt, and bitter sorrow filled their souls! Would their mistaken interpretation of Scripture derail their mission?
Critics of Adventism often poke fun at this part of our history. “False prophets! Another denomination meets its demise!” These same critics, however, fail to read the last verse of Revelation 10. “And he said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings’ ” (Rev. 10:11).
The Advent movement was born in the crucible of consternation and bitter disappointment. Far from dying, however, Adventism has risen from the ashes of its history and will indeed “prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.”
In order to understand Revelation 10, we need to first comprehend a parallel passage in Daniel 12. In Daniel 12:4-10 the prophet Daniel is given a special message, but at the same time he is told to “shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (verse 4).
A question arises from those standing near Daniel regarding how long the book is to be sealed. Even Daniel seems confused by the answer, “for a time, times, and half a time” (verse 7). When he again requests clarification, he is comforted with the following words: “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand” (verses 9, 10).
When the passagee is examined closely, it is plain that the Man with whom Daniel is conversing in Daniel 12 is Jesus Christ, the same individual whom John the revelator sees in Revelation 10. Both individuals are reverently taking an oath regarding the important message being given. In John’s vision, however, the little book is now open. John foresaw the time when the message of the little book would be understood, when the words would no longer cause confusion.
The book in Daniel’s day was not shut up forever. It was shut up only “until the time of the end,” the end of the 1260 years. Prophecies not understood before would be understood now.
Scholars generally believe that the 1260 years began early in the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian (in the 530s) and ended in the era of the French revolution (1789-1799) and the exile of Pope Pius VI by the French in 1798. With the arrival of the French Revolution, knowledge increased, the little scroll was opened, and the end-times had begun.
Aside from the 1260-day prophecy in Daniel 7, scholars also examined the 2300-day prophecy of Daniel 8:14. Scholars studying these apocalyptic writings were encouraged when they understood that the 1260-day prophecy had ended in 1798. They believed that the next big event would be the fulfillment of the 2300-day prophecy. After careful study they concluded that the 2300-day prophecy began in 457 B.C. and ended in October 1844.
The Millerites understood Revelation 10:6, “There should be delay no longer,” to literally mean “There shall be no more time.” Seventh-day Adventists have also generally understood these verses to describe the message proclaimed in the years 1840 to 1844 by William Miller and others in connection with the close of the 2300-day prophecy of Daniel 8:14. With the close of the 1260-day prophecy in 1798, and the 2300-day prophecy ending in 1844, no further message bearing on a definite time will be given. We are now living in the time of the end.
John was told to eat the scroll and that it would be sweet in the mouth but bitter to the stomach. The Millerites hoped that Jesus would return to cleanse the world at the end of the 2300 days on October 22, 1844, but they were bitterly disappointed. Was their purpose and mission lost?
The mission of the remnant church is one of “prophesying.”
“You Must Prophesy Again”
As early as December 1844 Ellen White was given a vision of the worldwide nature of the church. She saw “jets of light like stars” “growing brighter, shining forth from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and lighting the whole world.”3 The angel told her these lights stood for people who “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and are obeying the words of Christ. These are the light of the world.”4
Eleven years after the organization of the General Conference in 1863, the church sent its first missionary, J. N. Andrews, to Switzerland. Since 1874 the three angels’ messages have been shared far and wide. In Europe today we have close to 400,000 believers.
“You must prophesy again.” Indeed! We preached in Africa. Today there are 6.9 million Adventists whose names are written in the book of life.
“You must prophesy again.” Absolutely! We carried the three angels’ messages throughout the Americas. There are now 7.1 million faithful believers in these lands.
“You must prophesy again.” Certainly! We proclaimed God’s final message in Asia. Today the blood of Jesus has washed 3.9 million Seventh-day Adventist Asians.
1863 Versus 2015
At the 1863 General Conference session, church membership stood at 3,500. At the 2015 General Conference session, the membership is 18.5 million, based on figures from December 2014.
At the 1863 General Conference session, there were 20 delegates from six of the seven conferences in existence at that time. At the 2015 General Conference session, there are 2,500 delegates from 633 missions and conferences.
In 1863 the Seventh-day Adventist membership was confined to just one “division.” In 2015 the Seventh-day Adventist membership is distributed throughout all corners of Planet Earth in 13 divisions.
In 1863 we had 125 churches. Today we have more than 148,023 congregations (including churches and companies) worshipping each Sabbath.
In 1863 we had only one publishing house. Today we have 63 publishing houses.
With the Lord’s blessing we have the largest Protestant educational system in the world, with 7,797 primary, secondary, and tertiary schools. In addition, we have 173 hospitals, 21 food industries, and 15 media centers. By accepting the Lord’s commission to prophesy again, we have indeed been abundantly blessed.
Historically Revelation 10 gave courage and focus to a church tested by doubt and disappointment. Today this message is even more urgent and relevant. There are, however, other crucial markers that define this church.
Revelation 12 identifies the characteristics of the remnant church. It describes the cosmic battle between God and Satan. Satan is cast out from heaven to the earth, where he persecutes the church. During this intense period of persecution the church flees to the wilderness for 1260 years. Despite great oppression, the faithful remnant remains true to God.
Two salient characteristics of this remnant church are found in Scripture. It includes those who keep the commandments of God, including the seventh-day Sabbath of the fourth commandment, and those who have the “testimony of Jesus,” which the Bible tells us is the Spirit of prophecy (see Rev. 19:10).
Revelation 10 defines the beginnings of the church; Revelation 12 describes the characteristics of the church; and Revelation 14 discloses the message of the church—the messages of the three angels found in Revelation 14:6-14. These messages are the last messages to the world—messages that we are privileged to share and vividly portray to the world.
The mission of the remnant church is one of “prophesying.” We have a specific and unique message to share with the world. The church has been commissioned to go to every nation, tongue, and people with this message in order to make disciples. This is our mission.
Whenever the church wanders from this call to “prophesy,” it loses its reason for existence. The church does not exist to educate people simply for the sake of scholastic success. It educates to save. The work of education and redemption are one.
The church does not exist simply to relieve suffering, as important as that may be. The church heals the sick as a means to an end. Healing the body makes way for the healing of the heart at the foot of the cross. Medical missionary work is the right arm of the gospel.
The remnant church exists for one reason: to “prophesy” the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to a world that needs to hear God’s final invitation.
The Millerites expected Jesus to return, but were disappointed. There was yet more work to do. “You must prophesy again.” This worldwide work in preparation for the coming of the Lord in power and great glory is our work.
Jesus put it succinctly in His famous end-time sermon. “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14).
In Westminster Abbey an inscription is written on the tomb of the great missionary David Livingstone that quotes from John 10:16: “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold.” These other sheep must also hear the call of Jesus. We must “prophesy again” to all nations, and tongues, and kings.
The need for Christian mission is greater now than ever before. Millions have never heard the story of Jesus. Our burden is to take the good news of the gospel to others until all have heard and the work is done, and sin, pain, and death are put to an end.
Today jets of light must encircle the globe, reaching into every nation, bringing light to every home and community. As Seventh-day Adventists, we must confidently proclaim, “Arise! Shine! Jesus is coming! Our redemption draws near.”
G. T. Ng is the executive secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. A former university professor, theological seminary dean, and division secretary, he lives with his wife, Ivy, in Laurel, Maryland, United States.