Their hearts were heavy. Their thoughts were troubled. How could so many prophecies be wrong? They had spent two long, sleepless nights. Cowering in fear, these weary, confused believers huddled in a crowded room in Jerusalem. The cross had dashed their hopes, crushing their dreams.
Suddenly the resurrected Christ appeared. Everything changed. Hope revived; faith was renewed. Christ explained that He was returning to the Father, but that He would send His Holy Spirit to empower His fledgling church to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Following Christ’s ascension, the disciples waited, prayed, believed, and received the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Filled with the Spirit, the disciples unashamedly proclaimed everywhere the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Lord.
These early believers had misinterpreted the Old Testament prophecies and misunderstood the nature of Christ’s first advent. They confused His kingdom of grace with His kingdom of glory. They thought the Messiah would vanquish their enemies and set up an earthly kingdom. But once they understood the true meaning of His mission their lives were transformed. Jesus led them from disappointment to triumph.
Fast-forward 1,800 years. Listen to the sobs of another small group of disciples. Imagine their deep disappointment. They too enthusiastically studied the prophecies of the Messiah’s return. They too believed He would soon set up His kingdom. They too were bitterly disappointed.
This was not A.D. 31 and the disappointment of Christ’s first-century church. It was A.D. 1844 and the disappointment of His last-day church. They looked to their ascended Lord in heaven’s sanctuary to discover the meaning of their disappointment. There they discovered that the hour of their disappointment was an hour of divine appointment. No longer business as usual, the longest time prophecy in the Bible—2300 years—had run out. They were living in the judgment hour. They believed that Christ was coming soon, and they had an urgent, end-time message that the world must hear.
Some see the disappointment of 1844 as an embarrassing chapter in Seventh-day Adventist history. One evangelical scholar went so far as to call the doctrine of the heavenly sanctuary and pre-Advent judgment “a colossal face-saving device.”
Seventh-day Adventists understand it totally differently. We see our prophetic rise chronicled in Revelation 10. Here the apostle John, exiled on the Isle of Patmos, saw in vision “another mighty angel coming down from heaven” with “a little scroll, which lay open in his hand”; a universal message for all humanity. With a solemn oath the angel cries out that there should be “no more delay” and that “the mystery of God will be accomplished” (Rev. 10:1, 6, 7).
The angel was obviously not talking about literal time. His message was declaring that prophetic time would run out at the conclusion of Daniel’s longest time prophecy, the 2300 days or 2300 years. According to the angel, the study of the “scroll” in his hand that had been closed would be “sweet” in the mouth but “sour” in the stomach (Rev. 10:9, 10). The only book in the Bible declared to be closed was the book of Daniel (Dan. 12:4, 9, 13).
As those early Adventists pored over Daniel’s prophecies, they were elated with what they had discovered. Daniel’s revelations were sweet in their mouth. They believed the cleansing of the sanctuary was the cleansing of the earth by fire. Jesus was coming. And when Christ did not come on that October morning in 1844, they were bitterly disappointed.
What would happen to these disappointed, faithful Advent believers? Would they simply die out in insignificance? The angel declares, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings” (Rev. 10:11).
This prophecy has been powerfully fulfilled. Today Seventh-day Adventists work in more than 200 countries, with nearly 25 million attending Adventist churches. With an urgency borne of a divine mandate, Seventh-day Adventists are totally committed to fulfilling the mission of Christ and carrying the message of a crucified, resurrected, soon-coming Savior to the world.
Once again God has carved a divine movement of destiny out of disappointment.
Mark A. Finley is editor-at-large for Adventist Review and an assistant to the General Conference president. This article was published October 17, 2013.