Biblical prophecy was the foundation
of the Protestant Reformation.
From the first, and throughout,
that movement [the Reformation] was energized and guided by the
prophetic Word. Luther never felt strong and free to war against
the papal apostasy until he recognized the pope as antichrist. It
was then he burned the papal Bull. Knox’s first sermon, the
sermon which launched him on his mission as a Reformer, was on the
prophecies concerning the papacy [the Man of Sin]… All the
Reformers were unanimous in the matter…1
The Reformers believed Jesus
could not return until the Man of Sin/Antichrist was revealed (2
Thess. 1:13). Now that the Man of Sin had been identified, their
attention turned to the events that would lead to the second
To the Reformers, the books of
Daniel and Revelation in symbolic language contained the prophetic
history of the whole Christian Age—from Pentecost down to and
including the return of Jesus and the destruction of this world.
The Antichrist was Papacy. The time periods in Daniel of 1260,
1290, 1335 and 2300 days were symbolic. Each day symbolized a year
as revealed in Ezekiel 4:6—"I have appointed you a day for
Now the Reformers focused in on
the next prophetic events that would lead up to the second advent
of Jesus. After identifying the Man of Sin, the next milestone
would be the end of the 1260 years marked by a severe blow to
Papacy. On the basis of Revelation 11:4, 7 and 13 many mainline
clergy predicted the details of the French Revolution that would
result in the collapse of Papacy between 1795 and 1799 at the end
of the 1260 years. The incredible point is they made this
prediction 50-160 years before the event.3
The aged pope [Pius VI] was
dragged from the altar … His rings were torn from his fingers,
and finally, after declaring the temporal power abolished, the
victors [the French Revolutionary Army] carried the pope prisoner
into Tuscany, [where he died]. The papacy was extinct: not a
vestige of its existence remained.4
However, the historical record
also shows that the papacy revived.5 The papacy
destroyed and revived—this was incredible. It was the most
momentous phenomenon in church history. Revelation 13:3 clicked in
the minds of many Protestant leaders the world over. Surely they
reasoned this was the deadly wound of Antichrist that was
temporarily healed. In great expectation the floodlight of
Adventism swept across Europe and the United States. With the
ending of the 1260 years, mainline Protestants now believed the
second advent of Jesus was eminent. This wave of Adventism was a
logical sequence in the prophetic heritage of the Reformation.6
The much sensationalized William Miller was actually a late comer
to this worldwide Adventist phenomenon.7 The prophetic
faith of the Reformation seemed to be locked into a nineteenth
century expectation of the second advent. Martin Luther predicted
Jesus would return 300 years from his time. This would be between
1830-1850.8 In the latter 1700s John Wesley, founder of
the Methodist denomination, like many of his contemporaries
predicted 1836 for the date of the second advent.9
Joseph Wolff, world renowned
missionary, preached 1847 as the date of "the coming glory
and personal reign of Jesus Christ…" In 1836 Wolff was
invited to present his second advent message before the United
States Congress and the legislatures of New Jersey, Pennsylvania
What Went Wrong?
All of the expositors of
Adventism were generally correct by marking the 1790s as the
conclusion of the 1260 years resulting in the severe setback to
papacy. Then they variously calculated from 1836-1855 as the
ending of the 2300 years when the sanctuary class [the church] was
to be cleansed (Daniel 8). Actually, a nucleus of the sanctuary
class, the church, was finally cleansed at that time from the
defiling errors of papacy. But they erred by assuming that the
second advent would occur when the sanctuary was cleansed.
Many Protestant clergy from all
denominations were involved in Adventism during the first half of
the 1800s. Why was William Miller singled out for ridicule,
especially when he appeared on the scene later with much of the
same prophetic reasoning of those which preceded him? Miller was
an evangelist. He unfortunately used a date for the end of the
world to scare thousands to convert or be damned eternally. It’s
not that Joseph Wolff and others didn’t try. Miller was no
different than the fundamentalists today who threaten all with
eternal torment if they don’t accept Jesus before his eminent
return. They warn—"Will you be ready if Jesus comes
Actually the 19th century
Adventists were close in their calculations of the 1260 and 2300
day/years. The ending of the 1260 years of the persecuting power
of papacy (Daniel 7:21, 25) and the cleansing of the sanctuary
(church) from the defiling errors of papacy were milestones on the
church’s road to the Second Advent. See the book THY KINGDOM
Twentieth Century Fundamentalists
Fundamentalists of the 20th
century look with disdain at the prophetic struggles of their 19th
century brethren. The secret rapture, seven-year tribulationists
of the 20th century with their literal Man of Sin concept and
future literal 1260 days (3 1/2 years), departed from the
prophetic faith of the Reformation. Ironically, their prophetic
heritage traces back to the counter Reformation of the Jezuits.12
What has been the prediction
record of these seven-year tribulationists? Basic to their concept
is the "eminent coming" of Jesus. They claim that ever
since Jesus’ ascension, no prophetic event had to happen before
his return—for centuries he could have returned on any day. In
the words of John F. Walvoord, President of Dallas Theological
Seminary13 —"the Lord could come at any moment
and there are no necessary intervening events." The obvious
inconsistency is their seven-year tribulation must precede Jesus’
return. They cover here by claiming Jesus will secretly return to
rapture his saints. First a "secret presence" then
"every eye shall see him."
Still this is a false
prediction. Actually, John Darby back in the mid 1800s sold the
seven-year tribulation concept to some fundamentalists. During
the balance of the 1800s up until 1948 many fundamentalists
preached that Jesus could return any day. On May 14, 1948 a
prophetic miracle happened—the rebirth of the State of Israel.
This proved a prophetic event had to occur before their concept of
the second advent. Hal Lindsey, the student of Walvoord,
unwittingly destroyed the "eminent coming" theory when
he admitted14 —"The one event which many Bible
students in the past overlooked was this paramount prophetic sign:
Israel had to be a nation again in the land of its
forefathers." If they believed their "eminent
coming" theory was true, then they were wrong all the years
before 1948 in saying Jesus could return any day. Israel restored
proved their "eminent coming" theory was a failed
After 1948 Hal Lindsey and many
fundamentalists, on the basis of Israel and the generation of Luke
21:29-31, predicted that Jesus would return within 40 years of
1948.15 Well, 1988 came and passed without their secret
return of Jesus to rapture the church—another failed prediction
of the seven-year tribulationist.
Many set the date of 1988 for
other reasons than the 40-year generation. When that failed they
predicted 1989 for the return of Jesus. Yet none of their seven-year tribulationist brethren accused them of being false prophets.
For several years before 1994,
Harold Camping of Family Radio fame vigorously on radio and by
printed page predicted the return of Jesus in 1994. Another failed
date among the seven-year tribulationists, and of course,
fundamentalists would not call Camping a false prophet. Both the
19th century Reformation Adventists and the 20th century
fundamentalists have had their share of failed predictions. But we
should view kindly their attempts to have the Lord Jesus
Bible Students agree with our
seven-year tribulation friends that the prophetic events of
Matthew 24 are signs of Jesus parousia (Matt. 24:3), but we
disagree on the definition of parousia. We believe it is wrongly
rendered "coming" in some translations. In the last
fifty years, archaeologists have found hundreds of 1st and 2nd
century documents in which the Greek word parousia is used to
denote presence. There is no longer a question—parousia does
mean presence. Therefore, Bible Students believe that the
prophetic events in Matthew 24, such as the rebirth of Israel are
proofs that the Lord is present, not coming.
Just as our seven-year
tribulation friends believe, the Lord will first return secretly
before every eye shall see him, so Bible Students believe that the
prophetic events listed in Matthew 24 prove that Christ is now
secretly present (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 3:3) before the
revealment fulfilling Revelation 1:7—"every eye shall see
For the latest research on the
Greek word parousia and an in-depth study on all aspects of our
Lord’s return, please send for the booklet I WILL COME AGAIN.
Gratten Guinness, ROMANISM AND THE REFORMATION
(Toronto: S.R. Briggs [N.D.]), 250.
Edwin Froom, THE PROPHETIC FAITH OF OUR FATHERS, Vol. 3
(Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1954), 739.
AND FALL OF PAPACY (New York: The
American Protestant Society, 1801), 178-190.
Trevor, ROME: FROM THE FALL OF THE WESTERN EMPIRE
(London: The Religious Tract Society, 1868), 439.
Robert Pennington, EPOCHS OF THE PAPACY
(London: George Bell and Sons, 1881), 450.
Vol. 3, pp 263, 264.
Vol. 4, pp 406, 518.
FAMILIAR DISCOURSES OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER,
trans by Henry Bell and revised by Joseph Kerby (London:
Baldwin, Craddock and Joy, 1818), 7, 8.
Vol. 3, p 602.
Vol. 4. pp 323, 324.
your copy from Bible Students, PO Box 144, Edison, NJ
Tanner, DANIEL AND THE REVELATION
(London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1898), 16, 17.
F. Walvoord, BIBIOLTHECA SACRA,
Lindsey, THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), 43.