America in the early nineteenth century was drunk on the millennium, so said historian Ernest Sandeen. Christians all over the world believed they were on the verge of Jesus’ soon return and God’s new kingdom.
The frightfully destructive Lisbon earthquake of 1755, also known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake, occurred in Portugal on Saturday, 1st November 1755, the holiday known as All Saints' Day, at around 09:40 local time. In combination with subsequent fires, and tsunami, the earthquake almost totally destroyed Lisbon and adjoining areas. Seismologists today estimate the Lisbon earthquake had a magnitude in the range 8.5–9.0) on the Richter scale with its epicenter in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 km (120 miles) west-southwest of Cape St. Vincent. Estimates place the death toll in Lisbon alone between 10,000 and 100,000 people, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history. This event had directed the minds of many to the topic of the end of the world. The calamities of the French Revolution of the 1790s further agitated and stimulated the minds towards end time events. During the Reign of Terror from 1793 until 1794 during which it is estimated that between 16,000 and 40,000 people were killed. The social, political, and religious upheavals taking place reminded people of biblical descriptions of the end of the world. The violence and magnitude of the French Revolution turned the eyes of scholars on both sides of the Atlantic to the biblical prophesies of Daniel and the Revelation.
In particular, many Bible students soon developed an interest in the time prophecies and the year 1798. In February of that year Napoleon’s general Berthier had marched into Rome and dethroned Pope Pius VI and brought him to France and imprisoned him there. The pope later died in prison. Using the principle that in prophecy a day equal a year, they saw the capture of the pope as the deadly wound of Revelation 13:3 and the fulfillment of the 1260 days/years prophecy of Daniel 7:25 and Revelation 12:6, 14 and 13:5.
The study of the Bible wasn’t the only religious reactions to the French Revolution. A second event saw the greatest religious revival to ever shake America. Beginning in the 1790s and well into the 1840s, the Great Awakening did more than anything else in the history of the young country to transform the United States into a Christian country.
It was in the aftermath of these events, the Great Lisbon Earthquake and the French Revolution that the religious fervor of the Great Awakening bore its fruits. It was in this world of anxiety and excitement of Christ imminent return that William Miller emerged preaching the Advent message. As a result, churches everywhere of every denomination, Baptist, Pentecostal, Congregational, Catholic, you name it, welcomed him with open arms.
Between 1831 and 1844, William Miller--a Baptist preacher and former army captain in the War of 1812--launched the "great second advent awakening" which eventually spread throughout most of the Christian world. Based on his study of the prophecy of Daniel 8:14, Miller calculated that Jesus would return to earth on October 22, 1844. When Jesus did not return, Miller's followers experienced what became to known as the “Great Disappointment."
Both Millerite leaders and followers were left generally bewildered and disillusioned. Responses varied: some continued to look daily for Christ's return, while others predicted different dates—among them April, July, and October 1845. Some theorized that the world had entered the seventh millennium—the "Great Sabbath", and that therefore, the saved should not work. Others acted as children, basing their belief on Jesus' words in Mark 10:15: "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." Millerite O. J. D. Pickands used the book of Revelation to teach that Christ was now sitting on a white cloud and must be prayed down. The majority, however, simply gave up their beliefs and attempted to rebuild their lives. Some members rejoined their previous denominations.
By mid-1845, doctrinal lines amongst the various Millerite groups began to solidify, and the groups emphasized their differences, in a process George R. Knight terms "sect building". During this time, there were three main Millerite groups—in addition to those who had simply given up their beliefs.
The first major division of the Millerite groups who had not completely given up their belief in Christ's Second Advent were those who focused on the "shut-door" belief. This belief was popularized by Joseph Turner and was based on that key Millerite passage: Matthew 25:1-13—the parable of the ten virgins. The shut door mentioned in Matthew 25:11-12 was interpreted as the close of probation. As Knight explains, "After the door was shut, there would be no additional salvation. The wise virgins (true believers) would be in the kingdom, while the foolish virgins and all others would be on the outside."
The widespread acceptance of the shut-door belief lost ground as doubts were raised about the significance of the October 22, 1844, date—if nothing happened on that date, then there could be no shut door. The opposition to these shut-door beliefs was led by Joshua Himes and make up the second post-1844 group. This faction soon gained the upper hand, even converting Miller to their point of view.
The third major post-disappointment Millerite group also claimed, like the Hale- and Turner-led group, that the October 22 date was correct. Rather than Christ returning invisibly, however, they came to view the event that took place on October 22, 1844, having been quite different. The theology of this third group appears to have had its beginnings as early as October 23, 1844—the day after the Great Disappointment. On that day, during a prayer session with a group of Advent believers, Hiram Edson became convinced that "light would be given" and their "disappointment explained." Edson's experience led him into an extended study on the topic with O. R. L. Crosier and F. B. Hahn. They came to the conclusion that Miller's assumption that the sanctuary represented the earth was in error. "The sanctuary to be cleansed in Daniel 8:14 was not the earth or the church, but the sanctuary in heaven." Therefore, the October 22 date marked not the Second Coming of Christ, but rather a heavenly event. Out of this third group arose the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. This interpretation of the Great Disappointment forms the basis for the Seventh-Day Adventist doctrine of the pre-Advent Investigative Judgment.
From this small group who refused to give up after the "Great Disappointment" arose several leaders who built the foundation of what would become the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Standing out among these leaders were a young couple--James and Ellen G White -- and a retired sea captain named Joseph Bates.
This small nucleus of "Adventists" began to grow -- mainly in the New England states of America, where Miller's movement had begun. Ellen G White, a mere teenager at the time of the "Great Disappointment," grew into a gifted author, speaker and administrator, who would become and remain the trusted spiritual counselor of the Seventh-Day Adventist family for more than seventy years until her death in 1915. Early Adventists came to believe -- as have Adventists ever since -- that she enjoyed God's special guidance as she wrote her counsels to the growing body of believers.
In 1860, at Battle Creek Michigan, the loosely knit congregations of Adventists chose the name Seventh-Day Adventist and in 1863 formally organized a church body with a membership of 3,500. At first, work was largely confined to North America until 1874 when the Church's first missionary, J. N. Andrews, was sent to Switzerland. Africa was penetrated briefly in 1879 when Dr. H. P. Ribton, an early convert in Italy, moved to Egypt and opened a school, but the project ended when riots broke out in the vicinity.
The first non-Protestant Christian country entered was Russia, where an Adventist minister went in 1886. On October 20, 1890, the schooner Pitcairn was launched at San Francisco and was soon engaged in carrying missionaries to the Pacific Islands. Seventh-Day Adventist workers first entered non-Christian countries in 1894 -- Gold Coast (Ghana), West Africa, and Matabeleland, South Africa. The same year saw missionaries entering South America, and in 1896 there were representatives in Japan. Today, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church now has established work in 209 countries.
The publication and distribution of literature were major factors in the growth of the Advent movement. The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (now the Adventist Review), general church paper, was launched in Paris, Maine, in 1850; the Youth's Instructor in Rochester, New York, in 1852; and the Signs of the Times in Oakland, California, in 1874. The first denominational publishing house at Battle Creek, Michigan, began operating in 1855 and was duly incorporated in 1861 under the name of Seventh-Day Adventist Publishing Association.
The Health Reform Institute, later known as the Battle Creek Sanitarium, opened its doors in 1866, and missionary society work was organized on a statewide basis in 1870. The first of the Church's worldwide network of schools was established in 1872, and 1877 saw the formation of statewide Sabbath school associations. In 1903, the denominational headquarters was moved from Battle Creek, Michigan, to Washington, D.C., and in 1989 to Silver Spring, Maryland, where it continues to form the nerve center of ever-expanding work.
Adventists believe a Trinity of three persons--the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit--make up one God. They made salvation possible when Jesus, the Son, came to earth as a baby in Bethlehem and lived a sinless life in accordance with the Father's will. When Jesus was crucified for the sins of the people of the world and arose from the dead on the third day, victory was won for everyone.
When He returned to heaven following the resurrection, Jesus left the Holy Spirit to serve as our Comforter and Counselor. He promised to return to earth a second time to complete His plan of salvation and take His people to heaven. Adventists are among the believers who look forward to that day.
Adventists believe that God is concerned with the quality of human life, and that everything--the way we live, eat, speak, think, treat each other, and care for the world around us--is a part of His plan. Our families, our children, our jobs, our talents, our money, and our time are all important to Him.