Have you ever heard of the “Great Disappointment”? It’s one of the most noted events in American church history, and it has an important lesson for us today.
The churches of northeastern America grew rapidly in the early 1800s, fueled by one revival after another. These new Christians had little biblical knowledge, yet many began to discuss details of biblical prophecy with great fervor. Speculation boiled over as to the exact time when Christ would return, and among the speculators was William Miller of New York.
As a new convert, Miller had devoured the prophecies of Daniel; and in 1818, he reckoned that Christ would return to earth on October 22, 1844. This became his keynote message and as the day approached, thousands of people looked for that day to come. When October 22, 1844, dawned a sense of foreboding fell over New England. Normal activities ceased. When the day passed uneventfully, many Christians grew disillusioned. The unsaved became cynical. The event became known as “The Great Disappointment.”
From time to time, certain people think they’ve figured out the unimaginable hour of Christ’s return. But Jesus said in Matthew 24: “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but my Father only . . . . Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming . . . Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (verses 36, 42, 44).
Just to make sure we got the point, He said in the next chapter: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:13).
We Can’t Predict the Unimaginable Hour
Have you ever considered what would happen if we really knew the date of Christ’s return? Some people would indulge in sinful practices right up to the very week, and then try to clean things up and get ready. Others would stop everything and just sit down to await the Second Coming.
Life would change so incredibly—and not necessarily for the better—if we knew Christ was coming on a specific day.
The Angels Don’t Know the Hour of the Lord’s Return
Jesus pointed out in His Olivet Discourse that the angels of God do not know the day or hour of Christ’s return. The angels have constant access to God, yet Jesus said even the angels don’t know when Jesus is going to return. God has not chosen to reveal it to them.
Not Even the Son of Man Knew the Day and Hour of His Return
Of all the surprising things Jesus said, one of the most puzzling is that not even the Son of Man knew the day and hour of His return. How can Jesus be the omniscient God yet not know the day of His return? When He spoke those words in Matthew 24, our Lord walked on earth as One who had taken the form of a bondservant and come in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7).
After the Resurrection when He ascended to heaven and resumed His place on the throne, I believe He again took up all His divine prerogatives. I’m confident He now knows the time of His return. But at the time He gave His message on Mount Olivet in Matthew 24, even Jesus did not know the time of His coming again to earth.
Why in the world would anyone think they could figure out something that no man knows, that no angel knows, that not even the Son of Man knew while on earth?
C. S. Lewis said something interesting about this: “We must never speak to simple, excitable people of The Day without emphasizing again and again the utter impossibility of prediction. We must try to show them that the impossibility is an essential part of the doctrine . . . . His teaching on the subject quite clearly consisted of three propositions: Number 1, He will certainly return; Number 2, we cannot possibly find out when; and Number 3, we must always be ready for Him to come. Note that therefore precisely because we cannot predict the moment, we must be ready at all moments.”
That’s the purpose of teaching the imminent return of Jesus Christ—that we might always live in readiness.
Let’s work till Jesus comes, living in constant expectation for His soon, swift, sudden, and certain appearance.
Dr. Jeremiah is the founder of Turning Point for God, and serves as Senior Pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California. For more information about Turning Point go to www.DavidJeremiah.org