By Luther W. Martin
Down through the ages, mankind has been curious about when things were going to occur. The Jews sought the restoration of a political and military government! The Israelites developed a complicated mathematical scheme in an effort to determine when Messiah would come upon the scene, and re-establish the glory and grandeur of their former kingdom? When the almost total devastation of Jerusalem occurred in A.D. 70, and again about A.D. 135, the Jews diminished their speculations and calculations concerning the coming Messiah. (Remember, they did reject Christ!)
But, it wasn’t long until the Christians began to engage in speculations as to the return of Christ. No doubt some of the faithful had expected or anticipated that Christ would return quite soon, in point of time, after his ascension into heaven. However, as the years continued to pass, some obviously began to lose faith; their confidence began to wane. Some of the Corinthians were beginning to doubt and question the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12). To respond to this doubt, Paul devotes most of what has been divided into the 15th Chapter of 1st Corinthians, to a logical discussion, designed to restore their confidence in the fact and truth of the resurrection.
When the Bible reader recognizes what Paul is discussing, he/she will understand that Paul is reasoning . . . “if Christ is not risen, then is our preaching useless” (v.14); “… if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen”(v.16); “… if Christ, then, is not risen, your faith is futile” (v.17). Now, keeping in mind Paul’s argumentation, drop down to v.29: “Else, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise?” Paul simply carried his logic further, pointing out that if Christ was still in his grave, then why be baptized into Christ? I point this out, because the Mormons have built up a large body of false teaching of proxy baptism, due to their having completely missed Paul’s reasoning to the Corinthians.
The congregation in Thessalonica was another assembly that was discouraged over the fact that Christ has not returned as soon as they had anticipated. Therefore, Paul writes: “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as do the hopeless” . . . “For the coming of the Lord will not precede them which are asleep” (1 Thess. 4:13, 15) “Comfort one another with these words” (v.18).
So, the question was: When shall these things be? The destruction of the Temple? The fall of Jerusalem? The 2nd coming of Christ? The end of time? The Day of Judgment? “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matt. 24:36).
These were the questions uppermost in the minds of the disciples. “`Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ And He said to them, `It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority (Acts 1:6-7).
Sample of Jewish Date Setting!
Theudas, about A.D. 44, declared himself to be the Messiah, and some 400 men followed him into the desert. Theudas was beheaded by Roman soldiers and the grisly trophy carried into Jerusalem. Josephus tells of this, and Acts 5:36 makes a reference. Any Messianic activity always upset the Romans.
An Egyptian Jew (not named) also caused trouble for the Romans. Mentioned in Acts 21:38.
The Jews anticipated some kind of Messianic activity at the time of the beginning of what they termed the fifth millennium. The closing chapter of IV Ezra, an apocryphal work, specified: “And I did so in the seventh year of the sixth week of5,000 years of the creation, and three months and twelve days.”
Josephus (born 37 A.D.), in his Antiquities, gives an historical account from Creation to 66 A.D., a period of about 5,000 years. This represented the views of the Pharisees in the first century A.D. So, with the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.), the Rabbis thought they were in the final cycle of the fifth millennium.
Yohanan ben Zakkai (1st Century, A.D.) thought Hezekiah was the coming Messiah.
Ben Zakkai (died 80, A.D.) was expecting the Messiah about the time of his death.
Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (1st-2nd Century, A.D.) thought that the “days of the Messiah” (Ps. 95:10), would last forty years. Generally, before the Bar Kochba (132-135 A.D.) uprising, the Rabbis expected the `Messianic age’ to be brief. After Bar Kochba the `Messianic age’ became longer in their thinking. This was the last military effort of the Jews against Rome. The Jews killed many Christians who refused to assist them in their revolt.
Rabbi Jose, the Galilean, a contemporary of both Hyrcanus and Azariah, thought the Messiah would come in three generations (60 years), after the destruction; namely, 130 A.D.
Rabbi Pleazar ben Azariah thought the Messiah would come 70 years after the destruction; i.e., 140 A.D.
Fifth Century Speculations
It seems that after the failures in Messianic speculation of the 1st and 2nd centuries, the expectations resumed for the fifth century.
Rabbi Dosa (2nd-3rd Century, A.D.) said the Messiah would come at the end of 400 years. This was based (?) upon Genesis 15:13.
Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (135-220 A.D.) believed the Messiah would come 365 years after the destruction: i.e., 435 A.D.
Rabbi Hanina (3rd Century, A.D.) thought the Messiah would come 400 years after the destruction: i.e., 470 A.D.
Second Coming of Christ
Justin (2nd Century, A.D.) debated with Trypho, the Jew, the meaning of “time, times, and half a time.”
Clement of Alexandria (2nd-3rd Century, A.D.) wrote an explanation of Daniel 12. The seventy weeks are seventy the years which elapsed from Christ’s birth to Jerusalem’s destruction. The 2300 evenings and mornings are the six years and four months during the half of which Nero, ruled; and the other half, Vespasian, Otho, Galba and Vitellus reigned.
Tertullan (2nd-3rd Century, A.D.) argued that Daniel’s prophecies applied to Jesus.
Origen (2nd-3rd Century, A.D.) also applied Daniel’s prophecies to Christ.
Hippolytus (2nd-3rd Century, A.D.) urged his students not to be too curious about the end, but, himself, indicated that the Messianic time was not at hand.
Jews Used Five Methods of Calculating 1. Primarily the Book of Daniel. Biblical passages, other than Daniel.
4. Based upon the years of exile; Egypt, Babylon. Relative circumstances might provide the secret of any later exile. There was some divine logic in the fixing of the term of the exile in Egypt (430 years, 210 years?); Babylon (70 years, 52 years?).
5. Gematria the interpretation of a word or phrase, based upon the Hebrew numerical value of the letter(s). Under the general heading of Gematria are at least three sub-divisions. (1) Notarikon the use of each letter of a word, as an initial (acrostic) of some other word. (2) Ziruf or Hiluf interpreting a word by crossing or transposing its letters (anagram). And, (3) Temurah the substitution of one letter for another. Thus, Gematria was an age-old device among the Hebrews. It was looked upon as providing information from on High; limited solely by the wisdom and skill of the speculator.
6. Astrology generations of dwelling out under the stars, contributed toward Bedouin (desert dweller) familiarity with the heavens. Nomadic Hebrews did not `worship the heavens’ as there be “lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years: . . .” (Gen. 1:14); the study of the astral bodies was considered appropriate in determining important events; such as the appearance of some brighter than usual star.
Sununary of Jewish Viewpoint!
David ben Solomon bin Abi Zimri (1479-1589 A.D.), an author of the mystic significance of the Hebrew alphabet, quotes Maimonides’ opinion that “The script which we now employ is the Assyrian script,” “and that it is the script in which God wrote the Torah.” “This is the script,” writes Radbaz, Edited, Amsterdam, 1713, “in which the Torah and Tables were given; and all the secrets of their forms, their flourishes and their crownlets, majuscule letters and minuscular, crooked and looped, bent and straight, and all their intimidations and mysteries were revealed to Moses, just like all the rest of the oral law, and this script has a sanctity all of its own.”
As recently as 1863, Aaron Kornfeld wrote a book, in which he catalogues over 300 Rabbinic laws and interpretations derived per Gematriam from biblical verses, Edition, Prague, 1865.
Thus, with all of the speculation of the Jews, both before and after Christ, it is not surprising that many claiming to be `Christians,’ adopted similar philosophies, which led them to set dates for his return.
Date-Setting for Christ’s Return!
Tichonius (381), a religious writer of the 4th Century, said Christ would return in 381.
Hippolytus (170-236 A.D.) and Lactantius (250-330 A.D.) both predicted that 500 A.D. would be the time for the second coming of Christ.
1000A.D. That date seemed to attract many prognosticators, but they all missed it! In fact, since the calendar was known to be in error as to the exact birth-year of Christ, one thousand years from his birth was the important date, and that ranged from 994 A.D. to 1003 A.D.
Benedictus Aretius of Berne (1505-1547) calculated that 1260 years added to the year of Constantine’s making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 312 A.D. (312 + 1260 = 1572), that 1572 should be the year!
Michael Stiefel (1486-1567), an acquaintance of Martin Luther, concluded that Christ would come, and Judgment would begin, 8:00 AM., October 19, 1533. Stiefel missed it! Some folks had neglected raising a crop that year; Stiefel had given away all his possessions, so M. Luther took him into his home. The same year, a group of Anabaptists had taught that the Millennium would start that year.
1666 was a year that attracted much speculative attention. It was 1,000 years, plus the `number of the Antichrist’ (666).
Isaac Newton, noted for his research concerning the Law of Gravity, predicted that Christ would come in 1715.
William Whiston, held to the same date: i.e., 1715. Whiston succeeded Newton as Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, translated the works of Flavius Josephus into English, and also translated the New Testament into English. He was quite controversial, and was ultimately removed from his professorship.
Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752), thought that 666 years was the length of years that the `beast’ would rule. Another passage said `forty-two months.’ He divided one into the other and came out with each month’s being equal to 15 6/7 years. So, Bengel concluded that the Millennium would begin June 18, 1836.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, favored the 1836 date, also.
William Miller (1844), a Baptist, became an ancestor of Seventh Day Adventists; saying the present world would end about 1843. He missed it! But then predicted, October 22, 1844. Missed again! The last `general conference’ of this movement met in 1849, at Albany, NY. In 1861 the Advent Christian Church was organized; and in 1863, the Seventh-Day Adventist church started; plus a few smaller 7th Day groups. Mrs Ellen G. White, a follower of Miller, took over the reins of the Seventh Day Adventist movement.
Joseph Wolff (1795-1862) journeyed across America, Europe, Africa, and Asia; proclaiming the soon appearance of Christ. He had picked 1847.
Johaan Philipp Petri (1774) used the same method of calculation that was later used by William Miller, and Petri chose 1847.
The Irvingites of England selected the year 1864.
Hans Wood, who passed away in 1803, had selected the year 1880.
Charles Hindley picked the year 1881.
Joanna Southcott, a woman given to `visions,’ said Christ would come October 19, 1884.
Charles Taze Russell (1914), writing about 1888, asserted, that by the year 1914 “all present governments will be overthrown and dissolved” (Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 2, page 99).
Russell also declared; that Jesus “will then be present as earth’s new Ruler”; and that “neither Israel nor the world of mankind . . . will any longer be trodden down, oppressed and misruled by beastly Gentile powers. The Kingdom of God and his Christ will then be established in the earth” (Ibid., 98). It appears that Russell was not aware that the Apostle Paul had written in the 1st century, A.D.: “. . . and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:13).
When Russell’s prophecy failed, he boldly stated that Christ did too, come . . . but “only the faithful saw him!” Here again, Russell was unaware of the Apostle John’s statement concerning the future: “. . .He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him” (Rev. 1:7). So, every time Russell utters a false statement, the Bible hems him into a corner!
When the First World War’s Armistice came at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month (Nov. 11, 1918), a goodly number of folk concluded that the “midnight” hour of Matthew 25:6 was not far behind.
Edward D. Griffin, proclaimed in 1813, “the complete establishment of the millennial kingdom” in about 1921 or 22.
Joseph Franklin Rutherford (1925) (the successor to Russell), wrote a book in 1920, entitled Millions Now Living Will Never Die, in which he wrongly foretold that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be resurrected in 1925, and would become the visible and legal representatives of a new order on earth. In fact, this sect built a fancy mansion in San Diego, CA which was to be the home of these Old Testament worthies. It was named Beth-Sarim, and was built like a fort! Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, still aren’t there!
The foregoing are by no means the only date-setters that have contributed to religious confusion throughout the earth; even though the Holy Scriptures inform us that only the Father knows,” we seem never to learn our lesson.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 18, p. 17-19
September 15, 1994