sect members took a new approach: they insisted that their calculations could not possibly be in error, so Christ must have returned on schedule, only invisibly. This viewpoint found expression in a periodical titled Herald of the Morning, published by Nelson H. Barbour of Rochester, New York.
After associating with Adventist groups for about ten years, in 1879 the young assistant editor of Herald of the Morning broke away to start his own magazine, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. Watchtower founder Charles Taze Russell succeeded in reaching a much wider audience with his assertions that Christ had returned invisibly in 1874 and that the world would end in the autumn of 1914. Those dates were later abandoned, but Russell's successors in the modern day Jehovah's Witnesses went on to teach during the late 1960's that Christ's triumphant battle of Armageddon could be expected to occur in the autumn of 1975.
Details and documentation of these failed prophecies can be found in several of my books, including Answering Jehovah's Witnesses Subject by Subject (1996, Baker Book House) and Mormonism: Changes, Contradictions and Errors (by John R. Farkas and David A. Reed, 1995, Baker Book House).
My research made me conversant also with the failed prophecies of various other groups, too, both cultic and those closer to mainstream Christianity. All of these forays into date-setting failed for fairly obvious reasons. In some cases corrupt cult leaders stirred up false expectations for their own selfish purposes. In other cases sincere Bible believers got carried away in their eagerness for Christ's return and went beyond what was written in Scripture, adding their own imagination and wishful thinking to what the Word of God actually said.
In all cases, however, regardless of the motives behind those making these pronouncements, they all abandoned sound methods of biblical interpretation in favor of twisted reasoning and bogus logic.
On the receiving end of all these false prophecies were millions of real people who were deeply disappointed and who suffered very real hurt. The failure of William Miller's predictions that Christ would return in 1844 was labeled by historians as "the
Disappointment of 1844." Some victims of failed prophecies lost faith entirely, while others were forced to undergo a painful re-examination of what they believed and why. Some had quit jobs, sold homes, or made other sacrifices on the assurance that money and possessions would no longer be needed after the predicted date.
In every case it was human interpretation the failed, not the prophecies of Scripture itself. To the contrary, Bible prophecy has an excellent track record, as I will document in several chapters of this book.
Researching the lives and works of false prophets has made me painfully aware of the danger of going "beyond what is written" in Scripture. (1 Corinthians 4:6 NIV) Yet, at the same time, Jesus told us to "keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." (Matthew 24:42 NIV)
Watch for what? For Jesus to come? No, rather he indicated that there would be signs to watch for that would signal the imminence of his return. "When these things begin to take place," we would know that the time was near. (Luke 21:28 Jerusalem Bible) Keeping on the watch involves efforts to match the things happening in the world -- current events -- with the things prophesied in Scripture. However, that is not an easy task.
Human understanding of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy has always been better in hindsight than in foresight. The faithful Hebrews watched to see how the prophetic words of the inspired prophets among them would be fulfilled. But they were often surprised when the fulfillment actually took place before their eyes, and it was not what they had expected.
This was especially true in regard to the prophecies about the long expected Messiah. The Jews weren't anticipating Jesus' lowly birth, his teachings contrary to the established authorities of the day, and his untimely and shameful death. The New Testament points back to dozens of verses in the Old Testament that foretold details of the Messiah's life and death, but most of them had gone unrecognized or been misunderstood before their fulfillment in Christ. (See the chapter titled "Promised Messiah" in this book.)
Similarly, many noble efforts have been made