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The Great Awakenings

The Essence of Contemporary American Religion

Part Twenty-Six


By Shlomo Phillips © 1989
(most recent update February 26, 2015)

The Third Great Awakening Continued

Calculating Armageddon

Many of the reformers of the Third Great Awakening were fascinated by biblical prophecy. Such studies can easily become a compulsion! Believe me I know. A verse seems oddly familiar to ones experiences or fears; an undesirable leader seems like a "beast" and voila, surely this man is the Antichrist! Chemtrails turn our once beautiful clear skies into cesspools of seemingly occult designs and images from the Book of Revelation arise. For the religiously minded prophetic signs abound. Balance is vital but sometimes... During the Third Great Awakening the signs were everywhere!

For those who have not indulged in the heady wine of the prophetic tree, such fascinations can be difficult to understand. They were however very important to the awakening consciousness of this period (and remain so for certain sects like the 7th Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses today). Lets take a moment to consider what is probably the most widely studied of these texts in order to understand how the process works and how people's imaginations ran wild: Daniel 9:22-27.

The widely studied apocalyptic writings of Reverend Charles Larkin employed this basic method of Biblical interpretation (note 28). In order to understand these Third Great Awakening Adventist movements therefore it will be helpful to demonstrate one of these popular methods of prophetic dating. In order to follow along it will be helpful to read the indicated Scriptural passages. It should be understood that those who accept this system of interpretation, and millions still do, accept the Bible not only as the revealed Word of God, but also as the partially concealed Word of God which is disclosed only to those who "have eyes to see."

Daniel chapter four speaks of a "great tree" that by Divine decree is cut down and banded "until seven times pass over it." This "tree" is said to represent governmental authority according to the text (vs. 25). Many Adventists teach that the tree has a deeper significance however. To them it represents the prophesied Messianic Kingdom of the future. When the "bands" of this prophetic tree are removed the Kingdom of God will again blossom and, after the seven year rule of Anti-Christ according to some, the millennium (thousand year kingdom of Messiah) will begin (comp. Ezekiel 17:22-24). From this they conclude that God's kingdom (destroyed when Judea fell to Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar) will be restored "seven times" after it was cut down. For evidence of this they cite the example of King Nebuchadnezzar returning to his senses after seven times or, in that case, seven literal years (Daniel 4:28-37).

Armed with this interpretation they turn to Daniel 9 and read what they conclude is a prophecy of Jesus' "first Advent" (9:25), his death (9:26), and the seven year reign of the Anti-Christ (9:26, 27) that they believe will precede his Second Advent. The standard Jewish understanding of these verses of course is completely different. They see see these as events that have already taken place. But for many Christians, these passages hold the answer to Jesus' return.

The question all Adventists must answer is how much time these seven times signify. Here is where they differ considerably among themselves. Here's one popular approach and result:

Since the Hebrews used a lunar calendar we would normally have to translate these times (or years) into solar years. The length of a 'prophetic year' however is set at a constant 360 days. Each of these days symbolically compose a full year because the Bible says "a day for a year, a day for a year" (for this they cite Numbers 14:34, Ezekiel 4:6 etc.). In the Book of Revelation we read that 1,260 days equals "a time, and times, and a half a time" (Revelation 12:6, 14). This being established, these 1,260 days (or 3 1/2 times) doubled would equal 2520 actual years as the duration of the 'seven times'.

These 2520 'years' are said to have begun when the "tree" was cut down. According to this view, the cutting down of the tree refers to the destruction of God's Kingdom (Judea) on earth. In other words they believe the prophecy is based on the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon (as described by Daniel and others), God's holy city where the throne of his earthly government and Temple stood at the time the tree was banded. So when did this occur?

The Beit HaMikdash or House of the Holy was destroyed by Babylon's king Nebuchadnezzar who removed King Zedekiah from Judea's Throne and sent the Jews into exile. This cutting down of the tree of Israel can be dated to 606 B.C.E (BF 180) although there is some debate on this (note 29) (also see my Time line of Eretz Israel). For our present example, in 606 B.C.E. the countdown of the "seven times" began. Charles Taze Russell concluded from this that 2520-606=1914 as the date for the 'end of the age' (note 30) as discussed above.

Attempting to explain away the numerous failed prophecies of Ellen White the Seventh Day Adventists developed their calculation into a very different (and hard to grasp) prophetic time frame. We'll bypass their views on this but they can explain them if one is interested.

What has been shared here should suffice to demonstrate the appeal (and slippery slopes) of these sorts of calculations. The difficulties arise when the calculations fail as they have for all the sects drawing on this Daniel 9 system. The last serious Daniel 9 application I am aware of was for 1988 (40 years after modern Israeli independence).

This prophetic system is presented at length in Jehovah's Witness' book Babylon the Great Has Fallen! God's Kingdom Rules! (BF 177-181). Like William Miller, Ellen White and the rest, as the years following the predicted dates passed the Watchtower Society tried to pinpoint other dates for the physical manifestation of Jesus (who they say is here already but invisible as discussed above) and His earthly kingdom, but with no better success. Their last (for now at least) attempt at date setting was 1975 (note 31).

Just as William Miller finally gave up on issuing dates, so too the Bethel elders of the Watchtower Society apparently have surrendered their roles as prophetic date setters. Unlike Miller, rather than admit their calculations were wrong or blame it on faulty textual preservation, the Watchtower Society decided to change history and deny that their 1975 prophecies had ever even been made! As a result of this attempted deception, which every JW in the world in the years leading up to 1975 knew was a lie, their credibility as an organization was largely destroyed. Beginning in January of 1976 many of their followers began leaving. To my knowledge the Society has never admitted their lie nor requested forgiveness from the hundreds of thousands of people who were adversely effected by it.

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