Twice in the experiences of God’s people, great disappointment struck. The reason? The study of the Scriptures was not foremost in their experience. They chose instead to rely on the framing of God’s word by short-sighted leaders. Let’s look at two of these so that we may have help in dealing with future disappointments.
The disciples of Christ were brought up and indoctrinated with a certain view of the Messiah and His mission. For several generations, God’s people were taught to expect a conquering deliverer. The Christ they envisioned would wrestle the reins of power from their conquerors and restore the majesty and supremacy of the Jewish nation. So much was this the case, that the disciples of Jesus believed, even after nearly three years with the Master, that He would one day set Himself up as king of Israel.
At the first meeting with Jesus, Nathanael said to Jesus, “ ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ ” John 1:49. Although this was factual in the larger sense, it shows a pattern of thought from the very beginning of their walk with Jesus. Later, pride and arrogance took root in their hearts as they argued among themselves who should be greatest. “Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.” Luke 22:24. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ ” Matthew 18:1
Even John, the “disciple who loved Jesus,” and his brother vied for supremacy over their brethren. “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.’ And He said to them, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ They said to Him, ‘Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.’ ” Mark 10:35–37. These unconverted men still had to learn that love for God means total submission to His will. As you can imagine, all of this did not set well with the rest of the disciples. Satan uses our basest emotions and desires to lead us away from God into his realm of supremacy. Contention and adversity are his tools. He successfully used them in the day of Jesus, and he employs them even more successfully today.
This mindset concerning superiority helped set the scene for the disappointment that the disciples would feel when Jesus was crucified. Their eyes were fixed on the greatness of Israel as the ears failed to listen to the reproofs of Jesus and the clear instruction that He must lay down His life for mankind’s salvation. They loved Jesus so much that their minds could not bear the thought of His death. However, if they had listened closely to the Master, they would have heard the words, “They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” Luke 18:33
Many times, we bring trouble on ourselves because of preconceived ideas or because of a heart that is not fully bent to the will of God. God allows us to be disappointed and He chastises those He loves to bring them into conformity with His will. We let outside events affect the way we think or react instead of realizing that these are all distractions brought on by Satan to divert our attention from what is truly important. For the disciples, it took the death of their Master and His resurrection to bring into focus what the teachings of Jesus were all about. These men finally were subdued under the power of the Holy Spirit and their hearts were converted.
Over 1800 years later, God’s people were again brought under trial. They had again been indoctrinated with the false doctrine of Satan and their minds were dulled by conformity to the world. False teachings that the earth was the sanctuary of God blinded their eyes from seeing what was clearly written in Hebrews. “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.” Hebrews 8:1–2
The Sabbath had been lost sight of under the influence of the churches of the world. Clear scripture was overlooked as if God did not really mean what He said when He proclaimed His law. In remembering the law of man, they forgot to remember the law of God. Again, clearly written in His holy law was “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:8–11
Diligent Bible study had not been performed by God’s professed people to know His truth and will. Again, they relied on their leaders to guide them and assumed that they would know better than anyone what the truth was. And why not? Were they not the ministers of God? Should they not have known the truth to present it correctly to the people? How deceived we allow ourselves to become by not being like the Bereans and search the Scriptures to see if these things were true (see Acts 17:10, 11).
When the prophecies of Daniel were explained in detail and God’s people saw that a timely event was about to happen, they were then immediately interested. Many flocked to hear the words of the Bible and to listen to the prophecies of the return of Jesus. If they had known that this prophecy was not about His return, would the interest have been so high?
In the time of the disciples, the excitement of Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem and the exultation of the people thinking He would crown Himself king was similar to the fervor of activity that occurred in 1844. People flocked to the churches, selling off all that they had in expectation of the soon return of Jesus. Yet they did not look deeply into their hearts to see if they were in conformity with the Scriptures.
As with any religious movement, some are stirred by deep love for Jesus, but if we look at the result after the disappointment, the majority fell by the wayside and lost all hope. The results of false expectations are evident in both the experiences of the Jewish people and of the Advent movement. The Jews in Jesus’ day continued with their now worthless rituals and sacrifices and denounced Jesus as a false prophet.
When the time prophecy was completed in 1844 and Jesus did not come to gather His people, great despair swept over the people who were claiming to be Christ’s followers. Many forsook their convictions and either gave up totally on their Christian faith, or went back to their false religious teachers. They found comfort in their false hopes, as many do today. Similarly, during the great disappointment, people went back to their old ways of life and spoke against the prophecies of Daniel.
After the great disappointment, the word was preached with the power of the Holy Spirit, just as it had been following Jesus’ resurrection. Those who remained faithful and believed in the accuracy of the time prophecy gathered together to search the Scriptures to see where they had erred. In fervent prayer, they humbled themselves before God and asked for His guidance to understand their mistake. When they become teachable, then God sent His Holy Spirit to open for them the deep truths of God’s word. These individuals realized that they needed divine guidance and poured out their hearts in much prayer and with much study until God opened their eyes to the truths that were plainly written.
How often we want God’s help but do not apply the effort through study and prayer. Even today we still have our preconceived ideas of the return of Jesus.
In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a revival and reformation movement within Adventism that went around the world. Elder Ron Spear and others traveled worldwide preaching revival and reformation and showing from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy what needed to happen in our lives if we were going to be ready for Jesus to come. Every revival and reformation is either growing or declining—revival and reformation cannot be stagnant.
The revival and reformation movement in Adventism reached a high point in about 1990 and then entered a period of decline. Shortly after 2000, it had totally collapsed in the United States. Why did this happen? There are several reasons, but one is for the same reason that the second advent movement collapsed in 1844. There were those who expected that certain final events leading up to the second coming or possibly the second coming itself would occur before the year 2000. Various dates such as 1987, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1996 or 1997 were proclaimed far and wide by both Adventist preachers and laymen as significant dates for Christ’s return (based on jubilee cycles and other Biblical dates). But when these dates passed with no significant event or Christ’s coming, the revival and reformation movement collapsed.
What will be the result if, as in ages past, we miss the last great event that is to happen on earth because we did not study His holy word? Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. … This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.” John 6:48, 50. By eating this bread, which is the word of God, we make it part of ourselves and only then can God bring it back to memory in our times of trouble. If we do not know God’s truth for ourselves, when the great trial comes upon all mankind we will be deceived and end up in ruin.
Jesus said in Matthew 24:24, “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” Many of God’s people today believe they will not be deceived. They have studied the prophecies in the past and are satisfied that they know the events that will happen before Christ’s return. They find no need to look at it again, and like the Jews of old, they are set in a belief that their leaders will not lead them astray. Yet, this is the very thing that Peter warns us about in his epistles. “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.” 2 Peter 2:1
Some may say “our leaders do not deny Jesus, but teach His goodness.” Paul gave a warning to the Galatians when he said, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6, 7. I have had the opportunity to visit churches in America and the Philippines. What I have seen over the years has astounded me. These are God’s professed people, yet their services are whittled down to traditions and religious forms, none of which glorify the Lord. Yes, they speak of Jesus, and yes they use scriptures and excerpts from the Spirit of Prophecy, but the content left me dry and unfed.
My wife and I have often gone home after some Sabbath sermons and spent time reading or listening to the Bible because we felt we had just been starved in the service. We have witnessed evangelical services, catholic-style preaching, and sermons on how to stay safe from Covid or some other disease. Little was mentioned of Jesus, nor were our hearts convicted of sin. The Holy Spirit was absent from the service. How do I know that? Because Jesus plainly said, “And when He [the Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” John 16:8
Will there be a third great disappointment? The answer is yes. The difference is that then there will be no chance to repent and claim the grace of Jesus. Probation on this earth will be closed and those who are found wanting will lose the most precious gift God ever gave mankind.
For over 6,000 years God has poured out His love to us. He has sent holy angels to guide us into His truth. In the sacrifice of His Son, God gave us heaven’s most precious gift and He promised His Holy Spirit to all who would submit to His will.
We talk a lot about freedoms in America and other countries, yet the one freedom that will give us eternal life is the one that is rejected. In the end, civil freedoms that can be given or taken away will not matter. They are the distractions of Satan to divert our minds from what is truly important—the cleansing of our souls through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. This will be an everlasting freedom; this washing of our character will transform us to be fit for the kingdom of God. That is the only kingdom I care to pursue.
Prepare now so that you will not be involved in a third great disappointment.
Michael C. Wells is the director of Anointing Oil Ministries.