A Time Prophecy Question
The Hebrew word yom is usually translated “day,” though sometimes “year,” or “annually.” Per Gesenius, the derivation is apparently from yacham, meaning “heat.” Thus, we speak of the heat of the day around noon or mid-afternoon, or the heat of the summer as the warm part of the year. Hence, prophecies of “days” may be understood as either 24-hour days or as years, according to the reader’s understanding of the context.
As mentioned in the article above, Protestants in the Christian Connexion and then in the Adventist movement noticed that from the beginning of Papacy as a civil power, 538-539, to its temporary termination in 1798-1799, was exactly 1260 years. This excited interest in the prophecies concerning Christ’s return, the restoration of Israel, and completion of the church. What of the 1290 years and 1335 years (Daniel 12:11-12)?
In America, many Adventists accepted 1798, when Pope Pius VI was driven from Rome by the French (February 20) as the end of 1260 years. Some thought the 1290 years should begin when the 1260 years began, while most thought the 1290 years should end when the 1260 years did. Hence, the 1335 years to the beginning of Christ’s Second Advent would start in 508 and end in 1843. When nothing apparently happened, they reckoned the pivotal date should have been when the captive pope died in Valence, France, 1799 August 29. Then they commonly expected Christ’s return near the Jewish New Year in 1844 That became the year of the “Great Disappointment.”
The Adventist majority had reasoned that if the 1260 and 1290 years had begun at the same time, then the latter would have ended in 1828 or 1829. They concluded nothing significant had happened in either year. William Miller had begun the Second Adventist movement in 1831, two or three years too late; so they concluded the two periods must have ended at the same time. (E.g., see the Seventh-Day Adventist, Uriah Smith, The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation, 1873, 1867, combined 1897.)
British Adventists might have noticed that the 1827-1829 Albury Prophetic Conferences, published in 1828-1829 (with pseudonyms), had concluded: The present Christian dispensation is to end in judgments and then the Millennium will begin; the 1260 years begin in the reign of Justinian and end in the French Revolution; the second advent either precedes or begins the Millennium; and the Jews will be restored to their homeland (modern Israel). That message spread! Thus, 1290 years to help the wise understand could have finished in 1828-1829.
Joseph Wolff attended these conferences and became the Jewish-Christian “missionary to the world,” bringing an Adventist message to the wide world of Eurasia, Africa, and also the United States, beginning in 1828. He even spoke to the full U.S. Congress (December 1837), at the invitation of Rep. John Quincy Adams, the former president. (Wolff had thought 1847 was to be the year of Christ’s return but was unphased when it passed.)
An Adventist (not Seventh-Day) preacher, Jonas Wendell looked to 1873, then to 1874, for Christ’s return, consistent with Papal power beginning in 538 or 539. Nelson Horatio Barbour came to agree, and then Charles Taze Russell and several others. Yet, what was the evidence?
An invisible return cannot be seen. But the return of Jews to Israel can. It began in 1878, with a first Aliya (“going up”) in 1882. That was preceded by the beginning of the Long Depression (1873-1890s), a fall planting (1874) and meager spring harvest (1875) in the Balkan Peninsula, sparking the Christian Revolt (June / July 1875). As a result, the Ottoman Empire, ruler of Palestine, declared bankruptcy in October 1875. That led to Ottoman concessions to sell some Palestinian land to non-Muslims, which Jews eagerly bought. This is evidence of Christ’s return (Daniel 12:1).