About a century and a half ago there arose, in various parts of the world, the growing conviction that the coming of Christ was very near. Bible students in many different churches began to see in certain remarkable events the fulfillment of some of the signs that Jesus had given to His disciples in Matthew, signs like: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky. . . .” Matt 24:29, NIV.
They saw the fulfillment of this verse in the darkening of the sun and moon on May 19, 1780 and the remarkable falling of the stars on November 13, 1833. They combined these observations with their study of prophecies in Daniel and Revelation that pointed to important events that would occur in 1798 and 1844. They saw in all these things an accumulation of evidence that the long-looked-for advent was very near. Though some are now puzzled about these signs and dates, that was when the great second-advent movement did begin. It was precipitated when all those remarkable signs and prophetic periods seemed to come together. It was not just one date, one event, or one piece of evidence. It was all that evidence combined. That’s the way God has always sought to convince us throughout the history of the conflict. Not just a little here and a little there, but an accumulation of evidence.
Some of those eager “adventists” were led by their study of the prophetic times and the heavenly evidences to begin giving special attention to the three angels’ messages in Revelation 14. They came to the conclusion that the time had arrived for these three messages of warning and invitation to be given to the whole world. They undertook a very bold venture. The excitement and the disappointment of those days are all part of religious history. There are millions of Christians in the world today who agree that those early adventists had indeed seen God’s signal that the Second Coming was near. They didn’t read it correctly at first. It was not a signal to pack for the trip up to heaven. Rather, it was a call from God to prepare the whole world for His coming. That’s why we are still here, because we haven’t completed the task.
Time has continued much longer than the early adventists expected. The signs that so stirred them occurred hundreds of years ago. But are we surprised or even ashamed that our God would be willing to wait this long? Are we more concerned about our reputation or His? The good news, the gospel, is not about us.
Sometimes I think we make that mistake. We act as if the good news were about us, but it’s not. The good news is about our God. Now if our failure to complete the task has contributed to the long delay, then we deserve to be ashamed. But the longer God waits, the more gracious He looks. His delay only confirms the good news. The delay should lead us to speak with pride about our God and not to make the awful mistake that Jonah made.
You see, God needs better witnesses than Jonah proved to be. Reluctant teachers of the truth, moved only by fear or obligation, are themselves a very sad denial of the Good News. God is waiting for people who, in the words of Peter: “Look eagerly for the coming of the Day of God and work to hasten it on” (2 Pet 3:12, NEB).