Originally a Deist, Miller converted to Christianity and became a Baptist lay leader. After years of intensive Bible study, Miller concluded that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was near. He took a passage from Daniel 8:14, in which angels said it would take 2,300 days for the temple to be cleansed. Miller interpreted those "days" as years.
Starting with the year 457 BC, Miller added 2,300 years and came up with the period between March 1843 and March 1844. In 1836, he published a book titled Evidences from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ about the Year 1843.
But 1843 passed without incident, and so did 1844. The nonevent was called The Great Disappointment, and many disillusioned followers dropped out of the group. Miller withdrew from leadership, dying in 1849.
Picking Up From Miller
Many of the Millerites, or Adventists, as they called themselves, banded together in Washington, New Hampshire. They included Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. Ellen White (1827-1915), her husband James, and Joseph Bates emerged as leaders of the movement, which was incorporated as the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1863.
Adventists thought Miller's date was correct but that the geography of his prediction was mistaken. Instead of Jesus Christ's Second Coming on earth, they believed Christ entered the tabernacle in heaven. Christ started a second phase of the salvation process in 1844, Investigative Judgment, in which he judged the dead and the living still on earth. Christ's Second Coming would occur after he completed those judgments.
Eight years after the church was incorporated, the Seventh-day Adventists sent their first official missionary, J.N. Andrews, to Switzerland. Soon Adventist missionaries were reaching out to every part of the world.
Meanwhile, Ellen White and her family moved to Michigan and made trips to California to spread the Adventist faith. After her husband's death, she traveled to England, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Australia, encouraging missionaries.
Ellen White in Seventh-day Adventists History
Ellen White, continually active in the church, claimed to have visions from God and became a prolific writer. During her lifetime she produced more than 5,000 magazine articles and 40 books, and her 50,000 manuscript pages are still being collected and published. The Seventh-day Adventist Church accorded her prophet status and members continue to study her writings today.
Because of White's interest in health and spirituality, the church began building hospitals and clinics. It also founded thousands of schools and colleges throughout the world. Higher education and healthy diets are greatly valued by Adventists.
In the latter part of the 20th century, technology came into play as Adventists looked for new ways to evangelize. Radio stations, television stations, printed matter, the Internet, and satellite television are used to add new converts.
From its meager beginnings 150 years ago, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has exploded in numbers, today claiming more than 15 million followers in over 200 countries.
(Sources: Adventist.org, and ReligiousTolerance.org.)