(This is the text to the video “Famous Failures of Prophetic Interpretation” which can be seen here.)
I guess everyone has heard about times in history when someone has pointed out something they thought was just about to happen, because they felt Biblical prophecy was just about to be fulfilled. That happened one time as a direct result of misunderstanding something that’s in this chapter we’ve just gone over, Daniel 8.
The 1840’s was a time of tremendous change. The Industrial Revolution was changing the order of society as it had been for many hundreds of years. Science was making tremendous strides in understanding God’s creation. And politics and nationalism were bringing huge change around the world.
One new religious movement at that time saw the changes going on as a sign of the soon coming of God’s Kingdom on earth. This group often talked about the return of Jesus. And you could say, “Well, Mark, that sounds a good deal like what you’re doing.” And you might be right.
So, I’m sharing this with you as a warning in some ways, both to you and to me. Because, as much as I believe in prophecy, I also believe it’s possible to misinterpret things that are in the Bible. So this group, back in the 1840’s, looked at some of these verses we’ve been reading, specifically Daniel chapter 8, verse 13, which says
and verse 14
These verses are rather mysterious and I’m not in any way wanting to make fun of what happened. But these folks back then misinterpreted those verses and ended up being embarrassed and needing to make some difficult explanations. Here’s what happened.
A very key event occurred in the history of the Jews, during the time of their captive in Babylon and the beginning of their return to Israel. Some historians have set the date of that event at 544 BC. Setting the exact date on this and explaining the details and specifics are complicated and I won’t go into it here since it’s part of the class on Daniel chapter 9.
But this Christian religious movement in the 1800’s came to the incorrect conclusion that “2300 days“ in Daniel 8:14 actually means 2300 years. So they did their math.
The 1840’s were not a particularly traumatic time for people living in the United States. But for Europeans, the 1840’s were a time of revolution and major social dishevel in many countries. Well, this religious group I mentioned, spread out in many lands, came down to a fateful night in October of 1844 when they went up on their housetops to welcome the return of Jesus.
But, Jesus didn’t come back that night and that whole denomination was mocked and ridiculed. It didn’t end there. Years later a new denomination was started. They looked over the mistakes the other group made and came up with a new idea. They saw places in the Bible that used the number “70”.
And they added 70 more years onto 1844. That would mean that the coming of the Lord would actually be in…1914!
1914 was a very significant, turbulent year to say the least. It was the beginning of World War I, a war unlike any other before it. Also, in the fields of science, culture, business and technology, things were changing incredible fast.
But, the Lord didn’t return in 1914. So they ended up saying that actually Jesus did return that year to the earth. But that He’s now presently “in the clouds”, looking over the judgment books. And honesty, if you keep up with these kinds of things, this type of prophetic interpretation is happening in our times just as much if not more than it was 100 years ago. Remember Saddam Hussein?
At the time of the Iraq war, there were all kinds of web sites and commentators saying that Saddam Hussein was the Biblical Antichrist. And the modern nation of Iraq was the fulfillment of Babylon the Great from Revelation 18.
Websites and airwaves were full of those kinds of twisted, opportunistic interpretations of Bible prophecy, often for political motives and secular agendas. We believers are supposed to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But that doesn’t mean we’re to be naive, gullible and easily manipulated.
I believe it’s important to be very realistic and cautious about interpreting God’s Word. There’s just a real danger in getting overly specific about soon-coming events through a misapplication and misinterpretation of ancient Bible prophecy, especially if politics or nationalism is using Bible prophecy for their own secular ends. Not only can you just being totally wrong, you can do enormous damage to the faith of millions of people “the multitudes in the valley of decision”, as the prophet Joel talked about.
There are so many people today “in the valley of decision”, who sense the truth and want to learn more. But when they’re stumbled by false teaching and prophetic interpretations that prove false, they turn away from God and search elsewhere for the truth they’re seeking. That’s heartbreaking and must grieve the heart of the God of Abraham for any of us to do that.
On the other hand, simply because mistakes like this have been made, it doesn’t take anything away from the certainty of prophecy. But it’s a serious, sober warning to us all to not teach speculation and hypothesis as something that we should take as absolute gospel truth.