As I think about it, we’ve already had two mega-disasters, in which Christian nations were fighting and slaughtering each other. Tens of millions of Christians died. These were World War I and World War II. Why didn’t Christ return to save much of Christian civilization at that time? There was even one group (the Jehovah’s Witnesses/Watch Tower Society) who had predicted both upheaval and Christ’s return in 1914. Charles Taze Russell turned out to be right about the upheaval, but not about the return.
Was WW I, then, similar to the disaster of the Jewish revolt in 70 AD? Was WW II, in some sense, similar to the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 135 AD? And, like the Jewish people of those times who were left wondering why the Messiah of their expectations had not appeared, should we now be re-calibrating our expectations and looking backwards in time for a non-mega-miraculous Messenger who appeared relatively quietly, in a manner different from what we had thought?
And if so, where and how far back should we look?
Well, let’s see...The Bar Kokhba Revolt took place about 100 years after the Jewish leaders had rejected and crucified Jesus. (Historians say it took place from 132 to 136 AD.) If WW II is the modern Bar Kokhba disaster, what was happening about 100 years prior to World War II? This would be 1839 to 1845.
Christians who have some knowledge of the history of fundamentalist Christianity will recognize this time as the period during which large groups in both America and Europe were expecting the return of Christ in what was known as the Second Great Awakening. (The first Great Awakening was primarily about people’s recognition that they had to take responsibility for their own spiritual development, rather than relying on others.) In the years leading up to 1844, William Miller was attracting huge crowds with his explanation of how Daniel’s prophecies pointed exactly to that year. Of course, Jesus did not descend from the sky, and Miller was ridiculed for causing “the Great Disappointment” (details are in Wikipedia).
But rather than rejecting the accuracy of the time calculation (which was quite clear), we are open to considering the possibility of a non-mega-miraculous appearance (like Jesus’ first coming) happening at the predicted time. In this case, something could have happened anywhere in the world, and simply not have been immediately noted or understood in the West.
But where should we look? I am tempted to think that the first place to look should be in the Holy Land. However, when I think back to the time that the disciples were asking Jesus about His return, I am reminded that He did not tell His disciples to look there. Instead, He suggested looking to the east. “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matt 24:27)
East of the Holy Land was the vast Persian Empire—the only other known example of monotheism in those days—the land of Cyrus the Great, whom Isaiah has called “God’s anointed” (Isa 45:1) and who is praised by Ezra and in other Old Testament accounts. As noted above, the Wise Men of the East (from Matthew’s account of Christ’s birth), were from Persia, and had some accurate knowledge of the coming of Jesus.
More specifically, a portion of the Persian Empire where Daniel had had his visions of the “Latter Days”, was known as the land of Elam. Perhaps the land where that vision of the “2300 days” occurred, which pointed William Miller and his Christian followers to the year 1844, is the best place to start. It would meet Jesus’ criteria that the Messiah would come from the East.
And indeed, if we go back to that time and place, we find that there was someone claiming to be the Promised One, who was teaching the birth of a new message from God. He was calling to the peoples “of the East and the West”--not just his particular region--and was describing the fulfillment of a promise that was occurring because it was the end of the millennium of separation from God.