Lesson 5: The Great Awakening

Memory Text:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).


 

Fun Facts of the Day:

  • Princeton University had its start in the First Great Awakening. It was created to train new ministers who followed the Christian doctrines promoted by the movement.
  • William Miller was a soldier. He had become a deist when he was young and remained one until the events of the War of 1812.
  • During the height of his ministry, William Miller once preached more than 300 sermons over the course of approximately 6 months. That’s roughly 50 sermons a month.

 

Lesson:

Lesson 5 – The Great Awakening

Throughout the history of the world, prayer and the study of Scripture have proven to be key sources of major revivals and reforms time and time again. It was true in the time of Hezekiah, it was true for Martin Luther, and it is also true in the history of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

The first stirrings of what would build up into the Seventh-Day Adventist Church started in the year 1739 with the arrival of the eloquent young preacher, George Whitefield. His preaching sparked what would come to be known as the First Great Awakening, which itself would go on to influence William Miller, one of the leading figures in the Second Great Awakening.

Without the Great Awakening, a movement that covers the span of over 100 years, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church would never have come into existence. So exactly what was the Great Awakening? Why was it important? And what about it caused the formation of an entirely new denomination? Let’s have a look.


 

Saturday: The First Great Awakening

…so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation (Hebrews 9:28).

It had been some 200 years since the Protestant Reformation and a good 100 years since the founding of the English American colonies when George Whitefield, an English cleric, first began his evangelistic work in the American colonies in 1738. Like the church of Jesus’ time, even the Protestant churches were beginning to slide into a state of apathy and ritualistic indifference, creating a religion that was more tradition-oriented than it was relationship-oriented. The Bible had become seemingly secondary to these people, being replaced, instead, by a tradition of strict, sometimes even harsh rules and long sermons meant to instill absolute fear. It was into this situation that the 24-year-old Whitefield entered in 1738.

Whitefield was no stranger to public speaking when he first came to America. He was already pretty well-known in England. He had a passion for the gospel message, and when he was denied a church in 1740, Whitefield hit the road to do his own sort of preaching.

Whitefield was unique, breaking traditions of preaching at every turn. He was a short, cross-eyed man with a voice that could be heard “over 500 feet,” and his charisma and talent for appealing to people on an emotional level was practically unheard of.  Without a church to preach from, Whitefield traveled for his audiences, sometimes preaching in parks, sometimes in streets, sometimes even from horseback, and he was one of the first evangelists to use print media to gain a broader audience.

Whitefield’s leadership sparked one of the largest spiritual revivals in modern history. Thus, it came to be called “The Great Awakening.” Though the excitement of the First Great Awakening would die down by about 1755, the Whitefield’s work would spark a new desire for reunification of the church with God, setting the stage for what would become the Second Great Awakening many years later.

Think about it:

  • Do you ever feel like your own church has started to put tradition over a relationship with God?
  • Why do you think Whitefield had such an impact on the society of his time?
  • How might you spark a “Great Awakening” in your own community or church?

 


 

Sunday: Pre-Millerite Adventism

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Joseph Wolff was born in 1795, the son of a Jewish rabbi in Weilersbach, Germany. From an early age, Wolff was an incredibly deep thinker with a particular interest in God and the promise of a Messiah. When he was only 7 years old, Wolff got into a conversation with a Christian that would change his life completely from that moment on. The story goes like this:

When only seven years old, he was boasting to an aged Christian neighbour of the future triumph of Israel at the advent of the Messiah, when the old man said kindly, “Dear boy, I will tell you who the real Messiah was: he was Jesus of Nazareth, whom your ancestors crucified, as they slew the prophets of old. Go home and read the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and you will be convinced that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Conviction at once fastened upon him. He went home and read the scripture, wondering to see how perfectly it had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. Were the words of the Christian true? The boy asked of his father an explanation of the prophecy, but was met with a silence so stern that he never again dared to refer to the subject. This however only increased his desire to know more of the Christian religion.

Wolff was baptized in 1812, and set off from there to be a missionary. Unlike many missionaries, Wolff didn’t pick one place to stay, earning him the title of “missionary of the world.” It wasn’t until his mission to Bukhara, however, that Wolff finally began to focus on the second coming of Christ.

The Arabs of Yemen, he says, “are in possession of a book called ‘Seera,’ which gives notice of the coming of Christ and His reign in glory, and they expect great events to take place in the year 1840.” “In Yemen I spent six days with the Rechabites. They drink no wine, plant no vineyards, sow no seed, live in tents, and remember the words of Jonadab, the son of Rechab. With them were the children of Israel of the tribe of Dan, . . . who expect, in common with the children of Rechab, the speedy arrival of the Messiah in the clouds of heaven.”

Though never an active part of the Great Awakening or the Millerite movement, Joseph Wolff’s work and testimony had a noticeable impact on them. This is especially true since Wolff was meeting with the Rechabites around the same time that Miller was coming to his conclusions about the second coming of Christ. (Check out The Great Controversy, pg. 196, if you would like to read more).

Think about it:

  • Why do you think the timing of Wolff and Miller’s discoveries was so unique? Was it just coincidence, or was it something more?
  • Why do you think the neighbor’s words had such a big influence of Wolff?
  • As a Seventh-Day Adventist looking forward to the soon return of Christ, when people meet you, can they see a difference in you the way Wolff saw something special in the Rechabites?

 

Monday: William Miller and the Millerite Movement

Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped (Revelation 14:14-16).

35 years after the end of the First Great Awakening, a second movement for revival, especially in the Methodist and Baptist churches, began to stir, picking up where Whitefield had left off. Among the leaders of this movement was William Miller, a Baptist soldier-turned-theologian who would pave the way for what would come to be known as the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Miller was born in Massachusetts in 1782, the son of a Revolutionary War veteran and the daughter of a Baptist minister. When he was still young, however, Miller decided to reject the religion of his parents, turning instead to deism, the belief that God exists but has no interest in the lives of humanity. He held on to this belief until the War of 1812, where the American army’s success despite terrible odds compelled him to change his mind.

After that, Miller began a two-year study of the Scriptures, and over the course of his studies, he became fascinated by the prophecies, especially those relating to the end of time and the second coming of Christ. He saw in his own day and age signs that the end was near, and by the end, he was convinced that the Second Coming would occur even in his own lifetime, placing his estimate somewhere around 1843.

Starting in 1840, Miller’s teaching became a widely recognized movement, one that would come to be called the Millerite Movement. Millerites made up a variety of faiths, though they were mostly Methodists and Baptists. They still attended their own churches, but they held one thing in common: the hopeful expectation of the soon return of Christ.

Miller wasn’t alone, though. Joined by people such as Joshua V. Himes, a pastor and publisher who played a leading role in popularizing Miller’s message; William E. Foy, a mulatto preacher with a gift for speech and who received a lot of the same visions that Ellen White would later receive, though he was too afraid to make them public; Charles Bowles, an African American Millerite preacher in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont; Joseph Bates, a seaman by trade and one of the first people to promote the health reform; and James White, a teacher-turned-preacher who joined the Millerite movement after hearing about it from his parents.

Miller, along with these exceptional leaders and others, put a newfound emphasis on Bible study and prayer as they prepared for what they believed was the imminent coming of Christ.

Think about it:

  • Why do you think William Miller’s message made such an impact on the people?
  • Do you think the Millerite movement would have been so big if Miller had done everything by himself?
  • Why do you think it’s important for fellow believers to work together to spread God’s message?

 

Tuesday: The Great Disappointment

Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven (Mark 13:26-27).

William Miller had set his prediction of Christ’s return to somewhere between March 22, 1843 and March 22, 1844. His followers, convinced that they would no longer need to worry about the cares of this world, often abandoned everything – families, homes, jobs, crops – in the belief that it wouldn’t matter anyway. When March 22, 1844 passed without incident, Miller and his followers dove back into the scriptures. Upon further study, they decided that they had the month wrong, and moved the prediction to October 22, 1844.

That night, followers from all over gathered on a great stone, which would come to be known as Ascension Rock, as they waited for the Lord to come. Time passed, however, and nothing happened. The depression and disappointment that followed was extraordinary.

Henry Emmons, a Millerite, would later write:

I waited all Tuesday [October 22] and dear Jesus did not come;– I waited all the forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o’clock I began to feel faint, and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain– sick with disappointment.

After that, the Millerite movement ended, with followers splitting up into several different branches of thought. Some believed that the date was correct but that, rather than being the date of Christ’s advent, it was, instead, the date of the close of probation, meaning that no one after that time could be saved. Some, following the leadership of Joshua Himes, believed that they had simply been wrong, and that nothing had actually happened at all. But some, convinced that they were missing something important, dove back into the Scriptures, coming to the conclusion that something did, in fact, happen, but that the “cleansing of the Sanctuary” had never meant earth; it actually meant the heavenly Sanctuary.

This third group, a collection devout Christians of many faiths and walks of life, would go on to become one group with a common purpose: to turn back to the Bible teachings as they looked forward to the day of Christ’s return.

Think about it:

  • Have you ever been so disappointed that you have literally felt sick?
  • If you had been one of the Millerites, which group do you think you would have fallen into?
  • Why is it important for us to know and understand what happened during the Great Awakening?

 

Wednesday: Looking Upward

Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:1-3).

It has been over 100 years since the Millerites faced the Great Disappointment. Over and over again we hear, “Jesus is coming soon!” But that’s what our ancestors said, right? Why should we care so much now, when obviously He still hasn’t come back yet?

There are several reasons why keeping our eyes focused ever forward and upward is so important:

  1. It reminds us to not get comfortable with our lives here on this earth.
  2. It helps us to remember that the problems we face here on this earth are only temporary.
  3. It encourages us to maintain a constant relationship with our Creator, Savior, and Friend.

Think of it this way:

One day, a young man tells his girlfriend that he wants to take her somewhere very, very special. He wants to give her a dream date, and so he tells her to dress up really nice and wait for him. He’s going to come pick her up soon.

Excited about the date, the girl goes and gets ready. She takes a shower, puts on her best dress, does her hair and her make-up, puts on perfume, paints her nails, and does everything else she can think of to make herself ready for when her boyfriend comes to pick her up. Then she waits.

One hour passes by, so she works on tidying up around the house before he gets there. Two hours pass by, and so she checks her phone to see if she’s missed any calls or texts from him. Three hours, and so she asks him how much longer and he tells her, “Soon.” Four hours pass, and so the girl checks herself in the mirror to make sure she still looks nice and that her perfume is still fresh.

How long will the girl wait for her boyfriend?

I guess the answer to that question is this: how much does she love and trust him?

Think about it:

  • Do you ever feel like maybe Jesus will never come?
  • Why is it so important to keep our eyes focused of Christ’s return?
  • In what ways can looking forward to the Second Coming help us in our daily lives?

 

Thursday: Every Eye Shall See

Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen (Revelation 1:7).

If we’re to be ready for Jesus when He comes back for us, one of the most important things we can do is be so familiar with Him that we will recognize truth from deception.

One of the marks of the end times will be that many false christs and false prophets will go out of their way to deceive as many people as possible. In Matthew 24:23-26, it says:

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.

Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it.

So how can we know the difference?

By coming to know Christ Himself.

Think about it:

  • If Jesus were to come up to you right now, do you think you would recognize Him?
  • Why do you think people will believe the false Christs when they come?
  • Why is the fact that “every eye will see Him” so important?

 

Friday: The Thief in the Night

But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:43-44).

Since the year 69 AD, over 200 dates have been set for the supposed end of the world, and a good half of them are focused specifically on Christ Himself. Everyone wants to know: when will the suffering end? Even Jesus’ apostles wanted to know exactly when the end would take place. And honestly, who wouldn’t want to know? Have you seen this world?

With all the prophecies and predictions in the Bible, it’s easy to fall into the temptation of trying to predict when Jesus will come. However, there is a danger in that, too. One of the things about setting dates is that, along with them, you also set expectations. And, as it was with the Millerites, when those expectations aren’t met, the failure often discredits the person who set the date, even if he or she does eventually come to the truth.

While some who look for specific dates for Christ’s return are genuinely wanting to see Him, many people are also looking for an excuse to live their lives of sin as long as possible.

“I’ll change my ways tomorrow,” they say, because they genuinely believe “tomorrow” will come.

Jesus, knowing the human tendency to want to wait until a deadline to do something about their lives, specifically told his disciples, “…if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:43-44).”

Rather than trying to set a specific date, we should, instead, make sure that, like the 5 wise virgins (Matthew 25), we are always ready, looking forward not to a deadline but a promise that Christ will return for us at the exact right time.

Think about it:

  • Should be ever try to predict when Jesus will come? Why or why not?
  • When it comes to the fact that Jesus is coming soon, where should our focus be?
  • What do you think it means to always be ready for Christ’s return?

 

Conclusion:

The promise of Jesus’ Second Coming is key to the life of a Christian. It is the basis of the gospel message, even more so than God’s message of love and forgiveness in many ways, and is a promise that we look forward to seeing fulfilled.

Part of the importance of learning the history of where we come from is that we can learn from those who came before us. It was Bible study and prayer that led to the great revivals of that era, and though the people of the Great Awakening did not always get it 100% right, those who managed to avoid becoming bitter or all-together disheartened by the disappointment had one thing in common: they went back to the Bible to see what they had gotten wrong.

As we look forward to Christ’s return, it is important for us to thoroughly understand what we believe. That’s why Bible study and prayer are so important. They prepare us for that moment when we can finally leave this world of sadness and pain behind, keeping us always ready for our Savior’s return.


 

Game/Activity:

Title: Popcorn Bible Books

How to Play: On slips of paper, write down the names of the books of the Bible. There are different levels of difficulty for this game.

  1. Just the Old Testament – Have each person draw a slip of paper with the name of an Old Testament book on it. They are not allowed to say which one they have until the game starts. Start a timer, and have the person with the first book (Genesis) say the name aloud. The next person (Exodus) will then say their name, and every person needs to say their book in the proper order. In a small group, some people will have more than one or two books. See how fast they can collectively say the names of the Old Testament books in order.
  2. Just the New Testament – The same as above, but with New Testament books.
  3. Old Testament and New Testament Together – The same as above, but with both Old and New Testaments.
  4. Random Books – The same as #3, except that in this case, each student will only get one book. The teacher will then read out a random book of the Bible, then say: “Before” or “After.” Those who have books that come before (in the first case) or after (in the second case) the one read will raise their hands, then be challenged to then get together and put their books in order in a 30 second time frame.
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