Failed Prophecies about Christ's Return

By Dirk Anderson, last updated Feb. 2024

As a teenager living in the early 1840s in the midst of Millerite preaching, Ellen Harmon was caught up in the excitement of setting dates for the return of Christ. After the failure of William Miller's first prediction that Jesus would return in 1843, his associate Samuel Snow quickly calculated a new date of October 22, 1844, and the Millerite preachers again proclaimed the imminent return of Christ. After the Great Disappointment in 1844, many Adventists did not immediately give up their hope of an imminent return. Samuel Snow taught that the Millerites were in a "tarrying time" while Jesus slowly made his way to the earth (Habakkuk 2:3). Other Adventists, including James White, pointed to a parable in Luke 12:35-40 to predict Jesus would return in the "fourth watch" of the night, which they predicted would happen in October of 1845. Other Adventists believed the Jubilee trumpet sounded in October of 1844, and that Jesus would return at the end of the Jubilee year in October of 1845. It wasn't until the late in 1845 that most Adventists had abandoned the idea of continually predicting new dates for the return of Christ. However, the Shut Door Adventists, led by Joseph Bates and James and Ellen White, continued to make predictions about the return of Christ. This document will demonstrate Mrs. White repeatedly made failed predictions about the return of Christ throughout her lifetime.

Ellen White's Early Failed Predictions

Lucinda Burdick, a friend of Mrs. White in the 1840s, explains how Mrs. White often predicted Christ's return:

I became acquainted with James White and Ellen Harmon (now Mrs. White) early in 1845. ... She pretended God showed her things which did not come to pass. At one time she saw that the Lord would come the second time in June 1845. The prophecy was discussed in all the churches, and in a little 'shut-door paper' published in Portland, Me. During the summer, after June passed, I heard a friend ask her how she accounted for the vision? She replied that 'they told her in the language of Canaan, and she did not understand the language; that it was the next September that the Lord was coming, and the second growth of grass instead of the first in June.' September passed, and many more have passed since, and we have not seen the Lord yet. It soon became evident to all candid persons, that many things must have been 'told her in the language of Canaan,' or some other which she did not understand, as there were repeated failures.  I could mention many which I knew of myself.

Once, when on their way to the eastern part of Maine, she saw that they would have great trouble with the wicked, be put in prison, etc. This they told in the churches as they passed through. When they came back, they said they had a glorious time. Friends asked if they had seen any trouble with the wicked, or prisons? They replied, 'None at all.' People in all the churches soon began to get their eyes open, and came out decidedly against her visions; and, just as soon as they did so, she used to see them 'with spots on their garments,' as she expressed it. I was personally acquainted with several ministers, whom she saw landed in the kingdom with 'Oh! such brilliant crowns, FULL of stars.' As soon as they took a stand against the visions, she saw them 'doomed, damned, and lost for ever, without hope.'1

Despite her failures in 1844 and 1845, Mrs. White continued predicting Christ's imminent return. She and James appear to have adopted Joseph Bates' prediction that the Day of Atonement would last seven years, and Christ would return in the fall of 1851.2 Mrs. White was soon having visions supporting Bates' flawed view. She had a vision on Nov. 18, 1848 (in Dorchester), and Bates published a transcript of it in his book, The Seal of the Living God, in 1849:

The time of trouble has commenced, the reason why the four winds have not been let go, for the saints are not all sealed...

According to this vision, the time of trouble was in progress in 1849 and the sealing process was underway. Bates joined his voice with Ellen White and announced in the same book that the "time of trouble has began."

In the summer of 1849, a cholera epidemic struck American cities leaving hundreds of people dead. Mrs. White apparently saw this event as an end-time fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy of "pestilences" and other events which were the "beginning of sorrows" (Matt. 24:7-8). She instills terror in her readers with a graphic prediction of soon being surrounded with dead bodies:

What we have seen and heard of the pestilence, is but the beginning of what we shall see and hear. Soon the dead and dying will be all around us.3

Not long after this prophecy was penned the epidemic ended and the United States entered a period of relative peace and prosperity that lasted for many years. The above line was removed when the passage was republished 33 years later in Early Writings (1882). Today, thanks to the foresight of those who quietly deleted it, few Seventh-day Adventists are aware of this inspired prophecy.

In January of 1849, Mrs. White shared another one of her visions:

I saw some, looking too far off for the coming of the Lord. Time has continued on a few years longer than they expected, therefore they think it may continue a few years more, and in this way their minds are being led from present truth, out after the world.4

In this vision Mrs. White saw it was wrong for some to think the coming of the Lord was yet a few years off. This shows her visions taught her that the Lord's coming would be sooner than "a few years." How many years are "a few" years? Two? Three? Five? It has now been years! Ironically, the believers she criticized for not expecting the imminent return of Christ were actually correct, while she was wrong.

In March of 1849, Mrs. White wrote to Sister Hastings describing how the time left before Christ's return is so "short" that it can be described as "a few more days."

A few more days here in toil and then we shall be free. Time is short; let us hold fast unto the end.5

On March 24, 1849, Mrs. White had a vision of an unnamed man:

I saw that this person was a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction, reserved for the seven last plagues...6

That man died long ago without ever experiencing the "seven last plagues" as Mrs. White predicted from what she "saw" in vision. This is another definitive proof her visions are false.

In the August 1, 1849, issue of the Review, Mrs. White reminds her readers that the sealing time is in progress:

Satan is now using every device in this sealing time... I saw that Satan was at work in these ways to distract, deceive, and draw away God’s people, just now in this sealing time.

By April of 1850, Mrs. White was claiming that the final shaking had begun:

The mighty shaking has commenced.7

Meanwhile, her husband James was claiming that the departure of God's people from Babylon (Rev. 18:4) was already completed:

Babylon, the nominal church is fallen. God's people have come out of her. She is now the 'synagogue of Satan' (Rev. 3:9). 'The habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and the cage of every unclean and hateful bird' (Rev. 18:2).8

On June 27, 1850, Mrs. White wrote that only a few months remained for the people to get ready:

My accompanying angel said, 'Time is almost finished. Get ready, get ready, get ready.' . . . now time is almost finished. . . and what we have been years learning, they will have to learn in a few months.9

This is a very significant statement. Mrs. White was saying that the Adventist doctrines that she and her associates had spent five years learning would have to be learned by new converts in only a few months.

By September of 1850, Mrs. White was warning that the sealing was almost completed and Jesus was nearly finished with His work in the Most Holy Place:

I saw that the time for Jesus to be in the most Holy place was nearly finished, and that time cannot last but a very little longer. ... The sealing time is very short and soon will be over.10

After the failure of Christ to return in 1851, it was not long before some Adventists set a new date of 1854. Mrs. White claimed in 1854, "I was shown the shortness of time."11 Who would have shown her something that turned out to be totally false? Not God! After it became apparent Jesus was not returning in 1854, she reportedly saw that "the time would pass."12

Rewriting History

After a decade of failed predictions, the Whites did their best to blot out Ellen's false predictions and recast many events as yet future:

  • The time of trouble is yet future:
    • 1894 - "We are in the very shadow of the time of trouble which is fast approaching..."13
    • 1906 - "The time of trouble is very near us now."14
    • 1909 - "A time of trouble is before us."15

  • The Sealing has been delayed:
    • 1897 - "The Lord’s work has been hindered, the sealing time delayed."16

  • Coming out of Babylon is happening again:
    • 1897 - "Now is the time...we cry the message to the churches 'Babylon is fallen, is fallen, ... Come out of her my people'... Let those who believe the message of warning for these last days reveal to the world that they have come out, that they partake not of her sins, that they receive not of her plagues."17
    • 1906 - "In the eighteenth chapter of Revelation is given the call to the churches to come out of Babylon. The time has now come when all God’s people must be gathered into a company and denominated as His special people..."18

  • Seven Last Plagues are yet future:
    • 1894 - "The world is soon to be left by the angel of mercy, and the seven last plagues are to be poured out."19
    • 1895 - "The seven last plagues are about to descend upon the disobedient."20
    • 1899 - "The world is soon to be left by the angel of mercy, and the seven last plagues are to be poured out."21
  • Shaking didn't start until 1899:
    • 1860 - "The shaking must soon take place to purify the church."22
    • 1887 - "We are now having some little shaking, but the time of shaking will come in earnest ere long."23
    • 1899 - "I have repeatedly presented before you and others that there would come a shaking time, when everything that can be shaken will be shaken, that these things that cannot be shaken may remain. We are now entering upon that time."24
    • 1901 - "The time has come when everything that can be shaken will be shaken. We are in the shaking time."25

Thus, many of Ellen White's false statements, which were based on her visions, were either removed from later versions of her writings or reinterpreted to mean something else.

1856 False Prophecy

The most spectacular of her failed prophecies was a specific prediction made at an 1856 conference attended by 67 believers. This statement was later published in the book Testimonies and received widespread attention within the SDA Church. Mrs. White claimed she was shown in vision that some of those present at the 1856 conference would be translated:

I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said the angel: 'Some food for worms, some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus.'26

Mrs. White specifically states that some of those attending the 1856 SDA conference meeting would suffer the seven last plagues that are poured out upon the wicked prior to the return of Christ (Rev. 15:1-8). Furthermore, she states that some would be alive when Jesus returned. The Whites had such confidence in this "vision" that it was published in Mrs. White's Testimonies to the Church and received widespread distribution. However, by 1943, all those who attended the conference had passed away. This left the SDA Church with the dilemma of trying to figure out how to explain away such a prominent prophetic failure.

The Bible leaves no doubt that when a prophet makes a prediction that does not come to pass, that prophet is not speaking for the Lord:

When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him (Deut. 18:22).

Do God's Angels Lie?

In order to believe Ellen White's statement, one must conclude that the angels are liars. Why? Notice what Jesus said about His return: But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only (Matt. 24:36).

Jesus said only the Father knows the day. The angels do not know the day of Christ's return! The return date is a secret known only to God. The very purpose of Christ making this statement is to warn believers to reject any human or angelic being who claims to know the day of Christ's return.

If the angels do not know the day of Christ's return, then how could they tell Ellen White that some of those present at the 1856 conference would be translated? Did God go against Christ's Word and let the angels in on the secret? Consider this:

  • God is omniscient. He is all-knowing. He knows the future. God knows the exact day and the exact hour He is returning to earth (Matt. 24:36). He has known that exact day and exact hour since before the world was created.

  • God "cannot lie" (Titus 1:2). Therefore, it is an absolute impossibility that God could have told His angels He was returning within the life span of the people at the 1856 conference. If He had told his angels that he was returning in the 1800s, while knowing all along that the day and hour were yet far into the future, then He would be a liar.

So then, why would God—knowing all along the exact time of His return—allow His angel to tell His prophet something which He knew was NOT going to happen?

One thing is certain: If an angel did tell Ellen White Christ was going to return while some at that conference were still alive, it was not God's angel!

It appears Mrs. White later had second thoughts about the imminent return of Christ, because in the Spring of 1857, she declared that Adventists needed more time to "develop character," writing: "I saw that this message would not accomplish its work in a few short months."27 This "vision" was a direct contradiction of the statement she made in 1850, that new converts would have to learn the doctrines "in a few months" because time was so short.

Nonstop Failed Predictions

In the early 1860s, when SDA evangelist Merritt Eaton Cornell was preaching about "spiritual gifts," he mentioned that some had placed the return of Christ in 1867 or 1868. He reportedly told that group that Sister White "had been shown that they had got the time set too far ahead."28 While Mrs. White's vision on this subject cannot be found in the White Estate's collection, there is no reason to believe Cornell—a longtime friend and associate of the Whites—was lying. This is yet another indication her visions were inaccurate. As Cornell so aptly put it:

The failure of any prediction would be proof that the prophet was not of God.29

Jesus Coming in the Third Watch?

In 1868, Mrs. White writes of a vision she had:

I saw that watch after watch was in the past. Because of this, should there be a lack of vigilance? Oh, no! There is the greater necessity of unceasing watchfulness, for now the moments are fewer than before the passing of the first watch. Now the period of waiting is necessarily shorter than at first. If we watched with unabated vigilance then, how much more need of double watchfulness in the second watch. The passing of the second watch has brought us to the third, and now it is inexcusable to abate our watchfulness. The third watch calls for threefold earnestness. To become impatient now would be to lose all our earnest, persevering watching heretofore. The long night of gloom is trying; but the morning is deferred in mercy, because if the Master should come, so many would be found unready. God’s unwillingness to have His people perish has been the reason for so long delay.30

The first and second watches are past. We are in the third watch, waiting and watching for the Master's return. There remains but a little period of watching now. ... In the first watch we expected our Master, but were disappointed31

Night watches were equal period of time in the ancient world:

  • First watch: 6pm - 9pm
  • Second watch: 9pm - 12am
  • Third watch: 12am - 3am
  • Fourth watch: 3am - 6am

There is no doubt that Ellen viewed the Millerite Movement as the first watch because she notes the disappointment of the Adventists. The Millerite Movement began in 1831 and ended in 1844. Assuming all the other watches are for a similar time period of 13 years, the watches can be calculated out as follows:

  • First watch: 1831 - 1844 (Mrs. White said this had passed)
  • Second watch: 1845 - 1858 (Mrs. White said this had passed)
  • Third watch: 1859 - 1872 (Mrs. White said this watch was the current watch in 1868, but only "a little period" remained)
  • Fourth watch: 1873 - 1886 (This watch was yet future in 1868)

According to James White's theory about the parable of Luke 12, Jesus would return in the fourth watch, which would place His return sometime between 1873 and 1886. Apparently Mrs. White's vision about being in the third watch was false.

Stephen McCullagh Wises Up

Seventh-day Adventists were aware of these false prophecies, and for some it was reason enough to leave the SDA sect. One example is Stephen McCullagh, who was born seven years after the 1856 incident. As a young SDA evangelist, he encountered Ellen White when she visited Australia in the 1890s. He later came to the realization that Ellen White was not a true prophet of God. Afterward, he held public meetings to explain to SDAs why he no longer believed in Ellen White. S.N. Haskell attended one meeting, and reported one of the reasons that McCullagh decided to leave the SDA sect:

That in some meeting where a number of the brethren were, myself [Haskell] included, you saw that we all would live till the Lord would come and that we would all be saved, but many are dying, to our confusion.32

The Sunday Law Crisis and New Predictions

Starting again in 1888, for a period of several years, there was much debate in the United States about passing a national Sunday law. During this time, Mrs. White once again warned that the return of Christ would be witnessed by the current generation. She wrote:

The hour will come; it is not far distant, and some of us who now believe will be alive upon the earth, and shall see the prediction verified, and hear the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God echo from mountain and plain and sea, to the uttermost parts of the earth.33

It has been years since Ellen White wrote this, and every person who was part of the "some of us" she was addressing, is now long deceased. The next year she made similar statements:

[The resurrection] is not far in the future. Some of us will doubtless be living when the voice that is heard everywhere...34

Just before us is a time of trouble such as never was. ... We are living in the last days, and the generation that is to witness the final destruction has not been left without warning of the hastening judgments of God.35

Mrs White affirmed that the generation she was living in had been warned, and would be a "witness" to the final destruction. That generation perished decades ago, and none of them witnessed the final destruction.

In 1892, she wrote:

Something great and decisive is to take place, and that right early. If any delay, the character of God and his throne will be compromised.36

Since there has been a delay of years since this was written, has the character of God been compromised?

Plagues Started in 1901

In 1864, Mrs. White described from a vision the timing of the last seven plagues:

As Jesus moved out of the Most Holy place, I heard the tinkling of the bells upon his garment, and as he left, a cloud of darkness covered the inhabitants of the earth. There was then no mediator between guilty man, and an offended God. While Jesus had been standing between God and guilty man, a restraint was upon the people; but when Jesus stepped out from between man and the Father, the restraint was removed, and Satan had the control of man. It was impossible for the plagues to be poured out while Jesus officiated in the Sanctuary; but as his work there is finished, as his intercession closes, there is nothing to stay the wrath of God, and it breaks with fury upon the shelterless head of the guilty sinner, who has slighted salvation, and hated reproof.37

From this statement it is plain that the last plagues will not be "poured out" until the Investigative Judgment is complete, Jesus stops his work of intercession, and probation closes. In 1901, Mrs. White wrote:

Already the plagues of God are beginning to be poured out. Upon some parts of the world God is permitting the plagues to fall.38

If the plagues started to be poured out in 1901, that creates a contradiction with her 1864 statement which said that the plagues would not be poured out until probation closed. There are only three solutions to this problem:

  • The plagues can fall before probation closes, meaning her 1864 vision was false
  • She was wrong about the plagues falling in 1901, meaning her 1901 statement was false
  • Probation closed prior to 1901

Which one is it?


In 1943, J.H. Kellogg, a small child when he attended the 1856 conference, was the last attendee to pass away. Time has proven that the SDA "spirit of prophecy" was wrong, and SDA apologists have been forced to perform their best mental gymnastics to concoct explanations for this prophetic debacle. It has been years since Ellen White made her 1856 false prophecy, and every person from that generation is now long deceased. Mrs. White made repeated predictions about the imminent return of Christ throughout her entire prophetic career and time has become the ultimate arbitrator in proving her visions to be false.

See also


1. Lucinda Burdick as quoted in Miles Grant, An Examination of Mrs. Ellen White's Visions (Boston, Massachusetts: Advent Christian Publication Society, 1877).

2. Joseph Bates, The Typical and Anti-typical Sanctuary, (1850), 10.

3. Ellen White, Present Truth, Sept. 1849.

4. Ellen White, Broadside 2, January 31, 1849, para. 11.

5. Ellen White, Letter 4, 1849 to Brother and Sister Hastings, March 22 from Topsham, Maine.

6. Ellen White, Manuscript 7, 1849, written March 24, at Topsham, Maine. She also saw that slave masters would "endure the seven last plagues" (Early Writings, 276).

7. Ellen White, Present Truth, April, 1850. Ellen White wrote in 1861, "...we believe the shaking time has come." (Letter 5b, 1861, to Lucinda Hall) Ellen White wrote in 1864, "I saw that we are now in the shaking time." (Testimony for the Church #10 (1864), 38; Review and Herald, Jan. 19, 1864).

8. James White, Present Truth, April, 1850.

9. Ellen White, Early Writings, 64-67. In Letter 30, 1850, to Brother and Sister Loveland, in a section as of yet unreleased by the White Estate (as of Dec. 26, 2018), Ellen White wrote: "Time is almost finished."

10. Ellen White, Experience & Views, 46-47. In 1847, Mrs. White wrote "Dear brethren and sisters, it is an extra meeting for those who have the seal of the living God." (A Word to the Little Flock, 17).

11. Ellen White, Manuscript 6, 1854, para. 2.

12. W.H. Ball, Hope of Israel vol. 1, no. 11, Oct. 23, 1866, 79.

13. Ellen White, Home Missionary, Dec. 1, 1894.

14. Ellen White, Letter 54, 1906.

15. Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 9 (1909), 210.

16. Ellen White, Letter 106, 1897.

17. Ellen White, Manuscript 146, 1897.

18. Ellen White, Manuscript 101, 1906.

19. Ellen White, Manuscript 24a, 1894.

20. Ellen White, Review and Herald, July 23, 1895.

21. Ellen White, Manuscript 122, 1899.

22. Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2 (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1860), 284.

23. Ellen White, Letter 17, 1887.

24. Ellen White, Letter 5, 1889.

25. Ellen White, Review and Herald, June 18, 1901. She also wrote in 1901: "We are in the shaking time, the time when everything that can be shaken will be shaken." (Testimonies, vol. 6, 331).

26. Ellen White, Testimonies, Vol. 1, 131.

27. Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, 223.

28. W.H. Ball, Hope of Israel vol. 1, no. 11 (Oct. 23, 1866), 79.

29. Merritt Eaton Cornell, Miraculous Powers: Scripture Testimony on the Perpetuity of Spiritual Gifts, 2nd ed., (Takoma Park: General Conference, 1875), 15.

30. Ellen White, Testimonies, Vol. 2, 193.

31. Ellen White, "Testimony for the Church at Alcott, New York," (1868), 15.

32. Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Australian Years: 1891 - 1900 vol. 4, 282.

33. Ellen White, Review and Herald, July 31, 1888.

34. Ellen White, Bible Echo, January 15, 1889.

35. Ellen White, Review and Herald, November 5, 1889.

36. Ellen White, "The Crisis Imminent," Manuscript 27, Australia, February 18, 1892. The manuscript was released by the White Estate in 2014. The quote was also published in Special Testimonies Series A, No. lb, (1892) 38.

37. Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, 198.

38. Ellen White, Manuscript 62, 1901 (Manuscript Releases, vol. 5, 17).

Category: Visions Examined
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