As one of the most inspired and influential co-founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ellen White spoke and wrote extensively on weighty spiritual topics. One topic that was particularly important during the early years of the Advent Movement and Adventist Church was the literal Second Coming of Christ.
Ever since she was a teenager growing up in Maine in the early 1840s, she eagerly anticipated the coming of Jesus. And she encouraged her fellow believers to do the same, saying, “Get ready, get ready to meet the Lord. Trim your lamps, and let the light of truth shine forth into the byways and the hedges.”1
Here are some of the different elements of the Second Coming she was inspired to study and write about:
- The literal nature of the Second Coming
- Early Adventism and the Second Coming belief
- Keeping a biblical focus
- The problem with setting a date for Christ’s return
- The “Time of Trouble” that precedes the Second Coming
- The resurrections and the New Jerusalem
- Looking forward to Christ’s return—no reason to fear!
Let’s comb through them one at a time.
The literal nature of the Second Coming
Ellen White believed and taught a literal, global Second Coming of Jesus—just as the Bible describes. She also emphasized the importance of preparing our hearts for this event.
The formation of this belief came after a considerable amount of deep Bible study.
On October 22, 1844, Ellen (Harmon at the time, as she hadn’t yet married James White) was one of the thousands who were disappointed when Jesus did not return to earth as predicted by a popular preacher of that time, William Miller.
But rather than remain disappointed, she and several others went back to their Bibles and dug deeper for truth. Where might they have gone wrong?
They discovered that 1844 actually marked the approximate time in which Jesus began His work in the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 9:23-26). It wasn’t a date for Jesus’ return to earth.
However, as she and others in the Advent Movement preached the biblical teaching of the Second Coming, they met some resistance.
Many other Christians during that time thought of the Second Coming as a metaphorical or spiritual event.
One popular belief was that the Second Coming pointed to the rise of a generation who obeyed God and was socially responsible here on earth.2
Others believed Jesus would come back to earth and stay on the planet for a thousand years.3
Still others believed the Second Coming had already been fulfilled in the first century A.D., during the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.4
Despite contemporary views to the contrary, Ellen White remained convicted of a literal Second Coming as the Bible described it. Jesus would literally be seen by everyone around the world, in a brightly-lit sky with His angels.5
Here are several of the Bible texts she used for reference of this belief:
Matthew 24:30 (CSB) – “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
Mark 13:26 (CSB) – “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”
Luke 21:27 (ESV) – “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
John 14:3 (CSB) – “If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.”
Titus 2:12, 13 (ESV) – “Training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Revelation 1:7 (CSB) – “Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”
There was a sense of positive urgency to her understanding of the Second Coming. She was convinced Jesus was coming soon. She felt it was impossible to continue with business as usual knowing that Jesus could come back at any time.
The Lord is coming. We hear the footsteps of an approaching God. We are to prepare the way for Him by acting our part in getting a people ready for that great day.6
In keeping with a conviction about a literal Second Coming, she believed Bible teaching that the resurrected righteous will meet Jesus in the air when He returns:
“The righteous dead will come forth from their graves, and those who are alive will be caught up with them to meet the Lord in the air.”7
Early Adventism and the Second Coming belief
The biblical teaching of the Second Coming was so important to Ellen White and other early Adventists that they established it as part of the very name of the church—Seventh-day Adventist—when the denomination was organized on May 21, 1863, in Battle Creek, Michigan. Up until then, they were considered the “Advent Movement.”
“Sound an alarm through the land,” she would later write. “Tell the people that the day of the Lord is near, and hasteneth greatly… We have no time to lose… The coming of the Lord is nearer than when we first believed.”8
The Adventist Church was and is heavily influenced by the writings of Ellen White insofar as they point Christians back to studying the Bible.
It is because of the urgency of the message of a soon Second Coming that Adventists place such a great emphasis on Christ’s return. During Ellen White’s time, few regarded the Second Coming as a near-future event. It felt nebulous and far off, so the urgency and importance was rarely emphasized.
But Jesus Himself says He is coming back soon (Revelation 22:20). It’s the culmination of everything we can hope for!
She knew that belief and hope in the return of Christ made all the difference in the work of the Adventist movement. It was an organizing principle of the church.
“All the discourses that we give are plainly to reveal that we are waiting, working, and praying for the coming of the Son of God,” she wrote in 1902, showing how central the Second Coming was to her understanding of where Christians should focus their efforts.9
Keeping a biblical focus
Ellen White was adamant the only reason for her writings was to encourage readers to study the Bible for themselves. This was as true for learning about the Second Coming as it was for any other biblical truth.10
She saw her role as pointing people back to the Bible, as opposed to relying on tradition or human theories in their search for truth.
“Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light,”11 she stated, describing her role as this “lesser light” that directs Christians toward further Bible study.
She would make this point because she’d experienced the Holy Spirit’s guidance in a special way. She was given spiritual insight that was much needed in her time. Millions recognized that she demonstrated the prophetic gift that is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4.
In 1844, after the Great Disappointment, she had the very first of these visions from God. In it, she saw the Second Coming of Jesus and described the joy that “filled every heart” of those waiting expectantly for Him as He welcomed those who have chosen to follow Him.12
Even so, her writing was “not given—nor can it ever be bestowed—to supersede the Bible; for the Scriptures explicitly state that the Word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. … Isaiah declares, ‘To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them’ [Isaiah 8:20].”13
The problem with attempting to set a date for Christ’s return
Although she was convinced Jesus was coming back very soon, Ellen White did not advocate setting a date for the Second Coming of Christ, especially after what she and many others learned after the Great Disappointment.
Christ stated plainly to His disciples that He Himself could not make known the day or the hour of His second appearing. The exact time of the second coming of the Son of Man is God’s mystery [Matthew 24:36].14
Our position has been one of waiting and watching, with no time proclamation to intervene between the close of the prophetic periods in 1844 and the time of the Lord’s coming.15
She specifically warned against “false excitement” connected to people predicting specific dates for the Second Coming. She said this was a distraction from the work believers should be doing in seeking God’s will and then following it.16
Discussing the “Time of Trouble” and other events that precede the Second Coming
Ellen White was a careful student of what the book of Daniel calls “a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time” (Daniel 12:1, ESV).
This time of trouble predicted by this prophet reflects the vivid description of wars, earthquakes and other disasters talked about in Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13.
Per the Bible’s teaching, she believed this time of trouble would happen right before the Second Coming of Jesus.
She reminded readers of apostle John’s description of a time of serious persecution in which a powerful “beast” attempts to force everyone to worship him. It will be a dramatic time in which plagues break out and evil is unleashed on earth to such an extent that God’s followers cry out, “How long O Lord?” (Revelation 6:10, KJV).
However, she encouraged fellow Christians not to fear this time, but to embrace it with the hope that Christ’s coming was near, and the Holy Spirit would strengthen and guide His followers.
There is a time of trouble coming to the people of God, but we are not to keep that constantly before the people and rein them up to have a time of trouble beforehand.17
In other words, she was warning against sensationalizing this future event and engaging in fearmongering.
The resurrections and the New Jerusalem
After this “Time of Trouble,” there is a glorious thing to look forward to—the resurrection of the righteous. When studying the Bible about the Second Coming, you’ll come across the description of the resurrection of those who believed in Jesus. The Bible teaches that this will happen as Jesus returns (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
She felt it important to emphasize the hope this resurrection can give us. In 1898, writing specifically to young people in a weekly, 4-page publication called Youth’s Instructor, she said, “to the believing one, death is but a small matter. With him to die is but to sleep. ‘Them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him’ [I Thessalonians 4:14].18
Her writing reflected the Bible’s teaching that those who have died believing in Jesus will be resurrected when He comes back (John 11:25-26).
Amid the reeling of the earth, the flash of lightning, and the roar of thunder, the voice of the Son of God calls forth the sleeping saints… they that hear shall live.19
The Bible teaches:
- Those who died believing in Jesus will be raised with new, “incorruptible” bodies (1 Corinthians 15:52).
- They will meet Jesus in the air and go to Heaven with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
She explained it as the resurrected righteous “are made immortal and with the risen saints are caught up to meet their Lord in the air.”20
The Bible also speaks of the resurrection of those who rejected Christ.
This second resurrection takes place after the Millennium.
She writes vividly about how the unrighteous then join Satan in trying to attack Jesus and His followers. They will fail at this and be annihilated before peace is restored for good (Revelation 20:14-15).21
Then the New Jerusalem, the holy city in heaven, will descend onto the earth.
This city is a beautiful, heavenly home that descends to earth after the Millennium. It’s where those who have been saved will live with God.
Ellen White said that in the new earth, “immortal minds will contemplate with never-failing delight the wonders of creative power, the mysteries of redeeming love…”22
Looking forward to Jesus’ return—no reason to fear!
“The coming of the Lord is nearer than when we first believed,” Ellen White wrote in an article published in 1914, less than a year before her death. “The great controversy is nearing its end. Every report of calamity by sea or land is a testimony to the fact that the end of all things is at hand. Wars and rumors of wars declare it. Is there a Christian whose pulse does not beat with quickened action as he anticipates the great events opening before us?”23
As she alluded to in this passage, the Bible describes signs of Christ’s Second Coming that increase in intensity as time progresses.
The Bible says the Second Coming will be preceded by terrible things happening on earth. Moral decay, war, natural disasters, and distinctive natural phenomena will take place (Matthew 24:6-12, 29, 37-39; Mark 13:8, 24-25; Luke 21:10-12; 2 Timothy 3:1-5).
She also believed the Second Coming was near because Jesus had entered the holiest part of the heavenly sanctuary in 1844. This was a clearly marked milestone.
The sanctuary in heaven is the very center of Christ’s work on behalf of men. It concerns every soul living upon the earth. It opens to view the plan of redemption, bringing us down to the very close of time, and revealing the triumphant issue of the contest between righteousness and sin.24
The soon Second Coming means Christians would do well to live their lives with a sense of urgency, or a spirit of positive expectancy. She believed it was very important for Christians not to be complacent given the times they were living in, similar to the Revelation churches of Laodicea and Ephesus (Revelation 2-3).
The true Christian’s joys and consolation must and will be in heaven. The longing souls of those who have tasted of the powers of the world to come and have feasted on heavenly joys, will not be satisfied with things of earth.
Such will find enough to do in their leisure moments. Their souls will be drawn out after God. Where the treasure is, there will the heart be, holding sweet communion with the God they love and worship.
Their amusement will be in contemplating their treasure—the Holy City, the earth made new, their eternal home. And while they dwell upon those things which are lofty, pure, and holy, heaven will be brought near, and they will feel the power of the Holy Spirit, and this will tend to wean them more and more from the world and cause their consolation and chief joy to be in the things of heaven, their sweet home.
The power of attraction to God and heaven will then be so great that nothing can draw their minds from the great object of securing the soul’s salvation and honoring and glorifying God.White, Ellen G., Early Writings, p. 112-113
More than anything, it’s important to remember that the Second Coming of Jesus can bring us hope beyond anything else. And that can even make a difference in our lives today, knowing that we don’t have to fear for the future.
Jesus is our future!
And that’s exactly what Ellen White wants for us all.
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- White, Ellen G., Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 106
- Miller, Randall M., Stout, Harry S., Wilson, Charles R., Religion and the American Civil War, p. 115
- Frost, Samuel, Hassertt, Edward, Sullivan, Michael, Green, David, House Divided: Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology—A Preterist Response to When Shall These Things Be?
- White, Ellen G., The Great Controversy, pp. 640-642; Revelation 1:7
- White, Ellen G., The Review and Herald, November 12 issue, 1914
- White, Ellen G., The Acts of the Apostles, p. 34
- White, Ellen G., Evangelism, p. 218
- White, Ellen G., Letters and Manuscripts, vol. 17, “Letter 150,” 1902
- White, Ellen G., The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, November 3 issue, 1859, p. 186
- White, Ellen G., A Call To Stand Apart, p. 68
- White, Ellen G., Christian Experience and Teachings of Ellen G. White, p. 58
- The Great Controversy, p. E.1
- White, Ellen G., The Desire of Ages, pp. 632, 633
- White, Ellen G., Letters and Manuscripts, vol. 5, “Letter 38”
- White, Ellen G., Review and Herald Extra, July 21, 1851: “Dear Brethren”
- White, Ellen G., Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 180
- Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 302
- The Great Controversy, p. 644
- White, Ellen G., The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 464
- White, Ellen G., Early Writings, pp. 294-295
- The Great Controversy, p. 677
- White, Ellen G., The Review and Herald, November 12 issue, 1914
- White, Ellen G., Christ In His Sanctuary, p. 67