A response to attacks against the Signs of the End

(1755, 1780, and 1833)

The critics of Adventism and of Ellen White have frequently pointed out that there have been other great earthquakes, dark days and star showers in history. Dirk Anderson, a former Adventist and a leading critic at Ellenwhiteexposed asks, “Are these signs really fulfillments of Bible prophesy?”*. What makes the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the Dark Day of 1780 and the Leonid Star Shower of 1833 unique? The answer is fourfold:  Location, order, time and intensity.

  • With regards to location it is not coincidental that these signs appeared in Europe and in the United States. Europe, because there the deadly wound would be given to the papacy and this would mark the end of the tribulation of 1260 days.  The United States, (especially New England) because there the message of the judgment would be proclaimed powerfully by the Millerites beginning in the 1830s. C. Mervyn Maxwell well states:
“The location of the classic signs was highly significant. They happened in Europe and America primarily, where people were studying the Bible and pondering the prophecies. A dark day in the Sahara Desert or a star shower over New Guinea would have said little in those days about the second coming of Christ to cannibal headhunters or Muslim nomads. Events need not be universal to deliver a global message. A few square miles at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sufficient to announce the atomic age. A stable in Bethlehem ushered in the Christian era. Only a few hundred people saw Jesus after His resurrection—but they told others.” Magnificent Disappointment, pp. 93, 94.

  • With respect to order, these phenomena occurred in history in the precise chronological order in which they are described in Revelation 6. The Lisbon earthquake occurred in 1755, the Dark Day and moon like blood occurred in 1780 and the star shower took place in 1833. Show me one other instance in human history where these phenomena have taken place in this precise order within a period of less than one hundred years!
  • These signs also occurred precisely at the right time, precisely before the tribulation of the 1260 years came to an end and immediately before the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the fall of the papacy (1798) and the beginning of the judgment (1844)
  • Concerning the intensity of these signs C. Mervyn Maxwell has well stated:
“As recently as 1980, the widely respected seismologist, G. A. Eiby, in chapter 11 of his Earthquakes, ranked the Lisbon earthquake as ‘the largest shock ever’ and reckoned that it may well have reached an almost incredible 9.0 on the Richter scale, seven times stronger than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. . . The dark day of May 19, 1780 has not been equaled in North America in the two hundred years that have since come and gone. The Leonid shower of November 13, 1833 gave birth to a new branch of astronomy. . . Like the Lisbon earthquake and the famous dark day, it too has not been matched, in spite of the scientific expectations that it would be.”  Magnificent Disappointment, p. 93

The following is a brief response to the main arguments which some critics have raised over the aforementioned dates and signs.

Argument: (Lisbon Earthquake of 1755) Mrs. White claimed this earthquake was "the most terrible earthquake that has ever been recorded". In terms of destructive power, the Lisbon earthquake was neither the strongest nor the most destructive earthquake in history. For example, on January 23, 1556, the China, Shansi earthquake recorded 830, 000 deaths where as the Lisbon earthquake recorded only about 100,000 deaths.

Here’s Mrs. White’s quote in context:

In fulfillment of this prophecy (Rev. 6:12) there occurred in the year 1755, the most terrible earthquake that has ever been recorded. Though commonly known as the earthquake of Lisbon, it extended to the greater part of Europe, Africa, and America. It was felt in Greenland, in the West Indies, in the island of Madeira, in Norway and Sweden, Great Britain and Ireland. It pervaded an extent of not less than four million square miles. In Africa the shock was almost as severe as in Europe. A great part of Algeria was destroyed; and a short distance from Morocco, a village containing eight or ten thousand inhabitants was swallowed up. A vast wave swept over the coast of Spain and Africa engulfing cities and causing great destruction. (Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 304.)

Response: Mrs. White doesn’t say that the Lisbon earthquake was “the most terrible earthquake that has ever been recorded” because of the damage and death it caused, but because of its widespread nature and the impact it exerted on the minds of those who experienced it. She uses terms such as “it extended”, “it pervaded”, and “it was felt” in the greater part of Europe, Africa, and America to describe the earthquakes impact, which the history confirms and concurs.

J. Nourse in The History and Philosophy of Earthquakes, London, (1757), p. 334 writes, "The effects were distributed over very nearly four millions of square English miles of the earth's surface, and greatly surpassed anything of the kind ever recorded in history."
Recalling the great cataclysm of the Lisbon Earthquake, Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic writes:
On the morning of November 1, 1755, an earthquake destroyed Lisbon. It lasted ten minutes, and concluded with a tsunami at the mouth of the Tagus River. Tens of thousands of people perished, and the philosophical confidence of Europe was forever shaken. When I began to grasp the magnitude of what the Asian ocean wrecked last week (Asian Tsunami disaster in December 2004), it was to the Lisbon literature that I turned for assistance (1).

Argument: (The Dark Day of 1780) There have been a number of "dark days" throughout history caused by smoke in the air. Even in recent times smoke in the air has caused localized darkness during the day, and has caused the moon to appear reddish in color.

Response: Neither Scripture nor Ellen White teach that the eschatological signs in question—the Lisbon earthquake, the Dark Day, and the falling of the stars—were, or would be, strictly supernatural. Indeed, when Christ spoke of famines, pestilences, earthquakes (Matthew 24:7), “distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring” (Luke 21:25) as noteworthy events preceding His return, He did not say all of these would be caused by God (or Satan) acting alone. Many of the Bible’s miracles took place through God using available natural elements—Moses sprinkling ashes to bring boils on the Egyptians (Exodus 9:10), Elisha using salt to heal the waters of Jericho (2 Kings 2:20, 21), and Christ Himself using spittle to heal a blind man’s eyes (John 9:6, 7). With this in mind, there is no reason why God couldn’t use tectonic plate movements, forest fires, or a Leonid shower to signal the nearness of Jesus’ coming.

Argument: (The Leonid Star Shower of 1833) In 1863, a Yale professor named Hubert Anson Newton identified the 1833 shower as being part of a recurring pattern of meteor showers that visited the earth about every 33 to 34 years. Newton discovered that the Leonid showers began as early as 585 AD. He succeeded in tracing accounts of the Leonids for almost a thousand years. Particularly impressive displays were found to have taken place in 1533, 1366, 1202, 1037, 967, 934, and 902. If the Leonid meteor showers are indeed a fulfillment of Bible prophecy, then one would have to conclude that it was the 1966 shower--not the 1833 shower--that fulfilled prophecy.

Yes, the Leonid shower returns three times per century. However, it has never gained as much publicity as it did in 1833. In 1833, it was waking people up in the middle of the night. Yet, even if there was a big meteor shower in 1966, it would not have been the one Jesus foretold, because Jesus gave no hint of a 186-year gap between the dark day and the falling of the stars. Besides, this sign also occurred precisely at the right time and in order, precisely before the tribulation of the 1260 years came to an end and immediately before the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the fall of the papacy (1798) and the beginning of the judgment (1844).

Samuel Williams who did extensive scientific research of the dark day had this to say:

 “The time of this extraordinary darkness was May 19, 1780….The degree to which the darkness arose was different in different places. …The extent of this darkness was very remarkable….With regard to its duration, it continued in this place at least fourteen hours; but it is probable this was not exactly the same in different parts of the country. ..The appearance and effects were such as tended to make the prospect extremely dull and gloomy. Candles were lighted up in the houses; the birds, having sung their evening songs, disappeared, and became silent; the fowls retired to roost; the cocks were crowing around, as at break of day; objects could not be distinguished but at a very little distance; and everything bore the appearance and gloom of night.” Samuel Williams, Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to the End of the Year 1783,  (1785)volume 1, pp. 234, 235

Argument: If the events of 1755, 1780, and 1833 were indeed fulfillments of prophecy, why didn't the signs produce the effect described in the Bible? Revelation 6:15-16 describes the people who witness the signs as being panic-stricken. These people, including kings and leaders of nations, are described as running to the mountains, hiding in dens, and asking for the mountains to fall on them. There is no evidence that the signs of 1755, 1780, and 1833 produced this effect.

Response: That’s because there are two sets of signs! In Joel 2:31 and in Revelation 6:12, 13, we have two important details that distinguish these signs from the ones in the future: First, according to Joel 2:31 the signs of Revelation 6:12, 13 occur “before” the great and terrible day of the Lord. Second, in the signs of Revelation 6:12, 13 the moon is turned into blood and the stars fall from heaven while in the signs of Revelation 6:14-17 the moon and the stars do not give their light.

The second set of signs in the heavenly bodies which will be fulfilled when Jesus comes and they are found in Joel 2:10, 11; 3:15, 16 and in Matthew 24:30: These signs take place as Jesus is preparing to leave heaven for earth. His coming is announced by the sun and moon being darkened and the stars not giving their light. There will also be a cosmic, global earthquake in heaven and on earth to announce His departure from heaven. Therefore, the two sets of signs are different.
Hence, there are two earthquakes in the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12-14). One is at the beginning of the sixth seal and the other is at its end. The one at the beginning is described in verse 12 and the one at the end is described in verse 14. This second earthquake is further amplified in Revelation 16:18, 20 where it is described as of cataclysmic proportions, which would make the people who witness the signs as being panic-stricken. In other words, the earthquake in Revelation 6:14 is the same one as in Revelation 16:18, 20 where the context is the seventh plague. The earthquake in 6:12 is the not the greatest in the history of the world like the one in 16:18. Only the greatest earthquake in history could remove mountains and islands from their places on a global scale.

More proof that the two sets of signs are different.

  • Revelation 6:12-13. In these verses we are told that the moon became like blood, not that it was darkened. We are also told that the stars fell from heaven. These are not the same signs as those in Matthew 24 where the sun, moon and stars are moved out of their places.

  • The signs in Revelation 6:12, 13 are similar to those in Joel 2:31 (also Acts 2:20). Notice that the sun is darkened and the moon is turned into blood, before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.

  • Joel 2:10, 11 depicts different signs than those in Revelation 6:12, 13 and Joel 2:31: In the Joel passage the earth and the heavens tremble, the sun and the moon grow dark and the stars do not shine. These signs immediately precede the second coming of Jesus. 

  • Joel 3:15, 16: Once again we notice that these are not the signs spoken of in Revelation 6:12, 13.  Once again we are told that the heavens and the earth will shake and the sun and moon will be dark and the stars will not shine. The stars sure did shine on November 13, 1833! 

  • Isaiah 13:10-13: This passage is not parallel to Revelation 6:12, 13. Here the sun, the moon and the stars are darkened. These things did not happen in 1755, 1780 and 1833. Notice that the heavens and the earth will be removed from their places.  

  • Notice that Revelation 6 presents the signs in the very order in which they occurred: An earthquake (1755), the darkening of the sun (1780), the moon becoming like blood (1780), and the stars falling from heaven (1833)

Interestingly, Mrs. White quotes Revelation 6:12, 13 in The Great Controversy, p. 304, 333 and applies them to the signs that took place in 1755, 1870 and 1833. She does not quote Revelation 6:14-17 until pages 641, 642: “The heavens are rolled together as a scroll, the earth trembles before Him, and every mountain and island is moved out of its place.” (And then she quotes verses 15-17). Why does she separate verses 12, 13 from verses 14-17 by over three hundred pages? Simply because she knew there was a long parenthesis of time between the events that are depicted in these passages.

Argument: While the signs described in the Bible appear to be global events, the three signs pointed out by Ellen White were on a seemingly smaller, localized scale.

Response: Firstly, The location of the classic signs was highly significant (See above). Secondly, the Bible doesn't say these signs were to be global. Ellen White appropriately tells and guards against a spiritualized interpretation when she says, "I saw that when the Lord said 'heaven,' in giving the signs recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, He meant heaven, and when He said 'earth' He meant earth. The powers of heaven are the sun, moon, and stars. They rule in the heavens." Early Writings, p. 41.


2. Pastor Stephen Bohr’s Notes on Revelation’s Seven Seals