Many Christadelphians today don't realise that the Christadelphian founder, John Thomas, predicted that Christ would return by 1866. He later altered the date to 1906 with a seventh millennium of human history starting in 1910. It was also included in a seminal work, Christendom Astray, which was written by a man, Robert Roberts, who was in the "front ranks" of the Christadelphian body as the wording on his grave states and Christadelphian history shows. This prediction therefore wasn't simply from members in the sidelines, nor was this book one that was rarely used. It was a mainstream text that is still in publication today and has been substantially used to try to prove other people interpret the Bible wrong.
It may be interesting to consider why this date was suggested.
It is based upon an ancient belief that the divine plan fits into a 7000 year plan from the creation of the world. This is thought to have an allegorical basis in the 7 day creation of the earth. Since to God a thousand years is like a day there is a neatness about the scheme. 6000 of these years are suggested to be the length of mans rule over the earth and the last 1000 years are suggested to be a millennium when men on earth are directly ruled by Christ at his Second Coming. To back up the idea of there being a 1000 year rule on earth, one passage in the symbolic book of Revelation is given weight and is a required belief in the main Christadelphian statements of faith.
The 7000 year divine plan idea actually considerably predates the Christadelphians.
Edward Gibbon writing about the early Christians in "The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" wrote,
"The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. As the works of the creation had been finished in six days, their duration in their present state, according to a tradition which was attributed to the prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand years. By the same analogy it was inferred that this long period of labor and contention, which was now almost elapsed, would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a thousand years; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection."
This concept gained significance at a time of religious fervency in nineteenth century America, because by studying the chronology of the Bible a man called William Miller came to the conclusion the seventh millennium accompanied by the return of Christ would commence in 1843/1844 by using time periods referred to in the book of Daniel. This led to an event called the Great Disappointment since it had become widely believed at the time and people had even sold homes and property in preparation. In fact some adventist groups believe it was fulfilled invisibly (as Jehovah's Witnesses likewise explain a 1914 date they set), and a religious group called the BahŠ'Ū historically believed it had a spiritual fulfilment in the coming of their prophet, the Bab.
To quote John Thomas in the preface of his book, Chronikon Hebraikon (written in 1865):
MILLER staked his whole theory upon the notion that the world was 6,000 years old in 1843. But time has proved his computation, and therefore his theory, to be utterly erroneous.
In 1859, SHIMEALL, in "Our Bible Chronology," p.182, announced that the world will be 6,000 years old in 1868, and that the "year A.M. 6001 will be the ushering in of the Great Sabbatism spoken of in Rev. 20:1-6." Thus, he fixes the commencement of the Millennium to the A.D. 1869; which he assigns as the limit of the "unparalleled 'tribulation' predicted by our Lord." But the current three years will not afford scope for such a tribulation. Mr. Shimeall has made a mistake. His chronological speculations have misled him. The world will not be 6,000 years old until A.D. 1910, which is 44 years from 1866.
But there is reason to believe that the Millennium will commence a few years before the world attains to 6,000 years. It is apocalyptically revealed, that it will end at the "LITTLE SEASON," which comes within the limit of the Millenary Week of 7,000 years from the Creation -- "after the 1,000 years are fulfilled, Satan must be loosed a little season" (Rev. 20:3, 7). This puts the beginning of the Millennium back into the Sixth Chiliad, and before its termination, as many years as may constitute the Little Season. If this consists of four years, then the Millennium will begin four years before the world is 6,000 years old - in A.M. 5996; and consequently end A.M. 6996, or A.D. 2906. Thus, the end of the Little Season will synchronize with the end of the A.M. 7000, which is equivalent to the A.D. 2910.
The "unparalleled tribulation" is to precede the millennium, and will, of course, require time for its development. In Micah 7:15, the period for performing the truth and mercy sworn, or covenanted, to Abraham and Jacob is chronologized by "the days of Israelís coming out of the land of Egypt," [see footnote Elpis Israel, page 449.] which every reader of scripture knows was a period of 40 years. The "unparalleled tribulation" of Mark 13:19, 20 belonged to the end of the Mosaic Dispensation, and has long since passed away; but the "time of trouble" foretold by Daniel and Jeremiah, and styled "the unparalleled tribulation" by Mr. Shimeall, is a pre-millennial chronological period of 40 years. This, his chronological scheme, as also the schemes of all others, I believe, altogether ignores. There can be no Millennium until the judicial work of these 40 years is accomplished. They are the period of the Seventh Vial; and "no one can enter into the Nave until the Seven Plagues of the Seven Angels" of the Vials "may have been fulfilled" (Apoc. 15:8).
Chronologists make no allowance of time for the last of these plagues. With them, this "TIME OF THE END" is left to chance. "We have no chronological data," say they, "by which to determine its length." True, they have none; but only because they are unacquainted with what exists. The whole world of powerful kingdoms has to be revolutionized. The governments, aristocracies, hierarchies, and democracies, have all to be broken up; the nations, emancipated from these destroyers, illuminated and blessed in Abraham and his seed. And to accomplish all this, theologists and chronologists, with their "science falsely so called," crowd us into an unchronological period between A.M. 6000 and the year after, A.D. 1869! This is doing the work up in a flash, which none but the spiritual inebriates of the clerical kingdom could for a moment admit.
The term A.M. stands for Anno Mundi (the year of the world) as opposed to A.D. or Anno Domini (the year of the Lord) which we generally use. AM is therefore a system based upon dating from the beginning of creation. The Bible is full of dates and therefore through study in theory it is possible to work out when Adam, the first man in the Bible, was created. In practice different people have come to different dates about this. Helpfully some big periods of time are given very definite dates such as 1 Kings 6v1 which states it was 480 years from when the Jews came out of Egypt to when the temple in Jerusalem started to be built. In more recent times such research is aided by using external records of kings mentioned in the Bible and tying it to events such as solar eclipses which can be tracked backwards using computer models.
In the introduction to Chronikon Hebraikon a well known Australian Christadelphian, Brian Luke writes, "Chronikon Hebraikon, to the best of our belief, remains the best and most Scriptural Chronology extant" and recommends reading the prefatory remarks. In these remarks we actually see the characteristic dogmatism of Doctor John Thomas who writes, "This Chronikon, however, of mine is not compiled upon the qualifying principles of about or nearly." He refutes all uncertainly as signs of speculation, "science falsely so called," being unacquainted with the evidence that exists, and a sign of spiritual inebriation.
In other words the flaw of William Miller and others was not in making definite chronological predictions, but that they got their homework wrong. They had in essence the wrong starting points.
The world according to John Thomas was therefore created in 4089 B.C. (the A.D. at the top being an unintended error). The dates he uses are based upon deducting the 4089 from the 6000 taking account the fact there was no year 0 A.D leading to the 1910 date with a corresponding tribulation starting four years previous to that. Robert Roberts followed this reasoning to the letter in Christendom Astray, Lecture 16. Due to its failure an entire chapter (called "Evidence that the End is Near") was deleted in some later editions because it was no longer believed and therefore seen as no longer relevant or worthy of promotion.
What is interesting is that with no knowledge of any of this, many Christadelphians still promote God's 7000 year plan, but use the chronology which has been more widely accepted. In other words that of Bishop Usher (a spiritual inebriate according to JT) which placed creation around 4000 B.C. (actually 4004). Although it would require a dismissal of the certainties of John Thomas it is neater in some ways because then Christ is born an allegorical 4 years after creation followed by an allegorical 2 years after that meaning Christ should return around the year 2000 A.D.
Here are a few links from many to show the promotion today of this idea by Christadelphians illustrating the relevance in not removing the chapter from Christendom Astray:
“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”
The verse above comes from a passage in the Bible, Deuteronomy 18v22.
It is quoted by the New World Order Christadelphian website in a booklet The Bible and Jehovah’s Witnesses. This booklet mentions the failed prediction of the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pastor Russell, that Christ would return in 1871 and other failed prophecies. It was related to show he was a false prophet and to be careful of a community based upon his teachings. The author was clearly unaware of failed predictions by the Christadelphian founders, including that Christ would return by 1910 to start the new millennium.
If he had and looked at the preceding verses to the one quoted he would have found that the law commanded the Jews to put such people to death.
Nevertheless the same site does still promote its own timing for the return of Christ which has been used in a newspaper advert quoting the words of Jesus, “This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.” Luke 21:32.
This reference is taken from a prophecy called the Mount Olivet Prophecy and this passage has itself been used as the basis of many unfulfilled expectations by Christadelphians. It is generally believed by Christadelphians to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 and to the future return of the Jews to Israel, including regaining Jerusalem. In 1948 the Jewish state of Israel came back into existence in line with both Christadelphians expectations and also those of many other Christians who would understand the prophecy the same way. The Jews were given half of Jerusalem, with the Arabs having the other half.
Since the passage seems to suggest that when the events “begin to happen” the generation living would not pass until all was fulfilled many saw 1948 as limiting within a generation the period of time prior to the return of Christ. In former publications (using scriptural precedent) a generation was taken to mean around 40 years. This meant 1988 was seen to be potentially significant since it was 40 years following 1948.
More recent speculations have suggested the generation referred to starts from 1967 because in an event called the Six Day War, Israel captured East Jerusalem. It was only at this point Israel could be said to have all of Jerusalem. Using the traditional 40 years = a generation this date passed in 2007.
This New World Order Christadelphian website is now using a looser concept of a generation. That is, those living when the Jews regained Jerusalem in 1967. It is not setting exact dates because as suggested “we do not know the day or hour.” We can however it suggests “know the generation.” It also ties it into the historical 7000 year concept of God’s plan by dismissing the chronology of John Thomas in favour of that of Bishop Usher.