Ellen G. White wrote in 1851 that "old Jerusalem never would be built up." [1] By itself, the statement looks unsustainable. But when the setting is reconstructed, we find Mrs. White counseling the growing Adventist group that both time-setting [2] and the "age-to-come" notion [3] were incompatible with Biblical truth. She emphasized that the Old Testament prophecies regarding the establishment of a Jewish kingdom in Palestine were conditional on obedience and forfeited by disobedience. Unfulfilled prophecies would be fulfilled to "true Israel" as unfolded in the New Testament text.

Thus the popular movement of the 1840s and 1850s to promote a Zionist state in Palestine was not a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and not a quest in which Adventists should become involved. Her warnings and instruction were designed to turn the interest away from Palestine and toward the work God had opened up before them.

In a September 1850 vision she saw that it was a "great error" to believe that "it is their duty to go to Old Jerusalem, and think they have a work to do there before the Lord comes. . . ; for those who think that they are yet to go to Jerusalem will have their minds there, and their means will be withheld from the cause of present truth to get themselves and others there." [4]

Less than a year later, August 1851, she wrote with greater emphasis "that Old Jerusalem never would be built up; and that Satan was doing his utmost to lead the minds of the children of the Lord into these things now, in the gathering time, to keep them from throwing their whole interest into the present work of the Lord, and to cause them to neglect the necessary preparation for the day of the Lord." [5]

How did Ellen White's readers understand this statement? That there was no light in the popular "age-to-come" teaching, that there is no Biblical significance in the Jews' returning to Palestine, that Jerusalem will never be rebuilt in a future millennial period. She was not talking about a possible political rebuilding of Jerusalem but of a prophetically significant rebuilding of Old Jerusalem. To continue to think that way, she emphasized, was to sink further into Satan's deceptions and away from present duty.

For further study of this topic, see Julia Neuffer, "The Gathering of Israel," in the Reference Library.

[1] Early Writings, p. 75. This sentence appears in the chapter, "The Gathering Time," which combined two visions and some additional lines. The first vision, Sept. 23, 1850, dealt with the "gathering time" of "Israel," the dates on the Millerite 1843 chart, the "daily," timesetting, and the error of going to Old Jerusalem. The second vision, June 21, 1851, focused on the third angel's message, time-setting, and Old Jerusalem's not being built up.

[2] Many former Millerites were setting various dates for the return of Jesus, with 1850 and 1851 being the latest dates for the end of the 2300-day/year prophecy. Although Sabbatarian Adventists generally were immune from time-setting, Hiram Edson and Joseph Bates advocated 1850 and 1851, respectively. James White kept their views out of Present Truth, the Advent Review, and the Review and Herald.

[3] With several variations, age-to-come exponents, led by Joseph Marsh, O. R. L. Crosier, and George Storrs, believed that the Second Advent would usher in the millennial kingdom on earth during which time the world would be converted under the reign of Christ, with the Jews playing a leading role. This group closely related to the Literalists (British Adventists) who had believed that in the 1840s the literal Jews would welcome their Messiah (Christ) in Palestine, thus fulfilling Old Testament prophecies with Jerusalem becoming Christ's capital during the millennium. The majority of the Millerites had rejected this aspect of their Adventist theology, calling it Judaism. (See Josiah Litch, "The Rise and Progress of Adventism," The Advent Shield and Review, May 1844, p. 92, cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Students' Source Book, p. 513. The first defectors from early Seventh-day Adventists were H. S. Case and C. P. Russell who had, among other concepts, embraced the "age-to-come" theory. See The Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, s.v. "Messenger Party."

[4] Early Writings, p. 75.

[5] Early Writings, pp. 75, 76.

[Excerpt from Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord: the Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1998), pp. 488, 489.]