Interpreting the Book of Revelation: Part 4
Interpreting the Book of Revelation: Part 4
3.5 Years, 42 Months, 1260 Days: What Do They Mean?
As I mentioned in my previous post, I believe that the periods variously referred to as 42 months, 1260 days, and three-and-a-half years refer to the same timespan. These lengths of time refer to the phase between Christ’s first coming (His death, burial, resurrection and ascension) and His second coming.
Let me try and prove these statements. Have you got your thinking caps on? I am going to nerd out on you a bit! Mathematically it is quite clear that these three periods refer to the same duration of time:
- 3.5 years x 12 months (The Jewish calendar also has 12 months)= 42 months (12+12+12+6=42)
- 42 months x 30 days = 1260 days
- Therefore 3.5 years = 42 months = 1260 days
So, whenever you see any one of these numbers you know that they are referring to the same period of time.
But where do these numbers come from? They seem to be quite specific. To answer that question, we have to go back several hundred years before the time of Christ to the time of Daniel. Daniel was a prophet who was abducted at a young age by the Babylonians during their first deportation in 605BC. Due to his exemplary character and God’s providence he rose to a very high position within the courts of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and the Persian, Cyrus.
After the Babylonian captivity, Daniel was reading the prophet Jeremiah and noticed that the exile was to last for 70 years and yet the end of the 70 years hadn’t issued in a golden age as foretold by the pre-exilic prophets. Daniel cries out to the Lord acknowledging Judah’s guilt and God’s righteous judgement but longing to know what God has in store for His people.
The angel Gabriel is sent to tell Daniel that 70 weeks or 70 x 7 of years (490 years) are allotted for God’s people. This was confirmation of the promise in the Torah that Israel’s punishment for continued apostasy would be sevenfold (cf. Lev. 26:18-28).
According to Daniel chapter 9, several things must occur during this 490-year period. Now, these verses are notoriously difficult to interpret and there are several different explanations. I don’t have the time nor the desire to go through all the different views. I will give the view that I believe best explains all the passages. Here is the text:
Daniel 9:24 “Seventy weeks are decreed
about your people and your holy city —
to bring the rebellion to an end,
to put a stop to sin,
to wipe away iniquity,
to bring in everlasting righteousness,
to seal up vision and prophecy,
and to anoint the most holy place.
25 Know and understand this:
From the issuing of the decree
to restore and rebuild Jerusalem
until Messiah the Prince
will be seven weeks and 62 weeks.
It will be rebuilt with a plaza and a moat,
but in difficult times.
26 After those 62 weeks
the Messiah will be cut off
and will have nothing.
The people of the coming prince
will destroy the city and the sanctuary.
The end will come with a flood,
and until the end there will be war;
desolations are decreed.
27 He will make a firm covenant
with many for one week,
but in the middle of the week
he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering.
And the abomination of desolation
will be on a wing of the temple
until the decreed destruction
is poured out on the desolator.”
Let’s list everything that must occur during this 70-week period:
- Rebellion, sin and iniquity must be done away with.
- Everlasting righteousness inaugurated.
- Sealing of vision.
- Anointing of the most holy place.
- Restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem.
- The Messiah will come.
- The Messiah will be cut off (killed).
- The Messiah will make a strong covenant (the New Covenant).
- Midway during the last week the sacrificial system will become obsolete.
- The destruction of the desolator.
Phew! That’s a lot of stuff that has to happen. It is pretty clear that Gabriel is giving Daniel a timeline for the rest of earthly history. Terms like bringing in everlasting righteousness, war until the end, and the destruction of the desolator clearly refer to the second coming of Christ, the final judgement and the inauguration of the New Heavens and the New Earth in which there will be ‘everlasting righteousness.’
During this time the Messiah, Jesus Christ, must come and establish the New Covenant through His death (cutting off). His cultic death will put an end to all cultic deaths. In one act of violence He will end all sacrificial violence.
So how do the numbers work? Verse 25 tells us that after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem is given until Messiah comes there will be 7 + 62 weeks ((7 x 7) + (62 x 7) = 483 years). There were several decrees issued so which one is the correct one?
“The decree given to Zerubbabel authorized the rebuilding of the Temple. The decree issued to Nehemiah concerned the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Ezra's decree was more general in nature, covering a variety of subjects. But we know from Scripture that he interpreted it to mean that the Jews were authorized to launch a general rebuilding campaign that included the temple, the city, and the walls. His interpretation is stated in Ezra 9:9 — "God has not forsaken us, but has extended loving kindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem" (Ezra 9:9).
Now, using Ezra's decree as the starting point (457 B.C.), if we count forward 483 years we will arrive at 27 A.D. (There is only one year between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D.) According to the translator of Josephus, the Jewish new year that began in the fall of 27 A.D. marked the beginning of the last Jubilee Year that the Jews enjoyed in the land before their worldwide dispersal by the Romans in 70 A.D. This is most likely the year that Jesus began His public ministry. This is hinted at in Luke 4 where it says that when Jesus launched His ministry at the synagogue in Nazareth, He did so by reading a passage from Isaiah 61 about the way in which the Messiah would fulfil the spiritual essence of the Jubilee. After finishing the reading, Jesus proclaimed, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21).
In a recent booklet entitled "The Daniel Papers," a publication of the Radio Bible Class, the author, Herb Vander Lugt, notes:
"According to Barnes and several other trustworthy Bible commentators, the historian Prideaux declared Nehemiah's last action in rebuilding the city occurred in the 15th year of the Persian ruler Darius Nothus (423-404 B.C.). His 15th year was the 49th year from the 457 B.C. decree. Josephus seems to support this idea in his remarks about the death of Nehemiah."
Verse 26 tells us that sometime after the 62 weeks the Messiah will be cut off (put to death). Verse 27 gives us some more detail. It says that in the middle of the 70th week the sacrificial system will become obsolete. Obviously, this occurred when Christ was crucified. Half of 7 is 3.5 which fits with what we know about the length of Jesus’ ministry, 3.5 years.
This leaves 3.5 years in Daniel’s prophetic calendar. Clearly, the world didn’t come to an end 3.5 years after Jesus ascension. Well God in His grace gives us the answer in Revelation. The 3.5 years is now representative of the whole period between Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and His second coming.
This understanding of God lengthening the final 3.5-year period fits well with what we know of God’s character. We know that God is patient, long-suffering, not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Passages like Galatians 4:4 and Hebrews 9:26 tell us that the first coming of Christ is really the end of time. In other words, the last 2000 years are borrowed time.
In short, the first 486.5 years of the 490 were literal while the last 3.5 years are symbolic. Just as Daniel clarified for the Jews that the exile wasn’t just 70 years so John clarifies for us why the world has continued for much longer than expected.
Thinking caps off, you can go back to simple stuff, like rocket science.