It’s impossible to get to grips with the book of Revelation without considering the references to a period of time referred to as three and a half years, forty two months, or 1,260 days. In considering them, it is impossible to ignore Daniel’s prophecy.
First, the verses:
Daniel 7:25, speaking about the terrible 4th beast of Daniel’s vision:
He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.
Daniel 12:7-13, describing the length of time the people of God would suffer
7 And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream; he raised his right hand and his left hand towards heaven and swore by him who lives for ever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished… 11 And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. 12 Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days. 13 But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”
Revelation 11:1-3, on how long the two witnesses will speak.
Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
Revelation 12:6 and 14, the length of time the woman will be kept safe from Satan.
5 She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days… 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.
Revelation 13:5, on how long the Beast out of the Sea will blaspheme.
5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.
Next, the basics. Pretty much every commentator agrees that the calendar was taken as 12 months of 30 days, so that 42 months corresponds to 1,260 days. Also, it’s fairly universally accepted that the “time, times and half a time” refers to “a year, two years, and half a year” – also 42 months. That’s where the agreement ends.
Now some questions:
The conclusions I’ve drawn in these blog notes so far suggest that the periods of 42 months in Revelation all seem to speak of the same time period. The case for a future, literal, 42 month period didn’t stack up. An interpretation which has this middle part of Revelation giving multiple perspectives on the whole period from Jesus’ ascension (and maybe from AD 70 onwards) until his future return has been the most cohesive view. That would mean that the 42 months represent this entire current age – we are currently living in the 1,260 days. That means they must be figurative, not literal!
I’m well aware that this then forces an interpretation back into Daniel to look at his seventy sevens. I’m not going to look into that here, except to make one comment on hermeneutics. Since the meaning of Daniel’s words was to be sealed up, it seems reasonable to expect their meaning to be unlocked by later revelation; if so, an approach that understands later revelation using Daniel as the interpretive basis might include rather more room for error than the other way round.
Commentators that require a future, 7-year Tribulation Period seem to begin with the hermeneutic of taking biblical figures and time-frames literally, and then trying to plot an interpretation that fits those timescales. The approach I’ve taken from the start was to let Revelations itself govern its own interpretive keys, which seems a rather more healthy approach.