Darren Jones

Three and a half years in Revelation and Daniel

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:

  • Why are two different kinds of references given? Are the 42 months in Revelation the same period as the 1,260 days, or do they combine to make a 7-year period?
  • Are we really talking about actual days, months and years, or are they figurative? We certainly took the 144,000 as figurative, 666 is figurative, 7 is sometimes figurative (as in the sevenfold Spirit when there’s only one Spirit) but sometimes literal (there were 7 actual churches).
  • What’s our interpretive key? Should we let our understanding of the 42 months drive our interpretation of this middle section or Revelation, or does it go the other way round?
  • Although the durations are the same between Daniel and Revelation, are they actually the same time period? I think they are, given the link of the Beasts.
  • 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.

    Revelation 13, two beasts

    An interpretation of Revelation that puts the events of this central section into a short space of time will inevitably regard these beasts as “events” in some way. One commentator says it’s obvious that they are men since they will be thrown into the lake of fire later in the book.

    The problem with that view is the violence it does to the references to Daniel 7, where very similar imagery is used to represent kingdoms rather than individuals. The beast from the sea particularly picks up Daniel’s language, suggesting that it probably represents a kingdom or a sequence of kingdoms – possible worldly powers in general.

    If that is appropriate, then the second beast might also represent a collection of authorities. Taken that way, it’s possible to see the beast from the earth as world religion acting as a parody of truth.

    It’s also possible to discern a kind of anti-Trinity: The dragon parodies the Father, the beast from the sea mirrors the Son, and the beast from the earth has a “ministry” not unlike that of the Spirit. While the Holy Spirit is the seal of the believer, the beast from the sea marks unbelievers with his own, earthly mark.

    If we’re right that the beasts represent political and religious authorities working in opposition to God and the Lamb, we still need to ask whether these are past, present, or future events. It’s time to take a look at the 42 months (3 1/2 years) that keeps cropping up and ask when they are.

    Revelation 12, a battle with a dragon

    The first thing to observe coming into chapter 12 is that we’re in a new section. We’ve completed the 7 trumpets and we have a new vision to grapple with. As usual, we start with many more questions than answers.

    The image of the woman is almost universally understood by protestant commentators to represent the people of God. But where some identify her as the Jews, others label her the church. The most specific we can be from the next (it seems to me) is that she is Old Testament Israel, but then we wonder what it means that she is taken to the wilderness for 3 1/2 years.

    Her son is again widely understood to be Jesus, and this surely is correct.

    We then see Satan, the dragon, cast down from heaven to the earth. The trigger for this happening is hard to identify specifically, but one commentator helpfully suggests that Satan’s banishment is connected to the whole “incarnation event” (Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension).

    Satan is pictured as failing to hunt down the woman because she is taken to a place of safety. So he goes after “the rest of her offspring”.

    There are plenty of questions we cannot yet answer:

  • When do these events happen? Some suggest a date in the future from now (despite the only timed event being the incarnation). Are these events in the past, or an ongoing chase?
  • Who exactly is the woman? The Jews? If so, where is she now? Could it be a reference to those faithful Old Testament Israelites who are now safe with God, while Jesus’ ascension heralds a new phase of Satanic persecution against Christians?
  • If Satan is at war against the people of God, how can an amillennialist reconcile such apparent freedom with the binding of Chapter 20?
  • We need to read on before we can get the full picture, but for now we must also review Daniel chapter 7. Daniel 7 is almost the paper Revelation 12 and 13 are written on. It speaks of the kingdoms and beasts, and a 4th beast which is quite unlike the others, just as Satan’s kingdom/power is unlike that of human powers. But the 10 horns of the beast (Dan 7) and dragon (Rev 12) suggest Satan working through human rulers and authorities – not hard to see given 60 seconds’ thought about world history.

    Daniel 7 prepares us (along with the folk of Ephesus, Laodicea, etc) for trouble. Indeed, the message of Daniel 7:21-22 prepares us for things getting progressively worse for Christians until at last, the Ancient of Days arrives and delivers his people.

    Our interpretive keys of looking for practical help to the 7 churches and using the Old Testament in a context-paralleling way places the time frame of Satan’s frenzied hatred squarely in our times – everything from Jesus’ ascension to his return. It prepares us for trouble, while giving the assurance that the whole picture is already known to God and he will be the ultimate victor, even at the point where we might think all is lost.

    Revelation 12, a reminder

    Here’s an extract from Tim LaHaye’s commentary (1975) on chapter 12:

    The entire picture of the sun-clad woman is best understood when one keeps in mind that the Christian dispensation of almost 2,000 years is entirely omitted. Not even a hint of it is found in our text. This parallels the seventy weeks of Daniel which predicts 483 years until “Messiah the Prince shall be cut off” and then, making no reference to the Gentile church age, goes right on to the Jewish seven-year Tribulation Period, completing the seventy weeks of years. Between versez 5 and 6 have occurred 2,000 years of church history. Just like Daniel 9, they are Gentile in scope, whereas this passage concerns Israel.

    What makes me deeply uncomfortable with this paragraph is the way an interpretation of Revelation (and Daniel) is being brought to the book, rather than letting the book speak for itself. In the passages mentioned, there really is not the slightest hint that 2,000 years (or more!) should be inserted to get the understanding right.

    LaHaye makes other observations on the chapter which are very helpful, all of which shows the benefit of reading widely on Revelation before trying to form firm conclusions.

    Revelation 6 to 11, an important conclusion

    Recall the aim of these blog notes: I’m not trying to understand every nook and cranny of Revelation but rather dig out the interpretive keys that lead to an exegetically sound, cohesive interpretation of the book overall.

    Based on observations made in other posts, I’m satisfied that the 7 seals are an encouragement to Christians that God is sovereignly in control of the trouble in the world, and that one day it will all end (the 7th seal). God’s people will be protected and preserved, and others judged.

    The 7 trumpets show that natural disasters may be used by God to cause people to turn to him in repentance, while the Holy Spirit works through the witness of the proclamation of the gospel to save people. This will lead to persecution for the witnesses, but ultimately they will be lifted up to God. This also is an encouragement to perseverance.

    The big question I’ve been struggling with is to determine whether the seals and trumpets are sequential or concurrent. The seals themselves are clearly concurrent, and the trumpets also seem to be, so how about the combined picture? Some more observations help the thinking:
    1. Both end with the same language of earthquakes and thunder, suggestive of the same end-point.
    2. At no point is Jesus on the earth in the visions. The mighty angel in chapter 10 almost shouts this observation, and it seems a very important one to make.
    3. If the trumpets are a call to repentance, it’s hard to see a future start point. Surely this has been in progress since Pentecost?

    Until we’ve taken in the 7 bowls later in Revelation we can’t reach a solid conclusion, but it would appear that we are looking at a letter of encouragement to churches under persecution; and that encouragement is to keep going in the face of hardship, and keep witnessing in the face of persecution. That is, the seals and trumpets both describe the reality of church experience since Jesus’ ascension and before his return.

    Despite the language, it all feels very much grounded in reality.

    Revelation 10 & 11, take two!

    Right, armed with some clarity over interpretive keys for Revelation, we can now take a look at chapters 10 and 11.

    Old Testament references abound! It’s helpful to look at some of the more obvious ones and, in particular, look out for themes which are common and which are likely to offer some encouragement to the 7 struggling churches of Asia.

  • The mighty angel has some God-like attributes: The cloud (Sinai etc); the rainbow (Ezekiel); face like the sun, legs like fiery pillars (Daniel); roar of a lion (tribe of Judah); voice of thunder (Sinai again); he gives the scroll (Ezekiel).
  • Although the Angel of the Lord appears through the Old Testament, he’s not in the New Testament. Also, in Revelation, neither the Father nor Jesus are represented by an angel – this would be the only place, if indeed the “angel” is in fact God.
  • John is given a scroll to eat which is both sweet to the taste and bitter to the stomach. This is a clear link to Ezekiel’s commission; Ezekiel was initially given only bitter news so his scroll was wholly bitter, but John’s message has both warning and hope. Chapter 10 is surely about a commissioning activity, where the word of God is being entrusted for proclamation – and the message is one of judgement and a call to repentance.
  • That doesn’t explain exactly why the account is at this point, between the 6th and 7th trumpets.

    For that matter, we might now see why this middle section is about trumpets at all (not horns, harps or lyres!).

    The trumpet is, of course, a loud, “announcing” kind of instrument. The first 6 trumpets are heaven-sent judgements on the earth to call people to repent – they are a clear call, and a foretaste of total judgement yet to come.

    We’re not told what was on the scroll, or what the message was that John was given. Chapter 11 seems to give clues!

  • To begin with we’re given an image of John measuring the temple. It’s reminiscent of Ezekiel’s temple measurement, and suggests a certain completeness. It’s worth being very careful about the outer court: the word the NIV translates “Gentiles” here is the same word translated as “nations” in, for example, Revelation 20:3.
  • Then we have the two witnesses! Who are they? Presumably there are two because that’s what you need for valid witness. They are olive trees and lampstands – both possibly taken from Zechariah, in which case both are authoritative over the people of God, and both are conduits through which the Spirit of God flows to the people.
  • It’s pretty obvious that one is connected with Elijah (shutting up the sky) and the other Moses (water into blood, plagues). Could the two witnesses be the Law and the Prophets, then? That is, the scroll/message to be proclaimed is the inspired word of God, the Bible? I think that fits the presentation very well.
  • But then we’re told that the two witnesses are killed. And where, exactly? We’re told that figuratively their bodies will lie in Sodom and Egypt and the city their Lord was crucified (notice he doesn’t say Jerusalem, possibly because he wants to use that term differently later on?).
    The question is, are the events of v7-12 to be repeated over and over throughout church history or do they represent a final event yet to happen? Or both?
    Either way, the suffering of the witnesses is not the end; they are taken up to glory while the enemies look on, and – wonderfully – there are some who give glory to the God of heaven.

    The message of these chapters to the 7 churches (and therefore, to all churches) seems to be a strong imperative to preach the gospel, to face the inevitable persecution and humiliation, confident that God will lift them up to glory and that some people will give glory to God.

    That’s quite an incentive to keep going.

    Two places at once?

    At a family service at church recently I asked everyone what super-power they’d like to have, e.g. flight, strength, etc.

    Some of the older people said they’d like the “power” to remember things or to be able to get up the stairs easily!

    Someone said they’d like to be able to be in two places at once. My brain nearly popped at the thought. Would you be simultaneously aware of the surroundings of both, as if somehow one “mind” or “person” occupied two bodies? Or would you need to “sync” the two later on? Would it be permanent, or something you could turn off and on?

    It made me think of God, simultaneously hearing the prayers of people all over the world – of him actually paying attention to every one. And how he does that as he sees every new creature born, every drop of rain land, and every galaxy continue its motion.

    God’s attention – his focus – on you and me is astounding. He graciously turns his divine power towards his people.

    Revelation 10 & 11, a mighty angel, a little scroll, two witnesses and the 7th trumpet!

    The imagery is piling up fast and the commentaries are diverging even faster!

    Literal, physical, symbolic, spiritual, concurrent, sequential, past, present or future?

    Deary me!

    It’s time to take stock of our hermeneutics (our principles of interpretation). Firstly, the primary interpretive key was handed to us in an unambiguous manner in chapter 1: Expect symbolism. We were also given the second key: Expect Old Testament allusion. The third key is given in 1:19, leading to: Expect visions of the present and the future. Wisdom will drive how we discern the difference!

    These (together with some cautious regard for etymology used by some commentators to support a view of the 7 churches as periods of church history) led us to see the 7 letters in chapters 2 and 3 as genuine letters to real fellowships of real people in dangerous times. There are allusions (such as the ornate lampstand of Zechariah 4), but the churches are nonetheless real. Furthermore, John’s readers are encouraged to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

    This leads us to our fourth interpretive key: Expect current application and encouragement, whenever you are. That is, we must keep on asking what the people of Smyrna or Laodicea would have understood from the text, and it seems healthy to be wary of any interpretations that seem to rely on a 21st century perspective (could we really be the first generation to understand a given text?).

    It’s probably worth taking stock of the commentaries in use too. All of these are being referenced as I go. They vary in depth, style, rigour, presupposition, and conclusion. There is one commentary I’m not using but intend to go to once I’m done with my own reading, but this is what I’ve got on the go at the moment (in no particular order):
    1. Revelation, Paul Gardner, Focus on the Bible, 2008
    2. Revelation illustrated and made plain, Tim LaHaye, Zondervan, 1975
    3. Revelation, a mentor expository commentary, Douglas F Kelly, 2012
    4. Revelation unwrapped, John Richardson
    5. New Bible Commentary, Revelation notes by George R Beasley-Murray
    Plus the more obvious ESV study Bible, UBS4 Greek text, etc and ad hoc web material.
    Also referenced is Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

    Clearly there are many, many other titles I could use, but I’m aiming for breadth of interpretation rather than drilling down into every nook and cranny.

    In the next post I’ll try to take the keys above and see if they unlock these next chapters.

    Revelation 8 & 9, the 7th seal and first 6 trumpets

    The aim of these blog notes is not to give a full exegesis of Revelation, but to work through the book afresh to find a helpful line of interpretation.

    I’ve been referencing a variety of commentaries and trying to be fair to all, working to understand the hermeneutical approaches and consequent interpretations.

    It’s at this point in the book where we really need to square up to how we will regard the seals, trumpets and bowls in relation to one another. I’ve earlier rejected the idea that the seals relate to the distant future; it seems John is reusing imagery from Zechariah which reflects God’s current activity in the world. But what do we make of the transition from seals to trumpets?

    The 7th of each of the seals, trumpets and bowls is marked by thunder and earthquakes, the language of the Old Testament “day of the Lord.” There is an unmissable repetition in the structure of each 7. The seals borrow from Zechariah, and the trumpets borrow from the plagues of Exodus – both examples of God’s judgement in the world in the present time, both highlighting the protection and distinction of God’s people. This surely would be a helpful message for the folk of Laodicea, Ephesus, Philadelphia etc – much more so than a book about the distant future.

    At a broad brush level, it’s not hard to see the seals and trumpets reflecting the same period of time. The seals seem to explain the general state of the world; the trumpets speak of specific judgements aimed at driving unbelieving people to repentance. Certainly the judgements are partial in scope and therefore not the end, but there is also an obvious intensification and progression. But there are difficulties in the details: How are we to understand the movement from 7th seal to the trumpets (the language seems sequential)? And what do we make of the dramatic events tied to the trumpets (they do sound like events rather than ongoing conditions)?

    And across the seals, trumpets znd bowls we’re told of destruction to a quarter, a third, and a half of the world. Is this the language of intensification, or sequence?

    At this point in the reading, I don’t think the answers are clear. Remember, I’m not trying to fit the text to a preselected interpretation but rather let the text speak for itself. We must read on!

    Revelation 7, the 144,000

    The language John associates with the opening of the 6th seal is very reminiscent of Old Testament passages relating to the “Day of the Lord.” And there’s a big textual interlude before the 7th seal is opened which can hardly be without meaning.

    The 4 winds meantioned has been linked with the 4 horsemen, suggesting that seals 1 through 6 might be parallel events. The important question is asked about these judgements: “Who can stand?”

    John first refers to 144,000 people, listing 12,000 from tribes of Israel. One commentator suggests that we take the meaning at its most obvious level: these 144,000 are Jews who will proclaim Jesus at some definite point in the future. There are huge problems with that, not least that the tribes of Dan and Ephraim are missing. The list of tribes is unusual in having Judah first and includes both Joseph and Manasseh. John hasn’t made a mistake, but must rather be saying that they are not the Jews but are in some way related.

    We must notice too that these people are sealed. This is reminiscent of the sealing of true believers in Ezekiel 9, preserving them from judgement. The New Testament is clear that Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit, and it is no surprise that it is only those who will “stand” when God’s judgements come. It seems more satisfying to regard the 144,000 as a symbolic but definite number of people whom God alone has numbered. Symbolic, not least because there are rather more than 144,000 Christians in the world today!

    The usual way to look at the symbolism is to see it as 12 x 12 x 1000, with Revelation 21 giving the key to the 12’s as representing the Old Testament people of God under the 12 tribes and the New Testament people of God under the 12 apostles. The number 1000 is regularly taken as a host, or, if 10 is taken as shorthand for “lots” then 1000 would be the superlative lots of lots of lots. This suggests a huge but definite number.

    Following on from that comes John’s vision of “a great multitude that no-one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language” all worshipping Jesus. They are described as those “who have come out of the great tribulation” – made clean by the blood of Jesus, they are described in a blissful state before God for forever.

    What is this great tribulation they have escaped? In the intepretation unpicked so far, the great tribulation seems to be the present age, as the difficulties of the world revealed by the first 6 seals suggests. This interpretation would bring great comfort to the folk of Smyrna, Ephesus,  Philadelphia, etc: You are suffering in the world now, but remember that Jesus is sovereignly in control and that to those who overcome, he will give eternal peace and blessing.

    An interpretation of Revelation which is internally cohesive and meaningfully helpful to its original readers is emerging, but there’s a long way to go yet. Our next question is to see how the 7 seals end and then feed into the 7 trumpets.