Article of the Month

 

March 2007

Time in the Bible

Time is a prominent subject in Scripture. It is so prominent that it is strange that only a small number of Christian groups investigate the chronological features of the Bible.

HISTORICAL TIME

There are two categories of Biblical time: historical time, and prophetic time. Historical time-keeping in the Bible is important because it helps us to know when things happened and to know where we now exist relative to the history of the human race. Many ignore these numbers because a number of scientists and historians (who often do not agree with each other) are at great variance with the Biblical testimony about time. Many of us seem to fear that we will look ignorant or religiously superstitious if we challenge modern viewpoints by using the historical Hebrew records. (It is comforting to know that archeological discoveries frequently support the Biblical record—not that of the secular historians.)

It is important to realize, of course, that the Bible does not support the views of fundamentalists who zealously hold that the earth was made in six, literal, twenty-four-hour days. The Scriptures are silent regarding the age of our planet. Genesis begins with the simple summary that at some remote, unspecified time, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void as Genesis begins.

Then begins a series of seven creative epochs called "days" during which God prepares the earth for its ultimate glorious destiny—a perfect home for a perfect terrestrial creation. This has not yet been completed! Man is to be king of this terrestrial paradise with "all things in subjection under his feet." This was the dream and the prophecy of Psalm 8 which the Apostle Paul quotes in Hebrews 2; but the Apostle clearly states:

"But now we see not yet all things put under him." The unfolding of God’s plan for man and his habitat remains UNFINISHED. The creative "week" has not yet ended.

The seven creative "days" in Genesis each end (with the EXCEPTION of the seventh) with the statement: "And the evening and the morning were the (such and such) day." The seventh "day" account omits this statement because WE ARE STILL LIVING DURING THE SEVENTH DAY—the "day" of God’s rest (His cessation from direct involvement in the affairs of earth). Thus, while the Bible is silent on the actual length of these creative "days," it is NOT silent on the length of the seventh day which began when Adam disobeyed. This seventh "day"—still in progress—is carefully chronicled in the Bible. Each element of historical time is reverently preserved in the Hebrew record up to the time when secular history allows us to find our own way.

The Biblical record (sometimes in obscure ways) teaches us the following chronology:

1. Adam was created in the sixth "day," two years before his disobedience and the start of the seventh "day."

2. From Adam to the great flood was a period of 1,656 years

3. From the flood to the Covenant with Abraham was a period of 427 years

4. From the Covenant with Abraham to the giving of the Law to Israel was a period of 430 years

5. From the Law, through the forty years wandering in the Wilderness, until the promised land was divided by Joshua was a period of 46 years

6. The period of the Judges was 450 years

7. The period of the Kings was 513 years

8. The desolation of the land was 70 years

9. The desolation of the land ended in the first year of the Persian King Cyrus’ rule over Israel in 536 B.C.  This date is from history, not from the Bible—although the account is in II Chronicles 36:22. To the B.C./A.D. dateline is, thus, another 536 years.  So, at the B.C./A.D. dateline, mankind was 4,128 years old.   he seventh "day" was two years less.

Consequently, in our day, the human race and the "seventh day" are slightly more than 6,100 years old, and we are living in the chronological period which the Bible prophetically reveals as the time when God (through Jesus) intervenes on our behalf to get us out of the trouble we are in and to make the human race the perfect kings of earth. We believe, because of Bible chronology, that God’s intervention has, indeed, begun and is responsible for man’s institutions now crumbling, to do away with the old to make way for the new.

PROPHETIC TIME

Even though few Christian groups study the HISTORICAL chronology of the Bible, even fewer venture into the study of the PROPHETIC chronology of the Bible. This may be due to the famous failures of expectations in the 19th century when Adventist groups predicted Jesus’ return only to be disappointed when their sensational expectations were not met. After that, the subject of time in prophecy became a stench to the general Christian public.

IS IT WISE, though, to dismiss an obviously important segment of Scripture just because it was once misunderstood? We think not. The Bible is so very full of time prophecies that to ignore them is tantamount to dismissing God’s Word in its entirety. Would God supply all of these numerical clues about prophecy in the hope that we would ignore them?

Those who through fear, ignorance, or lack of zeal, want to ignore the chronology of prophecy seem to justify themselves by memorizing a few selective quotes which they use to dismiss any discussion of the subject. They will cite Matthew 24:36 which says, "Of that day and hour knoweth no man." Or they will use Jesus’ words in Acts 1:7, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father hath put in His own power." Unfortunately, they forget to continue reading into the next verse which assures the disciples that they WOULD be given power to know these things!

When Jesus rebuked Israel for its lack of recognizing and understanding his first advent, his words were, "Thou knewest not the TIME of thy visitation." (Luke 19:44) Prophecy is a wonderful thing, but it is easily misunderstood and misinterpreted when we use only our EYES AND PREJUDICES to look for the evidences of its fulfillment. God supplied chronology in the Bible to ESTABLISH and to CONFIRM that what our eyes see actually is what was prophesied. It is foolish, irresponsible, and even dangerous for a Christian to ignore or to trifle with something which God clearly provided for our benefit.

FIRST ADVENT TIME PROPHECY

God explains to the prophet Daniel that a certain time prophecy LEADING TO MESSIAH was being given to establish two things:

(1) To confirm that Daniel was a true prophet, and

(2) To establish the validity of calculating time prophecy.

God’s words are in Daniel 9:24-27. Note these basic points:

(1) "Seventy weeks are set aside for thy people (Israel)…

(2) "…to seal up (confirm) the vision

(3) "and (to seal up) the prophet (Daniel)."

(4) "…From the commandment to restore…Jerusalem UNTO MESSIAH the Prince shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks."

(5) After the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off…but he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.

(6) "…and in the midst of that week he will cause the sacrifice…to cease…"

This prophecy, although it is about Jesus’ first advent, is extremely important because, SINCE IT IS ALREADY FULFILLED, we can confirm from what happened EXACTLY what is intended by the time symbolisms. We can then feel comfortable IN APPLYING the same chronological rules to time prophecies to be fulfilled at a later date.

Thus, because of this strategic import of Daniel’s prophecy, we should look with some detailed care at its contents. We will refer to the points of the prophecy shown above by the numbers in parentheses ( ).

POINT (1)—

This Daniel 9 prophecy is a CONTINUATION of the prophecy first given in Daniel 8:14 and its context. The angel explains (8:17) that this 2,300-"day" prophecy would not reach its fulfillment until well into the Christian Age—in the period of time known as "The Time of the End." The time prophecies of Daniel 12 are also specified for this complex "end time." Since Daniel 9:24 says that "seventy weeks are set aside" to accomplish things for Israel, we can see that solving the "seventy weeks" prophecy at the first advent will make it possible to understand the "2,300-day" prophecy pointing to a much later event. In other words:

THE FIRST SEVENTY WEEKS OF THE 2,300 DAYS ARE DEALING WITH TIME UP TO MESSIAH’S FIRST ADVENT.

Messiah did not come when 70 literal weeks had passed after the command to rebuild Jerusalem. Thus we know that 70 weeks (490 days) IS NOT LITERAL. We will see that in this prophecy A DAY EQUALS A YEAR. Thus we will have a basic clue for interpreting all time prophecy.

POINTS (2) and (3)—

The Lord promises, thus, that when Messiah does come at his first advent, two things will be secure:

(2) The vision of the "2,300 days" of Daniel 8 will be of certain fulfillment because the fulfillment of the vision of Daniel 9 will give the entire prophecy validity.

(3) Daniel also will have been confirmed as a true prophet.

Once his first-advent prophecy is shown to be true, faith in his end-time prophecies is justified.

POINT (4)—

The commandment (given by King Artaxerxes) to rebuild Jerusalem was given in 454 B.C. Therefore, Messiah should appear "69 weeks" later. Sixty-nine weeks constitute 483 days. It is, therefore, no surprise that Jesus appears as Messiah at his Baptism by John in A.D. 29—483 YEARS after the commandment. Daniel is thus proven to be a true prophet, and a "day" in prophecy is proven to represent a literal year.

POINT (5)—

The prophecy next shows that Messiah would be rejected ("cut off") sometime after his appearing. Additionally, the prophecy shows that Jesus would (even after his crucifixion) confirm Israel’s promises to the faithful Jews until the end of the 70th week—until A.D. 36 when the Gospel was extended to Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, at the close of the exclusivity of the Jewish covenant.

POINT (6)—

Even though the Jews retained an exclusive relationship with God until Cornelius in A.D. 36, the prophecy shows that Jesus’ death—THE TRUE SACRIFICE—"in the midst of the week"—resulted in the total meaninglessness, the total rejection, of the Jewish sacrifices. True to this prophecy, Jesus died as the true sacrifice in A.D. 33—in the "midst of" the 70th week.

APPLICATION TO OTHER TIME PROPHECIES

Knowing that a prophetic "day" represents a literal year opens up many time prophecies. One other "code word" also is helpful. That word is "time" or "times." It means a year. Thus, in a prophecy like Daniel 12:7, we are able to calculate the intended time. The expression "time, times, and a half (time)" means three and a half years. Because a Scriptural prophetic year is 360 days in length, 3-1/2 years are 1,260 days. This conforms to other prophecies such as Revelation 11:2, 3. This special period prophesied by Daniel and the Revelator is not 3-1/2 literal years, but 1,260 literal years.

Jesus, in Luke 21:24, refers to the "Times of the Gentiles." He doesn’t say how many "times" are involved. But Old Testament prophetic passages indicate that Israel would suffer SEVEN TIMES under the domination of Gentile rulers beginning with the fall of Israel’s last king, Zedekiah. Seven "times" is a symbol of the 360 days in a year times seven. This is 2,520 days; but, as a day symbolizes a year in prophecy, the dominion of Gentiles over Israel would be 2,520 literal years. This prophecy was used by students of the Bible nearly forty years in advance to predict the events of the First World War which removed the Gentile "foot" from the Holy Land and opened the way for the establishment of the independent modern State of Israel. Time prophecy is a wonderful thing!

THE LESSON

This short article can only function to whet the appetite of a sincere Christian for the subject of Biblical chronology. In this short space we cannot possibly go into the details of prophecy which show such things as the actual beginning of "The Time of the End" or the date when Jesus actually began an active presence and involvement in the affairs of earth—things which will culminate in his peaceable Kingdom at a date NOT REVEALED in Scripture, but a date narrowed down to our generation.

The discussion of such prophecies, with satisfying demonstrations of their chronological accuracies, is available in various publications which we offer to the truth-hungry Christians who request them. Allow yourself the honor of understanding not only why God put chronology into the Bible, but also what it means.