Revelation (Part 28): Three and a Half Years
Elijah’s story of the three and a half year drought gave us certain principles of how God works in our sinful world. God has been accomplishing his plan of redemption ever since the fall. But Elijah’s story shows us that as evil dominates, God judges. The good will suffer, but as they endure in faith, God cares for them. That’s the principle and it is embodied in prophecy through the mention of periods of three and a half years.
The first mention comes in Daniel 7. In this chapter Daniel relates a dream he had and the interpretation of the dream given to him. The dream begins with four creatures that, according to the interpretation in 7:17, are four kings or kingdoms. From our vantage point looking back at history, we can determine that the lion with eagle’s wings is Babylon. The wings were torn off and the lion stood upright as a man. This could be some reference to Babylon’s superiority over the earth (lion king of beasts) and heaven (eagle king of the sky). The tearing off of eagle’s wings and standing upright could have some reference to God’s humiliation and restoration of Nebuchadnezzar reported in Daniel 4. The bear is the Medo-Persian empire. The bear was raised up on one side, indicating the superiority of Persia in the alliance. The three ribs in the bear’s mouth are probably meant to show how they empire came to world domination, which was by quickly defeating Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt. The third beast is a leopard, showing the swiftness of Greece’s (Alexander’s) conquests. The leopard has four heads, indicating the split of Alexander’s empire to his four generals after his death. Finally, the fourth dreadful and strong beast with iron teeth must be a reference to Rome.
Daniel’s dream then concentrates on this fourth beast, and especially on its horns. There are ten horns. Since the beast is the empire of Rome, and since horns normally symbolize either kings or kingdoms as well, we could surmise that the horns represent the beginning of the empire in the Julio-Claudian and continuing through the Flavian line. (Support for this understanding will come later when we conclude the events of the chapter concluding with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 which was with the rise of the Flavian line.)
Therefore, counting Julius Caesar as a sort of starting emperor (although I know there is debate about his status), we would have this list:
In Daniel’s dream, three horns are displaced as a “little horn” comes up among the ten. Looking to our list of emperors, we find that after Nero’s death, the empire was in an unsettled state. Following Nero’s death, in AD 69 four emperors in succession claimed control: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and finally Vespasian who successfully continue for ten years. Thus, three emperors (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) rose quickly to power, but were also quickly displaced. This matches Daniel’s description of three horns being uprooted.
But the three uprooted horns are mentioned in conjunction to a little horn—one that was not part of the ten. To understand that, we need to dig around a little more in the history of the time.
Vespasian, the 10th horn, had been a general, busy putting down the rebellion of the Jews during Nero’s last days. With Nero’s death and the empire unstable, eventually the case was made for Vespasian to claim power over the empire. When he did, and necessarily began his trip back to Rome, he left his son, Titus, (also a very capable general) in charge of the siege on Jerusalem. It was Titus, however, who first helped his father become emperor by negotiating support with eastern empire nations. Thus, the uprooting of the three emperors and establishment of Vespasian (the 10th horn) was helped along by Titus—not yet an emperor, but a general who would eventually one day be emperor himself. The Bible’s description of him then as a “little” horn is apt.
The little horn, Daniel tells us, had eyes like a man and an arrogant-speaking mouth. Titus was head of the Praetorian Guard for Vespasian, which was a combination imperial guard and spy network, working exclusively for the protection of the emperor. Therefore, the emphasis on eyes is also apt. Titus also was left to finish putting down the rebellion of the Jews, and he did so in a vigorous and awful manner. Josephus (a Jewish general and negotiator, turned historian) records the atrocities that Titus and his men committed in murdering, raping, and pillaging the Jews as the broke the defenses at Jerusalem, razed the temple, and burned the city. This destruction was so devastating that Israel as a nation could not recover. Titus’s victory marked the end of the nation of Israel.
Thus, it is clear from the further interpretation of the dream in the second half of Daniel 7, that Titus did “speak words against the Most High and oppress the holy ones of the Most High. He . . . intend[ed and did] change religious festivals and laws, and the holy ones [were] handed over to him” (7:25).
The description of Titus’s activities that end in verse 25 state that he accomplished this defeat of the Jews for “a time, times, and half a time.” As discussed earlier, the period called “time, times, and half a time” relates to a year (time), two years (times), and half a year (half a time), resulting in a period of three and a half years. And again, reviewing this period of history we know the conquest of Jerusalem took three and a half years from AD 67 through 70. But the important thing is not the exact timing, but rather the association of the timing with Elijah’s story. Through Daniel, we have prophecy that takes Elijah’s three and a half year period characterized by evil ruling, God judging, good suffering yet enduring in faith, and God caring for his own, and applying that time period with its principles to the prophesied time period of Jerusalem’s destruction. It is important to recognize this because it is this association that John claims as he relates it in Revelation. This time, times, and half a time designation refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, as further specified in Daniel 12:7 as the angel says to Daniel, “It would be for a time, times, and half a time. When the power of the holy people is shattered, all these things will be completed.” Daniel’s prophetic perspective, throughout the second half of his book, is focused on the coming of the Redeemer and the end of God’s dealing with Israel the nation.
But Daniel has an additional mention of a three and a half year period. But it appears to refer to a different point in prophetic history. It regards the coming of the Redeemer. In Daniel 9 we read of the prophecy of the 70 weeks (or Hebrew “periods of seven”)—a 490 year period (70 times 7 years) that marks the end of God’s dealing with the Jews. The last of these weeks—the last period of seven years—begins at the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry. Daniel 9:26-27 tells us that in the 70th week, the Messiah will make a covenant with many in that period (which Jesus did in establishing the New Covenant) but he would not only be cut off in this period (crucifixion) but put a stop to sacrifice and offering (which he did by becoming the final sacrifice and offering – Hebrews 9:25-28; 10:18). Notice that the atonement was made three and a half years after the beginning of his ministry—after the beginning of the final 70th “week.” Thus, the application of the principles learned in Elijah’s model apply here as well. And not only that, but the second half of the week—the time from the atonement through the gospel going out to the world (by Peter to Cornelius [Acts 10] and by Paul [Acts 13:46]). This division of the 70th week is also mentioned in Daniel 12 as the angel mentions the period of 1290 days of Jesus ministry through his death and resurrection (Daniel 12:11; see also discussion in Acts series, summary 2).
Thus, there are two periods mentioned by Daniel regarding three and a half years. One is spoken by Daniel using the format of time, times, and half a time. That period represents the destruction of Israel the nation that occurred in AD 67–70. The other is spoken of as a more specific accounting of days. That refers to the last week of the 70 weeks prophecy regarding God’s dealing with the Jews to bring forth a Redeemer.
As we turn to the New Testament now, we find that John employs these two references in Revelation. In discussing the woman (Israel the faithful) being fed in the wilderness, he says it occurs for 1260 days—a three and a half year period that is given a specific accounting by days. According to John, this period occurs immediately after the male shepherd leader is called up to God. And just so, after the ascension of Jesus, the next three and a half years were spent by the apostles bringing this final, ultimate fulfillment of the redemption plan to produce a Redeemer—in other words, the gospel—to the Jews. Many believed. Those that trusted God, believed. Faithful Israel believed. The woman was fed.
Later in chapter 12, John seems to say the exact same thing. The dragon goes after the woman, and she flies to the wilderness where she is fed. This time, however, she is fed for a time, times, and half a time. Following our Daniel representation, we understand that this is not simply repeating verse 6, but rather describes again God’s care for the woman—Faithful Israel—during the three and a half years marking the end of Israel the nation, which occurred in AD 67–70.
Other mentions by John of the time periods bear out this figurative construction. In Revelation 11:3 we have another reference to 1260 days. The indication ought to be of the period surrounding Christ’s atonement to bring the message to the Jews. And indeed, what we see in Revelation 11 is the two witnesses (indicative of the OT prophecy of Christ) being fulfilled in bringing forth the Redeemer.
But John also mentions another time period. Again it covers three and a half years, but this time John uses the format of “42 months.” We see that also in Revelation 11, verse 2. After John is told to measure the temple, he is told not to measure the outer court because it would be trampled by the nations for 42 months. When discussing this passage, we mentioned that it is figurative of ourselves. We meet with God within. He has converted our souls. Our spirits belong to him. But we still exist in sinful flesh that is trampled on by the sin environment of this world. Thus, the 42 months does not depict an actual three and a half year period. Rather it depicts everything in this age that is still future to John at the time of his writing. But he uses a designation of three and a half years because it still represents those principles given through our base illustration of Elijah’s three and a half years: evil rules, God judges; the good suffer but endure in faith; and God cares for his own. That is going on now. John changes the designation to 42 months because, although he wants us to associate the principles, he does not want us to confuse this period with the other designated periods of Christ’s first atonement and the end of Israel the nation. This new period with the new designation of 42 months serves John’s new purpose, which is the purpose of Revelation, to encourage enduring in faith during this time of the gathering of Israel the Faithful.