Last Updated on : Saturday, October 11, 2014
From The Bible
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THERE ARE many signs abroad indicative of the near approach of that interference of God in the affairs of men, which will result in changing the kingdoms of this world into "the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ" (Rev. xi, 15). To discern them, history and prophecy must be known and understood to some considerable extent. These are the two great lights which reveal the bearing of current events. Without them, a man will neither recognise nor be interested in "the signs of the times."
Our first inquiry must be in reference to "times and seasons." This is the key to the whole subject, for if we have no clue to our whereabouts in the Gentile era, and no knowledge of the length to which that era will run, it is obvious we have no reason for believing ourselves in the neighbourhood of the end, and nothing to justify us in seeking to find in contemporaneous events the signs that attend and usher in that end. On one point there can be no difference of opinion, and that is, that whether understood or not, there are in the Scriptures distinct specifications of time in relation to the events of the future. The best proof of this is to be found in the following quotations: --
These passages prove two things: first, that "a set time" exists in the mind of the Deity for the consummation of His purpose--a conclusion which must commend itself to every mind realising the fact that God knows all things from the end to the beginning; and, second, that He has given a revelation of "times and seasons." This revelation may at first sight be obscure, but the fact of its having been given cannot be denied in view of the before-cited quotations. This being so, there arises the presumption that they are capable of being understood, since, as a matter of revelation, they could be given for no other purpose.
We have, however, to notice the qualifications with which this conclusion is divinely associated. We refer to the words addressed to Daniel: "None of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand" (Dan. xii, 10). This would imply not only that uprightness is necessary, but also that the matter is not communicated in such a form as to be apprehended on the surface of it, but requires the qualification of "wisdom" to elucidate the hidden meaning.
We would also quote words of similar purport occurring in the Apocalypse: "Here is wisdom; let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast"; showing that the matter as presented was an enigma requiring to be unlocked by the keys of knowledge. In view of this, we need not be surprised at the mistakes that have from time to time been made in the interpretation of the times and seasons. Numberless and outrageously absurd theories have, in all ages of the world, been put forward on the strength of what is written on times and seasons. Dates have been fixed, and events predicted which time has falsified. This fact has staggered weak minds, and induced contempt and scepticism in reference to the whole subject. Even many of the devout have become disgusted, and refuse to give credence to anything advanced on the subject; but this must surely be admitted to be evidence of short-sightedness rather than of wisdom.
There is a great difference between incompetent interpretation and essential absurdity in the nature of the matter interpreted. No devout mind, receiving the word of God in all sincerity, as the manifestation of His mind for the enlightenment of His servants, will be content to accept -the fooleries of the past as a disproof of the intelligibility of what God has made known; but under the conviction that underneath the misunderstood enigmas of His word, there lie important facts which He would have us understand, will anxiously endeavour to penetrate the obscurity which has baffled others, and get at the mind of God in a matter so important in its bearings on our mental relation to the purposes of God.
Some people imagine that the New Testament bars the way against all enquiry on the subject of times and seasons; but on examination this will appear to be a mistake. It is true that Jesus said to his disciples, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power" (Acts i, 7); but this had a special bearing on the time and the persons in reference to whom the words were uttered, in no way conflicting with the present enquiry.
They were spoken to the disciples on the eve of his ascension at a time when they needed such words. Their minds were filled with solicitude for the manifestation of the kingdom. They had asked, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" They did not know that the time for the kingdom was yet afar off. They were apparently ignorant that a great interval had to elapse, even "the times of the Gentiles." They did not know that the hard work of preaching the Gospel had to be done; and the harder work of developing a people for God by the faith preached involving much suffering for His name, much long and weary waiting through a long night of centuries, for his coming.
The idea that the kingdom was then to be established was an obstacle in the way of the work on which they were about to enter, and therefore Jesus dispels it by telling them it was not for them in their circumstances, to be thinking of times and seasons, but to return to Jerusalem, and there await the effusion of the Spirit which was to qualify them to give testimony for him as his witnesses throughout all Judea and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. This was reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances; but to construe what was said appropriately to the time and circumstances, into a discountenance and prohibition of all subsequent research on the subject would evince a short-sighted judgment, and introduce an element of discord into the Word, which would thus be made to discourage in one place the study of that which it revealed in another.
Reliance is also placed on I Thess. v, 1, by those who disparage the study of prophetic times. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:--
But so far from answering the intended purpose, these words of Paul show that the subject of "the times and seasons" was not a proscribed one. Paul intimates that he would have written on the subject to them, but he says, "YE HAVE NO NEED that I do so, and the reason is yourselves know that when the day comes, it will come as a thief--unexpected and undesired --upon the world, but not upon you, for ye are all the children of the light and of the day." The sense in which they were the children of light may be understood in two ways. It may mean "You, Thessalonians, are ready for the day of the Lord; therefore it does not matter when the day comes; it is needless to speak of times and seasons when you are prepared for the event."
This is, evidently, the view the Thessalonians took of it; for Paul's second letter to them found them expecting the immediate manifestation of Christ. But that this was the wrong construction of his words, appears in what he said in his second letter to the same church. He says (ch. ii, 1), "We beseech you. brethren... that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: FOR THAT DAY SHALL NOT COME, EXCEPT THERE COME A FALLING AWAY FIRST." From this it is evident that the second way of construing Paul's words, in the 1st Epistle, is the correct one, viz., "It is not necessary for me to write about times and seasons, for ye are the children of the light, and ought to know about them." Why should Paul assume they knew all about it? He gives us his reason in the 2nd Epistle: "Remember ye not, that when I was yet with you, I TOLD YOU THESE THINGS?" (verse 5). If they were ignorant, it was because they had forgotten what Paul told them; for Paul had told them that Christ could not be manifested until certain events foretold in the prophets had transpired.
At the same time, it cannot be denied, that their ideas of the times and seasons would, necessarily, be more imperfect and confused than ours: first because of the great distance of time which divided them from the end; and, second, because of the then impending visitation of divine judgment upon Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, foretold by Jesus, which had the effect of concentrating their interest to some extent upon their own generation, and in many cases, of creating the expectation that as God was about to come on the scene in judgment, He would not leave it without effecting their deliverance, the more especially as Jesus associated the latter with the former, as regards the succession of events, though, as time has shown, not as regards chronological sequence.
A statement in Daniel (xii, 4), seems to indicate that it is in our own times more particularly that the prophetic visions are to be understood, both as regards their events and times: "But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." There is a reason why the words may be understood at the time of the end. In "the words" are prophetically delineated historical events extending over centuries, and at the time of the end, we have the facts of accomplished history as the infallible interpreters of these words. By the aid of those facts, we are enabled to comprehend the prophetic scheme, both as regards its events and times, and so to gauge our position as to determine where we stand in relation to the wonderful consummation of the end itself.
Coming to the question of "How long?" it will be observed that in the passages quoted, the times defined are measured for the most part by "days." The first question to be considered therefore, is, what are we to understand by the word so used? Are we to read it as a representative of so many days of 24 hours' duration? A class has arisen and multiplied considerably, who say "Yes," with all confidence. But we ask them if that is so, how it is that Daniel did not understand; "I heard, but understood not" (Dan. xii, 8), when informed of the duration of the vision in days. And how is it that the wise alone are to understand? If it mean literal days, there is no wisdom required. To read it as literal days is a simple method of interpretation, which may be accepted with relief by minds incapable from disuse of going below the surface of things, and of rising to heights of knowledge through stepping-stone indications on the level; but the fallacy of the principle becomes apparent on the merest attempt to interpret the statements in question in accordance with it.
For instance, Daniel saw a vision (chap. viii,) in which the following events are comprehended; the beginning and rise of the Persian empire, its overthrow by Alexander the Great, the partition of the Grecian empire, at that monarch's death, into four parts, and the appearance of the Roman power in the southern section of the divided empire, resulting in the death of Jesus, the disruption of the Jewish commonwealth, and the final casting down of the destroying enemy. The vision having passed before Daniel, he hears the question asked, "How LONG shall be the vision?" in. answer to which, the statement was made, "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed (or avenged)."
Now, if we interpret this to mean that the events represented in the vision should only occupy 2,300 natural days, we turn the vision into absurdity. We make it compress into little more than six years, events, the first of which, viz., the rise and development of the Persian empire alone took nearly 250 years! The literal-day theorists attempt to get out of the difficulty by applying the period mentioned in the vision to the ravages of Antiochus Epiphanes, who suppressed the daily sacrifice for something like seven years, at the end of which it was restored by the Maccabees; but this suggestion is entirely set aside by the statement of the angel (verse 17), that "AT THE TIME OF THE END shall be the vision." Even if we had not this distinct intimation, the suggestion would be negatived by the improbability of such a minor event being made the subject of prophecy for the wise of all time; but it is effectually precluded by the scope of the events, represented in the vision to which the statement of time applies, and by the further declaration of the angel that the vision should be "for many days" (verse 26).
In the 11th chap. we have a prophetic message angelically communicated to Daniel, "in the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia." This message commences with the date given, and, bridging all subsequent history, goes down to the destruction of "the king of the north," on the mountains of Israel, at the manifestation of Jesus when the resurrection takes place. As in the other case, Daniel hears the question asked, "How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?" The answer is, "For a time, times, and an half." Daniel says, "I heard, but I understood not." A time was a Jewish period made up of 360 days. "Time, times, and an half" were, therefore, equivalent to "one time, two times, and half a time," or "three times and a half," or 1,260 days. It was, therefore, no wonder that Daniel failed to understand, because the events he had witnessed in vision were on such a scale as required centuries for development. The measure of such events by days might well baffle his understanding.
This mode of measurement is repeated in answer to Daniel's beseeching question, "O, my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?" (Dan. xii, 8). "From the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days (45 days more). But go thy way till the end be; for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days." It is evident that literal days are not meant in these expressions. Centuries have elapsed since the events to which they apply commenced to transpire; and the period defined, taken literally, has multiplied itself hundreds of times, and yet there is no arrival of the end foretold.
The question then is, what is meant by these prophetic days? We affirm, on the strength of the following evidence, that each day represents a year.
Moses sent spies to search the land of Canaan, in the second year after the children of Israel came out of Egypt. The spies were away forty days, and returned, at the end of that time, with a discouraging report as to the probabilities of a successful invasion of the country, and advised a rejection of Moses, and a return of the whole congregation into Egypt. The people, ever prone to distrust God, hearkened to the counsel of the spies, and were about to put it into execution, when God interfered, and vindicating Moses, gave sentence against the whole congregation, in the following words:--
This is an historical transaction, in which a literal day was made the basis of a literal year. We now cite a case of prophecy.
Ezekiel was commanded to make a miniature representation of Jerusalem, and conduct a mimic siege against it, for the purpose of signifying to the people of Jerusalem that God intended to punish them for their iniquity. He was then instructed to signify the times in relation to the events represented:--
Here was a symbolical transaction, in which "times and seasons" were to be represented; and it is expressly directed that the symbolisation of time should be on the scale of a day for a year.
That this is the scale on which the prophetic periods of Daniel are fixed, is evident from a well-known case in which his prediction of time has been historically verified. "Seventy weeks" are employed to define the period that was to elapse from the issue of the final Persian edict for the restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem, to the accomplishment of the following objects in the death of Messiah: 1st, to finish the transgression; 2nd, to make an end of sin; 3rd, to make reconciliation for iniquity; 4th, to bring in everlasting righteousness; 5th, to seal up the vision and the prophecy; and 6th, to anoint the Most Holy. Seventy weeks are 490 days: hence, "seventy weeks" is but another way of expressing 490 days. In view of this, how significant is the fact that from the edict in question (Artaxerxes, B.C. 456), to the crucifixion of Christ, there elapsed a period of exactly 490 years. A dispute among chronologists, as to whether the period reached exactly to the 490th year, does not detract from the weight of the evidence furnished in the fulfilment of this prophecy of the truth of the day-for-a-year principle, as applied to the solution of the prophetic periods; the fact that there is a dispute, only illustrates the obscurity of ancient history where precise dates are involved.
Adopting the year-day principle, we shall proceed to point out the evidences which show that we have now reached nearly the utmost limit of the times of the Gentiles, and stand upon the verge of the future foretold by the prophets. There are four or five distinct methods of demonstrating this conclusion; four or five independent modes of computation, which lead to an identical result; four or five separate chronological lines which converge on a single epoch in the world's history, uniting to tell us the grand and awful tidings that the moment is nearly on us when the Most High, inhabiting eternity, having long holden His peace, is, in the person of Jesus, about to stir Himself up like a mighty man of war, and to enter into controversy with the nations of the earth, breaking their ungodly power, bringing down their strength to the earth, teaching them righteousness by angry judgments, and subduing them to the sceptre of the kingdom of David, under the yoke of which they will taste the blessedness that all the generations of Adam for a weary 6,000 years, have yearned and sighed after, but which they cannot have and never will realise until "that man whom God hath ordained" is manifested in the earth as a "hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (Isa. xxxii, 1).
The first is not in itself a conclusive mode of reckoning; but its coincidence with those that are certain, shows there is truth in it. We refer to the tradition, which is of very ancient origin, that as God effected the reorganisation of the world physical in six natural days, and consecrated the seventh as a day of rest and blessing, so will he occupy six days, of a thousand years each, in setting in order the political heaven and earth of human affairs, and set apart the seventh millennium, or period of a thousand years, as a Sabbatical era, in which righteousness and peace will prevail, as the waters cover the sea.
This theory is not expressly affirmed in the Word, but it is not altogether without countenance. The duration of the kingdom, for instance, happens to be the exact length of the supposed Sabbatical era; and this period--the kingdom prepared of God for them that love Him--is expressly spoken of by Paul as a Sabbatical rest, and, therefore, in some sense a seventh period (Heb. iv, 9). Peter's expression, "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day)" (II Pet. iii, 8)--is quoted by some writers in favour of the tradition in question, but much stress cannot be laid on it. The theory rests on other grounds; and the strongest of these is its chronological agreement with the minor prophetic periods.
Assuming it to be a correct method of reckoning, how far are we on this principle from the end of the human era? The answer to this question depends upon the age of the world (not geologically, but since the Adamic creation). The process by which this point is ascertained, is necessarily a long and laborious one. We must refer to the results achieved by those who have gone through the process, and who have demonstrated every link in the chronological chain. We rely particularly on the deductions of Dr. Thomas, who has given a great deal of attention to the subject, and who has placed the results of his research in such a form before the general reader--(see Chronikon Hebraikon)--that the process which has cost him much time and labour can, in a moment, be verified or impugned.
The general result is to show that the world was 4,090 years old at the birth of Christ, instead of 4,004, as commonly supposed. Add to 4,090 the present A.D. 1905, and we get 5,995 as the real age of the world at the present time. If this be so, there wants only about five years to complete the 6,000 years of the great world-week, and therefore we are that number of years from the time when the blessing of Abraham shall prevail over the whole world through Christ. But we are not, therefore, that number of years from the advent. The coming of Christ is one event; the setting up of the kingdom another. The former event must necessarily precede the latter by a considerable period. The constitution of human society cannot be broken up in judgment and reorganised in righteousness in a day. This is a work which will take time. It is natural to suppose that there must be years of divine operation in the earth before the final inauguration of the Sabbatical millennium, and this, therefore, admits of Christ coming before the end of the 6,000 years.
The next period is the one known as "The Seven Times of Daniel," which arises in connection with a brief and familiar history recorded in Daniel iv. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, saw in a dream a stately tree affording shelter to the beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven; and while he beheld, an angel descended, and gave orders that the tree should be hewn down, but that the stump should be left in the earth and banded with iron and brass, and that seven times should pass over it. Daniel interpreted this to mean that Nebuchadnezzar should be driven from his kingdom, and should herd with the beasts of the field, for a literal period of seven times, or nearly seven years, in accordance with which, it came so to pass, and at the end of the period, Nebuchadnezzar's reason returned, and he blessed the Most High.
On a superficial view of the case, it would appear as if there was nothing but the literal in this narrative, and as if the import of the vision terminated with the restoration of Nebuchadnezzar, at the end of seven literal times; but a deeper insight will reveal a splendid political allegory on the face of the literal narrative. In political symbolism, a tree represents a kingdom (see Ezek. xxxi, and Matt. xiii, 32). The tree of Nebuchadnezzar's dream would, therefore, represent Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom, though standing primarily for himself. On this principle, we can understand the banding of the tree stump with iron and brass; because when the Babylonian dominion was shorn away, the kingdoms that succeeded it were but a political bandaging of the power of Babylon with the brazen and iron or Greek and Roman elements.
Furthermore, in standing for Nebuchadnezzar personally, the tree necessarily stood for the kingdom of Babylon, for Nebuchadnezzar was himself but the representative of the kingdom. This is apparent from the second chapter. Nebuchadnezzar is there addressed by Daniel (verse 38) as the dynastic representative of the golden dominion. "Thou art this head of gold; and after thee shall arise ANOTHER kingdom," as if Nebuchadnezzar were a kingdom. So he was, representatively, in the second chapter; and so we may presume he was in the fourth chapter, and went through the transactions therein narrated, as the dramatic personator of the fortunes of his kingdom.
At any rate, the narrative bears an extraordinary allegorical correspondence to the historical sequel. The seven times allegorically computed would commence with Nebuchadnezzar's ascension to the throne of Babylon. This was in 610 B.C. Now, by adding seven times of years 360 X 7 ---- 2,520 years to that date, we come to the ending of the 6,000 years of the world's age. Thus:--
SEVEN TIMES---commencing Nebuchadnezzar's reign, 610 B.C. 2,520. To find the conclusion of this period, A.D., deduct the years that elapsed before Christ 610.
Giving as the expiry of the seven times 1910.
World, 6,000 years old A.D. 1910.
[time has shown this calculation to be incorrect]
This result is remarkable, and confirms the supposition arising on a close consideration of Dan. iv, viz., that the seven times that literally measured Nebuchadnezzar's banishment from the empire, are also intended symbolically to measure the era of the world's alienation from God, from the time of the vision. At the end of the seven literal times, Nebuchadnezzar says, "Mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honoured Him that liveth for ever." How strikingly this represents the change that will come over the kingdoms of the world at the close of the symbolic seven times, when:--
The next period is one mentioned in connection with a vision recorded in Dan. viii. The vision was communicated in symbol, and the features of it were these:--A ram with two unequal horns was seen prevailing in a western, northern, and southern direction, when having "become great," its career was interrupted by the advent of a he-goat from the west, with a great horn between its eyes. A collision between the two symbolic animals resulted in the utter discomfiture and down-trampling of the ram, and the aggrandisement of the goat. The goat's notable horn, however was broken immediately afterwards, and in its place, there sprang four horns, out of one of which came a fifth horn, which prospered to the destroying of all things Jewish.
The interpretation is supplied along with the vision itself, so that the symbols become highly interesting. The ram with two horns is stated (verse 20), to be the joint dynasty of Media and Persia; and the goat the kingdom of Greece, under the leadership of its "first (imperial) king" or Alexander the Great. This being so, the fight between the animals represents the war between the two powers, which resulted in the subjugation of the Persian empire, and the establishment of Grecian rule over the civilised habitable. The breaking of the notable horn is the death of Alexander, just as he completed his military triumphs; and the up-growth of four horns, the division of Alexander's empire among his four generals Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, and Lysimachus.
Out of one of these was to appear a power which should "destroy the mighty and the holy people," or the Jews. This identifies it as the Roman power, which, in relation to the Jewish state, made its first appearance in the territory allotted to Seleucus, and afterwards completely uprooted the Jewish power in a series of campaigns culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem, and the nearly total extermination of the race of Jews. The vision closes with this triumph, and leaves the future in darkness, with the exception of a general intimation that the power thus destroying the mighty and the holy people should be "broken without hand."
In the vision itself, there was nothing to represent to Daniel the length of time during which this little-horn power of the goat (described as of fierce countenance) should prevail over the kingdom of Jehovah. In a word, the length of "the times of the Gentiles" was not indicated in the symbols. This defect, however, was supplied before the vision finally closed:--
Now it happens that the Vatican MS. of the Septuagint reads, "2,400 days," which, it is said, agrees with certain MSS in possession of the Jews of Bokhara. And it is to be noticed that an "evening morning" is 24 and not 23 hours, which seems to favour the "2,400." We have, therefore, to choose between the two. Five hundred years ago, it would have been difficult to make an election, except in so far as other (con-terminous) dates, with which this must have been made to agree, might have assisted us in the choice. Now, however, we are enabled to decide, for the simple reason that the first reading is negatived by historic failure in the date. "2,300" days expired over 100 years ago, and no avenging of the sanctuary took place. But it may be said, How do you know that "2,300" ended over a hundred years ago? The answer is very simple. Find the commencement of any term of years, and the termination follows of itself.
Now the commencement of the period in question, is identical with the commencement of the vision itself. The question is "How long shall be THE VISION," etc., that is, over what time will the vision just witnessed extend? This being so, we have only to ascertain the date of the first event seen in the vision, and from that date reckon the currency of the period defined as the duration of the events represented. By consulting the vision, the reader will perceive that the first event is the appearance of the Medo-Persian empire, in that particular aspect of it signified by the greater altitude of one horn of the ram over the other. The two horns are expressly declared to be representative of the two elements of the ram kingdom--the Median and the Persian. This being so, it follows that the increase of the second horn over the first in size (for it is said "the higher came up last") represents the more prolonged ascendency of the Persian element, which was the last to come to the throne. Darius, the Mede, reigned two years, and, dying without issue, he was succeeded by his nephew, Cyrus, the Persian, whose family retained power till the empire was overthrown by Greece 200 years later.
When Daniel saw the ram, it would appear at first, that both horns were on its head, from which it might be argued that the date of the vision's commencement would be indefinitely somewhere at the beginning of the Persian monarchy; but the supplementary statement that "the higher came up last" would suggest that Daniel was a witness of the first shooting out of the second or over-topping horn. If this is a correct deduction, "the times of the vision" would commence with the ascension of Cyrus to the throne; he being the inception of the higher horn that came up last. This would be 540 B.C. as the beginning of the days. Certainly the days did not begin earlier. They may have begun later. If the statement "the higher came up last" is an explanation, and not a description of what Daniel actually saw, the date of commencement would have to be sought for at the time when Cyrus had reigned long enough to constitute the Persian horn, as a matter of fact, the higher of the two.