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The Revelation -- Which Interpretation?
PRETERIST - CONTINUOUS HISTORIC - FUTURIST
A KEY QUESTION
A time period represented by '1260 days' occurs several times in Daniel and Revelation, either as 1260; or 42 months; or time, times and a half where time = 360, times = 2 X 360 = 720, a half = 180, so that 360 + 720 + 180 = 1260 (31/2 X 360 = 1260). The period concerns a conflict between hostile parties -- the people standing for God, and people opposed to God. In Revelation 11, the Holy City is trodden under foot 42 months, the Two Witnesses prophesy and wage war for 1260 days; in chapter 12 the fleeing persecuted woman is nourished in the wilderness for 31/2 times; in chapter 13 the beast has power to continue 1260 days and persecutes the saints.
The important question to be considered is whether this conflict is a long one through centuries, i.e., a conflict of 1260 years on the basis of a day for a year; or whether it is a brief conflict of 3 1/2 years (1260 literal days) in a final clash when Christ returns. In the Futurist interpretation the time periods are taken as 31/2 years. Bro. Norris gives no justification for taking literally a main item in a book of symbol; though understandably a 1260 year period would seem quite unreasonable for the period ahead of us for the judgements before the kingdom is established. In other words, having decided on a Futurist interpretation, 1260 literal days become a necessity. We have then a key question. If we find the 1260 should be taken as years, this will dismiss the Futurist interpretation.
Our section headings for this chapter are:
1. The Revelation a book of symbol.
THE REVELATION A BOOK OF SYMBOL
The book of Revelation from beginning to end is a book of symbols. We read
of a lightstand, stars in the hand, a door in heaven, a glassy sea, souls under an altar, heaven departing as a scroll rolled up, servants sealed in the forehead, robes made white in blood, fire from the altar cast into the earth, locusts and smoke coming out of a pit, a woman fleeing from a flood of water, a beast with seven heads and ten horns, and so on to the end of the book with a Holy City, cubical in shape, and its height some 1,500 miles. If therefore the Revelation is generally a book of sign, we ought to make its time periods signs as well -- that is, not literal periods [one noteable exception being 1,000 years in 20:41]. It is unreasonable to take the time element as literal when the events associated with those time elements are symbols. It is not permissible for us to arbitrarily select some items and make them literal when the basis of the book is symbol.
The opening verse of the book has two different Greek words about the Revelation to be given. It was to 'shew' or point out things which must come to pass; and it adds -- Jesus 'signified' it to John. The text does not say he shewed it to John, but signified it. The Greek word is that generally used throughout the New Testament for signs. The Pharisees and Sadducees sought a sign from Jesus, and he told them they would have no sign but the sign of the prophet Jonah. The sign was a pointer to something else; it was symbolic. So this word 'signify' at the opening of the Revelation tell us it is a book of sign or symbol. We are not free to ignore this and make some elements of an event have a literal character.
This criticism of the Futurist interpretation taking the time periods as literal, also applies to quite a number of other elements that are taken literally in order to make some sense in the interpretation. To have to do this indicates that the method of interpretation is incorrect.
THE DECORUM OF THE SYMBOL INVOLVES SHORT FOR LONG
[decorum = behavior in keeping with good taste and propriety: etiquette: (usu. decorums) archaic a particular requirement of good taste and propriety. • archaic suitability to the requirements of a person, rank, or occasion.]By 'decorum of the symbol' is meant that the detail surrounding the main symbol shall be appropriate to that symbol. If the symbol is an earthquake then the time element is appropriate to earthquakes: "And the same hour there was a great earthquake" (11:13). It would be inappropriate to have a symbolic earthquake for, say, a year, because earthquakes do not last such a long time. If it is dead bodies lying unburied (11:9), then the symbolic time scale is reduced to 31/2 days to represent 105 years (days are lunar days, so 30 X 3 1/2 = 105). A symbol of 105 days to represent 105 years would be inappropriate, because exposed dead bodies corrupt and disappear long before 105 days. If ravaging wild beasts are the symbol, then a time of 1260 days is appropriate. It would be incongruous to have a wild beast active for 1260 years, because beasts do not live that long. Similarly for witnesses doing works, 1260 days is appropriate. Even if the actual time in history is 1260 years, it is inappropriate to state it so, because 1260 years is far beyond the life span of men. So, in general terms, the time mentioned in relation to a symbol must preserve a fitness in relation to the known character of the symbol; and the time used becomes itself symbolic and in need of interpretation.
The next point to observe is that the symbol generally is smaller than the thing it represents. A ravaging beast is representative of a vast community with military power; a woman in the wilderness represents a community, one representing many, just as the Lamb's wife represents all the redeemed. Likewise, the time element used with the main symbol is representative of a period greater than itself, not less than itself. The visions of John are like many acts in a play, in which widespread events are condensed to the proportions of the stage of the theatre and the brief period of showing the play. This is not unique to Revelation as it also occurs in the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 16 the Jewish nation is represented by a woman. God has pity on her as a child, and when she is grown to womanhood, the time of love, he marries her. This represents the making of the covenant at Sinai. So the childhood and youth of natural life -- some twenty years -- represents the 400 years from Jacob to the covenant making at Sinai. Also in Ezekiel, the prophet is made to typify the nation, and he lies on his side 430 days to signify the nation's prostrate condition until the time of the Maccabees, a period of 430 years.
EVIDENCE FROM THE BOOK OF DANIEL FOR 1260 YEARS
Daniel's prophecies provide proof that the 3-1/2 times are 1260 years and not days. It is generally agreed that the persecution in Daniel 7 for 3-1/2 times is the same as the persecution in Revelation 13 for 42 months. In Daniel 7:25 we read concerning the little horn of the 4th beast that "he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time, times and a half". In Revelation 13 the beast that arises and is given power by the dragon acts in the same way: "And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months ... And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations" ('42 months' is used here to correspond with the downtreading of the holy city for 42 months in chapter 11). Is this a brief conflict of 3-1/2 years (1260 days) or is it a long drawn out conflict of centuries, 1260 years? The form of language used in Daniel 7:25 provides an answer. The key words used cannot
PAGE 70describe a brief persecution. The little horn power is said to 'wear out' the saints. The word here in the Chaldee has the meaning "to consume, to become old, to waste away"; and is therefore quite accurately translated by 'wear out'. The R.V. and the R.S.V. also translate as 'wear out'. The words describe a process taking time to accomplish, and must be applied to a long conflict and not a dramatic suppression carried out in a few years. Other phrases in the verse point the same way: "think to change times and laws", and "given into his hand".
The language in Daniel 12 also establishes that the 1260 period (3-1/2 times) is years and not days. The last chapters of the prophecy record "what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days". In 12:4 Daniel is told " . . . shut up the words (of the prophecy), and seal the book, even until the time of the end". Thereupon Daniel asks in v.6, "How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?" And the angel replies, ". . it shall be for a time, times and a half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished". The language 'accomplish to scatter the power of the holy people' is not an expression one would associate with a brief 3-1/2 years persecution; it suggests a long drawn out conflict. Daniel recognised this was the time of Israel's downtreading, and for the angel to convey to Daniel that there would be only 1260 days 'to the end of these wonders' does not make sense. But 1260 symbolic days, that is 1260 years, does make sense. It represents the latter half of their long downtreading, when they suffered equally with Christ's brethren at the cruel hand of Rome in the countries of Europe for many centuries - -for the 1260 years of Papal power.
In the beginning of this last vision of Daniel it says that "the thing was true, but the time appointed was long" (10:1). There the events which Daniel was so concerned about stretch out over a long period; obviously not a brief period of 3-1/2 years.
We conclude that the scale of events in Daniel requires a 1260 years, not 1260 days, fulfilment; and this should be our guide in the Revelation, in the corresponding visions.
AN EXACT HISTORICAL FULFILMENT OF 1260 YEARS
The little horn of Daniel's prophecy and the beast of the sea of Revelation 'wear out' and 'make war with the saints and overcome them' for the 1260 period. The historical interpretation, 1260 years, is exactly right, and the fact that symbol and history correspond is evidence that we are intended to understand the symbol in this way. If we say the period is 1260 days, we are making this historical fulfilment a chance happening, which is most unlikely. Moreover the other details in the symbology also fit the 1260 period, and make chance impossible.
"Supported by the presence and energy of our beloved son Frederick, the illustrious Emperor of the Romans, by the council of our brethren, other patriarchs, archbishops also, and numerous princes, who have assembled from different parts of the world, we rise by this decree against all heretics, and by apostolic authority condemn every sect by whatever name it is designated. . . A layman, who is infected with that pest, unless abjuring the heresy and making satisfaction, he (thereby) instantly flies to the orthodox faith, is to be left to the will of the secular power to suffer a vengeance in correspondence with his crime. They moreover who shall be found marked by the mere suspicion of the church, unless they demonstrate their innocence in a manner suited to the nature of the suspicion, and to their rank, shall be subjected to the same sentence. But they who, after having abjured their error, or cleared themselves in a trial by their bishop, shall be convicted of relapsing to the heresy they have abjured, we order to be left to the severest sentence without further hearing, and their goods appropriated to the churches which they served, according to the canons ... Each archbishop and bishop shall himself, or by his archdeacon, or other honest and suitable persons, once or twice a year, go through the parish in which it is reported that Heretics reside, and compel three or more men there of good reputation, or the whole population if it seem expedient, to swear that should any one know persons who are heretics, or any who hold secret assemblies, or differ in life or manners from the usage of the faithful, he will endeavour to point them out to the bishop or archdeacon. And the bishop or archdeacon shall call the accused before him, and unless they clear themselves to his satisfaction, or should they, after having cleared themselves, relapse to their former heresy, they are to be punished according to this judgement."
The detail of this beginning and end is as follows. First, the beginning.The interval from Constantine to Justinian saw a great change in the western part of the Roman empire, through the inroads of the barbarians, and the decline of the city of Rome. At the same time christianity made great progress in the West amongst the Franks, Goths, Vandals, Burgundians, Suevi and Bavarians, and was a considerable factor binding these people to the Imperial Roman system. With
PAGE 72the Emperor residing far away in the East at Constantinople, the influence of the Bishop of Rome was increasing in the West. It was a stroke of policy for the Emperor Justinian to favour the bishop of Rome as the head of christianity. It helped to maintain his hold over the West. In the circumstance of rivalry between church factions, Justinian declared himself on the side of the trinitarian bishop of Rome, and pronounced the "Apostolic throne" head of all the holy churches in a decretal epistle in AD 533. The elevation of the Bishop of Rome as head over both eastern and western churches was expressed in the words: "Rendering honour to the Apostolic throne and to your Holiness. . . Therefore we have hastened both to subject and to unite to the Throne of your Holiness all the priests of the whole eastern region. . .".
Justinian did two other things which contributed to the establishing of the power of the Pope to act as a despot and to persecute the "heretics". First he re-framed and revised Roman law; and his Code, Pandects, and Institutes became the law for all Europe, West as well as East, for a thousand years and more. Secondly, in addition to the well established pro-catholic features of the Roman law from the time of Constantine, Justinian added his own pro-catholic, anit- heretic views. Says Gibbon (ch. 47): "His Code, and more especially his Novels, confirm and enlarge the privileges of the clergy, and in every dispute between a monk and a layman, the partial judge was inclined to pronounce that truth, innocence, and justice were always on the side of the church." "But in the creed of Justinian the guilt of murder could not be applied to the slaughter of unbelievers; and he piously laboured to establish with fire and sword the unity of the Christian faith". "The reign of Justinian was a uniform yet varied scene of persecution; and he appears to have surpassed his indolent predecessors, both in the contrivance of his laws, and the rigour of their execution." In summarising Justinian, we see him establishing a form of Roman law which was accepted throughout Europe, a law which was intensely hostile to all who opposed the Church, and we see him giving to the bishop of Rome authority as head of the Church to use such laws against all heretics.
PAGE 73Justinian particularly helped to create this dreadful lion-roaring mouth of the Papacy.
The next sentence in chapter 13 tells us that this beast with lion mouth was to have power to blaspheme and make war (A. V. 'continue' - Greek 'do his works') for 42 months. Taking Justinian as the starting point we come to the end of the 42 months in 1789 (1260 + 529 = 1789). This is the time of the French Revolution, and we find striking events happening by which the power of the Papacy to persecute is broken. The French Revolution, 1789-94, was a rising of the people against the Church and against the monarchy and aristocracy that supported the Church. Class privileges were abolished, the monarchy was replaced by the republic, the property of the Catholic Church was confiscated, priests were chased out and killed, religious toleration was established. Napoleon then comes on the scene; as the leader of the revolutionary forces of France he breaks the power of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire; he takes the Pope prisoner; and he promulgates the Napoleonic Code of laws, and its basic "Rights of Man", as a replacement of the Justinian Code of laws. Thus there is a legal and constitutional beginning and end to the 1260 years.
It is evident that there is a 1260 year period in which the Papacy had power to persecute all non-catholics, and history shows how she used that power. As we read the group of verses 13:1-7 and see how history has fulfilled them, we again ask the question asked several times already, is this all chance? Is the language really intended not to describe these past events, but some happening of 3-1/2 years in the future?
The establishing and the finishing of the persecuting power of the Catholic Church in Europe must occupy a period of years. History shows that there was a 75 year period at the beginning and a 75 year period at the end; thus maintaining the 1260 year interval. After Justinian's laws and his Decretal epistle to John, Bishop of Rome, there was a conflict between the rival episcopal thrones in Rome and Constantinople. Near the end of the century Rome had the good fortune of a powerful and skilful occupant of the 'apostolic' throne, Gregory the Great. He certainly helped to consolidate Rome's position of primacy. Then a few years later his successor, Boniface 111, extracted from the Emperor Phocas not only the recognition of the Pope as Universal Bishop but also the privilege of transmitting the title and authority to his successors "per secula", for ages. The edict is dated AD 606 or 607. So there is a 75 year epoch during which the Bishop of Rome is being legally established as the head and authority of the catholic church. Now when we come to the end of the 1260 years we find a similar 75 year epoch from the French Revolution during which the power of the Papacy to enforce her will against non-catholics declines. The 1860's mark the end of the epoch with the struggles of the revolutionaries under Garibaldi leading to the establishment of a a united kingdom of Italy, ruled by a king in Rome. The last of the papal states was incorporated into the kingdom of Italy in 1870 and the Pope was confined to
PAGE 74his Vatican residence without temporal power or authority. So history shows a 75 year epoch of establishment, a 75 year epoch of decline, and 1260 year periods between.
These events in the first half of the last century were a source of great encouragement to the brethren of our later times. They perceived the long prevailing and wearing out was at an end; that they had reached "the Time of the end" and the coming of the Master with great power to destroy the evil system. But if we choose 1260 days in the future, they (our pioneer brethren) had no signposts to the day of Christ and neither have we.
With the '1260' established as years and not days, the continuous historical exposition follows inevitably, and the various symbols of the Revelation spread through the centuries. The Holy City community of the saints are downtrodden by the beast for the 1260 years; the witnessing community operates for a 1260 year period; and the many associated symbols take their respective places.
YEARS NOT DAYSThere is a powerful argument in support of the view that we must interpret each day as a year, in the fact that all the periods mentioned are solar-lunar cycles in years.
In our lives we have three units of time: a day, the duration of which is related to the earth's revolution, a month, which as the name indicates, is the length of time from one new moon to another; and a year, the complete revolution of the earth round the sun.
In the combination of the three, larger units can be recognised. For example, if there was a new moon on the first of January, the time that elapses until there is another new moon at the same date would form a lunar cycle. The matter might be illustrated by the three hands of a watch. At 12 o'clock the hour, minute, and second hands all point exactly the same way. At frequent intervals the second and minute hand coincide; each hour the minute and hour hands coincide; but it takes twelve hours before all three are in line again.
Because of the regular division of the period of a day or night of twelve hours, we can easily calculate when these coincidences occur. But it is not so easy when the "hands" of the universe clock are inter-related. The day might be compared to the "second" hand, marking the smallest unit. The difficulty arises from the fact that the other "hands" - the moon and the sun - do not register multiples of days. A month is 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes and 3 seconds. A year is 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes and 49 seconds; or expressed in decimals, the year is nearly 365.2422 days and the month 29.5306 days.
If a new moon falls on January first, the thirteenth moon would be about ten days old at the end of the year; and a calendar based on the moon requires an extra month every third year to keep the months and the seasons in harmony. To adjust the fractions of a day in the year, an extra day is given to leap years, and as this adjustment is a little in excess, some century years are not leap years.
The average person would not readily arrive at the cycle at the beginning and end of which the moon is at the full on January first. More difficult is to determine the cycle when the three factors are brought in; and in fact it cannot be done apart from a very accurate knowledge of the length of the month and the year. A cycle of nineteen years during which there are 235 lunations was discovered by an Athenian astronomer, Meton, who lived in the fifth century B.C. and from whom the period is called the Metonic cycle. A similar cycle was known to the Chaldeans.
About two centuries ago a Swiss astronomer discovered that 315 solar years formed a very exact solar-lunar cycle. It follows that four times this period, or 1260 years, is also an exact solar-lunar cycle. Further investigation shewed that 2300 years were also a solar-lunar cycle, and the difference between 2300 and 1260 years, or 1040 years, is the most accurate solarlunar cycle known.
It is evident that the figures used in Daniel denote lengths of time which are units fixed by the combined time periods of sun, moon and earth. We might speak of these cycles as units of God's time measurements.
The fact that Daniel's time periods are solar-lunar cycles leads to two conclusions:
1. The figures denote years and not days.
2. Since these cycles were not known to the ancients, the author of the book of Daniel must be the Author of Nature. We cannot otherwise explain their use.
JCCONTENTS | Chapter 7: IS THE REVELATION ABOUT MODERN ISRAEL?
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