Sunday, March 10, 2013

Three and a Half Years

Yes, friends, this is a comment on Biblical prophecy.  I hope the title, and the tags, have brought in many new viewers.  But, even if only my friends and family see this, I figured I'd get it out there to get some feed back.

In general, the period of three and a half years in the Bible is a time of trial.  It goes back to Elijah the Tishbite, a man who stepped into the court of King Ahab and abruptly announced that no rain would fall until he, Elijah, said it would.  And then God pulled him out of there!  We learn in the New Testament that this drought lasted only three-and-a-half years (James 5:17).  It would be the prophet Daniel, in exile, who would bring up the specific time period in context of prophecy.

Daniel called the period a "time, times, and half a time," and further defined it as "in the midst of" a particular "week."  The "week" is literally a "seven" and you have to provide the units according to the context.  The context calls for a "week" of years.  In chapter 12 of the prophecy Daniel provides a specific length of this period.  It is to be 1290 days.

This period seems to conflict with the time in days given for the same period by the Apostle John in Revelation 11:3.  There a period of 1260 days is given for the period in which the two witnesses are preaching in Jerusalem.  This is called forty-two months in verse 2 when introducing the witnesses.  John had been called on to "measure" measure the temple, the altar and the worshipers there.  Maybe I'll get into that some other time.  Dr. Richard Phillips' sermon for one vary good exposition on that was preached today (3/10/13) and will be available soon at the link.

Anyway, why the difference?  And what difference does it make?

First, why the difference?  Well, it's quite simple, really.  Daniel and John were using different calendars.  Daniel was referring to the Hebrew calendar, but John was referring to the calendar followed by most common Gentiles of his day.  Or most probably the simplified "360-day" calendar upon which interest and stuff like that was figured.  It is sometimes referred to the "prophetic year," but it goes back to the time of Moses when no months of more than 30 are mentioned.  This may be because the Hebrew calendar between Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles is fully in six 30-day months.  This is because days vary in length in that part of the year based on the earth's movement through space.

So, first, the Hebrew calendar.  Because it is a lunar calendar, the months will very between 29 and 30 days, with the shorter months falling in the fall and winter, generally.  It's complicated, but basically the year varies between 353 and 383 days, depending on the phases of the moon.  As a consequence of this, the calendar is in a 19-year with seven leap years.  The leap year does not have just an extra day, but instead an extra month!  Leap years come in this sequence:  --3--6-9--11--14--17-19.

If you will notice, there are no three year periods without at least one leap year.  Therefore, when Daniel gave a number to the days in his "time, times, and half a time,"  it was 1290.  This is not the "42 months" mentioned by John, but rather 43 months.  And then he complicated things, saying those who endured 1335 days would be blessed.  This is a period of 44 months and 15 days.  I'll return to that in a moment.

Let's go back to Daniel -- to the famous prophecy of the seventieth "week."  After getting us to a period of 383 years (69 weeks), he mentions that the Messiah will be cut off in the midst of the seventieth "week."  This is pretty much a given that this was the crucifixion in either AD 30 or 33.  Taking the traditional date of April 4, AD 33 (14 Nisan 3793) as the date, the time period of Jesus' ministry can be traced back to October 11, AD 29 (15 Tishri 3790).  The year 3791 was the leap year of his ministry.  I had thought that with so many 29 days in the mix, the 1290 count would be a bit off, but 14 Nisan 3793 is the 1290th day from 15 Tishri 3790 (exclusive of the start date).  That is within the counting conventions of the day.

This means that the first period of the prophecy about the Messiah fits the bill -- a period of 1290 days.  And so, what about the 1335 days.  That is 45 days longer, a period at the end of which "he who waits" will be blessed (Dan. 12:12).  Counting inclusive of the crucifixion, the forty days before the Ascension gives us 43 days, after which the disciples would be waiting in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49).  It is only after the Holy Spirit came upon them that they were to go out into the world as a witness.  Whereas Daniel was to close the book and told to "go [his] way" and to "rest" (Dan. 12:13), the apostles would spread out into all the world with the gospel.

However, this did not happen immediately.  In fact, it is here that there failure to spread out may actually have been a fulfillment of Daniel's prophecies in both chapter 9 (second half of the week) and chapter 12, verse 7b:

 [It] shall be for a time, times and a half-time when [God] shall have accomplished to scatter the power  of the holy people.

Counting from the "birth" of the church on May 24, AD 33 to Dec. 26, AD 36 is the same 1290 days.  What is this December 26th?  That is the date of the first martyrdom -- that of Stephen the Deacon.  Saul of Tarsus would be instrumental in the scattering of believers from the stronghold in Jerusalem (at least 8,000 saved in the early days, with many being added daily).

To sum it up:  The seventieth week of Daniel 9 is in two parts:
(1) Three and a half years of Jesus' ministry, followed by 40 days after the Resurrection, for a total of 1335 days.
(2) Three and a half years of the Church before the dispersion at the persecution that followed the stoning of Stephen.

In a follow-up post I will deal with the 1260 days (aka 42 months; or "time, times, and a half-time") referred to by John.


Andy Martin said...

Great explanation of the prophecy of Daniel. Look forward to your next post.

Henry Martin said...

Thanks, Andy. It's not the interpretation I learned in school, but it fits a lot better. Hint: It is clear that the 3 1/2 years in John's vision is not the same period as either period in Daniel.