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Times and Seasons

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

In the Bible there are various times and seasons, some of them explicit and others less explicit. We must interpret these times, as well as their physical, moral and spiritual characteristics (the signs of the times) in a biblically correct way if we wish to make justified assumptions and conclusions about the time in which we live, as well as the nearness of predicted end-time events. In this article, we will review the significance of seasonal years, prophetic years and millennia with specific reference to Israel’s chronology, and also to the first and second comings of the Messiah.

Seasonal years

The most commonly used chronology in the world is based upon seasonal years, which are also referred to as solar years. In these units of time, the perceived cycles of the sun (actually the position of the earth in its orbit around the sun) result in the phenomenon of different seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter. Every year is also divided into months, derived from the full cycle of the moon from one new moon to the next. Months are divided into weeks of seven days each, while days are composed of 24 hours – about 12 hours in the night (four night watches of 3 hours each, from sunset to 9 o’clock, from 9 to 12, from 12 to 3, and from 3 to sunrise) and more or less 12 hours of daytime between sunrise and sunset.

The problem is that these different units of time do not fully synchronise with one another. There are exactly seven days in a week, but there are not an exact number of weeks in a lunar month, neither an exact number of lunar months in a seasonal year. A lunar month is 29½ days long (the length of months alternating between 29 and 30 days on the Jewish calendar), resulting in a so-called “lunar year” of 354 days. It falls 11¼ days short of a full seasonal year of 365¼ days.

Israel still observes lunar months, starting on every new moon. However, they do not observe lunar years but seasonal years, since certain months in their calendar are directly associated with seasonal changes in the annual agricultural cycle. Nisan is always regarded as the spring month while Tishri is related to the final gathering of the harvest during autumn. In order to keep track with seasonal changes, Israel has introduced leap-years in which a 13th month of 29 days (Ve-Adar, or Second Adar) is added at the end of the year. In every cycle of 19 years, there are seven such leap-years, i.e. years no. 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19.

In the Gregorian calendar, the length of months were adapted with a view to having exactly 12 months per seasonal year, resulting in the fact that months do not synchronise with the cycles of the moon. The bottom line is that in the Gregorian as well as Jewish calendars we both observe seasonal years. Because of the much longer leap-years in the Jewish calendar, their annual festivals often fluctuate up to a month or more on the Gregorian calendar, but never go completely out of cycle with it. The starting-point of years is also quite different. Israel observes a civil calendar which starts on the 1st day of Tishri (Rosh Hashanah) while their religious calendar starts in the spring month of Nisan (formerly called Abib; cf. Ex. 12:2). In the Gregorian calendar, the starting point for years is shortly after the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, on January 1.

Prophetic years and year-weeks

There is also another calendar in the Bible, popularly referred to as the prophetic calendar. It comprises years of 360 days each, being composed of 12 months of 30 days each. The major reason for this calendar, which is used in Daniel 9:24-27 and Revelation 11 to 13, is to afford an exact countdown to the first and second comings of the Messiah, even in days. Other prominent events leading up to the coming of the Messiah are also discussed within the same prophetic chronology. This calendar does not replace the Jewish or Gregorian calendars but cuts across them to pinpoint certain very important dates beyond any doubt.

The prophetic calendar is clearly not applied to the church dispensation and therefore does not allow the calculation of a date for the Messiah’s secret coming shortly before the resumption of Israel’s year-week cycle, when they will conclude a covenant with the false messiah. Only the 70th year-week is still outstanding in the cycle of weeks discussed in Daniel 9. In the New Testament, this year-week is described as the tribulation period, of which the last half will be the great tribulation (Matt. 24:21,29; Rev. 7:14). Once this year-week has started it will be possible to determine the exact date of its halfway mark as well as the end of the week when the Messiah will come again. Let us investigate this way of reckoning time more closely.

Daniel presents a very remarkable prophecy which spans Israel’s divine history from the end of the Babylonian captivity to the beginning of the Messiah’s reign of peace: “Seventy weeks are determined for your people [Israel] and for your holy city [Jerusalem], to finish transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy… From the going forth of the command to restore and build up Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be 7 weeks and 62 weeks [a total of 69 weeks]; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. And after the 62 weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself” (Dan. 9:24-26).

The starting-point of this prophecy was the decree by the Persian king, Artaxerxes, allowing the return of the Jews to their land and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. The Jews in exile were in a downtrodden and, humanly-speaking, hopeless position. The royal family and the rulers of Judah were all killed by the king of Babel (Jer. 52:10-11). Jerusalem was destroyed and the magnificent temple of Solomon lay in ruins. A small remnant of Israel, including members of the dispersed southern kingdom of Judah and the formerly dispersed northern ten tribe kingdom of Israel, were in Babylonia, facing a bleak future.

During their exile, Daniel prophesied about the ultimate restoration of Israel, their land and their capital city. He said that after seventy year-weeks (70 X 7 prophetic years) there will be a definite end to Israel’s national sins, which means that the entire remnant of Israel will be reconciled with God through the Messiah. This future vision of Israel’s salvation is corroborated by all the prophets (cf. Isa. 49:5-6; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-28; Hos. 14:5-7; Zech. 8:23, 13:1) and also by Paul in the New Testament (Rom. 11:26). Zechariah says that this wonderful event will take place after a personal encounter with the Messiah at His second coming (Zech. 12:10; 14:4-5). Only then, everlasting righteousness will prevail in Israel. All the prophecies on their spiritual restoration and the subsequent blessings which they will enjoy during the rule of the Messiah, will be fulfilled (and sealed) and the rebuilt temple of the millennium will be anointed and dedicated to the Lord (Ezek. 40 to 44).

However, Daniel did not foresee a quick and trouble-free history for Israel during their post-exilic restoration. To the contrary! He said that the city and the temple would be restored during a period of 7 year-weeks, which would be troubled times for Israel. Their trouble wouldn’t end there but extend further to the end of the 69th week when they would “cut off” the Messiah. They did exactly that, as a nation, by formally rejecting and crucifying Him. Isaiah says that He was “cut off from the land of the living” (Isa. 53:8), which means that Israel severed their ties with Him and were temporarily cut off from God’s divine plan. There would not be any future in God’s plan for Israel without accepting the Messiah. Their alienation from God would ultimately lead to the conclusion of a covenant with the false messiah (Dan. 9:27).

Jesus clearly warned the Jews that their rejection of Him would lead to the desolation of their land and city, and also to their international dispersion (Matt. 23:37-38; Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24). During the time of their spiritual blindness, the Gentile world would be evangelised (Matt. 28:19).

Since the dispensation of the church age was not revealed to the Old Testament prophets, Daniel did not indicate all the dire consequences of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah, which gave rise to their Diaspora during the church age. Towards the end of the church age, Israel would be restored to their land. Since they are still in a national state of rebellion against God because of their continued rejection of the Messiah, there would be no immediate end to their long history of troubles. God said that He would gather them in Jerusalem to blow the fire of His wrath against them (Ezek. 22:18-22). From this painful process of testing and melting a remnant will be saved (Zech. 13:8-9; Rom. 9:27).

The inevitable result of rejecting the true Messiah would be spiritual blindness that would pave the way towards embracing the false Messiah instead of the true One whom they have refused to accept (John 5:43). That will give rise to their severest problems yet. Jeremiah said that it will be a time of trouble for Jacob (Jer. 30:7). Jesus said that there will be a great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world (Matt. 24:21-22). Since the coming tribulation period will be a time of suffering and purification from which a remnant in Israel will be saved, this seven-year period will form part of Israel’s divine history. They will reinstate the cycle of 70 year-weeks the day when they conclude a covenant with the false messiah.

Daniel says: “And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary… Then he [the false messiah] shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate” (Dan. 9:26-27).

This final year-week in Israel’s divine history between their Babylonian exile and the start of the dispensation of righteousness during the coming reign of the Messiah, will be fulfilled just as literally as the first 69 year-weeks. It will, globally, be a time of great turmoil and divine judgements, leading up to the second coming of the Messiah. During this time, the final destiny of Israel and the nations will be determined. A remnant of them will be saved, while the majority will, to their eternal ruin, conclude a covenant with the false messiah [the Antichrist].

Since the 70th year-week is part of Israel’s divine history, it does not form part of the church dispensation. The latter will formally be ended by the rapture of the true church, allowing the Antichrist to be revealed and to conclude his covenant with Israel and the nations (2 Thess. 2:6-8). This week is clearly divided into two halves of 3½ years each, which are also expressed as 42 months (Rev. 11:2; 13:5) or 1260 days (Rev. 11:3; 12:6). This leaves no doubt as to the literal nature of the final seven years, which will be an exact countdown to the second coming of the Messiah on the Mount of Olives.

The equation of 3½ years with 42 months or 1260 days determines the time framework of prophetic years as consisting of 12 months of 30 days each. They are slightly shorter than solar years, but nevertheless afford an exact countdown to the Messiah’s first and second comings. Daniel in effect said that 69 year-weeks (483 prophetic years) would elapse between the de­cree by Xerxes on 1 Nisan 445 BC, that Jerusalem was to be rebuilt (Neh. 2:1‑8), and the death of the Messiah would occur on 14 Nisan 32 AD. That represents a total period of 173 880 days. When divided by 365¼ days, this period equals 476,06 seasonal years on the Gregorian calendar. On this calendar, the 69 year-weeks elapsed between 23 March 445 BC and Friday 11 April 32 AD. That was a very significant and literal fulfilment of a biblical prophecy.

Then the clock stopped ticking for Israel as a nation in the divine plan of God, and the time for the evangelisa­tion of the non-Jewish world began. That meant that Israel would tem­porarily lose its position as a special servant and mouthpiece of God, and that all the people on earth, including the dispersed Israelites, would be given the opportunity to accept Jesus as their Messiah and Saviour to become part of the kingdom of God.

The present restoration of Israel and the city of Jerusalem clearly indicate that we are now nearing the end of the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24). This means that the last year-week of Israel’s history of salvation must elapse before the remnant will accept Jesus in one day (Zech. 3:9). Because the people of Israel are physically restored in a spiritually blinded state it is evident that they will be deceived by the false messiah. When the false messiah, exactly halfway through the 70th week, declares himself to be God in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem (2 Thess. 2:4; Dan. 11:36), Israel will realise that he is an impostor who lied about his real identity.

The Antichrist will institute his satanic reign of terror, and the whole world will be shocked out of the false sense of peace which they enjoyed during the first three and a half years: “For when they say, Peace and safety! then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thess. 5:3). He will then be revealed as a ruthless dictator and self-declared God who will demand to be worshipped by all people on earth.

The false messiah will forbid Israel to sacrifice in the name of God, erect an image of himself in the Holy of holies in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, and demand personal worship: “...and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and offering to cease [for the remaining three and one-half years]; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate; until the full determined end is poured out on the desolator” (Dan. 9:27 Amplified Bible). Israel will be greatly disillusioned when they realise that they have been worshipping a false messiah who pretended to be God Himself. They will immediately revoke their covenant with him and completely reject him.

As in World War II, genocide will be perpetrated against the Jews during the second half of the tribulation – in the 3½ year period known as the “great tribulation” or “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7). The true Messiah described this time of terror in His prophetic discourse: “Therefore, when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place… then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains… For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:15-21).

This clear prophecy by the Messiah about the end-time renders undeniable proof of the fact that Daniel’s prophecies were not all fulfilled in Old Testament times. Daniel also refers to the dark days of the coming tribulation period in his prophecies about the end-time: “And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation” (Dan. 11:31).

At the height of the great tribulation, the Messiah will come: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30). “In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east” (Zech. 14:4). Christ will destroy the false messiah, the false prophets and their armies (Rev. 19:19-21).

It was with a view to this terrible time of turmoil, demonic deception and unprecedented tribulation that the Lord has given Israel a countdown to His second coming: “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book… And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be 1290 days. Blessed is he who waits, and comes to the 1335 days” (Dan. 12:1,11-12).

From the time when the false messiah abandons the sacrificial service and defiles the sanctuary by placing an image of him­self in the Holy of Holies, 1260 days will expire until the arri­val of the Messiah on the Mount of Olives (Dan. 9:27; Rev. 13:5). After a further thirty days of mourning (cf. Zech. 12:10-11; Num. 20:29; Deut. 34:8), the spiritual rec­on­ciliation between the Messiah and the remnant of Israel will be complete. By then, 1290 days will have expired since the false messiah’s self-deification in the temple.

Another 45 days will be taken up by the marriage feast of the Lamb, the restoration of the throne of David and the judgment of the nations (Rev. 19:7-9, Acts 15:16-17, Matt. 25:31-32). By then, 1335 very dramatic days will have expired since that very evil day when the false messiah declared himself as God in the temple and instituted his satanic reign of terror. After 1335 days, the Son of the living God will have crushed the evil powers and established His kingdom of peace. Jews who sur­vive this terrible onslaught will, after 1260 days of great tribu­lation, see the Messiah return. After 1290 days they will be spiritually restored, and after 1335 days they will enter the promised kingdom of the Messiah.

It is very clear that the prophecy on the 70 year-weeks includes an exact and dependable countdown to the first and second comings of the Messiah, while also counting down the time of the false messiah’s reign in prophetic years, in months and in days. However, this prophecy gives us no indication as to the time span of the church dispensation that followed after the “cutting off” of the Messiah in Israel. Other prophecies will have to be consulted to gain more clarity on this matter.

Millennia

The Lord did not provide a countdown for the church dispensation, other than an approximate indication that His ministry of healing and salvation will last for “two days” (of one thousand years) each. In God’s chronology, there is not only a week of days (7 days; cf. Lev. 23:3), a week of weeks (49 days; cf. Lev. 23:15; Deut. 16:16), and a week of years (7 years; cf. Lev. 25:3-8; Dan. 9:24-27), but also a week of millennia (7000 years; cf. 2 Pet. 3:8). In the latter case, one day represents a thousand years (cf. Hos. 6:1-2; Luke 13:32).

In the week of humanity’s divine history, two days elapse between Adam and Abraham, two days between Abraham and Christ, and two days during the church age, while the seventh millennium will be the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. During the seventh day, which is the “Day of the Lord,” Christ will be revealed as Judge and King (Isa. 13:9; Zech. 14:9; Rev. 6:16-17; 20:6).

The end of a dispensation

When different signs of the times are considered, we have more than enough indications that the world is heading for a time of unprecedented disasters – some of them man-made, while others will be caused by the divine shaking of the powers of nature. The severity of the coming tribulation as a divinely-ordered judgement upon the wicked is equated with the widespread destruction that occurred during the times of Noah and Lot (Luke 17:26-30). Like in those ancient times, believers are again admonished to prepare for an evacuation of the area of divine judgement – in this case the entire planet earth.

Noah had to build an ark to escape a devastating flood. Lot and his family had to flee to the mountains to escape the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire. We are commanded to watch and pray that we may be worthy to escape all the terrible things that will come to pass during the tribulation period, and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36). That literally means that we will leave the planet in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, to meet the Lord in the air (1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:16-17). Christ will remove His bride from the earth to take her to the heavenly mansions that He has prepared for her (John 14:2-3).

The bride should live holy and be constantly ready for the sudden coming of the Bridegroom: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matt 25:13). We certainly do not know the day or hour when the Lord Jesus will come for us, but we do know that it is imminent: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).

We know for sure that we are in an advanced stage of the last generation, of which Jesus Christ said: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things are fulfilled” (Luke 21:32). The Lord Jesus will not refer to a generation of which we cannot determine the starting-point from His Word. We should heed the signs of the times: “When you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, A shower is coming; and it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, There will be hot weather; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it that you do not discern this time?” (Luke 12:54-56).

Did you notice the budding of the fig tree (Luke 21:29-30) after Israel’s international dispersion of almost two millennia? Have you witnessed the last generation developing to the point where Jerusalem was restored as Israel’s capital city after being trampled by the Gentiles for many centuries? (Luke 21:24). Are you aware of the ominous signs which indicate an approaching time of tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of the world? Then you will know that the prophesied time of God’s wrath upon the wicked is dangerously close.

If you are unsaved, you have all reason to be deeply troubled, even to the point of despair, as there is, humanly speaking, no way of averting or escaping the coming judgements upon the wicked. But if you have accepted the Lord Jesus as your Saviour, you shall not come into judgement (John 5:24; Rom. 8:1). You will, instead, wait for the heavenly Bridegroom who will deliver us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10), “for God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).

As in the times of Noah and Lot, utter destruction will soon befall the wicked after the departure of those who have been shining as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15). Then, the withholder against extreme apostasy and deception will be gone (2 Thess. 2:6-10), thus allowing for a time of unbridled manifestations of the kingdom of darkness on earth.
Andrew Murray 32