John’s Apocalypse spends three chapters describing a period of time equaling about three and a half years:
… but the outer court of the temple put outside, and do not measure it, because it was given to the Gentiles, for the holy city will be tread underfoot (by them) in forty-two months.
… And it was given to [the beast] a mouth speaking immensities and blasphemies, and it was given to it authority to act for forty-two months.Revelation 11:2, 13:5
One Thousand Two Hundred Sixty Days
“… And I will supply to both of my witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred sixty days, having been wrapped around in sackcloth.”
… and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place having been prepared there from God, in order that they might nourish her there for one thousand two hundred sixty days.Revelation 11:3, 12:6
A Time, and Times, and Half a Time
And the two wings of the glorious eagle were given to the woman in order that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.Revelation 12:14 (See also Daniel 7:25, 12:7, Luke 19:8)
Three and Four
When reading through each of the above passages, we can see the four activities John highlighted as significant occurrences during this timeframe:
- Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by non-Jewish people.
- God’s two witnesses will prophesy.
- The Beast will also be saying and doing big things, blasphemous things.
- A woman will be supernaturally protected and nourished in some desolate place which is inaccessible to those seeking to harm her, but at the same time is a safe and good place prepared especially for her by God.
Are these all referring to the same three and a half years? Or, because they are mentioned in separate chapters, are they two distinct time periods?
Commentators who take the perspective that John’s Revelation follows the course of church history liken each of these elements to historical events:
Measuring the Temple
John was to ascertain the true Church during the upheaval of all the reforms occurring during the Reformation. Not all Protestants, nor Catholics, were believers during this time. But there was and always has been a remnant of those faithful to God, regardless of their church affiliation. These are the ones worshipping around the altar of God.
Three and a Half Years
To the historicist, each day actually equals a year, following the calculation God gave to Ezekiel, “forty days I assign you, one day for each year.”
So, this number cannot be three and a half years, as other interpreters say. Rather, this represents 1,260 years, the amount of time the Roman church held sway in the west until the time of the Reformation.
All those who did not espouse the doctrines and catechism of the Roman church, leading up to the Reformation in the sixteenth century, act as God’s prophets. Two examples include the
- Waldensians in the twelfth century. They did not subscribe to all seven of the Catholic sacraments, did not require a priest for confession of sins, rejected the sale of “indulgences” to hasten entry into heaven, and only baptized those who confessed faith in Christ. They would not baptize infants, believed in full immersion, and took vows of poverty and simplicity. They did not believe in purgatory, they did not pray for the dead, they did not believe church buildings were necessary for a place to worship, and they accepted only the Bible as sole authority for doctrine.
- Albigensians from the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. These were particularly alarmed by and repelled by the corruption of the clergy in the Roman church, and were known for their own asceticism.
The Roman church’s response to movements such as these was to excommunicate their adherents, brand them heretics, and slaughter them by the ten thousands. The Inquisition of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries finally destroyed most of whatever was left.
Prior to the ascendency of the Roman church, the primitive church is represented by a woman protected by God. Until 313 CE, the woman was persecuted by the Roman Empire. When the woman gives birth to a male child, this is the mature church having grown within her, established by Constantine.
Increasingly, the Roman church in the west devolved into an ever more corrupt entity, represented in the papacy of that time.
The perspective of those focusing on the Jewish War of 66-70 CE is considerably different than the above.
Three and a Half Years
Persecution during Nero’s reign, and the subsequent Jewish War, equal roughly this time period.
Perhaps these are actual prophets who spoke warning and judgment to those in Jerusalem, or these were represented in the political and religious authorities in Jerusalem.
This time, the woman is Israel, for Christianity was originally a Jewish movement of faith in Jesus. As Rome laid siege to Jerusalem, the “woman”—believers living in Jerusalem—fled for the mountains, as Jesus told them to do, thus escaping Jerusalem’s grisly end. Nevertheless, the church still endured horrific persecution.
To the preterist, there are two beasts. The first is Rome, perhaps personified in Nero. The second could be the cult of emperor worship (which existed for only about a hundred and fifty years), or one of the cruel Roman procurators in Judea, or perhaps one or another of the false prophets of that time.
Not unsurprisingly, those looking to the future have yet another point of view that diverges significantly from the above.
Three and a Half Years
Either this timeframe represents the tail end of the Great Tribulation, or it measures the whole of the Tribulation as two specific three-and-a-half year periods, coming to a seven-year time of increasingly intense suffering.
Two prophets will appear at the noted time.
- These might be Moses and Elijah, who appeared with Jesus during His transfiguration to talk about the new Exodus.
- Or, Enoch and Elijah, who were both translated to heaven without physically dying.
Another possibility is a body of witnesses.
For other reasons than the Preterist view, Futurists see the woman as those who are faithful in Israel, who experience particularly fierce persecution from the Antichrist and literally flee into a wilderness area where they will be both supernaturally sustained by God in some way, and will also successfully evade their tormenters.
Again, there are two in this schema. One is a world-wide political leader, and the other partners with the first as a world-wide religious leader. The second will reinstate a form of the ancient Roman Caesar worship by enforcing all to worship the first beast.
Three and a Half Years
Expositors who take the broader, more spiritual interpretation understand this timespan as describing the whole of the church age (including right now).
Therefore, all those who have been anointed and appointed by God to teach, preach, and prophecy are God’s witnesses.
In the same way, the woman who is cared for particularly by God in a place God has prepared, whose inheritance in Christ is kept secure, also represents God’s own throughout history up to the present time.
Similarly to Futurists, theologians who emphasize the spiritual truths found in John’s Revelation see two beasts. The first beast represents political entities which have persecuted the church throughout the world. Today, Christians are among the most persecuted of all religious refugees.
The second beast represents false religion, particularly religions which center themselves around political power.
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg