Wednesday, August 13, 2008 | By: Zachary Bartels

Twelve Sixty? Forty-two?? Huh???

Okay, more than a few people have asked me about the name of my blog (both the "twelve60" URL and the "42 Months" title). So, time for a little Bible lesson. Please clear the flannelgraph in your mind and put your seat in its fully upright and locked position. (I cannot freaking believe that Blogger underlined flannelgraph as if it were not a legitimate word; for shame.)

The name comes from Revelation 11:1-3, which is part of a larger seven-part vision that St. John the Apostle had of the heavenly realm, together giving him (and us) a picture of what the church will endure in the time before Christ returns. Like the whole Apocalypse, this passage is steeped in symbolism. John sees the temple of God and is told to measure it with a rod. He is not, however, to measure the outer court with it, since it has been given to the Gentiles (Greek ος θνεσιν, "to the Gentiles" or "to the nations...") and they will trample it for forty-two months. During this time (described alternately as "one thousand two hundred and sixty days"), two witnesses with seeming miraculous powers (see vv. 4-12) will prophesy, wearing sackcloth.

That clears things up, right?

So, what does it all mean? Well, read a dozen commentaries and you might get a dozen explanations. The main question is, "When does all this take place?" That really narrows one's interpretation. There are a few major views.
  • Classical dispensationalists are probably the most interested in this time period. These are the Left Behind people. They take the forty-two months (three and a half years) and add it to the 1,260 days (three and a half years) and come up with (dah-dah-dah-DAAAAHHH) a seven year tribulation!! Why they are so interested in the minutiae of this supposed time period baffles me, since most dispies are expecting the Archangel Scottie to beam them up before the tribulation even begins.
  • Preterists (at least full Preterists) believe that this all happened back around AD 70 with the Great Jewish Revolt, while Historicists see the 1,260 days as prophetic years of papal power before the Reformation.
  • Then there are the Tinfoil Hat Prophecy Society® people who are stocking up on canned beef and ammo in anticipation of the Antichrist's arrival in a UN helicopter or Area 51 spacecraft or something. The really high-ups in the Society also sell the "survival rations," but I'm sure there's no conflict of interest there. Anyway, they're so busy tracking the suitcase nukes around the country via their night visions that they haven't had time to file their taxes...
  • Finally, there are the few, the proud, those who hold fast to the Historic Protestant interpretation (which also happens to be the historic Roman Catholic interpretation dating back to St. Augustine), that views these three and a half years as symbolic of the entire inter-advent period (the time between Christ's first coming and his second coming). I fall within this camp.
Why three and a half years? Isn't that kind of a random symbol? Not if we recognize the Old Testament roots and the intertextuality at play here. In Daniel 9, the Archangel Gabriel (Scottie's superior) told the prophet Daniel that there would be Seventy sevens "for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy." This is almost always understood (either figuratively or literally) to refer to a total of 490 years.

Gabriel says that the seventy sevens begin with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and are broken up into three sections: seven sevens, sixty-two sevens, and one seven. Between the sixty-two sevens and the final seven years, the Messiah will be cut off and will confirm a covenant with many (yes, the "he" in v. 27 is Jesus, not the Antichrist--with or without UN helicopter).

So what happens to the last half a seven? Well, the Scriptures speak of it often. It is referred to as "a time, times, and half a time" (Dan 7:25, Dan 12:7, Rev 12:14), "1,260 days" (Rev 11:3; 12:6), and "forty-two months" (Rev. 11:2; 13:5). This is the time between when the Messiah is cut off (the crucifixion) and when he returns in judgment, bringing "the end like a flood." It's the time between Jesus' first advent to save sinful mankind and his second advent to judge the quick and the dead.

Does three and a half years still seem like a random length of time? Well, think about it like this: in Hebrew thought, the number seven represents completion. Seventy sevens, therefore, is the ultimate completion. At the end of seventy sevens, we'd expect every loose end to be tied up and every battle to be won. The time between Christ's first coming and his second is more than 2,000 years. But as far as the battle is concerned, as far as the story of Redemption and the great struggle between light and darkness is concerned, it's "all over but the shouting" as they say. Satan was defeated at the cross. What remains is for Christ to gather his own to himself. When that is done, it's all done. When Christ said, "It is finished" then rose from the dead, the story was 69½ sevens complete with only half a seven to go. While we, who think in terms of statistics and percentages, might say something is "99% done," in a culture that emphasized numerology and defined "done" in terms of sevens, 1260-42-3.5 was the way to get the point across.

Thus we are "in the thick" of the 42 months. This is it. This is the church age. This is the inter-advent period. This is the millennium (Rev 20:1-6). The two witnesses are wearing sackcloth now and proclaiming the message, "Repent" to all who will listen, even to a hostile world. And the two witnesses are us, the church. The world hates our message and will attack it, but as we see in Rev. 11:5-11, we will ultimately prevail because Christ will ultimately prevail.

That's one reason why the Book of Revelation shouldn't scare you (if you're a believer), but should give you hope. For all the messed up stuff in this world and how the devil seems to be ruling the day, remember he's defeated. He's a lion, but he's a lion on a leash. We don't know when the forty-two months will be over, but we know that it won't end with Christ secretly "beaming up" his own. It will end with him coming in glory and every eye will see him.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach

2 reader comments:

Orekh Kukaruka said...

You know that 42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

ZSB said...

Whatever, Deep Thought.