Dates and Numbers in Bible Prophecy

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Below is a look at some of the dates and numbers found in the books of Daniel and Revelation with a brief historical background.
I. Revelation’s Visions Often Overlap Each Other Chronologically.

While the visions of Revelation build upon one another, until ultimately reaching the zenith of the new heaven and the new earth, there is also a pattern of synchronicity, with the visions often covering much of the same ground chronologically. Therefore, things that textually are found later oftentimes actually refer to things that precede them chronologically. For example, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is recorded in Revelation 12:5, near the beginning of the vision of Christ and the Dragon: “And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.” Whereas, the Day of Judgment is recorded in Revelation 11:18, because it is at the end of the vision of the Seven Trumpets: “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”

In other words, Revelation 12:5 refers to a cluster of events that is thousands of years earlier than the cluster that is referred to in Revelation 11:18. Not only does one find this pattern in other places in the book (e.g., Revelation 11:1-6 precedes Revelation 6:12-14 chronologically.), but also this pattern is clearly seen in the book of Daniel, where the vision of chapter 7 extends far into the future beyond the events of the vision of chapter 8.

II. The Book of Daniel Focuses on Four Empires by Means of Various Symbols.

A bit of background information may help to underscore this.

In Daniel 2, four great empires are revealed to King Nebuchadnezzar as a colossus: the Neo-Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Hellenistic-Macedonian, or Greek, and the Roman. These same empires are revealed to Daniel in the form of four beasts in chapter seven, and two of them are singled out for special treatment in Daniel 8: the Medo-Persian (Daniel 8:20.) and the Hellenistic-Macedonian Empires. (Daniel 8:21.) The vision of chapter 8 encompasses a time frame from 331 B.C. until roughly 165 B.C., when the Maccabean leaders broke the yoke of Syrian Hellenism. Whereas, the visions of chapters 2 and 7 run from the founding of the Neo-Babylonian Empire around 625 B.C., until the time of the coming of the Jewish Messiah and beyond. Therefore, the time frame of Daniel 7 extends chronologically far beyond the textually later chapter 8.

Because the book of Revelation is filled with quotations and allusions from the Old Testament, especially from the book of Daniel, where the three visions recorded in Daniel chapters 2, 7 and 8, Gabriel’s revelation about the Seventy Weeks in chapter 9 and the Warrior Archangel’s revelation of chapters 10-12 are so essential to our correctly reading of the book of Revelation, we need to look at Daniel in a bit more depth. Daniel’s prophecy locks us into a correct understanding of the book of Revelation. (Much of this material is covered in the two pieces on the book of Daniel.

In the book of Daniel, the exile of the Jews in the Babylonian captivity and their return to the land of Judah under the Persians is the backdrop of the drama of a greater captivity and a greater deliverance. Through a series of visions, God proceeds to unfold his plan for his people. The seventy years of exile would come to an end with the fall of Babylon, but the true liberation of Israel and the restoration of the fallen house of David would take, not seventy years, but seventy times seven. (Daniel 9.) And instead of the passing of Babylon marking the time of true fulfillment, empires yet unknown to the Jews of Daniel’s day would rise and fall.

These empires are revealed to Daniel in a series of terrifying visions. History records that after Babylon’s fall in 539 B.C., the Jews became subject to the empire of the Medes and Persians, under whose yoke they remained until 331 B.C., when Alexander the Great conquered the Persians, and Israel came under the influence of Hellenism. At Alexander’s death, his empire was divided among four of his generals. The history of Israel for the next century or so is a record of conflict between two of these generals’ dynasties: the Seleucids in Syria and the Ptolemaic house in Egypt. These struggles are spelled out in Daniel 11 in an unusual chapter where one can read prophecy as history written ahead of time, with a history book in one hand and the book of Daniel in the other.

In 165 B.C. Israel won her independence from the Hellenistic kings under Judas Maccabaeus. But this independence did not last long, nor did it see the house of David restored, for a more ominous empire was menacing the Middle East. In the year 63 B.C. the Roman general, Pompey, entered the city, thus beginning the subjugation of the Jews to the fourth great empire of the book of Daniel, Rome.

These four great empires are portrayed by various means to Daniel. Early in his reign Nebuchadnezzar had a nightmare that is recorded in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream centered around a colossus with a head of gold (Babylon, 2:32, 38.), a chest and arms of silver (Medo-Persia, 2:32, 39.), a stomach and thighs of bronze (Greece, 2:32, 39.), and legs of iron with feet of iron and clay. (Rome, 2:33, 40-43.) During the time of the last empire, Rome, God would begin the long awaited deliverance. (2:34, 35, 44, 45.) He would strike this metallic colossus with a stone cut without hands, and the colossus would disintegrate: “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands — a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.” (Daniel 2:44, 45.)

In the seventh chapter of Daniel these same empires are depicted as four terrifying beasts. Babylon is a lion with eagle wings (7:4.), while Persia is a bear. (7:5.) The four Hellenistic kingdoms are portrayed as a four-headed, four-winged leopard. (Contrary to anti-supernaturalistic interpreters, one notes that the four Hellenistic kingdoms of 7:6 are the third empire, with Rome as the fourth.) Rome is so terrifying it cannot be compared to any earthly creature, a ten-horned beast with iron teeth. (7:7-12; 23-29.) Once again, the coming of the fourth empire is the omen of the doom of all man centered attempts at world dominion, for then God intervenes to save his people: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13, 14.)

III. Antiochus Epiphanes Is a Foreshadowing of the Great Persecutor of God’s People.

Two of these empires receive special attention in the vision of chapter 8: the Medo-Persian kingdom is seen as a two-horned ram (8:3, 4.), which is defeated by a he-goat (Greece.). This goat has one horn (Alexander the Great.). But this great horn is broken off, and four take its place (Alexander’s four generals: Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy.). (8:8.) Out of one of these horns a little horn rises who persecutes God’s people. (8:9-14.) This little horn represents the last of the Greeks to rule over God’s people, Antiochus Epiphanes, who ruled the Seleucid kingdom from 175-163 B.C.

Antiochus receives special attention in Daniel (8:9-14; 23-25; 11:21 ff.) not only because he would desecrate the temple of the Lord with pig’s blood in honor of the Olympian Zeus and would wreak more havoc on Israel than any ruler from the time of Nebuchadnezzar in the sixth century B.C. until Titus, the Roman, in A.D. 70, but because he is the great foreshadowing of the ultimate persecutor of God’s people, the man of sin. The great oppressor of Daniel 7 bears striking parallels with Antiochus Epiphanes. The Syrian ruler, Antiochus, is the little horn that comes up out of one of the four horns of the goat, the Hellenistic Empire; (Daniel 8:8, 9.) the oppressor of Daniel 7 is the little horn that comes up out of one of the ten horns of the indescribably terrifying beast. (Daniel 7:7, 8.) Both of these evil horns hate God and his people and do all that they can to overthrow godliness. (Daniel 8:9-12, 23-2; 7:8, 19-25.) Antiochus’ oppression of the Jews extends, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.” (Daniel 8:14). Whereas, the oppression of the lawless one of Daniel 7 extends mysteriously “for a time, times, and half a time,” the time of persecution in the book of Revelation. (Daniel 9:25.)

IV. Gabriel’s Revelation Regarding the Seventy Weeks Sets the Time Frame.

The Roman Emperor, Vespasian’s son, Titus, is also a foreshadowing of this last great persecutor, and Titus’ destruction is touched on in Gabriel’s revelation about the Seventy Weeks.

For all the obscurity in it, Daniel 9:24-27 gives one of the clearest pictures of Christ in the whole Old Testament. But in order to understand it correctly we have to examine it in its context, both historically and Scripturally. And, specifically, we have to ask why God structured this revelation in a pattern of sevens.

The events recorded in Daniel 9 took place at the end of the Babylonian captivity. From his study of the prophet Jeremiah, Daniel knew that the exile had come to its completion: “In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” (Daniel 9:2.) It had begun back in 606/5 B.C. when a few members of the Jewish nobility, including Daniel, had been taken to Babylon as surety that Judah would remain a vassal of King Nebuchadnezzar. In the course of rebellions and further deportations, Jeremiah the prophet wrote to the captives and told them to settle down in Babylon and be prepared to live out their lives there: ‘This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.”’ (Jeremiah 29:10.)

Why did the Lord tell Jeremiah that the captivity would last seventy years? The answer to this is recorded in 2 Chronicles 36. There we find that the reason was Judah’s failure to keep God’s covenant, particularly the stipulations regarding the Sabbath years: “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.” (2 Chronicles 36:21.)

The Sabbath system was an integral part of the Old Covenant between God and Israel. Not only was one day in seven a day of rest when people could worship God (Exodus 20:8-10; Deuteronomy 5:12-15.), but one year in seven was to be a rest year when the land was not to be cultivated. (Leviticus 25:4.) And after forty-nine (seven times seven.) years, at the conclusion of the seventh rest year, came the Year of Jubilee. During this year those who had been reduced to poverty were restored, the property was returned to its hereditary owner and slaves were set free. (Leviticus 25:13, 40, 41.)

Included in this passage of Scripture describing the decreed system of rest years, were certain blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Specifically, God warned of desolation and exile for failure to observe this system. (Leviticus 26:34.) Thus the years of exile would correspond to the number of rest years that Israel would fail to keep. For example, a year in exile would represent seven years of rebellion. But God delights in mercy more than in judgment, and so he made provisions for Israel to return to the Promised Land. Immediately following the curse section of Leviticus, God promised Israel, “But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers . . . I will remember my covenant . . . I will remember the land.” (Leviticus 26:40-42.)

Realizing that the exile was nearly over, Daniel set about to meet the condition for return prescribed in the covenant, confession by Israel: “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3.). This prayer of confession is recorded in Daniel 9:4-19; Daniel describes it as “speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill.” (Daniel 9:20.)

In response to Daniel’s confession, God sent the angel Gabriel to reveal to Daniel that his prayer had been heard. But the heart of Gabriel’s message has to do not so much with the return from the exile as with the removal of the problem that led to the exile, namely the guilt of the sins of God’s people, who had repeatedly broken his covenant.

V. The Seventy Weeks Encompass the Time up Until the Second Coming of Christ.

This fundamental problem would not be settled at the end of the seventy years of Babylonian captivity, but would involve seventy times seven times. It would take this period of time for the Anointed One (the Messiah, the Christ.) to come, and in the middle of the last seven he would be “cut off” in a cursed death, thus removing the guilt of sin, and bringing in everlasting righteousness. (Daniel 9:24, 26.)

Gabriel did not reveal to Daniel how long these sevens were, whether days, weeks, or years. That was not the purpose of these sevens that seem so strange to us. This pattern would not have been strange to one who realized that Israel needed to observe the pattern of sevens revealed in Leviticus 25 and 26. Daniel knew that seven times seven years led to the wonderful year of redemption, the Jubilee. And Isaiah the prophet to describe the days of the Messiah had already used the Jubilee. The Lord Jesus quoted these words from Isaiah 61 when he said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21.) Thus Gabriel revealed to Daniel that it would take the Messiah to bring in the true year of the Lord’s favor, the inaugurated Jubilee: seven times seven for the Jubilee, times ten, representing fullness.

VI. The Focus Is on the Person and Work of Christ.

Rebellion against God’s covenant had lead to the Babylonian captivity, and unless this transgression of God’s people was dealt with, what hope could the future hold for them? Gabriel came to Daniel to assure him that the Lord would permanently deal with the sin problem. This is the fundamental focus of the prophecy of the seventy “weeks.” The heart of the prophecy is given in the very first verse: “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed 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.” (Daniel 9:24.) Of the six things mentioned in Daniel 9:24, the first three have to do with the problem of sin: “to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness.” Our Lord effectively dealt with, this problem once and for all, when he died on the cross: “But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9:26.)

Jesus came into this world to do more than remove the guilt of our sins: he perfectly obeyed the law of God that his righteousness might be credited to our account; he came that “God’s righteousness” might be given “to all who believe. “ (Romans 3:22; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21.). This, too, had been revealed to Daniel: the Messiah would come in the seventieth seven “to bring in everlasting righteousness.” (Daniel 9:24.) Our Lord finished the work his Father gave him, “having obtained eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12.)

The Old Covenant was never meant to be a complete covenant: it pointed to the need of a new and everlasting covenant. Its types needed to be fulfilled; the visions of its prophets had to be realized. The Lord Jesus did not come to destroy the Old Testament, but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17.) God sent his Son “to seal up vision and prophecy.” (Daniel 9:24.) “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1, 2.)

The sixth thing the Messiah would do would be “to anoint the most holy.” (Daniel 9:24.) This is difficult, but surely it points to the work of Jesus who was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism (Matthew 3:16.), who died on the cross that the Temple rituals might be complete (John 2:19-22; Hebrews 8:1-5; 9:1-10:22.), and who anointed his people with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that they might become the living stones of the Temple of New Covenant. (1 Corinthians 3:9-17; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2-5.) These six things are the core of Daniel’s prophecy; if we understand their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, we have understood the heart of the prophecy.

VII. Are These Weeks of Literal Years or Rooted in the Symbolism of the Jubilee?

The last three verses expand on this theme. The next verse begins the division of the seventy sevens into three segments: “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.” (Daniel 9:25.) The first segment, or seven sevens, demonstrates how the system of Sabbath years, seven of which lead to the Jubilee, are the screen on which the prophecy is to be presented. It is important to keep this in mind in order not to focus on a chronological sequence of literal years, whether they are 365 or 360 days. This prophecy is not about literal years but about a sequence of events that typologically reflect the Sabbath and Jubilee pattern. Therefore it is not essential dogmatically to determine the exact date for the beginning of this prophecy. {Many have been put forth, e.g. 605, 587, 539, 521, 458 or 445 B.C. [in loc., John E. Goldingay, Word Biblical Commentary: Daniel, (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1989.)]} The first seven sevens could easily correspond to the time between Cyrus’ decree in 539/8 B.C. and the completion of the rebuilding of the walls of the city under Nehemiah in 444 B.C. This would be in times of trouble. All one has to do is read Ezra and Nehemiah, or Haggai and Zechariah to see how literally this was fulfilled.

The second segment, or sixty-two sevens, takes us to the time of the Messiah. Thus the years between 444 B.C., when the walls were completed, and late 26 A. D., when Jesus was baptized and anointed into his Messianic work, is the period of time in view.

VIII. The Focus of the Seventieth Week Is on the Person and Work of Christ.

The last segment of one seven, the seventieth seven, is the focus of the prophecy, the time for accomplishing the six Messianic works of 9:24. This segment is covered in the last two verses, 9:26 and 27. These verses parallel each other and may be divided into three sections.

 

(Daniel 9:26 a) "Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and after the 62 "weeks" (i.e. during the 70th "week") (the) Anointed One will be cut off (in covenant judgment),

(Daniel 9:27 a) And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, And He will cause (the) covenant to prevail with many (the true Israel, the faithful remnant) (in the) one week,

(Daniel 9:26 b) and have nothing;

(Daniel 9:27 b) but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and in the midst of the week He will put an end to (the) sacrifice and offering;

(Daniel 9:26 c) and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And the city and the sanctuary, the people of the coming prince will destroy, and its end (is) with a flood and unto (the) end (is) war; desolations determined.

(Daniel 9:27 c) and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate. And upon the pinnacle (of the temple), abominations (idols), a desolating (thing/person, i.e. the Roman army), even until the end (destruction), and what is determined will gush forth on the desolate (place).


The first part of 9:26 (“After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off.”) is parallel to the first part of 9:27. That is to say, during the seventieth seven the Messiah would be cut off in death under the divine judgment due for covenant breakers. This circumcision of Christ (cf. Colossians 2:11.) had been beautifully and graphically foretold in Isaiah 52:13-53:12, especially 4-8.

This aspect of the work of Christ is set forth in the parallel section of Daniel 9:27: “He will confirm a covenant with many for (or “in” or “during;” the translators have simply added the word “for” interpretatively.) one ‘seven.’” There is only one covenant previously mentioned in Daniel, namely God’s blessed covenant with his people: ‘I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands . . . “’ (Daniel 9:4.) Our Lord died on the cross that those blessed promises covenanted to the patriarchs might be made sure to all their descendants (the many, the righteous remnant, or the true Israel.): “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs.” (Romans 15:8; cf. Galatians 3:13, 14.)

The next section of Daniel 9:26, while very obscure, “and will have nothing,” is associated with the death of the Messiah. The parallel section of Daniel 9:27 is very clear: “In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering.” Our Savior did this when he caused the veil of the Temple to be torn open by his crucifixion. (Cf. Matthew 27:50, 51; Hebrews 10:19-22.) Thus he fulfilled the whole system of bloody sacrifice, which characterized the earthy Tabernacle and Temple.

IX. Judgment Comes to Those Who Break the Covenant.

The last section of Daniel 9:26 foretells the terrible judgment that God would send on the unbelieving portion of the Jewish people. It is described as a fiery baptism of wrath in the form of a foreign army sent by God: “The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.” (Daniel 9:26.) The same idea is mirrored in the concluding section of Daniel 9:27: “And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” The Lord Jesus commented on these Scriptures and said that they would be fulfilled after his death in the destruction of Jerusalem. This occurred in A. D. 70 under the Roman prince, Titus. (Matthew 24:15 ff; Luke 21:20-24.) Thus the last, or seventieth seven of Daniel is divided into two sections: the earthly ministry of Christ which was terminated by his being cut off on the cross, and the last half of the week which would include the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

X. Both Daniel and Revelation Focus on a Three and a Half Year Period of Suffering.

Gabriel does not tell Daniel when the last half of the week ends. But it is interesting to observe that both Daniel and Revelation refer to a period of time that adds up to one half of seven years. It is sometimes referred to as forty-two months (Revelation 11:2; 13:5.), or 1260 days (Revelation 11:3; 12:6.), and, rather cryptically, as “a time, times and half a time.” (Daniel 7:25; Revelation 12:14.) This period of time seems to stretch from Christ’s ascension to his second coming (cf. Revelation 12:5; 14:14.), but has a particular focus on the time of the manifestation of the Antichrist, the terrible time of persecution just before the Second Coming of Christ, an event foretold in 2 Thessalonians 2.

XI. There Is a Final Manifestation of Evil in the Man of Sin.

The Emperor Gaius (A. D. 37-41.), “Little Boots,” is obviously somewhat in Paul’s mind as he pens 2 Thessalonians, because Gaius commanded Petronius, his governor over the Province of Syria, to place his statue in the Temple at Jerusalem. However, Gaius is not destroyed by the appearance of Christ’s coming; his Praetorian Guard assassinates him, and the Roman system continues on past the time of Gaius into that of Nero (A. D. 54-68.), who also was slain. The wounded Roman beast of Emperor worship only seems to die when its head is slain in A. D. 68, for it revives with a vengeance under Domitian (A. D. 81-96.). (Cf. Revelation 13:3, 12, 14; 17:3 ff.)

The Roman Empire has never fallen. The western part collapsed in A. D. 476, but the Roman Empire itself continued as a state past the time when the city of Constantinople fell to the armies of Islam on May 30, 1453, and the Ottoman Turks slew Constantine XI. The center of power for Byzantine civilization then passed on to Moscow (the Third Rome.), where the Tsars ruled in the name of Christ until Nicholas II abdicated on March 15, 1917. That same year the Bolsheviks seized the Battleship Aurora on November 7, and the antichrist, Vladimir Illyich Lenin, was enthroned as god in St. Petersburg.

As Saint John reminds us, “As you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” (1 John 2:18.) Satan has been attempting to put his final embodiment of evil on the throne of power for a very long time, “For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work,” but our Sovereign Lord has continued to check his diabolical scheme. (2 Thessalonians 2:6, 7) There is coming a time when our Lord will cease to restrain the evil one, and the final form of evil will be manifested. (Revelation 20:3, 7-9.) But the power of this last great oppressor of God’s people will be short lived, for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will return from heaven with the cry of victory and the sound of the seventh and last trumpet, destroying all his and our enemies, including the last enemy, death itself. (Revelation 20:9, 10; 2 Thessalonians 2:8.)

XII. The Church Militant Simultaneously Enjoys Millennial Peace and Prosperity and the Time, Times and Half a Time of Suffering.

The Christian life is a strange paradox, with joy unspeakable and the agonies of childbirth as we await the soon return of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-9; Romans 8:18-21.) From one perspective we are currently reigning with Christ, from another, we are facing death all day long, ready to be devoured by a ravenous beast. (Romans 8:35, 36; 1 Peter 5:8 ff.)

The millennium began with our Lord’s earthly ministry; it is a glorious time of victory over the hosts of hell. Yet this same time period corresponds to the last half of Daniel’s Seventieth Week, the forty-two months, twelve hundred, sixty days, and a time, times and half a time of suffering.

Bob Vincent