In the Wilderness
As every First Century Jewish teenager in John’s audience knew, unbelieving Israel had been judged in 70 AD and had to flee from the land:
Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.1
She was not to perish in this metaphorical “wilderness of the peoples”2 because God again had ‘a place prepared’ for her and a very specific time limit on this, her third exile:
- Her first exile in Arabia was for forty years in the 15th Century BC. 3
- Her second in Assyria and Babylon was for over two hundred years, from the 8th to the 6th Century BC.4
- This time, her 1st Century AD exile was to last ‘one thousand two hundred and sixty days’ i.e. exactly three and a half lunar years.
This much would have been readily understood by a 1st Century Jewish teenager because it was commonly known in the Jewish community. From here on, however, even adult Jewish disciples would have needed to apply themselves to understand John’s time period.
‘A Time, Times and Half a Time’
When John again describes the woman’s fleeing, we are given another detail:
But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.5
This description, ‘a time, times and half a time’, also means three and a half lunar years but it is the prophetic phrase first used by Daniel to describe the period when the spirit of antichrist6 is allowed to rage:
“He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.”7
Daniel also saw it as the ‘time of distress’ for the nation of Israel that follows Michael’s arising:
- “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued…”
- And one said…, “How long will it be until the end of these wonders?”
- …[The angel replied] that it would be for a time, times, and half a time and as soon as they finish shattering the power of the holy people, all these events will be completed.8
Accordingly, when John sees Michael arising to battle the dragon,9 he also sees the woman fleeing into the wilderness for ‘a time, times, and half a time’10 – this is the time when Daniel’s eleventh horn will “wear down” even believers and they will be “given into his hand”11 and their power will be shattered,12 causing unprecedented distress.13
How then are we to understand this time period? Is it literal or metaphorical?
Dispensationalists and futurists believe the three and a half lunar years will be a literal time period in the future. Merrill C. Tenney describes it as:
… a new chronological element not previously introduced… It measures the span of the last organized conflict of the people of God with the forces of antichrist… There is nothing to indicate that this period must be taken figuratively; for it is a definite ending with the overthrow of the beast and the false prophet (19:19-21), and by logic the opening of the period should be no less definite.14
However, this does require an unrecorded interval, as noted by John F. Walvoord:
There is obviously a tremendous time lapse between verses five [when her child is caught up to God and to His throne] and six [when she flees]…15
This time lapse would be the last 1,990 years and counting. They often refer to the literal three and half years as the Great Tribulation and “time of Jacob’s trouble”, based on a misunderstanding of Jeremiah 30:7, so I look at Jeremiah 30 in the Appendix.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible suggests a metaphorical interpretation based on numerology:
A number that symbolises the period of eschatological tribulation (Dan 7:25; 9:27, 12:7, 11-12). As half of seven, the number of completeness, it also symbolises radical incompleteness.16
N.T. Wright likewise:
A symbolic number, half of the ‘seven’ which stands for completeness.17
Others like Leon Morris leave it vague:
So John will mean his readers to discern that the trial of the people of God will be of measurable duration and that they will be delivered out of it.18
So too Craig Koester.19 Laurie Guy, however, makes a much stronger connection with Elijah’s drought:
At one point Revelation 12 moves away from the Exodus template and over to the Elijah story. The Elijah period was a desperate time for the remnant that remained true to God…By the time of the New Testament the length of the drought and preservation was identified as three and a half years (Luke 4:25; James 5:17). This time span is utilised repeatedly in Revelation. It may be couched as 1,260 days (Rev 11:3, 12:6), forty-two months (11:2; 13:5) or a time, times and half a time (12:14), but in various ways John is identifying a ‘three-and-a-half-year’ period of troubles.20
Unfortunately, he fails to follow through on the connection:
The time duration is not, however, the point. Rather the focus is on the meaning, that there was cosmic opposition at the time of the remarkable birth (12:5), and that despite the heavenly defeat of the dragon, a situation of threat persists on earth (12:14).21
The time duration actually is the point. As noted above, John refers to this time period five times,22 Daniel twice directly23 and twice indirectly,24 Jesus once,25 and His brother James once.26 These eleven references really do matter.
The Four Visions
Consider how essential this time period is to four major visions of Revelation:
(i) In Revelation 11
The Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem is ‘given to the nations’ to occupy, to ‘tread under foot’, for three and a half years (v. 2); the two witnesses are to prophesy there for three and a half years (v. 3) and they are to be killed by the beast after three and a half years (v. 7).27
(ii) In Revelation 12
As noted above, Israel is twice described as being ‘nourished’ in the wilderness for three and a half years (v. 6 & 14).28 Daniel describes it as ‘a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time’29 during which ‘the power of the holy people’ would be shattered.30
(iii) In Revelation 13
The beast is given ‘authority to act’ and ‘make war with the saints and to overcome them’ for three and a half years (v. 7).31 During this time, the second beast imposes the infamous mark of the beast.32 Daniel also refers to this time in Daniel 7:25.
(iv) In Revelation 17
The beast also carries the woman Babylon the Great in the wilderness.33
We are therefore clearly supposed to understand this time period but how? By looking at what Jesus’ Jewish disciples already knew in the 1st Century. After all, seventy years before John recorded the Revelation in 95-96 AD, Jesus was teaching about it in His first recorded sermon in His home synagogue in Nazareth.
Elijah and the Gentiles
As I established in Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws,34 the three and a half years is a metaphor but its meaning does not come from numerology. Seven does indeed signify completeness – the metaphor originates in Creation’s Sabbath and means ‘just, perfect, complete’35 – but where do they find half of that signifying incompleteness? There is no need for guesswork: its meaning comes from Elijah’s famous drought as taught by Jesus in Nazareth:
- “…there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land;
- and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.”36
His listeners, His neighbours who had known Him from His childhood (v 16), turned from admiring His ‘gracious words’ (v. 22) to being so enraged that they tried to throw Him off a cliff (v. 29). Why? Because He reminded them of the three and a half years when God had punished Israel with a drought which caused a famine during which He helped a Gentile37 widow.
To His Jewish audience, this was a very painful reminder of one of Israel’s darkest hours. Their king Ahab had done ‘more to provoke the LORD God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him’38 by marrying Jezebel, a Sidonian princess, killing the prophets of God39 and supporting hundreds of prophets of Baal and the Asherah.40. In response, God sent Elijah to confront them and prophesy the drought on the land.41 Elijah was then sent to a Sidonian widow42 to demonstrate the love of God for her by not only ensuring her bowl of flour and jar of oil never emptied43 but also resurrecting her son.44
The three and a half years were therefore a time of God’s judgement on Israel and a time to help the Gentiles, giving us the meaning of the metaphor. We see this again in Jesus’ prediction regarding Jerusalem and its inhabitants:
“…they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”45
God was going to again bless the Gentiles. How long would that be? Three and a half years because, as John was told, the Temple Mount…:
“…has been given to the nations; and they will tread underfoot the holy city for forty-two months.”46
“The times of the Gentiles” = “forty-two months” or three and a half years. In other words, Elijah’s pronouncing judgement on Israel and helping the Gentile widow for this time period prefigured God’s again judging Israel and focusing on the Gentiles, even to allowing them to occupy Israel’s holy city.
The Times of the Gentiles
We also know when these times began and why: in 30 AD, when Jesus was crucified. Prior to then, Jesus taught:
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”47
He had commanded the Twelve:
“Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”48
However, in 30 AD, the times changed. He recommissioned them:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…”49
We even know when these times are to end, not as a particular date but when this task is completed:
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”50
If it was to have been a literal period of three and a half years, it would have ended in 34 AD and the Romans should have left Jerusalem. Rather, it is clearly metaphorical and we seem to at last be reaching the last of all known nations, tribes, and languages. “The whole world” today uses 7,117 living languages, Papua New Guinea alone having 820,51 and for the first time in the last 2,000 years, it is becoming possible to preach in every one of them.52
In other words, “the times of the Gentiles”, which began in 30 AD with the Great Commission to make disciples of all the nations, seem to be coming to an end today. The “times” have been the last 2,000 years.
There is also the remarkable sign of the Jews regaining Jerusalem.
The other way we are given to correlate this metaphorical period to real time is to consider who is ruling over Jerusalem. In 30 AD, Gentiles i.e. the Romans were ruling Jerusalem but Jesus taught the times of the Gentiles would come to an end:
Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”53
John’s vision confirmed this would be the metaphorical three and a half years:
“Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread underfoot the holy city for forty-two months.”54
We are not only catching up with Jesus’ 1st Century Jewish disciples but we also have an advantage in perhaps seeing the end of the times of the Gentiles. In 1967, for the first time in 2,000 years, the Jews regained Jerusalem. I say ‘perhaps’ because, although, they regained sovereignty…:
…their general, Moshe Dayan, handed back the jurisdiction of the Temple Mount to the Waqf, the Muslim council, as a sign to the Arab League of Israel’s peaceful intentions… It is therefore quite possible that until Israel has regained full control of the Temple Mount…, Jerusalem is still being ‘trodden underfoot by the Gentiles’.55
Many teach today that Israel’s regaining of Jerusalem is of no significance56 but they are wrong – this is a major issue, whether Jesus’ prediction is completely or mostly fulfilled today, because the battle at Har-Magedon57 and the battle of Gog and Magog58 will be for Jerusalem.
While those thinking it is insignificant remain in the marsh, we will find this stepping stone allows us to proceed to the next stone which is the mystery of the coming of Elijah.
Elijah’s Two Returns
Most Jewish teenagers today will have seen the special cup and the empty chair set for Elijah every Passover at least a dozen times. They will have heard of Israel’s 2,500 year longing for his coming to fulfil Malachi’s prophecy, the last in the Hebrew Bible:59
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”60
In modern Jewish thought, they also believe he will resolve every dispute.61
While they are still waiting, Christians today understand that Elijah’s return was fulfilled by John the Baptist, that it was metaphorical because John had come “in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts… of the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous”,62 as Jesus taught:
“And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear”63
They did not immediately understand so He further explained:
- …“Elijah is coming and will restore all things;
- but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”
- Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.64
Like many in their day, they had assumed Elijah’s return would be a future event and literal65 but the disciples then realised that it had just occurred and was metaphorical.
Christians today understand this too but few realise that Elijah is to come again before Jesus’ second coming. Look again at His words:
- …“Elijah is coming and will restore all things”.
Elijah’s Second Return
I explored the possible fulfillments of this second return of Elijah in Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws66 before pointing out that over the last 100 years, the nation of Israel has undergone a miraculous recovery of its dead language of Hebrew, its land has been transformed from malarial swamps in the north and barren desert in the south to sustaining 240 million trees and flourishing horticulture,67and its Jewish population has swelled from 50,000 to 6 million.
In 70 AD, they were “led captive into all the nations” but in 1948, the United Nations, which represents “all the nations”, restored Israel’s right to be a sovereign Jewish state and in 1967, they regained their capital city, Jerusalem.68
I therefore believe that this ongoing restoration of all things to Israel in our times is the second fulfilment of Elijah’s metaphorical return. However, the most important restoration is yet to come: Elijah was sent to stop the rain69 and, James carefully notes, it was three and half years later70 that Elijah was sent to restore the rain.71
Rain is a very powerful metaphor for the promised outpourings of the Holy Spirit as ‘the early and latter rain’72 but this rain’s absence in Israel has been evident throughout the last 2,000 years in her continuing rejection of Jesus as Messiah. Paul described this as the ‘mystery of a partial hardening’ of Israel73 However, today we are seeing what I believe is the Spirit’s rain falling on the nation of Israel at last as many are turning to Jesus.74
(i) Following the FCJT approach, we learned what they would have already clearly known, that the seven heads were, are, and will be the Gentile empires trying to rule over Israel. This got us out of the marsh and onto the first rock-solid stepping stone.
(ii) We then learned there is no need for any confusion regarding the woman of Revelation 12 – she is the nation of Israel ‘according to the flesh… from whom is the Christ according to the flesh’ (Rom 9:3-5). She is not ‘the true, faithful Israel’ but unbelieving Israel, ‘the ethnic people of Israel’ who had to leave the land of Israel and go back into the wilderness.75
(iii) This enabled us to establish the timing of the dragon’s attacks on the woman and her child as being the previous 2,000 years.
(iv) Her fleeing to the wilderness confirmed to Jesus’ 1st Century Jewish disciples that the recent, to them, razing of Jerusalem and the Temple was her punishment for rejecting Him as Messiah. However, her being nourished there would have reminded them that God will never, ever, reject her, as He promised in the Mosaic covenant.
(v) This second stepping stone allowed us to locate the next one: the metaphorical meaning of ‘a time, times, and half a time’, the three and a half lunar years she was to be in ‘the wilderness of the peoples’, or Gentiles. As Daniel had predicted, the archangel Michael would arise to fight for Israel but it would be “a time of distress such as never [had] occurred” since she had become a nation,76 worse than even the Babylonian exile. For more on this, see the Appendix on “the time of Jacob’s trouble”.
(vi) Jesus revealed the metaphor is based on Elijah’s three and a half year drought when God was judging Israel; ignoring their needs, He sent Elijah to instead help a Gentile widow. Jesus then predicted that Jerusalem would be “trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”.
(vii) From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus went, and sent the Twelve, only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” but after He was rejected by Israel, He sent the Twelve to “all the nations”, or Gentiles. This metaphorical “times of the Gentiles” was to be seen in real time by the status of Jerusalem; it was to end when Israel regained “the holy city” which they did after 2,000 years.
(viii) The next stepping stone, Elijah’s two metaphorical returns, confirms this. John the Baptist came in the “spirit and power of Elijah” to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming and He said that Elijah has to come again to “restore all things”. This was prefigured by Elijah starting and, three and half years later, ending the drought in Israel.
(ix) Israel’s astonishing 20th Century restoration is almost complete: restored language, land, population, sovereignty, and Jerusalem. All that is needed now is the rain of the Holy Spirit before Jesus returns.
Next we will look at how this understanding unlocks the four major visions of Revelation 11, 12, 13, and 17.
Pt 4 – Unlocking the Four Visions >>
Michael vs Dragon: By Nils Tubbesing – Von Nils Tubbesing in die deutschsprachige Wikipedia geladen., CC BY-SA 2.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1698878
Elijah and the Widow: http://www.freebibleimages.org/photos/elijah-widow/
Arch of Titus: By Dnalor 01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 at, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32817772
Six Day War: By רפי רוגל (Transfered byמתניה/Original uploaded by ROSENMAN424) – רפי רוגל, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12890720
- Rev 12:6, emphasis added
- Ezek 20:35
- Num 14:34
- The northern kingdom’s exile, which began with the Assyrians’ capture of Samaria in 722 BC (2 Kin 17:6), was compounded by the southern kingdom’s seventy years in Babylon following the Babylonians’ capture of Jerusalem in 586 BC (2 Chron 36:20-21).
- Rev 12:14, emphasis added
- The eleventh horn of Daniel’s vision (Dan 7:8, 20 & 24) is the second beast of Revelation 13.
- Dan 7:25, emphasis added
- Dan 12:1, 6-7, emphasis added
- Rev 12:7
- Rev 12:14
- Dan 7:25
- Dan 12:7
- Dan 12:1
- Interpreting Revelation, p. 77.
- John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 191, comments inserted. So too Hal Lindsay (The Late, Great Planet Earth, p. 110) and Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins in their Left Behind series of books, movies, and comics.
- The New Oxford Annotated Bible, p. 434 NT.
- Revelation for Everyone, p. 98.
- Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 147.
- The figure of three and a half was a common way to speak about a limited period of affliction [based on Elijah’s drought]… but the ever-changing ways in which this period is depicted caution against taking it in a strictly chronological sense. (Craig Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things, p. 107.
- Unlocking Revelation, p. 115.
- Rev 11:2, 11:3, 12:6, 12:14, 13:5
- Dan 7:25, 12:7
- His 70th Week of years is divided in half (Dan 9:27)
- Luke 4:25
- Jas 5:17
- Explained in my book: Silencing the Witnesses: Jerusalem & the Ascent of Secularism.
- Explained in my Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws: The Mystery of Israel’s Survival.
- Dan 12:1
- Dan 12:7
- Explained in my Slouching Towards Bethlehem: The Rise of the Antichrists.
- Explained in my Gotta Serve Somebody: The Marks of God & 666.
- Will be explained in my forthcoming book, no 5 in the series, Kingdom Come: Justice for All.
- DitDJ, pp. 117-125.
- GSS, p. 147.
- Luke 4:25-27, emphasis added
- Gentile is the Jewish term for anyone who is not a Jew.
- 1 Kin 16:33
- 1 Kin 18:4
- 1 Kin 18:19
- 1 Kin 17:1
- In sending Elijah to Jezebel’s people, He showed He was against Jezebel’s sins and not her race. Jesus also helped a Syro-Phoenician woman by healing her daughter (Mark 7:26).
- 1 Kings 17:14
- 1 Kings 17:22
- Luke 21:24, emphasis added
- Rev 11:2
- Matt 15:24
- Matt 10:5-6
- Matt 28:19, emphasis added
- Matt 24:14, emphasis added
- www.ethnologue.com. 6 Mar 2020.
- Besides preaching, in 2010 the United Bible Societies reported that the complete Bible is now available in 469 languages, the New Testament in 1,231 and at least a portion of the Bible in 2,527 (www.biblesociety.org, 12 Mar 2020).
- Luke 21:24, emphasis added
- Rev 11:2, emphasis added
- DitDJ, p. 125.
- Preterists believe everything was fulfilled in 70 AD and Partial Preterists, almost everything, and many scholars and Idealists believe the church has superseded or replaced Israel.
- Rev 16:16, 19:17-19
- Rev 20:8-9
- With its different book order, the last in the Hebrew Bible is the historical narrative of Chronicles but the last recognised prophecy is Malachi’s.
- Mal 4:5-6
- www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/504495/jewish/Why-Is-Elijah-the-Prophet-Invited-to-the-Seder.htm, 16 Mar, 2020.
- Luke 1:17
- Matt 11:14-15
- Matt 17:11-13, emphasis added
- Matt 16:14, 27:49; Mark 6:15; John 1:21
- DitDJ, pp. 135-137.
- STW, pp. 273-274.
- Ibid, pp. 274-276.
- 1 Kings 17:1
- Jas 5:17-18
- 1 Kings 18:42-45
- Joel 2:23, Acts 2:16 ff.
- Rom 11:25
- Ibid, pp. 286-295.
- Rev 12:6
- Dan 12:1