October 2019

October 2019

Perplexing Passages: “A Time, Times, and Half a Time”

There’s a lot to be confused about when reading the book of Revelation. St. John’s sometimes bizarre vision is full of symbolism that takes a great deal of historical knowledge to interpret correctly. While some images are rather straightforward (the beast with seven heads and ten horns is the city of Rome, which was famous for its seven hills and had been ruled over by ten emperors at the time of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem), much of John’s vision remains shrouded in mystery for most readers (including me!).

But one strange reference in Revelation need not perplex us as much as it might seem. When John, in Revelation 12, has his celestial vision of the dragon (the devil) terrorizing the woman and her Child (Jesus), he writes that the woman escaped into the wilderness and was nourished “for a time, times, and half a time” (Revelation 12:14). While at first glance this may appear incomprehensible, upon further study the expression yields a straightforward meaning: “a time, times, and half a time” is three and a half days, or half a week.

(a time = 1) + (times = 2) + (half a time = ½) = 3 ½

What is really fascinating about this length of time is that it is exactly the same as several cryptic numbers that show up in Revelation 11. The Gentiles will trample Jerusalem for forty-two months (11:2). God's two witnesses will prophesy for 1,260 days (11:3). When the two witnesses are killed, they will lie dead for three and a half days before being resurrected (11:9, 11). In apocalyptic prophecy, it is common for a day to stand in for a year. If the three and a half days are understood as three and a half years, and if each year is made up of twelve months of thirty days each (a common way of reckoning months in the ancient world), then the three and a half years add up to forty-two months (12 + 12 + 12 + 6 = 42) for a total of 1,260 days (42 x 30 = 1,260). In other words, whether we’re talking about forty-two months, 1,260 days, three and a half days, or “a time, times, and half a time,” it’s all the same amount of time: three and a half years, or half of seven years.

Furthermore, John’s use of this period of time didn’t come out of nowhere. It derives from a much earlier apocalyptic prophecy, that of Daniel. There Daniel describes the tenth ruler of the Roman Empire, prophesying that the people of God “shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25) before his kingdom yields to the reign of Christ, and that “the shattering of the power of the holy people” will come to an end after “a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 12:7). Both Daniel and John seem to have witnessed the same events in symbolical terms.

There are a number of ways that this period of time, half a week or half of seven years, can be applied to salvation history. What seems most likely to me is that the amount of time being half of seven is significant in itself. Seven is God’s number. Half of seven is the devil’s mockery of God’s number. Everything that Daniel and John say will happen within the three and a half years is part of the devil’s dominion, during which he terrorizes the people of God. I believe that from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in ad 70, we have been in the time of tribulation, the devil doing his worst against the Church of Christ until Jesus’ return to judgment on the Last Day. But however the expression is applied, my hope is that as you read Revelation and Daniel in your own devotions, you won’t just have to skip over those strange expressions, leaving them unexplained. They mean something! When you see “a time, times, and half a time,” you’ll remember that the expression stands for half a week, the time during which we wait expectantly for the final victory of Jesus Christ.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf