Sunday, June 22, 2014

Is there a Tribulation in Revelation?

... The woman was now waiting for the Messiah's return for a season, symbolically represented by 1,260 days. This year and a half period is not literal but represents the current age of persecution, while we are awaiting Christ’s return.

We find this number in several different forms in Revelation. Here it is 1,260 days (12:6). A little later in the chapter it is a “time, times, and half a time” (that is, three and a half years, 12:14). In Revelation 13:5 it is 42 months.

Some have taken this three and a half year period and connected it to the half week of Daniel 9:27. In this line of thinking, there will be a seven year period during the end times when “the Antichrist” will wreak havoc on the earth. It is an ingenious stitching together of verses from here and there in the Bible to predict what will happen during the “Great Tribulation.”

I would not want to say that things will not play out this way. After all, God often fulfills Scriptures in ways no one originally understood. But we should also be clear that this system of connecting things does not actually pay attention to the meanings these verses had originally.

For example, the book of Revelation does not talk about the Great Tribulation. The verse this phrase comes from is Revelation 7:14, but the verse doesn’t have the word “the” there. It simply says that the individuals there have come out of “great tribulation.” No number of years is associated with this time of hardship there.

Similarly, Revelation never doubles the three and a half years into a seven year Tribulation. It is always the same symbolic three and a half years, even if it is expressed in different ways. So while we cannot say whether there will be a distinctively bad seven year period at the end of time, we can say that Revelation does not speak of one.[3]

A further difference between popular prophecy and Revelation is that the Bible never calls some chief human opponent to God the Antichrist. As we saw in the chapter on 1 John, the only place in Scripture that the word “antichrist” appears is in 1 John, where it refers in general to anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ or that he came in the flesh. 2 Thessalonians 2:3 mentions a “man of lawlessness,” who may or may not be the same individual as the “beast” of Revelation (see the next section).

In the end, these are ingenious connections first made by John Nelson Darby in the mid-1800s. They are brilliant, but they require us to see a great deal in these texts that is not obviously there. They are probably distractions that actually prevent us from hearing the texts for what they actually seem to say.

What Revelation 12 seems to say is that, in the time John was writing, Christians were waiting for Jesus to return from heaven to become king over all the nations. But in the meantime, Satan was waging war against God’s people for a certain period of time, symbolized by 1,260 days. And Satan was waging this war by way of a “beast,” who had emerged against the churches of Asia from the sea (13:1).

 [3] The idea of a seven year period comes from the seventy weeks of Daniel 9:24. Since Daniel 11 is clearly about the events that took place in 167BC when the Syrians desecrated the temple, many also take Daniel 9 to be about those events as well.

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