THE TIME OF THE TRIBULATION
Excerpted from Things to Come: A Study in Eschatology by J. Dwight Pentecost
In order to understand the time elements in the tribulation period it is necessary to go back to the prophecy of Daniel where the chronology of Israel's future history is outlined in the great prophecy of the seventy weeks (Dan. 9:24-27).
1. The importance of Daniel's prophecy of the seventy weeks. Many importances may be attached to this prophecy.
a. It establishes the literal method of interpretation of prophecy. Walvoord writes:
Properly interpreted, the prophecy of Daniel furnishes an excellent example of the principle that prophecy is subject to literal interpretation. Practically all expositors, however opposed to prophecy per se, agree that at least part of the seventy weeks of Daniel is to be interpreted literally. . . if the first sixty-nine weeks of Daniel were subject to literal fulfillment, it is a powerful argument that the final seventieth week will have a similar fulfillment. 7
b. It demonstrates the truth of Scripture. McClain observes:
. . . the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks has an immense evidential value as a witness to the truth of Scripture. That part of the prophecy relating to the first sixty-nine weeks has already been accurately fulfilled. . .only an omniscient God could have foretold over five hundred years in advance the very day on which the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem and present Himself as the "Prince" of Israel. 8
c. The prophecy supports the view that the church is a mystery that was not revealed in the Old Testament. Walvoord says:
The seventy weeks of Daniel, properly interpreted, demonstrate the distinct place of the Christian church and Israel in the purposes of God. The seventy weeks of Daniel are totally in reference to Israel and her relation to Gentile powers and the rejection of Israel's Messiah. The peculiar purpose of God in calling out a people from every nation to form the church and the program of the present age are nowhere in view in this prophecy. 9
This gives supporting evidence that the church is not in Revelation four through nineteen, but must have been raptured before Israel's program began again.
d. The prophecy gives us the divine chronology of prophecy. McClain comments:
In the predictions of the Seventy Weeks, we have the indispensable chronological key to all New Testament prophecy. Our Lord's great prophetical discourse recorded in Matthew and Mark fixes the time of Israel's final and greatest trouble definitely within the days of the Seventieth Week of Daniel's prophecy (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20). And the greater part of the Book of Revelation is simply an expansion of Daniel's prophecy within the chronological framework as outlined by the same Seventieth Week, which is divided into two equal periods, each extending for 1260 days, or 42 months, or 3 1/2 years (Rev. 11:2-3; 12:6,14; 13:5). Therefore, apart from an understanding of the details of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel, all attempts to interpret New Testament prophecy, must fail in large measure. 10
2. The important factors in Daniel's prophecy. It is necessary to observe the major emphases in the prophecy given through Daniel. McClain summarizes these as follows: 11
1. The entire prophecy has to do with Daniel's "people" and Daniel's "city," that is, the Nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem (24).
2. Two different princes are mentioned, who should not be confused: the first is named Messiah the Prince (25); and the second is described as the Prince that shall come (26).
3. The entire time-period involved is exactly specified as Seventy Weeks (24); and these Seventy Weeks are further divided into three lesser periods: first, a period of seven weeks; after that a period of three-score and two weeks; and finally, a period of one week (25, 27).
4. The beginning of the whole period of the Seventy Weeks is definitely fixed at "the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" (25).
5. The end of the seven weeks and threescore and two weeks (69 weeks) will be marked by the appearance of Messiah as the "Prince" of Israel (25).
6, At a later time, "after the threescore and two weeks" which follows the first seven weeks (that is, after 69 weeks), Messiah the Prince will be "cut off," and Jerusalem will again be destroyed by the people of another "prince" who is yet to come (26).
7. After these two important events, we come to the last, or Seventieth Week, the beginning of which will be marked by the establishment of a firm covenant or treaty between the Coming Prince and the Jewish nation for a period of "one week" (27).
8. In the "midst" of this Seventieth Week, evidently breaking his treaty, the coming prince will suddenly cause the Jewish sacrifice to cease and precipitate upon this people a time of wrath and desolation lasting to the "full end" of the Week (27).
9. With the full completion of the whole period of the Seventy Weeks, there will be ushered in a time of great and unparallelled blessings for the nation of Israel (24).
These blessings are: (1) finish up the transgression, (2) make an end of sins, (3) make reconciliation for iniquity, (4) bring in everlasting righteousness, (5) seal up the vision and prophecy, and (6) anoint the most Holy. 12
The six promised blessings are related to the two works of the Messiah: His death and His reign. The first three have special reference to the sacrifice of the Messiah, which anticipate the removal of sin from the nation. The second three have special reference to the sovereignty of the Messiah, which anticipate the establishment of His reign. The "everlasting righteousness" can only refer to the millennial kingdom promised Israel. This was the goal and expectation of all the covenants and promises given to Israel and in its institution prophecy will be fulfilled. This kingdom can only be established when the Holy One or the Holy Place in the millennial temple is anointed. The millennium will witness the reception of the Messiah by Israel and will also witness the return of the Shekinah to the Holy of Holies. Thus we see the prophecy anticipates the whole work of the Messiah for Israel: He will redeem and He will reign at the expiration of time stipulated in the prophecy.
3. The meaning of weeks. Before one can determine the chronology of this prophecy it is first necessary to understand Daniel's use of the term weeks as it is here employed. On this McClain has written:
The Hebrew word is shabua, which means literally a "seven," and it would be well to read the passage thus. . . Thus the twenty-fourth verse of Daniel's ninth chapter simply asserts that "seventy sevens are determined". . . and what these "sevens" are must be determined from the context and from other Scriptures. The evidence is quite clear and sufficient as follows:
. . .The Jews had a "seven" of years as well as the "seven" of days. And this Biblical "week" of years was just as familiar to the Jew as the "week" of days. It was, in certain respects, even more important. Six years the Jew was free to till and sow his land, but the seventh year was to be a solemn "Sabbath of rest unto the land" (Lev. 25:3-4). Upon a multiple of this important week of years---"seven Sabbaths of years"---there was based the great jubilee year. . .
Now there are several reasons for believing that the "Seventy Sevens" of Daniel's prophecy refer to this well known "seven" of years. In the first place, the prophet Daniel had been thinking not only in terms of years rather than days, but also in a definite multiple of "sevens" (10 x 7) of years (Dan. 9:1-2). Second, Daniel also knew that the very length of Babylonian captivity had been based on Jewish violation of the divine law of the Sabbatic year. Since according to II Chron. 36:21 the Jews had been removed from off the land in order that it might rest for seventy years, it should be evident that the Sabbatic year had been violated for 490 years, or exactly seventy "sevens" of years. How appropriate, therefore, that now at the end of the judgment for these violations the angel should be sent to reveal the start of a new era of God's dealing with the Jew which would extend for the same number of years covered by his violations of the Sabbatic year, namely a cycle of 490 years, or "Seventy Sevens" of years (Dan. 9:24).
Furthermore, the context of the prophecy demands that the "Seventy Sevens" be understood in terms of years. For if we make them "sevens" of days, the entire period would extend for merely 490 days or a little over one year. Considering now that within this brief space of time the city is to be rebuilt and once more destroyed (to say nothing of the tremendous event of verse 24), it becomes clear that such an interpretation is altogether improbable and untenable. Finally. . . the Hebrew word shabua is found only in one other passage of the book (10:2-3), where the prophet states that he mourned and fasted "three full weeks." Now, here it is perfectly obvious that the context demands "weeks" of days. . . And significantly, the Hebrew here reads literally "three sevens of days." Now, if in the ninth chapter, the writer intended us to understand that the "seventy sevens" are composed of days, why did he not use the same form of expression adopted in chapter ten? The quite obvious answer is that Daniel used the Hebrew shabua alone when referring to the well known "week" of years . . . but in chapter ten, when he speaks of the "three weeks" of fasting, he definitely specifies them as "weeks of days" in order to distinguish them from the "weeks" of years in chapter nine. 13
Interesting substantiating evidence is found in Genesis 29:27 where it is said, "Fulfill her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou serve with me yet seven other years." Here the "week" is specified to be a week of years or seven years.
It is also necessary, in this consideration, to observe that the year in prophetic Scriptures is a year composed of 360 days. The same author states:
. . .there is conclusive evidence to show that the prophetic year of Scripture is composed of 360 days, or twelve months of 30 days.
The first argument is historical. According to the Genesis record, the Flood began on the seventeenth day of the second month (7:11), and came to an end on the seventeenth day of the seventh month (8:4). Now, this is a period of exactly five months, and fortunately the length of the same period is given in terms of days--"an hundred and fifty days" (7:24; 8:3). Thus the earliest known month used in Biblical history was evidently thirty days in length, and twelve such months would give us a 360-day year.
The second argument is prophetical... Dan. 9:27 mentions a period of Jewish persecution... Since this persecution begins in the "midst" of the Seventieth Week and continues to the "end" of the Week, the period is obviously three and one-half years. Dan. 7:24-25 speaks of the same Roman Prince and the same persecution fixing the duration as "a time and times and the dividing of time"--in the Aramaic, three and a half times. Rev. 13:4-7 speaks of the same great political Ruler and his persecution of the Jewish "saints" lasting "forty and two months." Rev. 12:13-14 refers to the same persecution, stating the duration in the exact terms of Dan. 7:25 as "a time and times and half a time"; and this period is further defined in Rev. 12:6 as "a thousand two hundred and three score days." Thus we have the same period of time variously stated as 3 1/2 years, 42 months, or 1260 days. Therefore, it is clear that the length of the year in the Seventy Weeks prophecy is fixed by Scripture itself as exactly 360 days. 14
4. The beginning of the sixty-nine weeks. Daniel was told that this 490 year period would begin 'from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem' (Dan. 9:24). In the Scriptures are contained several decrees that have to do with the restoration of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity. There was the decree of Cyrus in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-3; the decree of Darius in Ezra 6:3-8; and the decree of Artaxerxes in Ezra 7:7. However, in all these permission was granted for the rebuilding of the temple and nothing was said about the rebuilding of the city. In Ezra 4:1-4 the rebuilding of the temple was stopped because the Jews were rebuilding the city without authorization. In none of these decrees was the condition of Daniel 9:25 met. When we turn to the decree of Artaxerxes, made in his twentieth year, recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-8, for the first time is permission granted to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. This then becomes the beginning of the prophetic time appointed by God in his prophecy.
It, then, becomes necessary to establish the date of the decree of Artaxerxes. On this point Anderson writes:
The dates of Artaxerxes's reign can be definitely ascertained--not from elaborate disquisitions by biblical commentators and prophetic writers, but by the united voice of secular historians and chronologers. ...
The Persian edict which restored the autonomy of Judah was issued in the Jewish month of Nisan. It may in fact have been dated from the 1st of Nisan. . . . The seventy weeks are therefore to be computed from the 1st of Nisan B.C. 445.
Now the great characteristic of the Jewish sacred year has remained unchanged ever since the memorable night when the equinoctial moon beamed down upon the huts of Israel in Egypt, bloodstained by the Paschal sacrifice; and there is neither doubt nor difficulty in fixing within narrow limits the Julian date of the 1st of Nisan in any year whatever. In B.C. 445 the new moon by which the Passover was regulated was on the 13th of March at 7h. 9m. A.M. And accordingly the 1st Nisan may be assigned to the 14th March. 15
5. The fulfillment of the sixty-nine weeks. No more careful study has been made of the problem of the seventy weeks of Daniel than that of Sir Robert Anderson in The Coming Prince. Anderson reckons the chronology of the sixty-nine weeks thus:
"From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks and threescore and two weeks." An era therefore of sixty-nine "weeks," or 483 prophetic years reckoned from the 14th March, B.C. 445, should close with some event to satisfy the words, "unto Messiah the Prince.". . .
No student of the Gospel narrative can fail to see that the Lord's last visit to Jerusalem was not only in fact, but in the purpose of it, the crisis of His ministry...now the twofold testimony of His words and His works had been fully rendered, and His entry into the Holy City was to proclaim His Messiahship and to receive His doom. . .
And the date of it can be ascertained. In accordance with the Jewish custom, the Lord went up to Jerusalem upon the 8th Nisan, "six days before the Passover." But as the 14th, on which the Paschal Supper was eaten, fell that year upon a Thursday, the 8th was the preceding Friday. He must have spent the Sabbath, therefore, at Bethany; and on the evening of the 9th, after the Sabbath had ended, the Supper took place in Martha's house. Upon the following day, the 10th Nisan, He entered Jerusalem as recorded in the Gospels.
The Julian date of that 10th Nisan was Sunday the 6th April, A.D. 32. What then was the length of the period intervening between the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the public advent of "Messiah the Prince," -- between the 14th March, B.C. 445, and the 6th April, A.D. 32? THE INTERVAL CONTAINED EXACTLY AND TO THE VERY DAY 173,880 DAYS, OR SEVEN TIMES SIXTY-NINE PROPHETIC YEARS OF 360 YEARS OF DAYS, the first sixty-nine weeks of Gabriel's prophecy. 16
Anderson arrives at this figure as follows:
The 1st Nisan in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (the edict to rebuild Jerusalem) was 14th March, B.C. 445.
The 10th Nisan in Passion Week (Christ's entry into Jerusalem) was 6th April, A.D. 32.
The intervening period was 476 years and 24 days (the days being reckoned inclusively, as required by the language of the prophecy, and in accordance with the Jewish practice).
But 476 X 365 =..........................................................................173,740 days
Add (14 March to 6th April, both inclusive)..................................24 days
Add for leap years.................................................................... 116 days
Add 69 weeks of prophetic years of 360 days (or 69 x 7 x 360) = 173,880 days. 17
Thus Anderson shows us that the sixty-nine weeks began with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and terminated at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday of the week of the Lord's death. The corrected reading of Luke 19:42, spoken as our Lord came into Jerusalem on that day is most significant: 'If thou also hadst known, even on this day, the things which belong to thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes!' 18 The accuracy of Daniel's prophecy is observed in that he states 'after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off' (Dan. 9:26).
6. Is there a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week? The posttribulation rapturist joins with the amillennialist in asserting: a. That the seventieth week of Daniel's prophecy was fulfilled historically in the years immediately following the death of Christ. Some hold that Christ was cut off at the end of the sixty-ninth week and that the seventieth week followed immediately after His death. Others hold that Christ was cut of in the middle of the seventieth week so that the last half of the week followed His death. 19 Some go so far as to assert that the entire present age is the seventieth week. 20 The fallacy of this consecutive view is seen in the fact that only by spiritualizing the prophecy can the results of Messiah's work, as outlined in Daniel 9:24, be said to have been fulfilled. The nation Israel, to whom the prophecy was addressed, simply has not experienced a single one of the prophesied benefits of Messiah's coming as yet. Since this interpretation depends on a method of interpretation that is unacceptable, the view must be rejected.
b. Opposed to the view that the seventieth week is to be viewed as chronologically consecutive is the view that that period is separated from the other sixty-nine by an indefinite period of time. There are several considerations to support this view.
(1) Such a gap is seen in many passages of Scripture. Walvoord writes:
Dr. Ironside shows a number of instances of parentheses in God's program: (1) The interval between the 'acceptable year of the Lord' and the 'day of vengeance of our God' (Isa. 61:2--a parenthesis already extending more than nineteen hundred years). (2) The interval between the Roman empire as symbolized by the legs of iron of the great image of Daniel 2 and the feet of ten toes. Confer also Daniel 7:23-27; 8:24, 25. (3) The same interval is found between Daniel 11:35 and Daniel 11:36. (4) A great parenthesis occurs between Hosea 3:4 and verse 5, and again between Hosea 5:15 and 6:1. (5) A great parenthesis occurs also between Psalm 22:22 and 22:23 and between Psalm 110:1 and 110:2. (6) Peter in quoting Psalm 34:12-16 stops in the middle of a verse to distinguish God's present work and His future dealing with sin (I Pet. 3:10-12).
(7) The great prophecy of Matthew 24 becomes intelligible only if the present age be considered a parenthesis between Daniel 9:26 and 9:27. Acts 15:13-21 indicates that the apostles fully understood that during the present age the Old Testament prophecies would not be fulfilled, but would have fulfillment 'after this' when God 'will build again the tabernacle of David' (Acts 15:13). (9) Israel's yearly schedule of feasts and a wide separation between the feasts prefiguring the death and resurrection of Christ and Pentecost, and the feasts speaking of Israel's regathering and blessing. (10) Romans 9-11 definitely provide for the parenthesis, particularly the future of the olive tree in chapter 11. (11) The revelation of the Church as one body requires a parenthesis between God's past dealings and His future dealings with the nation Israel. (12) The consummation of the present parenthesis is of such a nature that it resumes the interrupted events of Daniel's last week. 21
If there can be no parenthesis in any revealed prophetic program, prophecy can not have a literal fulfillment, for in many major prophecies the events were not consecutive. The gap in Daniel's prophecy is in accord with an established principle in the Word of God.
(2) In the second place, the events of Daniel 9:26 require a gap. Two major event are said to take place after the sixty-ninth week and before the seventieth week: the cutting off of the Messiah and the destruction of the city and the temple in Jerusalem. These two events did not take place in the seventieth week, for that is not introduced to us until verse twenty-seven, but in an interval between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week. It will be observed that the cutting off of the Messiah took place only a few days after the sixty-ninth week terminated, but the destruction of the city and temple did not take place until 70 A.D., or about forty years after the termination of the sixty-ninth week. If a few days gap be admitted, it is not difficult to concede the possibility of a gap of forty years. If one of forty years is admitted, it is not difficult to see that the gap may extend over the present age.
(3) In the third place, the New Testament teaching that Israel has been set aside (Matt. 23:37-39) until the restitution of God's dealing with them demands a gap between the last two weeks. If the seventieth week has been fulfilled, the six promised blessings must likewise have been fulfilled to Israel. None of these have been experienced by the nation. Since the church is not Israel, the church can not now be fulfilling them. Inasmuch as God will fulfill that which He promised literally, He must fulfill those things with the nation. It is seen, then, that there must be a gap between their rejection and the consummation of these promises.
(4) In the fourth place, since all the promised blessings are associated with the second coming of Christ (Rom. 11:26-27), if there were no gap, the Lord would have returned three and a half or seven years after His death to fulfill the promises. Since His coming is still anticipated there must be a gap between the last two weeks of the prophecy.
(5) Finally, the Lord, in dealing with the prophecy, anticipates a gap. In Matthew 24:15 reference is made to the coming of the 'abomination of desolation' and this is a sign to Israel that the great tribulation is approaching (Matt.. 24:29-30). Thus the Lord is placing the seventieth week of Daniel at the end of the age immediately before His second advent to the earth. Coupling this with Acts 1:6-8, we see that a whole age of undetermined duration is to intervene between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of the prophecy. The only conclusion must be that the events of the seventieth week are as yet unfulfilled and await a future literal fulfillment.
7. The beginning of the seventieth week. It is evident from Daniel 9:27 that the seventieth week begins with a covenant that is made with 'many' for one week, or for seven years. This 'one week,' following the method of interpretation established for the sixty-nine weeks, demonstrates the fact that the period in question will be of seven years duration. The question that must be faced is the identity of the one who makes the covenant that marks the inception of this seven year period. Daniel identifies him as 'he' in 9:27. This must refer back to the 'prince that shall come' in the previous verse. McClain, identifying this individual, writes:
. . . there are two different princes mentioned: first, "Messiah the Prince'; and second, 'the prince that shall come.' The expression 'prince that shall come' cannot possibly refer to 'Messiah the Prince' for the simple reason that it is 'the people of the prince that shall come' who are to destroy Jerusalem after the death of Messiah. And since it is now a matter of history that Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Roman people, not by the Jewish people, it follows that 'the prince that shall come' cannot be the Jewish Messiah but is some great prince who will arise out of the Roman Empire. 22
Concerning this individual Gaebelein says: 'Out of the Roman empire there shall arise in the future a prince. This prince or chief of the fourth empire is identical with the little horn of Daniel vii.' 23 He is further to be identified with the 'king of Daniel 11:36, with the 'man of sin' of 2 Thessalonians 2, and with the 'beast out of the sea' of Revelation 13:1;10. Inasmuch as all the covenants made by Messiah with Israel are eternal covenants, Messiah can not be the one making the covenant, inasmuch as it will be temporary. This covenant, which will guarantee Israel the possession of their land and the restoration of their religious and political autonomy, is to be viewed as a false fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. This covenant deceives many in Israel into believing that this 'man of sin' is God (2 Thess. 2:3). It is the proclamation of this false covenant that marks the beginning of the seventieth week.
8. The program of the seventieth week. McClain has stated six features of this program that well summarize its relation to the prophetic picture.
1. This Seventieth Week is a period of seven years which lies prophetically between the translation of the church and the return of Christ in glory.
2. This Seventieth Week also provides the exact chronological framework for the great events recorded in chapters six to nineteen of the Book of Revelation.
3. The Seventieth Week will begin with the making of a 'firm covenant' between the coming Roman prince and the Jewish people.
4. In the middle of the Seventieth Week, the Roman prince will suddenly reverse his friendly attitude toward the Jews and 'cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.'
5. The breaking of the 'firm covenant' between the Jews and the Roman prince will make the beginning of a period of unparalleled 'desolations' for the Jewish people.
6. The end of this final seven-year period will bring to its close the entire series of the Seventy Weeks, and therefore usher in the great blessings promised to Israel in Dan. 9:24. 24
Excerpted from Things to Come: A Study in Eschatology by J. Dwight Pentecost - 493:239-58
HEEDING BIBLE PROPHECY
7. John F. Walvoord, 'Is Daniel's Seventieth Week Future?' Bibliotheca Sacra, 101:30, January, 1994.
8. Alva J. McClain, Daniel's Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, p. 5.
9. Walvoord, loc. cit.
10. McClain. op. cit. pp. 6-7.
11. Ibid., pp. 9-10.
12. Dan. 9:24.
13. McClain, op. cit. pp. 12-15.
14. Ibid., pp. 16-17.
15. Robert Anderson, The Coming Prince, pp. 121-23.
16. Ibid., pp. 124-28.
17. Ibid., p. 128.
18. Ibid., p. 126.
19. Cf. Philip Mauro, The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation, pp. 55 ff.
20. George L. Rose, Tribulation Till Translation, pp. 68-69.
21. Walvoord, op. cit., 101:47-48.
22. McClain, op. cit., p. 42.
23. Arno C. Gaebelein, The Prophet Daniel, p. 142.
24. McClain, op. cit., pp. 45 ff.