Summary: Published January, 2023; Although a bit technical sounding at times, this article discusses many important principles needed for understanding God’s word. We are always wanting to see the big picture of God’s counsels. We will look simply at certain biblical principles, with their necessary results, as far as these can be traced. But with divine light as to these principles, and a soul truly before God, the application will be comparatively easy. Part of this will be understanding the character of prophecy and bible dispensations, and then in which ones the counting of time in prophetic passages takes place.
I believe God’s word supports a theology based on dispensations. These are periods of time represented in Scripture in which God acknowledges His calling of a certain corporate body of people. There are only two callings recognized in the bible – that of Israel and that of the Christian/church. God never acknowledges both callings at the same time. It is always one or the other. Therefore, we find in Scripture only three dispensations worth studying, and according to when God sanctions the different callings in time, we find the three in this order – the Jewish, the Christian, and the future millennium.
When God acknowledges a particular calling, at the same time He sanctions the practice of a particular religion. There are only two religions that ever were endorsed by God – Judaism and Christianity. God sanctioning the practice of Judaism is paired with times when He acknowledges the calling of Israel. This took place during the Jewish dispensation and will take place again in the future millennium. God sanctions the practice of Christianity currently because He acknowledges the calling of the believer/church. This is taking place now during the Christian dispensation.
Another important element of bible dispensations is that their success or failure is dependent on the called corporate group. They are responsible for the testimony of God in the earth during their dispensation. In Scripture we find three dispensations in successive order. This simply means, without any doubt, the first two must fail in order to someday arrive in the millennial dispensation.[My intent in this article is not to discuss all the details which describe the three bible dispensations; the information on them given above should be enough for the purpose of the article — how counting time may or may not be connected to the dispensations. You may read a more in-depth discussion with details in other articles on our website. Here is one link: https://www.reintgenchristianbooks.com/dispensations-differing-principles/]
Prophecy has a general character – it is about the earth, God’s government of the world, or about the nation of Israel. It speaks of God’s future dealings with the Jews – mostly His judgment/condemnation of their nation or His saving a remnant for restoration and blessing. Israel’s has God’s earthly calling to inherit the Promised Land and to have God’s government of the earth established in Jerusalem. The judgment of other nations may be addressed in prophetic passages, but only in relation to their interactions with Israel.
Prophecy reveals a lot about Jesus Christ. The Old Testament spoke of His suffering and death; it speaks of His future kingdom and earthly glory. There are prophecies about Messiah and others about the Son of Man. But prophecy never spoke of the body of Christ. The Christian and the church are not revealed in the writings of the Old Testament. Neither is Christianity mentioned as a religion sanctioned by God; nor is Christendom or the Christian dispensation. All these things were a big part of the mystery that was hidden by God from the O.T. prophets and their writings (Eph. 3:1-11).
The calling of the Christian/church is heavenly (Heb. 3:1). God will fulfill this calling by removing the church from the earth to the Father’s house in heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-18, 1 Cor. 15:47-54, John 14:1-4). We have a citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20). We are destined to sit in heavenly places and be blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 2:6, 1:3). As Christians, we are not of the earth or of this world, because Jesus is not of the earth or of this world (John 17:14-16, 8:23, 1 Cor. 15:47-49). All these truths are connected and interrelated, the sum of which gives the believer/church an unmistakable heavenly character.
Prophecy is about the earth; it isn’t about heaven or heavenly things. Prophecy is directly or indirectly about Israel; it is never about the body of Christ. Prophecy describes and predicts earthly events and characters that mainly affect Israel’s future. Some prophetic passages will count down time to arrive at their predicted outcomes. However, heaven is timeless; heavenly things are eternal. You know the Scripture,” …do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Heaven is not counting down time. But occasionally prophecy does, because it is about Israel, the earth, or God’s government of the world. [Here is a link to an article discussing in detail the character of prophecy https://www.reintgenchristianbooks.com/bible-prophecy-its-character-and-understanding/]
Now we understand the biblical principles which will allow us to make the following observations involving the counting down of time in prophetic passages from Scripture.
The Jewish Dispensation: This is the first dispensation in Scripture. It begins with Moses and the deliverance of Israel out of bondage under Pharaoh in Egypt. This was presaged in what God told Abraham – 400 years would be counted down concerning Abraham’s descendants until God would deliver them out of bondage (Gen. 15:13-16). When the Jews believed the evil report of the ten spies and refused to enter the land, the entire nation was destined to suffer 40 years in the wilderness (Num. 13:33-34, 32:13). God used Jeremiah to predict 70 years of bondage for the Jews at the hands of the Babylonians (Jer. 25:11-12, 29:10) – Daniel and Zechariah would count this down (Dan. 9:2, Zech. 1:12).
Then there is Daniel’s well-known 70-week prophecy (Dan. 9:20-27). The angel Gabriel tells Daniel this revelation involves his people and his holy city Jerusalem. Each week represents the counting down of seven years. 70 x 7 = 490 years. The rebuilding of the streets and wall of the city would require 49 years (7 weeks). An additional 434 years (62 weeks) would elapse until Israel’s promised Messiah arrived. This totals 483 years (69 weeks) of time having passed.
This is the point in the prophecy where the counting down of the weeks suddenly stops. The passage tells us that after the first 69 weeks were completed, Messiah would be cut off. It says He would receive nothing – He would not receive His earthly kingdom and glory. Other things are predicted as taking place during this gap in the prophesy, most notably, the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Romans.
One week or 7 years remain in the prophecy to be fulfilled. This is still true today. Most students of bible prophecy know these unfulfilled years as the future tribulation. The prophecy confirms this conclusion. The completion of the full 70 weeks is to result in an end of Israel’s sin and transgression against God, a full reconciliation for her iniquity, the bringing in of everlasting righteousness (Dan. 9:24). These things have yet to take place for Israel.
One general but very important observation we can make about the prophecy is that God was showing Daniel the exact amount of time remaining in the Jewish dispensation. The restoration of Israel after the 70 weeks (490 years) signals the beginning of the millennium, the last dispensation. The coming of Messiah to Israel ended the first 69 weeks (483 years) of the prophecy. The counting down of time in the Jewish dispensation stops and a timeless gap in the prophecy ensues. The important conclusion is that the future tribulation is actually part of the Jewish dispensation; it is the last seven years which complete it.
Knowing this, we shouldn’t be surprised to find time-elements in Scripture associated with the tribulation. We know it totals 7 years from Daniel’s prophecy – a Roman prince will make an agreement with the Jews for one week, allowing them to safely reinstitute sacrifices and the practice of Judaism in a temple in Jerusalem (Dan. 9:27). This same verse in the prophecy marks the middle of the week – after 3 ½ years the Roman prince reneges on his agreement and ends the sacrifices and offerings. We find other prophecies in both Daniel and the Revelation which mark out the final 3 ½ years using different measurements: a time and times and half a time (Dan. 7:25, 12:7, Rev. 12:14), forty-two months (Rev. 11:2, 13:5), and one thousand two hundred and sixty days (Rev. 11:3, 12:6). Two different times in Daniel this last measurement has days added to it for purification and sanctification purposes (Dan. 12:11-12).
All the above shows how much the counting down of time is an identifying feature of the Jewish dispensation.
The Christian Dispensation: this is the second dispensation. It is a period defined by God acknowledging the calling of the believer/church. This calling is heavenly. The body of Christ is not of this world but of heaven. Prophecy is about the world and those things that are part of it. Prophecy is never about the believer/church, not being of the world. The church is a heavenly body and heavenly things are eternal. There is no counting time associated with heavenly things. In Scripture we never find prophetic passages that count down time associated with the believer/church or the Christian dispensation. This dispensation is what fills the timeless gap we find in Daniel’s 70-week prophecy. The rapture will fulfill the believer’s calling and end the Christian dispensation. But these are the reasons why no one knows when the rapture will take place. Counting time is not a feature of the Christian dispensation.
The Millennium: this is the last dispensation. It begins after Jesus Christ returns to this world and establishes His kingdom on the earth. He will save a Jewish remnant and give them the Promised Land as an inheritance. They will grow and prosper in the land as the fulfillment of the promises God made to Israel’s forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God is not only acknowledging Israel’s calling but fulfilling it during the millennium.
By definition, the millennium will be the counting down of 1000 years. The prophecy which reveals this is the Revelation. Six different times in chapter twenty we find a thousand years mentioned (Rev. 20:2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Although this chapter never mentions Israel’s restoration, there are plenty of O.T. prophecies that do. Time is counted down in this dispensation because it is about Israel’s calling, about the earth, and involves God’s government of the world.
The counting down of time in prophetic passages takes place in only two of the three dispensations found in Scripture – during the Jewish and millennial dispensations. This important feature of prophecy is never part of the Christian dispensation.