The Coming Tribulation: The Math of the Matter

I have read some crazy claims that people have made, supposedly based upon numbers in the Bible and specifically from the numbers in prophetic passages. The primary error of these errors is to find some secret word from God within the actual Word of God, as strange as that may seem. It’s one of the many ways that people twist Scripture for their own sinful desires, even if the sinful desire is simply being seen as “the” teacher who found out some secret truth that no one had previously discovered (cf. 2 Pet 3:16).

Having said that, the math that follows below is nothing of that sort. It’s simply a comparison of several passages of Scripture to arrive at a simple conclusion – there is a coming time of judgment upon the world and national Israel that lasts seven years.

Of course, there are a lot of assumptions being already made in this post.

  • The church has not replaced national Israel, and there is a prominent, prophesied future for national Israel.
  • In bringing Israel to that prominence, God pour out His Spirit upon the nation during this period of seven years.
  • This salvation is God’s grace in the midst of Israel’s judgment – God allows the nation to find itself duped by the Antichrist, only to be rescued from him after he breaks his peace with the nation.

As to the point of this article, however, within the prophecies about God’s dealings with Israel, the prophets include lengths of time that speak about these seven years. So, let’s look at how Scripture describes these numbers.

First, Daniel 9:24–27 specifies that there is a coming period of seven years that ends in God’s judgment upon the Antichrist. In leading up to this passage, Daniel had been praying for Israel. In reading the prophecy of Jeremiah, Daniel discovered that Israel was going to be punished by exile in Babylon for 70 years for not having given the land a year of rest each seventh year, a command given by Moses (Dan 9:1–2; Jer 25:11–12; 2 Chron 36:20–21; cf. Lev 25:1–7). In other words, over the course of 490 years, Israel neglected to let the land rest every seventh year, a total of 70 years altogether. In a sense, God was giving the land its rest that Israel failed to give it and punishing Israel along the way. Having realized Israel’s plight, Daniel prayed that God would bless Israel once again (Dan 9:3–19).

In kindness to Daniel, God sent the angel Gabriel to let Daniel know when his prayer would be answered (Dan 9:20–23). Just as Israel had sinned for seventy sets of seven years, so also Gabriel prophesied that seventy sets of seven years would have to take place in order for God to shine His face upon Israel once again (Dan 9:24–27). (Standard lexicons note that the Hebrew word for “weeks” is a heptad that could refer to days or years. In this case, especially when looking at the context of Dan 9, it is clear that Gabriel is speaking to Daniel of seventy heptads of years, i.e., seventy sevens, totaling 490 years.)

But these seventy sets of years would be broken into three divisions. First, after a decree to rebuilding Jerusalem, seven sets of seven years would take place (49 years; Dan 9:25a). Next, sixty-two sets of seven years (434 years) would end when the Messiah (“an anointed one”) was cut off (Dan 9:25b). These two sets of years total 483 years. Finally, a final set of seven years would begin with the Antichrist (“the prince who is to come…he…one who makes desolate…the desolator) making a covenant with national Israel, something to be broken halfway into this set of seven years (Dan 9:26–27).

However we want to historically identify the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, it is clear that the 49 years and 434 years are over—the Messiah was cut off when He died on the cross. The final seven years, however, are yet to take place.This matter brings us to an interesting principle that we have to understand when interpreting prophecy—sometimes the events of a given prophecy do not happen immediately after one another. In other words, there can be a gap of time between the first 483 years and the final 7 years of Dan 9:24–27. Another example of this principle is found in Isa 61:1–2. Jesus quoted this passage to announce that His first coming involved the proclamation of the day of the Lord’s favor, but he stopped short of proclaiming the day of God’s vengeance (Luke 4:18–21). In other words, He quoted Isa 61:1–2a but not Isa 61:2b. From one line to the next in Isa 61:2, though consecutive, the events therein would be separated by a gap of time.

Having said all of the above, Dan 9:24–27 shows us that the final set of seven years is still to come. We have seen antichrists, but not the Antichrist that other biblical authors anticipated as well (1 John 2:18; 2 Thess 2:3–4, 8). This final seven years is future.

A couple of other passages from Daniel and Revelation cement this time as seven years as well. As to Revelation, in his prophecy of the end of the age (cf. Rev 1:3; 22:7), the apostle John told of…

  • the things that that he had seen (cf. Rev 1:19a, “the things that you have seen”)—his vision of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:9–20)
  • the things that presently were in his day (cf. Rev 1:19b, “those that are”)—matters involving seven churches during his time (Rev 2–3)
  • and the things that would be “cf. Rev 1:19c, “those that are to take place after this”)—matters involving God’s judgment and blessing to come (Rev 4–22; cf. 4:2 “I will show you what must take place after this”).

His prophecy of the things to take place in Rev 4–22 are still yet to take place, including the seven years prophesied in Dan 9:24–27. The way that John describes it, however, is more segmented. Within these seven years, two witnesses prophesy for 1,260 days (Rev 11:3), and this time is followed by 42 months in which Jerusalem (“the holy city”) is trampled (Rev 11:2; cf. 12:6–see below). Just as 42 months is 3.5 years, so also is 1,260 days, 42 months of 30 days each. So, 1,260 days followed by 42 months is seven years.

John then describes again the second half of the seven years. Understanding the symbolism of Rev 12:1–6 to refer to national Israel, this second set of 3.5 years is described as another 1,260 days in which Israel is protected by the Lord from the wrath of Satan (Rev 12:6).

Comparing Rev 11 and 12 with Dan 9:24–27, we can describe their prophecies together. Israel makes a covenant with the Antichrist at the beginning of this final set of seven years. It lasts for 3.5 years until it is broken by the Antichrist. Empowered by Satan and angered at the reception of the gospel message of the two witnesses, the Antichrist seeks to destroy Jerusalem and Israel over the next 3.5 years. God protects His nation during this time.

We find yet another description of this final 3.5 years in Rev 12:14. “The woman” (i.e., Israel) will be protected “for a time, and times, and half a time.” Comparing these “times” to the passages above, each “time” is clearly equivalent to one year. One year (“a time”) plus two years (“times”) plus half a year (“half a time”) is 3.5 years, already mentioned earlier as 1,260 days (Rev 12:6).

This language of “times” is not new to John. In another prophecy in Daniel, Daniel saw the Antichrist as a great king who would arise from among many other kings (Dan 7:23–24). He would be blasphemous and pursue “the saints of the Most High,” i.e., Israelites who faithfully followed their God (Dan 7:25). This would take place “for a time, times, and half a time” (Dan 7:25), which John makes clear is 1,260 days (Rev 12:6, 15), 3.5 years, and the second half of Daniel’s seventieth set of seven years. Daniel describes the persecution of the saints, John describes the woman being hunted, and both speak of this period of chaos as a time, times, and half a time.

As in Dan 7:26, so also it is in Dan 9:27—the Antichrist will be punished. This punishment is the final event to take place at the end of these seven years. Christ will descend from heaven to destroy him once and for all (2 Thess 2:8, and Rev 19:20). 

A Summary with Some Hermeneutical Notes

While it takes a little bit of study and explanation, a comparison of several passages to one another can be understood to mark out this coming period as seven years (cf. Dan 7:24–27; 9:24–27; Rev 11:2; 12:6, 14). As mentioned above, there are some theological underpinnings that, if rejected, will lead one away from these conclusions altogether. Most significantly, if one sees the church as a spiritual Israel, then a number of details in these prophecies must somehow be “spiritually” interpreted. But Scripture itself pushes us away from some kind of “spiritual” interpretation of the prophecies above.  Consider the following from the passages above:

  • Even in Daniel, his years in Dan 9:24–27 had a literal correspondence to years in Jer 25:11–12 and 2 Chron 36:20–21 and did not signify something other than years. Dan 9:24–27 spoke of 490 years, a number that matched how many years Israel had forsaken the year of Jubilee. The final seven years are yet to come.
  • Just as the Antichrist is a literal person coming in the future, so also it makes sense to understand in a literal fashion the times, years, months, and days describing his activity on earth.
  • While both Daniel and Revelation admittedly enjoy a great deal of symbolism, it is typically clear when symbolism is taking place in their prophecies and that the symbolism has some point of contact with the literal details of a coming future reality (e.g., Dan 7:23–27 explains 7:1–12 in terms of kings; Rev 12:1, 3 lets us know that what is described is “a great sign” and “another sign”). Perhaps the most obvious example of this point is found in the Antichrist. Whereas Daniel and John describe him as a beast, horn, head, etc., he is also simply identified as a lawless man and the Antichrist in the epistles of Paul and John (e.g,. 2 Thess 2: 3–4, 8; 1 John 2:18).
  • This is the view of Jesus. Matt 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 record His words of coming “tribulation” (Matt 24:9) and then “great tribulation (Matt 24:21) that lead to His final descent to conquer His enemies and establish His kingdom. His eschatological outline may not have as much detail as Daniel’s or John’s, but, as to these seven years, it does speak of “tribulation” and that the time becomes even worse, i.e., “great” Comparing Scripture to Scripture, a destroying king rises to power as Israel’s friend for 3.5 years, wreaking havoc in the world, only to become enraged, turn his back on the nation, and persecute anyone who follows Christ for the next 3.5 years, all by the power of Satan (Dan 9:24–27; 2 Thess 2:8–9; Rev 11–12). Even Jesus teaches that there is a coming time that goes from bad to worse and from tribulation to great tribulation.
  • At the end of the day, it is not so important that one believes in a literal seven years as it is for one to approach the Scripture with an intent to understand what was meant by the original authors and how it would have been understood by their original readers, prophecy included. But, I believe that if one does the latter, so also will one do the former.