The thousand years, the forty-two months, and Satan (Part 1)

SUMMARY. This short study of “the thousand years” and the “forty-two months” comes from the book of Revelation and serves as a refresher for understanding the flow of the events which occur at the end of the age. In this study we also see how the devil fits into the timing of these events. (See my book, “The Last Act of the Drama” (Amazon, 2021) for a more detailed treatment.)

MINI-SERIES OVERVIEW. A good understanding of the book of Revelation is needed to have a proper grasp of the end times. The problem is that it is very difficult to understand the book of Revelation and especially to follow the flow of events in the section of the book from chapter 4 through chapter 20. This series of posts serves as a teaching session to define the events that take place and to explain the order in which they occur. We will also see that Satan appears in the flow of events in Revelation.

THE LOCATION OF THE DEVIL IN HISTORY. Most people would say that the devil spends most of redemptive history on earth, but the Bible tells a slightly different story. The book of Job is one of the oldest books in the Bible, and in Job, Satan presents himself before the LORD (Job 1:6). This must mean that Satan is in heaven, for “the LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven” (Psalm 11:4). Thus it seems that, during the Old Testament period, in some sense, Satan is in heaven.

When we jump forward to the time just before the Incarnation, in Revelation 12:3 we see the devil as the red dragon in heaven ready to devour the Messiah (12:3-4). Thus, just before Christ’s Incarnation, again we see that Satan is in heaven.

Revelation 12:5 describes the Incarnation and the Ascension of Jesus but is silent about what is happening with the devil during this time. To find out what happens with the devil next, we need to turn over to Revelation 20 and see how Satan is removed from heaven.

A PAUSE FOR SOME INFORMATION

AN OVERVIEW OF THE FLOW OF REVELATION. It is necessary to pause here and turn aside to supply key information about what is happening in Revelation. Therefore, we will take a moment, first, to give an overview of how the pieces fit together and then how the events flow through the chapters of Revelation.

FITTING THE PIECES TOGETHER. First, then, we will address how the pieces or components fit together. Chapters 4 through 20 of the book of Revelation describe three distinct periods of time: “the thousand years,” the “forty-two months,” and the last day.

THE THOUSAND YEARS. “The thousand years” is the name or the label for the period of time in redemptive history that occurs between the binding of Satan in the abyss (Rev. 20:1-3) and the release of Satan from the abyss (Rev. 20:3, 7). It will shown that “the thousand years” begins during the ascension of Jesus from earth to heaven following His resurrection. Thus, “the thousand years” was inaugurated around AD 30. The term “a thousand years” in Revelation 20 is a figurative expression for the duration of the period of time named “the thousand years.” In Revelation, a thousand of anything does not communicate an exact number but tells of a very large number too big to count. Thus, a thousand years is a really long period of time. So, “the thousand years” began with the binding of Satan in the abyss in about AD 30 and will continue for a really long period of time until the release of Satan from the abyss.

THE FORTY-TWO MONTHS. The period of “the thousand years” is followed immediately by the period of the “forty-two months.” “Forty-two months” (Rev. 11:2; 13:5), “one thousand two hundred and sixty days” (Rev. 11:3; 12:6), and “a time and times and half a time” (Rev. 12:14) are names or labels for this relatively short period of intense eschatological activity that occurs between Satan’s release from the abyss (Rev. 20:3, 7) and the beginning of the last day. As a thousand years was a figurative expression for the duration of “the thousand years,” so “forty-two months” is a figurative expression for the duration of this period. While “thousand years” conveys the idea of a very long, indefinite period of time, “forty-two months” conveys the idea of a much shorter, more defined period of time, not literally forty-months, but a brief time, like less than a decade.

THE LAST DAY. Although this series of blog posts will not touch on the last day, we will define it here. The expression “the last day” is to be understood literally, meaning it is literally the last day of human existence on the fallen earth. You may ask, “If ‘thousand years’ and ‘forty-two months’ are figurative, why do you claim that ‘the last day’ is literal?” The expressions “thousand years” and “forty-two months” are unique to the book of Revelation, both in actual textual appearance and in concept. Since these two concepts are unique to Revelation, they must be understood within the context of the book of Revelation. It is apparent in reading Revelation that these expressions are not required to be literal, nor are they intended to be taken as literal. It is clear from the text that these expressions are conveying a concept, not a precise period of time. By contrast, the concept and expression of “the last day” have been part of redemptive history since the very beginning. For example, in the gospel of John, Jesus speaks of the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54). In the Old Testament prophets, we read often of “that day.” Ever since the fall of man in Eden, there has been a coming day of recompense when the unrighteous will be judged. As we examine this biblical concept of a last day, it is also evident that the last day is literally the last day. That is, all of biblical revelation presents the last day or “that day” as a regular, literal day. Since throughout God’s inspired word, the last day is presented as literal, we assume that the book of Revelation presents it the same way.

SUMMARY. So far, we have fit some of the pieces together. According to our understanding of these components, then, “the thousand years” began around AD 30 with the dragon (Satan, the devil, the serpent of old) being bond in the abyss. The end of “the thousand years” is marked by Satan’s release from the abyss, which simultaneously inaugurates “the forty-two months.” Once the events of “the forty-months” are completed, the final events of the last day occur, which closes human history.

Where are we in our study, then? Remember that, in the Overview section above, we stated that we were first going to see how the pieces fit together and then were going to consider how the events flow through the chapters of Revelation.

So, now that we see how the pieces fit together, the next post will explore how “the thousand years” and “forty-two months” appear in the text of Revelation so that we can see how Satan journeys from heaven just before the Incarnation (Rev. 12:3-4) to the lake of fire on the last day (Rev. 20:10).            

SDG                 rmb                 7/13/2022                   #553

Eschatological Detective and Interpretive Clues

This post is an excerpt from an upcoming book called, “The Last Act in the Drama: A Guide to the End-Times.” The blog is teaching the skills needed to interpret eschatological passages in the Scripture by acute observation, finding “interpretive clues,” and weaving the observations and clues into a cohesive whole. rmb 4/21/2021.

Sherlock Holmes is probably the most well-known detective of all time. He is a master of solving with apparent ease mysteries that completely baffled others and that seemed to have no solution. What was it that made Sherlock Holmes so remarkably successful? I would suggest that his brilliance was attributed to three specific skills: 1) Acute powers of observation that allow him to see details which others have missed or ignored; 2) the skill to turn observations into meaningful clues; and 3) the ability to put the clues together to create a cohesive picture that reveals the solution to the mystery.

As we are considering the study of biblical eschatology and are attempting to solve the “mysteries” of difficult texts, we will discover that there are parallels between the way Sherlock Holmes solved nefarious mysteries and the way we will interpret the meaning of end-times passages.

THREE SPECIFIC SKILLS

Like our friend Sherlock, we, too, will need three specific skills.

ACUTE OBSERVATION

First, the eschatological detective needs acute powers of observation. We should look high and low in the text for possible clues that might reveal interpretation and meaning. No detail should be ignored, at least initially, as we dig into the passage. If we have training in the original languages, the Greek or Hebrew/Aramaic texts should be examined. Our observation must be unbiased as we approach the text. This is especially critical in eschatology. We should not come to the text with a preconceived idea of what it means or of what clues we are going to find there. Instead, we approach it like a detective coming to a fresh crime scene.

INTERPRETIVE CLUES

You might ask, “What are we looking for?” I am glad you asked! We are looking for “interpretive clues.” In breathing out the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit has written into the text a variety of clues that allow the meaning of these end-times passages to be discerned. The following are some examples of “interpretive clues:”

  • Identical words and especially identical phrases that appear in two different places in a book. There are many examples of this type of interpretive clue, especially in Revelation, and these clues are vital to understanding how one section of the book relates to another. “A short time” is in Rev. 12:12, and also in 20:3. The same idea is in Revelation 6:11, “a little while.” This common phrase connects these passages. Another example is the phrase “gather them together for the war” in Rev. 16:14, and the identical phrase appears in Rev. 20:8, while “assembled (their armies) to make war” is in Rev. 19:19. This clue reveals that these passages are describing the same event. These are probably the most powerful interpretive clues, so be alert for these.
  • Symbolic use of colors and numbers in the book of Revelation. The color white is always used to indicate purity and righteousness and is identified with Jesus Christ. Red is associated with Satan. The number “thousand” is not used literally but is symbolic for a large number. Twelve is symbolic for the Old Testament people of God (the twelve tribes) and for the New Testament people of God, the faithful church (the twelve apostles). Seven is the number of completion or perfection (seven lampstands, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, etc.). Be alert, then, for symbolic use of numbers.
  • Similar characteristics used to describe different characters. This type of clue may be the most subtle, but it is also powerful. When you are reading a passage in, say, Daniel chapter 7, and the character described sounds very similar to the character from, say, 2 Thessalonians, the radar should go up and you should think, “interpretive clue!” These similar characteristics are probably not describing multiple characters but are probably describing the same figure. In this way, we get multiple “snapshots” of this end-times’ figure so he is easier to identify when he appears.

CONNECT THE CLUES TO FORM A COHESIVE WHOLE

So, those are some of the interpretive clues to look for, but what do we do with these interpretive clues once we have gathered them? This introduces the third skill, which is the art of connecting the interpretive clues to create a cohesive picture of a passage or an entire book. Having gathered our clues, we now need to assign meaning to the clues so that we can understand the end-times passage. Some questions to ponder during this part of the investigation are these:    

  • What is the best understanding of the symbols in this passage? What do these symbols mean?
  • When will the events in this passage occur? Or have they already occurred? Discerning the correct sequence of events is critical to end-times study, particularly in Revelation.
  • What are all the clues and texts about this subject and how do they fit together? If you are trying to figure out the meaning of some figure in the end-times, like, for example, the 144,000 (Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5), it is important to locate all the texts about that subject.
  • Is this passage continuous, or are there time-gaps in the passage?
  • Is this passage written in chronological order, or does it jump forward or backward in time?
  • Are these numbers to be understood literally or figuratively? What do these numbers mean?

There are many other questions that we could ask, but the point is that by asking these types of questions, gradually, like a doctor developing a diagnosis, we develop an interpretation of the passage or the section or the book. “This is what this means based on my understanding of the meaning of these interpretive clues.” Then, before we reveal our solution to others, we must test our solution to be sure it does not have inconsistencies. Like a jigsaw puzzle, all the pieces need to fit together.

PUTTING THESE SKILLS TO WORK

This, then, is the work of the end-times detective. We enter the text with our most concentrated observation, and we search for interpretive clues. Then we weave these clues and observations together into a cohesive whole that gives us a picture of how God is going to glorify Himself through the bodily return of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ and through the people that Christ has purchased with His blood on the cross. The Bible’s end-times passages give ample opportunity to put these skills to profitable use so that we are edified, and Christ is exalted.

SDG                 rmb                 4/21/2021

Eschatology: Entering a new culture

Reading biblical eschatology, especially in books like Revelation and Daniel, is like being a stranger in a foreign country. The Bible student is suddenly immersed in a confusing culture of strange language and unfamiliar customs and alien sights and sounds. All that they have learned and experienced in their native country is of little value as they try to make sense of the new environment.

What is the student of eschatology to do? The student must study end-times literature (“eschatology” = study of last things) with the humility of a traveler going to a foreign land, having the attitude of an observant learner. Here is what this looks like:

“Oh, wait! I have heard that phrase before. That seems to be an important phrase. I wonder what that means.”

“Now, wait a minute. When my host said this word, that happened. So, that word must mean this.” And so on, through countless iterations, the learning continues.

As time goes on, the traveler develops theories about the language and the culture, and then begins testing those theories to see if they are true. “Let me see. I think this means that. Does this mean that? Oops! Awkward moment! No, maybe this doesn’t mean that.” Gradually, step by step the culture begins to make sense. Words that were once strange become familiar and useful. Sights and sounds that were once alien and confusing become normal.

Time and humble observation are the keys. Couple humble observation with a system for capturing and connecting your observations and, over time, you will understand the culture. If you are humble and patient and diligent, you may eventually be mistaken for a native.

But notice that with eschatology, as with a foreign culture, you are required to adopt it. You do not impose your views on it, but you patiently and humbly conform to this unusual, unfamiliar, God-breathed Scripture, as you adopt it as your own. In other words, you do not conform the inspired Word to your ideas, but rather you allow the Word to teach you its ideas. In our analogy, the Word is the native, and we are the foreigners.

To give a personal example, I moved to Russia in January of 1997 to begin what turned out to be three years of “missionary” work with the Navigators, a US-based parachurch organization. I lived in a small town called Pushkin outside of St. Petersburg. I immediately entered a foreign culture where I could not talk (I did not speak Russian at the time) and where I had difficulty walking, since the streets were covered with ice and snow. If I had entered that environment resolved to teach the people of Pushkin how to speak English and to convey to them the pleasures of peanut butter, I think that I would have been frustrated. A better approach was to resolve to learn Russian and to try to walk on ice and to eat what they eat and to adopt their culture as my own. By God’s grace, that is what happened.

You can see the analogy with eschatology. Perhaps one of the reasons why Americans have difficulty with understanding eschatology is that most Americans have never had to adopt a foreign culture. That means most Americans have never been through the process of humble observation needed to change their perspective and to see things through a different lens. But eschatology is not like gospel or like narrative history or like Psalm or Proverbs. When studying eschatology, you must adopt the culture of eschatology or you will remain a foreigner and the culture of eschatology will be forever confusing.

SDG                 rmb                 2/17/2021