Key prophetic times

The Bible provides a few important prophetic periods which help to understand the course of world history.

Four periods

In the timeline you come across four prophetic periods:

  • 490 years (about the nation Israel)
  • 2300 years (about the beginning of the end of history)
  • 1260 years (about the dominating power in the Middle Ages)
  • 1000 years (about the preparation phase for the eternal future)

You can find these in the Bible books of Daniel and Revelation.

In the Bible periods are mostly referred to as 'days'. But keep in mind that in prophetic thought a day-year principle is common. Well-known examples of this are Numbers 14:34:

“(…) According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years….”

And in Ezekiel 4:6:

“(…) And when you have completed them, lie again on your right side; then you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days. I have laid on you a day for each year”.

In these cases, a day symbolically indicates a full year. This principle may also be applied to prophetic periods. Only when we follow this procedure does it yield a meaningful and logical explanation.

The prophetic times offer a great starting point for a better understanding of world history. Can we, as limited humans, fathom everything that is happening on the world stage? Of course not! But the big picture is becoming clearer when time passes by. God has not given us prophetic insights for nothing. We gain more and more knowledge about the prophecy over time, simply because history unfolds, and the given periods become better recognizable. From our perspective we can know more about it than, for example, the Christians from the 1st century or the Jewish people under the old covenant. To Daniel (6th century BC) it is therefore said:

“But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (12:4).

Click on each of the period tiles and discover how this will help you in better understanding the course of world history.

Prediction versus freedom

That God predicts future events might cause headaches. Does it imply that everything is already set in stone? How can there be room for human input, choice, and personal responsibility? Logically, prophecy leads to indifference and fatalism. But strangely enough, there is nothing to be found in the Bible of such a resigned attitude. How is that possible?

An example might help to understand it a bit better. Imagine a mother who knows her own son inside out. She knows exactly what he wants, needs, and questions her child has. One day she gives the boy a choice of three different options. Perhaps the mother knows her child so well that she already knows in advance which of the three options the child will choose. Does the fact that through her insight the mother already knows beforehand which choice the child is going to make, affect the child's freedom of choice? No, because the child really makes a choice. This comparison is, of course, very limited. We cannot calculate God's ways and comprehend His eternal existence. But it gives some sense that the two can go together.

The combination between God's power and knowledge, and the freedom of people to make their own choices, is a basic ingredient of our history. God is preparing an eternal covenant of love. People of all generations and places can voluntarily join. He does not force people, because that would go against His purpose. At the same time, we can rest assured that He will achieve His goal. Humanity is not dependent on its own strength and resources but may live based on the promises that God has given us.

The so called enlightened rational filter

During the Enlightenment (18th century), our limited human perspective and one's own logical power came to be the central criteria of truth. Only what you can understand based on your own experience, reasoning, and calculations, is acceptable. Based on this premise, the dust comb went through the Bible and theology. The Biblical idea that predictions about the future are possible does not fit into this modern frame (nor does the existence of miracles). The history of the Bible had to be rewritten on many points to make it acceptable to human comprehension. Texts were dated at a later period, considered to be pasted together or edited based on own interests and harmonized with secular ideas. Here we enter the domain of 'textual criticism'. Textual criticism is for the most part a building of intricate reconstructions, based on Enlightenment ideas. Within the liberal theological science, great efforts were done to deny that prophecy can be reliable. Likewise Biblical history was discredited to ensure that the pretensions of the Enlightenment would be safeguarded. Yet this was a dead end.

Even if you date scripture in later periods on the basis of secular assumptions, for example in the 2nd century BC, it still contains much information about the future. The complete Isaiah scroll, which saw to light during the archaeological dig at Qumran, points to the Messiah (especially in chapter 53). The book of Daniel foretells the rise of future rulers [Babylon], including Rome and the Vatican. And in the Old Testament you will find all kinds of foreshadowing’s to the Messiah. That happened hundreds of years before Jesus of Nazareth was born. The chances of all these predictions coming together by chance in one person's life are in fact nil. Drs. Ben Hobrink, author of the book Science in the Bible, has listed a few for you (p. 164-165). What do you think? Is it chance? Or the hand of God that rules history?

  • Isaiah 7 : 14 Born of a virgin
  • Micah 5 : 1 Born in Bethlehem
  • Hosea 11 : 1 Flight into Egypt
  • Isaiah 40 : 3 Has a forerunner (John the Baptist)
  • Zechariah 9:9 Ride into Jerusalem on a donkey
  • Zechariah 11 : 12 Betrayed for 30 coins
  • Daniel 9 : 25-26 The year of Jesus' start and death (see: [490 - Israel]
  • Psalm 22 Death by crucifixion / clothes are raffled
  • Isaiah 53 Pierced / is buried in the grave of a rich man

Next to these remarkable predictions archeology finds have confirmed time and again the credibility of the Biblical account. Go to [Gods covenant on the crossroads of superpowers] to find out a few fantastic examples.

Like a thief in the night

Nobody can deny the fact that there is much tumult on the current world stage. It raises expectations about the consummation of history as we know it. Where is it all going? When will the promise come true that Jesus will return and kick-off His eternal kingdom? Jesus himself is clear that we will not be able to pinpoint the exact time of His return to the day. There are no precise calculations. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to say about it.

In some Christian circles it is emphasized that Jesus will come like a thief in the night. In other words, totally unexpected. You don't know the time, so don't bother about it. However, did you know that Paul says exactly the opposite in his letter to the Thessalonians? Jesus' return will indeed be totally unexpected, but for those who are not paying attention and are sleeping.

“(…) But you brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (I Thessalonians 5:4-6).

This call to wake up comes back more often. Just look up the following texts: Matthew 24 : 22-44 | Mark 13 : 33 | I Corinthians 16 : 13 | I Peter 5:8.

Even if we don’t have exact calculations, Gods prophetic calendar gives us clear clues about the stage of history we are in. The expectations which we already find in the days of Paul have grown ever since. Don’t be asleep but look out for His promised return.