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A Time. Times, and Half a Time
The length of time that these saints are given into his hand is described cryptically as “a time, times, and half a time” (7:25). If we stand back and think a little about these words, it will become apparent that the only possible way in which they can make sense is if we understand the plural “times” as designating “two times.” If it can mean any more than two the whole revelation drops into irrelevance. This is because if any more than “two times” is meant, it might be three or four, or twelve, or twelve hundred times. Who’s to know?
No, the only way “times” designates anything for sure is if it is a simple doubling of a “time.” This would mean that we have one unit (or “time”), and two additional units (“times”), and then a half unit (half the first unit). Hence, whatever the units are we have three and a half of them.
Since we know that these units are units of time the best suspects are days, weeks, months, or years. In Daniel 4:23, 32 it is most likely that the “seven times” in which Nebuchadnezzar was insane stands for seven years. If that is correct then “a time, times, and half a time” in Daniel 7:25, and later in Daniel 12:7 stands for three and a half years.
In the later passage there is a reference to “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation” out of which Daniel’s people (Israel) will be delivered (Dan. 12:1). During this period of trial, “the power of the holy people will be shattered” (12:7), which conjures up thoughts of texts like that describing “the time of Jacob’s trouble” in Jeremiah 30:7, and that text also has Israel (Jacob) rescued in the end.
If we try to piece this together, we get a persecution of Israel by a powerful and blasphemous potentate for three and a half years just prior to Christ’s second appearing to establish His earthly dominion. Since the four kingdoms of Daniel 7 match those of chapter 2, we can identify the “stone” whose earthly kingdom will last forever (Dan. 2:44-45), is Christ, the “Son of Man.” Additionally, Nebuchadnezzar was told that his dream concerned “the latter days” (Dan. 2:28), so it seems to fit together coherently.
Explaining that Interval
How is one to explain the exceedingly long interval between the fourth kingdoms and the arrival of the coming One? From our vantage point in the twenty-first century after Christ, does it not stretch credulity to continue to look for this “little horn,” the grand persecutor in our future? What about the long history of the Christian Church? Is that merely a “parenthesis” between these events? Should we not be well advised to seek a personage in the era of the first advent to identify as this “little horn” from the fourth kingdom?
The same kinds of questions may be asked about the “stone … cut out without hands” of Daniel 2:34. If He smites the toes of the image, wouldn’t it be logical to locate this smiting at the first advent, perhaps spiritually applying it to the work of Jesus on the cross?
The first thing I would say in response to this understandable concern is that the text of Scripture must be permitted to say what it says, about whom it says it. That last clause is most important. The people in view in these visions are the nations of the world considered in terms of empires (Dan. 2 & 7), and, in chapter 7, the persecuted people of God (who in the historical context are the saints of Israel – 7:25, 27). The coming of the stone and the Son of Man is, we have good reason to believe, the coming of Messiah to reign upon the earth. This would be the second coming, not the first.1
We must take seriously the fact that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus was a rejection of the kingdom, too. This might have been foreseen had Isaiah 53 (especially when combined with Daniel 9:26) been comprehended for what it was. We have already seen that the first and second advents are fused together in the Prophets (e.g. Mic. 5:2; Isa. 9:6-7, 61:1-2). If there is to be a long interval between the two comings of Christ and that is what is envisaged in the Daniel then so be it.2
What this entails is that Daniel has supplied us with some important information about Israel’s fate just before the time of the second coming of Jesus.3 This information can be inserted into the developing picture of covenant promise as it emerges from progressive revelation in the Old Testament.
1 I shall have a lot more to say about the reign of Christ further on in this work.
2 The fact that the Body of Christ, the NT Church is not seen in the visions of Daniel does not relegate the Church to a secondary “parenthesis.” It just means that it is not the subject of Daniel’s prophecies. Progressive revelation, when understood as an unfolding story, will bring the Church into the picture when the time is right. In the sixth century B.C. the revelation about the Church would just complicate the prophetic picture.
3 Of course, from the perspective of OT saints there is no time separation between the first and second advent. This is why, e.g., Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7, 61:1-2, as well as Zechariah 9:9-10 include detail now known to belong to one or the other coming of Christ.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.