The Basis of Dispensationalism

The Value of Time Prophecy

"Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow."—1 Peter 1:10, 11

David Rice

The fulfillment of prophecy is a strong testimony that the scriptures are from God. When time is included in prophecy, it adds a specificity which is even more impressive. How many unbelievers would be surprised to know that Daniel predicted five centuries in advance the very year of Christ’s baptism, and of his death?

That time prophecy exists in the Bible argues that some good will accrue to us from its study. And since much of it refers to the "time of the end," and we are in the time of the end, we have all the more reason to expect a special benefit from it. Here are two possible benefits.

First, time prophecies alert us to look for the signs that we are nearing the end of our Christian journey. It is like a man on a long voyage who passed the days reading, resting, or strolling the decks enjoying the fresh sea air. But with the dawn of the last day he was eager for signs of his destination. He went to the bow and looked out through the fog, at first seeing nothing. But time passed and he noticed some kelp floating in the sea. The fog receded, and he noticed a few birds above. As he scanned the horizon he discerned the hazy outline of hills and mountains. He saw a vessel in the distance, then another. He spotted the shoreline, a lighthouse on a hill, then a variety of smaller boats. Soon he could make out the docks on the shore, and some activity in the background. Now the signs were clear and all about him, and he prepared for his arrival.

Second, time prophecies help us interpret the meaning of the signs we see. It is like three farmers chatting in a field, who noticed a cloud of dust or smoke in the distance. As they mused of it together, one supposed it was a brush fire. Another ventured it could be dust in a whirlwind. But the third asserted with conviction that it was smoke from a passing train. With some surprise at his confidence, the others asked how he could be so sure. He answered "It’s Monday, twelve noon. It’s time for the train!"

Both of these benefits have been demonstrated in actual experience. Time prophecy alerted the brethren to anticipate what 1914 might bring, and helped explain the war that came. Time prophecy prompted the Miller movement in America, and others in Europe, to rouse the Christian world to look for the second coming, and to freshly examine the Scriptures. Even before the French Revolution, prophetic students were watching for a great shaking. "For more than a century before the [French] Revolution, a line of expositors of the Protestant Historical School not only had predicted from the prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse the approaching end of the 1260 years of the ecclesiastic supremacy of the Papacy, but had set forth France as the probable instrument, and infidelity as the possible means of the coming overthrow" (Leroy Froom, Prophetic Faith of our Fathers, Vol. 2, p. 723).

Understandably, the various forecasts involved some imprecision and some unfulfilled expectations. But now, through the unfolding of actual events, we can trace the intent of the prophecies more clearly. Papacy’s reign of 1260 years has ended. The sanctuary class has been cleansed. The old kingdoms of Europe are gone. The clouds of trouble do in fact mark a change of the ages.

The Time Prophecies of Daniel

Probably the most notable example of time prophecy appears in Daniel, at the end of a lengthy prophecy in chapters 11 and 12 which begins in the third year of Cyrus (10:1) and extends to the resurrection of the dead in Christ’s kingdom (12:1, 2). The passage begins with a prediction of now ancient events. "There shall stand up yet three kings in Persia, and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia" (11:2, 3). After Cyrus came Cambyses, Smerdis, Darius and Xerxes. Xerxes gathered a vast army to subdue Greece, and his unexpected defeat in this campaign is famous in history. Verse 3 refers to Alexander the Great, king of Greece, who rose some generations after Xerxes’ failed campaign. When Alexander died his kingdom was split among four generals, "divided toward the four winds of heaven" (verse 4).

The remainder of the chapter takes us cryptically through history toward the kingdom. At the close of the vision Daniel was told to "shut up the words, and seal the book to the time of the end" (12:4). Then we encounter the time prophecies of 1260 days (3 times), 1290 days, and 1335 days. The first of these is mentioned seven times in the scriptures, once here, once in Daniel 7, and five times in Revelation 11, 12, 13. Its very frequency tells us it is important.

The prophecy is not a mystery to the brethren today. For centuries, Protestant interpreters have identified the 1260 days as 1260 years during which Papacy would exercise considerable power, while both the scriptures and the saints would be oppressed. The dates usually identified for this period are 539 to 1799 (Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 3, Chapter 3).

The vision was closed to Daniel. He was told "shut up the words, and seal the book" (12:4), and "the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end" (12:9). But verse 4 says at the time of the end (when the things recorded would come to pass), "many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." This is frequently applied to the rapid travel and general increase of knowledge which mark our day. However, in context, it probably has a more specific meaning. A parallel scripture which helps explain the meaning is Amos 8:11, 12. Amos refers to a famine for hearing the words of the Lord, and adds "They shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it." Daniel, in contrast, speaks of a time when the word of the Lord will be revealed. At the time of the end "many shall run to and fro [seeking the knowledge which was sealed to Daniel], and knowledge [of the prophecy] shall be increased."

In Revelation 10, at the close of the 3 times (compare Daniel 12:7, Revelation 10:6) when "there should be [those prophetic times] no longer [since they expired]," the sealed book of Daniel is now "open in the hand of the angel ... and he said ... take it, and eat it up" (Revelation 10:8). The time for understanding the prophecy was due. This was still before the Lord’s return at the seventh trumpet, which does not sound until Revelation 11:15.

The Wise Shall Understand

Daniel 12:10 also affirms that "none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand," and verse 11 implies that the understanding would become general among the wise ones at the end of the 1290 years.

All of this exactly matches the facts. As the time approached for the prophecy to run its course, more and more became aware of its import. But the Miller movement in America, which was founded specially on an understanding of these prophecies, and explained their meaning broadly through the Christian world, developed about 30 years after the close of Papacy’s 1260 years.

Daniel 12:12 implies that another 45 years will take us to a period of special "blessed"-ness. No other clue is given in the text to aid us in its interpretation. But the whole force and purpose of the movements stimulated by these prophecies was to look for the return of Christ. Might this last prophecy therefore take us to that long-sought event? This possibility is strengthened by a comparison with Matthew 24:46, and Luke 12:37. Both texts speak of the return of Christ, and both specify that those watching and diligent will be specially "blessed."

The Blessedness

The blessing of Luke 12:37, and its parallel text Revelation 3:20, is spiritual nourishment—truth that was lost in the famine of the dark ages (Revelation 6:5, 6). These texts show that this nourishment is provided after the Lord’s return. When we note that the beauties of the Divine Plan opened up to the brethren from the 1870s forward, we observe that the events have confirmed the prophecy.

Clearly, therefore, time prophecy has accomplished its purpose. It predicted a long night, it marked its close, it alerted the watchers to look for the Lord’s return, it now tells us we are at that blessed time, and it confirms that the signs about us point to a climax of the ages. We therefore value time prophecy highly.