Natural and spiritual light and time
Scripture refers to light metaphorically, to represent spiritual knowledge and understanding. Darkness represents misinformation, superstition, delusion, or ignorance. Belief in the gospel is light, and unbelief is darkness.
John said, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” [1 John 1:5] Knowing the truth corresponds to day, and ignorance to darkness or night. Christ “lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” [John 1:9] He said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” [Matthew 5:16]
In Joel’s prophecy, the day of the Lord is a time of darkness and gloominess.
A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.
The prophet Amos also spoke of spiritual darkness in the day of the Lord.
Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light.
As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.
Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?
Zechariah said it would be “neither light nor dark.”
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark:
But it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.
It will be a time of confusion, and its coming takes people by surprise, like a thief in the night.
1 Thessalonians 5:2
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
Paul said that light characterizes the believers’ inheritance.
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
The apostle Peter referred to prophecy as “a light that shineth in a dark place.”
2 Peter 1:19
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
And these scriptures refer to light and darkness in a metaphorical way. The use of light as a symbol for spiritual understanding is recognized by all; there is no doubt that it is a metaphor. Since light can represent things that are spiritual, there is no reason why time, and space may not also represent spiritual concepts. Properties of natural light are expressed in terms of distance and time; for example the speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 meters per second.
The height of the wall of the holy city, given as 144 cubits in Revelation 21:17, ought not be taken literally; these are not regular or normal cubits. John indicates that they have an angelic or spiritual character: “And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.”
It would be improper to translate these to feet, or meters, as they are angelic cubits. The number 144 is significant, not how we should think about the height of the wall, or how an angelic cubit compares to a regular cubit. Translation of 144 cubits to 216 feet, or to about 66 meters, removes the symbolic number 144 from the prophecy, which obscures its meaning. Who can say what an angelic cubit is? Scripture does not say.
Like the dimension given for the wall of the holy city, times that apply to the holy city are also non-literal in character, which implies that interpretations of these periods that invoke natural time are invalid. Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy, in particular, applies partly to the earthly Jerusalem and partly to the heavenly one. The units of the part which applies to the earthly city are measured in terms of earthly years, and leap years, while the units of the part applying to the heavenly Jerusalem are spiritual and figurative. All but the last half-week applies to the earthly city, and so the prophecy specifies the time of Jesus’ coming in terms of natural years and leap years. The final half of the 70th week applies to the heavenly city, and spans the whole age of the church. This is represented in the following table.
|Jerusalem and the 70 weeks|
|natural time||spiritual time|
|7 weeks||7 * 19 = 133 leap years|
|62 weeks||7 * 62 = 434 years|
|1 week||3 ½ years||time, times and a half|
When Jesus rose from the grave, and ascended to the throne of his Father in heaven, the mountain of the Lord’s house was established “in the top of the mountains” and was “exulted above the hills” as Isaiah had foretold. [Isaiah 2:2]
The time that applies to the heavenly Jerusalem is figurative, not a literal three and a half years, but it completes the week in which Jesus confirms his covenant with many. It is represented by the time, times and a half of Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Revelation 12:14.
Another period of time that extends from the earthly into the heavenly, spiritual domains is the generation of Jesus. His generation includes both the period for which he lived on earth in the flesh, plus all the time since, as he remains alive to this day. Preterists and critics have stumbled over the words of Jesus about his generation. R.C. Sproul wrote: [The Last Days According to Jesus, 1998. p. 63.]
There seems to be widespread agreement that “this generation” refers to the contemporaries of Jesus and not to some future group. This view is held not only by preterists such as J. Stuart Russell, but by critics such as Bertrand Russell, the consistent eschatology school, and contemporary conservative scholars such as [William L.] Lane. With this much support, one wonders why the Olivet Discourse is not seen as having been fulfilled in the first century.
Sproul thought that the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD fulfilled the prophecies of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse. He wrote: [Ibid., p. 158.]
The coming of Christ in A.D.70 was a coming in judgment on the Jewish nation, indicating the end of the Jewish age and the fulfillment of a day of the Lord. Jesus really did come in judgment at this time, fulfilling his prophecy in the Olivet Discourse.
Some preterists believe that through the events of 70 AD God’s vengeance came upon the Jews. Yet when he was crucified, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” [Luke 23:34]
Understanding that the times that apply to Christ and to the heavenly city he is building are not natural but spiritual dispels much of the darkness and misunderstanding about the sayings of Jesus. C. S. Lewis provided a prime example of this darkness. He wrote: [“The World’s Last Night” (1960), in: Clive Staples Lewis, Lyle W. Dorsett. The Essential C.S. Lewis. Macmillan, 1988. p. 385.]
The apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else. This is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.
Here, Lewis exposed the depth of his own misunderstanding; he embarrassed himself; the words of Jesus need no apology, because he remains alive, and reigns upon the throne of David, which endures forever. His generation is unique, as it still exists, and always will!