Richard Bauckham and the 3 ½ years

July 8, 2012

David, Isaiah, Daniel, and other prophets asked God, “how long?” They looked for a time when God will no longer hide, [Psalm 13:1; 89:46] when the adversary would no longer reproach the saints, [Psalm 74:10], when God would turn away his anger, [Psalm 79:5] when the wicked would not triumph, [Psalm 94:3-4] when the land would no longer mourn, [Jeremiah 12:4] when the time periods of prophecy would be fulfilled, [Daniel 12:6] when God would save his people, [Habakkuk 1:2] and avenge the blood of the martyrs. [Revelation 6:10]

Peter said the prophets enquired and searched diligently about the times connected with the gospel. He wrote:

1 Peter 1:10-11
Of which salvation the prophets have enquired 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.

One of the key questions related to this issue is, how should the time, times and a half of Daniel and Revelation be understood? In Daniel 12:7, this period is associated with and culminates in the end of the age. It is mentioned in answer to the question, “How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?” Among the wonders referred to was a time of trouble, “such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time,” and the saints’ deliverance, and a resurrection, all mentioned in verses 1-2 of the chapter.

The answer Daniel heard was forcefully stated by a swearing angel: “it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” [Daniel 12:7] Understanding this  particular expression then, is essential for a sound grasp of where we are in connection with prophecy.

In Daniel 7:25 the same period of time is introduced, in the context of a struggle involving the saints and a little horn that appears among the ten horns of the fourth beast, which is usually identified with the Roman empire. The little horn makes war with the saints and prevails against them. These considerations strongly imply that the time, times and a half extends from the times of Roman persecution endured by the church in the first century, to the end of the age.

Those who insist that it simply means three and a half literal years are in hopeless disagreement over whether the period precedes or follows the present age. In contemporary America, the two camps of preterism and dispensationalism which both claim that literal years are in view, contend against each other in noisy warfare.

Biblical scholar and theologian Richard Bauckham, former professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, considers the three and a half years indicated by Daniel’s expression as symbolic, and that it represents the final period of prophecy. Referring to the views expressed by the author of a Dead Sea Scroll manuscript, Bauckham compared Daniel 12:7 with Revelation 10, where a swearing angel again appears. Bauckham wrote: [1]

Here there is the idea of something which was hidden from the prophets about the way in which their prophecies would be fulfilled and which has now been revealed to the Teacher of Righteousness (cf. also 1QpHab 2:5-10). Unlike Revelation, however, the secret seems (at least in the immediate context) only to concern the time of the end, which has been delayed longer than the prophets foresaw. Certainly there is a concern with eschatological delay in Revelation 10. Just as Daniel 12:7 answers the question, ‘How long?’ (12:6), so the angel in Revelation implicitly responds to the question ‘How long?’ which has been in the reader’s mind since it was raised by the martyrs in 6:10. The answer is that there is now to be no more delay before the final period which will bring in the Kingdom, the Danielic ‘time, times and half a time.’ Probably, in chapter 10 we are at John’s and his first readers’ present: the final period is about to begin in the immediate future. Thus the content of the scroll is ‘what must soon take place.’ (1:1; 22:6). But the scroll will give no more information about the length of the final period than was already given by Daniel. John clearly uses the period of three and a half years indicated by Daniel as a symbolic, not literal, expression for the final period. What the scroll reveals is not further revelation about the time of the end, but further revelation about the nature of the Danielic period, the way in which the events which remained so mysterious in the prophecies of Daniel and the other prophets will contribute to the coming of God’s kingdom.

The ‘time, times and half a time’ is symbolic, not a literal period of three and a half years. It is one half of “seven times.” The word “time” does not necessarily mean a literal year; it can also designate a symbolic one. In Daniel 7 a time, times and half a time is put in the context of the coming of God’s kingdom. Bauckham wrote: [2]

Daniel 7 contains the first reference in Daniel to the period of ‘a time, times and half a time’ (7:25), and puts it in the context of the theme of the coming of God’s kingdom (described as the kingdom both of the ‘one like a son of man’ and of the saints of the Most High). The theme of Daniel 7 is the transfer of sovereignty over ‘all peoples, nations and languages’ from the world empires, represented as the beasts, to the ‘one like a son of man’ and the people of the Most High. It is in this way that the phrase is used in Daniel 7:14, which says of the ‘one like the son of man’ that

To him was given dominion and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.

Daniel’s expression ‘time, times and half’ is associated with 1,260 days, and 42 months in the book of Revelation. Both periods are mentioned in Revelation 11:2-3, where the outer court of the temple is given to Gentiles, and the holy city is trampled under foot for 42 months, which is also the time when the beast in chapter 13 is dominant. The holy city and temple are both symbols for the church, and the prophecy depicts the saints and the church ruled and dominated by unbelievers, represented by Gentiles. The 1,260 days represents the duration of the ministry of the two witnesses.

Bauckham connects the prophecy about the occupation of the outer court of the temple by Gentiles with several passages in Daniel. He wrote: [3]

Thus John finds no indication in Daniel that the temple building itself is to be given to the Gentiles, but since the daily sacrifices on the altar of burnt-offering are to be abolished (Dan. 8:11; 11:31; 12:11) the court outside the sanctuary must fall into their hands.

Bauckham believed that there are grounds for linking Revelation 11:1-2 with the events described in Daniel 8:11-14 although John does not mention the 2,300 days of Daniel 8:14. He wrote: [4]

Thus Revelation 11:1-2 results from a quite precise interpretation of Daniel 8:11-14, in connexion with Zechariah 12:3.

I suggest the sanctuary in Daniel’s prophecy in 8:10-14 refers to the starry heavens, rather than the Jerusalem temple. The events depicted are those which occurred in the reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, who implemented a policy of hellenization. Daniel describes four things being cast to the earth by the horn of the goat that grew up to heaven: (1) the stars, (2) the host of heaven, (3) heaven itself, or the place of God’s sanctuary, and (4) the truth. All this can be explained by the revision of the cosmology of the Bible that was initiated by Antiochus as part of his hellenization campaign. The firmament, or ‘raqia’ of Genesis 1, which originally meant the earth’s rocky crust, was identified with heaven, by the addition of the phrase “And God called the firmament Heaven,” along with numerous other changes made to the various cosmological passages in the scriptures, that were intended to support the geocentric views of the Greeks. The 2,300 days represent 23 centuries. They span the period from when Daniel received his vision in the 3rd year of Belshazzar, to the scientific revolution in 1750 A.D. About that time, men abandoned the old notions of a rigid heavenly firmament and planetary spheres revolving around the earth; the diurnal motion was assigned to the earth instead.

Bauckham’s comments on Revelation 11:1-2 offer no support for the preterists, who tend to invoke that passage in their vain attempts to support an early date for the writing of Revelation. Bauckham wrote: [5]

It is highly unlikely that in Revelation 11:1-2 John intends to speak literally of the temple which had been destroyed in A.D. 70 and the earthly Jerusalem, in which he nowhere else shows any interest. He understands the temple and the city as symbols of the people of God. This was a possible interpretation of Daniel, for John takes Daniel 8:11-13 to refer symbolically to the same events that Daniel 12:7 calls ‘the shattering of the power of the holy people’ (cf. also Dan. 7:25). This shattering, which is also the trampling of the holy place (Dan. 8:13) and city, John, of course, understands as the great persecution of Christians, which chapter 7 has already foreseen. But his interpretation of Daniel 8:11-13 stresses what is no more implicit in his reading of Daniel: that the sanctuary, with its altar and the priests who worship in it, is preserved from defilement and trampling by the nations. He is distinguishing the inner, hidden reality of the church as a kingdom of priests (cf. 5:10) who worship God in his presence from the outward experience of the church as it is exposed to persecution by the kingdom of the nations. The church will be kept safe in its hidden spiritual reality, while suffering persecution and martyrdom.

Daniel’s ‘time, times and half’ represents the whole age of the church, and the little horn in chapter 7 with eyes like the eyes of a man represents the antichrist spirit, or the human point of view, as opposed to the divine one. It was present in the first century, and has continued to exert its influence in the church since then.


1. Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. Continuum International Publishing Group, 1998. p. 262-263.

2. Ibid., p. 265.

3. Ibid., p. 270.

4. Ibid., p. 271.

5. Ibid., p. 272.

  1. June 21, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    I am surprised there are not as many comments for this article. Some do take Greece as the 4th Beast (John Walton, Marvin Pate et al). which would not make much difference, I guess.

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