Tag Archives: Revelation 12

The Development of the Year-Day Principle (Twelve 4)

The year-day principle is a crucial element of Adventist interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy. It is particularly important to the understanding of chapter twelve of Revelation. In verses 6 and 14 the woman flees into the wilderness for “1260 days” (12:6, ESV) or “a time, times and half a time” (12:14, NIV). Adventists have understood these two time periods to be the same 1260-year period of Christian history, reckoning a year for each day in the prophecy. Is this principle biblical or is it something made up in order to achieve a particular conclusion? As is so often the case with the Bible, the answer is a little more complicated than the two options above would indicate.

The year-day principle, as expressed by Seventh-day Adventists, usually goes something like this: “In Bible prophecy, whenever a period of time is listed in days, its fulfillment should be counted in years.” The principle as stated is not found anywhere in Scripture. But the Bible paves the way for it by highlighting year-day equivalencies, that days and years can correspond to each other. In Numbers 14:34, for example, the forty years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness corresponds to the forty days of Israel’s disobedience and rebellion in Numbers, chapters 11-14. In Ezekiel 4:5-6 the prophet is ordered to lie down one day for each year of Israel and Judah’s disobedience. In Leviticus 25 the concept of a week and its Sabbath is extended from days to agricultural years. Daniel 9 contains seventy “weeks” of years. So the sabbatical concept of years corresponding to days of the week highlights year-day thinking in biblical times.

But when should one apply prophetic days as years? There are several guiding principles to consider. 1) Since apocalyptic prophecies, like Daniel 7 and Revelation 12, are full of symbols, a symbolic meaning for any numbers in prophecy should be considered as an option. 2) Year-day numbers tend to be the kind one would not use in normal speech. No parent, for example, would say their child is 1260 days old or even 42 months old, much less 2300 evenings and mornings! Such prophetic numbers are not normal on the face of them. 3) In a sequence of prophetic events, if the prophecy makes more sense when counting the days as years, one should do so. For example, in Daniel 7, the four beasts rule for an average of 250 years each. But when the chief opponent of God appears, getting more attention than all the others, it rules for only three and a half years. Daniel 7 makes more sense historically if the time period is 1260 years. Doing so not only balances the prophecy, but enables it to stretch all the way to the Time of the End.

So is the “year-day principle” principle biblical? Not in an exegetical sense. There is no text in the Bible that states the principle and outlines the contexts in which it is to be applied. The principle was applied to prophetic texts only when the passage of time made such a reading plausible. In other words, while there are plenty of evidences of year-day thinking in the Bible, a prophetic year-day principle was only applied to Scripture when historical circumstances caused such a reading to make sense. For example, the seventy weeks of Daniel 9 seem to point to the Messiah. When the Jews arrived at a point in time 490 years from the beginning of the prophecy, people used year-day thinking to suggest that Messiah was about to come, and from a Christian perspective, he did! Around 1200 AD people began to wonder is a year-day reading of Revelation 12 might point to the time of Jesus’ return. So the principle is not drawn from explicit statements of Scripture, but when prophetic texts were read with the wisdom of time passed, time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation took on new meaning. The year-day principle is a theological principle, not an exegetical one.

The Nature of the Cosmic Conflict (Twelve 3)

The war in heaven of Revelation 12:7-9 is described in military language. There is the language of “war” (12:7– Greek: polemos), and “fighting” (also verse 7– Greek: polemêsai, epolemêsen). These Greek words normally describe armed conflict in the military sense. But these same words can be used in figurative ways as well, to heighten the drama of quarrels and verbal disagreements (Jam 4:1). When we examine the war of this chapter closely, it becomes clear that the war in heaven is more a war of words than a military event. There are four main evidences for this conclusion in chapter twelve.

First, the dragon sweeps a third of the stars down from heaven with his tail (Greek: oura). A crucial parallel text in the Old Testament is Isaiah 9:15. In that text the “tail” is a symbol for a prophet who teaches lies (Greek LXX: oura). So the focused of the dragon’s action is persuasive words rather than force. Second, the dragon is defined in multiple ways in Revelation 12:9. He is the devil, the deceiver, Satan and “that ancient serpent.” The latter is a clear reference to the serpent in the Garden of Eden who told lies about God to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-6). Here again, the focus is on persuasive speech rather than military force.

Third, the dragon/Satan is cast out of heaven as the “accuser of the brothers” in Rev. 12:10. It is his accusing words, rather than physical weapons, that cause his casting down. The remedy for accusations, at least in God’s form of government, is not to shut down discussion, but to provide evidence that the accusations are not true. The most powerful evidence that God is not arbitrary, judgmental or severe is how Jesus behaved on the cross (Rev. 12:11). God is so unwilling to resort to violence that He allowed His own creatures to torture and kill Him in human form. And finally, the dragon/Satan is overcome by “the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11). On earth, the evidence against Satan’s lies is provided by the testimonies of believers who are so firmly convinced that they would continue their testimony even in the face of death. So the war of Revelation twelve is not a military battle, it is a war of words. The solution to the problem in the universe is not force but evidence and persuasive speech.

What Happens When New Characters Appear in Revelation (Twelve 2)

The twelfth chapter of Revelation portrays the history and experience of the church from the birth of Christ (Rev. 12:5) to the final crisis of earth’s history (12:17). As such it sets the stage for Revelation’s primary focus on end-time events from chapter thirteen on (see next week’s lesson for details on Rev. 13). The backdrop for these earthly events is the cosmic conflict in heaven (12:7-10).

There is an important literary pattern in the book of Revelation. Whenever a new character appears in the story, the author pauses the narrative and offers a visual description of that character and a bit of its previous history. This “freeze frame” often helps the reader identify the character. After this introduction, the character plays a role in the larger story.

In Revelation chapter one, Jesus appears as a character in the book for the first time (Rev. 1:12-18—He is named earlier: 1:5,9, but is not described as a character there). There is a visual description (1:12-16) and a bit of His previous history (1:17-18) followed by His actions in the subsequent vision (Rev. 2 and 3). In chapter eleven, the two witnesses are introduced similarly with a physical description and a glimpse of their past history (11:3-6) followed by their actions in the context of the vision (11:7-13).

Two new characters appear at the beginning of chapter twelve (Rev. 12:1-4). First, there is a visual description of a woman (12:1) and a bit of her previous history (12:2). Then a dragon appears and is similarly introduced (12:3-4). Only then do both characters begin to act in the context of the vision itself (Rev. 12:5ff.). The male child of verse five, on the other hand, is not introduced with a visual description, probably because He has already been introduced earlier in a different form (1:12-18).

We will see the same literary pattern in Revelation 13. Both the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth are introduced with a freeze frame (Rev. 13:1-7 and 13:11) that prepares the way for their actions in the context of the final crisis of earth’s history (Rev. 12:17).

Revelation 12 and Christian History (Twelve 1)

Revelation twelve covers the entire sweep of Christian history with glimpses of the universal war that lies behind the conflicts of earth. This history is presented in four stages, beginning in Old Testament times: 1) The period before the birth of Christ; with a glimpse of Old Testament Israel, represented by a woman, (Rev. 12:1-2) and the original expulsion of Satan from heaven (Rev. 12:3-4). 2) The birth, ascension and enthronement of Christ with a fresh picture of the war in heaven as seen in the light of the cross (Rev. 12:5, 7-11). 3) The history of the Christian church between the two advents of Jesus, with a particular focus on the persecution of New Testament Israel (the faithful church) during the Middle Ages (Rev. 12:6, 13-16). 4) A view of the experience of the church in the final conflict (Rev. 12:17).

The study of chapter twelve of Revelation has caused me to consider the following themes:

1. What Happens When New Characters Appear in Revelation.
2. The Nature of the Cosmic Conflict.
3. The Development of the Year-Day Principle.
4. The Biblical Concept of the Remnant.
5. Textual Issues in Rev. 12:17.
6. The Testimony of Jesus.

The most important contribution of Revelation 12 to the Bible is the clarity of its description of the cosmic conflict. If we didn’t have Revelation 12, we would be unable to piece together a much larger picture of eternity past and the implications of what happened then for our lives today. Revelation 12, in a sense, is the essential context that gives everything else in the Bible meaning. Once you have read Revelation 12 many other texts shine with greater clarity. Awareness of the cosmic conflict impacts the way we look at the world and the way we find meaning and purpose in it. It also sharpens our understanding of the character of God. I hope to elaborate on some of these things in blogs to come.