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
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
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 (3½ 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
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
In Revelation 10, at the close of the 3½ 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
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
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 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.