Q&A: Tribulation and the Antichrist

Tribulation and the Antichrist

Question

I've heard that the anti-Christ will take 3 1/2 years to "restore peace" on earth, looking really good and appealing. The world's churches, etc. will buy into him. It will be an unholy trinity: anti-Christ, Satan, and the false prophet who imitates the Holy Spirit. The last 3 1/2 years will be a great tribulation period - the time of Jacob's troubles. What do you think of this?

Answer

This is typically drawn from Daniel 7 and 9; Revelation 11:2; 13:5; etc. It relies on understanding the 42 months or 1260 days of Revelation 11:2,3; 12:6; 13:5 as the "time, times and half a time" of Daniel 7:25, and maybe of Daniel 12:7. It also relies on understanding these 3 1/2 years as half of the 70th week of Daniel 9.

The problem with these approaches is that they ignore the original context of Daniel's prophecy. In the book of Daniel, Daniel wrote to chastise and to encourage the Israelite and Judahite communities living in exile in Babylon. His prayer in Daniel 9 demonstrated his understanding that he was living in the time foretold by the earlier prophecy of Jeremiah. Jeremiah had prophesied that Judah would live in exile and slavery to Babylon for "70 years" (Jer. 25:11; 29:10). Daniel counted the years and perceived that he was living in approximately the time in which the prophecy should have run its course.

Now, in the first place, 70 years was just an approximation. The number probably represented the lifespan of the king to whom the warning of exile was issued and whose punishment resulted in the exile: Jehoiakim (cf. Jer. 25:1; 2 Chron. 36:5-6). This was a typical period and style of judgment (cf. Isa. 23:15). Kings were held responsible for the behavior of their people, and vice-versa.

Moreover, Jeremiah 25:1 makes it clear that Jeremiah prophesied the 70-year exile in the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign. The exile began 7 years later (2 Chron. 36:5-6) when Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzer in 587 or 586 B.C. Jeremiah 25:8ff. indicates that the threat of exile had yet to begin -- it was to start when Nebuchadnezzer conquered Jerusalem. So, the 70-year clock should have begun ticking in 587/586 B.C. Daniel prayed his prayer of Daniel 9 in the first year of Darius (Dan. 9:1) -- this dates his prayer in 539 or 538 B.C., less than 50 years after the exile began.

Although Daniel does not state that the 70 years were actually over at the completion of this forty-something year period, 2 Chronicles 36:21-23 does. In that passage we learn that Cyrus issued the decree to rebuild Jerusalem of which Daniel spoke in Daniel 9:25ff., and that he issued this decree after the seventy years were complete. Cyrus issued this decree in his first year as king (2 Chron. 36:22), and he became king when Darius did (cf. Dan. 5:28), so that his first year was also 539 or 538 B.C. Thus, Cyrus' Decree was issued the same year that Daniel prayed. The 490 years should have begun in 539 or 538 B.C. and been completed in approximately 49 B.C.

You see that if we're going to be strict about the numbers, Jesus should have begun his earthly ministry as Messiah around 56 B.C. and been dead by 52 B.C. This should encourage more people to view the numbers represented here as fairly round.
The dates and numbers of years were flexible. Second, Daniel thought that his actions and the actions of his people could affect the dates and God's actions. Even if God had said one thing, he could do another (cf. Jer. 18:1-10). In fact, this is exactly what God did. He saw that the people hadn't repented, and he multiplied the exile by seven -- the extended exile was to last 490 years (seventy "sevens" of years, as opposed to the original seventy). This seven-fold increase was a typical covenant judgment (cf. Lev. 26:18,21,24,28).

There are (at least) two points to draw from these facts: 1) years in prophecy may well be approximate (50 is close enough to 70) or figurative (70 years or a king's lifespan/reign) -- they do not need to be fulfilled in number; and 2) generally speaking, prophecies do not need to be fulfilled as stated (as if we really knew what they intended to state half the time!). In no event do we see anywhere in the Bible that God ends a period of judgment, whether early or late, but reserves some portion of that same period to be applied in later judgment. When it's over, it's over. There is no justification for expecting that the 70th week will take place some time in the future. But this is exactly what the Dispensational premillennial argument does. It says that the 70th week of Daniel 9 is yet future. It completely removes Daniel's prophecy from the context it was intended to address: the encouragement and exhortation of the exilic community.

This last problem is duplicated in the interpretation of Revelation. Revelation was not written to tell us about the future, that being our present. It was written to encourage and exhort the seven churches who received the original copies of the book (i.e. those in Rev. 2-3). What in the world would details about the timing of a tribulation 2,000 plus years in the future have to do with whether or not they repented of their sin or took encouragement in overcoming? Further, a good argument can be made that Revelation itself explains that the tribulation of which John spoke was already happening when he wrote (Rev. 1:9; 2:9,10). John didn't write to give us a crystal ball view into some future tribulation, but to help the first-century churches in Asia Minor survive their own tribulations.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.