Author: Ron Graham

Book of Revelation

The Symbolic Calendar
—Times and seasons in prophecy

Times of Tribulation (Revelation 6-11) >Seven Seals >Excursus on time and suffering (6)

As we consider times and seasons in prophecy, it will be helpful to make ourselves aware of the symbolic calendar used in the book of Revelation.

1 An Ideal and Impractical Calendar

Symbolic times in the visions of Revelation, and also of Daniel, are sometimes based on an ideal year of 360 days. There are twelve months each of 30 days. For example, the 1260 days of Revelation 12:6 is the same as the 42 months of Revelation 13:5. Divide 1260 days by 30 days and you get 42 months. In another lesson we will look at the many days of Daniel (Daniel 12:5-13) which appears to use the same calendar.

This nice neat calendar of 360 days, or twelve 30 day months to a year, is most suitable for symbolic purposes. However it doesn't work in practice. You have to add an extra day to some months, or an extra month in some years, so as to keep a practical calendar synchronised with the seasons and cycles of real time.

2 Symbolic Time, Not Actual Time

Practical calendars suffer from the problem that weeks don't fit exactly into months and years. There are not exactly 52 weeks in a year. This untidy fact annoys accountants and paymasters. Even the symbolic calendar mentioned above doesn't fit an exact number of weeks because 360 does not divide evenly by seven.

Fortunately these irregularities don't bother us in our study of prophetic times and seasons, where years and weeks never mix, and symbolic times do not relate mathematically to actual times.

Attempting to correlate symbolic time with actual time periods is fruitless if one tries to turn symbolic years, months, weeks, and days into numbers of real historic years or to actual dates. Any attempt to use the symbolic periods as a code for some real number of years leads to confusion.

It is important to understand that the times and seasons in John's visions do not relate directly to any chronology of history or the future. In the visions, a measurement of time indicates that a thing is subject to what God has determined, and will go according to God's plan, not ours, not Satan’s.

3 Why Date Setters Fail

Most of the predictions that Bible interpreters have made, as to the timing of future events, have been based on this misunderstanding of times and seasons in prophecy. That's one reason why their predictions always seem to be wrong. How many times has the date of the second coming been predicted, and the date has passed by with the world still here?

God’s Secret

Symbolic times do not signify the date or duration of actual times, but rather that the period, whenever it may be, and whatever it may be in actual years, is within the knowledge and authority of God to determine. Prophetic days, weeks, months, and years are not a code from which to calculate real time periods, but rather a symbol to stand in place of real time periods which are not for men to know in advance. A symbolic period such as the 1335 days (Daniel 12:12) indicates that this is a time or season "which the Father has fixed by his own authority" and it is not for us to know (Acts 1:7). The symbol certainly has meaning, however it is not a code for date setting.

God has his own understanding of time (2Peter 3:8). If we try to map times and seasons in prophecy on to the timeline of human history, we will end up with little more than speculative number juggling and be none the wiser.