Focus On Jerusalem


Understanding the Times and Seasons

by Gary Stearman

    In I Thessalonians 5:1, the Apostle Paul makes a curious statement. He says, "But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you."

   This enigmatic declaration comes right in the middle of a discourse upon the catching-away of the Church! It is placed at the precise point at which one would like to see some sort of linkage between global events and long-awaited eschatological salvation of the church. But the connection is not there. Rather, we find this simple, cryptic reference to the unexpected nature of the rapture.

   This long-awaited event, called the "blessed hope" of the Church, is delineated in I Thessalonians, the earliest of Paul's preserved epistles. His motive was to present a clear and encouraging delineation of the conditions that would be predominant at the time Christ returns for the Church.

   His statement shows that he expected his readers to be able to recognize these signs. What did Paul mean when he implied that the faithful should be able to discern the times and seasons? As we begin to answer this question, let us review the heart of his discourse, as found in I Thessalonians 4:16 and the verses following:


"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. "Wherefore comfort one another with these words. "But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night" (I Thes. 4:16-18,5:1,2).


Quantity and Quality


   The preceding passage must bring true joy to the heart of every Bible-believing Christian. It describes in advance, an actual future encounter that seems impossibly beautiful. Imagine a moment in which you and your fellow believers from around the world are caught up in the tiniest fraction of a second and ushered into eternity. Other Scriptures describe the event as being accompanied in the same moment, by the glorious renewing of our present physical bodies. We'll be like Him!

   Our imaginations are challenged to the breaking point. The logistics alone beggar the mind. Surely, the Lord's angelic host will somehow be employed as escorts, as the millions of the dead in Christ are joined with the living saints in a triumph of the ages. Otherwise, how would we find our way to the place we're supposed to go, wherever that might be?

   How near is this great experience? Naturally, we can't wait to find out. Knowing this, the Spirit of the Lord leads Paul to impart the impending reality of the event without divulging its precise time. Using a metaphor (times and seasons) that is found only two other times in Scripture, Paul weaves a delicate picture of the social and geopolitical events that will describe the time and circumstances of Christ's coming for His own.


In An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W. E. Vine writes, "[In] I Thess. 5:1, 'times' refers to the length of the interval before the Parousia takes place (the presence of Christ with the saints when He comes to receive them to Himself at the rapture), and to the length of time the Parousia will occupy; 'seasons' refers to the special features of the period before, during and after the Parousia."

   As Vine and other Greek scholars point out, "times" (from the Greek chronos) indicates an interval or period of time, whether short or long. It speaks of time as a quantity. Viewed from this perspective, time is measured in months, days, years and proportionality. For example, the duration of the Babylonian captivity was seventy years, and one day in the Lord's perspective is a thousand years from the human point of view.

   On the other hand, "seasons" (from the Greek kairos) views time in terms of its quality. That is, there is an opportune (as opposed to inopportune) time for something to happen. Kairos refers to the coming-together of events to create a favorable moment. Thus, we speak of the "harvest season," not as an exact date, but as being the time when weather, grain quality and available workers all come together at the proper moment. Then comes the season of harvest.


Jesus and Daniel Use the Phrase


For centuries, students of Bible prophecy have sought to understand the passing of time from a Scriptural perspective. Using one scheme or another, they have named hundreds of likely dates for the Church's crowning moment. Calculation of "times"; dating from the call of Abraham, the giving of the Law, the building of the First Temple, the abomination of Antiochus IV, Epiphanes, the Crucifixion of Christ, the Zionist Congress, the refounding of Israel, and many others; have proceeded at a brisk rate. But the Church is still on earth, and the Gentile powers are still consolidating their strength. Date-setters have been wrong, but there is no shame in being wrong.

   Paul's reference to "times" and "seasons" links the precious moment of His coming with the Day of the Lord and the judgment of the world. Doubtless, when he invoked these terms, he was reminding us of the prophet Daniel's praise of the Lord. He was the first to use this key phrase:


"Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: "And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding" (Daniel 2:20,21).


   When Paul directed his comments to the Church, he knew that the Lord would prompt us to study Daniel and the other prophets of the Old Testament. Prophecy, after all, is a composite view that uses all Scripture, not just a verse or two. When Daniel interpreted Nebuchad-nezzar's dream, he gave the Lord full credit for arranging both the process of the ages, and the rise of governments. In these verses, we see that in the due process of the times, God organizes the seasons of world rule. To effect these changes, He uses discrete time periods, but He also includes human development (kings and kingdoms) in the Divine plan. The second use of "times" and "seasons" is found in a statement made by Jesus, just prior to His ascension:


"When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? "And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:6-8).


  The assembled group had just one question, and it concerned the establishment of the Davidic throne. Just as we do today, they wanted to know when the grand plan was to be consummated. He forcefully told them that they were not to know this. In fact, only the Father knows. In effect, He told them that their chief occupation was to be witnesses of His finished work on earth.

   Thus, He said that they should not preoccupy themselves with discrete timing; calculating days, months and years. ("It is not for you to know the times") He also said that the periods of Gentile rule yet future to them ("or the seasons") were also obscured. From our perspective in the twenty-first century, it is easy to see that for the first-century disciples of Christianity, preoccupation with the Lord's return would divert them from their work. They were to engage themselves in spreading the Gospel over all the earth.

   Today, however, with our current perspective of history, we know that the Gospel has already reached around the world. The great missionary movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries sent the Word to even the most isolated island, desert, jungle and frozen wasteland. By land, sea and air, the Gospel went forth with fervor and effectiveness. With the invention of radio, television and satellite transmitters, it is continuously beamed over the entire globe. Jesus' requirement has been fulfilled. For this reason alone, many believe that we are about to see a change in seasons.


The Seasons of the Seven Feasts


In our many studies on the seven feasts of Israel, we have noted that they symbolize the orderly, progressive steps in the Lord's redemptive program. The spiritual calendar begins in the spring, with Passover, Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits. These Symbolize Christ's blood sacrifice and His rising again, as the first member of a redeemed human race, to be resurrected to glory:


"But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead" (I Cor. 15:20,21).


Then comes Pentecost, marking both the marriage contract between God and Israel, and the birth of the Church; the bride of Christ. Pentecost marks the spiritual bond between the Lord and His redeemed people. In the fall, the feasts of Israel symbolize judgment, atonement and the Kingdom. They are, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Tabernacles.


   The seven feasts of Israel are indicative of the "seasons," mentioned by Jesus, Daniel the prophet and Paul. They are typical of the phases through which mankind passes on the way to final redemption. They begin with the acceptable sacrifice of the Passover lamb, and end with the peaceful life of God's Kingdom in Tabernacles.

   As we pointed out in an earlier study, the feasts of Israel have grown in number over the years. After the debacle of Haman (recounted in the Book of Esther), Purim became part of the festival calendar. Following the defeat of Antiochus IV, Epiphanes, Hanukkah was added; the Feast of Dedication. Then came other feasts, like those following Tabernacles: Hoshanah Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret and Simcha Torah. Over the years, many other commemorative feasts and fasts were added to the calendar. Tisha B'Av recalls the destruction of Israel's temples. Yom Ha Shoah is the memorial day for the Holocaust. Feasts like Yom HaAtzmaut mark Israel's Independence Day.

   The stamp of authenticity on these recent additions may be seen in the fact that all the festivals; major and minor; have now come to a total of twenty-two. This, of course, is the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. As we have noted over the course of many studies on the subject, God's redemptive pattern is symbolically represented in the alphabet. Each letter has a quality of meaning that portrays the course of redemptive history.

   Beginning with Rosh HaShanah as t aleph, and proceeding through Selichot as , tahv, they follow the divine pattern of redemption that we have so often studied in the Hebrew alphabet. (For a complete study of this topic, see our June, 2001 issue, page 13.)

   Only in the last fifty years has this pattern been completed. This fact alone tells us that the pattern of the "seasons" has now come very close to its fulfillment. This is something that was not possible to say in the days of Jesus and the Apostles.


The Dispensations


   Within Christian teaching, many of us advocate a system of prophetic understanding known as "dispensationalism." This term comes from the Latin and English translation of the New Testament Greek word oikonomia, a Greek verb that means, "to plan or administer." Basically, it is the idea that the Lord has administered the affairs of the ages in a succession of stages, each of which has a specific theme or design. Dispensationalism offers a way of understanding God's redemptive plan. In particular, it distinguishes between Israel and the Church.

   Dispensationalism begins with the premise that the Bible must be taken literally in both its historical narratives and its representations of the future. For example, it teaches that the story of Adam and Eve is a factual, historical event.

   As the progenitors of all humanity, they began in Innocence, the first dispensation. This term both describes their condition and places it in a category. Under the conditions given at their origin, the first couple failed a test. The implications of their failure have far-reaching consequences for humanity, the dark forces of Satan and the heavens, themselves.

   One might call a dispensation a "season," since it places a qualitative label upon a developmental phase of history. The exact length of time for each dispensation is unknown, though the anniversaries of their founding are sometimes remembered in the historical works of the Jews.


The second dispensational "season," is called Conscience. It applies to the conditions in the days of Cain and Seth. Here, men were ruled by the dictates of their own consciences. There were no complex systems of civil or religious laws, leaving them to operate in an unrestrained fashion. Evil became so prevalent that God ended this state of affairs with a global flood.

   Following the great Flood of Noah, the dispensation of Human Government marked the period during which civil law failed to regulate the affairs of mankind. Developments brought man to the ultimate crisis of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of tongues. As a result, the various tribes were dispersed across the earth.

   Civil governments had been tried, but failed to rule humanity, so God brought man to the fourth dispensation, the season of Promise. Here, the Lord chose one man; Abraham; and one family, whose patriarchs set up the standard of faith upon which the whole of humanity would ultimately be judged.

   Next, came the period of Law. Moses delivered Israel from Egyptian slavery into the wilderness of Sinai. On the way to the Promised Land, they accepted the Law of the Lord. This is one of the dispensations, as mentioned above, whose anniversary date is recalled in the festivals of Israel. They say the Law was given on Pentecost.

   The six hundred and thirteen commandments brought a new kind of judgment that was clear, quick and sharp. Israel experiences the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, and the Diaspora because of their unbelief and rejection of Christ.

   Grace followed, in the age of the Church. Interestingly, its anniversary date is also Pentecost. This new "season" offers man the gift of justification by grace through faith in Christ's finished work. Upon Christ's return, mankind will enter into an entirely new dispensational form in the thousand-year period of the Kingdom.

   So far, six "seasonal" dispensations have come and gone, each brought to culmination by a spiritual crisis resulting from man's failure to live up to God's requirements. These "seasons of sin" have the cumulative effect of demonstrating that; no matter what the test; mankind is incapable of regulating itself, and maintaining a basic standard of spiritual behavior.

   Even in the Kingdom period that will follow the present "season," man will fail the test of life in the visible presence of the Lord. Like those that preceded it, the seventh "season" will prove that man's sin is so deep that it resists even the visible presence of the Lord. On the positive side, there is an elect remnant that will be brought to spiritual maturity. Across the many seasons of trial, the righteous will finally rise up in the perfection of faith.


Dispensations and the Pattern of the Feasts


   Seen in this context, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Israel's seven feasts (which we have also likened to seasons) perfectly correspond with the seven dispensations. Beginning in the spring, Passover, with its offering of the lamb, reflects the dispensation of Innocence:


"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth" (Isaiah. 53:7).


   The dispensation of Conscience corresponds to the festival of Unleavened Bread, known as the "bread of affliction" (Deut. 16:3). It is the matzoh, or the bread broken at Passover. It represents the period after the fall of man, during which Adam's offspring are forced to consider the depths of their own sin.

   The feast of Firstfruits follows. It is the omer, or sheaf of grain that is brought forth to initiate a long, forty-nine day period that leads toward the next feast. It symbolizes the long harvest of souls that will come from the nations, and perfectly represents the dispensation of Human Government.

   At the end of the forty-nine days, shavuot or Pentecost arrives. It was traditionally observed by the high priest's action of holding aloft two leavened loaves of bread. These depict the two redeemed bodies of mankind. In the future, they will be brought together into the family of God. They display the dispensation of Promise.

   The fifth of the seven feasts is Rosh HaShanah. It represents the judgment of God and recalls the trumpet that sounded over Mt. Sinai. That trumpet brought the beginning of the dispensation of Law.

   At the end of Rosh HaShanah comes Yom Kippur; The Day of Atonement. It brings about the dispensation of Grace, as did the blood atonement of Christ on the cross.

   The seventh and concluding feast is Tabernacles. It tells of the kingdom period. At that time, God will dwell with mankind, ruling from the Throne of David. Of course, it marks the dispensational period of the Millennial Kingdom of the Lord.

   These seven "seasons" are to be followed in the far future by the period of the New Heavens and Earth, as the corrupted universe is finally renewed and restored.


The Times of the Gentiles


   As suggested above, seasons are metaphoric and cyclical in nature. That is, they are typical of societal and environmental conditions; past, present and future. The conditions of sacrifice, worship and judgment seen in the festival cycle depict the reality of Christ's First and Second Coming. They suggest a sequence of events, without naming elapsed time or specific dates. "Times," are more indicative of periods of rule, or even specific intervals, such as a count of days. This term is used especially in reference to Gentile kingdoms.

   Perhaps the best-known use of the term "times" is seen when Jesus answered the disciples' questions about the latter days. He spoke of a time period that is quite different from the "seasonal" pattern seen in the feasts of Israel:


"And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; "Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are

coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. "And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:24-27).


Over the years, Jesus' reference to Gentile domination has been the subject of much study. Naturally, many have attempted to locate its terminus. For example, it has been suggested that when the Jews captured the Temple Mount in the 1967 Six-Day War, they regained control of Jerusalem and brought to a close the "times of the Gentiles." Actually, we know that Jesus' prophecy remains sadly unfulfilled. Within hours of its capture, Mt. Zion was given back to the Arabs as an appeasement. To this day, Arab edifices and religious practices are dominant upon the Holy Mountain. Recent developments have shown that they have no intention of giving it up.

   In His conversation with the disciples, Jesus mentions a particular period that begins with the Diaspora that followed the fall of Simon Bar Kochba in AD 135. After that, the Jews were led away to every nation of the earth. Jesus told His disciples that this dark and miserable condition would continue for a while, finally coming to an end during the cataclysmic upheavals of the Tribulation.

   But even as Jesus spoke these words, the "times of the Gentiles" were already in force. Rome controlled the Western world. Before that, Greece, Medo-Persia and Babylon had each taken their turns at Gentile leadership. The disciples knew this, and had hoped to see Jesus initiate the long-awaited Kingdom rule. His statement, of course, is based upon Old Testament prophecy. Most specifically, Jesus takes us back to the Book of Daniel. During the Babylonian exile, Daniel was the prophet who received the revelation of the Gentile world domination.

   As earlier mentioned, Daniel 2:20 introduces the phrase, "times; and seasons," prior to interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dream. He assesses the work of God by stating that nothing in the Gentile world unfolds without divine guidance. Then he interprets the monarch's dream, which turns out to be a graphic depiction of Gentile world rule; in a metallic statue. Nebuchadnezzer, of course, is seen in the statue's head of gold. His reign is generally calculated to have begun in 625 BC, with the defeat of the Assyrians. The head of gold, chest and arms of silver, and belly and thighs of brass represent the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece.

   In The Witness of the Stars, E. W. Bullinger calculated that the combined period of their reign was 594 years. His reckoning was based upon the birth of the next kingdom, Rome, symbolized by the statue's legs of iron. In September 31 BC, following the battle of Actium, Augustus became head of the Roman Empire. A little over sixty years later, Jesus made His statement to the disciples.

   The proud Nebuchadnezzar had another vision, in which he saw a great tree cut down to the stump. The watcher who gave him the vision said, "Let his heart be changed from man's, and let a beast's heart be given unto him: and let seven times pass over him" (Daniel 4:16). Here, "times" are years. Nebuchadnezzar was humiliated by living in the fields for seven years and eating grass like cattle. Afterward, he was fully restored and praised the Lord. Throughout the Book of Daniel, this model holds, even to the famous prophecy concerning the Antichrist in the Tribulation period:


"And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time" (Daniel 7:25).


In this verse, a "time" is one year, added to "times" (two years) and "the dividing of time" (half a year); the biblical way of expressing three and a half years. So, the Antichrist will achieve ascendancy for a specific length of time. While in power, he will even seek to destroy the Jewish method of timekeeping in their traditional calendar, with its new moons, Sabbaths and festivals:


"And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time" (Daniel 8:25).


All this will come at a designated time; an elapsed number of years; in the future. As Daniel is given the vision of the Antichrist's period of rule, the angel Gabriel uses an expression, which we commonly use today, when we speak of the "end times."


"So he came near where I stood: and when he came, I was afraid, and fell upon my face: but he said unto me, Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision. "And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end shall be" (Daniel 8:17,19).


Here, we find that Gabriel likens the "time of the end" to the Tribulation, using the term, "indignation," Daniel's term for the time of Jacob's trouble. It is, of course, during this time that Gentile world rule is finally brought to an end. As the time of the Antichrist's rule draws nearer, they shall fall victim to his wiles:


"And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, even to the time of the end: because it is yet for a time appointed" (Daniel 11:35).


Daniel's prophecy draws to a close with the classic passage on prophetic timing. Many have attempted to interpret it properly. Basically, it says that the end times will be known by a rapid increase in reading, teaching, learning and the interchange of ideas. One has only to think of the Internet to put in the context of our day:


"But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased" (Daniel 12:4).


"Seven Times More"


If, as mentioned above, the "times of the Gentiles" began in 625 B.C., how long will they run? Bullinger reasoned that they could be computed from the words of the Lord in Leviticus 26. This chapter outlines God's basic requirement concerning Israel and the use of the land. Every seventh or Sabbatical year (shmittah) they were to rest and allow their agricultural holdings to lie fallow. It is said that upon claiming their land under Joshua's leadership, Israel never kept the law of shmittah. The result was that they were punished according to the Lord's dictates:



   "And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. "And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass: "And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits. "And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins" (Leviticus 26:18-21).


   According to Jewish history, Israel ignored seventy shmittahs. The result, seen in Leviticus 26:33,34, was that the Lord promised to "scatter you among the heathen." Then, He said, "shall the land enjoy her sabbaths." Bullinger's opinion was that the "seven times" were equal to 2,520 years. (Seven times 360 equals 2520.) Beginning with Babylon's founding date of 625 B.C., he came to the year 1897 A.D. Writing in the year 1893, he said, "From this it appears that 1896-7 would mark an important year in connection with the 'times of the Gentiles.'"

   He thought that this year might mark Israel's ascent to the prophesied position as head of all nations. Of course, he was wrong. But in another way, he was quite right, since 1897 was the year of the First Zionist Congress, convened in Basle, Switzerland. It laid the plans for what would become the state of Israel. In other words, he was correct as far as he went. Others have suggested that since the calculation of "seven times more" is doubled in Leviticus 26, the seventy ignored shmittahs are equal to 3,430 years. That is, 70 times seven equals 490, then multiplying by seven again, yields a total of 3,430 years.

   If Joshua's conquest of the Land was completed around 1430 B.C., then 3,430 years into the future would bring us to 2001; the present time. In making this calculation, we must deduct one year for the absence of a zero year as we pass from B.C. to A.D. Using the above method, we can see the very moment in which we live as the time for the fulfillment of the "times of the Gentiles." We may be right, but like Bullinger we may be wrong, or only partially correct. One thing is certain, however. The time is coming, and seems very near, when the period of Gentile rule will rise to its climatic stage. Then, headed by the Antichrist, it will be crushed.


   "Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. "And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. "And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent" (Revelation 12:12-14).


   As we draw nearer to the appointed time of the rise and fall of the Antichrist, we see more and more signs that global government is almost in place. The European Union in conjunction with the United States has become more and more forceful in dictating policy to Israel and the Middle East. The United Nations has become ever more active as a global police force.

   Tiny Israel and a besieged Jerusalem await the prophesied Kingdom of Messiah. Like a

fulcrum at the center of gigantic geopolitical forces, the Temple Mount withstands the multiplied assaults of time and opposition. The faithful count the days, as they wonder how long things can continue as they are. As with the generations that came before us, we cannot dogmatically say that our studies will pinpoint the long-awaited day. But we are elevated by the thought that maybe we will be the ones who finally understand it.

   The answers to prophetic questions are given on a need-to-know basis. If we are the last generation, the Lord will give us the necessary information to interpret the seasons of the Bible in the context of our present times.

   It is on this note that we entered upon this study. Concerning the exact time of the rapture, Paul said; ye have no need that I write unto you." Why? Because the Word and the Holy Spirit give us all the information we need to discern the times and seasons. Knowing this, we comfort and exhort each other till He comes. In the words of Revelation 22:20, "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus."



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