In the Old Testament, there are many references to periods of seven years, and seven times, but in the New Testament, that time period seems less significant, and there is a far greater emphasis upon one half of it, which is three years and six months, expressed in various ways, as 42 months, 1,260 days, and as a time, times and a half.
The expression “seven times” occurs in the New Testament, not as designating any particular time span, but as the number of times that one should forgive a brother.
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.
And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus contrasted forgiving seven times with the number “seventy times seven,” possibly alluding to the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
There is only one reference to seven years in the New Testament. It was the number of years that the 84 year old prophetess Anna had lived with a husband. [Luke 2:36]
The New Testament emphasizes three and a half years, rather than a period of seven years, or seven times, especially after Jesus’ crucifixion. I suggest that a reason for this may be that the first half of the seven times of the Old Testament prophecies in Lev. 26 and Dan. 9 was fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus, leaving one half of the prophetic “week” yet to be fulfilled. The remaining part of the seven times which was yet to be fulfilled is represented by various expressions for three and a half years, all of which represent either the whole age of the church, or the remaining part of it.
The three and a half years of Revelation 11, 12 and 13 is one half of a prophetic week, or “seven times.” The first half-week was the ministry of Jesus.
The seven times that began with the ministry of Jesus is represented by various Old Testament types and figures, such as:
The three and a half years emphasized in the New Testament corresponds to the last half of the 70th week of Daniel 9. The units of the first 69 ½ weeks are natural years, but the final half-week is represented in non-natural ways, perhaps because earth-days, earth-years, and earth time do not apply to the heavenly city, or to spiritual things.
While the units of the first 69 ½ weeks of the 70 weeks prophecy are natural, they are not all of the same kind. I suggest, the first seven weeks are weeks of leap years, that is, years having 13 months. Seven such weeks span 133 years, as there are seven extra months in 19 years, in the Hebrew and Babylonian calendars. Using this scheme, the 70 weeks can be calculated beginning with the decree of Cyrus, 538 BC, and the end of the first two sections of the prophecy, the 7 weeks, and 62 weeks, occurs in 28 AD, the year that Jesus began his ministry. That began the 70th week.
The final half of the 70th week, called ‘a time, times and a half,’ is the period when the saints are dominated by a little horn, in Daniel 7:25. This sinister figure is characterized by “eyes like the eyes of a man,” and so represents a human viewpoint, which contrasts with a divine one.
Daniel 12:7 indicates that this period extends to the end of the age. And so, it represents “the last time.” In the New Testament, John said that we are in the “last time,” and that many antichrists had appeared.
1 John 2:18
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
In Daniel 12:11-12, two numbers are presented, each of which expresses three and a half year periods in an unnatural, and unreal manner.
And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.
Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days.
These numbers both fit the pattern contained in the expression “a time, times and a half,” where months are 30 days, and two kinds of years are included, the first differing from the others in each case. The two kinds of years are regular years of 12 months, and leap years of 13 months.
days = 12 × 30 + 2 × 13 × 30 + ½ × 13 × 30
1,290 days = 13 × 30 + 2 × 12 × 30 + ½ × 12 × 30
In the book of Revelation, John introduced another, smaller, but similar number: 1,260 days. This also fits the pattern of a time, times and a half, where the years are all 12 months, and months are 30 days. The 42 months is similar. Thus, these numbers represent a symbolic three and a half years, not a natural three and a half years. No natural three and a half years has 1,335 days, or 1,290 days, or 1,260 days, in any calendar.
These numbers also seem to represent a diminishing period of time, as they progress from the larger to smaller periods. This is the nature of time; it tends to run out. The remaining time in the church age is constantly running out, and decreasing. At the very end of the age, it is represented by three and a half days.
The dimensions and units of space connected with the heavenly Jerusalem are also given in a non-natural manner. The dimension of the wall of the holy city seems to be given in terms of a special kind of angelic cubit.
And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.
The number is 12 x 12, and so has an obvious symbolic significance,
as 12 is connected with the number of tribes of Israel, and the number
of the apostles of Christ. The prophetic times related to the church
are clearly given from God’s perspective, rather than man’s.
The interpretation of the 3 ½ years or 1,260 days of Daniel and
Revelation as symbolic, representing the whole age of the church,
has persisted throughout the history of the church. Together with the 3
½ years of the earthly ministry of Jesus, it completes the prophetic week,
the 70th week of Daniel's prophecy, in which Christ confirms his
covenant with many. Scholars whose conclusions are presented below
Methodius of Olympus (died c.
Primasius (died c. 560)
Alcuin (c. 735-804)
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
John Bale (1495-1563)
William Fulke (1538-1589)
George Gifford (c.1548-1600)
Isaac Williams (1802-1865)
Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg (1802-1869)
Patrick Fairbairn (1805-1874)
Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885)
William Milligan (1821-1892)
William Hendriksen (1900-1982)
Charles D. Alexander (1904-1991)
James Burton Coffman (1905-2006)
Gregory K. Beale (1949- )
Bishop of Olympus in Lycia, Methodius suffered martyrdom under Maximinus Daia in 311.
On the woman who flees to the wilderness for 1,260 days in Revelation 12:6, Methodius wrote: 
Now she who brings forth, and has brought forth, the masculine Word in the hearts of the faithful, and who passed, undefiled and uninjured by the wrath of the beast, into the wilderness, is, as we have explained, our mother the Church. And the wilderness into which she comes, and is nourished for a thousand two hundred and sixty days, which is truly waste and unfruitful of evils, and barren of corruption, and difficult of access and of transit to the multitude; but fruitful and abounding in pasture, and blooming and easy of access to the holy, and full of wisdom, and productive of life, is this most lovely, and beautifully wooded and well watered abode of Arete [virtue]. … For the Bride of the Word is adorned with the fruits of virtue. And the thousand two hundred and sixty days that we are staying here, O virgins, is the accurate and perfect understanding concerning the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit, in which our mother increases, and rejoices, and exults throughout this time, until the restitution of the new dispensation, when, coming into the assembly in the heavens, she will no longer contemplate the I AM through the means of [human] knowledge, but will clearly behold entering in together with Christ.
He was Augustinian bishop of Hadrumetum and primate of Byzacena, in Africa.
Edward Elliott said Primasius “explained the 42 months, 1260 days, and time times and a half a time, as specially designating the time of Antichrist’s last persecution, yet as signifying also the whole time of the duration of the Church.” 
He was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, in Sunderland, England.
On the 1,260 days of Revelation 12:6, he wrote: “In this number of days, which makes three years and a half, he comprehends all the times of Christianity, because Christ, Whose body the Church is, preached the same length of time in the flesh.” 
Edward Elliott reported that Alcuin concluded that the period of the ministry of the two witnesses is the whole age of the church. 
Thomas was a Sicilian priest of the Catholic Church in the Dominican Order, also known as known as Doctor Angelicus.
Thomas wrote: 
The thousand two hundred sixty days mentioned in the Apocalypse (12:6) denote all the time during which the Church endures, and not any definite number of years. The reason whereof is because the preaching of Christ on which the Church is built lasted three years and a half, which time contains almost an equal number of days as the aforesaid number. Again the number of days appointed by Daniel does not refer to a number of years to elapse before the end of the world or until the preaching of Antichrist, but to the time of Antichrist’s preaching and the duration of his persecution.
Bale was the first to write a commentary on Revelation in English; it was titled The Image of Both Churches.
Bale understood the holy city of Revelation 11:2, which is trampled by gentiles, to be the church, and the 42 months as symbolic. On this verse he said: 
And the holy city (of whom glorious things are spoken) they shall tread under foot for the space of 42 months. Not the earthly Jerusalem is this city, builded of men, and made holy by the outward observations and ceremonies of the Jews as many expositors have fantasied. For of that (as Christ prophesies) is not one stone standing upon another. But this city is the sure building of God, grounded upon the strong foundation of the Apostles and prophets, even upon the hard rock stone Jesus Christ. This is the pleasant possession, the wholesome household, the sure hold, and the delectable vineyard of the Lord of Hosts. This is the living generation of them which feareth, loveth, and seeketh their Lord God in faith, spirit, and truth, and not in outward shadows. These are the children of promise, the true offspring of Abraham, the chosen of Israel, and the kingdom of the holy ghost. Pure, clean, and holy hath Christ made this city, by none other thing but the only shedding of his precious blood.
Fulke connected the 1,260 days with 70 weeks of years in Daniel 9. He thought the 42 months and 1,260 days represent three and a half years, and signify a limited time, and that “a short space of time is permitted to the devil that he may strive with all his force to beat down the Church.” Fulke wrote on Revelation 11:2-3: 
And the holy city they shall tread under foot two and forty months &c.
The wicked and profane gentiles shall tread under foot, that is, shall grievously oppress, persecute, and afflict the Church of God, to the full space of two and forty months, that is for that time which Christ doth grant unto Antichrist to rage in cruelty against the godly. Some do count the number of months, from the first persecutions of the Christians by the Roman conquerors, even till the time of the emperor Constantine which granted peace, unto the churches. But let them which maintain that opinion see how certain it is. But to me it seems more plain that under numbers the certain fixed, and determinate time of the persecution of Antichrist is assigned, which he cannot pass, although he fret fume and rage never so much. For the Lord hath counted the same time by months days and hours. The reason of the numbers seemeth to be of this sort, this time which sometime is called two and forty months, sometime a thousand two hundred and sixty days, sometime a time two times and half a time, maketh in all three years and an half, that is the one half of a prophetical week, which time also is called three days and an half. And this place alludes to the weeks of years in the 9 Chapter of Daniel. Whereupon we gather to the great consolation of the Church, that a short time is appointed to Antichrist to wait the same, which is also shewed twice afterward in the 12 Chapter and in the 20, that a short space of time is permitted to the devil that he may strive with all his force to beat down the Church, this interpretation as most simple and plain pleases me best; those that seek more subtler may follow their own judgment.
Gifford saw that it was unwise to identify the 1,260 days or the 42 months of Revelation 11:2-3 with specific dates, but instead he argued that in this book, “a number certain is put for an uncertain.” He wrote: 
Then next here is shewed how long the great Antichrist and his rout of profane Gentiles, possessing the outer court of the Temple, shall tread down the holy city. The time is set to be two and forty months: and that is three years and a half: for twelve months to a year, three times twelve is thirty and six, and then six months for the half year, do make up two and forty. From this place the Papists do draw one argument, by which they would prove that the Pope is not Antichrist. After this manner they reason: The Pope hath governed the Church many years: the great Antichrist shall reign but two and forty months, which is three years and a half: (for they do rightly confess that the Gentiles which possess the outer court of the temple, are the rout of Antichrist) therefore say they, it is impossible that the Pope should be Antichrist. For answer unto this: let it be demanded, doth not Saint John in this prophecy speak mystically, even as the Prophets did in old time? they cannot deny this. And then demand further, is not every day put for a year in the seventy weeks which Daniel the Prophet speaketh of? so every week is seven years. And why may not every month here then be put for thirty years? which then do amount unto 1,260 years. Which indeed is a long time in comparison of three years & an half: but compared with the eternity of Christ’s kingdom, it is as nothing. And that is one cause why the Lord numbers it by days & months which quickly run out. But then here will arise another scruple: If the kingdom of Antichrist shall continue twelve hundred and sixty years, we must either say that the Bishop of Rome was Antichrist more than a thousand years past, yea above thirteen hundred, if we take his reign to be no longer than until he was disclosed by the Gospel: or else we must say he hath yet long to continue. Let not this trouble us, seeing it is most clear and out of all controversy, that in this book, a number certain is put for an uncertain. As in the seventh chapter of this book it is said, that of every tribe there was sealed twelve thousand. And because twelve times twelve amount unto one hundred forty & four, it is said chap. 14 that so many thousands stand with the Lamb upon mount Sion. Is any man so unwise, as to take it, that of every tribe there should be saved just twelve thousand neither more nor less, and so on all of the Jews in these latter days just an hundred forty & four thousands to be saved? & not rather that the Lord by a number certain doth declare that even when his Church doth seem utterly to fail, he saves a great number, of which he expresses not the just sum. So in this place when God will comfort his people, he shows that Antichrist shall tread down the holy city but for a short time, that is, two and forty months, which is but three years and an half, he meaneth not to note the just number of years that he shall continue.
Williams was a poet and theologian at Oxford, and was the author of some of the Tracts for the Times associated with the Oxford Movement. In 1845 he became seriously ill, from tuberculosis, or consumption, and was expected to die, but he recovered, and afterwards lived in retirement at Stichcombe in Gloucester. During that period he wrote poetry, and commentaries on scripture. On the 42 months and the 1,260 days of Revelation 11:2-3 and 12:6 and 14, he wrote: 
The “forty-two months” here specified is explained, as by Aretas, Berengaudus, and others, to be the three years and a half of Antichrist; and this will be evident on a little attention to the subject. For the forty-two months, the 1260 days, and the three years and a half, must mean the same period of time, from the manner in which they occur and mutually explain each other; but why they are thus differently expressed is full of mysterious significance. First we have it here stated that the Holy City is trodden under foot for “forty-two months;” and then we find that the continuance of Antichrist is for “forty-two months.” But the whole passage evidently refers to Daniel, where we find it twice expressly stated that the power of Antichrist is for three years and a half, or “a time, times, and the dividing of a time.” And therefore the forty-two months and the three years and a half must mean the same.
It is shown in the like explicit manner that both of these are the same as the 1260 days. It is here stated that the Holy City will be profaned for forty-two months; and it is added in the next verse that the Witnesses will prophesy for 1260 days, meaning this forty-two months of the Church’s desolation.
A German Lutheran churchman and theologian, Hengstenberg rejected the idea that the 1,260 days refer to a particular time in the history of the world, but instead he interpreted these and related numbers as symbolic, and represented the whole course of the church’s history, and he said the three and a half years were a signature of the church. On Revelation 11:2, he wrote: 
The two and forty months contain only an apparent determination of time; as, indeed, all numbers in the Apocalypse have only an ideal signification; they belong not so properly to the chronological, as to the symbolical forum. The common signature of the dominion of the world over the church in the Revelation, resting on the prophecies of Daniel, (comp. at ch. xii. 6, xiii. 5), is the three and a half, in which we have only to think of the broken seven, the signature of the church. So that the meaning is here conveyed, that however the world may lift itself up, however it may proudly triumph, it can never attain to anything complete and lasting. These three and a half years return again in different forms: a time, two times, and an half time, ch. xii. 14, forty and two months, here and in ch. xiii. 5, 1260 days in ch. xii. 6. In the number of the beast also in ch. xiii. 18, the same thing substantially holds as in these numbers. We have here before us a representation, which does not bring into view some particular period of time in the world’s history, but the whole course of it, only that towards the end every thing realizes itself in a more perfect manner. Wherever the world is found over owing the church, from that of which John himself saw the commencement, to the last in ch. xx. 7-9, of which we have now the beginning before our eyes, there the substance of the prophecy always verifies itself anew, there the obligation still remains to those who are affected by the evil, to take it as the ground of consolation and warning to their hearts. … The thought in this prophecy was in other respects quite correctly apprehended by the older expositors. Thus on the expression, “the holy city shall be trodden down,” Bossuet remarks, “Christians shall be under the sway of the unbelievers; but though the weak shall fall, the church shall continue in strength. This is the first point which St John apprehends in the persecutions: the church continually abiding.”
Fairbairn was educated at Edinburgh University and was ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland. At the Disruption of 1843 he sided with the ministers of the Free Church and was appointed divinity professor at the Free Church College in Aberdeen and later becqame the principal of the Free Church College, Glasgow, where he served for 18 years. He was elected moderator of the Free Church general assembly in 1865 and travelled to the United States in 1867 as a member of an official delegation visiting American Presbyterian churches. He was the author of The Typology of Scripture (two volumes, 1845-1847); Ezekiel and the book of his prophecy: an exposition (1855); The Interpretation of Prophecy (1856), and he edited The Imperial Bible Dictionary. He translated several books by German commentator E. W. Hengstenberg into English. On the 3 ½ years of Revelation he wrote: 
It remains only to notice the indications of time contained in the portion of the Apocalypse we have been surveying. These appear to be simply three, though one of them is expressed in a threefold manner. It is the period of the church’s tried and oppressed condition–denoted first in chap. xi. 2, as a period of forty-two months, during which “the holy city is trodden down of the Gentiles,” during which also the beast was to continue in its power to blaspheme and injure (chap. xiii. 5); then as consisting of 1260 days (forty-two months multiplied by 30 days), during which the witnesses, representatives of a faithful, but oppressed and persecuted church, were to prophecy, chap. xi. 3, and the church was to abide in the wilderness, chap. xii. 6, having a place and food prepared for her by God; and finally, as a time, times and a half (corresponding to one year of twelve months, two of the same, and a half-year of six, or to forty-two months, or again to 1260 days), during which the church was to remain and be fed in the wilderness, chap. xii. 14. In Dan. vii. 25, where the expression first occurs, it is the time during which the saints of God were to be given into the hand of the power that was to speak great words against the Most High. These are manifestly but different modes of expressing one and the same period, as the state of things also to which they are applied is substantially identical, though variously represented. For the sojourn in the wilderness on the part of the faithful and proper spouse, the treading down of the holy city by those who belonged only to the court of the Gentiles, and the testifying for the truth of God by a faithful remnant clothed in sackcloth, and wrestling against error and corruption; these are obviously but different symbolical representations of the same abnormal and dislocated state of things. The other two periods mentioned are both very brief, as compared with the one just noticed. The shortest is that during which the bodies of the faithful witnesses are represented as lying dead, though unburied, three and a half days, chap. xi. 12; and the other is the five months during which the scorpion-locusts were to have power to torment the followers of the beast, chap. ix. 5.
Now, it is scarcely possible to avoid being struck even on the most cursory inspection of these periods, with a peculiarity that is common to them all–the broken and incomplete aspect they present. A certain whole was evidently in respect to each of them in the mind of the Divine author of the vision, as that toward which the parties spoken of were aiming, but were arrested midway in their career. This is particularly observable in the largest and by much the most important number, which in every form–whether as time, times and a half, or as the months and days that make up three and a half years–is most expressive of an unfinished course, a period somehow cut off in the middle. In like manner, the three and a half days of rejoicing over the unburied corpses of the slain witnesses, betokens the same violent and abrupt termination of the course indicated; in their ungodly triumph, the adversaries could not complete more than half of one of the briefest revolutions of time–one of the smallest cycles of the whole period allotted to the ascendency of evil. The incompleteness may appear less palpable in the five months specified for the plague of scorpion-locusts; but it will scarcely do so to those who have attended to the use made in Scripture of ten with reference to certain kinds of totality. The five is simply the broken ten.
So marked a peculiarity in the use of all these numbers is itself a strong presumption in favour of their symbolical import. It seems to stamp their value as indications of relative, rather than of absolute periods of duration–relative both as regards each other, and also as regards an ideal whole. And it will appear to do so the more convincingly the more the periods are viewed in reference to the parties mentioned, which are the entire spiritual church throughout the world, on the one side, and the whole antichristian power on the other; for in regard to such vast bodies, and their wide-reaching interests, what could such periods avail in their natural sense! They could obviously afford but a mere fraction of the time necessary for the accomplishment of the results connected with them; nor could such results in actual history be shut up into any periods consisting of such exact and definite measures. Another, and very powerful consideration in favour of the same view is the place of these historical numbers–surrounded on every hand, not with the literal, but with the symbolical. The woman that is persecuted, and the dragon who persecutes; the wilderness into which she flees, and the floods sent after her; the beast that rages against the truth, and the two witnesses who testify for it to the death; the holy city that is trodden down, and the Egypt or Babylon by whom the treading is effected; all are symbolically used, and shall the periods of working be otherwise than symbolical? In that case there would be the violation of one of the plainest laws of symbolical writing, and confusion and arbitrariness, as a matter of necessity, would be brought into the interpretation. It is true, the number seven, as applied to the heads of the beast, and the number ten spoken of its ultimate forms of separate organization, have already been found by us to possess a kind of historical verification. But this, when more closely considered, manifests an evident striving after the symbolical. For, it is to make out the number seven, that St John diverges so strikingly here from the representation of Daniel, taking in the two earlier worldly kingdoms, which Daniel had omitted, and making of the divided state of Daniel’s fourth empire a separate kingdom–the seventh. Nay, even this seventh he calls in a sense also the eighth–chap. xvii. 11–although seven still is taken as the proper number, because it alone has the proper symbolical import. The beast comes into view mainly as the rival of God, and seven being the common symbol of completeness for the Divine manifestations in the world (Isa. xxx. 26; Zech. iii. 9, iv. 2; Prov. ix. 1; Rev. i. 4, iii. 1, etc.)–originating, no doubt, in the sevenfold acts of God at creation–the worldly rival of God’s power and glory in the world is, in token of its God-defying character, presented under the same number of manifestations. For a like reason the divided state of the last manifestation is distributed into the number ten. This also is often used as a symbol of completeness, on which account the ancients called it the perfect number, which comprehends all others in itself. But it commonly denotes completeness in respect to human interests and relations–as in the tithes or tenths (ten being regarded as comprising the entire property, from which one was selected to do homage to him who gave the whole), and the ten commandments, the sum of man’s dutiful obedience. When, therefore, the divided state into which the modern Roman world fell, is represented under ten horns or kingdoms, it may well be doubted whether this should be pressed farther than as indicating, by a round number, the totality of the new states–the diversity in the unity–whether or not it might admit of being exactly and definitely applied to so many historical kingdoms. There is always some difficulty in making out an exact correspondence; and we should the less hold such a correspondence to be necessary, since even in the case of the tribes of Israel, when taken to represent the company of an elect people (chap. vii.), one tribe is totally omitted to preserve the symbolism of the historical twelve. This shows very strikingly the stress laid on the symbolical element, and strengthens the conclusion, that both in the seven and ten, as applied to the beast, and in the broken periods now under consideration, that element is primarily respected. Lastly, there is to be added on the same side the obviously loose setting of the periods; neither their starting-point, nor their termination is sharply defined. Viewed historically, indeed, one does not see how it could have been otherwise. The flight of the church into the wilderness, or the treading down of the holy city by the Gentiles, came on gradually; and appeared in different places at different times. It cannot be linked to definite historical epochs, as if at one or other of these it commenced for the first time, and for the whole church; and from the very nature of things, the termination must have a like diversity and gradation in its accomplishment. This draws a plain line of demarcation between the periods before us, and Daniel’s seventy weeks, which are definitely bounded both in respect to their commencement and their close. The narrower field, and more outward character of the things they referred to, easily admitted of such a limitation; but here the world is the field, and the cause of vital Christianity throughout its borders the great interest at stake.
Giving all these considerations their due weight, we cannot avoid arriving at the conclusion, that the periods mentioned, in accordance with the general character of the book, are to be chiefly, if not exclusively, understood in a symbolical manner, as serving to indicate the times of relative length or brevity which the operations described were destined to occupy. If anything further is implied, it should only, we conceive, be looked for in some general correspondence, as to form, between the symbol and the reality, such as might be sufficient to guide thoughtful and inquiring minds to a more firm assurance of the realisation of the vision. But all precise and definite calculations respecting the periods, as they necessarily proceed upon a disregard of the symbolical character of the book, and upon a too external and political contemplation of the events to which it points, so they must inevitably be defeated of their aim in the future, as they have continually been in the past. The prophecy was not written to give men to know after such a fashion, the times and the seasons, which the Father has put in His own power.
Wordsworth was an Anglican priest, and canon of Westminster, and he became bishop of Lincoln. He was a gifted scholar. He considered the 1,260 days in the context of all the various numbers in the Apocalypse. He wrote: 
In the Apocalyptic History of Scripture and the Church, as now revealed, we meet with repeated mention of twelve hundred and sixty days.
What is meant by this period?
It is with much diffidence that I speak concerning this difficult question, which involves another, –
1. What is the true interpretation of the Numbers used in the Apocalypse?
Many recent learned expositors, you are aware, regard each of these Days as a Year; and, having fixed an anterior limit, they proceed to date this period, so formed, from that limit; and thus they suppose that they are able to determine the times and seasons, even to the end.
This theory seems to rest on an insecure basis. It appears to contravene the express declarations of Christ, It is not for you to know the times and seasons. Of that Day and that hour knoweth no man.
Besides, it is founded on an erroneous estimate of the style of Prophecy, and of the use of the Numbers employed in this book.
If we may so speak, the numbers of the Apocalypse, and especially those which refer to future times, which are not for men to know, represent certain ideas (resting on an historical or natural basis), and not precise quantities.
2. Thus, for example, instead of saying a large part, the Apocalypse commonly speaks of a third part. For instance, the third part of the trees was burnt up: the third part of the sea became blood: the third part of the creatures died: the third part of men were slain; and in many other places.
None can imagine that this is to be understood literally. No; this is the language of Poetry, especially of Hebrew Poetry, which avoids what is vague, and loves what is distinct.
3. Thus, again, the number four is an exponent of all space. Hence we read of the four corners of the earth; and the four winds. The heavenly City, that is, the Universal Church, glorified, is four square. And to signify the universal destruction of God’s foes in the mystical Armageddon, it is said that the blood from the winepress of His fury flowed to four times four hundred furlongs. This, I conceive, cannot be understood literally.
4. So, again, the number twelve in the Apocalypse, being the number of Christ’s Apostles, represents the Apostolicity of the Church. Thus, the Woman, or Church militant, is displayed as crowned with twelve stars; so, the Holy City or heavenly Church, has twelve foundations, and twelve gates; the tree of life bears twelve fruits; and the Elect of God consist of twelve thousand, sealed out of each of Twelve Tribes.
Assuredly it would be a very great error to imagine that the Elect of God are limited to this number. Indeed the Apocalypse itself forbids us to do so; it declares them to be innumerable; therefore the number twelve times twelve thousand is not to be taken literally. It does not express a quantity, but a quality. It teaches us the important truth, that this great, this innumerable, company, are all united in one Faith, and by the same Sacraments, that is, the Faith taught, and the Sacraments administered, by the Twelve Apostles of Christ.
The same truth is expressed in the twelve stars, twelve foundations, twelve gates, and twelve fruits.
That these expressions represent a principle may be inferred from Our Lord’s own words to His Apostles: Ye shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And yet He says, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a Devil? One of the twelve was a traitor; and so the quantity was marred; but the idea remained: they were still “the Twelve,” and so they are called in Holy Scripture — “the Twelve.” The Apostolicity of the Church is unimpaired. It is still built upon twelve foundations; for we read, the wall of the City has Twelve foundations, and in them the names of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb.
5. The same mode of exposition must be applied to the Thousand years, during which Satan is bound. They who thence infer a literal Millennium seem to misconceive the spirit, and overlook the manner, of St. John. They forget that the Apocalypse is not a prose History, but an inspired Poem, and a divine Prophecy.
The ancient Expositors pursued a safer course when they recognized a dogmatic truth, and not a precise quantity, in this perfect number often centenaries; by which, as we have already seen, they understood the entire time between the first Advent of Christ and the full revelation of Antichrist, whatever that time may be, which is known to God alone.
6. So again, with respect to the number seven in the Apocalypse. It indicates an idea,—that of completion.
There were many more than Seven Churches in Asia when St. John wrote; but he addresses Seven Churches, because he writes in them to all the Churches of all places and all times. Similarly we read of Seven Angels, as representing all ministers of the Gospel: seven spirits express the full effusion of the Holy Ghost: seven seals exhibit all the sufferings of the Church: seven trumpets proclaim all God’s judgments on her enemies: seven vials pour out all God’s wrath on the mystical Babylon: and many other septenary combinations there are, all expressive of completion; all ending in some great consummation, just as the Hexaemeron of Creation terminated in the Sabbath of God.
Similarly, in order that we may understand that the triumph of the Two Witnesses will be complete, we have a combination of the two numbers, seven and a thousand. There were slain of men, we read, seven thousand; and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
7. Let us now apply these observations to the period of twelve hundred and sixty days.
These 1260 Days are equal to forty-two months, or to three Years and a half; and they are mentioned under all these terms in the Apocalypse.
The Holy City is trodden by the Gentiles forty-two Months. It is given to the Beast, to exercise his power forty-two Months. The Two Witnesses preach in sackcloth 1260 Days. The Woman is in the Wilderness 1260 Days: and she is also said to be in the Wilderness a time, times, and half a time; that is, three years and a half.
Now, if we examine the records of Scripture, we find that the period of three years and a half represents an idea; one of spiritual toil, pilgrimage, and persecution.
First, it may be observed, that three and a half, being the half of seven, which is the number of completeness, represents a semi-perfect state; one of transition and probation.
In illustration of this, it may be remarked here, that the body of the Two Witnesses is said to remain unburied three days and a half.
The same kind of opposition to the Apostolic number Twelve exists in the half of that number, Six. It shows itself in the Sixth period, which is the time of trial, — as Christ was crucified on the Sixth day of the Week — and exhibits itself in the remarkable combination of Six Hundreds, Six Tens, and Six Units, which constitute the Number of the name of the Beast; and which indicate a profession of, but a declension from, Catholic Unity and Perfection represented by the number Seven.
Let us pass to facts connected with the period three years and a half.
Three years and a half, or forty-two months, or 1260 days, are, as we have seen, the time of the pilgrimage of the Woman in the Wilderness, that is, of the Church in her trials. This number forty-two connects her with the History of the Israelitish Church in the Wilderness. Its haltings are enumerated in the Book of Numbers, and they are Forty-two. And all these things (says St. Paul) happened to them as types of us. They foreshadow the history of the Christian Church in her pilgrimage through the Wilderness of this World to the promised land of Heaven.
Again: I tell you of a truth, says Our Blessed Lord, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land. And St. James says, Elias prayed it might not rain; and it rained not on the Earth by the space of three years and six months.
It also pleased God to strengthen the type, if we may so speak, by assigning the same duration of three years and a half to the persecution of the Church of Israel by Antiochus Epiphanes.
St. John’s precursor, Daniel, had named that period as the duration of that persecution. He had also identified it with the future time of the trials of the Christian Church, which are more fully described by St. John.
Thus the very mention of three years and a half had an ominous sound to the ear of an Israelite. It was his chronological symbol of suffering.
And to us Christians there is another reason why it should be identified with a time of trial, since, as some ancient Writers assure us, and there is good reason to believe, this period of three years and a half was the duration of the earthly Ministry of Him,—the great Prophet, the Divine Witness—Who was a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and Who, as Daniel prophesied, caused the sacrifice of the Temple to cease in the midst of a Week—that is, at the end of three years and a half—by His own oblation on the cross.
Hence this period of three years and a half, forty-two months, or 1260 days (resting on a solid historical basis), is employed in the Apocalypse as a typical exponent of an idea; just as the numbers four, seven, twelve, and twelve times twelve, do not represent a precise sum, but a well-defined principle.
I do not venture to affirm, that the Church may not be called hereafter to endure severe suffering, condensed, as it were, in the period of three years and a half, and so a second, literal, fulfilment may be given to this prophecy; but, on the whole, we arrive at this conclusion, that we cannot safely deduce any precise arithmetical results, with regard to the future, from this number of three and a half years, forty-two months, or 1260 days.
Let us not, however, imagine that these numbers are superfluous. Nothing in Scripture is so. God has ordered all things in measure and number and weight. We cannot now understand all the harmonies of the divine Arithmetic, yet some we can. These numbers in the Apocalypse are of great use. They do not indeed gratify the illicit cravings of human curiosity. They do not enable us to construct a prophetical Ephemeris, or an Apocalyptic Almanack. But they present to us certain parallelisms. They show that the sufferings of Scripture coincide with those of the Church. They remind us of our own ignorance, and of God’s knowledge. They teach us patience. They tell us that the days of man are few, and that a Millennium is a moment to the Eternal. They warn us that we are not to expect sabbatical perfection in this World. They have also an analogical value. They remind us that here we are to look for trials — trials such as were endured by the Ancient Church of Israel in her forty-two sojournings in the Wilderness; — trials such as were endured by Elias under Ahab, by the Maccabees under Antiochus, and by Christ from His own countrymen. And they encourage us with the joyful assurance, that if we are true to Christ, and maintain His cause with zeal, courage, and charity, then, though we suffer, we shall conquer also; that our sufferings will soon be over; that they will appear like a few days; then even for us there will be a chariot of fire, and a heavenly Feast of Dedication, and a cloud of heavenly glory, and an eternity of joy.
In a note, Wordsworth quoted Lightfoot: “The ‘forty-two months,’
’1260 days,’ and a ‘time, times, and a half time;’ are but borrowed
phrases from Daniel, who so expresses the three and a half years of
Antiochus’ persecution (Dan. xii. 7;) and they mean times of trouble,
and are used to express that, and not any fixed time… And perhaps it
had been much for the reputation of the Commentators upon the Book of
Revelation, if they had looked upon that number and the forty and two
months, and the thousand two hundred and sixty days as spoken
allusively, and not applied it to any precise or determinate time.”
William Milligan was a Scottish theologian, and a professor of biblical criticism at the University of Aberdeen, who is known for his writings on Revelation. He found similarities in structure in the fourth gospel and the book of Revelation. John’s gospel, he suggests, omits the Olivet Discourse of Jesus which is present in the other gospels, because the book of Revelation serves as an expanded account of the things contained in Christ’s prophecy. The 42 months and the 1,260 days in Revelation 11, 12, and 13 are symbols of the church age; the three and a half years corresponds to the duration of the ministry of Jesus. He said the 1,260 days “denote the Christian era from its beginning to its close.” He wrote: 
One question still remains: What is the meaning of the forty and two months during which the holy city is to be trodden under foot of the nations? The same expression meets us in chap. xiii. 5, where it is said that “there was given to the beast authority to continue forty and two months.” But forty and two months is also three and a half years, the Jewish year having consisted of twelve months, except when an intercalary month was inserted among the twelve in order to preserve harmony between the seasons and the rotation of time. The same period is therefore again alluded to in chap. xii. 14, when it is said of the woman who fled into the wilderness that she is there nourished for “a time, and times, and half a time.” Once more, we read in chap. xi. 3 and in chap. xii. 6 of a period denoted by “a thousand two hundred and threescore days;” and a comparison of this last passage with ver. 14 of the same chapter distinctly shows that it is equivalent to the three and a half times or years. Three and a half multiplied by three hundred and sixty, the number of days in the Jewish year, gives us exactly the twelve hundred and sixty days. These three periods, therefore, are the same. Why the different designations should be adopted is another question, to which, so far as we are aware, no satisfactory reply has yet been given, although it may be that, for some occult reason, the Seer beholds in “months” a suitable expression for the dominion of evil, in “days” one appropriate to the sufferings of the good.
The ground of this method of looking at the Church’s history is found in the book of Daniel, where we read of the fourth beast, or the fourth kingdom, “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.” [Dan. vii. 25.] The same book helps us also to answer the question as to the particular period of the Church’s history denoted by the days, or months, or years referred to, for in another passage the prophet says, “And He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” [Dan. ix. 27.] The three and a half years therefore, or the half of seven years, denote the whole period extending from the cessation of the sacrifice and oblation. In other words, they denote the Christian era from its beginning to its close, and that more especially on the side of its disturbed and broken character, of the power exercised in it by what is evil, of the troubles and sufferings of the good. During it the disciples of the Saviour do not reach the completeness of their rest; their victory is not won. Ideally it is so; it always has been so since Jesus overcame: but it is not yet won in the actual realities of the case; and, though in one sense every heavenly privilege is theirs, their difficulties are so great, and their opponents so numerous and powerful, that the true expression for their state is a broken seven years, or three years and a half. During this time, accordingly, the holy city is represented as trodden under foot by the nations. They who are at ease in Zion may not feel it; but to the true disciples of Jesus their Master’s prophecy is fulfilled, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” [John xvi. 33.]
Hendriksen was pastor to several Christian Reformed churches, and professor of New Testament literature at Calvin Theological Seminary. In his commentary of Revelation, he said the two witnesses represent the Church, and the 1,260 days in which they prophesy represents the entire dispensation of the Church. He wrote: 
The true Church is now represented under the symbolism of two witnesses. These witnesses symbolize the Church militant bearing testimony through its ministers and missionaries throughout the present dispensation. The fact that there are two witnesses emphasizes the missionary task of the Church (cf. Lk. 10:1). The Lord sends his missionaries two by two; what the one lacks the other supplies. Now the Church as an organization, functioning through its ministers and missionaries, will carry on this work for twelve hundred and sixty days. This is the period that extends from the moment of Christ’s ascension almost until the judgment day (cf. Rev. 12:5, 6, 14). It is, of course, exactly the equal of forty-two months, for forty-two times thirty is twelve hundred and sixty; and of ‘a time, and times, and half a time,’ which is three years and a half (Rev. 12:14). It is the period of affliction; the present gospel age. The question may arise, why is that period expressed now in terms of months (verse 2) then in terms of days (verse 3)? Here our answer is a mere guess: in verse 2 we have the picture of a city that is being besieged and finally taken and trampled upon. Now, the duration of the siege of a city is very often expressed in terms of months. In verse 3, however, the two witnesses are described as prophesying; this is a day-by-day activity. Every day they bear witness, throughout the entire dispensation. They preach repentance and for this reason they are clothed in sackcloth.
Charles D. Alexander was a minister in Liverpool, UK, and he is known for his studies in Revelation, which opposed Dispensationalism. He said the 42 months and 1,260 days represent “the whole period of time from Patmos to the Second Advent of our Lord.” Alexander wrote: 
FORTY AND TWO MONTHS
All the numbers in Revelation are symbolic. They cannot be fitted into the framework of world history, though there are many startling coincidences which embolden the unwary and create an enthusiasm for chronological interpretation. The spiritual interpretation of this great book must be maintained at all costs, for the past history of chronological investigation is strewn with the carcasses of confident predictions which now have no relevance to contemporary events. Historicism has run out of time and has almost disappeared in the vagaries of post-millennialism presently revived by the contemporary situation in Palestine while ignoring the contemporary state of the church and the revival of heathenism. Some day soon, perhaps, many of our friends may awake to the realities of the Latter Day apostasy, and the realisation that the Millennium is past!
If not a measurable period of time in the realm of historical chronology, what then does the figure of 42 months signify? We have already said in a previous chapter that the numbers in Daniel and Revelation of 1260 days, 42 months, 3 ½ years and ‘time, times, and half a time’ all correspond with each other and are to be interpreted in terms of the most indefinite of them – ‘time, times, and half a time’. Thus we are dealing with an indefinite period of time, known only to God and not intended to be measured by man. If it could be measured in advance what consolation would it be for those who were able to calculate that no deliverance was to be expected in their day or perhaps for centuries to come? Or what office would be left to faith, if it could be ascertained that in the period of one’s own lifetime all would be consummated and the Lord would return? What becomes of the Saviour’s warning that of the day and hour of His return no man knows, nor yet is it a part of the Son’s commission from the Father to make it known?
THE BROKEN SEVEN
In place of these speculations we find it much more comforting to see all these strange figures in the Apocalypse as being signs of THE BROKEN SEVEN (the 3 ½ years). Seven being the number of divine completeness, and being so used throughout the Apocalypse, the broken seven must relate to judgment and is a warning to the world and an assurance to the people of God of the steadfastness of the divine purposes in commanding a limited period only for the power of this world. The enemy will not endure one day beyond the divine decree.
The 42 months we regard therefore as the whole period of time from Patmos to the Second Advent of our Lord. It began with John’s imprisonment, and the Book of Revelation is concerned with that event and the interpretation of it in terms of the prolonged sufferings and probation of the church typified in the afflictions of “John our brother”.
During that immense period of time, the church is comforted in the knowledge that the onset and the termination of the 1260 days (and its other numerical equivalents) are fixed by the Lord’s sovereign determination. The arbiter of time is the Mighty Angel of chapter 10: the true Michael, the Angel of the Covenant, Christ, the Son of God, the Conqueror of sin, death and hell, the Woman’s Seed, the Bruiser of the Serpent’s head. It is not for us to know the times and the seasons which forever remain in the Father’s own power (Acts 1:7); our part is to preach the Word of God and hold forth the testimony of Christ in a hostile world in which all power appears to be given to the enemies of the kingdom of God.
James Burton Coffman was a preacher, teacher, and scholar, and an influential minister of the Manhattan Church of Christ in New York City; he was previously the minister of the Central Church of Christ in Houston. In 1992 he finished a 37-volume commentary of the entire Bible which was published by ACU Press.
Coffman identified the “time, times and a half” with “the whole Christian dispensation” in his commentary on Daniel. In his commentary on Revelation he said, on the 1,260 days of Revelation 12:6: 
A thousand two hundred and threescore days …
What can this mean? Is there a certain time-period only when Christ will be with his church? No indeed! This time-period represents every minute of the whole Christian dispensation. This is given in exactly the same form as in Rev. 11:3; and there it was understood as all of the time between the two Advents of Christ, and so it must be understood here. “It describes the period of this world’s existence during the whole of which the devil persecutes the church.” It is also called forty-two months; and someone has suggested that this was the number of the forty-two stations of the Israelites in the wilderness. Hendriksen called this time-period “the millennium of Rev. 20″; and we believe this understanding of it to be correct, despite the description of it there by use of a different figure. The saints of Christ are reigning with him now in his kingdom; and Christ already has the authority in heaven and upon earth (Matthew 28:18-20). His rule is not accepted by many, due to the freedom of the will of man; but that does not contradict the higher truth that Christ is truly reigning today in the hearts of those who love and serve him.
Beale is professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. He considers the time, times and a half of Daniel and the related numbers as representing the inter-advent age beginning from Christ’s resurrection and leading up to the final judgment. He wrote: 
John views the ‘time, times and half a time’ of Dan. 12:7 as the interadvent age beginning from the time of Christ’s resurrection and leading up to the final judgment. The identification of the threefold time formula from Daniel is deducible especially from 12:4-6, where the period begins from the time of Christ’s ascension and refers to the church’s time of suffering (so also 12.14). The same meaning is apparent for the equivalent phrase ‘forty-two months’ in 13.5, which describes the time of the beast’s blasphemous and persecuting activities.
In his Revelation commentary Beale wrote: 
The two witnesses prophesy for three and a half years, the same length of time that “the holy city,” “the woman,” and “those that tabernacle in heaven” are to be oppressed (11:2; 12:6, 14; 13:6). If these texts speak of the persecution of a community, then it is plausible to identify the witnesses likewise. If the image of an individual woman signifies the community of faith existing during the three and a half years, then the image of two individual prophets might also represent the same reality during the same time period (similarly an individual harlot represents the ungodly community in ch. 17). If it is correct to see 11:3 continuing what is in the preceding two verses, then the two witnesses are another depiction of the true Israel, “the holy city,” during its time of distress. As already noted, the period of three and a half years is based on Dan. 7:25; 12:7, 11 (and perhaps Dan. 9:27), which prophesies a time of tribulation for Israel as a community. The number represents a concept rather than a literal enumeration, as with other numbers throughout the Apocalypse (see the comments on, e.g., 1:4, 12, 16, 20; 2:10; 3:10; 4:4-7; 5:1, 6; 6:1-8; 7:1-9; 9:5, 10, 14-15). Here the figurative emphasis is on the true covenant community experiencing tribulation, irrespective of how long the tribulation lasts in literal time.
In Beale’s view, the prophetic three and a half year period commenced at Christ’s ascension and continues until his return. 
The “three and a half years” have been established as the time of tribulation predicted by Daniel 7, 9 and 12, which commences at Christ’s ascension and continues until his return. Of all John’s references to this time period, Rev. 12:6 is the clearest in identifying the temporal boundaries of the period (cf. 11:2-3; 13:5). Undoubtedly, here the limited age extends from the resurrection of Christ (v 5) until his final appearance (14:14-20). This is a conclusion similar to that of Rissi, who also argues that Christ’s death, cited in 11:8, is the beginning point of the period in 11:2 (for Christ’s death as commencing the same period in 13:5 see on 13:3). We have also seen that this period is a time of harm to believers in the earthly sphere but protection for them in the invisible realm of the divine sanctuary.
1. Methodius, The Banquet of the ten virgins, or, concerning chastity. In: The writings of Methodius, Alexander of Lycopolis, Peter of Alexandria, and several fragments. Volume 14 of Ante-Nicene Christian library. T. & T. Clark, 1869. p. 75.
2. Elliott, Edward Bishop. Horae apocalypticae: or a commentary on the Apocalypse. Volume 3. p. 235.
3. Bede (the venerable.) The explanation of the Apocalypse. Translated by Edward Marshall, 1878. p. 83.
4. Elliott, Edward Bishop. Ibid., p. 126.
5. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. Treatise on the resurrection. Question 77.2.2.
6. John Bale, The Image of Both Churches. 1547. (Spelling is modified in the quote.)
7. Fulke, William. Praelections vpon the sacred and holy Reuelation of S. Iohn, written in latine by William Fulke Doctor of Diuinitie, and translated into English by George Gyffard. 1573.
8. Gifford, George. Sermons vpon the whole booke of the Reuelation Set forth by George Giffard, Preacher of the Word at Mauldin in Essex. Richard Field and Felix Kinston, 1599. p. 189-190.
9. Williams, Isaac. The Apocalypse, with notes and reflections. Rivington, 1852. pp. 185-187.
10. Hengstenberg, Ernst Wilhelm. The Revelation of St John: expounded for those who search the Scriptures, Volume 1. T. & T. Clark, 1851. p. 396
11. Patrick Fairbairn. Prophecy viewed in respect to its distinctive nature, its special function, and proper interpretation. T. and T. Clark, 1865. [PART 2, CHAPTER III.]
12. Wordsworth, Christopher. Lectures on the
Apocalypse: critical, expository, and practical, delivered before the
University of Cambridge. London:
Francis & John Rivington. 1852. pp. 193-204.
13. Milligan, William. The Book of Revelation. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1889. pp. 175-177.
14. Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids: Baker. 1939. p. 129.
15. Alexander, Charles D. Revelation Spiritually Understood
17. Beale, G. K. John’s Use of the Old Testament in Revelation. Sheffield Academic Press. 1999. p. 263.
18. Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdsmans Publishing, 1999. p. 574.
19. Ibid., p. 646.
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