Does Revelation predict 1,260 days of tribulation after the church is gone? Or, does it predict 1,260 years of persecution while the church is still here? Revelation refers to this dark period of Satanic control as 3 1/2 years, 42 months, and 1,260 days. Futurism limits the predicted persecution to 3 1/2 literal years. The historical view applies the “day for a year” key, converting it to 1,260 years. Which view is right?
In the first place, most believers, past and present, agree that the ten-horned beast in Rev. 13 is the Roman Empire. Verses 3 to 5 say the beast is healed of a deadly wound and then has power for 42 months. Half a century ago, futurism predicted a ten-nation European Union would be the revived Roman Empire. The EU reached 10 in 1981, but it did not stop there. Today there are 27 members! The ten-nation-revived-EU theory is in shambles. Where does that leave futurism? The “Left Behind” series barely refers to a Roman connection, giving the Antichrist a Roman ancestry–that is all. What happened to a revived Roman Empire?
The fact is that a revived Roman Empire is history. After the fall of Imperial Rome in A.D. 476, the Roman papacy arose from the rubble. In the year 800, Pope Leo III placed a crown on the head of Charlemagne, proclaiming him Emperor of the Romans, thus initiating what came to be called the Holy Roman Empire. Rome, in a revived form, for centuries wreaked havoc on any who would oppose it. It makes no sense to restrict the great suffering of the saints to a mere 3 1/2 years — whether past or future. Three and one half years is a drop in the bucket compared with the more than 12 centuries that Rome held sway over the Lord’s saints.
Secondly, in Rev. 12, futurism views the woman in the wilderness (the people of God) as suffering for 3 1/2 years, followed by the kingdom, which they call the Millennium. However, Rev. 12:10 says, “Now is come salvation… and the kingdom of our God,” before the persecution of the woman for 3 1/2 years (12:14). Futurism teaches that the 3 1/2 years are first, with the kingdom after. Rev. 12 says the kingdom comes first, then the 3 1/2 years. This agrees with Revelation’s author: “I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom” (1:9). John, in 96 A.D. was already in the kingdom and tribulation. Revelation does not predict a mere 3 1/2 years of suffering for the saints before the arrival of the kingdom. Rather, Revelation teaches 1,260 years of suffering for the saints of God already in His Kingdom. History bears it out.
Thirdly, Rev. 11:1-2 speaks of the “temple of God” measured and the “holy city” trodden under foot for 42 months. Futurists say this predicts a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. That, however, contradicts Scripture. After Pentecost, A.D. 30, “temple of God” always refers to God’s church (1 Cor. 3:16), not to a temple building in Jerusalem. Likewise, after Pentecost, the “holy city” is the New Jerusalem, not earthly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2, 10; 22:19). Paul told the Galatians (4:25-26): “Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage… but Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” Earthly Jerusalem belongs to the Old Covenant. Jerusalem above directs the New Covenant. Earthly Jerusalem is no longer the holy city. In Rev. 11, the “temple of God” in the “holy city” refers to the Lord’s church, with its divine message, which would be trampled by Rome not for a mere 3 1/2 years, nor even 3 1/2 centuries. The 1,260 years from 533 to 1793 include the infamous Inquisition and much more.
Futurism says that chapters 4 to 18 of Revelation have nothing to do with the Lord’s church, past, present, or future. There are grave consequences to this view. This view encourages Tim LaHaye(1), coauthor of “Left Behind,” to rejoice over millions of “born-again” members of Rome, rather than warn them to “come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins” (Rev. 18:4). Futurism diverts attention from 1,260 years of Roman atrocities, not to mention its perverted doctrinal system. The historical view of Revelation helps us to correctly interpret and evaluate our nearly 2,000 years of church history.
(1) Tim LaHaye, “Revelation Unveiled,” page 270.