Understanding Time a Help to True Worshipers
1. Why is an understanding of time helpful in our daily lives?
IN OUR daily lives we are often confronted with the need to know what time it is. Is it time to get up in the morning? time to go to work? time to eat? time to get ready to attend a meeting? time to go to bed? Over and over again each day most of us have some need to measure time in order to move from one feature of our daily activity into another. It is as the Bible states at Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verse 1: “For everything there is an appointed time, even a time for every affair under the heavens.” If we did not make a point of being aware of time, our lives could become disorganized very quickly. We might easily waste too much time and not spend enough time engaged in productive activity, activity that sustains our physical and spiritual lives.
2. In connection with Jehovah’s purposes, how is an understanding of time an encouragement?
2 Aside from the need to regulate our lives properly, an understanding of matters involving time can be a source of great encouragement to Christians, since many of God’s purposes toward earth and man involve a time factor. In connection with some of the events foretold in the Bible, Jehovah has revealed the time factor involved as a help to true worshipers. That such kind of revelation inspires true worshipers Jesus noted when he exclaimed: “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to babes.”—Matt. 11:25.
ENCOURAGED BY UNDERSTANDING
3. What noteworthy features were involved in the time period concerning the desolating of Judah and Jerusalem?
3 One example of encouragement derived from understanding the time feature concerning prophecy had to do with the time when Judah and Jerusalem lay desolate for seventy years. Due to the apostasy of the Jews they were held captive by Babylon, the world power of that time. Under the inspiration of God’s holy spirit the prophet Jeremiah had foretold this seventy-year period. Concerning Judah and Jerusalem, as well as other nearby nations, Jeremiah prophesied: “All this land must become a devastated place, an object of astonishment, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” (Jer. 25:11) But in addition to this desolation Jehovah’s word through Jeremiah foretold something else, a restoration would take place after the time period expired: “For this is what Jehovah has said, ‘In accord with the fulfilling of seventy years at Babylon I shall turn my attention to you people, and I will establish toward you my good word in bringing you back to this place.’”—Jer. 29:10.
4, 5. How did a knowledge of this time feature encourage the Jews?
4 True to Jehovah’s Word, Babylonian captivity came. The land of Judah lay desolate. The years passed. Eventually, sixty-eight years later, the combined armies of the Medes and Persians captured overconfident Babylon, entering the city whose gates had been carelessly left open. Almost without a fight Babylon was overthrown. Thus, the Jews inside the city were spared the devastation of a long siege. One of those Jews who had been in this long Babylonian captivity was Daniel, a faithful worshiper of God. Now he came under the rule of the Medo-Persian Empire’s king over Babylon, Darius the Mede.—Dan. 5:31.
5 Daniel knew of Jeremiah’s prophecy. He also had an understanding of time, being able to measure and calculate it correctly. With what result? At Da chapter 9, verses 1 and 2, of the book of Daniel we read: “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus of the seed of the Medes, who had been made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans; in the first year of his reigning I myself, Daniel, discerned by the books the number of the years concerning which the word of Jehovah had occurred to Jeremiah the prophet, for fulfilling the devastations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.” What an encouragement that must have been to Daniel and to the other Jewish captives, to be able to discern that their time of captivity was almost over and that the foretold time of release and restoration was near!
6, 7. How did understanding “the appointed times of the nations” help true worshipers?
6 Another such example of discerning a time of fulfillment regarding Jehovah’s purposes and the encouragement derived involves that time period Jesus mentioned in connection with “the conclusion of the system of things.” As recorded at Luke chapter 21, verse 24, Jesus said: “And Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.” By having an understanding of what these “appointed times of the nations” were, and by being able to measure and calculate the length of time involved, God’s servants on earth would be able to discern when God’s kingdom was to be established in heaven. That marvelous event would coincide with the ending of the “appointed times of the nations,” and the beginning of the “time of the end.”—Dan. 11:27, 40; Matt. 24:3; 2 Tim. 3:1.
7 That period of time proved to be 2,520 years. It began with the downfall of Jerusalem in the year 607 B.C.E. It concluded in the year 1914, and God’s people on earth were able to calculate the date even before it came, although the details of just what would occur were not clear. But by being able to appreciate Jehovah’s use of time features, his worshipers on earth realized that the “last days” foretold in God’s Word had indeed begun. And the fact that the “time of the end” had commenced meant that the kingdom of God had been established in the heavens under Christ. All of this proved to be a great encouragement during those critical years, particularly when true worshipers were undergoing persecution. And how encouraging this is to true worshipers today, for we know that, by the autumn of 1967 C.E., fifty-three years had gone by since the “last days” began, since the “appointed times of the nations” ended! That means the end of this wicked system of things will come very shortly. As Jesus said, the end would occur in the same generation that saw the beginning of the “last days” in 1914.—Matt. 24:34.
THE RIGHT TIME
8. In what other way does an understanding of time prove valuable?
8 An understanding of time proves valuable in another way too. Christians need to know, not only what to do, but when to do it. God’s servants surely want to do the right thing at the right time. One can take a course of action at the right time, but have it be to no avail if it is a wrong course of action. Also, it may even prove fruitless to take a certain course of action that normally could be considered right, if it is taken at the wrong time. No one could object to the correctness of a person’s sleeping an average of about eight hours a day. But what if that eight hours came when he should have been working? Then, of course, it would not be correct. Setting aside time for family relaxation, recreation, can be upbuilding. But if it always fell on the evening they should be at a Christian meeting, then it would not be correct.
9. Although the time was right, what wrong course did Israel take?
9 When the nation of Israel was led out of Egypt, Jehovah told his people they would possess the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Ex. 3:15-17) But after spying out the land, the people, with only a few exceptions, refused to go in because they were afraid of the inhabitants. They murmured and wanted to go back to Egypt. It was the right time to go into the Promised Land, particularly since they had the evidence that God was with them. But the Israelites did the wrong thing. They did not want to go in. For this, Jehovah decreed that the rebellious generation would wander for a time period of forty years in the wilderness, until, except for a few, they would die. It would be the new generation that would go into the Promised Land.—Num. 13:31-33; 14:1-4, 28-34.
10. Why were the prayers of King Saul not answered?
10 An example of taking what normally would be considered a right action, but at the wrong time, occurred with King Saul when he became fearful of the Philistines. First Samuel chapter 28, verse 6, shows that Saul did what on other occasions would have been considered a right thing, for it says: “Saul would inquire of Jehovah.” But, his inquiring of Jehovah was at the wrong time! It came after he had broken God’s commands and after Jehovah had withdrawn his spirit from Saul. (1 Sam. 16:14) He should have done such inquiring in prayer long before his heart had turned hard so as to violate God’s clearly expressed commands. Because his turning to God in prayer was at the wrong time, when it was far too late, it was of no avail. As verse 6 of 1 Samuel chapter 28 adds: “Jehovah never answered him, either by dreams or by the Urim or by the prophets.”
11. How do true worshipers please Jehovah?
11 So as God’s servants, true worshipers, today study his Word of truth and understand what their heavenly Father wants them to do and when he wants them to do it, their compliance with that expressed will enables them to please Jehovah and receive his blessing. It means keeping in step with Jehovah’s progressively revealed will and his progressing visible organization, cooperating with it in its activity in the remaining years before the end of this system of things comes.
CHARACTERISTICS OF TIME
12. (a) What are some things we can know about time? (b) What is it that we cannot know?
12 Since an understanding of time helps Christians in several ways, let us find out some of the things we can know about it. Several important considerations are the following: (1) How it moves; (2) how to measure it; (3) how to calculate it. But is there anything about time we do not know and cannot know? Yes, we do not know where time began and where it is going throughout eternity. Only Jehovah possesses such knowledge at present, so we should not concern ourselves about it. It would be like the ant trying to understand man’s beginning and God’s purpose in putting humans on earth. Such knowledge is far beyond the comprehension of that small insect.
13. Which way does time move?
13 Of the things we can know about time, one is how it moves. It moves only in one direction, forward. It is like traffic on a one-way street. It moves relentlessly in that one direction and no creature can reverse the process. That is why we cannot recover the past, for we can never go backward in time so as to eliminate the present as though it had never occurred. No, time proceeds forward, and we always live in the present, not in the past. We know there is a future one minute from now or one year from now and that we will always progress from present to future, but we can never go backward.
14, 15. What measurements of time did Jehovah provide?
14 Another characteristic of time is its apparent rate of flow, that is, how fast it moves from the present to the future. This rate of flow can be measured. Indeed, Jehovah knew that man would need a knowledge of how to measure time, especially since his purposes include a time factor. So he provided man with the ability to do this, to measure time, an ability beyond the lower animal creation. Jehovah also provided the means by which man could accurately measure time. Genesis 1:14 states: “And God went on to say: ‘Let luminaries come to be in the expanse of the heavens to make a division between the day and the night; and they must serve as signs and for seasons and for days and years.’” So Jehovah made it possible for man to keep track of time, for each time the earth completes a cycle around the sun, one solar year passes. During that time we go through the cycle of the seasons. And each time the earth completes one revolution on its own axis, one day passes.
15 The Bible, at Deuteronomy 5:13, 14, tells of another measurement of time: “You are to render service, and you must do all your work six days. But the seventh day is a sabbath to Jehovah your God.” This established the weekly cycle made up of seven days, which cycle we still use today. However, even before that time, Noah is spoken of as using a cycle of seven days, as well as a month of thirty days.—Gen. 7:4, 11, 24; 8:4.
16. What are three uses of the word day in the Bible?
16 To understand the division of time called the day as used in the Bible, the context of the material must be determined. This is due to the fact that there are different meanings that apply to the word day (yom in Hebrew, hēmeʹra in Greek), as it is used in the Holy Scriptures. One usage of the word is at Genesis 1:5, where it states: “And God began calling the light Day.” The day here referred to is the daylight period itself of about twelve hours. John 20:19 refers to a second use of the word day, this time meaning a twenty-four-hour period: “Therefore, when it was late on that day, the first of the week.” A third use of the word day has to do with a period of time contemporaneous with some outstanding person. We have an example at Isaiah 1:1, which reads: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz that he visioned concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”
17. How else is the word day used in the Bible?
17 The word day can refer to a longer period of time. At 2 Peter 3:8 we are told: “One day is with Jehovah as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.” An even longer period of time than that can be embraced by the word, for Exodus 20:11 declares: “For in six days Jehovah made the heavens and the earth, the sea and everything that is in them, and he proceeded to rest on the seventh day.” This refers to the creative periods of time, each of which, judging by the seventh, appears to be 7,000 years long. However, there is an even longer period of time that can be attached to the meaning of the Bible word day, one that includes all of the creative days together. Genesis 2:4 states: “This is a history of the heavens and the earth in the time of their being created, in the day that Jehovah God made earth and heaven.” So the word as used in this sense apparently covers a time period far longer than each creative day.
CALCULATING TIME PERIODS
18, 19. What aids help us to calculate time?
18 After man had the knowledge of how to divide time into periods, the need for calculating it over long spans was seen, so calendars were introduced. One such calendar was the Jewish, another the Julian, introduced by Julius Caesar in the year 46 B.C.E. Still another was the Gregorian, introduced in 1582 C.E. by Pope Gregory XIII. This calendar was more accurate than the Julian and is the one now used in most countries.
19 To calculate long periods of time, certain dates called “absolute dates” are very valuable. These are dates that have been proved reliable by secular history, actual dates of events that are also recorded in the Bible. Starting from one of these specific dates we can, by using the reliable internal chronology of the Bible itself, ascertain when many other Bible events occurred.
20. How are Hebrew Scripture dates calculated?
20 For calculating Hebrew Scripture dates, the absolute date of October 5 to 6 in the year 539 B.C.E. is essential. This was the year that the Medes and Persians overthrew Babylon and it was definitely established in secular history when a record was found of King Nabonidus, the father and coregent of King Belshazzar. This remarkable clay document established that Babylon fell on October 5 to 6, in the year 539 B.C.E. according to the Gregorian calendar. From this date all the other dates in the Hebrew Scriptures can be calculated.
21. (a) How do we know Jerusalem fell in 607 B.C.E.? (b) What problem arises with the “appointed times of the nations”?
21 One of the more important calculations of a long period of time involves the previously mentioned “appointed times of the nations.” According to Ezekiel’s prophecy (Ezek. 21:25-27), it began when the typical kingdom of God ruling in Jerusalem was overthrown by Babylon. When did that occur? Well, secular historians agree that Babylon itself fell in 539 B.C.E. at the beginning of our month of October. Two years later, in 537 B.C.E., the Jews were repatriated to Jerusalem, ending their seventy-year period of Jerusalem’s desolation. Counting backward in time seventy years from 537 B.C.E. we arrive at the date 607 B.C.E. Thus, Jerusalem was left desolate at the beginning of October 607 B.C.E. The “appointed times of the nations” began. They ended with the establishment of God’s heavenly kingdom and the beginning of the “last days.” This time period, as many Bible students already know, was 2,520 years long, as indicated at Daniel 4:16, 17, 31, 32 and Revelation 11:2, 3; and Ezekiel 4:6. But how is this calculated? If we simply add 1,914 years to 607 years, we are confronted with 2,521 years, not 2,520 years.
22. How much time was there between October 607 B.C.E. and the end of 1 B.C.E.?
22 One way to calculate it correctly is as follows: Beginning with the year 607 B.C.E., on October 1, we count three more months until the end of the year. That brings us to January 1, 606 B.C.E. (the year numbers before the Common Era becoming smaller as they get closer to the time of Christ). Adding the full 606 years brings us to the end of the year 1 B.C.E., and we so far have a total of 606 years and three months.
23. How much time was there from the beginning of the Common Era to October of 1914? What total does this give for our calculation?
23 What comes next? What comes after the year 1 B.C.E.? Is it the year zero? No, for the ancient peoples, including the Greeks and Romans, had no conception of a zero. If you studied Roman numerals in school, did you learn a symbol for zero? No, because they did not use one. The zero was invented by the Hindus about 150 years after the Common Era began and was introduced by the Arabs into Europe some centuries later. So the year after 1 B.C.E. was, not zero, but 1 C.E., the first year of the Common Era. From the beginning of that year to the end of 1913 C.E. we have 1,913 full years. From January 1 to October 1 of 1914 gives us nine more months. Adding the 1,913 years and nine months to the 606 years and three months before the Common Era gives us the 2,520-year period from October 1, 607 B.C.E., to October 1, 1914 C.E. This is the period of the “times of the nations” of which Jesus spoke. That this calculation is correct is clearly corroborated by the many visible events that Jesus foretold and that have come to pass since 1914. Hence, although such calculation may be somewhat difficult, it is vital for Christians to know, as it helps to determine the time when God’s kingdom was established in the heavens and when this present wicked system of things entered its “time of the end.”
24. How are the dates for the ministry of Jesus calculated?
24 For calculating the dates for the various events of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the absolute date of August 19, in the year 14 of the Common Era, is vital. On that date Augustus Caesar died and was succeeded by Tiberius Caesar as emperor of Rome. Now note what Luke chapter 3 states: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar . . . God’s declaration came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. So he came into all the country around the Jordan, preaching baptism in symbol of repentance for forgiveness of sins.” The fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar ended in late August in the year 29 C.E. John, six months older than Jesus, began his preaching that spring. Six months later, or in the autumn of the year 29 C.E., Jesus was baptized and began his ministry.
25. Why can we rely on the time features contained in God’s Word?
25 A fact of great importance to Christians is that the Bible is the only record that accurately lists all the periods of time back to the creation of man, and even beyond. No other document does this. That is why Christians can have such confidence in all matters of Bible prophecy that contain time features. Jehovah is the Great Timekeeper. He has a set time for every purpose. When he promises a new system of things we can rejoice in the fact that for a certainty, exactly on time, such prophecies will be fulfilled. Thus true worshipers today do not have the anxiety of worldlings, for they know that their God, Jehovah, is guiding them in paths of righteousness, and that he tells them in advance what to expect and when to expect it. As Amos 3:7 states: “The Lord Jehovah will not do a thing unless he has revealed his confidential matter to his servants the prophets.”