Sometimes it can be hard to be “on time” for the dentist, but Harold Harker explores history that happened “on time” over more than 1000 years.
Have you ever had the experience of running to catch a train or bus when you’re just a tad late and finding the train or bus has left on time? And have you found when you are a little early, that the train or bus is always a little late? In Sydney, the Transport Authority has redefined “on time” to be up to four minutes late! Then they claim that most of the trains run “on time!” One person said, “Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.”1 While the cynic says, “The trouble with being punctual is that nobody’s there to appreciate it.” If you live in some cultures of the world, time seems to mean little. And yet in theadvanced commercial world where “time is money,” maybe time rules us with a rod of iron that, in time, induces stomach ulcers.
When we take the long view of history, as God can do, we see that time matters immensely. First, God designated a specific day as the day He has blessed and sanctified. He did not include a generalised blessing stating that any day would do. He was specific that it would be the seventh day for His Sabbath.
The Bible contains many prophecies that predicted the future. A study of these makes it clear that God knows the future and that He predicts the rise and fall of world empires. The book of Daniel has a number of examples of this.2 Further, there are time periods mentioned in these apocalyptic prophecies.
One that occurs over and over is the prophetic period of 1260 days. In fact it is mentioned seven times in Scripture— showing us its importance. Note the various ways it is spelt out: a time, times and the dividing of time (Daniel 7:25); a time, times and half a time (Daniel 12:7); 42 months (Revelation 11:2); 1260 days (Revelation 11:3); 1260 days (Revelation 12:6); a time, times and half a time (Revelation 12:14); 42 months (Revelation 13:5).
These references all refer to the same time period. It is 3? prophetic years, or 42 months or 1260 days. A prophetic year is 360 days or 12 months of 30 days each. Scripture also makes it clear that in prophecy a day represents a year.3 From the time of the Reformation, scholars have agreed that the prophecy of Daniel Chapter 7 outlines the great empires of history—Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Then it outlines a great religious–political power that would arise after the break-up of the Roman Empire. This power would persecute God’s people who would not accept the authority of this power.
This time has been called the “Dark Ages” and the Reformers such as Luther and Calvin and many others identified this power as the establishment church of the Middle Ages or the papacy.
The Bishop of Rome was enabled to assume the power vacuum left when the emperor left for Constantinople. In 538 the countries that opposed the Papacy were destroyed.4 It would be interesting to see then what would take place at the end of the 1260-day prophecy—these 1260 years lead us to the year 1798.
God’s prophetic clock moves slowly but relentlessly. He is above the nations and kings of earth. However He uses the events on this earth to bring about His plan. At the beginning of the last decade of the 18th century, the French Revolution was underway. A young lieutenant in the French army came to the artillery school in Valence to complete part of his training.
As the decade advanced that lieutenant, now a general, commenced his march across Europe, bringing under subjection nations and kings. In 1796, Napoleon marched toward Rome. The Treaty of Tolentino was signed the next year between the Vatican and the French, leading to tonnes of brass, silver and gold being shipped to France together with many works of art. Rome had been stripped bare. To cap it off, the French established a base in Rome and commandeered the Corsini Palace as their headquarters. Napoleon’s uncle was the consular official and a General Duphot was in charge of the French troops stationed there.
The year 1797 brought fresh targets and Napoleon, leaving Leonard Duphot in charge of soldiers in Rome, advanced on Vienna and the Austrians.
In December of that year, the rumour spread through Rome that Napoleon had been defeated near Vienna. Pope Pius VI encouraged the people of Rome to revolt and throw out the French. A firefight developed in the street in front of the Corsini Palace. In that exchange the French General Leonard Duphot was shot and killed.5 It just so happened that at the time he was engaged to marry the sister of Napoleon, Pauline. When news of this was carried over the Alps and reached Napoleon, who had been victorious against the Austrians, Napoleon was incensed and sent off his chief of staff—a Huguenot— Louis Berthier to take a band of soldiers to Rome. His orders were to take Pope Pius VI captive.
Berthier entered Rome on February 10, 1798—exactly 1260 years after 538 AD.
The Swiss Guards were ordered out of the Castle of St Angelo (the Pope’s safe and secure castle) and Pope Pius was made a prisoner and hustled out of Rome a few days later. He was taken north, finally stopping in Sienna. Then, after an earthquake struck the city, he was moved to La Certosa—a monastery on the outskirts of Florence. Then he was moved north, and finally up the Chisone Valley and to Briancon, just inside France in building Number 64 on the main street. Finally he was moved to Valence and after six weeks he died in captivity.
Somehow God used the events of December 1797 as the trigger to commence the chain of events that lead up to the capture of Pope Pius VI in Februaru of 1798. Exactly “on time“. It’s amazing how “history” becomes “His story” and how God uses the events of the times to accomplish His purpose.
Those who wrote of that event said (and their words were graphic and detailed): “The object of the French directory was the destruction of the pontificial government. as the irreconcilable enermy of the republic…The aged pope [Pius VI] was summoned to surreder the temporal government; on his refusal, he was dragged from the altar…His rings were torn from his fingers, and finally, after declaring he temporaral power abolished, the victors carried the pope prisoner .” 6
The same author wrote, “The papacy was exctinct; not a vestige of its existence remained; and among all the Roman Catholic powers, not a finger was stirred in its defence.” 7
Another writer said, “The tricolour flag floated on the top of the Castle of St Angelo. The sucessor of St Peter was carried away captive by the unbelivers. He died a prisoner in their hands and even the honours of sepulture were long withheld from his remains.”
“It is not strange that, in the year 1799, even sagacious observers should have thought that at length the hour of the Church of Rome was come.” 8
Surely the time period during which God’s people were persecued for so long came to its end as predicted by the prophet Daniel so long ago. However, the Scripture did not predict the complete demise of the Papacy. Another apocalyptic prophecy, this one in Revelation, predicted that it would be mortally wounded- yet come alive and regain its former power and glory-but that’s another story.
Is it not uncanny that the prophecies given by God more than 2000 previously would be fulfilled “on time”? This 1260-day prophecy, an the many othrs in the Bible, give us faith in the accuracy and reliability of the Scriptures. Surely, they are “a light to our path and a lamp to our feet” and we do well to take heed of them. Let us determine to read them again and study their relevance to us for our day.