THE 1260 YEARS OF DANIEL'S PROPHECY
Compressed into forty-four words, the age-long story of the workings of the Roman Papacy is thus told by the angel who interpreted Daniel's vision of the little horn:
"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. 7:25.
The spirit of this apostasy was abroad in apostolic days. "The mystery of iniquity doth already work," said the apostle Paul. 2 Thess. 2:7. And this power is to continue to work until the end, when it will be destroyed by the brightness of Christ's coming. Verse 8.
A Prophetic Period
But according to the word of the angel to Daniel, there was to be a period during which, in a special sense, the Papacy was to hold supremacy over the saints and the times and the laws of the Most High.
"They shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time." In the Scriptures the word "time," used in this manner, means a year: "at the end of times, even years." Dan. 11:13, margin. Therefore a time (one year) and times (two years) and the dividing of time (half a year) means three years and a half. The same period is mentioned twice in the twelfth chapter of Revelation, once (verse 14) as "a time, and times, and half a time," and again (verse 6) as "a thousand two hundred and threescore days."
But in the symbolic representations of time in prophecy, a day stands for a year (see Eze. 4:5, 6, and other scriptures). Thus the prophecy foretold a long period of 1260 years during which papal supremacy would continue.
Now we may ask, When was this supremacy to begin? what would mark the rise of the Papacy to acknowledged supremacy? and what events mark the ending of the 1260 years?
A Pivotal Point in History
The answer of history to the voice of prophecy is clear.
The sixth century was a pivotal period in the history of the world. The bishops of Rome had been asserting the claims of that seat (or "see") above all others. Justinian was emperor of the East. Of Justinian and his time Bury says:
"He may be likened to a colossal Janus bestriding the way of passage between the ancient and medieval worlds.... His military achievements decided the course of the history of Italy, and affected the development of Western Europe;... and his ecclesiastical authority influenced the distant future of Christendom."—"History of the Later Roman Empire," Vol. I, pp. 351-353.
Of this turning point in the world's history, Finlay says:
"The changes of centuries passed in rapid succession before the eyes of one generation."—"Greece under the Romans," p. 231.
Just here we find the Papacy lifted definitely into acknowledged supremacy. Imperial Rome had already left its ancient seat to the Papacy, the imperial throne being no longer maintained at Rome. The Bishop of Rome was left the chief figure in the ancient seat of the Cæsars. The prophecy of Rev. 13:2 had said of the relation of the old imperial power to the Papacy, "The dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority." The seat was given, and now imperial Rome was to give to papal Rome the definite recognition of its supreme power and "great authority."
Papal Supremacy Officially Recognized
In a.d. 533 the emperor Justinian promulgated a letter, having the force of an imperial decree, recognizing the absolute headship of the Bishop of Rome over the churches. It declared:
"We have been sedulous to subject and unite all the priests of the Orient throughout its whole extent to the see of Your Holiness.... For we do not suffer that anything which is mooted, however clear and unquestionable, pertaining to the state of the churches, should fail to be made known to Your Holiness, as being the head of all the churches. For, as we have said before, we are zealous for the increase of the honor and authority of your see in all respects."—Cod. Justin., lib. 1, title 1, Baronii "Annales Ecclesiastici," Tom. VII, an. 533, sec. 12 (Translation as given in "The Petrine Claims," by R.F. Littledale, p. 293).
From this decree (for such it really was) the Roman authorities date the official recognition of the supremacy of the Papacy. Some have taken a later decree by Emperor Phocas (a.d. 606) as a starting point. But Dr. Croly says:
"The highest authorities among the civilians and annalists of Rome spurn the idea that Phocas was the founder of the supremacy of Rome; they ascend to Justinian as the only legitimate source, and rightly date the title from the memorable year 533."—"The Apocalypse of St. John," pp. 172, 173.
The Sword of Empire Cleaves the Way
The "great authority" had been recognized. But at this time heretical Arian powers compassed the papal seat about. The Arian Vandals were persecuting Catholics in Africa, Corsica, and Sardinia, and an Arian Gothic king ruled Italy from Ravenna, his capital. The imperial arms, however, were at the service of orthodoxy. In 533-534 Justinian's famous general, Belisarius, uprooted the Vandals. The war for the faith and the empire was carried into Italy also, against the Arian Goths. In 536 Belisarius, unopposed, entered Rome at the invitation of the Pope. But the next year the Goths rallied all their forces to retake the city. It was a crisis in the struggle for Italy. "If a single post had given way," says Gibbon, "the Romans, and Rome itself, were irrecoverably lost." The Goths withdrew, defeated, in 538; and this defeat, says Hodgkin, dug "the grave of the Gothic monarchy in Italy."
Though the conflict went on for years before the Goths were rooted up, this defeat of 538 was a crucial hour in their history. Finlay says:
"With the conquest of Rome by Belisarius, the history of the ancient city may be considered as terminating; and with his defense against Witiges  commences the history of the Middle Ages."—"Greece under the Romans," p 295.
Roughly speaking, the Middle Ages and the age of papal supremacy and power were the same.
A New Order of Popes
Not only was there this telling stroke by the imperial sword in 538, helping to clear the way before the Papacy, but at this same time the first of a new order of popes was placed upon the papal throne by the imperial arms. Pope Silverius, accused of sympathy with the Goths, was deposed by Belisarius in 537. The emperor intervened, and the question of the validity of his deposition was held up by the emperor until 538. In that year, as Schaff says:
"Vigilius, a pliant creature of Theodora, ascended the papal chair under the military protection of Belisarius (538-554)."—"History of the Christian Church," Vol. III, p. 327.
With him begins a new order. Though personally he was humiliated by the emperor's demands, and the Papacy itself was brought into a state of subjection that it had not known even under heretical Gothic kings, yet this very arbitrary use of the papal prerogative by Justinian, strengthened the idea that the Pope of Rome was the supreme authority in religion, to speak for the universal church. In Bemont and Monod's textbook on "Medieval Europe," page 120, we read:
"Down to the sixth century all popes are declared saints in the martyrologies. Vigilius (537[E]-555) is the first of a series of popes who no longer bear this title, which is henceforth sparingly conferred. From this time on the popes, more and more involved in worldly events, no longer belong solely to the church; they are men of the state, and then rulers of the state."
A Persecuting Power
Following Vigilius came Pelagius I (556-560), who ascended the throne by "the military aid of Narses," then the imperial general in Italy. And Pelagius, who had been set in the papal see by imperial power, began to demand that the sword of the empire should be used against bishops or members in the church who did not give way to the authority of the Pope. His letters on this subject "are an unqualified defense of the principles of persecution." (See "Dictionary of Christian Biography," by Smith and Wace, art. "Pope Pelagius.")
The prophecy declared that the Papacy would be given special supremacy during a period of 1260 years.
In a.d. 533 came the memorable imperial declaration recognizing that supremacy, and in a.d. 538 came the stroke with the sword of Rome, cleaving the way; and there began the new order of popes—"men of the state, and then rulers of the state."
Thus decisive events clearly mark the beginning of the prophetic period of the 1260 years. And just 1260 years from the decree of 533, in recognition of the papal supremacy, came a decree, in 1793, aimed against that supremacy; and just 1260 years from that stroke with the sword at Rome in behalf of the Papacy, came a stroke with the sword at Rome against the Papacy.