Forty (40)

40 in the Bible is very often symbolic/typological – referring to “two distinct epochs,” or a period of time indicating a “completion/change,” or a “purifying/cleansing:”

  • Gen. 7:4, 12 – Flood – rain 40 days and nights completed the destruction and a purifying of the land of sinful men.
  • Gen. 50:3 – It required 40 days to complete the embalming process for Jacob’s body.
  • Exod. 24:18; Deut. 9:11 – Moses 40 days on My Sinai receiving the 10 commandments.
  • Exod. 34:28; Deut. 10:10 – 2nd time Moses on My Sinai for 40 days receiving the 10 commandments for the second time after the first were destroyed.
  • Deut. 9:18, 25 – Moses prayed 40 days and 40 nights to beg God for the forgiveness of the people’s sin.
  • Moses’ life is divided into three 40-year segments, separated by his growing to adulthood and subsequent fleeing from Egypt; his return to lead his people out; and then the time wandering in the wilderness with Israel afterwards. (Acts 7:23,30,36)
  • Several Jewish leaders and kings are said to have ruled for “40 years,” that is, a generation.  Examples include Eli (1 Sam. 4:18), Saul (Acts 13:21), David (2 Sam. 5:4), and Solomon (1 Kings 11:42).
  • 1 Sam. 17:16 – Goliath challenged the Israelites twice a day for 40 days before David defeated him.
  • 1 Kings 19:8-9 – Elijah did not eat for 40 days until he completed his journey, and then he heard from the Lord.
  • Jonah 3:4 – we see God telling Jonah to preach and warn the Ninevites that if they did not repent then in 40 days they would perish by the judgment of God.
  • Lev. 12:1-6; Luke 2:22 – Christ was presented in the temple 40 days after His birth in accordance with the Mosaic law and days of purification.
  • Matt. 4:2; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2 – Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days (the completion of His testing and purification for His readiness to start His ministry on this earth).
  • Acts 1:3 – it was 40 days from the time of the resurrection to the ascension of Jesus.
  • Num. 13:25 – Spies explored the land of Israel for “40 days.” All of the spies, except Caleb and Joshua, were scared of the giants in the land and did not trust God to keep His promises to be with them to conquer the land.  Therefore, we read in Num. 14:33-34, “For 40 years – one year for each of the 40 days you explored the land – you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.'”
  • Num. 32:13; Deut. 8:1-2 – Israel wandering in the wilderness 40 years (until the last of the old generation had died away and the completion was done of cleaning out all of the old disobedient generation.  40 years before they crossed the Jordan, the guarding city Jericho was destroyed, and they entered the promised land).
  • It was 40 years from the resurrection of Christ until AD 70 when Jerusalem was completely destroyed by the Roman armies and not one stone of the temple left standing upon another.

I believe the most significant type/shadow/symbolic of all is in the forty years of wilderness wandering leading up to the possession of the temporal land of promise (Num. 32:13 we looked at above).  In fact, Paul himself wrote that the surrounding events of the wilderness wandering “were our examples (types/shadows)” (1 Cor. 10:6), and that “they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world [aion-age] have come(vs. 11).

One of the first lessons a student of types and shadows will learn is the lofty place given to the Exodus out of Egypt.  It is this event which presents the clearest correspondences to the complete redemptive work of Christ and the time-frame of its fulfillment.

To be more specific, the exodus out of Egypt and into the Promised Land by the children of OC Israel under Moses is a direct shadow of the exodus of the New Testament generation from the cross to the entrance into the NC eternal heavenly land of rest (Heb. 11:13-16).

Let’s look at some comparisons between the two forty year exodus periods.  The first was preceded by physical slavery – the bondage of the Hebrews in Egypt, then 40 years before entrance into the physical Promised Land.  The second was preceded by the 1st century church leaving OC Judaism and the spiritual slavery, a 40 year period as the church was established and grew before entrance into the heavenly Promised Land.  One introduced the first Passover with the blood of lambs.  The other fulfilled the type with the sacrifice of the final Passover Lamb (Jesus):

“Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.  For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.”  (1 Corinthians 5:7 NASB)

One brought God’s people physical deliverance by crossing through the Red Sea.  The other brought God’s people spiritual deliverance by the working of the cross of Christ.

The first established a temporary contract of God with the people He chose – the Old Covenant.  The second established a permanent contract – the New Covenant.

Fifty four days after the first Passover in Egypt, the Law was given to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai, written upon tablets of stone.  Fifty four days after the final Passover was sacrificed, the Law was given to the “True [spiritual] Israel of God,” written upon their hearts by the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 3:3; Heb. 8:10).

Very few would disagree that the above points are fulfillment of the shadows given at the start of the Exodus.  But the correlation doesn’t stop with the initial workings of the exodus, but continues with the entrance into the land of temporal rest, forty years later.  Just as the children of faith were allowed to enter into the temporal land of rest the first time in the physical land of Palestine, the children of faith in the generation directly following the cross of Christ were given entrance into the eternal heavenly spiritual land of rest at the Parousia when He returned to take them with Him to heaven.  With each covenant, a 40 year transition period followed the initial act of deliverance until the entrance into the land of promise.

The city Abraham was looking for was the heavenly Jerusalem.  The writer relates:

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,”  (Hebrews 12:22-23.  NASB)

From these verses we can see the different description of the same entity; the city, the Kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem, the church, and Mount Zion.  These all have their fulfillment in the New Covenant (NC) Kingdom as established in the first century.  This was in contrast to the old, physical, earthly city of Jerusalem and land.

The believers among the people of Israel in the Old Testament (OT) did not receive the promises of the heavenly Promised Land when they entered into the physical land of Palestine (read Heb. 4:5-9).  These promises were in regards to the fulfilled work of Christ.  It is only for those who are in Christ who have this “rest” from all the Old Covenant (OC) works striving for salvation.  The OC was all about works à the NC is all about the “finished” work of Christ.  The NC believers were to “rest” in the “finished” work of Christ pertaining to their salvation.  His promise was that He would soon come and rescue them before the outpouring of wrath and bring them to the heavenly Promised Land where they would experience eternal rest.  This promise would be given to all believers at the end of the forty year transition period (the end of the second Exodus: inaugurated at the cross and consummated at AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the OC temple), where Christ would return to bring all of His faithful believers to the heavenly eternal Promised Land.

During both periods, the people saw God’s works for forty years (read Heb. 3:9; Acts 2:17-21, 40; Luke 11:29-32; Matt. 16:27-28, 21:40-41, 43, 45; 22:1-2, 6-9, 23:31-36).  

  • For forty years God manifested Himself to His OC people by signs and wonders; in the desert under Moses’ leadership, daily manna, miraculous supplies of water or meat, and the appearance of the cloud and the fiery pillar revealed God’s presence. 
  • In the 40 year transition period to the New Covenant, the apostles had special gifts of healing, prophecy, and miracles, that testified to and authenticated their message of the coming consummation of the Kingdom of God and the destruction of the wicked (Acts 2:43, 5:12, 15-16, 14:3; 1 Cor. 14:22; 2 Cor. 12:12).
    • “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-13)

Are all of the “offices” of these gifts still operating today?  I think the biblical answer is, No.  Please understand that this is not to say that God cannot and does not heal or perform wonders and miracles anymore (as I believe He does), but this is referring to the “office or gift,” as meaning one person had the gift from the Spirit as the 1st century believers did during this transition and spiritual temple building time, where someone had a gift from the Spirit and could exercise and perform the gift at any and all times, as we see in the scriptures during the time of the early church.

During both periods, the wicked were severed from among the just and not allowed to enter into the land of promise (Heb. 3:11, 17; Matt. 12:30, 13:49).

Beginning with the fulfillment of Passover in the death of Christ, calamity would fall upon OC Israel as a result.  The death of Christ contained a blessing of salvation for the true believing spiritual Israel, but for OC national Israel it would bring calamity.  This is evident from Matthew 21:33-41 in which the parable of the husbandmen teaches that the fulfillment of Passover, being the killing of the Son, would not bring a postponement of Kingdom promises, as the Dispensationalist argues, but utter destruction upon physical OC Israel.  In verses 42-44, it is stated that at this point the Kingdom would be “taken away from the Jews” and given to those other than national Israel, it would go to a fruitful spiritual nation of God’s à the Church.

At the end of the first forty-year period, the Israelites of faith entered the temporal land of promise in which God enabled them to defeat their physical foes.  Near the end of the second forty year period in AD 66, Christ returned and raised the believing dead souls out of Hades/Sheol, changed and raptured the living saints, and together all received their immortal perfect heavenly bodies and in AD 70 entered their eternal heavenly Promised Land in which God promised them (1 Cor. 15:50-54; 2 Cor. 5:1-4 (We do an in-depth study into these passages in eschatology Study Series 14 Lesson 2 “God’s Festal Calendar”); 1 Thess. 4:15-17 (We  do an in-depth study into this passage in eschatology Study Series 14 Lesson 3); Heb. 11:13-16, 12:21-23).

If Christ has not returned, then all of the believers to whom these promises were made and told would happen within their generation were deceived, and they are still waiting for the inheritance.  But we believe that He has returned, and has fulfilled all aspects of the “exodus type/shadow,” using the very same chronology in the first century, as He did in the initial type/shadow.

The physical illustrations in the Old Covenant are fulfilled in each case by the works of Christ in the New Covenant.  This New Covenant is an eternal covenant, with victory over spiritual slavery and sin-death, bringing eternal deliverance from the condemnation under sin to eternal death through the physical death and shed blood on the cross by Christ, resulting in a new spiritual birth to all those who believe in faith.  This produces life and fellowship with God now, and the guarantee of eternal life with Him in the heavenly afterlife upon physical death.

Predominant aspects of the first four feasts were fulfilled by Christ on the exact day of the types/shadows.  So, I do not think it is presumptuous to think that the last three would be as well.  Because the Cannon was closed before the completion of the last three feasts, we have no record of their fulfillment.  What we believe to be sure was that they were to be fulfilled within the forty year period, which began at Pentecost.


See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:

Feasts Of The Lord


For a more in-depth study see the related full “Study Series”:

Study Series 8 Lesson 2 God’s Festal Calendar (Fall Feasts)