One idea that we have learned about Daniel's book is that the central or recurring idea is the rise and fall of four great earthly kingdoms which are permanently replaced by God's kingdom.
The original vision of this is contained in Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the great statue. In subsequent visions Daniel will return to this prophecy and give more details about these kingdoms but use different symbols to describe them.
- The Medo-Persian Empire: chest of silver with two arms in Nebuchadnezzar's dream; bear with ribs in his mouth in first vision; ram with two horns in second vision.
- Greece: belly and hips of brass in Nebuchadnezzar's dream; leopard with wings in first vision and a he-goat with horn in the second vision.
As we move through a variety of images, symbols and characters, let us remember that he is always describing the rise and fall of these kingdoms and the coming of the church.
Daniel 8 – Struggle for power
The eighth chapter describes in more detail the struggle for power between the second and third kingdoms, Medo-Persia and Greece. These are presented as a two horned ram for the Medo-Persian Empire with the two horns representing its nature, and a very swift he-goat with one horn representing Alexander's speedy victories.
The he-goat charges and destroys the ram which describes Greece's victory over the Medes some two hundred years before either nation confronted each other.
Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.
- Daniel 8:8
This passage prophesizes what happened after Alexander's death as his four generals divided and took control of his kingdom.
Verses 9 through 27 describe the rise of a smaller horn which would attack God's people and blaspheme God. I explained earlier that prophecies can have primary, secondary and final fulfillment. (Primary: in Daniel's lifetime; secondary: in the future sometime; final: specifically at the end of time). This prophecy can have secondary and final fulfillment.
The fulfillment of the "little horn" prophecy can have:
- Secondary fulfillment (future sometime) - a reference to the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes who attacked the Jews (170 BC.), desecrated the temple, blasphemed God and led to the Maccabean uprising. Daniel will give more details about this person and time in chapter 11 as he describes the "regional" wars between the Syrians in the north and Alexander's general who controlled Egypt with Palestine as a pawn between the two.
- Final fulfillment (end time) - this reference can also point to the end of time when a person in the "likeness" of Antiochus will come to blaspheme God and turn people away from Him. This would be the antichrist described by Paul in II Thessalonians.
We know that Daniel's reference to the little horn is already fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes some 400 years later. Scholars debate if this prophecy was meant to refer to the antichrist as well.
Daniel 9 – 70 weeks
In this chapter Daniel's prophecy concerns the nation of Israel and the specific coming of the Messiah. Daniel uses the idea of 70 weeks to give the exact time when certain things will take place.
In verses 1 through 19 Daniel is praying and studying the word when he realizes that Jeremiah's prophecy said that the people would be in captivity for 70 years and that time was rapidly drawing close. He prays that God will honor this word and return the people home to rebuild the city and temple.
"Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, 21 while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. 22 He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. 23 At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.
24 "Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. 25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27 And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.""
- Daniel 9:20-27
God gives Daniel further understanding concerning the history and the future of the restored city of Jerusalem and the time of the arrival of the promised Messiah. This information is tied up in the expression of 70 weeks. From their perspective they could not solve this numerical mystery but from our viewpoint we can give clearer meaning to it.
What the seventy weeks exactly referred to depends on where and how you begin counting.
Many scholars think that the 70 weeks refers to 70 weeks of years. The number seven was used in significant ways from the beginning of Scriptures (7 days of creation; 70 years of captivity). It was a combination of 4 (representing the world North/East/South/West) and 3 (representing God), the combination of which represented perfection (God + His creation). So 70 weeks (or 70 times 7 (7 days in a week) equaled 490 years). This idea comes from Ezekiel 4:6 where Ezekiel assigns one year for each day in a certain prophecy.
We need to be careful because there is nothing that tells us that the equation in Ezekiel's prophecy should be applied in Daniel's prophecy. The significance of the prophecy is that it refers to periods of time that certain things would happen.
Daniel divided these 70 weeks into 7 weeks, 62 weeks and 1 week; these refer to 3 main events in Jewish history left to happen as far as Daniel was concerned:
- How long it would take to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (from Daniel to the temple being rebuilt).
- How long it would be until the Messiah would come (from the temple being rebuilt to Christ coming).
- How long after the Messiah came would the end of His ministry and the end of the nation be (Christ to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple).
Scholars have tried to compute numbers to correspond with various historical events but are not in agreement. However, if we approach these numbers as representing general eras we see:
- From the time Daniel made the prophecy to the temple's completion was approximately 50 years (7 weeks of years = 49 years).
- From the time that Daniel made the prophecy to the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, approximately five centuries (62 weeks to the coming of the Messiah = 434 years).
- From the time of the Messiah's coming to the end of His ministry and death on the cross and the destruction of Jerusalem 30 AD – 70 AD (1 week – short period).
When dealing with numbers, prophets were more interested with acts, events and eras, so numbers indicated how many acts and the era they would take place.
Jeremiah prophesied exactly 70 years for the captivity; Daniel uses a symbolic number 70 weeks to foretell eras and generations. For more please visit: bibletalk.tv/jewish-numerology
Daniel 10 – Angels of the nations
In verses 1-9, Daniel tells of a troubling period in his soul when he sees and has an exchange with an unnamed angel.
In verses 10-21, the angel reveals to Daniel some of the struggle taking place in the unseen realm of the spiritual world. The struggle is between angelic beings in the control and movement of nations in that period of time. Again Daniel is describing events that are related to these four kingdoms, but this time from a "behind the scenes" point of view.
The angel reveals the following:
- That his mission is to give Daniel yet another vision concerning his people and what would happen to them in the future. This vision will unfold in chapter 11.
- He reveals the angelic struggle between himself and other angels that guide or empower the nations that Daniel has spoken of in his visions (Persia, Greece, Israel).
- The angel tells him that he and Michael were struggling with the angel over Persia in preparation for the coming of the angel over Greece. This describes the future struggle between Persia and Greece.
We do not understand the nature of the struggle between these angelic beings (perhaps the angel over Persia was refusing to accept the demise of his protectorate and these other angels were there to prepare for the eventual destruction by Greece). In any event, the revelation shows Daniel that the order of world events is controlled by God and worked out by His messengers.
Daniel 11 – Kings of the North & South
In this chapter Daniel will see a vision that introduces some new elements to the scenario of the four kingdoms.
After the death of Alexander, his kingdom is divided among his four generals. Ptolemy Soter was the general who received the land of Egypt and he annexed Judea as part of his domain. This activity took place between 324 and 264 BC. The Greek Empire was still the dominant force but beginning its decline. This kingdom (Egypt with Judea) was threatened in a regional dispute by the powerful northern country of Syria which contested the annexation of the Judean territory. Thus began a series of conflicts between the northern kings (Syria) and the southern kings (Greek rulers in this area of the Greek Empire). Eventually Syria dominated the area from about 204 BC until 165 BC.
Meanwhile in Jerusalem during the Syrian domination of their country, there was a struggle between the Orthodox Jews who held to traditional religious practice and the more liberal faction of that society who had been deeply influenced by decades of Greek language, religion and ideas. (The rise of the Pharisee sect began as guardians of orthodoxy). These two factions constantly fought over who would control the High Priest's office, the most powerful position in the country.
To make matters more complicated, the High Priest was appointed by the Syrian king as a sort of governor under Syrian authority. There was much lobbying by both sides to influence the Syrian king to appoint the proper candidate. During the reign of one particularly nasty pagan king, Antiochus Epiphanes, the High Priest's office was actually sold to the highest bidder. On one occasion Antiochus appointed a High Priest and sent him to Jerusalem where he was rejected by the local orthodox leaders and run out of town. Antiochus was furious and came with his army and murdered thousands, tore down the walls, forbade circumcision on pain of death, and worst of all, erected a statue of the pagan god Olympus in the temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar.
This caused a revolt among the people and a guerilla type war led by a man named Judas Mattathias (Maccabee in Greek) ensued. This took place in 165-163 BC.
After a long struggle the Syrian king was forced to sign a peace treaty, the temple was cleansed and worship was renewed (the feast of Hanukkah is a remembrance of the rededication of the temple). The Jews enjoyed freedom for about 100 years.
In 145 BC, Rome defeated Greece and began to tighten its grip on world power. In 63 BC it captured Jerusalem and subdued all the local kings under its control. Rome put local rulers to govern the area. At the time of Jesus' birth, Herod was one of these rulers appointed by Rome.
When we look at the rise and fall of the four great kingdoms, what I have described to you is what took place in the area of Judea between the fall and rise of the third and fourth kingdoms. Daniel's vision is a close-up view of what will take place in Israel during the period when the Greek Empire is declining and the Roman Empire is ascending.
Chapter 11 is a detailed account of the kings, wars and outcome of this period. An outline that explains this in detail verse by verse is available at bibletalk.tv/outline-of-kings.
Note that the verse is printed on the left side and on the right side is the interpretation agreed upon by most scholars. By verse 36 of chapter 11 and into chapter 12 you begin to have three interpretations of the verses that I have noted for you. There are various reasons for this: some scholars think there is a secondary and final fulfillment of these words, so words refer to the same idea that repeats itself in the future and at the end of the world. Verse 36 can only refer to Antiochus and his deeds. It could also refer to the antichrist at the end of the world.
This list gives you the generally agreed interpretations plus at times the varied ideas of other scholars (McGuiggan, Church of Christ scholar; Butler, Evangelical scholar; Young, Concordance editor).
Daniel 12 – The time of the end
Daniel continues his dialogue with the angel as the action sweeps forward to the outcome of the troubles that will take place at the end of time. The previous chapters spoke of the battle between Persia, Greece and then the local battles in Palestine until the appearance and dominance by the Roman Empire. In this last chapter we fast forward to look at the outcome of the struggle between the fourth kingdom (Rome) and the kingdom that will replace all other kingdoms before it, the kingdom of God. Note that he is still talking about the four kingdoms and God's final kingdom, but again in a different way.
Features in chapter 12: Daniel uses expressions (time, times and ½ a time) and numbers to determine the time when certain events will take place, especially the end of Jerusalem and the world. He expresses the promise that God will rescue those written in His book, the chosen ones. He predicts a time of hardship and eventual punishment. Daniel has the vision to predict events but the time is hidden or closed to him and to us. Many have tried to guess or decode.
Again, there are different interpretations depending on the way you think the prophecies concern only a future event or deal exclusively with the end of time or both. This is why you have different viewpoints but all the same sequence:
- The rise and fall of the fourth kingdom.
- Persecution of God's people.
- Perseverance and victory of God's people.
- Defeat, judgment, disappearance of the fourth kingdom.
- Reward and happiness for God's people in the end.
And so Daniel completes his visions and his book is finished. Note the different ways to express the time element: 7 weeks, 62 weeks, 1 week; time, times, ½ time. Same ratio, same sequence.
Here are some things to remember about Daniel's book.
- It deals with four world powers and the church.
- It describes the rise and fall of these and the eventual establishment of the church in a variety of ways, symbols and images, but repeats the same story.
- It is important to remember the sequence of events in chapter 2 which remains the same even though the symbolism is at times hard to understand or match exactly to precise historical dates.
- The prophecy is concerned with events and epochs; exact numbers are used symbolically.
- The sequence has been proven historically
- There may still be final fulfillment at the end