June 11, 2022 - Latter-day Prophecy in Daniel

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Today we’re going to talk about Latter-day Prophecy in the book of Daniel. Daniel is a book that seems to tell us both about the near-term future (that is, the defiling of the Temple in the days of the Maccabees), and about events that have yet to be fulfilled. In fact, one might say (based on what Jesus says) that even the near-term predictions like the defiling of the Temple may be destined to be fulfilled more than once.


Around 400 AD, St Jerome answers a pagan critic who claimed that the defiler of the Temple in Daniel 11 is Antiochus Epiphanes, the king that the Maccabees defeated. Jerome agrees that many of the details in Daniel do look like the evil king Antiochus, but then Jerome writes, “But those of our view interpret all this with greater plausibility as applying to the Antichrist, for he is to be born of the Jewish people and will come from Babylon.” (How does Jerome know this? Jerome is simply giving us the beliefs of people in his day. God may have guided people to believe that way, but we can’t call it reliable revelation.)


Jerome thinks that “this abominable king (Antiochus Epiphanes) who persecuted God’s people foreshadows the Antichrist, who will persecute the people of Christ. And so there are many of our viewpoint who think that Domitius Nero was the Antichrist because of his outstanding savagery and depravity.” Jerome goes on and points out quite a few details in which Daniel’s predictions do not fit Antiochus Epiphanes, but must refer to a future Antichrist.


Skeptical scholarship has assigned the writing of the book of Daniel itself to the time of the Maccabees (mid-2nd century BC). They claim that the predictions of Daniel are prophecy after the fact, predictions written after the events had already taken place, a book that was created to give encouragement to the followers of the Maccabees as they were forced to be faithful unto death against attempts to force them to worship idols. However, there are numerous arguments that can be made both that Daniel was not a late literary creation, and that the details of what is said about this defiler of the Temple do not reflect knowledge after-the-fact.


Daniel opens the door to a new kind of Biblical prophecy called apocalyptic. There were a lot of apocalypses circulating back then full of visions like Daniel. Writers of the later books usually borrowed the names of various faith heroes from the distant past like Enoch or Ezra. But who ever heard of Daniel until his book came along? The only place we hear of a Jewish hero like Daniel in the Babylonian royal court is here in this book, and the only other place we find a similar name is in one passage in Ezekiel, which seems to refer to an ancient Canaanite king by a similar name.


In 150 BC, the Dead Sea Scrolls immediately accepted Daniel as Scripture on the same level as the other prophets. If Daniel had only just recently been written, it is highly unlikely that the book of Daniel would have been received with such authority.


Chapter 8 predicts that sacrifices will be stopped for “2,300 evenings and mornings” (= 1,150 days). This prediction was fulfilled in 167–164 BC. But will this happen again? In a YouTube video about 10 years ago, Joel Richardson makes the case for a “consistent futurist” approach to this chapter. Daniel 8:17 and 19 say that these predictions are about the time of the end, not in-between times. Verses 10-12 (about the great horn) may be fulfilled twice (so Antiochus 4th becomes a preview of the Antichrist). Why is Antiochus 4th not the horn here? First, we have no evidence that Antiochus dragged down any stars (angels) from heaven. Second, Richardson proposes that the Hebrew name Yawan here means modern Turkey rather than Alexander’s Greece. Richardson outlines a cycle of power struggles between Greece and Medo-Persia, then Rome versus Parthia, all the way down to Turkey versus Iran.


Richardson argues that the details in this chapter about the 4 kingdoms after Alexander do not fit. The chapter states that this horn rises “in the latter part of their rule,” while Antiochus 4th rises almost at the midpoint of the Seleucid dynasty (305-63 BC). Richardson argues there never was a time where there were clearly 4 kingdoms. Also, Antiochus 4th never faces off in battle against the Prince of Princes. We are told that this future figure will “destroy many while they are at ease” (he will doublecross a number of leaders who will trust him). Richardson believed that Iran will expand in the latter days, while ISIS (Turkey’s proxy) was already expanding at the time Richardson did his video. Richardson believed that we can expect Turkey to expand, then a great Turkish leader dies, 4 kingdoms will arise, and the Antichrist appears. If early parts of Richardson’s theory start to happen, we will know what to watch for next.


Daniel’s 70 weeks have prompted numerous attempts to explain them. Jerome quotes several Christian attempts to do the math, including Julius Africanus, who finds 475 solar years between the 20th year of Artaxerxes and 26 AD (the second year of the 202nd Olympiad), then he adds the lunar leap years to get 490 lunar years. Jerome also quotes Tertullian, who finds 437½ years (62.5 weeks) from Artaxerxes’ decree (which he must date to 441 BC) to the birth of Christ, which he must date to 4 BC, because he states that Jesus died in 29 AD at the age of 33. In an article in Bibliotheca Sacra (Oct-Dec ’76: 329), Bruce Waltke starts on the 1st of Nisan 444 BC, and counts 173,880 days until March 29, 33 AD (his date for the crucifixion). Waltke multiplies Daniel’s 69 weeks (483 years) times 360 days (a lunar or “prophetic” year), and gets exactly 173,880 days. Three problems with Waltke’s method are: 1. To get this number, you have to separate off the final week and put it at the end of the world; 2. This theory has to date the cross to 33 AD (which could be correct, but I prefer to date the cross to 30 AD); and 3. Artaxerxes made no decree to rebuild Jerusalem, while Cyrus did. Waltke’s theory is impressive and is widely accepted, but I am not convinced.


Josephus declared that the abomination of desolation was the Roman destruction of the Temple, and that this marked the end of the 490 years, but why the years should start in 420 BC is not clear, unless lunar years or inexact numbers are the explanation. There have been various modern attempts to have the 69 “weeks” end shortly after the victory of the Maccabees, but these claims raise more questions than they solve, and to arrive at their conclusions, we have to read Scripture as if the writer were dreaming up stuff that is hopelessly mistaken. I don’t go there!


If this passage about the 70 weeks is not actually about Jesus, but about the Maccabean crisis, the 69 weeks would have to start in 605 BC (the first exile from Jerusalem), and they’d have to end in 171 BC, when a righteous high priest is “cut off” and replaced, giving us seven years of the evil covenant between Antiochus and the Jews, in the middle of which the Temple is defiled. Even here, however, the details do not match up: Antiochus never destroys the Temple or the city. So either this is a prediction that does not come true, it is mistaken history pretending to be prophecy, or else we must conclude that this prophecy of Daniel’s is not about the Maccabean crisis at all, even though it has amazing similarities.


I would argue that the 70 weeks need to start with 539 BC, the date when the prophecy was given to Daniel. Seven weeks of years (49 years) takes us to 490 BC. 69 more weeks of years (483 years) takes us to right around the year when Jesus was born (estimated at 6-7 BC). But what I have just done is also arbitrary, and not only gives us more than 70 “weeks”, but it fails to take us to the date of the “cutting off” of the Messiah (meaning the crucifixion). We must keep in mind, however, that our numbers do not need to be exact, but they can be approximate; the famous 70 years of Babylonian exile are not exactly 70 years, no matter which way you count their starting and ending dates.


As for the details of Daniel 11, most readers see a shift from the events of fulfilled history to events that do not fit past history as we know it, which leads those who trust the Bible to conclude that we have moved to visions of the future far beyond where we were in the previous verses. I remember reading Daniel 11 during my first summer in college. I was using a Bible that identifies in the margin who each of these predictions is about, and then I noticed a shift away from fulfilled prophecy to the future.


Telescoping events like this is not uncommon in visions of the future, since when the prophet sees them, the timing is often not distinguished (the best example would be where Jesus telescopes the destruction of Jerusalem with the end of the world). Jerome thought this shift from near-term to long-term future happens in verse 21, while the early Christian Hippolytus thought it happens in verse 36. Yet Daniel’s words do match up with what Antiochus himself does until verse 40. Joyce Baldwin writes: “At this point most commentators are persuaded that the author ceases to write history and looks ahead to describe how the tyrant will meet his end.”


The kicker is what little if anything Daniel says about the rise of Rome, which is hard to believe if this is being written after it has all taken place. (The one possible mention of Rome is the “ships of Kittim” or Cyprus, a name later applied to Rome in the Dead Sea Scrolls). The end of this last tyrant does not match the end of Antiochus. Antiochus does not conquer Egypt. The Romans stop him, and command him to go home. And the battle between the sea and the glorious holy mountain never happens. Antiochus goes back to Syria and dies, but not in battle.


So was this a mistaken prediction about the final battle of this evil king? No, if someone had written this version of the story after it all happened, they would have never made such an error. No, I would take these unfulfilled details as evidence that this part of Daniel’s prophecy refers not to the evil king who fought the Maccabees, but to the great future enemy of God we know as the Antichrist, which even St Jerome figured out in 400 AD.


What Cranfield says about Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 13 applies to Daniel 11 as well: “neither an exclusively historical nor an exclusively eschatological interpretation is satisfactory, and…we must allow for a double reference, for a mingling of the historical and eschatological.” (And let me remind you that Jesus is our authority that the defiling of the Temple predicted by Daniel was still future in his day; it was to be fulfilled at least once, in 68 AD, if not yet one more time in the future. We talked about this last month in our broadcast on “Latter-day Prophecy By Jesus.”)


What happens next in Daniel? As we get into chapter 12, we read that Michael the archangel arises to defend the Jewish people in the great battle that happens next. We are told there shall be a time of great “trouble” or stress like had never happened before (sounds like the “great tribulation” spoken of by Jesus). But then God’s people will be delivered, “everyone who shall be found written in the book.”


Here Daniel gives us one of the very few OT references to the final resurrection: “Many of them that sleep shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Like Jesus predicts in John 5, both the just and the unjust will be raised. Resurrection is rare in OT teaching. Other than here in Daniel, we only find it in 2 places. Psalm 16:10 says “For thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol, nor let thy Holy One see decay,” a prediction that Peter applies to the resurrection of Christ. And Isaiah 26:19 says, “Thy dead shall live; together with my dead body shall they arise.” Daniel is also told that those who are “wise” shall shine like the heavens, and “those who turn many to righteousness” shall shine like the stars forever and ever, a comfort both for the martyrs in the days of the Maccabees and for any age.


But in verses 4 and 9, Daniel is told to keep the words closed and the book sealed until the time of the end. In Revelation, John is told the opposite; John is told not to seal up the words of this book, because the time is short. But Daniel appears not to have been kept top secret. The way I understand this command, Daniel does not need to know what all of these predictions mean, because they are too far in the future for him to worry about.


Daniel says in verse 4 that the time of the end will be a time when “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” The Hebrew text says “knowledge,” but the Greek text says “evil” shall increase (both words look very similar in Hebrew). Both are certainly true today: knowledge has definitely increased, and evil has arguably increased as well.


But Daniel gets no straight answer to his question of how long it will be until the end of time. Two angels appear who say that the one who shatters the power of the holy people shall operate for “a time, times, and half a time” (meaning 3½ years), and that the time when sacrifices will be stopped and the Temple will be defiled will be for 1290 days (3 years and 7 months). They also say that blessed will be those who wait and make it another 45 days, a number which no one has understood. (All we can tell is that 1335 days is 3½ years by a solar calendar rather than a lunar calendar.)


Yes, Daniel can be a puzzling book. But the big question is: Is it true? Is it a genuine revelation from God? Or is it a work of fantasy or wild speculation about the future? A lot of skeptics believe that Daniel was made up in the time of the Maccabees. However, the stories in Daniel do not sound like they were being written in a time when the bad guys are winning. They don’t sound like they were written before the Maccabees finally defeated the Greeks and drove them out of Jerusalem.


Look at the stories told about Nebuchadnezzar and Darius in Daniel. Yes, Daniel and his friends get put to the test numerous times, but neither Nebuchadnezzar nor Darius gets treated like a bad guy who has to be destroyed. Each time, Daniel or his friends get miraculously delivered, and the pagan king ends up giving glory to the God of Israel. This never happened during the Maccabean crisis! Many Jews were tortured to death, and died rather than renounce their faith. Unlike the case of the fiery furnace, no one steps in to prevent them from dying. Only a guerilla war sets God’s people free from their evil king. We sure don’t see that in Daniel!


Notice also that chapters 2-7 of Daniel are written in Aramaic. That’s strange! The only other place we find that is in Ezra. And the stories in the Aramaic section of Daniel seem to be aimed at a non-Jewish audience. They’re not aimed at trashing Greeks 400 years later. The Babylonians and Persians in Daniel are treated with respect. And one amazing piece of evidence to back up the book of Daniel is a Babylonian list of 39 officials from Nebuchadnezzar’s government that appear to include the names Hananiah, Abed-Nego, and Mishael. We can’t prove they’re the same people as in Daniel. But evidence is better than no evidence.


Now, it’s true that Daniel is a book that seems to be designed to speak straight to people in the time of the Maccabees who are struggling to be faithful to God when they’re being commanded to bow down to other gods. And yes, Daniel warns them about a great future defiling of the Temple that does come true in their day. But that doesn’t mean that people in Maccabean times made it up! Daniel was written that way by God’s design. God knew that his people in the time of the Maccabees would need this book to survive as a nation. (There’s a lot in here for us as well, as we get commanded by government to disobey God.) And ultimately Jesus tells us that the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel is still in the future. Such a hideous event had already happened once. Jesus warns that it will happen again, and it did, not only in 68 AD (before Jerusalem was destroyed), but it may still happen one more time in our future. But first, God’s temple will have to be rebuilt one more time in the latter days, before it can be defiled. That’s a tantalizing latter-day clue for us to watch for!


On our next broadcast, we’re going to look at the other nuggets of Latter-day prophecy that we find scattered throughout the Minor Prophets (Hosea through Malachi). We’re getting close to the end of our series. Join us as we look at clues about our future to be found in the Minor Prophets next time on Biblical Words and World!