Over the past several Wednesday evenings we have discussed various eschatological belief systems focusing on the position each of five common eschatological traditions take regarding the second coming of Jesus in relation to the millennial reign of Jesus we read about in Revelation 20.
- Traditional Premillennialism – Jesus returns physically to Earth prior to a literal millennium
- Dispensational Premillennialism – Jesus gathers His Church prior to the millennium, and then returns physically with His Church to reign during the millennium.
- Postmillennialism – The Church establishes the millennial reign on Earth, while Jesus continues to reign in Heaven. Jesus returns to Earth following the millennium
- Amillennialism – The millennium is not a literal event, but entirely symbolic. The Church establishes the rule of righteousness and justice. Jesus does not physically return to Earth.
- Preterism – Most or all of the prophecies in the Bible have already been fulfilled in the past.
Tonight, we’ll begin delving into some of the scriptural underpinnings of these eschatological belief systems, starting with the book of Daniel. We’ll take a look at the book’s historical context and give a brief outline of the overall structure of the book. Finally we’ll make a high-level survey of the prophetic visions Daniel recounts in Daniel 7-12.
Daniel may be divided into two broad sections. The first six chapters are largely narrative in nature containing the most well known stories from Daniel’s life – King Nebuchadnezzar’s casting of Daniel’s Hebrew companions into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:8-30), Daniel’s interpretation of the handwriting on the wall (Daniel 5), and King Darius casting Daniel into the den of lions (Daniel 6). Interspersed with this narrative are various near-term prophecies – Daniel’s interpretations of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, and the handwriting on the wall.
The second section of the book – beginning with Chapter 7 – contains Daniel’s prophetic visions of (then) future events. Some of these events have already taken place. For example, in Daniel 7, we read about Daniel’s vision of four beasts. In many ways, this vision parallels Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2, and foretells the rise of four ancient empires – Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. In Daniel 8 we find Daniel’s vision of the rise of the Persian and Greek empires symbolized as a Ram and a Goat. Daniel 7:13-14 contains a Messianic prophecy of the coming of “…one like a son of man.” Clearly Jesus’ first earthly ministry partially fulfilled this prophecy. All of these visions also contain elements that remain to be fulfilled such as Daniel’s vision of God’s coming judgement in Daniel 7:10. It is clear from Gabriel’s explanation of Daniel’s vision in chapter 8 that some of these prophecies concern the end times.
15When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it. And behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. 16And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” 17So he came near where I stood. And when he came, I was frightened and fell on my face. But he said to me, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end.”Daniel 8:15-17 [ESV]
NOTE – Recall that preterists believe most or all Biblical prophecies have already been fulfilled in history. Some preterists believe that they had already been fulfilled even at the time they were written. Going forward, our discussions of eschatological passages in the Bible will presume that many of the Biblical prophecies we read remain to be fulfilled in the future – including most of the ones we find in Daniel 7-12.
Historical Context of Daniel
The books of Daniel and Ezekiel were written during the Babylonian Exile by these two prophets who had themselves been taken away from Judah to do their work in Babylon.
Take a look at the Daniel Timeline handout.
After having carried many from Judah into captivity in Babylon during the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah in 605 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon finally captured and destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 586 BC. Most of those who had continued to live in Jerusalem for the intervening years were then also carried away captive to Babylon. Among these were Daniel – דִּנִיֵּאל dinîyē’l and three of his contemporaries – Hananiah (חֲנַנְיָה ḥănanyâ), Mishael (מִישָׁאֵל mîšā’ēl), and Azariah (עֲזַרְיָה ʿăzaryâ). Daniel’s three companions are better known by the Babylonian names they were given – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel was also given a Babylonian name – Belteshazzar – but he is rarely identified by it. These four young men were chosen especially from among the nobility of Judah to be trained in the ways of Babylonian culture and to serve King Nebuchadnezzar in his court. They were very likely in either their teens or early twenties when they came to Babylon. Daniel served in the court at Babylon through the remainder of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, and throughout the reign of his successor Belshazzar. After the Babylonian Empire was overthrown by the Persians in 539 BC, Daniel continued to serve in the courts of the new rulers for the remainder of his life. He never returned to Jerusalem.
The first four chapters of Daniel were written in Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, and contain a mixture of historical narrative and near-term prophecies. The famous story of Nebuchadnezzar casting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into a fiery furnace is found in Daniel 3. Most of the remainder of these four chapters is devoted to Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams and Daniel’s interpretation of them. The prophecies contained in Daniel’s interpretation of these dreams were “near-term” prophecies in the sense that they were fulfilled with the rise and fall of four great ancient empires – Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman.
Chapter 5 of Daniel is also partially historical and partially prophetic. Written in Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar’s indirect successor – Belshazzar – this chapter contains the famous vision of the disembodied hand which appeared during a party Belshazzar had thrown, and began writing the prophecy of Belshazzar’s own downfall on the wall of the banquet hall. Daniel was summoned to interpret this writing, and pronounced that Belshazzar would be overthrown that very evening by Darius the Mede.
At this point, the sequence of events, the identity of some of the key players, and even Daniel’s own whereabouts become somewhat confusing. Daniel 5:30-31 explicitly states that Darius the Mede became ruler over Babylon following the death of Belshazzar.
30That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. 31And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.Daniel 5:30-31 [ESV]
Yet the historical records of the Persian Empire make it clear that Cyrus the Great – not Darius – was king of Persia in 539 BC when Babylon was conquered. Did Daniel get his facts wrong? Possibly, but Daniel has been repeatedly proven quite accurate in relation to extra-biblical historical accounts. It seems unlikely that Daniel would make such a blunder in this case. One possible explanation is that Darius which means “the royal one” was an honorary title given to the appointed ruler of the newly conquered province of Babylon by King Cyrus of Persia. It may also be possible that Darius was an honorary name for Cyrus himself. It is also most likely that it is this Darius not Darius the Great – who ruled the Persian Empire 522-486 BC – to whom Daniel refers at the end of Daniel 6.
So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.Daniel 6:28 [ESV]
A very thorough treatment of this question may be found at https://www.evidenceunseen.com/bible-difficulties-2/ot-difficulties/daniel-amos/dan-531-who-is-darius-the-mede/.
This brings up another question, though. Cyrus the Great ruled Persia from 559 BC to 530 BC. The city of Babylon was conquered by the Persians in 539 BC as Daniel 5:30-31 affirms. But where was Daniel in the midst of this upheaval? At the end of Daniel 1, we find a somewhat confusing statement.
18At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. 21And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.Daniel 1:18-21 [ESV]
Is Daniel implying that he only remained in Babylon until the first year of Cyrus? Probably not. Daniel served in the court of the Kings of Babylon until the Babylonians were overthrown by the Persians in 539 BC. The “first year of King Cyrus” Daniel speaks of is probably the year Babylon was overthrown, not the first year Cyrus reigned in Persia (559 BC). Nor does Daniel’s statement in Daniel 1:21 necessarily imply that Daniel left the city in that year. After all from Daniel 10:1-4 we know that in the 3rd year of King Cyrus, Daniel saw a vision while standing on the banks of the Tigris River which runs through the city of Babylon in what is now south central Iraq. What Daniel probably means by his statement in Daniel 1:21 is that he remained a servant in the court of the Babylonian Kings until their dynasty ended with the overthrow of King Belshazzar by the Persians in 539 BC.
Assuming that Daniel and his companions were brought to Babylon when they were in their early teens, that would put their dates of birth somewhere around 600 BC. So Daniel would have been around 80 years of age by the time Darius the Great ascended to the throne of Persia in 522 BC. Presumably Daniel died sometime during Darius’ reign, but since God’s Word is silent on the matter, Daniel’s time and place of death remain unknown.
Daniel’s Prophetic Visions
The second half of the book of Daniel (chapters 7-12) contains prophetic visions that Daniel received. We won’t delve too deeply into these right now, but it will be helpful for us to take a high-level look at them so that when we look at them in more detail, we’ll be aware of their context. Daniel himself gives us specific statements of the times these visions appeared to him, but these are not all definitive. Take a look at the handout – Daniel’s Prophetic Visions.
Daniel’s First Vision – Daniel 7 – 556 BC
Daniel saw prophetic visions on four occasions. The first of these – detailed in Daniel 7 – took place in the 1st year of the reign of King Belshazzar while Daniel lay on his bed in Babylon. This vision had three distinct aspects. In the first (Daniel 7:1-8), Daniel saw a vision of four great beasts rising out of the sea. It was later explained to Daniel that these four beasts represented four kingdoms which would arise in what was still the future in Daniel’s time. This vision is strikingly similar to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. Some of the prophecies of this vision have now taken place, while some – particularly the rise of the “little horn” from the most fearsome of the four beasts – remain still for future fulfillment.
In the second part of Daniel’s first prophetic vision (Daniel 7:9-12) Daniel saw the Ancient of Days on His throne ruling and judging. This vision is reminiscent of John’s visions of God’s Heavenly throne in Revelation 4 and the Great White Throne judgement of Revelation 20. This aspect of Daniel’s first vision remains to be fulfilled.
In Daniel 7:13-14, Daniel details seeing one “like a son of man” who came before the Ancient of Days on His throne, and was given an everlasting dominion. This apparent Messianic vision was partially fulfilled when God came to Earth in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth to live a perfectly sinless life and therefore qualify to be the perfectly spotless sacrificial Lamb who took away the sins of the world by His death on the cross. Nevertheless, Jesus does not yet have dominion over all things. Satan is still allowed for a season to exert his influence over Earthly history. So Daniel’s vision of the one like a son of man being given an everlasting dominion has yet to be fulfilled when Jesus returns to reign on the Earth.
Daniel’s Second Vision – Daniel 8 – 554 BC
Daniel 8 details a vision Daniel received in “…the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar…” Daniel reports that in the vision he was at the Ulai canal in the Persian fortress city of Susa in what is now west central Iran. Whether Daniel was dwelling in Susa at that time, or was only there as part of his vision isn’t quite clear. In the vision, Daniel saw a great Ram with two horns, which dominated everything for a time, but was then defeated by a Goat with one large horn. The angel Gabriel explains to Daniel that the Ram’s two horns represent the Medes and Persians who conquered Babylon in 539 BC as we have already seen. Gabriel also tells Daniel that the Goat represents the King of Greece. Alexander the Great overthrew the Persian Empire over two hundred years after the prophecy was given. The prophecy also foretells the breaking up of Alexander’s empire into four parts following his death in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in Babylon in 323 BC.
So as we can see, much of the prophecy in Daniel’s second vision was fulfilled in ancient history. In fact, Daniel is so accurate in this respect that Biblical skeptics claim that the book of Daniel was fabricated by Hebrew scribes after the fact. We’ll put that discussion aside for another time. For our purposes, the more important thing to consider is the aspects of this vision that have yet to be fulfilled. Specifically, in the vision Daniel saw a further descendant of the four kings who had inherited the Goat’s empire. Daniel 8:9-14 relates the rise of “…a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land.” This vision of the little horn contains similarities to prophecies of the end times we find in Matthew and Revelation pertaining to “the Beast” known popularly as the Antichrist. We won’t delve into those prophecies either at this point, but Gabriel’s explanation of the vision to Daniel (c.f. Daniel 8:17 & 26) makes very clear that this aspect of the vision refers to the end times.
NOTE – An important question to ask our preterist brethren is how they explain these two statements from Gabriel if all of these prophecies have already taken place. Either Gabriel wasn’t being perfectly straightforward with Daniel, or the end times have already come and gone. So that naturally raises the question, how does our current time fit into the overall scheme of Creation?
Daniel’s Third Vision – Daniel 9 – 522 BC?
Pinning down the time Daniel saw his third prophetic vision is problematic.
1In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— 2in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.Daniel 9:1-2 [ESV]
The word of prophecy Daniel refers to here was given to Jeremiah in “…the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (that was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon)…” – 605 BC.
11This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste.Jeremiah 25:11-12 [ESV]
Daniel tells us that when he realized that the seventy years prophesied by Jeremiah were coming to an end, he began to pray in earnest for God’s mercy upon the people of Israel, the land, and the city of Jerusalem. He also tells us that this was in the ” …first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign…” But what year was that, and which Darius was Daniel writing about? As we have seen, Nebuchadnezzar first took many of the people of Judah captive in 605 BC which coincides with the time God’s Word was given to Jeremiah we just looked at. So if that year was the beginning of the seventy years God foretold, then the seventieth year would have been 535 BC. We also saw that Nebuchadnezzar finally razed Jerusalem and took the remainder of Judah captive in 586 BC. If that year was the beginning of the seventy-year exile, then the return from exile and the punishment of the Chaldeans would have been 516 BC.
But Daniel tells us that when he perceived the end of the exile was nearing, he began to pray in the first year of Darius. That raises the question, which Darius? As we have seen, “Darius” may have been an honorary title for the ruler appointed over the newly won province of Babylon by the Persian King Cyrus the Great in 539 BC, or it may have been an honorary name for Cyrus himself. In either case, if that is the Darius Daniel speaks of in Daniel 9:1, then Daniel would have begun praying for his people and land in 539 BC about four years before the end of seventy years since Nebuchadnezzar first took part of Judah captive – 535 BC.
If Daniel was referring to King Darius the Great of Persia in Daniel 9:1, whose first year reigning over the Persian Empire was 522 BC, then that would be about six years before the later date for the end of the exile – seventy years after Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem and led the remainder of Judah captive – 516 BC. In either case – we see that Daniel who was well known as a devoted man of prayer – began to pray about the end of the exile several years before he had determined from Jeremiah’s prophecy that the captivity would end.
The precise timing of this third vision may seem unimportant, but as we shall soon see those who adhere to the Dispensational Premillennialist eschatological belief framework rely heavily on a precise analysis of the times mentioned in the vision to explain the timing of future events like the Rapture of the Church, and the Seven-year Great Tribulation postulated by their eschatology, so it is helpful to try to determine as precisely as we can when Daniel received this prophecy. All that said, the important lesson to carry from Daniel 9 is found in Daniel’s faithful prayer and in God’s honoring Daniel’s faith and persistence, not perhaps in the details of the prophecy itself. But we’ll look at that more closely later. For now let’s take a quick look at the general character of the prophecy.
Unlike Daniel’s other visions which seemingly came to him unbidden, the prophecy given to Daniel by Gabriel in Daniel 9:24-27 was a direct answer to Daniel’s earnest prayer for mercy upon his people and Jerusalem in Daniel 9:1-23. With just a cursory glance, it may seem that Gabriel’s declarations in the prophetic vision have little to do with Daniel’s prayerful supplications. Daniel’s prayer was for God’s immediate relief of his people’s current suffering and the desolation of Daniel’s beloved Jerusalem. But God understands that the most pressing issue for Israel and for all mankind is sin and the curse of death that sin brings with it. Thus Gabriel’s answer to Daniel’s prayer pertained to God’s permanent solution to the problem of sin – the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His ultimate victory over evil. In a sense, Daniel’s prayer set his expectations too low.
Gabriel’s prophecy in response to Daniel’s prayer gives a detailed timeline of future events in terms of “weeks.” The Hebrew word translated as “weeks” here is שָׁבוּעַ šāḇûaʿ – it means seven, period of seven (days or years), heptad, week. It is closely related as one might expect to the Hebrew word for Sabbath – שַׁבָּת šabāṯ which may also be translated as “seven.” Much has been made – particularly by Dispensational Premillennialists – about the importance of the periods of sevens (presumably sevens of years) given by Gabriel in these three verses. We won’t go deeply into those details right now. For our purposes, it is important to consider that part of Gabriel’s prophecy has already been fulfilled.
Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.Daniel 9:25 [ESV]
WARNING – The ESV translation of Daniel 9:25 differs significantly from almost all other English language translations. We’ll examine those differences when we take a deeper look at this prophecy.
Certainly, the “…anointed one…” – Jesus Christ – has indeed come. Furthermore, He has also been cut off as foretold in Daniel 9:26.
But the other events mentioned by Gabriel in Daniel 25:26-27 remain for future fulfillment. Indeed, Jesus Himself referred to this prophecy as being still in the future in His Olivet Discourse.
15“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.Matthew 24:15-16 [ESV]
We’ll defer discussion of exactly what the “…abomination of desolation…” might be, and exactly when the declaration to “…restore and build Jerusalem…” was made for a later time. For now, let’s press on with an overview of Daniel’s final prophetic vision.
Daniel’s Final Vision – Daniel 10-12 – 537 BC?
The last three chapters of Daniel are taken up with his vision of “…a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist,” and the things the “man” spoke of to Daniel. Daniel tells us that he alone saw this “man” while Daniel was standing on the bank of the Tigris River in Babylon.
SPOILER ALERT – From Daniel’s description in Daniel 10:5-6 the “man” Daniel saw was most likely Jesus.
Daniel tells us that this vision appeared to him in “…the third year of Cyrus king of Persia.” As we have seen, Cyrus reigned over Persia 559-530 BC. What Daniel likely means, though, is the third year Cyrus reigned over Babylon after overthrowing the Chaldeans in 539 BC. Thus the third year of Cyrus would be 537 BC. In this case, though, the time the vision was received is unimportant.
As with Daniel’s other visions, this prophecy Daniel received by the word of the “man” has been partially fulfilled, and partially remains to be fulfilled in the future. The prophecy in Daniel 11 details struggles between the kings of “the south” (and one queen of the south) and the kings of “the north.” This may be a reference to the struggles between Egypt and Rome and the Roman conquest of Palestine in the first century BC. Regardless of that, it is clear that the prophecy of Daniel 12 is for the end times. In fact, “the man” Himself tells Daniel so.
4But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end…Daniel 12:4 [ESV]
When Daniel protested about wanting to understand more, Jesus told him not to worry about it, and to go on his way.
8I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” 9He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end.Daniel 12:8-9 [ESV]
Jesus also gives us an answer to a burning question about the eternal destiny of those we call “Old Testament saints” at the very end of the book of Daniel.
But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”Daniel 12:13 [ESV]
God willing, next time we’ll make a comparison of the prophecies in Daniel and those in Revelation and elsewhere with an emphasis on the meaning of the symbolism.