Thursday, December 26, 2013
I have decided to “tackle” Revelation as the next step in my last days study. I do so as I keep in mind Alexander Pope’s famous epigram: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” (This was misquoted by another great wordsmith—Ricky Nelson: “Fools rush in where wise men never go.”) I have observed that some people begin their presentations on Revelation by referring to 1:3, which pronounces a blessing on those who read and those who hear the prophecy. They take this as justification for entering into a study of the book. I do not dispute that, though I think the verse pronounces a blessing on simply reading and hearing the book and not necessarily on interpreting it. Nevertheless, some interpretation is probably going to happen.
A RICH BOOK
As I have worked on this book over the years (I have studied it over a period of about 15 years), I have noted that is a rich book. Sometimes, in our zeal to understand the intricacies of its organization, we miss much of its power. If you are planning to “walk” with me through this book, I hope that you will observe some of the following aspects of the book:
· The book has been important in shaping our spiritual imagination. The visions give us word pictures of angels, heaven, the Throne, hell (the Lake of Fire), the last judgment, the New Jerusalem, the glorified Christ, prayers of the saints, the intermediate state, and so forth.
· The book has given us vocabulary that shapes our language—the Apocalypse, the Lamb of God, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the 144,000, the Dragon, That Old Serpent, the Devil, the Beast, the False Prophet, the Grapes of Wrath, Armageddon, Babylon, the Hallelujah Chorus, the Rider on the White Horse, the Millennium, the Bottomless Pit, the Great White Throne Judgment, Hades, the Lake of Fire, the New Jerusalem, the River of Life, the Crystal Sea, the Alpha and Omega, Washed in the Blood of the Lamb, and Bright and Morning Star.
· The book can shape our understanding of what it is to be a Christian. There is mention of having a testimony of Jesus, of washing our robes in the blood of the Lamb, of having our prayers used as incense before the Lord, of fearing God, of not taking the mark of the Beast, of having our deeds follow us into eternity, and of staying awake and remaining clothed during the last days (spiritually).
· The book contrasts sharply the righteous and the unrighteous. See the previous item for something of what it is to be righteous. The unrighteous bear the mark of the Beast. They are unrepentant of worshiping demons and idols, committing murder, being involved in magic arts, committing sexual immorality, and stealing.
· The book features angels prominently. They are involved in spiritual warfare, in dispensing judgments, in pronouncing new developments in the program of God, in the worship of God and the Lamb, and in being instruments to convey the visions of John.
· The book gives us a vision of Jesus that is not found in detail in any other book. We see Him in His glorified state. He shares the throne with the Father. Yet, He is the Lamb who was slain.
· The book deals with the church in ways not found in other books. Jesus is seen to be the Lord of the church universal as well as the individual local churches. Each church that is addressed in chapters 2 and 3 is seen to have individual characteristics. The local churches are addressed as such and each church is held accountable for its behavior and attitudes.
· Though frightening images of enormous destruction are found in much of the book, it is still a book about victory. The saints overcome the devil by their testimony and determination. Jesus wins the victory over the Beast and the devil. In the final vision, there is tranquility and joy and life and healing.
One of the characteristics of the book is the fantastic imagery. The question for us is how do we interpret these images? Does a great star really fall into the rivers and springs throughout the earth (8:10)? We know that our sun is mediocre among stars of the universe and yet it is many times the size of the earth. So how could a star fall on even a river the size of the Amazon? I take such images to be word pictures of the visions that were seen by John. And I believe two things about such a vision. First, it depicts truth. By that I mean, it depicts an event that will really happen. Second, it depicts that truth in a way that conveys that truth with dramatic imagery. By that I mean, the image is not a videotape of the actual event, but rather it is an image that conveys the truth of that event.
For example, the following is the description of the event that I referred to, as John saw the vision:
The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. (Revelation 8:11-12, English Standard Version (ESV); all quotes from ESV unless stated otherwise)
From this I would infer that one-third of the fresh water supplies of the world will be somehow contaminated. Moreover, although there may be a natural immediate cause for this contamination, the actual cause is from the heavens—possibly either an angelic or demonic intervention. This latter John saw as a great star from the “heaven” (NIV says “sky”—the two are indistinguishable in Greek). It is my belief that when this happens, no one will see the “great star” that John saw; they will only experience the contamination of the water. So, John saw a vision of the truth that this event will happen. His vision of it was not a videotape of that event, but rather it was a revelation of the event from a heavenly, spiritual perspective.
Thus, in the interpretation of a vision of John, we need to recognize what kind of “natural” event is being depicted. Then, we should recognize the spiritual dimension of that event, if that is also a feature of the vision. Beyond those features, we also may need to recognize the role that the event plays in the context of the narrative. We should do all this with caution and avoid extremes in any direction. We may try to be too “natural.” By that I mean, we may try to explain the vision in natural, cause-and-effect terms beyond what the text warrants. We also may go in the other direction and try to be so literal that we miss the message. In other words, we may try to explain how a star from the sky or heaven can enter every third stream and spring in the world.
In addition to dealing with the images in terms of natural versus spiritual, we also must be cautious in assigning modern-day terminology to components of the visions. For example, we cannot say that John was seeing modern tank or missile warfare and tried to explain what he saw in first century terms. We have no warrant for such conclusions. I believe that someday those visions will become reality and that reality will feature the technology that is extant when the visions come to pass. Considering how fast our technology changes today, I would be foolish to assign the technology of December, 2013, to those visions, since that technology will be obsolete in a matter of a few months or years.
One of the favorite references that scholars and wanna-be’s like to make is to the “apocalyptic” genre. To make the statement that Revelation is an “apocalypse” or that is written in the “apocalyptic genre” is a wave of the hand that is supposed to solve any problems. Some writers use this reference to imply that we can pretty much ignore all those fantastic images, because, after all, John was just using this genre to convey his message.
To “unpack” this term, I need to clarify two broad uses of the word “apocalypse.” First, “The Apocalypse” is often used as a synonym for “Revelation,” the last book in the Bible. This is a legitimate use of the word. “Apocalypse” is derived from the transliteration of the Greek apocalupsis, which is the first word of the book. The word means “revelation” or “unveiling.” The book begins: “Revelation of Jesus Christ…” Sometimes “The Apocalypse of John” is used to refer to the book. These uses of the term carry no weight of additional connotation. On the other hand, “apocalypse” or “apocalyptic” is often used in a way that implies a great deal about style and theology.
There were, during the period from somewhat before Christ to somewhat beyond the first century, a number of books written that had a particular style that is called “apocalyptic.” These include I Enoch, II Baruch, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Ascension of Isaiah (Rist, 343). Many scholars assign Revelation to that group. According to Rist, writing in The Interpreter’s Bible, these books were not only written in a particular literary genre, but they also reflected a particular theology, which he calls “apocalypticism” and which he defines as follows:
[It] may be defined as the eschatological belief that the power of evil (Satan), who is now in control of this temporal and hopelessly evil age of human history in which the righteous are afflicted by his demonic and human agents, is soon to be overcome and his evil rule ended by the direct intervention of God, who is the power of good, and who thereupon will create an entirely new, perfect, and eternal age under his immediate control for the everlasting enjoyment of his righteous followers from among the living and the resurrected dead.” (Rist, 347)
He further elaborates on this definition with the following features (Rist, 347-351):
· It is always eschatological—concerned with last things.
· It is always dualistic—a dualism of two opposing supernatural powers.
· There are two distinct ages—the present under the control of Satan and the one to come, under God.
· It understood there are two distinct worlds.
· Righteousness is defined more in terms of loyalty than in terms of ethical and moral conduct.
· God is now transcendent on His throne, but He will soon come to rescue the righteous.
· This rescue will include a final cosmic struggle with Satan.
· It features a strong determinism.
· It is a simple pattern. However, complexity is added by including secondary features that are not essential to a work’s being classified as apocalyptic.
· Among the secondary features that are commonly used are visions, pseudonymity of the author, a Messiah, an Anti-Messiah or Antichrist, angels, demons, bizarre imagery, etc.
Rist categorizes Revelation as an apocalypse that reflects the apocalyptic theology and includes many secondary features common to other apocalypses. He distinguishes the book from Old Testament prophecies and from Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God. He maintains that the prophets and Jesus were not dualistic and believed that God had not abandoned the earth to Satan, but was very much in control (Rist, 348). He also maintains that the apocalyptic viewpoint is that the faithful are to be loyal to God and wait passively for God’s intervention, whereas the prophets and Jesus called for people to exhibit the highest moral and ethical behavior so that they can “assist in bringing the kingdom into realization here and now.” (Rist, 349)
Another viewpoint of Revelation and the apocalyptic is taken by Leon Morris. His definition of an apocalypse (Morris, 22) is similar to Rist’s view, with some differences. He notes that Revelation shares with other apocalypses symbolism, an expectation of the setting up of God’s kingdom, looking to a new heaven and a new earth, and the mention of angels. (Morris 23) He gives the following differences from the “typical apocalyptic” (Morris, 23-25):
· It’s claim to be a prophecy, in the Old Testament prophetic tradition
· Prophetic insistence on moral considerations
· Not written under a pseudonym of an ancient person
· Fundamentally optimistic; God has brought salvation in the present age; evil and Satanic activity are depicted realistically
· Not a recapitulation of history disguised as prophecy, but rather a prophecy of things to come
· Quotation from G. Eldon Ladd that highlights how the book holds in tension the present and eschatology—specifically, Rome’s evils are a forerunner of the evils of the Beast of the last days
· Apocalypses employ an angel or God to explain bizarre visions; Revelation does this sometimes, but often allows the vision to stand on its own.
· Apocalypses look forward to the Messiah, who will solve the problems by his intervention. Revelation understands that the Messiah has already come and won a decisive victory (the Lamb who was slain).
Ladd (Ladd, 10-11) summarizes the views of the Preterists (see below) who assign to Revelation the genre “apocalypse.” (He is referring to liberal Preterists rather than evangelical Preterists.) An apocalypse expressed “the hopes of the people whose culture produced them.” (emphasis added) Therefore, Revelation, as an apocalypse (in the Preterist view, according to Ladd), “expresses the hopes of the early Christians of Asia that they were about to be delivered from their troubles at the hands of Rome.” Though John predicted that God would intervene and Christ would come, this did not happen. “But prophetic prediction is not an element of the genre of the apocalyptic. The book fulfilled its purpose in strengthening and encouraging the first-century church. For those who accept the claim of Revelation to be a prophecy, this view is quite inadequate.” I agree with Ladd.
From this discussion, we draw some observations. First, some scholars, such as Rist, regard an apocalypse to be an expression of a theology that they believe is quite contrary to the theology of the Bible. When they assign Revelation among the apocalypses, they are dismissing it as an inadequate book for Christians. Read the conclusion of Rist’s article:
These distinctive ideas of the writer [of Revelation] created difficulties which would scarcely have arisen had Revelation remained outside the canon; for then it would have been understood and interpreted with reference to the historical situation which produced it and the purpose the author had in its composition. In other words, it would have been studied as objectively as uncanonical, nonscriptural apocalypses like I Enoch, II Baruch, the Apocalypse of Peter, or the Ascension of Isaiah are studied…But unfortunately, the canonical position of both Revelation and Daniel, has been largely responsible for the artificial, subjective, and arbitrary manner in which they have been treated, not only by Christians in general but also by the majority of scholars down through the centuries. (Rist, 353-354)
Others assign Revelation to the genre, apocalyptic, without the theological implications that Rist applies to the term. As Ladd explains, in this use of the term, the genre serves the purpose of expression of hopes without the power of a real promise from God (see above).
In other cases, there is a somewhat middle ground between these first two uses of “apocalyptic.” For example, Hanegraaff criticizes the “woodenly literal sense” in which Tim LaHaye interprets Revelation (Hanegraaff, 21-22). Instead, he advocates consideration of the genre that is used by John to convey meaning:
LaHaye’s failure to consider form or genre not only leads to unbridled speculation, but ultimately misses the underlying significance of Revelation’s apocalyptic imagery. Far from merely communicating that twenty-first-century Israel would be submerged in a literal river of blood, John is using the apocalyptic language of the Old Testament prophets to warn his hearers of the massive judgment and destruction of the land of Israel that “must soon take place.” As Isaiah and Joel used the language of sickles, winepresses, and blood to symbolize judgment against the enemies of Israel’s God, so John now uses the language of the prophets to signify the impending doom of apostate Israel. (Hanegraaff, 22)
Note that Hanegraaff is equating “extreme and bizarre imagery” or “fantasy imagery” (emphasis added) (Hanegraaff, 33) with “apocalyptic imagery.” This really ignores the full definition of “apocalyptic” that Rist uses. Rist, in fact, would resist equating the Old Testament prophets to Revelation, because he believes the apocalyptic theology is quite different from the theology of most of the Old Testament. Hanegraaff, moreover, does not understand “apocalyptic” as simply a vehicle to express hopes and dreams of an oppressed people (as Ladd describes). He believes that Revelation is a true prophecy. He interprets that prophecy in the Preterist manner. So, his objection to Dispensationalists is not in their recognition of Revelation as a prophecy. Rather, he rejects their interpretation of the book as a prophecy of the end of the present order of existence. In his critique of Dispensationalism (he focuses especially on LaHaye), he maintains that one of the reasons they fail in their interpretation is because they do not recognize John’s use of imagery.
SCHOOLS OF INTERPRETATION
Four standard methods, approaches, or schools of interpretation of Revelation are usually listed (see Morris, 16-18, and Ladd, 10-12).
Preterist or Preterism: There are two versions of Preterism.
One is the liberal version. This version considers Revelation to be an apocalypse that was written to encourage a group of Christians. Its description of the dramatic intervention of God—an intervention that did not happen—could be viewed in one of two ways. Either the prediction was an utter failure which must have disappointed its readers, or the book was simply written in the genre of the apocalyptic with no real promise of God’s intervention. In the latter case, the books value to its readers was its encouragement to remain faithful in the face of persecution (Ladd, 11).
The second version of Preterism is the evangelical approach. This approach does not believe that the book is a failure in its prediction of God’s intervention. Rather, these interpreters believe that the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem is being predicted by Revelation (Sproul, 137, Hanegraaff, 27, 136—although Hanegraaff has a Futurist component to his interpretation). They believe Revelation was written before AD 70 and correctly predicted the destruction of Jerusalem.
Historical or Historicist: This approach assumes that Revelation is a prophecy of human history from the time it was written until the Second Coming of Christ. The two sources that I read concerning this view had little praise for the Historical approach. First of all, it has generally concentrated only on Western European history. Second, it has generally been anti-Catholic (to the point that it has been called the “Protestant view”). Third, it has no firm guidelines of interpretation so that there have been wide variations in the results. Fourth, generally interpreters use the method to prove their generation is the generation when Christ will return. (Morris, 17, and Ladd, 11)
Idealist: This approach understands Revelation to be a poetic means of presenting certain principles by which God operates in history (Morris, 18). Ladd understands the approach to be a “symbolic portrayal of the spiritual cosmic conflict between the Kingdom of God and the powers of satanic evil.” (Ladd, 11) Though this method certainly reflects some of the content of Revelation, both Morris and Ladd consider it unsatisfactory in its absence of specifics in human history, either of the first century or the end of the age.
Futurist: This view considers that most of Revelation is concerned with the end of the age. Ladd believes that Dispensationalism is an extreme Futurist approach and considers his own approach to be a moderate approach. (Morris, 17-18, and Ladd, 12)
Most interpreters employ more than one of these approaches. It seems to me that one is unwise not to be open to more than one approach. An example is chapter 12, which would appeal to the Idealist. Another example is the content of the seven letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. Dispensationalists actually employ a Historicist approach to interpret the letters as an outline of church history (Ladd, 12).
What seems most important is to allow the book to speak for itself. Nevertheless one most also recognize that it is a difficult book. I believe that consulting other commentators can open one up to other possibilities and give one scholarly insight. What I hope to resist is to be so strongly tied to a method of interpretation that I force an interpretation on a passage.
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Hanegraaff, Hank. The Apocalypse Code. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publ., 2007.
Ladd, G. Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: William B.
Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.
Morris, Leon. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 20. The Revelation of St. John.
Gen. ed. R. V. G. Tasker. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980.
Rist, Martin. “Introduction” to “The Revelation of St. John the Divine.” In The Interpreter’s
Bible. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abington Press, 1957.
Sproul, R. C. The Last Days According to Jesus. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.
Monday, December 16, 2013
THE LAST VISION OF DANIEL: ANTIOCHUS IV EPIPHANES AND THE ANTICHRIST (CHAPTERS 10-12)
A. DANIEL’S EXPERIENCES AT THE BEGINNING OF THE VISION (10:1-11:1)
The last vision of Daniel is long and complex. It begins with Daniel’s experiences at the beginning of the vision. I shall not belabor that report (10:1-11:1). It is an important and fascinating account of one of Daniel’s experiences with angels. It reminds us of the unseen world, what Paul calls “rulers,” “authorities,”“powers of this dark world and…spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
B. EVENTS LEADING TO THE PTOLEMIES AND SELEUCIDS (11:2-4)
In 11:2-4, Daniel is told about various kings of the Persian Empire, about Alexander the Great, and about the successors to Alexander. The vision does not include all of the Persian emperors. Perhaps this is because it is introducing the empire of Alexander and his successors, so it only refers to three kings and then to a very wealthy king who would attempt to invade Greece (Xerxes I). So, the focus is on Greece. Then, Alexander and his successors are referred to. These successors set the stage for the two lines of rulers that are of most interest to those in the Holy Land—the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria. The remaining material focuses on these two ruling families.
C. THE PTOLEMIES AND SELEUCIDS
Verses 11:5-20 describe a whole series of wars, successions of rulers, marriages, and intrigues of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. These prophecies are so detailed that one is left with one of two conclusions. Either these prophecies are really history that is disguised as prophecy, or they are some of the most remarkable forecasts of all time. In the first article of this series, I have gone through the evidence that, indeed, Daniel was written in the 6th Century BC. I believe that evidence is convincing. When I add that to my conviction of the inspiration of Scripture, I am left awed by these prophecies. I shall not go over them in detail and leave the reader to consult a Bible with detailed study notes to follow through these twists and turns of history that were predicted beforehand.
D. ANTIOCHUS IV EPIPHANES AND THE MACCABEAN REVOLT
In 11:21, a particular ruler is focused on, and this ruler is the focus of verses 11:21-35. This person is called “a contemptible person” (11:21). The full description of his activities confirms that he is Antiochus IV Epiphanes. I shall rely on the notes of the ESV Study Bible (ESVSB) and NIV Study Bible (NIVSB) as well as on Miller’s comments.
One of the most powerful of the Seleucids was Antiochus III, called “the Great.” His older son, Seleucus IV Philopator succeeded him, but was murdered in a palace intrigue. Seleucus’ son, who would later rule as Demetrius I, was not able to rule at Seleucus’ death. NIVSB states that he was too young, and Miller and ESVSB state that he was imprisoned in Rome. Demetrius’ uncle, the younger son of Antiochus III seized power. (11:21) He would become Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the “contemptible person.”
Meanwhile, in Egypt, two Ptolemies were struggling for power. Ptolemy VI attacked the forces of Antiochus IV in order to regain control of Palestine and Phoenicia. Antiochus defeated the Egyptians and imprisoned Ptolemy VI. His brother, Ptolemy VII, took over Egypt. Antiochus made a pact with Ptolemy VI, and the two of them defeated Ptolemy VII. Later, the two brothers reunited to expel the forces of Antiochus from Egypt. Antiochus then waged a successful campaign to invade and conquer various Egyptian holdings, including Palestine. He divided the spoils of war with his followers. He was successful, but God had put limits on that success. (11:22-27)
Antiochus returned from his victories in Egypt and passed through the Holy Land. He found that the Jews were rebelling. He massacred 80,000 Jews in defeating the rebels. Furthermore, he looted the Temple and began a campaign of persecution (169 BC). Thus, his heart was “set against the holy covenant.” (11:28) This set off the Maccabean rebellion.
About a year later, in 168 BC, Antiochus attacked Egypt (11:29-30). However, the Romans sent a fleet of ships to meet him. These are called the “ships of Kittim” (ESV, NIV: “ships of the western coast”) in 11:30. The Romans ordered him out of Egypt, and he complied. He was “enraged” and took it out on the Jews. His representative killed many Jews and showed favor to Jewish turncoats.
The apex of Antiochus’ malevolence is reached in the actions that are described in 11:31. The verse describes developments that took place mostly in 167 BC. The following commentary is the entry for this verse in Miller (301-302):
The temple is spoken of here as a “fortress” [NIV] either because it was a place of spiritual strength or more likely because it was used as a military citadel. Later, in 167 B.C., the suppression of the Jewish religion began on a grand scale (1 Macc 1:41-50; 2 Macc 6:1-6). All Jewish religious practices such as circumcision, possessing the Scriptures, sacrifices, and feast days were forbidden on penalty of death (1 Macc 1:50, 63); and the imperial cult was introduced. Desecration of the Jewish religion reached its climax on 15 Chislev (December) 167 B.C. (1 Macc 1:54) when an altar or idol-statue devoted to Olympian Zeus (Jupiter) was erected in the temple (“the abomination that causes desolation”), and on 25 Chislev sacrifices, probably including swine (cf. 1 Macc 1:47; 2 Macc 6:4-5), were offered on the altar (cf Macc 1:54, 59). In this manner the temple was desecrated and rendered empty of Yahweh worshipers.
The “abomination that makes desolate” is referred to by Jesus in Matthew 24:15. It is the forerunner or “type” of an abomination that will bring about desolation at some point in the future. (Some have related it to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. I have written articles concerning that viewpoint.) This is very likely the event that is referred to in II Thessalonians 2:4 and Revelation 13:14-15, when the Antichrist/Beast exalts himself to the status of a god.
The Jews, at the time of this desecration of the Temple and onslaught against their religion, either were corrupted by Antiochus and his minions or took action. (11:32) The latter group was led by the Maccabees, who led a revolt that eventually liberated Judea. The Temple was cleansed and rededicated on December 14, 164 [or 165] BC (Miller, 302). [The dates of the ancient world have at least two different systems so that comments from sources sometimes differ by a year.]
Verses 11:33-35 describes the period of the Maccabean revolt, especially in terms of the moral strength of the rebels and the suffering that took place. Some identify the “wise” as the Hasidim, a Jewish sect that joined with the Maccabees, while others identify the “wise” as the faithful true believers of all sects at the time. They would instruct people and pay a price for their convictions. The faithful would be led at first by the small band of rebels (“a little help”), but eventually many, not out of conviction but of expediency would join them (“with flattery”). The wise will “stumble”: this probably refers to their persecution, which is understood as their purification. The “end” is identified by some as the end of Antiochus or the success of the rebels, or both. Others identify it with the end of this present order of existence, which is yet future to us.
E. THE END TIMES (11:36-12:3)
Many evangelical scholars, especially dispensationalists, believe that 11:36 (some say 11:35) marks a turning point in this last vision. Antiochus Epiphanes is no longer in view, and another king who will “do as he wills” is focused on. This person is the Antichrist/Beast of II Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13. Others interpretations have also been offered. These include that Antiochus Epiphanes remains the subject, that the Roman Empire is the “king,” that Constantine is in view, or that Herod is focused upon (Miller 305). The reasons scholars believe the “king” is the last-days ruler known as the Antichrist or Beast include the following (ESVSB and NIVSB and Miller, 304-306):
· Antiochus Epiphanes (“Antiochus” below) did not abandon the gods of his own culture (verse 11:37), but worshiped various Greek gods, especially Zeus.
· Antiochus died in Persia, not in Palestine, as verse 11:45 indicates.
· Verse 11:40 refers to “the time of the end,” which is likely a reference to the last days of the present order of existence. This is not consistent with the days of Antiochus.
· Verse 12:1 describes “a time of trouble” that is unprecedented. Though the period of persecution under Antiochus was very bad, it probably would not compare with the Babylonian invasions of the 6th Century BC nor the Roman wars of the 1st Century AD, nor to that terrible time of trouble predicted by Jesus that is yet to come (Matthew 24:21).
· Verse 12:2 predicts a phenomenon that is yet to come—except that the firstfruits were displayed in the resurrection of Jesus. This phenomenon is the Resurrection. Such an event cannot be ascribed to the time of Antiochus.
Following the line of reasoning that I just presented, I shall assume that the content of these verses refers to the Antichrist/Beast (“Beast”). When we project upon this passage our image of the Beast, what we read is greatly magnified. He will “do as he wills.” That is true of a lot of people, but the Beast is the archetypical egoist. So, also, many “exalt” themselves, but not many declare themselves above every god (II Thessalonians 2:4). Though his self-exaltation will “prosper” for a while, his end will come when God pours out His indignation (ESV, NIV: wrath) upon him. (11:36)
Though the Beast eventually declares himself to be god, his religious belief or lack of belief are described: he abandons the gods of his fathers. Some have interpreted this to mean that he will abandon the God of Israel and will be an apostate Jew. Others believe that, since he comes from the Roman Empire and its later manifestations, he will be an apostate Christian. (Miller, 307) The “one beloved by women” is interpreted by some to be the Messiah. (11:37) I think that the Beast is depicted as coming from the fourth beast of Daniel 7. I agree with Miller that this would make him a Gentile, most likely. There is one possible wrinkle to this. If we remember that Palestine was a part of the Roman Empire, we could conceive that the Beast will arise in that area and, indeed, be a Jew. If he claims to be the Messiah, as some believe that he will, then it is difficult to imagine the Jews accepting anyone other than a Jew as their Messiah.
Both Miller and ESVSB advocate that the “god of fortresses” (11:38) is an expression for military power. Thus, they believe that the Beast will literally worship warfare and military power rather than any god. He will be willing to spend enormous wealth to achieve military success. One is reminded of the arms race of the last half of the twentieth century and of the continued lavish expenditures on military might by the United States, China, Russia, and countries of the Middle East. I do have to question the interpretation the “god of fortresses” as military power and warfare. The expression seems to point to an actual god rather than simply to be a metaphor for certain behavior. Since we see in II Thessalonians 2:9 and Revelation 13:3-4 that the Beast is empowered by Satan and inspires worship of Satan, it is possible that the “god of fortresses” is Satan or some manifestation of Satan.
The Beast is described as successful militarily. He will be empowered by his god (previous verse). A powerful, successful ruler has the prerogative to give out favors to those who “acknowledge” him. Building an empire involves selecting those who can be trusted to govern. That the Beast takes acknowledgment of himself to an extreme is expanded in II Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13. (11:39)
Verse 11:40a is read by commentators in one of two ways. Some (ESVSB) understand that two enemies of the Beast are mentioned—the king of the south and the king of the north. Others (Miller, 309) understand the first part of the sentence to describe an attack from the south and then the second part to describe the Beast’s response. The Beast is called the “king
of the north.” When one considers 11:40b, one should accept the latter interpretation. In the material in 11:5-35, the king of the north is one of the Seleucids of Syria, and the king of the north is one of the Ptolemies of Egypt. Neither of those identities may apply in verse 11:40. This is because we have made a case that the material beginning at verse 11:36 applies to the Beast.
In verse 11:40b-11:42, the Beast enters various lands, including the “glorious land” (ESV, NIV: “Beautiful Land”). NIV uses “invade” rather than “enter,” but most other translations use “enter.” However, invasion is the effect of his entering, since many people “fall.” A military force “enters” a country either as an ally or to subdue it. Verse 11:41c states that certain countries—Edom, Moab, and Ammon—will be spared. These are countries that were known to the ancient world. They would be represented by the country of Jordan today. However, Egypt does not escape (11:42).
The scope of the Beast’s conquests includes “Libyans and Cushites.” (11:43) The former would be equivalent to Libyan and other North African countries. The latter would include Ethiopia and Sudan. (Miller, 311) Along with these territories would come great wealth. Miller conjectures that this wealth comes through oil.
The next phase of the Beast’s military maneuvers is described in verses 11:44-45. This campaign begins with “news from the east and the north.” This news alarms him and he reacts in “fury” with the intent of destroying many. He pitches his tents (“palatial” or “royal” tents) “between the sea and the glorious holy mountain.” NIV renders this: “between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain.” The versions are divided between these two ways of translating the phrase. If the ESV is accepted, then the Beast would be somewhere between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean. If the NIV is accepted, the Beast’s headquarters would be on the Temple Mount (Miller, 312). The final end of the Beast is summed up in a brief sentence in 11:45b “Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him.” The king who does as he pleases and exalts himself above all gods is quickly disposed of.
Using various other Scripture passages, Miller (311-313) correlates the military campaigns of verses 11:44-45 with the Battle of Armageddon. He believes that the events of these verses are the same as the battle that is described in Ezekiel 38-39, the Battle of Armageddon in Revelation 16:16 and 19:11-21, and the destruction of the Beast in II Thessalonians 2:8 and Daniel 2:44 and 7:11.
The first three verses of Daniel 12 are quite remarkable in content. It is difficult to isolate these verses and ask ourselves how a person of Daniel’s time or how a person two or three hundred years later would understand these verses. We have the advantage of other Scriptures and historical context so that we have a framework to read these verses. At the same time, we have to be careful and not read into them more than is there.
Verse 12:1 has three sentences. The first two have some direct New Testament connections.
Sentence 1 assures that Michael will arise. He is the “great prince” who protects Daniel’s people. Michael is mentioned in 10:13 and 10:21 as the partner in warfare with the unnamed angel who reveals the material of chapters 11 and 12. This latter angel is probably Gabriel (Miller, 279-284). Michael is also described in Revelation 12:7-9 as the leader in warfare with Satan (the “Dragon”). Michael will arise “at that time.” Exactly how this relates to the events that are described in 11:36-45 is not immediately clear. However, when the second sentence is considered, the time element is somewhat clarified.
Sentence 2 predicts “a time of trouble.” The Greek version of “trouble” or “distress” is thlipsis. It is the word that is used by Jesus in Matthew 24:21: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” (emphasis added) The word thlipsis means trouble, distress, suffering, etc. It is related a verb that can mean to press hard or crush. In other words, this is the kind of trouble or distress that becomes a crushing weight. I have heard my parents speak of the Great Depression. That was a time of trouble that weighed people down, crushing their spirits, threatening to break them. This is the thlipsis that Jesus spoke of. He used language that echoes this very sentence in Daniel. This is the time when Michael will arise.
Sentence 3 assures Daniel that “your people” will be delivered “at that time.” It further defines “your people” as ”everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.”
If we relate these sentences to other passages of Scripture, we can gain insight into what is meant by “at that time.” The other mention of Michael’s being involved in warfare (other than in Daniel 10) is Revelation 12. In that chapter the following are highpoints:
· A woman, a cosmic-mythological being who appears to represent Israel, gives birth to Christ. In opposition to her and her Son is a great red Dragon (Satan), who has a huge following (fallen angels, demons). (Revelation 12:1-6)
· A heavenly war takes place between Michael and the Dragon. Its earthly counterpart is the warfare of the “brothers” who, in conjunction with Michael and through the blood of the Lamb, defeat the Dragon. (Revelation 12:7-12)
· The Dragon attempts to defeat the woman, but he is frustrated because she is given a hiding place and the earth keeps the flood out of the Dragon’s mouth from overwhelming her. Then the Dragon turns his anger on the offspring of the woman, those who keep God’s commands and testify about Jesus. (Revelation 12:13-17)
At the conclusion of these events of Revelation 12, the Antichrist/Beast arises—a development that is described in Revelation 13. It is obvious that chapter 12 gives the spiritual setting for the role of the Beast. He is inspired by Satan, who is the archenemy of Christ. If we relate these developments in Revelation to Daniel 12:1, we see some strong correlations. The role of Michael is to conduct heavenly warfare against Satan (Daniel 12:1a, Revelation 12:7). The Beast carries out the extension of the Dragon’s warfare on earth against the saints (Revelation 12:17, 13:7). This intense time is that period known as the Great Tribulation (Daniel 12:1b, Matthew 24:21). Eventually, there is deliverance (Daniel 12:1c) of Daniel’s people. These people are defined simply as those whose names are written in the book. The following is Miller’s (315-316) comment on this expression:
The “book” is a common figure of speech in the Scriptures and alludes to the “book of life” in which the names of all saints are written (cf. Exod 32:33; Ps 69:28; Mal 3:16; Luke 10:20; Rev 3:5; 20:12). Evidently this figure comes from the practice of keeping a record of all the citizens of a town. Those whose names were listed enjoyed the blessings of community membership, whereas the names of those who were excommunicated from fellowship were blotted out. All (Jews or Gentiles) who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord have their names written in the book of life. Golgingay designates this as “the citizen list of the true Jerusalem.” John the apostle related the sad fate of those at the final judgment whose names are not found recorded in this book, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15).
Verse 12:2 introduces a new event that is, by implication, associated with “that time.” It is not necessarily tightly associated with the developments of verse 12:1. This verse explicitly teaches a future resurrection. In fact, it teaches two types of resurrections, one to everlasting life and one to everlasting contempt. The fact that the verse immediately follows 12:1 implies that 12:1 is a depiction of last day events. This is evidence that the material that starts at 11:36 is also concerned with last day events. This verse (12:2) is the most explicit teaching about the resurrection in the Old Testament. It is very similar to Jesus’ statement in John 5:28-29, which predicts that both the righteous and unrighteous will be resurrected to experience their eternal destinies.
Verse 12:3 appears to carry the fate of the righteous beyond the resurrection. The “wise” have a destiny to shine. When I consult Young’s concordance, the “wise” are those who understand or cause to understand. The word is different from the “wise” in chapters 2, 4, and 5 where the “wise” men of Babylon are referred to. The difference may not be significant as to the meaning, but the selection of different words probably does differentiate these “wise” ones from the wise of Babylon. The thought is extended in the second part of the verse. Those who “turn many to righteousness” will shine like stars. So, those who are in the business of understanding and who direct people toward righteousness have an eternal inheritance of shining like the stars. In Philippians 2:15, the saints of Philippi were distinguished by their blamelessness among a crooked generation. Thus, they shone “like lights in the world.” Jesus also predicted that, in the Kingdom, the righteous will “shine like the sun.” (Matthew 13:34)
A. FINAL WORDS TO DANIEL (12:4-13)
Miller (320ff) treats the material in 12:4-13 as the end of the “vision proper.” There is some truth to that, in that the style of this last section is more a conversation with Daniel than a straightforward revelation. It should be remembered that it is still a part of the vision that began in chapter 10. The same angelic beings, along with some new ones, participate.
Verse 12:4 is often misunderstood. Daniel is instructed to seal the book (scroll). This is to preserve its contents, not to hide them. The contents were to be preserved “until the time of the end,” which is when they would be needed. The second sentence uses an idiom, “run to and fro” to refer to people searching for something, in this case, understanding and knowledge of the issues that are pointed to by the revelations of Daniel. There is a difference of opinion as to the full import of the sentence. Some understand to “run to and fro” as an act of futility. Others understand it as a positive undertaking that results in knowledge. Whatever the exact meaning, at least some people will experience an increase in knowledge. This knowledge is understanding and insight into the prophecies of Daniel and others concerning the last days (not a general increase of secular knowledge). In other words, God is promising that we can experience deepened understanding for the last days. I am grateful to ESVSB and Miller (320-321) for these insights.
Verses 12:5-12 form a unit and focuses on specifics of time. There are several characters in this brief drama, as follows:
· Daniel, of course, is observing and hearing all that takes place.
· There are “two others”—from the context, one would assume they were angelic beings—standing on each side of “the stream,” which is most likely the Tigris River (compare chapter 10). These never seem to say anything.
· There is “someone” who speaks. This could be one of the two beings by the river, or it could be the “interpreting angel” Gabriel (so Miller believes, 322), who also speaks to Daniel throughout 11:2-12:4.
· There is a man clothed in linen and standing above the waters of “the stream.” This identifies the person as the same being that is described in chapter 10. Some believe that this is a “theophany,” an appearance of God to Daniel. More specifically, it is understood to be the Second Person of the Trinity, the pre-incarnate Christ. The description in 10:5-6 is similar to John’s vision of Christ in Revelation 1:13-15. The person gives an answer in a very dramatic way, as He swears by the One who lives forever. One is reminded that God cannot swear by anyone higher than Himself (Hebrews 6:13). We might speculate that Christ willingly submitted to the Father and thus swore by Him (the Father) and not Himself.
A question is asked by an unidentified person. The question is directed to the man clothed in linen (12:6). It asks how long until the end of the “wonders.” The question could be understood to ask: “How long will it be from now (Daniel’s day) until all of this takes place?” It
could also be understood to ask: “What will be the duration of these events?” The nature of the answer (in 12:7) gives us the clue that the second understanding is the correct one. The answer, which is sworn to, as I discuss above, is somewhat mysterious: for “a time, times, and half a time.” 7:25 rev 12:14 This expression is also found in Daniel 7:25. That verse refers to the Antichrist/Beast who will seek to “wear out” the saints for “a time, times, and half a time.” The same expression is used in Revelation 12:14. In that passage, the woman who is representative of Israel is protected from the Dragon for “a time, times, and half a time.” If one interprets the phrase to be “a year, years, and half a year” (and assumes that “years” represent two years), then the phrase equals three and a half years. This is to be the period of time during which something takes place. The second half of the answer gives us some clue what that “something” is: “…when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished.” In verse 12:1 it is stated that there would be “a time of trouble.” This period is called the Great Tribulation. It is a time that will shatter the “power of the holy people.” The duration of that Great Tribulation would be three and a half years.
Thus, in Daniel, we observe a series of revelations concerning the last days, each one correlating with the others and adding layers of information.
· The fourth kingdom of the statue of metals that was seen by Nebuchadnezzar is represented by ten toes made of iron and clay—partly strong and partly brittle. That kingdom will be destroyed when the rock cut from a mountain by no human hand strikes down the statue representing the world empires. (chapter 2)
· The fourth beast will have ten horns, or ten kings, coming from it. One of these will be a little horn king who will persecute the saints for a time, times, and half a time. He will meet his end, and the “Son of Man” will receive an everlasting dominion for the saints. (chapter 7)
· There will be a period of sixty-nine weeks of years (483 years) from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the time of the Messiah. Later, the final seven-year period will be fulfilled when a ruler will covenant with the people for seven years. In the middle of that period, he will set up an abomination that makes desolate. He will then meet his end at the end of the seven years. (chapter 9)
· A king will arise in the last days who exalts himself above all gods. He will be successful militarily and will fight his final battle in the holy land. (chapter 11) There will be a terrible time of trouble at that time. It will last for three and a half years (half of the seven-year period). (chapter 12)
It seems reasonable to associate these various prophecies together to make a coherent whole. I am following the line of interpretation that many have advocated over the years in creating the following scenario from the book of Daniel: There were four world empires in the ancient Middle East. They were represented by the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2 and by the four beasts in Daniel’s vision in chapter 7. The fourth of these beasts (though unknown to Daniel) was the Roman Empire. Out of it will eventually come a ten-kingdom empire that is represented by the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and the ten horns of the beast in chapter 7. The little horn that comes up among those horns represents the Beast, who will dominate that final empire. He will make a covenant with the people of God for seven years and then break that covenant at the midpoint. He will desolate the worship of God through an abomination. Following that, the final 3 ½ years of the seven-year period will be the Great Tribulation, a time of great trouble. The Antichrist/Beast will meet his end at the end of the period in a battle in the Holy Land.
Most of the scenario that I have described can be inferred directly from Daniel. However, that inference is strongly shaped by other Scriptures, including Matthew 24, II Thessalonians 2, and Revelation 12, 13, 17, and 18.
Daniel inquires about the “outcome of these things.” (12:8) He is not given an answer, but simply a gentle encouragement to go his way—to go on with his life. The words are sealed until the “time of the end.” (12:9) These prophecies were not for Daniel and his generation. They are preserved for a future generation.
In verse 10, two groups of people are identified: those who purify themselves and the wicked. The wicked will not understand any of the issues discussed in the prophecies, but the wise will. From the earlier part of the verse, it is to be inferred that the wise are they who purify themselves. They are wise because they have availed themselves of purification (through God’s redemption), and, because they have been purified through redemption, they are wise. Miller takes this purification to be through the persecutions of the Great Tribulation (Miller, 324-325). I am not sure there is a basis for that conclusion. Notice that those who come out of the Great Tribulation are those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:13-14) So, in the direct context of the Great Tribulation, purity comes about through the redemption that is in Christ. In Revelation there is a consistent contrast throughout the book between those who are righteous in Christ and the wicked. Despite the plagues on the earth, most will not repent of their sins (Revelation 9:20-21). In Revelation 22:11, the perpetual evil of those who are evil is contrasted with the continuing righteousness of those who are righteous.
ESVSB connects the “wise” of verse 12:10 to an understanding of the revelation of verse 12:11. In other words, the wicked will not understand what is going on during the Great Tribulation—not fathom the spiritual significance of the times. However, the spiritually wise will understand. Verse 11 returns to the duration of the Great Tribulation. It posits its beginning to be a combination of events: the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up. From that combination will be a period of 1290 days. Following this is an additional time frame: a blessing on the one who “waits and arrives at 1335 days.” (12:12)
These accounting of days have induced head scratching. The 3 ½ years in verse 7 would equal 1260 days if a year is 360 days (30-day months). (It would equal 1277.5 for 365-day years.) So, where do the 1290 days come from? Miller gives two possible explanations. One is that 3 ½ years is an approximation and 1290 is the exact number of days. A second explanation is that the extra 30 days is needed for Christ to judge the nations (Matthew 25:31-46). Miller favors the latter (325-326). The second number of days—1335—is also a “puzzling number.” (Miller, 326) He refers to those who believe that the additional time is needed to “set up the millennial government” before the “official inauguration of the thousand year-reign of Christ on earth.” (Miller, 326)
Miller (326) admits that dogmatism in these matters is not “proper.” In fact, much of this material is murky and should be approached with caution.
I have omitted one feature of verse 12:11, which is the reference to the cessation of the “regular burnt offering.” This implies that such an offering is being offered at the time that the Abomination of Desolation takes place. Dispensationalists are adamant that a Jewish Temple will be in use at the time of the Beast. (Walvoord, 194-195) They believe that verse 2:4 of II Thessalonians refers to a Jewish Temple that is functional and is desecrated by the Antichrist/Beast. This is also implied by Daniel 9:27 and 12:11 as well as Matthew 24:15. Many believe that the Temple described in Ezekiel 40-43 is the Millennial Temple (Pentecost, 512-546), but it is not to be equated with the Temple of the Tribulation (Seventieth Week) period (Walvoord 194-195). These concepts are ones that I struggle with. My concern is that a new way of experiencing God in worship has been inaugurated through Christ. This new way has displaced the Old Testament form and function of worship (see Hebrew 10:1-25). I admit the use of “Temple of God” in II Thessalonians 2:4 and the expression “regular burnt offering” in Daniel 12:11 indicate a functional Jewish system at the time of the Antichrist/Beast. I shall attempt to deal with this issue in another article.
In verse 12:13, Daniel is again told to “go your way” (see 12:9). It is not a dismissal, but an encouragement not to be overwrought by all that he has seen. He is to go his way “until the end.” Obviously, Daniel would not see the “end.” He would only see his own personal “end.” He is given a promise, however, that he would have a place “at the end of the days.” The resurrection that is promised in 12:2 would bring about a new day for Daniel.
The last vision of Daniel, which is described in chapters 10-12, is full of amazing prophecies. They include details of the wars between the Seleucids and Ptolomies, the career of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and a brief overview of the career of the Antichrist/Beast. They also give the promise of the resurrection of the dead and everlasting life. They give additional details to material in previous visions. The little horn beast (chapter 7) and the king who exalts himself above all gods appear to be the same person. The last half of the Seventieth Week (9:27) and the 3 ½ years or 1290 days all seem to be the same period.
As I complete this survey of Daniel, I am struck by the background and framework that is provided by Daniel for study of New Testament prophecy. Many of our concepts are shaped by study of Daniel. One recognizes that scholars have debated fiercely the shape of the framework in Daniel. Nevertheless, I find that, for the most part, the Dispensationalist understanding of the prophecies of Daniel seem most consistent and follow closely each of Daniel’s prophecies. I disagree with some concepts of the Dispensationalists, but I find myself largely in agreement with them in their interpretation of Daniel.
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Miller, Stephen R. The New American Commentary. Vol. 18. Daniel. Nashville: Broadman &
Holman Publ., 1994.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publ. Co., 1958.
Walvoord, John F. (2011-09-01). Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain
Times. (Kindle edition) Colorado Springs: David C. Cook Publ., 2011.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ., 2002