THE PROPHECIES OF DANIEL
by Bob Wheeler
The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament has intrigued and perplexed interpreters for literally thousands of years. It records, among other things, a number of visions and dreams about the future. What makes the book intriguing is that it give us an overview of history, along with an indication of how it will all end. But interpreting the details – that is the challenge!
Daniel lived during the period of Israel’s exile in Babylon. A devout Jew, he lived in the midst of a pagan society led by a succession of Babylonian and Persian monarchs.
For Daniel and his fellow Jews in exile it must have been a trying experience living as Jews in a foreign, pagan land. But how could it have happened to God’s chosen people? How would one explain this theologically?
It is at this juncture that God revealed Himself in a special way to Daniel. Sometimes Daniel was called upon to interpret a dream for the king; sometimes he had visions himself. The various dreams and visions often contained bizarre imagery and obscure symbolism. But in them a panorama of human history unfolded.
The visions describe a succession of world empires, the fourth of which is apparently Rome. Out of this empire would arise a charismatic leader who utters blasphemies and persecutes the saints. He, in turn, is replaced by a Person described as “One like the Son of Man,/ Coming with the clouds of heaven” (Dan. 7:13; NKJV).
“Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed” (v. 14).
The last two chapters of the Book of Daniel record a vision that describes an ongoing conflict between “the kings of the North” (the Seleucid dynasty in Syria) and “the kings of the South” (the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt). There is one particular king of the North who is described as “a contemptible person” (Dan. 11:21; NIV;ESV), who almost certainly is Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the ruler of Syria from 175 to 164 B.C., who among other things desecrated the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. This event is referred to in our text as “the abomination of desolation” (11:31), a phrase that reappears later in Jesus’ teaching.
Finally we are told that
“. . . there shall be a time of trouble,
Such as never was since there was a nation . . .” (12:1).
After that there will be a resurrection of the dead, “Some to everlasting life, / Some to shame and everlasting contempt” (v. 2), and “Those who are wise shall shine / Like the brightness of the firmament . . .” (v. 3).
The prophecies of the Book of Daniel continued to be discussed and debated by devout Jews for many years afterward, and these discussions and debates form the backdrop of Jesus’ own teaching about the end times. How and when will “the kingdom of the saints” come into being? As we shall see Jesus picks up the language of Daniel in His own discussion of the kingdom and the last times.
Much of what is in the Book of Daniel is obscure, but what is clear is the central theme of the book. As Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar himself was led to confess:
“For His [i.e., God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom is from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;
He does according to His will in the army of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.
No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
God is sovereign, and our destiny, both individually and collectively, is in His hands. We would do well to take heed to what He says.