The book of Daniel is one of the most criticized of the books of the Old Testament, mainly because it contains some of the most important prophecies in all of the Word of God. Specifically, chapters 9 and 11 come under heavy scrutiny because of the depth, detail and accuracy noted in these sections. Chapter 9 gives the remarkable outline of future events in what is called Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy. Chapter 11 sets forth in meticulous detail the coming events of the Persian king Cambyses, Cyrus’s son (529-522 BC), down to Alexander the Great (334-323 BC), on into the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (circa. 172 BC). The historical period of the Maccabees is played out in the prophecies of Daniel that were given hundreds of years before those events transpired. Such minute prophetic accuracy and fulfillment make the liberal critic work feverously to relegate the prophet’s words to the trash heap of fiction. But Daniel goes further. He also gives the details of the coming evil drama of the Antichrist whom he calls, "the king who shall do according to his will" (11:36a).
Importance of Daniel. In the Jewish reckoning of the Old Testament books, Daniel is not found in the second division (the Prophets) but in the third division (the Kethubhim, the Writings). The reason seems to be that Daniel was penned much later than many of the other prophetic books, after the close of that section. In the narrow sense, Daniel was not a prophet but a statesman in the court of the pagan monarchs of Babylon and Medo-Persia. He had the gift of prophecy but did not hold the office of a prophet. It is in this sense that Christ confirms Daniel’s historicity and refers to him as a prophet (Matt. 24:15). While Daniel is included among the Minor Prophets he is scarcely "minor" in his prophetic utterances. He stands alongside the major prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. (Unger commentary, 1603)
The Genre of Apocalyptic Prophecy. In order to correctly interpret Daniel three assumptions are important. (1) Daniel is a genuine book penned by the prophet Daniel in the sixth century BC. Many critics argue that Daniel is part of what is called apocalyptic literature that did not rise until well down in the Hellenistic period. Critics set forth the argument that false authorships and dates are part of such literary genre. "The rationalistic definition of apocalyptic literature and its underlying assumptions are unacceptable to scholars who accept the book of Daniel and Zachariah 1:7-6:8 (as well as the book of Revelation) as both authentic and truthful." (Unger commentary, 1605)
To interpret any book labeled as apocalyptic does not in any way require a special hermeneutic or interpretative system. To change one’s hermeneutic is a tool to place Bible prophecy outside of historic fulfillment. It is a liberal attempt to assign future prophecy to myth or fictional fancy. This way, the prophetic message is destroyed.
(2) Right interpretation depends upon the fact that predictive prophecy is not only possible but is actually the warp and woof of true and genuine biblical apocalyptic writings. It is because of the predictive prophecy that has given food for the so-called scholarly rejection of the genuineness of Daniel’s visions. They reject outright what is clearly "predictive prophecy."
(3) By correctly interpreting Daniel the scriptural revelation that God has a future for God’s people Israel is made absolute! Critical thinking about the prophetic message of Daniel creates a makeshift argument for the importance of the book. Such mishandling of the book removes the meaning of the prophecies and makes the writing of Daniel a travesty and a sham.
By correct interpretation the truth about the book is opened. But more, Daniel is the key to all biblical prophecy. Without Daniel the far-distant eschatological revelations and the prophetic scope is unexplainable. Without this prophecy, many if not most of the great prophetic portions of the Word would remain almost totally sealed. The Lord’s great prophecies in the Olivet discourse (24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21), as well as 2 Thessalonians 2, where the Antichrist of Daniel 11 is mentioned (and also prominently in the book of Revelation), can only be opened through the understandings of Daniel’s prophecies. (Unger commentary, 1606)
This new found ability to interpret a dream caused Daniel to thank and praise His God for giving him "wisdom and power" (v. 23), for, as he said, "Thou hast made known to us the king’s matter." This humility remains with Daniel throughout his life. Daniel makes sure all those hearing his prophecies realize that "the great God has made known" the future, and "its interpretation is trustworthy" (v. 45).
Besides receiving visions from the Lord, Daniel was continually a man of prayer. When he knew of the plot to have him cast into the den of lions, he made "petition and supplication for his God" (6:11). Daniel never forgot his people or the great city of Jerusalem. He also included himself when he spoke of the sins of the nation of Israel (9:7-10). He pleaded for the Lord to again make His face to shine on Jerusalem and the desolate temple sanctuary (vv. 17-19). While speaking to God and praying, the angel Gabriel came to reveal to him what could be called one of the greatest prophetic messages of the Bible—the Seventy weeks vision (vv. 20-27).
The Prophecies of Daniel. Daniel’s first prophecy was to relate to king Nebuchadnezzar the first dream he had, but also its interpretation. Daniel said to the king: "I will declare the interpretation to the king" (2:24b), and then proceeded to interpret for this powerful monarch his vision of an "extraordinary" (v. 31) statue with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, stomach and thighs of bronze, and legs of iron (vv. 32-33). This was a dream of the coming most powerful nations of the world. The head of gold is Babylon, the breast and arms represents the Medes and the Persians, the thighs of brass picture Greece, and the legs and feet stand for Rome in is primacy, and also in its decline. A stone would arise representing Israel’s Messiah who would strike "the statue on its feet of iron and clay, and [crush] them" (v. 34). Then God will establish a kingdom "which will never be destroyed," referring to the far future messianic reign of Christ (v. 44).
This prophecy spanned the full range of history and showed that aspects of all these nations would lead into the millennial. "The temporal aspect will merge into the eternal phase with the creation of the new heaven and earth ([Rev.] 21:1-22:5; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; cf. 2 Sam. 7:13, 16). (Unger commentary, 1619) With Nebuchadnezzar’s dream God revealed through Daniel the full scope of all of history. No other prophet was given such a full and concise revelation! But to Daniel was also revealed certain short-term prophecies.
During the reign of Belshazzar (553-539) Daniel was summoned to interpret the writing on the wall of the king’s banquet hall (5:1-30). With divine boldness Daniel declared to Belshazzar he was losing his kingdom because "the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified" (v. 23b). The writing on the wall read: MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. Daniel understood the full meaning behind these words and said: "God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. You have been weighed and found deficient, and your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians" (vv. 26-28). In the evening, by stealth Median soldiers slipped into Babylon and took over the capitol city and the kingdom. "That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two" (vv. 30-31).
During that first year of the reign of Belshazzar, Daniel was given by direct revelation another summary of the coming great world empires. Through a dream and night visions Daniel saw the stirring of the sea (representing the peoples of the earth) and four great beasts coming forth, each "different from one another" (7:2-3). The animals were: the lion, bear, leopard, and a non-descript beast that was "dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong" (v. 7). Overlaying this prophecy with Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, the animals represented Babylon (the lion, v. 4), Medo-Persia (the bear, v. 5), Greek (the leopard, v. 6) with its four wings and four heads that would represent the generals who divided the kingdom of Alexander the Great following his death. But something significant was added to this revelation.
Daniel was given the heavenly vision of the Son of Man coming up before God Almighty, the Ancient of Days, and before His fiery and awesome throne of judgment (vv. 9-14). Many times in the Upper Room Discourse the Lord Jesus told His disciples He (the Son of Man) would return back to His heavenly Father who sent Him to the earth to die for humanity (John 14:1-6, 28; 16:28). His departure back to glory was actually witnessed by these loyal followers. The angels told them that Jesus "has been take up from you into heaven, [and] will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11b). Daniel apparently is witnessing the Lord’s ascension and entrance into the throne room of God after He had died for the sins of humanity. Daniel sees the Son of Man "coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented to Him" (Dan. 7:13). Both the deity and the humanity of Christ is seen in these important designations of Jesus. He was the prophesied Son of God (Psa. 2:7), and Son of Man (Dan. 7:13). The Son of Man designation shows that Christ was "a human being." (Montgomery, 318)
To the Son of Man is given "dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed" (v. 14). This is actually the "fifth" kingdom of the world that will last for 1,000 years during earth’s history as we know it (Rev. 20:4-9). But this kingdom will transist into eternity with the new Jerusalem and the new heaven and earth, where peace and righteousness will prevail (21-22).
Over this kingdom, the Messiah, the Highest One (Dan. 7:17, 22, 25, 27) will reign: "The sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him" (v. 27).
Because of Daniel’s piety and faithfulness he is given one of the few timeline and calendar prophecies in all of the Scriptures. In 9:20-27 it is revealed to him the Seventy weeks prediction of the rebuilding of the temple walls and the city of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. This prophecy also shows with remarkable accuracy the period and the very year of the rejection of the Messiah. But too the seven years of worldwide tribulation are also clearly predicted. With some scholars, this miraculous prediction is rejected. But its precision and certainty cannot be denied.
As already mentioned Daniel also predicts the rise of the "little horn" who is Antiochus Epiphanes historically described in 1 Maccabees 1-6. In Daniel 8 the prophet sees a two-horned ram representing the Medo-Persian Empire. The ram pushes "westward, northward, and southward" (v. 4) with furious intensity and expands the kingdom of the Persians. With keen prophetic insight Daniel foretold the harsh conquests of the Medo-Persians (539-331 BC). But then he sees a male goat that would be Alexander the Great (vv. 6-7). Alexander carries out lightning victories over the Greeks at Granicus (334) and at Issus (333) and Gaugamela near Nineveh in 331. Danial then predicts the breaking up of Alexander’s Empire into four parts (v. 8) and describes the coming of Antiochus (vv. 9-10; 23-25). No wonder the critics despise the prophetic messages of Daniel! His predictions are so accurate that the liberal mind just has to refuse their precision and certainty. The prophet expands further his treatment of Antiochus in 11:21-35.
In vv. 36-45 Daniel predicts the coming of the Antichrist. In chapter 7 the prophet also described him as: "another horn" (v. 8), "a little one" (v. 8), the "horn possessed [with] eyes of a man" (v. 8b), the one with "a mouth uttering great boasts" (v. 8c), "the other horn" (v. 20), "that horn" (v. 20), and the one who "will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever" (v. 26). The apostle Paul picks up the description and calls this one "the man of lawlessness" and "the son of destruction" (2 Thess. 2:3b), and the "lawless one" (v. 8), who will someday in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem be "displaying himself as being God" (v. 4b). The apostle John refers to him in 1 John 2:18, 22, 4:3, and 2 John 1:7. He especially mentions him throughout the book of Revelation, beginning in chapter 13. He is called the beast who comes out of the sea, or the nations (v. 1). He is described like some of the animals in Daniel 7. Satan, called in Revelation 13 the dragon, gives him "his power and his throne and great authority (v. 2). When the Lord Jesus comes back as "the Word of God" (19:13), He is seen as "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS" (v. 16). These descriptions come close to the thoughts of Daniel 7.
With the coming of Christ to reign on earth, the beast, and the false prophet (the religious prophet of 13:11-12), are cast into the lake of fire and brimstone for eternity (19:20; 20:10).
Daniel’s final great prophecy has to do with the future resurrection of the Old Testament saints. Those who "sleep in the dust" will awake "to everlasting life, but the others [the lost] to disgrace and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12:2). The righteous will shine forever like the stars (v. 3). It is interesting to note that here Daniel understands that both the righteous and the unrighteous exist on into eternity. There is no "soul sleep" for those who have rejected God.
Daniel’s Interpretation of Prophecy. While Daniel uses a lot of imagery in many of his prophecies, what he envisioned and prophesied ultimately is to be taken in a full historical, normal, and literal sense. Behind Daniel’s imagery there is literal fulfillment in view. As well, the imagery is about actual people, or nations that existed in the days of Daniel, or would come on the world stage in the future. For example:
Illustration and imagery with historic fulfillment:
- Nebuchadnezzar’s Statue of a Man (2:31-43)
- Head of Gold – Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon (v. 38)
- Breast and Arms – Medo-Persia (v. 39)
- Belly and Thighs – Greece (v. 39)
- Feet of Iron – Rome Empire (vv. 40-43)
- Feet partly of iron and pottery – Final form of the Roman Empire (vv. 41-43)
- Stone cut out without hands – Christ and His kingdom (vv. 34, 44-45)
- The great tree cut down – The humbling of Nebuchadnezzar (chapter 4)
- The handwriting on the wall – The fall of Belshazzar and Babylon
The takeover of the Medo-Persian Empire (5:5-31)
- Belshazzar’s Dream "of the animals" (7:1-28)
- The lion with eagle’s wings (also looked like a man with a mind ) – Babylon (v. 4)
- The bear with ribs in its mouth – Medo-Persia (v. 5)
- The Leopard with wings and four heads – Greece and the four generals who followed Alexander the Great (v. 6)
- The "terrible" beast – Roman Empire (v. 7)
- The "little horn" (the Antichrist) – (vv. 8, 11, 15-26)
- The ram (Persia) defeated by the goat (Greece) – (8:1-8)
- Vision of God’s glory and the angelic conflict – (chapter 10)
Semi-illustration fulfilled but with more fulfillment to come:Literal fulfillment in the near and far future:
- God on His throne in heaven with the Son of Man presented – 7:9-10, 13-14)
- The Seventy Weeks prophecy – (9:24-27)
- Literal History prophesied (11:1-45)
- From Cyrus II (550 BC) to Seleucus IV Philopator (175 BC) – (11:2-20)
- Antiochus IV Epiphanes (164 BC) – (vv. 21-35)
- The future Antichrist ("who does as he pleases") – (vv. 36-45)
- The resurrections – (12:2-3)
Daniel must also be studied from a premillennial point of view in that most of the prophecies point to the nations and God’s providential dealings with Israel. Daniel deals with the times of Nebuchadnezzar until the second advent of Christ. Daniel portrays the course of Gentile world power, called in the Bible "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24). As the prophet writes down his revelations there unfolds the remarkable prophecies that run their course through history. And in the process, the great nations he sees will be destroyed by a fifth kingdom (the Messiah’s), depicted as a stone cut out without hands (Dan. 2:38).
Because of his great faithfulness, it is promised to Daniel that he will enter into his rest and will "rise again for your allotted portion (and reward) at the end of the age" (12:13).
________________ Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody, 1994); Hobart E. Freedman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1969); H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969); James A. Mongomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989); Jacob Neusner, Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999); Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts (Detroit, MS: Wayne State University Press, 1979); E. B. Pusey, Daniel the Prophet (Minneapolis, MN: Klock & Klock, 1985); Judah J. Slotki, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah (New York: Soncino Books, 1968); Merril F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002); Merrill F. Unger, Introductory Guide to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981).