VISIONS OF THE FUTURE Daniel 7–9
“I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end” (Dan. 8:19).Elements of Daniel’s visions of the future have already been fulfilled. Others still await fulfillment.
The last half of Daniel is filled with reports of prophetic visions that he was given by God. Most of these concern “the time of the end,” either describing events that will take place then, or the sequence of events that lead up to history’s conclusion. In Old Testament prophecy “the whole earth” is best understood as “the entire region” impinging on and affecting life in the Holy Land. Thus the prophecies of Daniel focus on events in the Mediterranean world, including all of Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and those powers such as Greece and Rome that exercised control over the area. Many dismiss the final six chapters of Daniel as “apocalyptic literature,” meaning that the imagery carries a powerful spiritual message, but that any truths it may express cannot be found in a literal interpretation. Yet it is clear that the visions of Daniel 7 and 8 are to be understood literally—and that the kingdoms described actually emerged in the hundreds of years that lay between Daniel’s writing and the birth of Christ. Thus it seems best to try to understand the visions and their interpretations literally, as portrayals, admittedly obscure at times, of what was the future when Daniel wrote. It’s not possible to go into interpretive details in this commentary, for our focus is on devotional implications of the biblical text. Yet even a casual reading of these chapters shows that the visions parallel Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image representing kingdoms to succeed his own. Even a casual knowledge of history makes it plain that the Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires match in each detail the predictive visions found in this amazing prophetic book.
Daniel’s visions of four beasts (7:1–28) and of a ram and a goat (8:1–27) depict the future world powers. Daniel’s great prayer of confession (9:1–19) precedes a revelation of God’s “seventy-week” timetable for the completion of His purposes on earth (vv. 20–27).
Understanding the Text
“A stern-faced king, a master of intrigue” Dan. 8:23–25. These three verses illustrate both the difficulty of interpreting prophetic passages, and the care that must be taken. Note that this ruler emerges during the time of the shaggy goat of Daniel 8, and is similar to, but different from, the king who emerges in the time of the fourth beast of Daniel 7. In fact, the goat of Daniel 8 corresponds to the winged leopard of Daniel 7: Each represents the kingdom won by Alexander the Great of Macedon and on his death divided between four of his generals. Historically, commentators of every persuasion identify the hostile ruler of Daniel 8 with Antiochus Epiphanes, who attempted to stamp out the Jewish religion, desecrated the Jerusalem temple, slaughtered hundreds of Jews, and whose armies were ultimately defeated by Maccabean freedom fighters. Antiochus himself died of a disease strongly resembling stomach cancer, and thus as Daniel says was “destroyed, but not by human power.” What of the king of Daniel 7? Jesus in the New Testament speaks of him and his activities as still future (cf. Matt. 24). Emerging from the fourth beast—Rome, not Greece—his hostility, his actions, and his end will be like those of Antiochus. It is the likeness of the two rulers that makes Antiochus a fit model of an antichrist who will appear as history reaches its climax. Thus in Daniel’s visions of the future, Antiochus corresponds to the Antichrist, but prophecies concerning the Antichrist were at most partially fulfilled in events which took place in Judea and Galilee some 165 years before Christ. The main focus of Daniel’s visions remains the time of the end—a time that lies ahead for you and for me. The point in all this is simple. We can expect the yet—unfulfilled predictions of Daniel to be fulfilled in the same way that the fulfilled portions have been—literally, historically, recognizably. Apocalyptic in nature or not, Daniel’s visions concern events that will actually take place here on earth. Yet, while we expect a literal future fulfillment of Daniel’s words, we realize that we do not yet have the necessary keys to unlock every mystery. We will recognize events when they happen. Many details will remain fuzzy until that time. So once again we face the fact that our Bible is a truly trustworthy Book—a book whose supernatural origin and character can be demonstrated to all. Realizing this, we understand how important it is for us to treat Scripture with respect, studying it to hear His voice, and responding with obedience to the Spirit who gave, and who interprets, God’s living Word. The Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires succeeded the Babylonian, just as Daniel foresaw. The final expression of the Roman kingdom, destined to be openly hostile to God and God’s people and to be destroyed by the personal intervention of the Son of God, has not yet emerged (see Dan. 9). “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your Holy City” Dan. 9:20–27. Daniel’s prophecies of the “seventy ‘sevens’ ” is one of the most intently studied in the entire Scripture. Taking each “seven” as a cluster of 7 years, the prediction identifies 490 years, at the end of which God’s program of the ages will be complete (v. 24). The countdown commenced with a decree to rebuild Jerusalem. This was issued to Ezra by Artaxerxes in 458B.C But the seventy “sevens” are further broken up. A first group of 7 “sevens” (49 years) takes us to 409B.C, and the repopulation of Jerusalem under Nehemiah and Ezra. The next group of 62 “sevens” takes us toA.D 26, which according to some calculations marks the baptism of Jesus, Daniel’s “anointing of the Most Holy” (One). Others calculate it to Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. There remains only one group of years until the end. Yet verse 26 says that after the 62, “the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing.” Clearly there is a gap between the end of the 62 “sevens” and the last group of seven years—a gap that has stretched from the time of Christ up to our own day. Many students of prophecy believe that one day God’s countdown will resume. Then the last seven years of Daniel’s prophecies, which most of the visions in the last three chapters concern, will also be fulfilled, and history will have come to God’s intended—and predicted—end.
Not Just “I’m Sorry”(Dan. 9)
I see it all the time at home. Our little girl makes some remark or flounces off in disobedience. When it’s over, we say, “I think it would be good to apologize.” More than likely she sticks out her lower lip, whispers a grudging “sorry,” and heads for her room. I suspect that at times we’re a little bit like Sarah when it comes to dealing with our sins. We just mutter our, “I’m sorry’s” to God when we become aware of some failure, and hurry off to get on with our lives. But there was something very different about Daniel as he humbly and with a broken heart approached the Lord. Daniel had been reading Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Exile of Judah would last 70 years, and realized that the time was up! If Darius truly was a viceroy of Cyrus, it’s probable that that very year Cyrus had issued his decree permitting Jews to return and rebuild their temple (cf. v. 17). Why then did Daniel seem so broken as he prayed? His first words tell us: Daniel was suddenly awed at the thought of God’s covenant love (v. 1). Against the background of God’s love, Daniel sensed the utter depravity of his people. Israel and Judah were beneficiaries of God’s grace, and recipients of His righteous laws. Yet they ignored His words and turned their backs on the prophets He sent them. Deeply disturbed, Daniel identified with his people and their failings, and as a humbled sinner cried out to God. He recalled God’s gracious acts (cf. v. 15), and understood how terrible it was that despite the Lord’s goodness “we have sinned and done wrong.” Yet Daniel’s prayer was more than a litany of failure. It was an appeal for even more grace! Daniel begged God to listen to the prayers of His people, and in grace to restore the land, the Holy City, and its temple. What Daniel teaches us is that in our own prayers, of confession or of petition, we must not be like a child who sullenly says, “I’m sorry,” even though not fully convinced her fault is all that bad. Instead we must measure our response to God against His grace, and deeply moved by how short we fall, come to Him in penitent humility. Then, in His presence, with head and heart bowed, we like Daniel can appeal to God for even greater grace, crying, “We do not make requests of You because we are righteous, but because of Your great mercy.”
Pride cancels out prayer; true humility wings it to the Lord.