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Unfolding the Mysteries of Daniel the Prophet

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Archives / 1974 / January

 

 

Unfolding the Mysteries of Daniel the Prophet

Desmond Ford
-chairman, department of theology, Avondale College, Australia at the time this article was written

 

 

RECENTLY the theme of the apocalyptic has been the subject matter of cataract and learned articles and books. While is was long fashionable to deny that Christ could ever have been the teacher of apocalyptic themes, the wheel of scholarly research has now turned full circle and on every hand theologians confess what there forebears denied--namely that Jesus believed in the apocalyptic images of Daniel and drew heavily upon them in proclaiming His own message.

The undeniable fact is that the entire eschatology of the New Testament is based on Daniel. The Olivet course as recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21; the prophectic passage of 2 Thessalonians 2; John's allusions to antichrist in his Epistles, and the entire book of Revelation--- all draw their primary materials from the book of Daniel. Daniel might be considered the seedbed of eschatology; Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2, the "blade" and "ear"; and Revelation, "the full corn."

Major Doctrines in Daniel

This series is only one of the many methods of presenting Daniel that could be used. However, it has been found effective in holding interest and bringing conviction whether from the pulpit or in home Bible studies. Effort has been made to make these studies practical, keeping in mind the need of the Adventist worker to convey "present truth" in such a way that even believers who have heard the same themes discussed many times over will awaken to the wonder of the many facets of truth. Frequently a large percentage of the audience before an evangelist consists of his own church members and therefore the challenge of edifying, even intriguing, those already well-in formed must be met.

The writer is convinced that most of the major doctrines of the church can be set forth by a proper exposition of Daniel. Not only obvious pillars of truth such as the judgment, the Advent, and the Sabbath are prominent in Daniel, but also the everlasting covenant (Dan. 9:27), the state of the dead (chap. 12:2), separation of church and state (chaps. 3, 6; chap. 7:25, etc.), Christian education and health reform (Daniel's success witnesses to his education by a believing mother prior to the captivity see chap. 1), the min istry of angels (chaps. 8, 9, 10, 12), and above all the Messiahship of Jesus with His atoning death and priestly ministry (chaps. 7, 8, 9, 12). Not only those areas of truth that we classify as doctrines but other vital elements of Christian experience are alluded to in this book. See chapter 4:27 for repentance and restitution as well as conversion; chapters 2, 6, and 9 for duties of the devotional life such as prayer, study of the Word, and praise; chapters 11:35 and 12:10 for the ministry of trial; chapter 9:4-19 for confession, humility, and the faith that claims divine promises.

One other matter should be stressed regarding the presentation of the truths elaborated in Daniel. People are led to make decisions for Christ by the Holy Spirit's stimulation of the motive powers of the soul faith, hope, and love. Neither hate sessions against the Papacy, nor proud recitals of the works of the Seventh-day Adventist Church minister to these dynamic faculties. If, how ever, in every presentation Christ is revealed in His beauty, and simultaneously the disease of poor sinful humanity is exposed, then room is left for the Spirit of God to work. To this end the articles in this series will endeavor to follow the Spirit of Prophecy counsel regarding our need for love, even in exposing the great apostasy (see Evangelism, pp. 576, 577). When we remember that the Papacy is but one historical exemplification of the "self" principle that tempts us all, then we will present the prophetic unveiling without bitterness and even with trembling.

Similarly, the spiritual character of the remnant church should be stressed more than its mere doctrinal rectitude. To this end the character of Daniel and his experiences can be dwelt upon with great profit. Here was one who lived during the last days of Babylon, who saw the kings come from the east and dry up the Euphrates, who witnessed the return of God's people to a new Jerusalem. This man who was prepared to stand for the right though the heavens threatened to fall, whose conscience was as true to duty as the needle to the pole, whose enemies confessed that they could find no fault in him except concerning the law of his God this man is a fitting representation of God's people during the last crisis of history. He was a product of Christian education, a practitioner of true health reform, a possessor of the gift of prophecy, and a devout student of God's revelations concerning the future. In him was "an excellent spirit," a spirit that loved the erring people of God and looked to heaven for righteousness, power, and ultimate vindication.

"Abomination of Desolation"

On the last day of His publicministry Christ gave to His disciples a panoramic prophecy en compassing the next twenty centuries, climaxing with His re turn in glory. When asked for a specific sign of the end of the world, He replied in effect, "Deceptive religious leaders will appear; wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and persecutions will also herald the end, but the special sign for which to watch is 'the abomination of desolation' standing in the holy place where it ought not, as foretold by Daniel the prophet." (See Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14.)

Encouragement has been heaped upon encouragement for all not to rest until they can claim the special blessings pronounced upon those who in the last days shall understand Daniel the prophet. Read the rich promises of Daniel 12:3, 4, 9, 10, and note the repeated use of the word understand in these verses. This term is one of the keys to the book and occurs with synonyms about twenty-five times. No wonder Christ skillfully incorporated it into His Olivet sermon.

The "abomination of desolation" phrase, which sounds so remote and puzzling to modern ears, was considered by the ancient Jews a summary title for the mysterious book written by the captive prophet. All the New Testament prophecies concerning antichrist are derived from the primary predictions concerning "the abomination of desolation" found in Daniel, chapters 8, 9, 11 and 12. Thus the phrase is an equivalent of the much better known term applied to the power that will oppose Christ and His church in the last days. "Abomination of desolation" equals "antichrist." 1

To understand why the antichrist figures so largely in Daniel and also in Christ's last sermon we need to recollect the occasion and cause for the writing of this Old Testament book. Successive attacks on Jerusalem and finally the destruction of the city and Temple and the carrying into captivity of the worshipers of God in the early part of the sixth century B.C. provide the background for the prophecies we are about to study.

Daniel was raised up by providence, not only to comfort the exiles in Babylon, but all who in later centuries would witness the apparent triumph of evil. No greater calamity had befallen Israel since the Egyptian bondage. It seemed that all the promises of God regarding His ultimate kingdom of righteousness were now dissolved. The Temple, or sanctuary, with its inner sanctum containing the emblems of divine government the tables of the Law and the overshadowing Shekinah glory was no more, and thus it appeared that the kingdom of God thereby symbolized had lost its power forever.

The daily sanctuary services of sacrifice and intercession had been made to cease, and every devout Jew wondered whether the divine favor had forsaken Israel forever. See Psalm 137 for their doleful refrain, "By the rivers of Babylon, there . . . we wept, when we remembered Zion."

Neither was the situation to improve in the succeeding ages. Continuing centuries would bring persecuting powers similar to the Babylonians. The Medo-Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans all would ravish the professed worshipers of the true God. Characteristic of all these would be idolatrous worship (repeatedly referred to as an "abomination" in the Old Testament and persecution (i.e., "desolation") of all who refused to conform. Finally, he beheld that in the "time of the end" true worship would be imperiled for the last time, as blasphemous and idolatrous laws sought to compel submission to false religion.

Daniel was given in prophetic vision a preview of a people like himself, who would witness the defiling of holy things and the oppressive enactments of false religion. Such a people in the last days would be found fault with "concerning the law of their God" as he had been. But they would also witness the overthrow of their oppressors and be delivered from "a time of trouble such as never was," to worship in peace and joy at the New Jerusalem. And they would be prepared for the coming of Christ, God's "Anointed," by the study of Daniel's book.

A Book for the Last Days

Daniel is pre-eminently a book for the "latter days," as Christ recognized when He exhorted those watching for His coming to "understand" "Daniel the prophet" (Matt. 24:15; Mark13:14).

The main work of this book of the seer in Babylon is to prepare Christ's believers in the last days for "the time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation," a time of trouble from which those who are to be translated will be delivered by the spectacular descent of Christ from heaven. Those then to be freed from the chains of mortality will previously have been delivered from the bonds of ignorance by the study of the divine revelation, and the books of Daniel and Revelation in particular.

It is written that at the time of the end "the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand" (Dan. 12:10). The book sealed "till the time of the end" is to be opened as many eyes run to and fro through its pages, 2 seeking for an increase of knowledge upon those topics vital for survival through the great est crisis of the ages. It is the purpose of this present series of articles to play some small part in that process of enlightenment.

The Clue to Interpretation

As we approach the sacred pages of the prophet let us keep in mind that we have every right to expect that here, as elsewhere in Scripture, "the key lieth at the door." The opening verses of the book give us a fundamental clue to its interpretation. They read as follows: "In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god" (chap. 1:1,2).

Thus Daniel's introduction records how an idolatrous, persecuting power from the north, Babylon, descended upon Jerusalem to ravage the city, its Temple, and its people. This is the theme of the book. Repeatedly the people of God are sketched as threatened by idolatrous, persecuting enemies. The sanctuary comes repeatedly into focus as under attack and desecration, but it is also promised that ultimately the sanctuary and the kingdom of God prefigured by it shall be vindicated. (See Daniel 8:14.)

Right here in the first paragraph of Daniel (verses 1-5) a keyword is repeatedly emphasized. It is the word king, and the associate word reign or kingdom reinforces it. These words occur more than fifty times in this book more often than in all the other prophets combined. This, then, is the book of the kingdom. (See Daniel 2:44; 7:27.) In the heart of the book we are told that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom" (chap. 4:32). There can be no kingdom without a king and so He also is pictured (chap. 7:9, 10). He is called in this book "the King of heaven" (chap. 4:37). His coming to establish the divine kingdom on earth is a primary emphasis of the book.3

"A Tale of Two Cities"

Again notice that in this introduction we have two cities named specifically Babylon and Jerusalem. This book is a "tale of two cities." One represents the rule of righteousness, and the other the rule of evil. One signifies the mystery of godliness, and the other the mystery of iniquity. The powers referred to throughout the stories and prophecies of the book illustrate the contrasting principles in the great controversy between good and evil.

Babylon and Jerusalem find their initial mention in Genesis and their final mention in Revelation, but it is in this book, written just halfway in time between Genesis and Revelation, that the conflict, and particularly its climax, is presented in greater detail. The reader must continually keep in mind that the only reason God has permitted evil to run its course is that ultimately all created beings might be persuaded that the fruit of disobedience to God is only sorrow and loss.

The attack upon the Temple containing the law of God, and upon its worshipers, as sketched in the opening verses of the book, is repeatedly presented through the succeeding chapters. The crucifixion of the Messiah was a high point in the warfare. (See Daniel 9:26.) The climax, however, is described at the close of the book when Christ (Michael) descends to deliver His people from the last frenzied attack of the Babylonian antichrist (see Daniel 12:1). Then follows the description of the eternal kingdom wherein the persecuted believers of earth are to shine "as the stars."

Thus from the very beginning of his book the captive seer of Babylon anticipated the final conflict upon the earth. That conflict will witness the complete development of good and evil, and the thorough transformation of all men into the likeness of the leader they have chosen to copy. The ultimate denouement is to be another Calvary, one that is worldwide. Those who are prepared to die rather than violate those principles, or righteousness once inscribed upon the stone tablets in the ark of the Temple but now upon the believing hearts, will be anathematized by latter-day Babylon. (See Daniel 11:44, 45; Revelation 13:13-18.)

These themes we hope to develop in following articles, but for the present let us marvel at the wondrous way in which the initial verses of our book illustrate the whole volume. They tell of the conflict between Babylon and Jerusalem, between false worship and the true, between the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God. Where shall we stand when that conflict reaches its climax? Almost certainly, where we choose to stand this very day.

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FOOTNOTES

1 See the articles on "the abomination of desolation" in any large Bibie dictionary, e.g., The Interpreter's Bible Dictionary, and those by Hastings, Smith, Cheyne. Above all, read closely Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 451.

2 Such is the real meaning of the prediction in Daniel 12:3. See Ellen C. White's use of this verse. For example, The Great Controversy, p. 356.

3 See Desmond Ford, "Daniel Eight: Its Relation to the Kingdom of God," The Ministry, January, 1960.

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