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The Crisis at the Close

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Archives / 1974 / November

 

 

The Crisis at the Close

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

 

THE most detailed picture in the Old Testament of future events is found in the closing chapters of Daniel the prophet. Here there is repeated mention of "the time of the end" and of the international strife, civil and religious, which is to characterize that "time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation" (Dan. 12:1). In these prophetic passages both the work of Christ and Antichrist are focused upon with reference to their bearing on the experience of the church. It may well be that many of us will live through the events foretold and therefore their study should be of more than usual interest.

Many vagaries of interpretation have characterized attempts to explain this section of Daniel. Therefore some hermeneutical guidelines may be of help. We offer five such.

1. It is characteristic of the chain prophecies of Daniel to climax in a presentation of the latter days and the establishment of the kingdom of God (see Dan. 2:28, 44, 45; 7:25-27; 8:25; 12:1-4).

2. These prophecies are given according to the principle of repetition and enlargement. Daniel 7 deals with the same powers as Daniel 2, but enlarges the outline. Daniel 8 also deals with these empires, those still future from the standpoint of the vision. There are evident parallels between the enlarged description of the persecuting little horn in Daniel 8 and the briefer picture in Daniel 7. For example, in the latter chapter we learn that the little horn will speak boastfully and persecute the saints until the kingdom of Cod is set up. Chapter 8 also brings to view a power that would "magnify himself in his heart" and "destroy wonderfully" until its destruction, which is described as being accomplished "without hand," an evident allusion to Daniel 2:44, 45.

The following chain prophecy in chapters 10, 11, and 12 begins where chapter 8 began with a prophecy concerning Medo-Persia. It enlarges the description given in chapter 8 and then dilates on the future history of Greece, once more with greater detail than found in any of the preceding chapters. Here again, when it concentrates upon the power entitled "the abomination of desolation" (Matt. 24:15; Dan. 11:31), we find obvious parallels to the anti-God power of chapters 7 and 8. Note the similarities between the following from the three successive prophecies:

Daniel 7:25: "And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws."

Daniel 8:23-25: "A king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up. And his power shall be mighty, . . . and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people. . . . And he shall magnify himself in his heart."

Daniel 11:36: "And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished."

While Daniel 7 gives five verses to the description of the Antichrist, Daniel 8 gives eight verses and Daniel 11 more than twenty verses. This demonstrates the principle of repetition and enlargement.

3. The preceding point gives emphasis to this one, namely, that the chain prophecies of Daniel 2 give far more specific and exhaustive treatment to the Christian era than to the Old Testament age. Even in Daniel 2 this is the case. Even more is it true in Daniel 7 where the prophet quickly passes over the powers symbolized by the lion, bear, and the leopard, and then dwells upon Rome, pagan and papal, which would span the Christian era. Daniel 11 introduces the Christian era by its mention of the breaking of the prince of the covenant in verse 22; and from this verse forward till the end of chapter 12, the events of the Christian age are dwelt upon.

From Symbolic to Literal

4. A similar point to the last is the fact that with increasing specificity and exhaustiveness there appears toward the end of Daniel a lessening of symbolism and an emphasis upon literal interpretation. Daniel 8 presents mainly symbolism, while the following chain prophecy of chapters 10 to 12 uses no symbols, but gives literal explanation instead.

5. In prophecies applying to the New Testament age, Israel now signifies the Israel of the church, and her enemies are similarly worldwide in application. The old nomenclature may be retained, but the meaning must accord with the transition to this era of the Spirit (see Matt. 21:43; Rom. 2:28, 29; Gal. 3:28, 29; and particularly Acts 15:13-18).

The second and fourth points are so important as to deserve further comment. We append representative statements that sup port and illustrate the fact that Daniel 10 to 12 is explanatory of the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 concerning the 2300 days.

"It is the usual method of the holy Spirit to make the latter prophecies explanatory of the former; and revelation is (Prov. 4:18), as the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The four great empires of the world, which were shown to Nebuchadnezzar in the form of a great image, were again more particularly represented to Daniel in the shape of four great wild beasts. In like manner, the memorable events, which were revealed to Daniel in the vision of the ram and he-goat, are here again more clearly and explicitly revealed in his last vision by an an gel; so that this latter prophecy may not improperly be said to be a comment and explanation of the former."---Thomas Newton, Dissertations on the Prophecies, vol. 1, p. 335.

"Chapters 10-12 more fully describe the vision in chapter 8 by a second vision on the same subject, just as the vision in the seventh chapter explains more fully that in the second." Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Commentary, Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible, p. 642.

"Had he been seeking of heaven an explanation of the previous mysteries especially that of the ram and the he-goat? This seems probable because what follows traverses so much of the ground of chapter 8." James M. Gray, Christian Workers' Commentary, p. 276.

It is surely significant that the sanctuary is not only central in Daniel 8 but also in the later chapters. Chapter 10 is introductory to the prophecy of chapters 11 and 12, and there we read that Gabriel tells Daniel that he has been wrestling with the powers of darkness who had been trying to turn Cyrus against the builders of the sanctuary (see Dan. 10:12, 13, and Ezra 4:1-5). The opening statement of chapter 10 refers to the third years of Cyrus and this reminds us that two years previously that monarch had issued this famous decree permitting the Jews to re turn to their homeland (Ezra 1: 1-4). The little band which returned encountered many disappointments and difficulties. Enemies tried to block every advance step in rebuilding the sanctuary. This situation is a vital key to what follows. Chapters 11 and 12 of Daniel describe all the powers that would continue to war against the sanctuary and the worshipers of God. Only what is pertinent to this theme is introduced. This simple truth eradicates immediately many of the interpretations offered concerning this prophecy. Powers are never introduced into prophecy unless they affect the people of God.

"In the Latter Days"

At this point we should recall that the book of Daniel began with reference to an attack on the sanctuary and the people of God by Babylon from the north. It is this theme which continues throughout the entire book (see Dan. 5:1-3; 7:25; 8:13, 14; 9:27; 11:31, 44, 45). In chapter 10, the inspired introduction to the following prophecy, Gabriel explains to Daniel how he has been working upon the mind of the Persian monarch to facilitate the building of the Temple. It is ever the sanctuary that is the center and theme of these prophecies and the storm center of satanic attack.

This sanctuary, of course, includes the host of its worshipers (see chap. 8:13), and Gabriel, in Daniel 10:14, announces the specific purpose of the predictive outline which follows by saying: "Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days." Thus the ultimate aim of Daniel 11 is to give light on the experience of the true worshipers of God in the time of the end. To that end the history of God's people prior to the latter days is given throughout the first thirty-nine verses of the eleventh chapter.

What follows in this article will be abundantly -clarified if the reader opens his Bible to Daniel 11 and compares the interpretation now offered with the actual words of Scripture. Verses 1-3 foretell the future history of Persia from Daniel's time not all of it, but its history during the period when Persian influence affected the Israelites who were rebuilding the sanctuary at Jerusalem. The kings referred to in these verses are Cambyses (who followed Cyrus), Smerdis, Darius Hystaspis, and Xerxes. The last named was the invader of Greece, and at Salamis he was overwhelmingly defeated in 480 B.C There were almost a dozen Persian leaders who succeeded Xerxes, but because they had little or no influence on the sanctuary they are not mentioned in this chapter.

The mighty king now referred to in verse 4 is Alexander the Great. Daniel 8:8 should be compared with this delineation. Every specification fits Alexander and Alexander alone.

From verse 5 onwards we will find frequent mention of the king of the south and the king of the north. Alexander's empire was ultimately divided among his four leading generals Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy. But after some years these four became two. Seleucus ruled in the north and Ptolemy in the south. (Directions of the compass are related to Jerusalem and the king of the south initially signifies Egypt, as the king of the north initially signifies Syria, which had absorbed Babylon, the former tyrant of the north.) Palestine was thus the buffer state between giants, and it became the battle ground of the centuries, and the football of titans.

"A Vile Person"

From verses 5-21 we have a description of the long series of wars, deceit, diplomacy, and trickery that characterized the long, bloody centuries.

Particular attention must be paid to verse 21 onward. The "vile person" here named is understood by most commentators to be Antiochus Epiphanes, a Syrian persecutor of Israel between 168 and 165 B.C. His atrocities are recorded in the books of Maccabees, and indelibly imprinted themselves on the memory of the jews. As Babylon, centuries before, by its idolatry and persecution became to the people of Israel an "abomination of desolation," so with Antiochus. Verses 21-35 fit his times perfectly, but let it be observed that this fulfillment by no means exhausts the passage.

The book of Daniel sometimes employs prophecies that have several fulfillments, each on a larger scale than the preceding. This is true of other prophecies of Holy Writ, such as Matthew 24, Joel 2:28, and Malachi 4:5, 6. These verses of Daniel 11 not only fit the career of Antiochus but also they match the activities of pagan Rome against the Jews and the persecutions that resulted in the Middle Ages from an illicit union of church and state. This application is the one most pertinent to the twentieth-century church. In its main features it will yet be fulfilled once more at the time of the end, as verses 36-45 make clear.

Let us consider now verses 36-39. Here is a prediction of a power that will exalt itself above God by attacks upon His laws and His people. Again the words of Daniel 8 are being enlarged upon (see Dan. 8:25 and compare chap. 11:36). The passage applies to the Antichrist of history and to the Antichrist yet to come. It is a precise description of the European church-state apostasy of the Middle Ages but points beyond it to an ultimate fulfillment in our own times. Revelation 13 in its description of the coming crisis draws from these verses in Daniel. Let it be kept ever in mind that the use of the word king can apply to a system and not necessarily to a single individual. (See the synonymous use of "king" and "kingdom" in Daniel 7:17, 23.)

The last verses of this chapter and the whole of chapter 12 concern themselves with "the crisis at the close" (Dan. 8:17; 12:9, Moffatt). Our last article in this series will seek to enlarge their meaning. Meanwhile, may our experience be such that angels will desire to say to us what was said to Daniel in the introduction of the present prophecy:

"Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humble your self before your God, your words have been heard [in heaven]" (chap. 10:12, R.S.V.).

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