Unless otherwise noted, Scriptural quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version
Earlier in this series of posts, we looked at Daniel Chapter 9, and examined the prophecies of “70 weeks,” the temple’s rebuilding, the Messiah’s ministry, and the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. I made the case that all of those prophecies were fulfilled by 70 A.D.
Daniel Chapter 7 is a place where similar events are described, and many commentators believe that Chapter 7 depicts the same time period as Chapter 9, although there is disagreement as to whether the fulfillment is past or future.
I believe there is sufficient evidence to say that most of Daniel 7 had a literal fulfillment in the first century. There is a thorough explanation of the first-century interpretation on the Revelation Revolution website, in their article “Daniel 7: A Preterist Commentary.” In this post, I will bring out some key points of that article, but I would recommend reading the whole commentary if you are interested in this subject.
If you want to jump to the section where I discuss a possible future fulfillment, skip down to the section with the heading “Potential Future Fulfillment.”
First Century Perspective
Daniel 7:24-27 – Ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them. This one shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings. He shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time. Then the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and totally destroyed. The kingship and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.
The Ten Kings in the prophecy could be the leaders of the ten cohorts operating under General Titus and Emperor Vespasian in the destruction of Jerusalem. Alternatively, the Ten Kings could be ten Caesars of the Roman Empire. The king who arose after them in the prophecy could be General Titus, the son of the tenth Caesar, Vespasian. The prophecy says that the new king would put down three other kings.
After the death of Emperor Nero, there was a battle for the emperor’s throne, and Titus and Vespasian defeated three other contenders (Galba, Otho and Vitellius), each of whom briefly ruled in 69 A.D. After that victory, Titus and Vespasian co-ruled the empire, with both of them having the title Caesar. Titus committed blasphemous acts in the temple and sought to alter Jewish customs as described in the prophecy.
Thus far, the first century interpretation makes sense. However, at the end of the passage quoted above, we encounter the same “problem” that we had with 2nd Thessalonians in the last post. Daniel describes the coming of the Messiah and the new Kingdom Age in the same context as the aforementioned war – “the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and totally destroyed. The kingship and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High.”
Obviously, this did not happen in a literal sense during the first century. In my post on the Olivet Discourse of the Gospels, I described a way in which the Bible allows us to infer a prolonged gap of time between the first century events and the future return of Christ. The big question is whether the Bible prophecies a specific recurrence of conflict between the Jews and surrounding kingdoms that will take place right before Christ returns.
Potential Future Fulfillment
In Daniel 7:1-8, four animals are described (a lion, a bear, a leopard, and an ambiguous creature). Those four animals could represent four religious-backed alliances (a Buddhist alliance, a Hindu alliance, an Islamic alliance, and a Christian alliance). This was the view held by A.E. Knoch, the founder of the Concordant Publishing Concern. His views are outlined in the book Concordant Studies in the Book of Daniel. Key points and quotes from his commentary on Daniel 7 can be found in the article “The Four Great Beasts” by Lorraine Day, M.D.
Also, on the website of the Concordant Publishing Concern, there is an article by A.E. Knoch titled “The Three Eastern Beasts” from his series “The Mystery of Babylon,” which addresses describes Daniel 7 in conjunction with Revelation.
The first animal, the Lion, could represent a Buddhist alliance. The Concordant Literal New Testament describes the Lion as an “eastern animal.” Of the four major religions in the world, Buddhism is the easternmost religion. The Lion was described as having “eagle’s wings,” implying an ability to spread across regions. This may represent the spread of Buddhism from its origin in India to East and Southeast Asia. The Lion was also given a “human mind.” This may symbolize Buddhism’s focus on humaneness and ethics (Concordant Studies in the Book of Daniel, p. 222, quoted in “The Four Great Beasts” by Lorraine Day, M.D.).
Looking to the future, it is very conceivable that an Asian alliance of nations could form with China as its head, given China’s dramatic rise in economic and political power. If this relates to Daniel’s prophecy, the alliance is likely to have the backing of Buddhist leaders in Asia.
The second animal described is a bear. Given that the Lion was the “eastern animal,” it makes sense that the Bear would be slightly west of the Lion. If you start in East Asia and travel west, the next major religion you will encounter is Hinduism in India.
Daniel wrote that the Bear “was raised up on one side” and “had three tusks in its mouth” (v. 5). A.E. Knoch believed that this passage depicts the Caste System. In this interpretation, the part of the bear “raised up” is the Brahman priestly caste. The three tusks in the Bear’s mouth are the three castes beneath the priests. Note that unlike the Lion, there is no mention of wings on the Bear. This could symbolize the fact that Hinduism’s spread beyond India has been very limited (Concordant Studies in the Book of Daniel, p. 222, quoted in “The Four Great Beasts” by Lorraine Day, M.D.).
Today, India is another country that is rapidly growing economically. With a population of 1.3 billion, more than one sixth of the world’s population, I could imagine India as a stand-alone, Hindu-backed empire to compete with the other three in the prophecy.
Continuing westward, the next religion we encounter is Islam, in the Middle East. Islam may be represented by the Leopard in Daniel’s prophecy. The Leopard had “four wings” (v. 6). If wings symbolize spread of a religion, Islam’s rapid spread, both historically and in the present day, is noteworthy. Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world today, according to a 2015 Pew Research study. The world’s Muslim population is projected to have a 70% increase by 2050, and Muslims are expected to comprise 10% of Europe’s population by then.
Daniel wrote that dominion was given to the Leopard (v. 6). We know that the Middle Eastern nations play a major role in global politics and economics. The “four heads” of the Leopard (v. 6) could represent four Islamic nations that will form an alliance near the end of this age.
Continuing westward, we encounter the parts of the world that A.E. Knoch refers to as “Christendom,” Europe and the Americas (Knoch, “The Three Eastern Beasts”). Now, the obvious question would be, if we believe that Christianity is the one true religion, why does the prophecy group Christianity in with other religions, and why does it describe the fourth animal as evil and violent?
First, I believe this prophecy is NOT talking about individual practitioners of any of these religions. Knoch describes the relationship of religions to kingdoms in Daniel 7 as follows:
“The fourth beast is repeatedly called a kingdom and it includes ten kings. If then, these are kingdoms, what relation do they sustain to the temple and to Israel as the priest nation? In ancient times religion was a matter of state. Nebuchadnezzar was neither the first nor the last to demand religious as well as political submission. As the wild beast, or its head, the anti-christ of the future will demand more than political fealty. He will have the worship of all mankind. His image will be the object of divine honors far above that accorded the most exalted potentate. The clash between Israel and the nations at the time of the end will arise out of their refusal to worship the image, rather than a breach of political faith. All of this leads us to the conclusion that the beasts of Daniel and the composite beast of Revelation are kingdoms in which religion is directly or indirectly a matter of state (“The Three Eastern Beasts”).
Thus, the prophecy deals with characteristics of nations that claim a particular religion as their basis, not the spiritual status of the religions at their core. Note that, what we see from European history is that church-run governments have the potential to turn violent and oppressive. The problem is not the true Christian religion, which is founded upon Scripture, but rather, faulty ideas about God and man’s role that corrupted the church. Similar corruption of the Christian faith could occur in a future Christian confederation.
What Daniel’s prophecy seems to indicate is that a Christian alliance of nations will eventually form in the Western world. The current European Union is a secular union. This is why I believe that if this future interpretation of Daniel comes to pass, the current European Union will be dissolved. The United Kingdom’s recent exit could be the start of this. What would eventually form is a new, religious European Union, that could very well include the Americas too. In the prophecy, the fourth animal had “ten horns” (v. 6). This could represent leaders of ten nations forming the new union.
The prophecy later says that a new horn rose up in place of three that fell off, and that the new horn had defeated those three. This could symbolize some sort of new leader arising and exposing political scandals involving three other leaders of the new union, forcing them to step down. However, as the prophecy will later reveal, this new leader himself is far from righteous.
With this political conflict in mind, it is worthwhile to consider the increasing tendency for countries to meddle with each other’s political processes. Organizations like Wikileaks are creating new platforms for such interference.
The new, Western leader depicted in the prophecy, and its supportive organizations, could be privately affiliated with any religion, or no religion at all. However, if this future scenario comes to pass, I think the leader will be guised as Christian in some way or another.
Once this leader gets into power, he or she will likely get the world’s other three alliances (East Asia/Buddhist, India/Hindu, Middle East/Islam) to cooperate with the Western alliance on common objectives for the world. This persuasion is likely to be made by finding common ground across the world on issues of both politics and religion. This absorption of the other alliances is implied by Revelation Chapter 13, which depicts a beast resembling that of Daniel 7, but with all four animals combined into a single creature (Knoch, “The Three Eastern Beasts”).
It is likely that the Western leader would act supportive of Israel at first, and may even support Israel in reconstructing the Jerusalem temple. However, the Western leader will eventually turn on Israel and go to war against them (Dan. 7:24-25). This leader may also persecute Christians who do not support his or her agenda, or whatever form of Christianity is favored by the government. If the “time, two-times, and half-a-time” of Daniel 7:25 is to be literal, this war would last for 3.5 years.
However, the prophecy continues to say that this leader’s reign will be stopped (v. 26). It is not said exactly how this will happen. It is possible that it will occur through the actual return of Christ, or perhaps, shortly before Christ returns, there will be a political revolution that removes the leader from power.
I do not necessarily believe that the aforementioned war will involve global destruction. Using the period of 66-70 A.D. as a precedent for fulfillment, there was some sporadic violence throughout the ancient Roman empire as well as natural disasters, but the only severely affected areas were Jerusalem and surrounding regions. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica that the Rapture would come at a time when people are saying “peace and security” (1 Thess. 5:1-2). The Thessalonians were within what is modern-day Greece. Thus, while there could be some elevated violence and other crises throughout the world in the final years of this age, most people will likely, for the most part, be carrying on as usual in the years right before the Rapture.
It is after the Rapture, during a brief period before Christ’s arrival on earth, that it appears disasters will severely affect the entire world (1 Thess. 5:1-3, 2 Thess. 1:5-10). However, if you look at the passage from 2 Thess. 1, note that the destruction is directed toward those who are rebellious against God. Even though the Rapture only includes believers who are in the Body of Christ, there are people outside of the Christian faith who are striving to do what is right in accord with their conscience, are resisting their selfish passions, and live according to the principles which Jesus taught. I feel that there is good reason to think that these people will be protected on earth during the period right before Christ’s arrival on earth. In Jesus’ many parables about His coming kingdom, those granted access are those who do good works in accord with love for others.
On the other hand, the significance of being a believer, as described in Paul’s writing, is about entering into a special kind of relationship with the Lord based on justification (Rom. 3 – 8), being made a new creation spiritually (2 Cor. 5:17), and having a special role in the coming ages (Eph. 2:7). However, I do not believe this is the baseline message of salvation in Scripture. Rather, it is a special salvation for believers in this age.
The advantage of being a believer is that, through the Rapture, there is absolute assurance of protection from the calamities that will occur right before Christ arrives on earth to establish a new eon for the world.
As I mentioned earlier, this entire future fulfillment of Daniel 7 is not something that I am absolutely sure will happen. However, in light of the fact that prophecy is not confined to a particular era, but instead, is being continually fulfilled throughout human history, I found it worthwhile to consider possible clues in Daniel about a future fulfillment to take place shortly before Christ returns and the present age comes to a close. The interpretation of Daniel 7 described in this article makes sense to me based on the spiritual perspectives on the world and religions that I have arrived at through thematic analysis of Scripture in general.
I want to close this article by saying that, I am not encouraging people to completely separate themselves from institutional Christianity due to anything I have written. Furthermore, I am not saying that it is wrong for religion to play a role in politics. Rather, what I am writing against is enslavement to religious systems. This enslavement can manifest itself in forms such as, feeling guilty to differ on points of doctrine, feeling obligated to pledge support to various missions or political agendas, or feeling obligated to stay with a church even when that fellowship is not yielding anything beneficial to one’s life. If you can be a member of a church without being chained to the system in this way, then that is perfectly fine, and you are not at risk of religious deception.
Having looked at prophecies contained within the Bible itself in recent posts, the next matter to discuss would be, what to think of prophecies that Christians claim to receive from God today. I believe that our examination of Biblical prophecy will provide a helpful framework for thinking about modern-day claims of supernatural revelation.
Knoch, A.E. Concordant Studies in the Book of Daniel. Concordant Publishing Concern, 1968. qtd in Day, Lorraine, M.D. “The Four Great Beasts: What or Who Are They?” The Good News About God. Spencer Publishing. 2006. http://www.goodnewsaboutgod.com/studies/current_news/home_study/daniel7.htm
Knoch, A.E. “The Three Eastern Beasts.” Concordant Publishing Concern, n.d., Web. http://concordant.org/expositions/the-mystery-of-babylon/13-three-eastern-beasts/
Morais, Daniel. “Daniel 7: A Preterist Commentary.” Revelation Revolution. n.p., n.d., Web. http://revelationrevolution.org/daniel-7-a-preterist-commentary/
“The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050.” Pew Research Center, 2 April 2015, Web. http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/