I’ve decided to write up an interpretation of the prophecies of Daniel, which I’ve read up on recently. Previously, I debunked the common Adventist claim about the little horn being the papacy, which supposedly uprooted the Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Heruli by 538 AD. In short, Adventists applied biblical principles that don’t exist to support a failed interpretation of prophecy by William
Miller, which was later taken up by Ellen White. Ellen White claimed that the date of 1843 (and later 1844) for the return of Christ was revealed to her by God (both dates!), and when nothing happened, the date of 1844 was reinterpreted to avoid embarrassment. Subsequently, Adventists have had to choose between supporting the date and the events along their timeline derived from misinterpreting Daniel’s prophecies, or abandoning it and having to reject core Adventist teachings, and much of their anti-Catholic theology, which would weaken tremendously their core doctrine, the Saturday sabbath.
There is no need to find an alternative interpretation of Daniel once one faulty interpretation is shown to be erroneous. Consider, for example, the ancient (first century AD) Christian writing, the Didache. If someone came to me and claimed they had written it, all I’d have to do is point out that it was written before they were born in order to prove them wrong. I wouldn’t need to know who the real author was, or need to provide a name for a potential author.
However, alternative interpretations are always interesting, and there are so many out there, I thought it would be nice to add my own – pictures of statues, charts, and all.
What will be covered?
I’ll be dealing with the prophecies of Daniel found in Daniel chapters 2, 7, 8, and 9, with an additional post dedicated to the little horns of Daniel 7 and 8, and I’ll finish with Matthew 24.
- Introduction (this post)
- Daniel chapter 8
- Daniel chapter 7
- The little horns and Antiochus
- Daniel chapter 2
- Daniel chapter 9
- Matthew 24 – The Olivet Prophecy
The day for a year principle
Adventists, and others, like to count up numbers in the Bible and assign them alternative meanings. One of their key principles is that a day in prophecy should (when it suits them) be interpreted as a year in reality.
2300 days (Dan 8:14) = 2300 years
1290 days (Dan 12:11) = 1290 years
30 days (Dan 6:12) = 30 years
8 days (John 20:26) = 8 years
6 days (Deut 5:13) = 6 years
They base this on flimsy evidence, and apply it selectively (as can be seen with that list above). Their evidence? Numbers 14:34 (1 year in the wilderness for each day spent by the spies in Canaan), and Ezekiel 4:5-6 (Ezekiel lay on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for 40 days). Neither of these has anything to do with prophecy, and while the first assigns years as punishment for days of sin, the second assigns days as punishment for years of sin.
Some also point to Daniel 9:24-27, but days are not mentioned here – weeks are. Literally, the text refers to seventy “sevens” which can be, but doesn’t need to be, interpreted as literal weeks. Generally people have interpreted this as seventy “seven year” periods, or 470 years, divided into three periods of 7 years (1×7), 49 years (7×7), and 434 years (62×7). This, however, in no way establishes that a day can be substituted for a year anywhere else in the Bible.
Furthermore, the Bible says that, to God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day (2 Peter 3:8). That, too, has nothing to do with prophecy – it has to do with time vs eternity and God’s transcendence of both. Yet people use it to interpret prophecy (and Genesis). Now you can add up any time periods in the Bible and convert them to any other time period you so desire.
My conclusion is that, just as with the nonsense principle of “here a little, there a little“, the day for a year principle is simply concocted to allow prophecy to become more relevant to us living in the 20th and 21st centuries. Prophecy buffs 500 years ago counted differently to make things relevant to them. I’d rather let the Bible speak for itself.
When do the prophecies of Daniel end?
There are several key passages that indicate when Daniel’s prophecies are completed. Some of them simply end with future events still unfolding; one of them, the prophecy in Daniel 7, in particular gives amazing clarity, when properly understood. From there, we can compare the events in the other chapters to see if they occur before or after the end of Daniel 7. As we go through this study, we’ll look at that. For now, I’ll simply say that it is clear to me that Daniel 7 ends at the end of all Daniel’s prophecies. And when does Daniel 7 end?
Dan 7:13 – I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
This might seem strange at first, but this is not Jesus returning to earth in the clouds. In a situation where the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days are depicted separately, we have two options. The first is that the Ancient of Days refers to God the Father. If Jesus is coming in the clouds, and arrives where God the Father is, then he’s moving into heaven and approaching the throne of the Father. The Father is never said to be on earth at the time Jesus returns to earth in glory. The Father is in heaven. So if this is Jesus approaching the Father, and doing so on clouds, then the only possible event that this could be describing is Jesus’ ascension into heaven after the completion of his earthly ministry.
Acts 1:9 – And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
That is the only time in the Bible when Jesus moves somewhere with clouds, while simultaneously approaching the throne of the Father in heaven. Daniel is seeing, from the perspective of heaven, what the Apostles saw from their perspective on earth.
Jamieson Fausset Brown Bible Commentary:
This investiture was at His ascension “with the clouds of heaven” (Ac 1:9; 2:33, 34; Ps 2:6-9; Mt 28:18), which is a pledge of His return “in like manner” in the clouds” (Ac 1:11; Mt 26:64), and “with clouds” (Re 1:7). The kingdom then was given to Him in title and invisible exercise; at His second coming it shall be in visible administration. … But the words, “with the clouds,” and the universal power actually, though invisibly, given Him then (Eph 1:20-22), agree best with His investiture at the ascension, which, in the prophetic view that overleaps the interval of ages, is the precursor of His coming visibly to reign; no event of equal moment taking place in the interval.
John Calvin’s Bible Commentaries On Daniel 7-12:
He came to the Ancient of days. This, in my judgment, ought to be explained of Christ’s ascension; for he then commenced his reign, as we see in numberless passages of Scripture. Nor is this passage contrary to what the Prophet had previously said — he saw the Son of man in the clouds. For by this expression he simply wishes to teach how Christ, although like a man, yet differed from the whole human race, and was not of the common order of men; but excelled the whole world in dignity. … He now arrives as the Ancient of days, that is, when he ascends to heaven, because his divine majesty was then revealed. … Now, therefore, we understand the sense in which the Prophet says, Christ came as the Son of man, that is, like a man, even to the Ancient of days. For after Christ had passed through the period of his self-abasement, according’ to Paul, (Philippians 2:7,) he ascended into heaven, and a dominion was bestowed upon him, as the Prophet says in the next verse. This passage, then, without the slightest doubt, ought to be received of Christ’s ascension, after he had ceased being mortal man. He says, He was represented before God, namely, because he sits at his right hand.
So, if the prophecies of Daniel end with Jesus’ ascension into heaven, then the beasts, big horns, little horns, heads, kings, kingdoms all come to an end before that time.
At the time of Christ, the empire ruling the Holy Land was Rome. That means that the latest possible empire mentioned in Daniel 7, and possibly all of Daniel, could have been Rome. However, at least for Daniel 7, Rome was not persecuting Jews or Christians prior to Jesus’ ascension into heaven. That only began later, and that, I believe, is covered in Revelation, not Daniel. In the post on Daniel 2, I’ll discuss whether or not the rock, Christ, smashed Rome or another kingdom.
Who are the kings and kingdoms in Daniel?
In several of Daniel’s prophecies, we see interpretations given. For example, in Daniel 8, the ram’s horns and the goat and its horns are interpreted as symbolising kings. For us to re-interpret the kings as symbolising something else (kingdoms, for example) would be arrogant, and saying that the Bible’s interpretation is inadequate. Certainly, kings rule kingdoms, and Daniel 8 mentions those kingdoms, but if the Bible says their primary interpretation is kings, then we should acknowledge that any other interpretation we might have is subordinate to the Bible’s primary interpretation.
So, for example, if the 10 horns are kings, they are kings, not 10 invading tribes, not 10 parts of a kingdom, not even 10 lords aleaping (although I’ve seen prophecy cult cartoons where the 10 horns are hopping around as if they were lords aleaping). Where kings and their kingdoms are used interchangeably (e.g. Dan 7:17 vs Dan 7:23), then they are both, and the king is usually the first king that establishes the kingdom. But if they’re called kings, and nothing else, then they’re kings.
Who gets to qualify to be one of these kings/kingdoms?
The biggest human empire that ever existed was the British Empire, on which the sun literally never set, because it was always day in some part of the empire. China, today and in the past, is/has been a huge entity. The USSR, Russia, the USA – these are/were all pretty big. Persecution of God’s people has not been uncommon in some of these. If Rome, why not these? If Greece, why not these?
One also gets the idea that Bible prophecy pertains mainly to white Westerners, and a little bit to the physical place called Israel. The beasts are Rome, the horns and heads are western entities (tribes, popes, “heads” of the Holy Roman Empire), and although some like to label God and Magog as Russia and China, they do so because these were the historical enemies of the white West. They fall into the same error I described above – prophecy primarily refers to ME in MY time and in MY context, and so that is the context in which I add up days and months and horns. Most certainly, that IS one of the important roles of prophecy – giving hope to God’s people in whatever troubled times they live in. But many western prophecy cults go too far in assigning the primary events and predictions of Bible prophecy to them, in their time (19th/20th/21st centuries), in their context (Europe, USA), with each successive US president being the most likely beast to arise … until the next one comes along and then he (she?) is the new most likely one.
My conclusion is that the kingdoms depicted in Daniel are those ruling over the geographical territory in which God’s people lived at the time of the prophetic fulfillment. That makes them fall within this set: Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Seleucids, Ptolemaic Egyptians, and eventually, in Christian times, Rome.
Are there any future fulfillments to Daniel?
My position is that the primary fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecies occurred before Christ, with Christ’s incarnation as the culminating event.
I also believe that all prophecy has the role of giving people comfort and hope in God, in whatever times they live in.
Also, because history repeats itself, many rulers and empires that may come and go are likely to resemble, in part or in full, past rulers and empires. We should be hesitant to apply prophecy to all and sundry in our own time and context, claiming that these are the primary fulfillments of prophecy. Certainly, times may seem bad. Even Jesus applied Daniel to his day in Matt 24, predicting that something similar to that predicted by Daniel would occur in the near future. But even that was a partial fulfillment of Daniel, and an independent prophecy by Jesus that had its own complete fulfillment in the generation to which he spoke (Matt 24:34).
- The day for a year principle is made up and not a real biblical principle
- Daniel covers the kingdoms ruling Israel till the time of Christ
- There is an additional, partial, fulfillment of Daniel in Matt 24, as part of a different prophecy
- All prophecy relates to all Christians in their times of trouble, to varying degrees
Matt 25:13 says we won’t know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return; Peter and Paul both say he will come like a thief in the night. To say that we might not know the day or hour, but we can know the month and year, is absurd and contrary to the real meaning of the text. We’re not meant to be counting numbers and arriving at dates. That’s what the pagans did. Apocalyptic writing prepares us, no matter when we live, not by providing dates, but by giving us hope, and helping us trust God.
And no, the Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Heruli are not biblically related to an imaginary 538 AD date.
Did the papacy really uproot the 3 horns of Daniel 7:8,24?
The 3 horns and the Ostrogoths
Refuting an Adventist theory without providing a replacement theory
Adventist prophecy limited to the West
A Catholic understanding of St John’s Revelation
The day and hour