by Rit Nosotro
Divine Prophecy or Secular Hindsight?
What are the most reasonable interpretations of Daniel chapters 7-12? How might these interpretations contrast with a secular approach to history?
In Daniel 7-12, the prophet Daniel vividly depicts a series of awe-inspiring visions from God depicting the future events of the world. These visions, often cited during discussion of the end times, predict the future worldly civilizations of mankind and the eventual triumph of God over all. From a secular viewpoint, biblical prophecy seems irrelevant to any interpretation of history. After all, in the eyes of secular historians, there is no God to control the events of the world, no such thing as prophecies, and no set future. If a so called prophecy does come true then it must have a natural explanation. When applied to Daniel, secular historians claim it has remarkable accuracy simply because it was written in hindsight. While secular historians might see the world as a mere series of random events, those of a Christian perspective see Daniel 7-12 as God's plan for world events..
In Daniel 7, Daniel writes of a vision of four beasts coming out of the sea. This vision is often considered analogous to the statue in the dream of Nebuchadnezzer in that it foretells four future kingdoms. Daniel describes the four beasts as follows. “The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle,” (Daniel 7:4.) Just like the gold on the statue, this beast represents the kingdom of Babylon, seeing as how the winged lion was the Babylonian Empire’s symbol. “And there before me was a second beast which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, `Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’” (verse 5.) The bear, once again corresponding to the statue, represents the Medo-Persian Empire, and the ribs in its mouth have been theorized as representing its conquests of the Lydians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians. “After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule,” (verse 6.) Again, this beast represents the third kingdom, Greece, which swiftly conquered the world under the guidance of Alexander the Great. “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast--terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns,” (verse 7) This beast seems a bit different from the statue; while the iron teeth correspond with the iron in the statue, this particular beast seems different from the Roman Empire. While interpretations of this beast vary, one of the more common viewpoints is that this beast represents an anti-God kingdom of the Tribulation possibly rooted in the Roman Empire. Finally, Daniel describes how he sees “a son of man” who receives “authority, glory, and sovereign power” over the world and whose kingdom “will never be destroyed.” Again, this bears a resemblance to Nebuchadnezzer’s dream of the statue, which was broken by a great rock. This foretells the return of Christ and his everlasting kingdom.
Those who view history in a purely secular light would likely scoff at Daniel’s prophecies about the rise and fall of future world empires. After all, in their minds, the history of conquests consists of the stronger, more advantaged nations conquering other civilizations, and only chance circumstances allow such nations to flourish at the right place and the right time. Those who view the Bible as the ultimate guide to history see how Daniel’s prophecies do indeed tie in with history. Daniel’s visions are not self-fulfilling prophecies, nor are they vague predictions. They are glimpses of God’s plan for the future of the world, and history has validated them time and time again, as revealed, for example, in the four beasts.
Throughout the book of Daniel, several references are made to a mysterious figure commonly referred to by biblical scholars as the Antichrist, or the earthly ruler who will lead mankind against the one, true God. In Daniel 8, Daniel observes among the ten horns of the fourth beast a little horn possessing “eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully.” If the fourth beast represents the kingdom of the End Times that persecutes believers, then the boasting horn might represent the Antichrist. In chapter 8, one finds another reference to this ruler, “a stern faced king” who will “destroy many and take a stand against the Prince of Princes.” Then, in chapter 9, there is a reference to a ruler who, in the temple of the Jews, sets up “an abomination that causes desolation.” Since the temple of the Jews no longer exists, some believe this passage refers to a previous defilement, such as that by the Greek King Antiochus IV who sacrificed a pig in the holy temple. Another interpretation, following the pre-millennialist, post-Rapture Tribulation interpretation, is that the temple will be rebuilt, and the Antichrist, during the Great Tribulation, will defile it. Again, in chapter 11, Daniel refers to a king who will “exalt and magnify himself above every god and say unheard-of things against the god of Gods.” While interpretations vary, it can be reasonably inferred that these verses refer to a powerful ruler who will declare himself lord of all and deny God and his son, Jesus Christ.
Again, those who do not look at the Bible from a biblical standpoint do not see the significance of this prediction. Some would argue that these verses could fit any number of tyrants, such as Alexander the Great, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, or Stalin. True, many evil men have gained power throughout history, but none of them have perfectly followed the blueprint set out by Biblical prophecy. Since anyone who denies Christ is, in fact, an antichrist, it makes sense how some men would take on the attributes of the Antichrist. Those who know the truth of the Scriptures will prepare themselves for the evil days to come, and will not allow themselves to be deceived by the lies of the Antichrist when he arrives.
Those of a secular mindset do not see prophecy as anything other than nonsense. Countless other religions have had people who have made so-called prophecies, and all too many of them were charlatans and frauds. So why should the prophecies of the Bible prove any different? The difference between the prophets of the world and the prophets of the Bible lies in the fact that Biblical prophecies continue to be proved correct in the eyes of history. Of course, the greatest of these prophecies are the many predictions of the coming of Christ to die for our sins. Unlike the prophecies of other religions, the prophecies of God become fulfilled and proved true every time. In light of the Bible’s overwhelming credibility in this area, there can be no doubt that the visions of Daniel do indeed reveal the end of days, when God overcomes the man of sin and permanently establishes his kingdom over all.
1. Cooper, Phyllis, “Daniel/Lesson 8; The Four Beasts,” “Daniel/Lesson 12; The Final Consummation,” Community Bible Study, Reston VA: (publisher not given,) 1995
2. Noel, Ted, “Antiochus IV Epiphanes the Madman,” “The Four Beasts,” A Biblical Exposition of the Apocalyptic Prophecies of Daniel, <http://www.bibleonly.org/proph/dan/intro.html>
3. Compton’s Interactive Bible NIV, “Expert Commentary Daniel 11:31,” “Expert Commentary Daniel 9:27,” Novato, CA: Broderbund, 1996
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