In case you weren’t with us last Sunday… The book of Daniel can be divided into two simple sections, the first six chapters are story-driven while the last six records several prophetic “dreams and visions” Daniel had during the twilight years of his life.
While a prediction concerning the future is an educated guess as to what MAY happen, in contrast, a prophecy is God intentionally peeling back the veil of time in order to reveal what IS going to happen in human history. Because prophecy is God’s way of revealing not concealing the future, while there are mysteries unknown, the generalities are knowable!
In your approach to prophetic texts, it’s incredibly helpful if you operate according to a few general guidelines. First, when the passage provides the interpretation, there is no need to speculate. Second, when you are unsure of a portion of a particular prophecy, check to see if similar images are used in the New Testament. Third, if the prophecy does not have a clear fulfillment in human history, assume the event is still yet to come.
Fourth, always remember a Church made up of Gentiles replacing the Nation of Israel for a period of time was completely concealed from the Old Testament prophets. In Colossians, Paul calls it “a mystery hidden from ages.” You see when referring to the “people of God” or the “saints” men like Daniel would have conceived of no one other than the Jewish people.
Fifth, when you come across a detail or description and you have no idea what it means, it’s ok to say you don’t know. Prophecy is incredible, but understanding the description of future events from “dreams and visions” is not always so cut and dry. Regarding prophecy… Stay humble. Don’t get lost in the details. And resist being overly dogmatic.
Finally (and this is new), on occasion you will find a prophecy to have a dual-fulfillment. As we’re going to see this morning, as a prophet peers into the future there can be times when two different but similar future events or people blur together. Some prophecies fulfilled in the past are designed to foreshadow an event or person to come in the future.
As we turn our attention to chapter 8 you should note Daniel switches back from writing in Aramaic to his native Hebrew tongue. The prophecies recorded from this point forward — though dealing with world affairs — will be specific to Israel and the Hebrew people.
Daniel 8:1-2, “In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me — to me, Daniel — after the one that appeared to me the first time. I saw in the vision, and it so happened while I was looking, that I was in Shushan, the citadel, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in the vision that I was by the River Ulai.”
The timing for this “vision” places us “in the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar” two years after the previous vision recorded in Daniel 7. Historically, we know Nabonidus made his son Belshazzar co-regent over Babylon in 553 BC meaning the year is 550 and the Empire will fall to the Medes and Persians in a little more than a decade. In fact, Cyrus the Great has already led a rebellion liberating the Persians from Babylonian control.
In this second “vision” Daniel begins by telling us he was transported 230 miles from Babylon to the recently liberated Persian capital in “Elam” a city named “Shushan” or Susa. Specifically, he says he’s standing “by the River Ulai.” It’s worth noting scholars believe “Ulai” was actually a massive 900ft canal used to divert water to the city. If this is the case, we already know Daniel is in the future as the Ulai canal had not yet been built.
Daniel 8:3-4, “Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and there, standing beside the river, was a ram which had two horns, and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last. I saw the ram pushing westward, northward, and southward, so that no animal could withstand him; nor was there any that could deliver from his hand, but he did according to his will and became great.”
As to the interpretation of these two verses, we read in Daniel 8:20, “The ram which you saw, having the two horns — they are the kings of Media and Persia.”
For starters, we know the Medo-Persian Empire was always characterized by “a ram.” Not only was the ram the national emblem, but it was stamped on Persian coinage. In fact, it was not abnormal for the King of Persia to wear a ram's head when going into battle.
What’s fascinating about Daniel’s vision are the incredibly specific details. This singular Empire “a ram” would be governed by “two horns” or powers. Though the Medes came first, the Persians who “came up last” would ultimately prove to be the dominant force.
Concerning their conquests, Daniel notes how the ram would “push westward, northward, and southward” indicating he’d rise from the east! In the end, the Persian Empire ruled the world and “became great.” Persian kings “did according to their will.” For 200 years “no animal could withstand” the ram or be “delivered from his hand.”
Daniel 8:5-8, “And as I was considering, suddenly a male goat came from the west, across the surface of the whole earth, without touching the ground; and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. Then he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing beside the river, and ran at him with furious power.
And I saw him confronting the ram; he was moved with rage against him, attacked the ram, and broke his two horns. There was no power in the ram to withstand him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled him; and there was no one that could deliver the ram from his hand. Therefore the male goat grew very great; but when he became strong, the large horn was broken, and in place of it four notable ones came up toward the four winds of heaven.”
Pertaining to what Daniel witnesses in these four verses we have no need to speculate… Daniel 8:21-22, “And the male goat is the kingdom of Greece. The large horn that is between its eyes is the first king. As for the broken horn and the four that stood up in its place, four kingdoms shall arise out of that nation, but not with its power.”
If we’re being fair and balanced, the first section of this prophecy dealing with the rise of Persia is not all that impressive. With all respect for Scripture and Daniel, if we’re removing the supernatural, it’s not outside the realm of possibility the prophet could have easily predicted the rise of the ram. By the “third year of Belshazzar” Cyrus was on the move and Daniel knew from prophecy God would use him to conquer Babylon.
And yet, what Daniel records next concerning the rise of this “male goat coming from the west” presents for us one of the most profound sections of prophecy in the entire Bible! Not only are we told Persia would fall to the Greeks, but we’re told this would happen in large part through the sheer strength of the “first king” of this emerging Empire!
Additionally, Daniel’s vision of the future documents what would also happen following his death… “The large horn” would be replaced by “four notable ones” without “its power.”
As we consider the historical fulfillment of this prophecy, remember Daniel is writing in the year 550 BC. Even though the Persians are on the rise, Babylon still remains the predominant world power. At this point in history, Greece was simply a geographic area comprised of a collection of small, independent city-states like Athens and Sparta.
You see in the year 550 Greece had zero national identity and wasn’t on the world stage in any way. For context, when Daniel received this vision, we’re 70 years from the famous Battle of Thermopylae between King Leonidas of Sparta and Xerxes of Persia, 120 years from the Peloponnesian Wars, and some 194 years from the birth of Alexander the Great.
As Daniel is considering this ram, he recounts how “suddenly a male goat came from the west, across the surface of the whole earth, without touching the ground. The goat had a notable horn between his eyes” who “became very strong.” Specifically, Daniel observes how this goat “confronted the ram, raged against him, attacked,” and conquered him.
In the year 359 BC, a Macedonian King named Philip II became intoxicated with a vision of Grecian military and cultural world dominance. Through various military conquests and some savvy political maneuvering, Philip was ultimately successful in unifying the various city-states of Greece into a singular federation known as the League of Corinth. His plan was to use this new, unified Grecian army to take on the mighty Persians.
In a twist of fate, in 336 BC, Philip was assassinated by his bodyguard leaving the throne to his 20-year-old son Alexander. Educated by Aristotle and driven by the desire to fulfill his father’s legacy, Alexander killed the conspirators and consolidated power to himself.
With a highly trained but nimble fighting force, a military mind rivaled by no one in his day, and a singular almost maddening focus it would only take Alexander 10 years to conquer Persia as well as the rest of the known world. Indeed, just as Daniel observed, Alexander “moved across the surface of the whole earth, without touching the ground.”
Known in his day as Alexander the Great this man proved to be fierce and brilliant. He was undefeated in battle and his Empire would stretch from Northern Africa all the way to India. Historically, Alexander is widely considered history’s most successful military commander.
One of the important differences of Grecian dominance as opposed to the Persians and Babylonians before them was their desire to impose Hellenistic culture upon the world. The people they conquered were forced to live a more refined existence as defined by the Greeks. During the years they ruled, the world changed. The Greeks codified mythology. They introduced philosophy. Education was prioritized. Dress and architecture transformed.
As one primary example of the spread of Hellenistic culture, even when their power was supplanted by the Roman’s, the language of the day remained Koine Greek. By the time of Jesus, the entire known world was linked together by one common, universal language! Ironically, the only people who received an exemption from Alexander from this cultural revolution were the Hebrews. The story for how this happened is really astounding…
According to first-century historian Flavius Josephus, as Alexander the Great approached Jerusalem following his siege of Tyre, he was met outside the city by Jaddus the High Priest who was dressed in his full priestly attire. Knowing the Greeks had plans to overthrow the city, God instructed Jaddus by a dream not to resist and instead go and meet Alexander.
Overwhelmed by the sight, Josephus says Alexander dismounts from his horse and approaches the man alone. This great conqueror then bows down on his knees before the High Priest. Perplexed by what’s happening, Alexander then explains that since his youth he had a recurring dream of a man dressed in purple he now identifies as Jaddus.
Not only does Alexander make an offering in the Temple, but the High Priest opens the scrolls to Daniel 8 and reads for him this very section of Scripture prophesying his rise to power and conquests over the Persians some 200 years earlier. In turn, Alexander spares Jerusalem and extends to the Jewish people the same protections granted by the Persians. Hebrew culture would remain intact and most importantly they were free to worship!
In addition to predicting Alexander’s rapid rise to power, Daniel’s prophecy also describes his swift fall as well. In verse 8 we read, “The male goat grew very great; but when he became strong, the large horn was broken.” Tragically, at the age of 32 after conquering the world, Alexander the Great unexpectedly grew sick and died roughly 14 days later.
To this day historians are divided as to exactly how Alexander died. Speculations range from acute pancreatitis from years of heavy drinking to typhoid fever complicated by a perforated bowel. Some believe foul play may have been involved and that Alexander was poisoned by friends. Either way, what’s interesting is where Alexander the Great died — On June 10, 323 BC he died in Babylon in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar.
Following his untimely death, Daniel then witnessed “four lesser kingdoms arise out of that nation.” Because Alexander possessed no living heir or will dictating succession, when asked who was to take his place, his only instruction was to give it to the strong.
In the chaos that resulted, four of Alexander’s generals eventually divided up the Empire. Cassander ruled over Greece. Lysimachus (lie-sim-a-cus) governed an area known as Asia Minor which included Macedonia. Seleucus assumed control over Babylon, Persia, and Syria — which included Israel. And Ptolemy ruled over Egypt and Northern Africa.
Let’s continue to see what happens next… Daniel 8:9-12, “And out of one of them (these four kingdoms) came a little horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Glorious Land. And it grew up to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and some of the stars to the ground, and trampled them. (This is a reference to the descendants of Abraham — the Hebrew people.)
He even exalted himself as high as the Prince of the host (Jesus); and by him the daily sacrifices were taken away, and the place of His sanctuary was cast down. Because of transgression, an army was given over to the horn to oppose the daily sacrifices; and he cast truth down to the ground. He did all this and prospered.”
Of the four divided kingdoms of Alexander’s Grecian Empire, the Seleucid Dynasty would largely govern Judea and Jerusalem until their ultimate fall to the Romans. To make a long, complicated story brief, in 175 BC a man named Antiochus IV took power over the Seleucid Empire by brutally killing several of the more legitimate heirs positioned in front of him.
History records that Antiochus IV not only had a lofty view of himself but would prove to be an atrocious, vial human being. As just one example, after taking the throne, he changes his name to Antiochus Epiphanes — which means God Manifest or the Illustrious One!
While the Greek rulers who came before honored Alexander’s wish the Jewish people be allowed to maintain their own unique religious and cultural heritage, Antiochus Epiphanes drastically reversed these policies by mandating the Hebrew’s adopt Hellenistic culture. Some of the Jews were willing to capitulate while a great many rebelled.
To aid the process Antiochus had the rightful High Priest, Onias III, removed and replaced with his brother Jason who’d paid handsomely for the position. That said, this arrangement proved to be short-lived when in 172 BC another brother named Menelaus gave Antiochus an even greater bribe to replaced Jason. To pay for his treachery, Menelaus started selling off the temple’s golden utensils. Onias III rebuked him and Menelaus had him murdered.
The plot thickens when in 168 BC Antiochus Epiphanes launched an unsuccessful attack on Alexandria in Egypt. Rome, who was a rising power at this time, intervened and Antiochus was embarrassed. Sadly, word spread in Judea he died in battle. Emboldened by the news, Jason gathered an army and fought against Menelaus to regain the office of High Priest.
Enraged by his defeat, upon his return Antiochus Epiphanes comes to Jerusalem to put down this rebellion. According to 2 Maccabees 5, we’re told “he ordered his soldiers to cut down without mercy those whom they met and to slay those who took refuge in their houses. There was a massacre of young and old, a killing of women and children, a slaughter of virgins and infants. In the space of three days, eighty thousand were lost, forty thousand meeting a violent death, and the same number being sold into slavery.”
To compound the carnage, Antiochus entered the temple on the Sabbath and had an idol of Zeus erected in the Holy Place. He then slaughtering a pig in desecration and sprinkled the blood all over the holy artifacts. From that point forward Antiochus put an end to the daily sacrifices. Imagine being Daniel looking into the future to see such an event take place!
Daniel 8:13-14, “Then I heard a holy one speaking (likely an angelic being); and another holy one said to that certain one who was speaking, ‘How long will the vision be, concerning the daily sacrifices and the transgression of desolation, the giving of both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot?’ And he said to me, ‘For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.’”
As the vision unfolds Daniel eavesdrops on a conversation happening between two angels standing by. The question of concern was how long God was going to allow the sanctuary to be trampled underfoot, the daily sacrifices stopped, and the temple left in desolation.
One angel remarks after the “transgression of desolation” until “the sanctuary is cleansed shall be 2300 days.” There are some scholars who see this as being 2300 days. Others believe it’s 2300 “daily sacrifices” making it actually 1150 days — two sacrifices each day.
The only thing we can say for sure is the 2300 days has to still be future because there is no clear historical fulfillment. In response to the actions of Antiochus, in 168 BC the Maccabean Revolt began. It took 3 years but in 165 BC the Jews were successful in freeing themselves from Seleucid control. They reinstituted the sacrifices and rededicated the Temple. This event is commemorated in what we know as Hanukkah — Festival of Lights.
History is a little mirky what transpires after this, but a consensus believes that when Antiochus Epiphanes— who was in the east — heard the news he devised plans to return to Judea, destroy Jerusalem, and exterminate the Jewish people. Whether or not there was divine intervention, Antiochus would soon die a horrible death being eaten by worms.
Daniel 8:15-19, “Then it happened, when I, Daniel, had seen the vision and was seeking the meaning (trying to wrap his brain around what he was seeing), that suddenly there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, who called, and said, ‘Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.’ (God sends to Daniel the angel Gabriel to explain to him the vision.)
So Gabriel came near where I stood, and when he came I was afraid and fell on my face; but he said to me, ‘Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the time of the end.’ Now, as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep with my face to the ground (Daniel passes out cold); but he touched me, and stood me upright (weird for a vision). And he said, ‘Look, I am making known to you what shall happen in the latter time of the indignation; for at the appointed time the end shall be.’
Daniel 8:20-26, “The ram which you saw, having the two horns — they are the kings of Media and Persia. And the male goat is the kingdom of Greece. The large horn that is between its eyes is the first king. As for the broken horn and the four that stood up in its place, four kingdoms shall arise out of that nation, but not with its power.
And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their fullness, a king shall arise, having fierce features, who understands sinister schemes. His power shall be mighty, but not by his own power; he shall destroy fearfully, and shall prosper and thrive; he shall destroy the mighty, and also the holy people.
Through his cunning he shall cause deceit to prosper under his rule; and he shall exalt himself in his heart. He shall destroy many in their prosperity. He shall even rise against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without human means. And the vision of the evenings and mornings which was told is true; therefore seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future.”
While we know this “vision referred to many days in the future” — especially from Daniel’s vantage point receiving it in 550 BC, within these final few verses we find three statements made by the angel Gabriel that complicate our understanding of this chapter. While the vision of the “ram and goat” as being Persia and Greece — with the notable mentions of Alexander, the division of his kingdom into four separate parts, and later the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes being rather straight-forward in light of history…
In setting up his explanation of these things, Gabriel says, “I am making known to you what shall happen in the latter time of the indignation.” Then he says, “At the appointed time the end shall be.” Before describing this future king by saying, “And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their fullness a king shall arise.”
There are a few ways you can read this… (1) Everything in the chapter has already been fulfilled in history, meaning in these final few verses Gabriel is giving us a more detailed description of Antiochus. (2) The vision is of the End Times meaning Persia and Greece play a more active role than we believe and the description is of the Antichrist, not Antiochus.
(3) Yes! There is no question a huge portion of this vision has been fulfilled in history. The details are so specific to conclude otherwise. And yet, on the flip side to this, Gabriel is crystal clear to Daniel the vision has undeniable End Times ramifications. Again, this means a huge portion of the second part of Daniel 8 is a prophecy yet to be fulfilled.
It would seem the entire purpose of the vision was to reveal to Daniel something important about the End Times scenario — specifically concerning the Antichrist. And yet, to accomplish this, Daniel needed to see Antiochus Epiphanes. That said, to get to that moment in history Persia had to rise and then fall to the Greeks and Alexander’s kingdom splinter into four so that Antiochus could ascend to power over the land of Israel.
At this point what Daniel witnesses of Antiochus Epiphanes — while happening in his future / our past — has a dual fulfillment by foreshadowing the still future Antichrist. What do we learn about the Antichrist through the lens of Antiochus Epiphanes?
First, we know he will rise “when the transgressors have reached their fulness.” This word “transgressors” means rebellion, breaking away, or apostasy. This Hebrew word translated “have reached their fulness” gives the impression things have reached a point of no return.
The idea being articulated is that the moral climate of the world when the Antichrist ultimately rises to global power will be completely Godless — similar to the atmosphere that precipitated the Flood. In Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Secondly, like Antiochus Epiphanes, we can assume the Antichrist will be more than a military leader, but also a cultural revolutionary. Not only are we told “he will cast truth to the ground,” but like the Greeks, he will impose onto the world the cultural norms of his godless kingdom. In this new morality what is right will be wrong. Accepted truth will be substituted with the lie. Note: Don’t we see this happening right now in our culture.
Thirdly, “his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power.” Aside from the fact, Satan will give him supernatural power and influence, we’re told “an army” will be “given over to him” as well. The Antichrist will have the authority and means to crush all who oppose him. To this point, Gabriel says this future leader “shall destroy fearfully” or extraordinarily.
Fourth, while we’re told through his incredible “cunning” (literally his prudent policies) and “fierceness” of character the Antichrist will “destroy many in their prosperity.” The KJV translates this line as “by peace he shall destroy many.” This man will justify his brutality under the guise of bringing about global unity. And yet, in spite of his savagery and “sinister schemes,” in his campaign the Antichrist will himself “prosper and thrive.”
Fifth, in the same way, Antiochus Epiphanes waged war against the Nation of Israel, the Antichrist will also seek to “destroy the mighty, holy people” of God “casting down some of the host and stars to the ground” to “trample them.” In the end, the Antichrist will desecrate a future Temple, bring to an end “the daily sacrifices, rise against the Prince of princes, exalting himself as high” as Jesus. Understand, the Antichrist will view himself as a replacement Savior for a fallen world. He will exalt himself to the position of a God-man.
Finally, Gabriel tells us like Antiochus Epiphanes this Antichrist will not prevail. We’re told, “He will be broken without human means.” While no power on earth will be able to stand against him, the Book of Revelation is clear Jesus will come from heaven and utterly destroy this man putting an end to his reign of terror and casting him into the Lake of Fire forever.
In light of all of these things concerning the future, the chapter closes… Daniel 8:27, “And I, Daniel, fainted and was sick for days; afterward I arose and went about the king’s business. I was astonished by the vision, but no one understood it.”
For a man who’d been taken from Jerusalem and cast into exile, Daniel can’t stomach what he sees concerning the future of his people. We’re told, “He fainted and was sick for days” on account of this revelation. I believe what disturbs Daniel most about his view of the future centers on the explanation as to why God allowed such terrible things to happen — not only during the time of Antiochus but in the end of days concerning the Antichrist.
Notice back in verse 12 we read, “An army was given over to the horn to oppose the daily sacrifices and cast down truth… because of transgression.” The question begs… Who’s transgression? Remember the prophet Daniel is in Babylon because of the judgment of God on account of the Hebrew people’s idolatry and wickedness…
Daniel longs for restoration — to see the Jewish people return to their covenantal relationship with God. How it must have broken his heart to see the Jews who would return to the land and rebuild the Temple repeat the mistakes of their past — not once, but twice in history as God would use these two evil men to judge them accordingly.
What’s amazing about this prophecy aside from it’s accuracy and attention to detail is that, in spite of all of these things, God would use both Antiochus Epiphanes and the Antichrist to set the stage for the first and second comings of Jesus Christ! How often it’s following judgment and exile that we come to discover God’s amazing grace!
In closing and in way of application I want to point out that Daniel receives an amazing revelation through God’s Word. He knows it’s important which explains why in verse 15 we read he “was seeking the meaning” of this vision. Daniel was actively “seeking” to know when “suddenly” God sends to him a guide in the form of Gabriel to help him understand.
In Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus gives His followers a firm promise. He says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” While God’s Word can be complex and complicated, by intention it’s designed to be knowable!
Friend, God’s Word is supernatural in that it possesses the ability to speak beyond the human mind into the spirit of man. As such, count it great joy knowing you’ve been given more than an angel, but the Holy Spirit to help you understand the Word of God. In John 14:26 Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
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