Daniel is the most important book of the Old Testament for the study of end times chronology. It is the key to understanding the Olivet Discourse, 2 Thessalonians 2, and Revelation. We will spend several posts in Daniel before considering other Old Testament material. Please read Daniel 7 before proceeding.
Our focus will be on the end times portion of this chapter, but a word about the overall picture is appropriate by way of introduction. In this vision Daniel sees four beasts emerge from the Great Sea:
- a lion with with wings;
- a bear raised on one side, with three ribs in its mouth;
- a leopard with four heads and four wings;
- a terrible beast of unknown species, different from the others, with iron teeth and ten horns.
John, drawing on this vision, will merge these beasts into one that emerges from the sea, as depicted in Revelation 13.
The angel who interprets the vision to Daniel tells him that that these beasts represent kings or kingdoms (we might say “empires” in modern parlance) – vv 17 and 23. There is debate about: (1) whether these kingdoms are simultaneous or sequential; and (2) the identity of these kingdoms.
The consensus view is that this vision forms a parallel to the statue of many metals seen in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. The idea is that Nebuchadnezzar sees mankind’s kingdoms in a positive way, but God shows Daniel what they are really like: vicious beasts that behave witlessly and act tyrannical.
Man sees glory; God sees something far different. Consider Christ’s words about how Gentile kingship means lording it over one another, while Christian kingship means service, just as the Son of Man (a figure taken from Daniel 7) came not to be served but to serve mankind by dying on a cross.
In this schema, we see the following identifications:
- Golden head – lion – Nebuchadnezzar’s Neo-Babylonian Empire
- Torso of silver – bear – Cyrus the Great’s Medo-Persian Empire
- Waist of bronze – leopard – Alexander the Great’s Empire and the successor Hellenistic kingdoms
- Legs of iron – fourth beast – the Roman Empire
- Toes of iron and clay – ten horns – a revived Roman Empire (if one takes a futurist, rather than preterist view)
Problems with the fourth beast, ten horns, and ten toes
As we shall see further on, the Antichrist (the Little Horn) emerges from the ten horns that are on the fourth beast. Understanding the identity of the ten horns and fourth beast therefore has a bearing on recognising the emergence of the Antichrist (although the Abomination of Desolation is the most useful way of recognising him).
One can understand why people thought the fourth beast was the Roman Empire: Christ’s first advent was during the reign of the Roman Empire, and the Romans destroyed the Second Temple. However, there are problems with this view.
The Antichrist’s empire as described in Daniel, Ezekiel, and elsewhere is based in the Middle East, not western Europe. It is difficult to see western European culture dominating the Middle East, where Islam in various forms still wields political influence. Furthermore, the European Union has more than ten members and, if anything, looks to be weakening, not gaining strength.
A full discussion of this problem lies beyond the scope of this post, but the interested reader is advised to read the following books by Joel Richardson’s, which can be accessed as free PDFs on his website.
These books have been translated into other languages. Those of my readers, for whom English is not their first language, may find versions of these books in their native language at the main page.
The Little Horn
In this chapter we see the following sequence.
- Emergence of ten-nation confederacy (ten horns)
- Emergence of the Antichrist from that confederacy (little horn)
- Antichrist defeats three nations (plucks up three horns)
- Antichrist makes war with God’s people (the Great Tribulation)
- Christ appears and destroys the Antichrist (coming of the Son of Man on the clouds; the beast is cast into the fire)
- Christ receives the Kingdom and rules with His saints
The term “Abomination of Desolation” is not used in this passage (we will devote the next post to it), but it does come from Daniel and we see it hinted at in the description of the Little Horn (Antichrist) “speaking great things”, which is a euphemism for his blasphemous self-exaltation over God. This theme will be developed in Daniel 11 and we can see the Satanic side of it in Isaiah (which was written earlier).
The term “Great Tribulation” is also not used in this passage, but is clearly in view in verse 21, the war against the saints. The persecution of Israel was already an established eschatological theme by this point, seen in the prophecies of Moses and Jeremiah. Daniel did not know (at least not clearly) about the creation of the Church, which Paul describes as a mystery or secret. Naturally the Old Testament prophets had Israel in view regarding the war against the saints. It is in the New Testament that we find out this includes war against Christians.
Here is where we have the first indication of how long this persecution will last before the Son of Man (i.e. Christ) comes to destroy the Beast and the Little Horn, and usher in God’s Kingdom. That period is described as “time, times, and half a time” in verse 25. If this were the only phrase and only reference, we would be uncertain now what it meant, but we would know it would not exceed the lifetime of the Antichrist.
However, elsewhere in Daniel and Revelation we see the same period described with synonymous phrases: “42 months”, “1260 days”, and half of a “week”. We therefore can be confident that “time, times, and half a time” means three-and-a-half years. This passage is therefore the first that informs us Christ appears 3.5 years after the beginning of the Great Tribulation. Please note that a year in this schema is defined as 360 days, not our modern solar 365.25 days.
That picture becomes more nuanced in the Olivet Discourse, where Christ tells us that He will cut the persecution short and that no one knows the day or hour of His return. This means that His return will be earlier than 3.5 years from the start of the Great Tribulation. Just how early, we do not (and cannot) know – but we expect it still to be towards the end of that period. However, the Beast’s reign ends at the 3.5-year-mark. John, in Revelation, confirms that the Beast rules for 42 months.