Today we begin the more challenging section of the book of Daniel. Chronologically, chapter 7 takes place between chapters 4 and 5. This is the last chapter in Aramaic, and it is written as a third-person narrative (7:1). This is an apocalyptic vision. It is intentionally highly symbolic. Daniel has a vision for four beasts, representing the same kingdoms as the statue from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (2:31-33). The lion is Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon (v. 4). It falling to the ground, then being lifted from the ground and being given the mind of a man speaks of Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation and restoration (4:28-37). The bear (v. 5) is Media-Persia. The leopard is Alexander the Great and Greece (v. 6). The four heads represent the division of power after his death.
The fourth beast (v. 7) is Rome, but it is also a metaphor for the kingdom of the world of all ages, thus the difference between it and the other beasts. The ten horns represent multiple powers (a horn was a metaphor for power in the Old Testament). John’s beast in Revelation 13:1-2 is similar to this beast, and also has elements of the first three beasts. The beast there is also worldly power. Here in Daniel, this beast is stronger than anything in the world, and its little horn (v. 8) speaks boastfully. We saw a humbled king in chapter 4, a proud, unrepentant king in chapter 5, a humble king in chapter 6, and now another proud king.
But we also have a contrast to this prideful, worldly power. Daniel sees heaven. Thrones are placed, and the Ancient of Day sits on His throne. This is God the Son in His deity. The thousands and ten-thousands of verse 10 are the heavenly beings (angels) and the court is the divine council of God. They are sitting together to decide on judgment. And this judgment is against the beast, who we see in verse 11 is destroyed. In verse 12, we see the other beasts (the kingdoms of this world) lose their dominion though they still live. This judgment is the cross of Christ, and the beast being destroyed is Satan. That the kingdoms of the world live on without power shows that Satan still rules the world, but his power has been taken away by the King because of His work on the cross. We know this because of the details that follow (and the rest of the Bible).
Daniel sees one “like a son of man” coming in the clouds of heaven (v. 13). This is Christ in His humanity, Who adopted the title “Son of Man” for Himself. And this “son of man” is different than the “son of man” used to describe Ezekiel. There, the word “man” is the Hebrew word adam which denotes humankind. Here the word is the Aramaic anash, the equivalent of the Hebrew ish. This refers to a human male without the connotation of being in Adam (adam). This Man is given what belongs only to God, and He is made King over the creation forever.
But Daniel wants to know more. He asks “one of those who stood there” (presumably an angel of some sort) to clarify what he has seen (v. 16). The beasts are temporary, worldly kingdoms (v. 17) but the saints (could also be translated “holy ones”) will receive the kingdom eternally (v. 18). But Daniel wants to know more about the fourth beast (vv. 19-20). And we see more of the story – the prideful little horn comes against the holy ones and prevails for a time (v. 21). This has a dual fulfillment. This is the time between Christ’s two comings where the world is an enemy of God and the church. It also has reference to the superlative kingdom of the world and its ruler, commonly known as the anti-Christ, who will be revealed very near to Christ’s return (see 2 Thess 2:1-8). And how will this power be overcome? The Ancient of Day will come in judgment, and that is when the holy ones will reign with Him (v. 22).1
The angel then expounds the vision further. The fourth beast will devour and destroy the whole earth (spiritually speaking – v. 23). The kingdom of the world will culminate with the little horn (the anti-Christ). Those prideful words that he will speak will be against the Most High (v. 25). We see the language of Nebuchadnezzar who repented (4:34) and of Daniel speaking of Belshazzar who did not (5:18, 21). There was nothing special about these two kings. Those who repent and honor YHWH will live. Those who pridefully raise themselves up will die. This superlative king of the superlative kingdom is no exception. And while he will be allowed to prevail over the saints for a time2, the divine council has decreed that he will be destroyed (v. 26) and his kingdom given to the holy ones of the Most High forever (v. 27). This will be at Christ’s Second Coming.
Chapter 8 takes place two years after chapter 7, but still between chapters 4 and 5 (8:1). Note that the rest of the book is written in Hebrew. Daniel here has another apocalyptic vision. In his vision, he is in the palace in the capital city of the Persian empire (v. 2). The citadel is the palace of the Persian king. The ram (v. 3) was the astrological symbol of Persia. The two horns are Media and Persia, one kingdom that arose from two, and which became great (v. 4). The goat is Greece (v. 5). Greece would destroy Persia (v. 7) and become very powerful (v. 8). But when Alexander died (the horn that is broken) his kingdom is divided into four (the four horns – see the four heads of 7:6).
The horn in verse 9 is likely Antiochus Epiphanes, the ruler of the Seleucid kingdom (one of the four that arose out of Greece). He won out in the war between the four kingdoms (v. 10). This is the king the Jews revolted against at the Maccabean revolt because of his mistreatment of them and his defilement of the Second Temple (vv. 11-12). Daniel then hears a conversation between angels (v. 13). They speak of the “transgression that makes desolate” (v. 13). This desolation is what Antiochus Epiphanes achieved with his desecration of the Temple. However, he is also here a type of the anti-Christ discussed above (from the last chapter). What this evil king does to the Jews foreshadows the time of the end when the saints are persecuted by the anti-Christ (see 11:31 and 12:11). This is why Jesus in 33 A.D. spoke of the event as still future (Matt 24:15).3
When the vision is ended, the angel Gabriel appears to Daniel (v. 16). He tells him that the vision is for “the time of the end” (v. 17), as well as the “latter end” and the “appointed time of the end” (v. 19). He then goes on to explain what the vision means (vv. 20-26). But note that while there is a near fulfillment (Antiochus Epiphanes), it blends with an ultimate fulfillment where the Prince destroys the kingdoms of the world (Christ’s Second Coming).
Chapter 9 jumps forward again to the reign of Darius II (not the first Darius that defeated Babylon). This is the son of Ahasuerus (Xerxes – the king we will meet in the book of Esther). So this vision takes place during the time described in 6:28. This is the most controversial prophecy in the Bible. Entire systems of eschatology (and therefore systems of Biblical theology that affect how one interprets the whole Bible) are affected by our understanding of this chapter.
Daniel reads Jeremiah 25:12 (9:1). He now knows that the captivity is close to an end. So he goes to God in prayer and repents on behalf of the nation (vv. 3-19). Note that Daniel recognizes that the curses of the Law of Moses have been meted out to them (v. 11). He realizes the Mosaic Covenant has been voided by Israel. His prayer in verses 16-19 is on behalf of the spiritual people of God of which he is part. He prays for God’s face to shine upon (His presence to be with) His sanctuary (could be translated holy place or temple). This is a reference to his people as there was no physical sanctuary in existence at this time.
So Gabriel comes back to give God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer (v. 21). Here is where we need to read within the context that has already been set up. The chapter begins with Daniel realizing that the captivity was to be for seventy years. The seventy weeks (or seventy sevens, seven being symbolic of completion) correspond to those seventy years (v. 24). Remember, the reason that God specifically cites for the captivity was that Israel never observed the Sabbath year (see Lev 26:34, 43, 2 Chr 36:21). This is why there are seventy sevens that correspond with the seventy years – the seventy years was because of 490 years of no Sabbath rest for the land!
These seventy weeks are decreed about Daniel’s people. Which people? The spiritual people (v. 17), the true (and truly holy!) Jerusalem. At the end of these seventy weeks, transgression and sin will be atoned for, everlasting righteousness will come about, and visions and prophecies will be sealed (or confirmed). In addition, there will be anointed a “most holy place” or “most holy one.” In the Hebrew, it is meshia qadesh quadashim – literally “to anoint a holy of holies.”
In verse 25, we see that from the going out of the word to restore Jerusalem to the coming of “an anointed one, a prince,” there will be seven weeks. Seven sevens would be 49. While we are still using the seventy years of captivity as our referent, we have moved from the literal (70 literal years of captivity) to the symbolic (70 weeks of spiritual captivity). These 7 weeks now represent 49 years. For the Jews, it is the time between Jubilees. What happens at the Jubilee? All land is restored to its previous and rightful owner. This is symbolic of the end of the literal captivity and the return to the land. The “word to restore and build Jerusalem” is speaking about the prophecy of Jeremiah. This is confirming what Daniel discovered in verse 2.
But at that point – after the first seven years – there is also the coming of an anointed one, a prince. A few things of note. First, the word anointed (meshia) does not always refer to the Messiah. Priests are God’s anointed (see Lev 8:12). Kings are God’s anointed (see 2 Sam 23:1). Even foreign kings are God’s anointed (see Isa 45:1). Also note that the word here for “prince” is a different word than the one used in 8:25. Here, the word speaks of any official with power over a province or jurisdiction. This is the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2), the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4). He is the power behind the world powers Daniel has seen in his previous visions (see Rev 13:2 – Satan gives his throne to the “beast”).
We then have 62 weeks (v. 26). This is the time after the Jubilee (the return to the land) and before the last week. This is the time between the end of the captivity and the death of Christ. Remember that this is symbolic (see below about literalistic approaches to this prophecy). How do we know that? Because at the end of the 62 weeks the anointed one is cut off. This is Christ’s defeat of Satan at the cross (see John 12:31, 16:11). He is also the “prince to come” because his ministry of darkness is changed at Christ’s First Coming. Satan will be very limited after the cross. His rule will take a new form. He will still rule this world to an extent, and he will destroy Jerusalem (“destroy the city”) in 70 A.D. (as the power behind Rome, which is also symbolic of all world power, which is under Satan’s domain). Its end will come with a flood (a symbol of God’s judgment). And from there to the end, there will be war (spiritual war! – see Eph 6:12 and pretty much all of the book of Revelation).
The final week is the time between Christ’s two comings (v. 27). Rather than attack God directly (he already lost that battle!), Satan will use deceit to deceive those of this world to hold them in unbelief (see 2 Cor 4:3-4). This “strong covenant” is opposed to the New Covenant Christ makes with those that are His. Then, we see that for “half the week” (3 1/2 symbolic years), this prince will do what Daniel saw of the coming ruler in chapter 8. The abomination of desolation has a near fulfillment (Antiochus Epiphanes) and an ultimate fulfillment (the anti-Christ under Satan’s rule). After the symbolic 3 1/2, the decreed end comes (see 7:22, 26, 8:25).
What these seventy weeks are, is a symbolic representation of all the time from the breaking of the Old Covenant, through the consummation of the New Covenant. It goes right along with the previous two chapters and what the other writing prophets predict.
Now, there is another view that is fairly prevalent in Evangelicalism, the proponents of which say they take the “literal” view. They say that the first 69 weeks represent (already, literalism is out the window) the time from the word to restore Jerusalem (v. 25) to the coming of Christ (the anointed one and prince of v. 25), each week being seven years.
Let’s do some literal math: that is 483 years. If the word to restore Jerusalem is Cyrus’s decree (see 2 Chr 36:22, Ezra 1:1), who began to reign in 539 B.C., then we land at 56 B.C. That is not when Christ came. If the word refers to Artaxerxes’s decree (see Neh 2:8), which took place in his 20th year, and he began to reign in 464 B.C., then: 464 – 20 – 483 = 39 A.D. Not the year of Christ’s coming or death. If, as some say, the “word” is when Ezra led the exiles back to Jerusalem, which happened in 458 B.C., we wind up at 25 A.D. The literal math doesn’t work in any case.
Those undeterred by literal math stick with this understanding nonetheless. And they say that the last week represents the seven-year “Great Tribulation” that will take place after the church is raptured to punish the inhabitants of the earth. I have heard pastors smarter and more sanctified than me say “there is no other way to interpret this” or “it doesn’t make any sense if it doesn’t talk about the Great Tribulation.” I have been challenged on my interpretation and told I am “not taking it literally” and “making things up” because I see no seven-year Great Tribulation here (or anywhere in the Bible). So I encourage you – read 9:24-27 “literally.” Now tell me where a clear seven-year Great Tribulation is.
But there are other problem with this view just in the text itself. Why the gap between the 69th and last year, but none between the first 7 and middle 62? Plus, if these weeks are sets of seven years, and Jesus is the anointed prince Who comes after 7 weeks (v. 25), then Christ came somewhere in the 5th or 4th century BC (depending on what the word of verses 25 is – see above), and then lived until He was killed (cut off – v. 26) after the 62 years – or 434 years later. Proponents of that view say that the separation between the first 7 and the 62 weeks is arbitrary and just another way to say 69 weeks. You cannot literally translate the Hebrew to make that true. In addition, after the 69th week, it is the “people of the prince” (v. 26) who destroy the city and the sanctuary. If Christ is literally the prince, then Christians literally destroyed Jerusalem. That is in no way historically accurate.
Think about it. A consistent literalistic4 interpretation of the Bible makes the New Covenant only for physical Jews (see Jer 31:31) and Christ the King of only literal Israel (see 2 Sam 7:16). What’s more, YHWH needs to have a physical body (see Isa 51:9), Daniel was frightened by a dream about nothing more than a sheep and a goat fighting (chapter 8), Jesus was “making things up” when He explained the Parable of the Sower (because literally understood, He was just talking about some dude planting seed – see Matt 13:1-23), and we should be expecting a literal seven-headed, crown-wearing beast to come rising out of the sea at some point (see Rev 13:1). Yet nobody – not even those who take the Bible “literally” according to this view – believe any of that. So either they are inconsistent, or God is.
Why am I hammering this point? Because the importance of one’s interpretation of passages like Daniel 9 cannot be understated. While any view of the “end times” is not worth arguing or breaking fellowship over, the impact of a consistent understanding of the Bible based on one’s view can most certainly be. How you interpret this passage will heavily influence your understanding of the book of Revelation (and vice-versa). That will influence how you view the relationship of Israel and the church, and Israel and Christ. That will affect your understanding of the Old Testament prophets. That will determine how you interpret the Law, what you understand the mission of the church to be, and how you live your life if you want to live according to the Bible – the whole Bible – Old and New Testaments.
Brothers and sisters, this is so very important. Does that mean my interpretation is right? No. But it is consistent with how I have been interpreting the Bible throughout, and it aligns with the majority of the clear, unambiguous, literal teaching of the Bible. Any “system” of theology must be consistent. Otherwise, God is inconsistent, and our faith is misplaced.
1 This is why I diverge from the more common view that the Ancient of Days is God the Father. It is the Son Who will come in judgment and receive the kingdom (see again 2 Thess 2:8).
2 As we will see when we get to the book of Revelation, the “time, times, and half a time” represent the time just prior to Christ’s return when there will be a great apostacy from the visible church and the anti-Christ’s kingdom will persecute the people of God greatly. All of the references to 42 months or 1,260 days (half of seven years, or 3 1/2 years) and the time, times, and half a time (1+2+1/2 = 3 1/2) symbolize this period of time. It is not a literal 3 1/2 years, the 3 1/2 is half of seven, which as we have seen denotes perfection. The 3 1/2 denotes the temporary nature of the time of great persecution leading to the perfection/completion of all things.
3 Christ used this as a dually-fulfilled prophecy. It refers to the destruction of the Temple by Rome in 70 A.D. It also refers to the persecution of the church (the true Temple) by the world kingdom and ultimately the anti-Christ (the symbolic Rome).
4 As opposed to literal. If these visions are meant to be symbolic, a literal interpretation will understand them as symbolic. A literalistic interpretation will take the symbols as reality. To be consistent, it must also then exclude the Bible’s use of metaphor, simile, synecdoche, and hyperbole.