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The Prophecies of Daniel Interpretations and Fulfillment of the Visions

This article began as part of our Interpretation section within our Introduction to the Book of Daniel article.  It quickly became obvious that due to the vast amount of prophecies that has been fulfilled, and those whose fulfillment is still to come, we needed a separate article to adequately cover the material.

The book of Daniel contains more prophecy that has since been fulfilled than any other book of the bible, and chapter 11 contains more than any other single chapter.  Although Daniel himself may not have been fully aware of all aspects of the prophetical purposes, the Divine Author certainly was.  Indeed, the book of Daniel is key to understanding almost all future prophecy, particularly the prophetic portions of the NT.  From Daniel, we learn many details of the anti-Christ (portrayed as the little horn in Daniel 7:8), the tribulation period (portrayed as the last “week” of the seventy “weeks” in Daniel 9:27), and many other aspects of coming events.

As we noted in the aforementioned article:

The book of Daniel contains both history and prophecy.  To properly interpret the book, we must first recognize which portions are which.  For the most part, chapters 1-6 are historical narratives involving Daniel and his friends while they were exiled in Babylon.  One notable exception is the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2.  While the narrative of the dream and the resulting predictive visions are historical, the interpretation is prophetical, pointing to the future.  The visions recorded in chapters 7-12 are likewise historical, but like the interpretation in chapter 2, have been and are typically interpreted as prophecy.  These prophecies also contain Apocalyptic language which recognizes that God is in control of all historical events still to come.  See our article on Prophecy and Apocalyptic Literature for more info on this genre.

Therefore, in addition to recognizing and understanding the book’s genre, a knowledge of the historical period from the exile in the sixth century BC through the time of the Maccabees in the second century BC.  This would encompass the Babylonian period in which Daniel lived, plus the future Persian and the Greek (Hellenistic) periods in which many of the prophecies were fulfilled.

We originally began by writing a narrative, but since some visions overlap and refer to the same kingdoms and/or events (particularly the statue of chapter 2 and the Beasts of chapter 7), we though it easier and clearer to represent our interpretations in a table.

Traditional Interpretation of Daniel’s Visions

We should note that various Bible interpreters can differ somewhat on certain details regarding the exact fulfillment of the visions in the book of Daniel.  We believe the following to be a good representation of conservative traditional scholarship.

Vision Refers to
The Great Statue (ch 2) - Head of Gold Babylonian Empire (612-539 BC)
The Great Statue (ch 2) - Chest and Arms of Silver Medo-Persian Empire (539-331 BC)
The Great Statue (ch 2) - Belly and Thighs of Bronze Greek Empire (331-63 BC)
The Great Statue (ch 2) - Legs of Iron; Feet of Iron and Clay Roman Empire (63 BC-476AD)
Stone cut not of human hands that becomes a Mountain (ch 2) Kingdom of God (future)
Enormous Tree Chopped Down (ch 4) Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar’s Temporary Insanity
The Four Beasts (ch 7) - Lion with Eagle’s Wings Babylonian Empire (612-539 BC)
The Four Beasts (ch 7) - Bear with Ribs in Mouth Medo-Persian Empire (539-331 BC)
The Four Beasts (ch 7) - Leopard with four Wings and Heads Greek Empire (331-63 BC)
The Four Beasts (ch 7) - Dreadful Beast with Iron Teeth, Bronze Claws, and ten Horns Roman Empire (63 BC-476 AD) / Anti-Christ [1]
Stone cut not of human hands that becomes a Mountain (ch 7) Kingdom of God (future)
The Ram with two horns  (ch 8) Medo-Persian Empire (539-331 BC)
Male Goat with one Horn (ch 8) Greek Empire (331-63 BC) [2]
Seventy Years of Captivity (9:1-3; also Jer25:9-12; 2 Chr 36:20-23) Roughly Seventy Year period from the first exile (~605 BC) to Return of the first Exiles to Jerusalem (~538-536 BC) [3]
Seventy Weeks (9:20-27) Seventy Sevens (weeks) of Years = 490 Years [4]
Four Kings of Persia (11:2) Successors to Cyrus:  Cambyses (530-522), Pseudo-Smerdis (522), Darius I (522-486), and Xerxes (486-465 BC)
Mighty King whose kingdom to be divided to the four winds (11:3-4) Alexander the Great (332-323 BC) and his four generals
Kings of the North and South (11:5-20) North: the Seleucids (Syria);  South: the Ptolemies (Egypt) [5]
Strong Prince of Great Authority (11:5) Seleucus I Nicator (312-280 BC);  broke with Ptolemy, founded the Seleucid kingdom, and became king of Babylon
Daughter of King of South (11:6) Berenice, the daughter of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 BC)
Make an Agreement with King of North (11:6) Marriage Alliance (~250 BC) between Antiochus II Theos (261-246 BC) of Syria and Ptolemy II of Egypt
Alliance would not Endure (11:6) Berenice, Antiochus II, and their infant son poisoned by a conspiracy led by Laodice (former wife of Antiochus II)
Branch from her Roots shall prevail over King of North (11:7-8) Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221 BC), the brother of Berenice attacked Syria, executed Laodice, and carried much spoils back to Egypt
King of North will invade South but Retreat (11:9) Seleucus II Callinicus (246-226 BC), son of Laodice, led an unsuccessful invasion of Egypt in 240 BC
King of North’s Sons will carry battle to King of South’s Fortress but suffer Defeat (11:10-12) Seleucus III Ceraunus, (226-223 BC) and Antiochus III the Great (223-187 BC);  Fortress likely refers to the Battle of Raphia (June 217 BC) [6]
King of North will raise another, larger army (11:13) Antiochus III the Great (223-187 BC), in alliance with Philip V of Macedon [7]
King of North will capture fortified city of South (11:15-16) Antiochus III defeated the Egyptian general Scopas at the Battle of Panion (200 BC), who fled to the fortified city of Sidon before surrendering all Ptolemaic rule in Palestine (the Beautiful Land)
Fall of King of the North after Unsuccessful Marriage Alliance and capturing part of coastland (11:17-19) Antiochus III gave his daughter Cleopatra to Ptolemy V in failed effort to control Egypt [8]
Fall of King of the North after capturing part of coastland (11:18-20) Seleucus IV Philopator (187-175 BC), the older son of Antiochus III, sends Heliodorus to collect taxes [9]
Contemptible, Illegitimate Ruler (11:21-35) Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BC) [1] [2] usurped the throne from the son of Seleucus IV
Broken Prince of the Covenant (11:22) Possible reference to the assassination of the High Priest Onias III by supporters of Antiochus IV in 171 BC (see 2Macc 4:32-43)
King of the South (11:25-28) Ptolemy VI Philometor (181-146 BC),  nephew of Antiochus and son of Ptolemy V and Cleopatra (11:17)
Contemptible Ruler returns with heart set against Holy Covenant (11:5-20) Upon returning to Jerusalem, Antiochus IV plundered the Temple, carrying off the alter, furniture, utensils, and treasures (1Macc 1:20-28)
Return to the South (11:29) Antiochus IV re-invaded Egypt in 168 BC
Ships of Kittim will turn him back (11:30) Roman armies commanded by Gaius Popilius Laenas forced Antiochus IV to retreat from Egypt
The Abomination that makes Desolation (11:31; see also 8:11, 9:27, 12:11) The desecration of the temple by Antiochus IV in December, 168 BC (see 1Macc 1:54-62, 2Macc 6:1-9)
People who know God will stand firm (11:32) Many in Israel chose to die rather than profane the Holy Covenant (1Macc 1:62-63)
Some would receive a little help (11:34) A probable reference to the elderly priest Mattathias, who along with his five sons (known as the Maccabees), waged a successful guerrilla war against the Hellenizers reclaimed the Temple and Jerusalem for the Jews (1Macc 4:36-60) [1]
Various Prophecies (11:36-12:13) [10]

Keyed Notes for Chart:

[1] There is often some confusion over the little horns of 7:8 and 8:9 along with some of the details of 11:21-35.  These verses are generally associated with Antiochus IV of Syria and with the Anti-Christ to be revealed at the end times.  From the details of the verses, we can determine that 8:9 probably referred to Antiochus (came from Greece, would persecute God’s people for 2300 days), and 7:8 refers to the Anti-Christ (come from Rome, would persecute God’s people for 42 months, referring to the Great Tribulation).  Some of the details of 11:21-35 could refer to Antiochus while others don’t appear to fit events in his time.

In Antiochus IV, we certainly see many similarities with the coming Anti-Christ.  Antiochus gave himself the name Epiphanes, meaning “God Manifest”.  Just as the Anti-Christ would make and break the future covenant with Israel, Antiochus build his empire by making and breaking covenants.  After the murder of Onias III, the last godly Mosaic high priest (the prince of the covenant in 11:22), Epiphanes invaded Jerusalem, carried of the treasures of the Temple (11:28) and sacrificed a pig (a ceremonial unclean animal) on the alter.  Some interpreters have claimed that this was the “abomination of desolations”, but both Jesus (Mt 24:15) and Paul (2Th 2:3-4) however, stated that these events are still in the future.  Therefore, these verses are typically interpreted as referring to the Anti-Christ with Antiochus considered a type or pre-figuring of the coming man of lawlessness.

This biblical writing technique is known as “prophetic telescoping”.  When you look at multiple objects through a telescope from afar, the objects often appear to be adjacent to each other, but when you take a closer look, you often realize that they are miles apart.  Even though we see many parallels between Antiochus IV and the Antichrist, we know that their temporary reigns are more than two thousand years apart since the Antichrist has yet to be revealed.

To include a historical follow-up note, in 164 BC Judas Maccabeus, son of the elderly priest Mattathias, led a revolt to take back Jerusalem for the Jewish people, cleanse the Temple and restore worship.  More information can be found in the 1st and 2nd books of the Maccabees.  This liberation and rededication of the temple is still celebrated today as the Festival of Dedication, or Hanukkah.

[2] The male goat and horn (8:21) refers to the King of Greece, Alexander the Great, who conquered not only the Persians, but most of the then-known world.  The four horns that came out of the one horn (8:22) refers to Alexander’s four generals that ruled over the kingdom after his death in 323 BC.  The little horn of 8:9 is traditionally associated with Antiochus IV Epiphanes (see previous note 1).

[3] A less common interpretation is the roughly 70 year period from the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians (~586 BC) to the completion of its rebuilding after the exiles returned (~516 BC).  Still others have suggested that the seventy years refers to the approximate length of time of Babylon’s domination from their conquering of the Assyrians (~612 BC) to their defeat by the Medes and Persians (~539 BC), but this theory has garnered little support.

[4] See our article, The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9 - Four Interpretations.

[5] Certain details of the Kings of the North and South are sourced from the Reformation Study Bible - Sproul, RC ed, Reformation Trust Publishing, 2005, 2015; and from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

[6] Antiochus III the Great gained temporary control over Palestine and western Syria before facing King Ptolemy IV Philopator, (221-203) at the the Battle of Raphia (aka Battle of Gaza, aka “battle of elephants”).  Much has been written about this famous battle.  Both forces were comprised of over 60,000 men.  Antiochus’ forces took and early advantage, but slowly the tide turned and Antiochus was forced to flee.

[7] In the meantime, Ptolemy IV died under mysterious circumstances and was succeeded by his four-year-old son, Ptolemy V Epiphanes (203-181 BC)

[8] Cleopatra turned against her father, sided with Egypt, and recruited the Romans to help retain Egyptian control over coastal cities in Asia Minor. The Roman general Lucius Cornelius Scipio defeated Antiochus III in several battles such as Thermopylae (191 BC) and Magnesia (190 BC), and forced him to sign the Treaty of Apamea, ceding Asia Minor to Roman control in 188 BC. At this time, the second son of Antiochus III, who would become Antiochus IV Epiphanes (see key note 1 above), was taken hostage to Rome.

[9] See 2Maccabees, chapter 3 for an account of Heliodorus’s attempt to collect these taxes for Seleucus.

[10] Some of the details of the persons and events in 11:36-12:13 can’t be easily reconciled with the era of the reign and death of Antiochus IV.  Therefore, most interpreters see a transition in these verses to the time of the Antichrist (see key note 1 above).  It appears that 11:36-39 could easily refer to Antiochus, with 11-40-45 also possible but not quite as likely.

It appears that chapter 12, with the appearance of Michael the archangel (great prince) almost certainly is referring to the end times.  In this chapter, we see the future resurrection of the dead to either everlasting life or contempt (heaven or hell - 12:1-3).  Verse 7 refers to a 3.5 year period (predicted in 7:25) of tribulation (typically interpreted as the Great Tribulation) to purify God’s people and separate them from the wicked (12:10).  Verses 10-12 continues the description of the roughly 3.5 years of tribulation that includes the “abomination of desolation”, referring again to the Antichrist.  The book ends with verse 13, in which Daniel is promised that he would soon rest (die), but would be resurrected to stand in his allotted place at the end of days.

Final Thoughts:

As we mentioned earlier, many of the visions of Daniel have already been fulfilled in Daniel, and others have been partially fulfilled while awaiting a fuller completion in the future still to come.  Of these that have have been fulfilled, the culmination would be the second century BC time of tribulation under Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  One of God’s likely purposes for these visions was to prepare His people for this time of tribulation that would prefigure that of the end times.

What made the persecutions under Antiochus IV so much worse than the exiles to Assyria, Babylon, and Persia?  The primary difference is that, even in a foreign land, their capturers allowed them continue to maintain portions of their culture, which included most importantly, their worship of the one true God.  Even though they were back in their homeland during the reign of Antiochus IV, he tried to convert the Jews to Hellenism (Greek culture).  This was nothing short of an attempt to abolish their faith, their very identity as a people.  Because of this, Daniel likely wrote not only to prepare the Jewish people that coming persecution, but also to give both them and us an assurance that Christ would eventually do away with all earthly kingdoms and establish His eternal righteous kingdom.

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