Eschatology of Daniel
by Daniel Stanfield
The Book of Daniel is arguably the most important prophetic book of the Old Testament for modern readers, both Jew and Gentile. This is because it is unfulfilled, detailed, and pertains to the future of Israel in the world, and the setting up of the Messianic Kingdom. The Book of Daniel is also unique in that it provides for a specific time table of events, a timetable which the prophet is able to realize in his own lifetime. Rabbitic interpretation of all prophetic books have utilized the timing presented by the Book of Daniel.
The Book of Daniel has quite a bit of narrative, besides the prophetic visions of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, but even so, this is barely more than a contextual framework given for these prophecies and visions. What is particularly interesting in the narrative aspects of the Book of Daniel is the real time outworking of various prophecies. Daniel is living in captivity as was prophesied by Jeremiah, Daniel sees the fulfilled prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar’s tree dream, Daniel sees the fulfillment of the prophetic writing on the wall which he interprets for Belshazzar, and lastly, Daniel sees the fulfillment of the reigning of Cyrus, who had been prophetically named by Isaiah as the one to release Judah, and he most probably even lived to see the first Jews return under Cyrus’ decree. It is also of special interest that the book contains many instances of direct contact with angelic beings, especially as providing the proper interpretation for Daniel’s own visions.
The whole Book of Daniel is involved in eschatological revelation, there are five instances which require special note. The first instance of note is Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream. In the dream of the Great Image, God reveals the then future course of human history for the next three world empires, ending with the return of Christ and the setting up of His kingdom. The gold head of the image represented the then current Babylonian kingdom, the Medes and the Persians who followed during Daniel’s lifetime were represented by the silver chest and arms, the iron legs represented the Greek kingdom under Alexander the Great, and finally is the Roman Empire – portrayed as feet of mingled iron and potter’s clay. That the whole image was destroyed completely by an uncut stone represents Christ returning and absolutely reigning over the world when He establishes His kingdom.
The second especially significant instance is that of the writing on the wall. This is because the writing was an immediately fulfilled prophecy, a while-you-wait experience, but also because this was the moving of God fulfilling earlier prophecies by Isaiah which had Cyrus on the throne to release the Jews. In the takeover during this time we also see another interesting picture; Daniel will be under four kings in captivity, just as the Jews will see four world kingdoms before Christ restores them nationally.
Daniel’s first vision is that of the four beasts. The first beast is like a lion, has wings which are removed, and which stands erect and has the heart of a man. This beast represents the Babylonian Empire. Second is a bear, representing the Median Empire. The third beast is like a leopard, having four wings and four heads which is ascribed to the Greek Empire under Alexander. The fourth beast is only described as terrible, having ten horns and iron teeth. This represents the Roman Empire.
Daniel’s vision of the ram and the Goat is fulfilled after Daniel’s lifetime, and depicts the rise and reign of first the Medes and Persians and then the Greeks. The horns of the ram represent the Medes and the Persians and the goat represents the conquest of Alexander the Great. The four horns which replaced the single horn of the goat are represented by the four way separation of Alexander’s empire at his death.
Perhaps the most significant vision of Daniel is that of the seventy “weeks”, literally “units of seven”, which we understand to be seven year periods. This is the time table of Old Testament prophecy; 70 “weeks” representing 490 years, 10 “weeks” representing 70 years, and so on. Most important is the events ascribed to these “weeks”, including the redemption of mankind and His rejection as King by Israel. The 70 “weeks” represent the time of the Gentiles, during which the Jews have not been restored. It is especially noteworthy is that Daniel accounts for the first 69 “weeks” and ends the 69th week with the rejection of the Messiah. Thus, there is an understood gap before the 70th week, which will be the tribulation period, ending in the restoration of Israel in Christ’s Millenium Kingdom.
The Seventy Weeks of Daniel
The ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel is a key passage in Old Testament prophecy, and also in regards to New Testament prophecy, presenting a divine time line for God’s activity with Israel. The context for this revelation has a direct bearing on a proper understanding of the prophecy. Daniel, in verse two, had reckoned from previous biblical prophecy that the Babylonian captivity which he was presently enduring should last for exactly 70 years. Upon reaching this understanding, the prophet turns to God in prayerful repentance, interceding on behalf of Israel for the return and restoration of the Jews to the land. In a striking manner of answering prayer, the angel Gabriel is sent to discuss the matter verbally with Daniel. Gabriel then gives Daniel the prophecy of the 70 weeks, not as the answer to Daniel’s question about the near future physical return to Jerusalem, which happened as prophesied by Isaiah under Cyrus, but in an absolute reckoning, revealing God’s timing for the ages and His plan for absolute restoration and righteousness.
Gabriel tells Daniel that after 70 weeks the following things will be accomplished; rebellion and sin will be ended and atoned for, an unending era of righteousness will be established, all visions and prophecies will be “sealed up” or “fulfilled”, and the “Most Holy” (this probably refers to the temple, but may refer to Christ) will be anointed.
There are several elements of Gabriel’s prophecy which must be reckoned with before an understanding can be reached. The most obvious question is that of the duration of a week. The word translated “week” is actually a seven-unit and can naturally be understood in this context as referring to a seven-unit of years. A subsequent question here is actually the duration of the years alluded to. Since the passage is dealing with literal time spans, it is significant to figure the differences between various ancient reckonings of the length of a year. Fortunately, were are talking about mostly fulfilled prophecies and can count back and compare events to periods. The text by Hoehner relies on each week being a unit of seven 360 day years. This is a period which was a common accounting of a year by many nations at the time, and which also agrees with other Scriptures where years are compared to days.
A second aspect which must be considered is the separated periods revealed within the 70 weeks. Gabriel inexplicably separates the first seven weeks from the next 62 weeks, leaving the final week out of the first part of his prophecy. The first seven weeks refer to the time it took to physically return to the land from Babylon and to rebuild the walls and temple. The next 62 weeks (or the end of 69 total weeks) sees the fulfillment of Messiah being cut off. The last week is discussed last in Gabriel’s prophecy and represents the Day of the Lord, the tribulation period represented in the Book of Revelation. After this last 70th week is the Millennial Kingdom of Christ, during which Israel will be absolutely restored to the land and have all the blessings promised to them fulfilled. It is at this time that the prophecies in verse 24 will be realized.
One major contention to be resolved is whether or not the 70th week follows in immediate succession after the 69th week, or if there is an unstated interim period between the 69th and 70th weeks. It is obvious from the context that an immediate succession is not required, and a comparison to other prophetic Scripture makes a separation seem sure. More than anything else, this question hinges on whether or not literal seven year periods are referred to in the prophecy. Because of the directness of the context, and because of our ability to compare these periods to other fulfilled prophecies from the Book of Daniel, and because there is no indication that these periods are not literal, and finally, because of the specific breakdown of one, seven, and 62 weeks, we take the periods to be literal, not symbolic or arbitrary. Because we hold these seven year periods to be literal, we must separate the last week because the prophecies of the first 69 weeks are fulfilled, but the remaining prophecies which are said to come after the 70th week have not been fulfilled, indeed they could not be fulfilled except in the millennial kingdom of Christ. This makes sense, because the 70th week is the Day of the Lord, again, the tribulation period, which ends in the Kingdom.
What is not expressed here is the bearing of this Scripture on the Church Age. This is apart from God’s dealings with Israel and was not revealed to Daniel, or other Old Testament prophets, being a mystery not revealed until the time was at hand. It is a natural understanding of New Testament Scripture to assume that the end of the Age of Grace will be marked by the rapture of the church, and will coincide with the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week.