Friday, October 12, 2012

The Blasphemous King of Daniel

I have read several commentaries on Daniel that I like, but there are none that I think comment well on Daniel 11.36-12.13.  The authors seem to be reluctant to use the New Testament to understand prophecies in the Old Testament.  Since I am not a scholar I have no hesitations in that regard.  In this study of Daniel 11.36-12.13 I will be making the following assumptions:  The fourth kingdom was the Roman Empire, the Little Horn of Daniel 7.8ff and the Blasphemous King of Daniel 11.36ff are the same person and that person was Nero.  You may agree with the first and second points, but the final one may take some convincing.  For an explanation of why the fourth kingdom is the Roman Empire I direct you to any standard commentary on the book of Daniel.  I do think this part Daniel covers some of the same events as Revelation, but I will not be discussing that aspect in this post.  The translation of these verses is mine.  I am always grateful for your comments.

Two figures dominate the fourth kingdom of the prophecy of Daniel:  the Little Horn (Dan. 7.8ff) and and the Blasphemous King (Dan. 11.36ff).   Both of these men appeared in the fourth kingdom, and both were rulers, and both spoke blasphemously (Dan. 7.8ff, 11.36ff).  The Little Horn persecuted the saints for 1,260 days (Dan. 7.25), and during the time of the Blasphemous King, the “power of  the saints” was broken after 1,260 days (Dan. 12.7).  Because they occupied the same time period and acted in the same manner, the Little Horn and the Blasphemous King seem to have been the same person.  

Identifying the Blasphemous King and the Little Horn may not be as difficult as it appears, we know quite a  bit about him.  He was a ruler during the fourth kingdom (which I believe to be the Roman Empire) and he persecuted the saints.  There were two emperors of Rome who are infamous for persecuting Christians:  Nero and Domitian.  Another clue to the identity of the Blasphemous King is the reference to setting up the “abomination that causes desolation” (Dan. 12.11), which is given as the terminating point for the vision.  Jesus refers to this verse as being fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (Mat. 24.15 and Mark 13.14) and when Luke wrote of the same event he said it was fulfilled when the Roman legions surrounded Jerusalem (Luke 21.20); this was also during Nero’s reign.  Also, in the Seventy Weeks prophecy (Dan. 9) the destruction of Jerusalem and the setting up of the “abomination that causes desolation” are the final events in the vision that complete vision and prophecy (Dan. 9.24).  Since Domitian did not come to the throne until 81 A.D., well after these events, Nero must be the Blasphemous King.  Now that we have an idea who he was we need to compare what was prophesied about him to what history recorded. If we are correct the two will match.

Chapter 11 of Daniel, from verse one through verse 35, is unique in that there is little debate about who and what are being discussed.  In fact, some scholars reject this passage as prophecy because it is too accurate and precise (Harrison, p. 1130).  The revelations were about the wars and and intrigue between the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria.  In verse 21 we are introduced to “a contemptible person:” Antiochus Epiphanes.  He was the king of Syria and he outlawed the Jewish religion (1 Maccabees 1.41-50).  In verse 28 he was specified as being the king of the north.  In verse 36 a change occurs.  We no longer read about the wars between the king of the south and the king of the north.  We read about “the king.”  The events no longer fit the life of Antiochus Epiphanes.  Also, verse 40 refers to the king being attacked by the king of the north and the king of the south.  Since Antiochus Epiphanes was the king of the north someone different is being described in these verses.

Verse 36

The king will do as he pleases.  He will exalt himself and make himself great over every god, even the God of gods.  He will say blasphemous things, and he will succeed until God’s fury is complete, because everything which has been ordained will be done.

This is where the prophecy of Nero and his persecution of the saints begins.  Nero was a good emperor for his first five years, and he allowed  himself to be guided by his tutors (Angus and Renwick, p. 521).  In his later years he abandoned all restraint and did whatever he pleased (Grant, M. p.71 ff).  He even had himself worshiped as a god while he was living (Cowan, p. 517).  Eusebius wrote “When Nero’s power was now established he gave himself up to unholy practices and took up arms against the God of the universe.  To describe the monster of depravity that he becomes lies outside the scope of the present work” (Eusebius, p. 104).  The phrase “he will succeed until God’s fury is complete, because everything which has been ordained will be done” reminds me of Luke 21.22 “For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.”  

There are two events that we are going to read about in following verses: The destruction of Jerusalem and the persecution of God’s saints.  Nero gave the command for both of these events.  Jesus warned the Jews that “...upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on the earth...” (Mat. 23.35).  And Peter wrote “For it is time for judgement to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God” (1Pet. 4.17).   Nero was His tool and God gave him success until that wrath and judgement was complete.

Verse 37

He will not honor the gods of his ancestors or have compassion for the desires of women.  He will not honor any god, but above them all he will make himself great.

Nero did not honor the gods of his ancestors: He had “contempt” for all religions (Suetonius, 359).  Nero seemed to have lacked any natural feelings toward women: He had an incestous relationship with his mother (Suetonious, 331), and later had her killed (Tacitus, 177).  He divorced his first wife, and then had her killed (Suetonius, 340).  He killed his second wife when he kicked her while she was pregnant (Tacitus, 177).  Nero also had immoral relationships with men and boys (Suetonius, 331-332).

Verse 39

He will attack a mighty fortress with the aid of an alien god.  He will cause men to acknowledge and glorify him.  He will make them rulers over many, and he will divide the earth for a price.

The first sentence of this verse is a puzzle to me, but I will offer one suggestion: the alien god is Satan.  In Rev. 13.2 “The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.”  Whether Nero knew it or not Satan was behind his success.  Satan offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” (Mat. 4.8), and Jesus did not dispute his power to do so.   As all rulers have done, Nero rewarded his followers and land was a common gift.  

Verses 40-45

At the time of the end the king of the south will butt at him and the king of the north will rage at him like a storm.  They will attack him with chariots and cavalry and many ships.  He will flood the lands and overwhelm them.  41 He will invade the Beautiful Land.  Many will fall, but Edom, Moab and the chief sons of Ammon will escape from his hand.  42 He will stretch his hand over many lands, and the land of Egypt will not escape him.  43 He will have dominion over all the gold, silver and riches of Egypt, and Libya.  Cush will walk in submission to him.  44 He will be alarmed at news from the east and the north and he will go in great anger to destroy the multitude devoted to destruction.  45 He will pitch his tent in the plain between the Sea and the Beautiful Holy Mountain.  Yet, in the end he will come to nothing, with no one to help him.

Because of his corruption, mismanagement and self worship the empire started to crumble around him.  The Jews rebelled in 66  (LaSor, p. 1029), and in 68 his generals and their legions rebelled: Vindex in Gaul, Galba in Spain, Macer in Africa (Blaiklock, p. 412) and Gallus in north Italy (Grant, M., p. 202).  In 67 Nero sent Vespasian with 50,000 soldiers to reconquer Jerusalem (Shaw, p. 4).  When he heard of Galba’s rebellion he fainted (Grant, M., p.199) and when he heard of Gallus’ rebellion he fled Rome (Grant, M., p. 202).  

In the earlier part of the eleventh chapter, the phrases “king of the north: and “king of the south” referred to the the Seleucids in the north and the Ptolemies in Egypt.  Daniel may referring to the same geographical areas here.  The rebellion lead by Macer was in Africa where the Ptolemies ruled.  There was also an attack by the Parthians in the north, who were once part of the Seleucid empire, from 60 to 66 A.D. (Debevoise, pp. 185 and 193).

Nero sent Vespasian to invade Judea, and he  pitched his tent between the sea and Beautiful Holy Mountain of Zion in Jerusalem.  His coming was said to be like a “flood.”  This is the same word used to describe the coming of the “ruler” in Dan. 9.26.  However, before Jerusalem could be reconquered Nero killed himself.  He saw his empire falling apart and knew his execution was coming.  Complaining that he had “neither friend nor a foe” who would kill him, he fled to a farmhouse and committed suicide (Suetonius, pp. 353-356).

The mention of Edom, Moab and the Ammonites seems puzzling, since these nations no longer existed at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction, but this was the area that Christians went to when they fled Jerusalem.  Eusebius recorded that Christians from Jerusalem went to Pella in the province of Peraea (Eusebius, p. 111).  Peraea covered the area occupied by the former nations of Edom, Moab and Ammon.  In this area “they were safe from the struggles in Jerusalem and could enjoy Roman protection after the summer of 68, when Vespasian’s troops occupied the area and destroyed Qumrun” (Grant R., p. 38).  This was the same area that Jews fled to when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians (Jer. 40.11-12).  The Jews were the “multitude devoted to destruction.” Jesus had warned them that “...upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on the earth...” (Mat. 23.35).

Chapter 12. 1-4
At that time Michael, the great prince of your people, will stand.  There will be a time of distress such as not been from the beginning of nations until then.  At that time all of your people who are recorded in the book will be delivered.  2 Many who sleep in the dust of the earth will rise; some to everlasting life, and some to scorn and contempt.  3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the sky, and those turning to righteousness will be as numerous as the stars.  4 But you, Daniel, close and seal up the words of this book until the end.  Many will study it closely and increase in understanding.

“At that time” refers to the battle in 11.40-45, and the “Great battle” that Daniel referred to in Dan. 10.1.  Michael will arise to defend the people of God.  In Dan. 11.1 Michael said he stood to “support and protect” Darius the Mede.  The same word is used in both places.  The description is very similar to Mat. 24.21, where Jesus described the suffering of that time: “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equaled again.”  Verses two through four sounds like Judgement Day, but keeping it in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem, we can find similar statement in Mat. 24.31 “And  he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” Jesus said “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Mat. 24.34).  I think what Jesus described was the spreading of the gospel throughout the world once the persecutions by the Jews and Nero were removed ( Mat. 24.14).

Jesus taught that there are two types of resurrection: spiritual and physical.  In John 5.25-26 he said “...whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life...he has crossed over from death to life.  I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” The first resurrection is spiritual, when we believe we cross from spiritual death to spiritual life. Next,  Jesus spoke of the physical resurrection: “... a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5.28-29).  At first it would appear that the physical resurrection is being discussed, since they “sleep in the dust.”  However, the angel said “many” will rise; but Jesus said that the physical resurrection will be “all who are in their graves.”  Also, the word is used here with a preposition that indicates that it is being used in a partitive sense (Collins, p. 392).  I favor understanding the resurrection as a spiritual one,  in which some endure the persecution to the saving of their souls, but some ended  in “scorn and contempt.”  Jesus warned that this would happen: “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other...but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mat. 24.10-13).

Many translations (KJV, NASV, NIV and NRSV) translate the end of verse four as “many will go back and forth....”  This is a correct translation, but it leaves the wrong impression.  The going back and forth is not aimless, it is for the purpose of searching for something.  In this case it means “to run through a book, i.e. to examine thoroughly...” (Gesenius, p. 810).  When the time came for this prophecy to fulfilled, the saints studied it closely and understood it’s meaning.  Even Josephus recognized that Daniel prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans, at least after the fact.  He wrote “In the same manner Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them” (Josephus, p. 227).

Daniel was told to “close-up and seal” the book until the end.  The meaning of this statement and the similar one is verse nine are not clear. It could mean that the prophecies were certain to be fulfilled (Kaiser, et al, p. 320), or he may be told to insure that these prophecies are preserved and kept safe.  It was customary to make two copies of an important work, with one copy for public use and the other copy sealed and kept safe (Young, p. 257 and Feinberg, p. 582).  An example of this practice is recorded in Jer. 32.10-12.  It is interesting that John was told to do the opposite “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near” (Rev. 22.10) and in Daniel 8.26 Daniel is told to “...seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.”

Verses 5-7

Behold, I Daniel saw two others.  One standing on this side of the river’s edge, and one on the other side of the edge of the river.  6 They said to the man clothed with linen, who stood above the waters of the river, “How long until the terrible end?”  7 I heard the man clothed in linen, who stood above the waters of the river.   He raised his right hand and this left hand to the heavens and swore by Him who lives forever: “It will be for a time, times and half a time.  When they have completed shattered the power of the holy people all things will be finished.”

One of the angels asked how long the persecution of saints would last.  This is the same event we read in Dan. 7.25 where the saints were handed over to the Little Horn “for a time, times and half a time.”  I believe that the person being referred to was Nero.  In both places the saints were persecuted for three and a half years, or 1,260 days.  Nero tortured and killed Christians by the “immense multitude” (Tacitus, p. 168), including executing Peter and Paul (Eusebius, p. 104).  He did this because he had been blamed for the fire that destroyed great part of Rome.  To shift the blame from himself he said that Christians had done it.  Rome burned in July of 64 (Grant, p. 78).  Nero killed himself 9 June of 68 (Angus and Renwick, p. 521) and at that point his persecution of Christians ended: about three and a half years, or 1,260 days.

Verses 8-10

I heard, but I did not understand.  I said, “Lord, what will be the end of these thing?”  9 He replied, “Daniel go.  The words of the book are sealed and closed until the time of the end.  10 Many will be purified and cleaned, and made bright.  The wicked will continue to be wicked.  They will not understand, but the wise will understand.

Daniel was horrified by this vision.  We are told told in 1 Peter 1.10-12 that the prophets and even the angels did not completely understand what God had revealed to them, but I think Daniel was dismayed that God would permit something like this to happen, and he wanted to know what the purpose could be.  God told him that there was no more to be revealed, but He did tell Daniel that the purpose was to “purify,” and “clean” and make “bright.”  Persecution and perfecting of the saints are bound together in the Bible. Gold passes through fire to be purified (1Pet. 1.7; Zech. 13.9). The vine is pruned to make it more fruitful (John 15.1-2). As James wrote “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (Jam. 1.12).

Jesus warned his people that the persecutions before the destruction of Jerusalem would be intense.  “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other... (Mat. 24.9-10).  Paul recommended that because of the “present crisis” that it would be good to remain unmarried (1Cor. 7.26-28).  He said that “the time is short” (1Cor. 7.29) and “this world in its present form is passing away” (1Cor. 7.31).

In the book of Hebrews the Christians were to continue meeting together and to encourage each other as they “see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10.25).  The writer reminded them of when they stood their “ground in a great contest in the face of suffering” (Heb. 10. 32).  They had been publicly insulted, imprisoned, and their property had been confiscated (Heb. 10.32-34).  They were told to persevere because “He who is coming will come and will not delay!” (Heb. 10-37).  James wrote that Christians should “face suffering” like the prophets had (James 5.10) and that “...the Lord’s coming is near” (Jam. 5.8).  Peter said not to “be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering...” (1 Pet. 4.12), and that “ is time for judgement to be begin with the house of God..” (1 Pet. 4.17).  The persecution was not limited to certain areas.  Peter wrote that “ know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering” (1 Pet. 5.9).

Verses 11-13

“From the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination that causes desolation is set up will be 1,290 days.  12 Happy is the one who waits and reaches the 1,335 days.  13 But you go to your end and rest.  You will stand and receive your inheritance at the end of days.”

Here we are told about another period of time: three and a half years plus one month.  The event referred to as the taking away of the daily sacrifice may be when the Jews stopped offering a daily sacrifice for the emperor in July 66 (Grant R., p. 35-36).  The “abomination that causes desolation” was referred to by Matthew and Mark (Mat. 24.15 and Mark 13.14), and Luke wrote that it was the Roman armies surrounding the city of Jerusalem (Luke 21.10).  1,290 days passed from the cessation of the daily sacrifice for the Roman emperor to the fall of the temple in August 70.  Thirty day later (1,330 days) the upper city was conquered and the destruction of Jerusalem was complete (Shaw, p. 10).  Grant commented on the “coincidence” that Daniel prophesied that God would triumph after three and a half years, and that the Jewish revolt lasted “for the same period of time” (Grant R., 42).

Above I talk about 1,330 days, but verse 12 referred to 1,335 days.  That would have been five days after the conquest of the city was finished.  The person who saw this was blessed because he had survived “...days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now - never to be equaled again” (Mark 13.19).  Daniel was told that he would not have to endure those hardship.  He would die and then arise at the “end of days” to receive his inheritance.


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