Tag Archives: biblical apocalyptic

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (28): The Final Attack on the Remnant

Rev 12:17 serves as a summary introduction to Revelation’s portrayal of a great final crisis at the conclusion of earth’s history. It indicates that there are two sides in the final conflict, represented by the dragon, on the one hand, and the remnant on the other. But the dragon does not immediately act on his anger. Instead he “went away” to make war. Why? Because he was frustrated by repeated failures in the course of apocalyptic history. He was not strong enough to last in heaven (Rev 12:8), he failed to destroy the man-child of the woman (Rev 12:3-5), and he failed to destroy the woman herself (Rev 12:16). Because of his repeated failures he realizes he doesn’t have the strength to defeat God’s purposes by himself, so he decides to enter the final conflict with allies, a beast from the sea and a beast from the earth (Rev 13:1-18). The remnant are ultimately, therefore, faced with three opponents: 1) the dragon; 2) the sea beast, and 3) the land beast.

In the book of Revelation, God is often spoken of in three’s–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Rev 1:4-5). So the dragon, the sea beast and the land beast in Revelation 13 would seem to be a counterfeit of the holy three, an alternative to the true Godhead. These texts indicate that there is to be a great, final world-wide deception where a counterfeit “trinity” stands in the place of the true God. The purpose of the counterfeit is to deceive the world.

Rev 12:17 summarizes the final stage of earth’s history in a nutshell, the rest of the book of Revelation elaborates on that summary introduction. Rev 13, for example, outlines in more detail the dragon’s war against the remnant of the woman’s seed (Rev 12:17). Linguistically this occurs in two great stages signaled by the Greek tenses in relation to the final attack of Rev 12:17. Two beasts (from the sea and the earth) are each given “character introductions” in past tense (Rev 13:1-7; 13:11). These past-tense portions begin with a visual description of each character followed by an account of that character’s subsequent actions. Being in the past tense, these actions would seem to have occurred prior to the dragon’s final war against the remnant.

In each scene the Greek of Rev 13 then moves from description in the past to a mixture of present and future tenses (Rev 13:8-10; 13:12-18), describing the actions of these two beasts in the context of the final attack of Rev 12:17. So two stages of history are clearly marked off by the Greek tenses signaling events prior to the dragon’s war (past tenses) and an elaboration of the events of the war itself (present and future tenses). Beale has noted that Rev 13 is parallel in time with 12:13-17, which coheres with the Adventist position described here.

There is one further passage in Revelation which speaks to this end-time deception, Rev 16:13-16, the famous Battle of Armageddon passage. Here the counterfeit trinity of Rev 13 uses demonic spirits that look like frogs to gather the kings of earth for the final battle. Since frogs were the last plague that the magicians of ancient Egypt were able to counterfeit (see Exod 7:18-19 in context), the use of frogs as a symbol here signals that the message of Revelation 16 has to do with the last deception of earth’s history.

The three frogs are the demonic counterparts of the three God-sent angels of Rev 14:6-12. Both groups of angels have a mission to the whole world (Rev 14:6; 16:14), one trio calling the world to worship God, and the other seeking to gather the people of the world into the service of the unholy trinity. The final showdown takes place at “Armageddon” (Rev 16:16).

My work on the “Armageddon” article for the Anchor Bible Dictionary led me to the conclusion that the best way to understand the word Armageddon, in the light of the Biblical evidence, is as the Greek form of a couple of Hebrew words that mean “Mountain of Meggido.” Meggido was a city on a small elevation at the edge of the Plain of Jezreel. Looming over the place where the city of Megiddo was, however, is a range of mountains called Carmel.

What counts for Revelation is that Mount Carmel was the place where the great Old Testament showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal took place (1 Kings 18:16-46). On that occasion God answered Elijah’s prayer to bring fire down from heaven onto an altar in order to prove that Yahweh was the true God, not Baal.

According to Revelation, the Mount Carmel experience will be repeated at the End. Once again there will be a showdown between the true God and a devious counterfeit. But it will be different this time. At the End the fire that comes down falls from heaven will fall on the wrong altar. It will be the counterfeit Elijah and the counterfeit three angels who bring fire down from heaven to earth (Rev 13:13,14). On that day all the evidence of the five senses will suggest that the counterfeit trinity is the true God. Adventists see themselves as the “church of the remnant” whose recognition of the realities described in these prophecies enables them to help prepare their fellow Christians and others for the unique challenges of the last days.

Revelation 12, therefore, clearly demonstrates the successive stages of prophetic history that are characteristic of the historical type of apocalyptic found in Daniel 2 and 7. Observing carefully the markers in the text, the author’s use of character introductions and way the Old Testament is utilized, we have detected three stages of Christian history running from the time of Jesus and the John to the end of all things. When we note that at least two of the main characters in the chapter were active in the time before the birth of Jesus (which we will call below Stage Zero), there are a total of four successive stages of apocalyptic history.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (27): The Broad Sweep of Christian History

Rev 12:12 makes the transition between the experience of Jesus, in his various symbolic representations, and the vision’s renewed focus on the woman back on earth. Her exile into the desert was introduced in 12:6 and now becomes the focus of the devil/dragon, who was angered by his casting out and by the knowledge that “his time is short.” In apocalyptic language this verse tells us that after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the church took the brunt of Satan’s wrath on earth (Rev 12:13-16). Having been cast out of heaven, the dragon pursues the woman into the desert (12:13). The language of 12:13-16 is reminiscent of several accounts in the Old Testament, the vision of Daniel 7, the Exodus from Egypt, and the temptation and fall in the Garden of Eden.

The language of “a time, times and half a time” recalls Dan 7:25, as do the seven heads and the ten horns of the dragon who pursues the woman. In Daniel 7 the breakup of Rome into ten parts was followed by a little horn power, which was to persecute and “oppress God’s saints for a time, times and half a time.” (Dan 7:25) The only time in history that comes even close to matching this description is the Middle Ages, when the Roman Papacy dominated the Western world and drove competing views of Christianity into obscurity.

“The mouth of the serpent” (Rev 12:15) reminds the reader of the deceptive words of the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3). The flooding waters that attack the woman in the desert (the faithful church), therefore, imply deceptive and persuasive words as much as persecuting force. In the Middle Ages, unbiblical teachings were fed to the people in the name of Christ.

The woman fleeing into the desert on the two wings of a great eagle (Rev 12:14) reminds the reader of the Exodus experience, where God carried the tribes of Israel “on eagle’s wings” out of Egypt (Exod 19:4). So the experience of the woman, who represents the people of God, is built on the language of Old Testament Israel, both before and after the time of Christ. The experiences of Old Testament Israel and those of the Church are closely entwined in the book of Revelation.

In Rev 12:16 the “earth” helped the woman. This is a further allusion to the Exodus and Israel’s experience in the desert. The desert protected Israel from the “flooding waters” of both the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. If “sea” also represents the settled populations of the earth (as Rev 17:15 may suggest), “earth” here may represent more desolate places where the true people of God obtained refuge from deceptive and persecuting opponents; the Alps in Europe during the Middle Ages, and places like North America, South Africa, and Australia afterward. Toward the end of the 1260 years (the 16th through the 18th centuries) many forces came together to elevate the Bible and to end the persecution of God’s people; the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, and the beginnings of the great missionary expansion of the 19th century. During that period of calm, the dragon prepares for his final attack (Rev 12:17).

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (24): Detecting Apocalyptic Sequences II

Old Testament Roots
When reading the Book of Revelation one is plunged fully into the atmosphere of the Old Testament. No book of the New Testament is as saturated with the Old as this one is. But while it is not difficult to recognize the central place of the Old Testament in the Book of Revelation, it is difficult to determine exactly how it is being used there. A reader acquainted with the Old Testament quickly notices that Revelation never directly quotes the Old Testament, rather it alludes to it with a word here, a phrase there, or a concept in another place. Careful and consistent application of method is essential to recognizing the Old Testament subtext to the apocalyptic prophecies of Revelation. Such a method is laid out in the report from the Daniel and Revelation Committee in the early 90s.

The importance of the Old Testament in Revelation can be seen by a second look at the character introduction passages examined above. The vision in which Jesus is physically introduced to the reader (Rev 1:12-16) is based on a variety of Old Testament texts. The golden lampstands are a reminder of the lampstand in the Old Testament sanctuary (Exod 25:31-40) and the vision of Zechariah (Zech 4:2,10). Jesus’ dress recalls the dress of the High Priest in the same sanctuary (Exod 28:4,31). The voice like rushing waters reminds the reader of the appearance of Almighty God in the book of Ezekiel (Ezek 1:24; 43:2). The two-edged sword coming from Jesus’ mouth is reminiscent of Yahweh’s judgments through His messianic Servant in Isaiah (Isa 11:4; 49:2). The reader’s appreciation and understanding of Revelation’s apocalyptic-style symbolism is greatly enhanced by following up a veritable mosaic of Old Testament allusions.

But what ties all these Old Testament allusions together is a comprehensive utilization of the descriptions of two characters in the book of Daniel, the Son of Man of Dan 7:13-14 and Daniel’s mysterious visitor in 10:5-6. Virtually every detail of the description in 1:12-16 is found in those two passages. The same Jesus who walked and talked with ordinary people here on earth is described in terms of the mighty acts of Yahweh and of His heavenly and earthly messengers in the Old Testament. The parallels to the Old Testament lend much meaning to what otherwise would be a bewildering and incomprehensible description. So Jesus is depicted in this introduction as a heavenly priest, cosmic ruler, and divine judge. In 1:17-18 he exercises his priesthood in his merciful gentleness to John, 1:19-20 makes clear that his royal rule will be exercised in judgment, both positive and negative, toward the churches. And this marvelous passage right at the beginning of the book of Revelation emphasizes its strong ties to the apocalyptic book of Daniel.

The description of the two witnesses (Rev 11:3-6), on the other hand, is based on the lampstand passage of Zechariah (Zech 4:2-3,11-14), and also the exploits of Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament (cf. Exod 7:17-21; 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 1:10-12). The two witnesses are prophets like the great prophets of the Old Testament; Moses, Elijah and Zechariah. But the prophets in Revelation all bear witness to Jesus (Rev 1:9; 2:13; 12:11,17; 17:6). The richness of these background narratives is crucial to understanding what John was trying to say in writing the visions out as he did. So careful attention to the Old Testament becomes a crucial part of the process by which apocalyptic prophecies need to be understood.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (23): Detecting Apocalyptic Sequences

Before we take up the analysis of Revelation 12, I would like to lay out some principles for detecting apocalyptic sequencing in the symbolic visions of the Apocalypse. It is not appropriate to force a chapter into the historicist mode if that was not the intention of the text. We must allow the characteristics and purposes of each text to emerge out of the text. Only then can we accurately determine whether the chapter is a historical apocalypse or not.

Textual Markers
A significant indicator of an apocalyptic historical sequence is the presence of terms and developments in a text that indicate the successive passage of time. A major reason that the Daniel and Revelation Committee, for example, saw the trumpets as more apocalyptic than the seals was the presence of significant textual markers that time was passing as you moved through the trumpets, while such textual markers are completely missing in the seals.

The seven trumpets (Rev 8:2-11:18), for one thing, contain a number of time periods. There is a period of five months (Rev 9:5,10), a period of forty-two months (Rev 11:2), a period of 1260 days (11:3) and a period of three and a half days (11:9,11). No such periods of time are found anywhere within the seven seals (Rev 4:1-8:1), with the exception of the half-hour at the close. The sequential nature of the trumpets is strongly confirmed by the woe series after the fourth (Rev 8:13). The first woe (fifth trumpet) ends before the second begins (9:12) and the second (sixth trumpet) ends before the third (seventh trumpet) begins (11:14). Trumpets five, six, and seven, therefore, not only occur as a sequence of time, each is completed before the next begins. This is a strong parallel to the apocalyptic sequences of Daniel. One further marker of the passage of time in the trumpets is found in Rev 10:7. There the blowing of the seventh trumpet immediately follows the completion of God’s mystery, which is defined as the preaching of the gospel through God’s servants the prophets. The textual markers in the seventh trumpet, therefore, strongly suggest that the vision of the seven trumpets is to be interpreted as an apocalyptic sequence of historical events. Further research also indicates that the trumpets run from NT times (the time of the human author) to the end of time.

Character Introduction
Another significant indicator of the passage of time in Revelation is the literary strategy we could call character introduction. Consistently throughout the book, the author of Revelation introduces characters in general terms before describing their actions at the time of the vision. In other words, when a character appears in the book for the first time, there is a general description of the character’s appearance, and often a number of prior actions (and occasionally even future actions), followed by a description of the actions the character takes in the context of the vision’s own time and place setting. These character introduction passages normally offer clear markers of sequence.

When Jesus is introduced to John in chapter 1, the historical setting is John’s location on the Island of Patmos (Rev 1:9). John then goes into vision and sees one like a son of man. This is the first appearance of Jesus in the book, although He and His works are mentioned earlier (1:1,4-7). While this passage (Rev 1:9-3:22) has few other characteristics of an apocalyptic prophecy, there is a clear movement in time taking place as you work through the passage. John first hears Jesus’ voice sounding like a trumpet (1:9-11), then he sees and describes Him (1:12-16), then he experiences His comforting and explanatory words (1:17-20), finally he hears His messages to the seven churches (2:1-3:22).

A similar thing happens in chapter 11. The visionary setting of the two witnesses passage is Rev 10:8-11, where a voice out of heaven and the angel of the previous vision (Rev 10:1-7) engage John in a prophetic action (10:8-10), followed by an explanation. As we have seen from our study of Daniel 2 and 7, explanations come to the prophet in terms of his own time and place. Since John continues to be engaged (Rev 11:1-2) and addressed (11:3ff.) in Revelation 11, the standpoint from which John experiences chapter 11 is his own. It is not surprising, therefore, that the major time markers of 42 months and 1260 days are expressed in the future tense (Rev 11:2; Rev 11:3. These periods of time were future from the perspective of John.

The two witnesses themselves are introduced with a description of their appearance and an overall description of their characteristics and their actions in the present (11:4-6) and in the future tense (11:3). These present and future tenses are to be understood from the perspective of an explanation to John in terms of his own time and place. The entire character introduction passage (11:3-6), the elements in future tense (3) as well as those in present tense (4-6), occurs prior to the visionary description that follows (11:7-13).

The following time sequence, therefore, is evident in Rev 10:8-11:12. John is engaged and addressed by a voice from heaven and a visionary angel in his time and place. He then measures the temple, which is to be trampled for 42 months in John’s future, presumably the same period as the 1260 days of 11:3. Then the two witnesses are introduced. Whoever they are, they clearly exist in John’s day (present tenses) and have an ongoing existence. At some future point from John’s perspective, the two witnesses pass through a 1260 day period of testimony. It is only after that period of testimony that the martyrdom of these witnesses and their resurrection is to occur.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (22): The Adventist Approach to Revelation II

While the early critical consensus was that the book of Revelation was primarily apocalyptic, that consensus has been seriously challenged. Some scholarly discussions of Revelation’s genre suggest that it is more prophetic than apocalyptic, others suggests a “prophetic-apocalyptic” genre, still others highlight the epistolary aspect of the book. What is clear is that the genre of Revelation is a mixed genre whose character cannot be determined with exactness. Typical of more recent discussion is the eclectic approach of G. K. Beale, Revelation, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998). When it comes to the book of Daniel, historicism as a method is not at issue, it is simply a question of whether to interpret along the lines of predictive prophecy or ex eventu prophecy. With Revelation, on the other hand, the appropriateness of historicist method is much less obvious.

Most Seventh-day Adventists have not yet felt the force of this difficulty. We inherited a historicist approach to Revelation from our Protestant forebears in the middle of the 19th Century. We have assumed that approach to be the correct one, but have never demonstrated it from the text. This came clearly into focus for me in the context of the Adventist conversations with the Lutheran World Federation. It was clear that the Lutherans had a hard time understanding the Adventist approach to Daniel and Revelation. When it came time to write the Adventist response, the committee decided that scholarly justification for a historicist method in Revelation was needed. But when I asked where in the Adventist literature such a justification could be found, few had any idea.

My own subsequent search turned up only one Adventist argument for a historicist approach to Revelation (by Roy Naden). It goes something like this. The book of Daniel clearly exhibits a series of historical events running from the prophet’s time to the end. The Book of Revelation quotes Daniel and is similar in style to Daniel, therefore, the seven-fold series of Revelation are also to be understood as historical series running from the time of the prophet until the end. This argument by itself is not satisfactory.

In a Lutheran-Adventist joint publication I added a further argument from the evidence of Jewish apocalyptic. I suggested that the historical time periods of ex eventu prophecy reflected the conviction that a genuine prophet such as Enoch, Moses, or Ezra would be capable of outlining history in advance. Since John, the author of Revelation, believed that the prophetic spirit had returned (Rev 1:3; 19:9-10; 22:6-10), he would have every reason to believe that the cosmic Christ could reveal to him the general outline of events between the advents. The return of genuine prophets would signal the return of predictive prophecy.

Should John’s prophecies be understood more in terms of the classical prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah or more like the apocalyptic prophet Daniel? Do the symbolic visions retain some of the epistolary nature of the early chapters? In the Daniel and Revelation Committee session that was held at Newbold College in England in 1988, considerable discussion was given to this issue. A developing consensus seemed to be that the churches, seals and trumpets of Rev 1-11 respectively exhibited the characteristics of the three main genre types found in the book of Revelation. Careful analysis suggests that the seven letters portion of the book (Rev 2-3) reads most naturally along the lines of the New Testament epistles, the seven seals (Rev 6-7) bear the character of classical prophecy, along the lines of Matt 24, and the seven trumpets (Rev 8-11) are the most apocalyptic in nature.

Given the mixed picture of Revelation’s genre this should be evaluated on a case by case basis. An example of such an evaluation is given in the following blogs on Revelation 12. No passage in Revelation is more critical to Adventist self-understanding than Rev 12-13. I will, therefore, examine one of these chapters for evidence of whether it reflects the historical sequencing of an apocalyptic series or exhibits the characteristics of classical prophecy. We will try to determine on the basis of exegetical analysis whether the apocalyptic reading of traditional Adventism is appropriate to Rev 12.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (21): The Adventist Approach to Revelation

A problem that previous Adventist discussions have not adequately addressed is the relationship of Revelation to the larger genre of apocalyptic prophecy. It is been largely assumed that Revelation is of the same character as that of Daniel (apocalyptic prophecy) and that its visions are, therefore, to be uniformly interpreted as unconditional prophetic portrayals of the sequence of both Christian and general history from the time of Jesus to the end of the world. This assumption has not, however, been found compelling by specialists in the field.

The Daniel and Revelation Committee of the General Conference (1981-1991) gradually shifted on this point as we looked at the evidence of Revelation from 1986 through 1991. In a volume published just before I joined in the Committee (1986), William Johnsson, in his article on the nature of prophecy (DARCOM, vol. 3, 282) provided only two paragraphs on Revelation (282). He states there that Revelation concerns things which “shall be hereafter” rather than just “may be” (Rev 1:19). The book portrays how God will bring an end to the world order, rescue His people and produce a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells. These statements suggest the thinking that at least parts of Revelation, and probably the whole, are certainly apocalyptic in nature.

Kenneth Strand went much further in this direction. He states (published in 1992) without argument that Revelation, along with Daniel, is generally classified as apocalyptic prophecy in contrast to “classical prophecy.” He then goes on to list the characteristics of apocalyptic prophecy. Kenneth A. Stand, “Foundational Principles of Interpretation,” 11-19. Strand does soften this assertion somewhat on page 22, however. He notes the epistolary nature of the seven letters to the churches in chapters 2 and 3, giving Revelation “a certain flavor of exhortation,” an element of conditionality. He limits this exhortatory character of Revelation, however, to the seven letters and to occasional appeals and does not apply its conditionality to the prophetic forecasts of Revelation.

My own work in the same volume (1992) states that Revelation is both prophetic and apocalyptic, but I don’t address the implications of that distinction. Jon Paulien, “Interpreting Revelation’s Symbolism,” in Symposium on Revelation– Book I, edited by Frank B. Holbrook, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series, vol. 6 (Washington, DC: Biblical Research Institute, 1992), 78-79. One reason for this mild contradiction is that DARCOM was disbanded in 1991 at a time when General Conference committees were being downsized, and was never able to complete its work. Strand’s opening articles were added later, being a compendium of his earlier work, but were never seriously discussed in the committee. I don’t know whether the publication of these chapters represented the editor’s attempt to counter my thesis or simply to fill out things the Committee never got to, with the contradiction not noticed.

As was the case with historical versus mystical apocalypses, Revelation seems to smoothly blend characteristics of both general and apocalyptic prophecy. It is written to a specific time and place and the audience is clearly local and contemporary (Rev 1:1-4, 10-11, 2:1 – 3:22). Revelation 22:16 clearly states that the entire book was intended as a message to the churches. Its message was intended to be understood by the original audience (Rev 1:3). It is not, therefore, simply a replay of the genre of Daniel, where there are texts that postpone understanding: Dan 8:27; 12:4, 13. On the other hand, the break between the old order and the new is radical and complete, just like that of Jewish apocalyptic (Rev 20:11 – 21:5). Prophetic action along a continuum can also be seen in passages like Rev 12 and in 17:10. So the genre of Revelation is not nearly as cut and dried as seems to be the case with Daniel.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (20): The Adventist Approach to Daniel IV

The little horn power of Daniel 7, however, is not separate from the fourth beast. It arises directly from among the ten horns that are part of the fourth beast (Dan 7:7: “It had ten horns”). This point is underlined again in Dan 7:19-20, where Daniel says, “Then I wanted to know the true meaning of the fourth beast, . . I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up. . .” But while rooted in the fourth beast, the little horn comes up after the ten horns which themselves come up after the fourth kingdom is established (Dan 7:24). So there is a sequencing taking place in relation to the imagery of the fourth beast. Since the little horn arises after the fourth kingdom and in the context of the ten horns it would seem to be operating in the time of the divided kingdom of Daniel 2. Just as the mixed kingdom of iron and clay was connected to the fourth by the image of iron (Dan 2:41-42), so the little horn is connected to the fourth kingdom, having grown from its symbolic head (Dan 7:8).

Doukhan brings out further parallels between the little horn of Daniel 7 and the clay of Daniel 2. Clay is quite different from the series of metals (Dan 2:32), the little horn is explicitly different (Dan 7:24) from the kingdoms that preceded it. Both have human features. The little horn is singled out because it has human eyes and a talking mouth (7:8), the clay is an allusion to the creation of Adam. In Daniel reference to human nature can be understood to portray the religious character of a person or institution (compare 7:4 with 4:16,34,36). The religious character of the little horn becomes explicit in the explanation (Dan 7: 21,25). While both entities are religious in character, they are also able to adapt to the world of politics. The clay is mixed with the iron (Dan 2:41-43) and the little horn is a horn (symbol of political power) and grows out of the fourth kingdom (7:7-8). So the little horn would seem to be portraying the same ambiguous power that was represented by the clay in chapter 2.

The description of the little horn exhibits the following characteristics and actions. 1) It speaks boastfully (Dan 7:8, 20), 2) it wages war against the saints and defeats them (7:21), 3) it is different in character from the earlier kings, which were political in nature (7:24). 4) The boastful speaking is interpreted in verse 25 as speaking “against the Most High.” 5) The war against the saints is redefined as “oppressing the saints” (7:25). 6) He will “try to change the set times and the laws,” something only God is supposed to do (Dan 2:21), and 7) the period during which he will dominate the saints is said to last for “a time, times and half a time” (7:25). To use the language of John J. Collins, the offenses of the little horn are “blasphemy, violence, and religious innovation.” There has been a long-standing consensus within Adventist scholarship that the four major kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7 represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. There has been a similar consensus that the little horn power of Daniel represents the medieval papacy, which was different in character from the secular powers of the earth, persecuted the saints, made changes in the ten commandments, particularly the Sabbath, and dominated Western Europe for more than a thousand years.

The two new elements of the chapter are tied together in 7:8-11 and 21-22. It is interesting to note that the vision of 7:2-14 is divided into three parts by the stylistic expression, “In my vision at night I looked”, found in verses 2, 7 and 13. Surprisingly, this arrangement ties the fourth kingdom more closely to the heavenly court scene than to the three kingdoms that precede it in verses 4-6. The immediate context of the seating of the heavenly judgment in 7:9-14 is the little horn’s boastful speaking in verse 8. The absence in verse 9 of the typical sequencing term (“behold”) found seven times in the vision (Dan 7:5,6,7,8 [twice], 13) is further evidence that the judgment begins at precisely that point in history where the little horn is doing its human thing and speaking boastfully (elaborated in 7:21,25).

A portion of the vision formula of 2, 7 and 13 is also found at the conclusion of verse 11, further tying the descriptions of verses 7 and 8 with the opening of the judgment in 9 and 10. The allusion to the destruction of the beast that carried the little horn in verse 11 implies that the judgment comes into session to deal with the actions of that beast, and of the ten horns and the little horn that followed it in the course of history. This implication is confirmed in Dan 7:21-22. The time, times and half a time in which the saints are oppressed lasts “until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High” (7:22). So the judgment comes at the end of the little horn’s time of oppressing the saints. The end result of that judgment is “His power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His (the son of man of 7:13-14) kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him” (Dan 7:26-27).

So the vision of Daniel 7 is not so much adding new elements to the earlier vision as it is elaborating on the later stages of it, the times after the fourth kingdom and before the setting up of God’s eternal kingdom. During the time of the divided kingdom of iron and clay, an oppressive power, described as a little horn on the beast of the fourth kingdom, will arise and oppress the people of God, just as Babylon was doing in Daniel’s day. Daniel 7 also adds that ushering in the stone kingdom will be a heavenly tribunal in which the actions of all the oppressive powers of history will be brought to an end and the people of God will join God’s representative, the son of man, in an everlasting kingdom where all obey the Most High God.

In Daniel 2 and 7, therefore, we have a pair of apocalyptic prophecies which review the same basic historical sequence, running from the time of the respective prophets until the establishment of God’s kingdom at the end of history. The exegesis is relatively straightforward, when the two visions are viewed together. The only reason to question elements of this scenario are if these prophecies were not written ahead of events, but were the result of pious history after the fact, written around 165 BC. So for Adventist scholarship, the decisive issue with regard to the hermeneutics of the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel is the time when the book was written. For those who believe that Daniel was a genuine prophecy of the sixth century BC, the process is straightforward. First, give careful attention to what the text is actually saying and what it is not saying. Second, give careful attention to the clear witness of history, and align the text with that history to the best of one’s ability.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (19): The Adventist Approach to Daniel III

Daniel 7 marks some important transitions within the book. It is tied to the narratives that precede by the use of the Aramaic language (Hebrew is used in chapters 8-12). It is tied to chapter 2 by the vision formula and other connections we will note below. At the same time, Daniel 7 is tied to the visions in the following chapters by its subject matter and by close parallels with chapter 8. So Daniel 7 is in many ways the center point of the book of Daniel.

As was the case with Daniel 2, the apocalyptic prophecy of Dan 7 is divided into two parts; a description of the vision, in which the prophet can be transported through time and space (Dan 7:2-14), and an explanation of the vision, given in the language, time and place of the prophet (Dan 7:15-27). In Daniel 2 the prophet is Nebuchadnezzar and the explanation is given by Daniel himself. In Daniel 7, Daniel is the prophet and the explanation is given by an angelic attendant in the vision.

It may, at first, seem unfortunate that the vision of Daniel 7 and its interpretation fails to name any of the kingdoms symbolized in the chapter. This is in contrast to what happens in the visions of Daniel 2 (“You are the head of gold”– 2:38) and Daniel 8 (The “ram represents the kings of Media and Persia, . . . the goat is the king of Greece”– 8:20-21). The most natural explanation is that the reader is expected to see that the vision of Daniel 7 is simply restating and expanding on the earlier vision, but this time couched in the language of the Torah, rather than pagan symbolism. The vision of Daniel 8, on the other hand, introduces new material and requires specific re-identification. This explanation is confirmed by the many parallels between Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 and the earlier one given to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2.

Both passages deal with four kingdoms (Dan 2:37-40; 7:17). The four animals in Dan 7 parallel the four metals of the great statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw (Dan 7:3-7, cf. 2:31-33). Both visions concern four items, many of which are numbered, “first,” “fourth,” etc. (Dan 2:39-40; 7:4,5,7) In both visions, special authority is given to the third kingdom (Dan 2:39; 7:6). In both visions, the fourth element is numbered (2:40; 7:7), involves iron, and uses the language of crushing. In Dan 7:23 (NRSV), “There shall be a fourth kingdom on earth.” Neither of the fourth kingdoms are identified by name, but the early church fathers identified the fourth kingdom with Rome. In both visions, the figure of the fourth kingdom is followed by symbols of division (2:43; 7:24). It would seem pointless, therefore, to interpret the fourth kingdom of Daniel 7 as somehow different from the fourth kingdom of Daniel 2. Both visions cover a period that leads to the final establishment of God’s kingdom. The vision of Dan 7, therefore, concerns the same four kingdoms symbolized by metals in Dan 2. The God who gave these visions was apparently using the principle of recapitulation to convey His revelations more clearly.

On the other hand, a new element in this vision is the little horn power that plucks up three horns and speaks boastful things (Dan 7:8). An additional new element is the heavenly judgment scene (7:9-14), with its books, its Ancient of Days and its son of man. The vision of Daniel 2 is essentially repeated but with two additional elements. In comparing the two visions we are moving from the simple to the complex and from the clear to the somewhat less clear. So in interpreting Daniel 7 we must not forget the things we have learned from Daniel 2. The pattern of apocalyptic, historical sequences continues to be followed. Note the following chart:

Daniel 2                   Daniel 7
Gold                          Lion
Silver                         Bear
Bronze                      Leopard
Iron                           Iron
feet and toes           horns
       –                          Little horn
       –                          Judgment
God’s Kingdom       God’s Kingdom

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (18): The Adventist Approach to Daniel II

Continuing our look at Daniel 2. . .

“Next (“another”), a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth” (2:39). Daniel’s explanation again uses an Aramaic term of sequencing, this time making it clear that the third kingdom corresponds to the third metal on the statue, bronze. In Daniel 8, the kingdom that replaces Medo-Persia is Greece.

“Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron–for iron breaks and smashes everything–and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others” (2:40). The “finally” here is supplied by the translators of the NIV. The Aramaic term is the simple conjunctive. But “finally” is not an inappropriate translation, as the movement to the fourth and final kingdom in the series is explicit in the passage. The association of this fourth kingdom with iron also makes the correlation between the metals on the statue and the sequence of historical kingdoms clear.

The move to the fifth stage of iron and clay again lacks a sequencing term, but by this stage in the vision the progression is clear enough without continual repetition. The vision portrays a series of historical stages beginning with the time of the “prophet” Nebuchadnezzar. “Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay” (2:41). Interestingly, the transition to the fifth stage differs from the others in that the fourth kingdom is not replaced by a more powerful one, but seems to disintegrate into a divided and weakened condition.

The mention of clay at this point in the vision is rather startling. Doukhan notes that clay is an unexpected material after the metals, indicating a power or powers of a different nature than those that came before. He sees the clay as pointing to a religious connotation in contrast to the political nature of the metallic kingdoms. The clay here may reflect an allusion to Adam, the human creature who was made from clay (Gen 2:7; 3:19). Adam owed his existence to the divine potter (Isa 64:8; Jer 18:6ff.). Doukhan believes that this is foretaste of the appearance of the human-featured little horn in Dan 7:8 and 25.

The climax of the vision and its interpretation comes in Dan 2:44, “In the time of those kings (literally “in the days of those kings”), the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. . . .” “In the days of those kings” can be understood in two ways. Since the kingdom of iron and clay is referred to in the singular (2:41-42), the plural of verse 44 could be understood to refer to all four of the kingdoms together. This would imply that the course of history will continue unbroken until the coming of the divine kingdom represented by the stone. The spirit of the earlier kingdoms lives on in the later ones. More likely the “kings” refer to pieces of the divided kingdom of iron and clay. In this case, it would be clear that the coming of the stone kingdom is after the reign of the four major kingdoms and during the time of division between strong and weak. The coming of the stone kingdom is the final event of the vision, the one that brings the whole course of history to an end.

The vision of Daniel 2, then, is an apocalyptic prophecy with a clear historical sequence running from the time of the prophet down to the end of earth’s history, the establishment of the kingdom of God. The explanation, grounded in the language, time and place of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, clearly marks out the sequence of events that moves the reader from the time when the prophecy was given to the time when history comes to its end. In Daniel 2, therefore, the basic characteristics of historical apocalyptic are firmly and exegetically set in place.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (17): The Adventist Approach to Daniel

Any exegetical defense of historicism must begin with the clearest biblical example, found in Daniel chapter 2. While the text is quite familiar to Adventists, it bears another look, for it is foundational to an understanding of apocalyptic prophecy. The story of Daniel 2 clearly fits the definition of apocalyptic literature generally accepted today, and is of the historical sub-category. It contains a revelation delivered in a narrative framework, and that revelation is given directly by God (an otherworldly being) to Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, the human recipients. The vision and its interpretation disclose a transcendent temporal reality regarding eschatological salvation, and reveal the spatial reality of God’s will and purposes in the supernatural world.

Unless one approaches Daniel 2 with the assumption that it is outlining history after the fact, it seems clear that Nebuchadnezzar’s vision portrays a chain of empires, beginning with the time of the prophet, and running the course of history all the way to its eschatological climax.

The story of Daniel 2 begins with a sleepless night for King Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:1). He was worried about the future and God gives him dreams which unpack that future (Dan 2:29). After futile attempts to get help from his closest advisors, Nebuchadnezzar turns to Daniel, the Hebrew prophet. Daniel testifies that the future is unknown to human beings, no matter how intelligent nor how connected to the occult (Dan 2:27– these same wise men are forced to agree, 2:10-11). There is a God in heaven, however, who is fully able to reveal what will happen in days to come, including the final events of history (“at the end of days,” Dan 2:28).

The dream is about a large statue, an idol, made from a succession of metals, declining in value (from gold to iron) but increasing in strength as you move from the head to the foot of the image (2:31-33). The feet of the statue are made of a mixture of iron and clay (2:33). At the end of the dream a supernatural rock smashes into the feet of the image, breaking the whole image to pieces (2:34). The pieces are then swept away by the wind, while the rock grows into a mountain that fills the whole earth (2:35).

While the vision of the statue carries Nebuchadnezzar to end of earth’s history, however, the explanation of the vision by Daniel is firmly grounded in the time and place of Nebuchadnezzar. All expressions are appropriate to a conversation being held in a king’s palace around 600 BC. The interpretation begins with a straightforward, unambiguous assertion, “You are that head of gold” (Dan 2:38). The interpretation grounds the beginning of that prophecy in the situation of Nebuchadnezzar’s time and place. That the head of gold is not limited to Nebuchadnezzar personally, but represents his whole kingdom becomes clear in that all the succeeding metals represent whole kingdoms, not just a series of kings. Nebuchadnezzar is addressed as the representative of his kingdom. The comment that the fourth kingdom will be “strong as iron” suggests that the various metals were designed to portray specific characteristics of each of the kingdoms.

The next stage in the prophecy is also clear. “After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours” (2:39). This second kingdom clearly comes on the stage after the time of Nebuchadnezzar. While the text does not explicitly state that this kingdom is represented by the silver of the statue, the inferior nature of the kingdom is appropriate to such a movement. The transition between Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and the following one is marked by the story in Daniel 5. Babylon is followed by Medo-Persia.

To be continued.