Summary of the Book of Daniel

“The Triumph of God’s Kingdom Against the Kingdom of Antichrist”

A Summary of the Prophecy of Daniel

By Rev. Martyn McGeown

 

Chapters 1-6: (mainly) historical narrative.

In Babylon, the kings of Babylon and Media-Persia (Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus) are historical types of the Antichrist. They are absolute despots, ruling over a quasi-worldwide kingdom, and they persecute the people of God. They also make claims to deity, especially Nebuchadnezzar. At the beginning of the book, it appears to any outside observer that the kingdom of Babylon has defeated Jehovah. In that day, if one kingdom defeated another, it was interpreted to mean that one kingdom’s god had defeated the other kingdom’s god. But this book teaches us that this is only appearance. In fact, Jehovah is sovereign. Daniel 1:2 states, “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, etc.” Compare what II Chronicles teaches: “Therefore he [Jehovah] brought upon the king of the Chaldees, etc.” (II Chron. 36:17). The constant refrain of the prophecy of Daniel is that Jehovah God is sovereign over human rulers, kings and kingdoms. The history of Daniel is typical, that is, it foreshadows the history of the end of the world, still future to us.

In chapter 1, Daniel and his friends are taken to Babylon. It is important to remember that there were three deportations: first, during the reign of Jehoiakim the royal princes were taken, among whom was Daniel; second, during the reign of Jehoiachin other important people were taken (including Ezekiel, see II Kings 24:15-16); and, third, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple razed to the ground and most of the people (except the poorest) taken to Babylon during the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. Daniel was taken, therefore, most likely as a young man of less than 20 years, during the first deportation from Babylon. The Babylonians attempted to assimilate the Judean youths into Babylonian culture. Daniel, in a wise, courteous manner, refused to eat the king’s meat, probably because such food was offered to idols. God rewarded Daniel and his friends for their courage and faithfulness. Daniel outlived Nebuchadnezzar and was still a palace official in the crucial first year of Cyrus (see Ezra 1:1-3).

In chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man in the world, is troubled because of a dream. Nebuchadnezzar summons his advisors (magicians, astrologers, sorcerers and Chaldeans) and demands that they give him both the dream itself and its interpretation. When they fail to do so, the king sentences all of them (including Daniel and his three friends) to death. Daniel, on hearing about the execution order, asks for time to pray to God. Jehovah reveals the dream to Daniel, prompting Daniel to praise Him (2:19-23). Daniel then explains the dream to the king. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream concerned an image with several parts made of different metals: a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, thighs of brass, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. The dream, explains Daniel, concerns the future of the kingdom: “Thou art this head of gold” (2:38). Since Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon is the head of gold, we conclude that the other kingdoms are Media-Persia (silver), Greece (brass), Rome (iron) and some future kingdom (iron and clay). The iron/clay kingdom is the kingdom of Antichrist, which is future to us. After all of these kingdoms, a “stone cut out of the mountain without hands” (2:44-45) will destroy all the kingdoms of men. This is the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. In the Bible, the phrase “made without hands” means something made by God. Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction is to honour and promote Daniel and his friends.

In chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar constructs an image of gold, which is presumably supposed to represent the power of Babylon and the glory of the king himself. He commands all his subjects to worship it on pain of death in a fiery furnace. In this chapter, Nebuchadnezzar is revealed as a type of Antichrist: he promotes idolatry (the worship of the state) and he persecutes God’s people. Daniel’s three friends refuse to worship the image: for them the First Commandment is more important than life. They politely, resolutely and fearlessly refuse to worship even after threatened. They confess God’s power and sovereignty before this angry pagan king (3:16-18). God miraculously delivers them and gives them the presence of what many understand to be a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. Nebuchadnezzar is amazed, praises Jehovah and promotes Daniel’s friends. However, Nebuchadnezzar is not converted. The confession of Jehovah’s greatness is wrung out of him.

In chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar, in the first person (“I,” “my,” “me,” etc.) relates how God abased him for his pride and then exalted him again.  Verses 1-3 and 34-37 are a summary of what Nebuchadnezzar learned, namely that God is sovereign and abases and exalts kings as He pleases. Again, Nebuchadnezzar has a troubling dream, and his advisors are unable to interpret it. In this case, at least, Nebuchadnezzar does relate to them the dream, which they cannot interpret (4:7). Finally, the king calls Daniel, who interprets the dream. The dream contains a warning, and Daniel urges the king to repent, lest the contents of the dream come true (4:27). A year passes, and Nebuchadnezzar, in a moment of vainglory, boasts in the greatness of his kingdom (“Is not this great Babylon, that I have built, etc.”[4:30]). God punishes Nebuchadnezzar’s pride by making him insane so that he behaves like a beast for “seven times” [possibly years] (4:32). The lesson that Nebuchadnezzar will be forced to learn is “The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (4:32). Some have imagined that Nebuchadnezzar was converted, but this is not the case: he was still a pagan idolater; and he was a type of the Antichrist.

In chapter 5, a new king is on the throne, Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s descendant (in the Bible the word “son” is less precise than in English; it can mean descendant or even successor). The kings of Babylon were in order as follows: Nebuchadnezzar, Evil Merodach (see II Kings 25:27-30), Neriglissar, Labashi-Marduk, Nabodinus and Belshazzar. Belshazzar is actually Babylon’s last king, and the events of Daniel 5 occur in the last day of his reign, just before the fall of Babylon. The Medes and Persians are outside the walls, and Belshazzar and his lords are partying! Such will be the folly of the wicked when judgment comes upon them on the Last Day (see Isaiah 13; I Thessalonians 5:3). While the Medes and Persians are outside the walls, Belshazzar commands that the holy vessels of the temple be brought to him, and he mocks Jehovah while worshipping idols (5:2-4; see also 1:2). A hand appears before the king and begins writing a message on the wall, a message of judgment, but one that the king does not understand. Terrified, he calls for his advisors, who, predictably, are not able to answer.  Finally, the Queen Mother reminds Belshazzar of Daniel, who by this time is renowned for his wisdom and ability to interpret dreams and visions. Daniel brings a word of judgment: Belshazzar has not learned the lesson of God’s sovereignty that his forefather Nebuchadnezzar had learned (see 5:22-23). The writing means that the kingdom of Babylon has been numbered, weighed, found wanting, and divided. Belshazzar is a foolish, presumptuous, deliberate sinner, and God’s judgment is swift and terrible, for Belshazzar perishes that very night, and Darius the Mede succeeds him (5:30-31).

In chapter 6, a regime change has taken place. Babylon has fallen, and Media-Persia has succeeded Babylon, but will things be any different for God’s captive people? Darius seems to be a more reasonable monarch than Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar, but he, too, is a type of the Antichrist, and, therefore, an ungodly man. Darius places 120 men in administrative positions in his government with Daniel in the top position. Not unsurprisingly, his colleagues resent having a Judean promoted above them, so they try to destroy him. First, they audit his administrative activities, but Daniel is faithful in all his works, a fact remarkable in itself (6:4). Realising that they can only accuse him on religious grounds, they persuade Darius the king with a mixture of cunning and flattery to sign a law that makes Darius the sole object of prayer for thirty days (6:7-9). Darius, a type of Antichrist, is only too willing to claim divinity, which is a characteristic of the Antichrist: worship me or die! Daniel, in faithfulness to God and in obedience to the First Commandment, persists in worshipping Jehovah alone through prayer as he always had done. Daniel’s colleagues accuse him before the king, who has no choice but to cast Daniel into the lions’ den, as his own unchangeable law required (6:12-16). Darius suffers a sleepless night of worry as Daniel remains in the lions’ den. Will Daniel’s God be able to deliver him? The next morning, to the relief of Darius, Daniel is alive. “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me” (6:22). Darius commands Daniel’s accusers to be cast into the lions’ den, and the lions immediately devour them. Darius, as Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar before him, is compelled to confess the greatness and glory of Jehovah.

Chapters 7-11 are apocalyptic prophecy.

Apocalyptic literature reveals great spiritual truths through the use of dramatic, symbolic imagery. Apocalyptic literature concerns the struggle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. Apocalyptic literature is mainly eschatological, that is, it concerns the End Times. The book of Revelation is also apocalyptic. In fact, the word apocalypse means revelation. Daniel’s visions are reflected in the book of Revelation.

According to chapter 7, Daniel has a dream/vision in the first year of Belshazzar. This means that the dream/vision occurred before the events recorded in chapter 5 (the last year of Belshazzar) and chapter 6 (sometime in the reign of Darius the Mede). Daniel’s vision of chapter 7 has parallels in Daniel 2 (the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream) and Revelation 13 (the beast from the sea, which is Antichrist). The beasts that Daniel sees in his vision come up out of the sea one after the other. They represent world powers or kingdoms. When Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan, sees the same realities, he sees a beautiful image; when a child of God (whether Daniel or John) sees them, he sees grotesque beasts or monsters. These beasts come from the sea, which in Scripture represents the restless peoples of the world (see Isaiah 57:20). The angel who explains the vision to Daniel tells us that “these great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth” (7:17). That is our starting point of interpretation, and it is not unreasonable to conclude that the four beasts are the same four kingdoms represented in chapter 2. If that is the case, the beasts are Babylon (lion), Media-Persia (bear), Greece (leopard) and Rome (the unnamed, dreadful and terrible beast). Out of the fourth beast there came up a “little horn” (7:8). Moreover, the beast of Revelation 13 is a composite of the beasts in Daniel 7 (“like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion” [Rev. 13:2]). The “little horn” is the Antichrist himself. We read of the arrogance, blasphemy, megalomania and self-deification of the Antichrist as he persecutes and “wear[s] out [harasses or oppresses] the saints” (7:21, 25). In addition, there are clear parallels between Daniel 7:8, 23-24 and Revelation 17:8-18.

As terrifying as the beasts and the little horn are (see Daniel’s reaction in 7:15, 28), the main point of the chapter is comfort. As in Daniel 2, where the “stone cut out of the mountain without hands” (2:45) destroys the image that Nebuchadnezzar saw, so here in Daniel 7, Jesus Christ prevails against the Antichrist. In the middle of the chapter is a thrilling Messianic prophecy (7:9-14). The “one like the Son of man” (7:13) is the Messiah, Jesus Christ. By His death and resurrection He establishes the kingdom, which He then receives at His ascension, when He comes to the Ancient of days (Jehovah) “with the clouds of heaven” (7:13). For a parallel passage, see Matthew 26:64-65. The kingdom of Christ, in which the saints of God also rule as spiritual prophets, priests and kings, is everlasting (7:14, 27), unlike the kingdom of Antichrist, which lasts “until a time, and times, and dividing of time” (7:25). Whatever this expression means, and it is not a literal number, the point is that God has sovereignly determined and limited the Antichrist’s reign (see also Revelation 12:6, 14, 13:5 for similar symbolic representations of the Antichrist’s divinely determined and limited reign).

Daniel received the vision recorded in chapter 8 two years after the previous one (in the third year of Belshazzar). Daniel sees an epic battle between two creatures. The first is a ram, an aggressive, powerful, seemingly unstoppable creature. The ram had two horns with one higher than the other (8:3). In Scripture, a horn is a symbol of strength, for the strength of an animal is in its horn. The angel identifies the ram as the king or kingdom of Media and Persia (8:20). To Daniel’s surprise, for remember that when Daniel sees the vision the Medes and Persians are not yet in power, Babylon has not been overthrown, and Greece is not a superpower, a second creature defeats the ram. The goat comes swiftly from the west, utterly destroying the ram in its choler (fury [8:7]), and stamping it underfoot. This goat has a “notable horn between his eyes” (8:5).  The angel identifies the goat as the king or kingdom of Greece and the horn as its first king. Therefore, we know that the vision describes the victory of Alexander the Great over the kingdom of the Medes/Persians in 331 BC. (Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 BC; Babylon fell to the Medes/Persians in 539 BC; and the Medes/Persians fell to the Greeks in 331 BC).

Out of the goat came forth a “little horn” (8:9). We might imagine that he is the same little horn of chapter 7, but he is not. He is a type, or historical foreshadowing, of the little horn of chapter 7. After the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC), his kingdom was divided among his four generals (8:22). Later, from the Syrian part of Alexander’s kingdom (the Seleucids), a king will arise. He is Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who ruled from 175-164 BC. Chapter 8 describes some of Antiochus’ exploits, especially as they concern his opposition to “the pleasant land” (Israel [8:9]), his removal of the true worship of God and his setting up of the abomination of desolation in its place (8:11-14, 24-26). In all of this, Antiochus is an historical type of the future Antichrist. Again, chapter 8 contains solid comfort, because Antiochus’ activities are divinely limited (8:14) and he will be destroyed (“he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand” [8:25]).

Daniel chapter 9 consists of a preface (9:1-3), a prayer (9:4-19) and a response (9:20-27). Daniel prays in first year of Darius the Mede. Babylon has fallen, but nothing seems to have changed. Where is the promise of Jerusalem’s restoration, and where is the fulfillment of God’s covenant? Daniel is prompted to pray because of his reading of Scripture (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10-11; see also II Chron. 36:21). It is good practice to turn promises into petitions in our prayers. Daniel prays in humility and in faith, and it striking that he identifies with the people in their sin. Notice the repetition of “we,” “our,” etc. “We have sinned” (9:5). Daniel prays on the basis of Jehovah’s mercy, not his or his people’s righteousness (9:18).

Even before Daniel finishes praying, Jehovah answers. He sends Gabriel with a comforting message. The message, however, is one of the most difficult of Old Testament prophetic texts. We need to bear in mind as we approach it, that the message must be an answer to Daniel’s concerns, not our speculations. Daniel’s prophecy of the “Seventy Weeks” (9:24-27) is complicated. We provide a sketch of the proper interpretation. First, the “seventy weeks” (literally “seventy sevens”) is not a period of 490 days or 490 years, but a symbolic period of time in which God fulfills His covenant purposes (7x7x10). Second, the “seventy weeks” begin, we assume, immediately (c. 539 BC at the time of the fall of Babylon, or one year later, with the decree of Cyrus to rebuild the city, which happened in 538 BC). Third, the “seventy weeks” end with the consummation of God’s covenant purposes. Verse 25 says, “Unto Messiah the prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks.” Fourth, during the period of “seventy weeks” the events of v. 24 must take place, and after sixty-nine weeks (the seven weeks of verse 25 plus the sixty-nine of verse 26), Messiah shall be “cut off” (9:26). That refers to the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Fifth, the seventieth week occurs immediately after the sixty-ninth week. There is nothing in the passage to suggest a gap/parenthesis of some 2,000 years between the sixty-ninth week and the seventieth week, a major teaching of premillennial Dispensationalism.

The most difficult part of the prophecy concerns the identity of the “he” in verse 27: “he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.” In verse 26, “the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city,” a reference to the events of AD 70, when the Romans destroyed the city. Is the “he” of verse 27 that prince? It is difficult to make that fit, because what “covenant” did the Romans make for one week? The reference to the covenant must be to God’s covenant, which is Daniel’s concern (9:4). The “he,” therefore, refers to Christ (9:26, “Messiah shall be cut off”), for He confirms the covenant. The covenant is not an agreement/treaty, which the future Antichrist makes and breaks with the nation of Israel, another major teaching of premillennial Dispensationalism, but a theory utterly foreign to the context of Daniel 9. The accomplishments of Christ in Daniel 9 are many: He makes atonement for sin (9:24), He confirms the covenant (9:27), He makes causes the sacrifices to cease, either by His own sacrifice, or by the destruction of the temple and the whole Old Testament sacrificial system. Christ accomplishes this in “seventy weeks,” that is, in a symbolic period of time, during which time God’s people will experience trouble, destruction and desolation. Thus Daniel brings comfort in the midst of tribulation to come. This is surely a fitting, and beautiful, answer to his moving prayer.

Daniel receives the rest of the book (chapters 10-12 are one unit) in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia (10:1). To understand this, we need some historical background. In the first year of his reign, Cyrus issued his decree for the Israelites to return to Jerusalem, if they wished (see Ezra 1:1-3). In the seventh month of the first year, the Israelites (some 42,360; see Ezra 2:64) offered a burnt offering (Ezra 3:1-3). In the second year, they finished the foundation of the temple (Ezra 3:8-13). Some time later, the work of the building of the temple ceased due to opposition (Ezra 4:4-5, 21, 23-24). This continued for fourteen years. It was, therefore, during this time of opposition, when Daniel received bad news from Jerusalem, that Daniel prayed. We see here his interest in and love for the work of the Lord, a concern shared later by Nehemiah (see Neh. 1:2-4). So concerned was Daniel that he fasted, prayed and mourned for three weeks (10:2-3).

In the response to Daniel, which involved the coming of a heavenly messenger, we see the spiritual dimension behind historical events (see Ephesians 6:12). The heavenly messenger was terrifying. (Witness the reaction of Daniel’s companions [10:7] and of Daniel himself [10:8-11, 15-17]). Some understand the messenger to be Christ Himself (see parallels in Revelation 1:12-16 and Revelation 10:1-11). However, that interpretation is not necessary, and the exegete is free to view the messenger as another heavenly figure. The messenger also speaks of the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” (a demonic power influencing the Persian king’s opposition to the people of God) and Michael, “one of the chief princes” (10:13). We know from other passages that Michael is an archangel (see 10:21, 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:9). Daniel prayed for three weeks (twenty-one days), during which time “the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood” the heavenly messenger (10:13). The verb “withstood” means literally, “was standing before me” (and the context indicates opposition). Michael came to help the heavenly messenger, who remained with the kings of Persia. The messenger’s words strengthen Daniel, and he (the messenger) returns to fight with the king of Persia (10:20).

Chapter 11 is a long, detailed history of the various kings of Persia (11:2), Greece (11:3) and the kings of the south and north (Syria and Egypt). Everything was future from Daniel’s perspective, although all these kings are in the past from our perspective. The fourth king of 11:2 is Xerxes, the king in the book of Esther. Verses 4-20 describe the struggle for power between the kings of the north, who are the Syrians (Seleucids), and the kings of the south, who are the Egyptians (Ptolemies), with Israel (“the glorious land,” v. 16) a buffer state between them. In verse 2, the focus changes to Antiochus IV Epiphanes (d. 164 BC), who was a wicked king of Syria and an outstanding Old Testament type of the Antichrist. Antiochus was a deceiver, arrogant, blasphemous, and a persecutor of God’s people. His horrible cruelties are described in the non-canonical, apocryphal book of I of II Maccabees (see 11:28, 30-31, 33, etc.; and compare Daniel 7:21, 25; 8:23-25; II Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 13:11-17). The comfort of chapter 11 is the divine restriction placed upon Antiochus, and, therefore, on the Antichrist, whom he foreshadows (11:27, 29, 35-36).

Daniel 12 concerns “the time of the end” (see 11:40; 12:1, 7, 10-12; Matthew 24:15-22; Revelation 13). There will be great, unparalleled tribulation, and deliverance (salvation ultimately in the resurrection of the body) for God’s elect (see 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 13:8, 17:8, 20:12, 15). In Daniel 12:2-3 we have an outstanding example of the saints’ hope for the resurrection of the body (see also Psalm 16:9-11; Job 19:25-27; John 5:29, 11:23-24) and of the glory of heaven (see Matt. 13:43). This is assurance to Daniel that, despite the wickedness of Antichrist, God’s people will be preserved.

After receiving these prophecies, Daniel is told to “shut up the words, and seal the book” (12:4). To seal means to preserve the book. That is because these prophecies concern the “time of the end.” As we get closer to that day, the church will understand these things more clearly. Finally, Daniel sees two angelic, heavenly messengers on the banks of the river. One says to the other, “How long?” (12:6). One of the angelic figures swears an oath, a very serious oath, because he raises both hands and swears by the name of the eternal God (12:7; see Revelation 10:1-6). The answer to the question of “how long” is enigmatic: “for a time, times, and an half” (12:7). We have seen that phrase before, and it appears in different forms in the book of Revelation (see Daniel 7:25; Revelation 12:6, 14; 13:5). The difference between Daniel 12:7 and Revelation 10:6 is that in the latter “time shall be no more,” but in former a long time is envisaged, because from Daniel’s perspective these things are in the distant future. In our day, they are much closer.

Daniel does not understand (12:8), but the Lord refuses to satisfy his curiosity: “Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed to the time of the end” (12:9). The answer does not concern Daniel, so he is not permitted to know. A general answer must suffice: God will preserve His people, and the wicked shall perish (12:10). The final words of Daniel 12 are very difficult: 1290 days and 1335 days. Although the exact meaning of these numbers is very difficult to determine, the general idea is clear: the days of the Antichrist are numbered. This is the period of time during which Antichrist will stop the true worship of God and substitute for it a devilish counterfeit. 1290 days are slightly longer than 3½ years (1260 days), and 1335 days are 45 days longer than that. While the exact meaning of these days is difficult to decipher, we do know this: God promises a blessing to the one who endures to the end of Antichrist’s reign.

The last verse is touching: Daniel is dismissed. His work as prophet is finished. God promises him “rest” and a portion (“thy lot”) in God’s kingdom, in which will stand on the Last Day  (see Psalm 16:5-6; Eph. 1:11, 18; Col. 1:12, 3:24; I Peter 1:4; Rev. 21:7). Happy are we, if we have such a portion!