Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gleanings from Daniel [14]

lion Excursus:  Premillennialism and Daniel 7

Daniel chapter 7 is a unique portion of Scripture, one that generates disagreement between eschatological camps as to how we are to understand and interpret the vision. Because of this disagreement, there is a necessity to pause and consider how one does interpret the chapter.

The chapter is a prophetic vision the prophet Daniel had of four terrible beasts that rise out of the sea and then of an eternal Kingdom that replaces them. The four beasts represent four kingdoms that rose to power upon the earth: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and then Rome. The final beast representing Rome is described with 10 horns on its head, with one of those horns being pictured as a talking, blasphemous entity that overthrows three of the other horns. While this blasphemous horn is said to be persecuting the saints and waging war upon the earth, the Son of Man appears, who judges and condemns the “little horn” and then establishes his Kingdom.

The vision is certainly odd as it contains bizarre beasts and even a talking horn. But how are we to understand the details of the vision? If we as students of Scripture wish to handle the biblical text accurately then it is important to grapple with how this vision is to be understood. One possible question to ask is how we are to treat these images? Because the vision contains these odd animals, do we need to pour special meaning upon the text in order to interpret it? In other words, does the prophetic nature of the text insist that we spiritualize Daniel’s prophecy? Clearly symbolic language is present in the chapter, but the symbolism pictures real things, in this case, real, historical kingdoms. A person can go to a local library or even do an Internet search and research these kingdoms. The symbolic imagery should not diminish the historical reality of the prophecy, and thus a literal handling of the meaning behind the symbolic images.

Daniel is giving a prophecy of future events that deal with the “latter days,” so automatically eschatological dimensions are attached to this chapter. Among the two major systems of amillennialism and postmillennialism, the concept of “eschatology” is closely tied to the first coming of Christ and what is understood as the fulfillment of Daniel 7:14 where it is recorded about the Son of Man receiving a Kingdom from the Ancient of Days. Jesus death and Resurrection, according to standard amillennial and postmillennial perspectives, was the granting of this Kingdom to Him by the Father and so this Kingdom is now established as the Church. This messianic figure is without a doubt the Lord Jesus, but again, does the eschatological themes of the chapter demand we spiritualize what Daniel saw and apply the founding of the NT Church to the fulfillment of the Kingdom as outlined in Daniel 7?

I don’t believe anything within the language of Daniel 7 demands I employ a hermeneutic that spiritualizes the text in a way that leads me away from understanding the prophecy to be speaking of real, literal historical kingdoms. Nor do I believe later NT revelation about the Church should cause me to re-interpret the passage according a “Christological” method that changes the subjects of the vision to mean only the NT Church. If I am to be faithful to what Daniel records, the only way to take seriously the content of the vision is to read it as prophecy addressing historical and literal events. That approach would disqualify the interpretations of this chapter according amillennial and postmillennial constructs, and leaving the premillennial perspective as the only one which provides an exegetically viable interpretation of the passage. Those are challenging words, but I say that for five specific reasons as outlined in Daniel 7:

1) God’s Kingdom follows the kingdoms of men. As I noted, both amillennialists and postmillennialists believe Christ’s Kingdom has been established at His first coming after the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and then Ascension to the Father. This Kingdom, or “millennium,” is happening now, though for postmillennialists, its establishment in the world is a gradual conquering of all the earthly kingdoms. This would mean, then, that the Kingdom of the Son of Man appears contemporaneously with the fourth beast, the Roman Empire, and eventually the 10 kingdoms pictured by the 10 horns.

However, in this vision, as well as the dream in Daniel 2, the Kingdom of God comes in to destroy all the beasts, especially the latter 10 kingdoms led by the one blasphemous horn. There isn’t any indication of the Kingdom of God existing contemporaneously with the fourth kingdom of the Roman Empire as prophesied by Daniel. Neither is there any hint of a gradual growth of God’s Kingdom as postmillennialism teaches. When the Kingdom of God comes, it comes violently to overthrow those four kingdoms. Hence, it comes AFTER them.

2) The ten kingdoms have yet to appear in history. If the four beasts each represented four real, historical kingdoms, and the characteristics of each beast represented the historical aspects to those real kingdoms, it is only exegetically sound to conclude those 10 horns represent 10 real, historical kingdoms. Some suggest these 10 kingdoms came one after the other over time. Yet these kingdoms exist together at once here in Daniel’s vision and nothing like them or the events associated with them have appeared in history.

3) God’s Kingdom follows the appearance of the Messiah who destroys the anti-Christ. The image of the talking horn is the first major revelation about a “latter days” anti-Christ, a real, historical person who will wage war upon the earth and persecute God’s people. He is a person, not an anti-Christ philosophy or government. Later, NT revelation provides us similar details to confirm his identification as a real person. For example, Revelation 13:1 ff. is almost a complete replication of Daniel 7. Both amillennialists and postmillennialists have identified this figure with a number of individuals including Antiochus, Nero, or some Roman pope. Paul, however, places His appearing toward the Return of Christ which is an eschatological event (2 Thessalonians 2) and when Christ, the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision appears, this anti-Christ figure is destroyed.

4) Christ’s Coming is in victory on a global scale. Christ’s coming in Daniel 7 is one of power and glory. There is absolute victory over totally vanquished foes. There is no hint anywhere in Daniel’s prophecy of a slow, gradual growing of the Kingdom of God. It catastrophically defeats all the kingdoms of men entirely and replaces them completely with Christ’s kingdom.

5) There is a restoration of the Jews. Generally, most amillennialists and postmillennialists hold to the idea that Israel was the OT “church”, and with the coming of the NT “church,” the Jews are no longer to be restored as a distinct, national entity, but are to be absorbed into the Church.

Daniel defines them as “the saints” – those set apart, the people of God.  This is not to say the NT Christians are not considered “saints” but rather, to Daniel, he would understand this specific group of “saints” to be his people currently in captivity and to be eventually returned to the land. The expression “Saints of the Most High” is use throughout the OT Scriptures, for instance, Exodus 19:6. These “saints” are the people of Israel, and never is the word intended to be a secret code for the NT church. Thus, in Daniel’s vision, these saints can be none other than Israel who will inherit this coming Kingdom of the Son of Man.



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