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Two Frightening Eras ahead for God’s People
(Chapter 8 verses 1-27)
Daniel chapter 8 verses 19-22
He said: “I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end. The two-horned ram that you saw represents the kings of Media and Persia. The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes is the first king. The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power.
At the time Daniel received his vision from God, the people of Judah were exiles in Babylon, because of their persistent indifference to God and to his Word. God’s prophets had foretold that God would bring a remnant of his people back from exile and permit them to resettle in the Promised Land.
Now the angel explained to Daniel that after the Jewish exiles returned to their ancient homeland, conditions would develop which would once again call God’s anger down upon them. As has been pointed out, the immediate fulfillment of this prophecy came in the years 175–164 B.C., when Antiochus Epiphanes tyrannized the Jewish people. Daniel’s vision points out that this was a judgment of God, a “time of wrath.”
But what Daniel could not see, what only God’s messenger could reveal, was that the unpleasant details of this more immediate future were symbolic of another, much later, period of history. In other words, two frightening eras were ahead for God’s people. Gabriel’s statement that a time of God’s wrath lay ahead refers also to another period when God would judge the unfaithfulness of his people by allowing an enemy to wreak havoc on the church. And the damage this second enemy will cause will be even greater than that caused by Antiochus. The second enemy, typified by Antiochus, is the Antichrist.
He identifies the two-horned ram with the Medo-Persian Empire. The goat with the horn between its eyes is the Greek Empire. Such explicit political references are rare in the Bible. The “first king” is Alexander, appropriately named not because he was the first king Greece had but because he was the first ruler of what we know as the Greek Empire. The four kingdoms into which Alexander’s empire would be divided after his death would not be as powerful as Alexander’s had been. It was not to be expected that his successors could match his record.
Daniel chapter 8 verses 23-26
“In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue, will arise. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy the mighty men and the holy people. He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power.
“The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.”
The most significant and most frightening part of Daniel’s vision was the last part. Daniel saw a single horn growing out of one of the four horns, starting small but growing in power, rebelling against God and attacking God’s people. As indicated earlier, the language of the vision often finds fulfillment in Antiochus Epiphanes. At times, however, the language of the vision goes beyond Antiochus, and we must look for a second frightening era in history.
The angel Gabriel predicted that this wicked king would arise as a judgment of God at a time “when rebels have become completely wicked.” It isn’t immediately clear who the rebels are to whom Gabriel referred. The term may refer to the people in Israel at Antiochus’ time, who had invited judgment on themselves by their indifference to God’s will. Or “rebels” may be the oppressors themselves. But so much is clear: when the power of evil has run rampant to such a degree that a merciful God will no longer tolerate it, he will step in with a judgment so awful that merely seeing a vision of it actually made Daniel ill for several days.
Gabriel’s description of Antiochus as a little horn may strike a familiar chord. In chapter 7 of his book, Daniel used a little horn to symbolize the Antichrist. The more we examine the record of the two, the better we realize that Antiochus is actually a type of Antichrist. Reviewing Antiochus’ record alerts us to the sort of actions we can expect from the Antichrist.
The powerful ruler who would unleash persecution on God’s people is described as “a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue,” a cruel and merciless ruler who is at the same time cunning. These character traits find their primary fulfillment in Antiochus, but point beyond him to the Antichrist.
The angel described to Daniel not only the character of the enemy but also the work he would do to harm God’s people. He would “become very strong, but not by his own power.” A power beyond that of human beings, a power instigated by Satan and permitted by God will allow this man to achieve what he otherwise could not have done.
“He will cause astounding devastation,” disaster previously unheard of. “He will destroy the mighty men,” removing powerful leaders who oppose him and try to block his rise to power. The words “He will cause deceit to prosper” make us think, first of all, of the treachery Antiochus showed in his treatment of the Jews. He pretended to be interested in bringing them peace, but he brought tyranny and heartache instead. The words here make us think also of Saint Paul’s description of the Antichrist, whose coming “will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing” (2nd Thessalonians chapter 2 verses 9-10).
“He will . . . take his stand against the Prince of princes,” against God himself. Antiochus had nothing but disdain for the God of Israel. In a similar way, the Antichrist publicly takes a stand against the God who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. Think of the blasphemy in this official statement of the Roman Catholic Church:
“If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in God’s mercy, which remits sin for Christ’s sake, or that it is this trust alone which justifies us, let him be damned.” (Council of Trent, Session VI, Canon 12)
The angel also showed to Daniel what the end of this dangerous enemy would be: “He will be destroyed, but not by human power.” God will cut short the activity of this dangerous enemy. Again, history has shown us the fulfillment of that prophecy as it applies to Antiochus. After years of apparent success in persecuting the people of God, he died suddenly in 164 B.C. The first book of Maccabees reports that after suffering military defeats, he heard some bad news from home and died in grief and shame. His power to harm God’s people was cut short by God. Gabriel’s prediction applies also to the Antichrist, the other formidable enemy of God and his people. He too will be destroyed, but not by human power. Saint Paul teaches us that “the Lord Jesus will overthrow [him] with the breath of his mouth and destroy [him] by the splendor of his coming” (2nd Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 8).
The angel’s closing words offered encouragement to Daniel and gave him a command. “The vision . . . is true.” Daniel didn’t doubt the revelation granted him, but later generations of Jews who would suffer under Antiochus’ persecution needed this encouragement. Similarly, Christians whose faith is attacked by the teachings of the Antichrist need the instruction and the comfort Daniel’s vision contains.
For that reason Gabriel commanded Daniel, “Seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.” Since the vision Daniel had seen spoke about events that would occur at some future time known only to God, Daniel was to pass on the message of his vision not only by word of mouth, but he was to preserve the document (“seal up the vision”), undoubtedly a scroll on which he had recorded his vision, so it would be available to future generations.
Daniel chapter 8 verse 27
I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.
Daniel was emotionally drained by his vision. It was a terrifying thing God had permitted him to see. He had been given only a glimpse into two frightening eras that lay ahead for God’s people, and that glimpse was enough to make him ill for several days.
This is not surprising. Daniel was aware of the responsibility that accompanied a special revelation from God. Of all the people on earth, he alone had been picked to receive a preview of what lay ahead for the world and especially for God’s people.
After recovering from his illness, Daniel returned to his work in the palace of King Belshazzar. The frightening vision he had received was still beyond his understanding. It would become clearer as the prophecy was fulfilled. Many of the things Daniel saw only in vision we have seen happen in history. And the future will make others clearer still.
Even though he did not understand what God had told him as well as he would have liked, Daniel recorded and preserved the message. Because he and the rest of the Old Testament prophets carefully preserved the revelation God transmitted to them, you and I can hear the voice of God in the Scriptures of the Old Testament today. We need to hear that voice. We need to be warned of the enemies that will attack God’s church down to the very end of time. And we need to be reassured, as Daniel was, that no matter who the enemy is who rises against God and his church, he will fail. “He will be destroyed, but not by human power” (verse 25).
The End of Part 8.2