Whenever I write on topics related to end times, I seem to consistently strike a nerve with various readers. In God’s kindness, I hope some of that nerve striking is good for us. We should constantly be evaluating our understanding of scripture and asking God, through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring us greater and greater knowledge and depth on these topics. Particularly as it pertains to our Eschatology (study of end times) I believe Christians ought to have a great humility about them in terms of their doctrinal beliefs. There is a wide variety of scholarship and great theological work by the most respected men and women of our rich Christian heritage that leans into each of the major camps of eschatological beliefs. As I’ve noted before some of my heroes were post-millennialists or amillennialists (John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge), others were pre-millennialists such as DL Moody. While our theology of how end times will play out is important and has very real world day to day implications and applications, it is not a hill to die on, or to divide over as Christians striving for unity in the midst of a highly divided time.
With that introduction I would like to make the case for a Preterist reading of Daniel 7. This passage is one of the more often cited passages for the futurist premillennial view. In this passage we are introduced to Daniel’s “little horn,” a figure in world history who most have identified as an anti-Christ figure who will come towards the end of world history. I am well versed in that theology, and I do not deny that it is at least possible that the futuristic reading of Daniel 7 is the correct reading. One day – we will all know for certain. Until then, let’s study and attempt to show ourselves as, “one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15).”
Daniel 7 is a vision that God gave the prophet Daniel. There are overlaps of this chapter with earlier chapters of Daniel’s book. Daniel sees a vision of four Earthly empires symbolized by four different creatures. We read:
1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter. 2 Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. 5 And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ 6 After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. 7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.Daniel 7:1-7 (ESV)
Most interpreters of this passage are startled by Daniel’s accuracy in predicting the future (It is worth noting that the next chapter, Daniel 8, is so pinpoint accurate on its prophecies of world history that atheist scholars refuse to believe it was written before the events actually unfolded, despite clear and compelling evidence the other way). The first kingdom is represented by a lion with eagle’s wings. This is the Babylonian empire. We are told that this had its greatness stripped from it and the mind of a man was given to it. This is a recognition of the events of Daniel 4 where Nebuchadnezzar is humiliated. The second empire is represented by a bear with three ribs in its mouth. This is the Medio-Persian empire which we also read of in the book of Daniel). The third animal was a leopard, with four wings of a bird. This is a reference to the kingdom of Alexandar the Great who conquered most of the world with the speed of a leopard. Finally, the fourth empire is a terrifying beast with great iron teeth and ten horns. This is a representation of the great Roman empire which had 10 kings who ruled from Julius Ceasar to the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. it is important to note, that it was during the reign of these 10 kings of the Roman empire, when the messiah would come (according to this passage), which is exactly as world history played out. So far, so good.
So, we have “ten horns” or ten kings of the Roman empire. We then come to the infamous “little horn” of verse 8. We are told a “little horn” rises up from among the 10 horns. There is good evidence to suggest that what the writer intended with his language was that the little horn was one of the 10 horns. I suggests the little horn was Emperor Nero, the sixth of the 10 emperors in world history. The text tells us in verse 8 that “three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots” by this little horn. And we know again from world history that three emperors were assassinated in order for Nero to become emperor. Again, what we find is that Daniel’s prophecies are pinpoint accurate to what actually happened in world history.
Verses 9 and 10 are intriguing as they clearly describe a vision fo God. We must ask is this describing Jesus and his reign or the full trinity. I suppose on some level it does not matter all that much, however we certainly see language of Jesus being mentioned, “his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool.” It is very reminiscent of other visions of the throne room of God such as Isaiah 6.
In verse 11 the little horn is killed after speaking great things. We know from history that Nero was pompous and spoke terrible tremendously wicked things. He was a major persecutor of the early church who was known for using live Christians as torches for his parties at night. He would blame Christians for tremendous acts of evil that he indeed was the cause of. Underneath Nero, the Christian Church was unbelievably persecuted. Later on in verse 25, when Daniel is told the meaning of this vision we are told of this little horn that, “He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.” Quite literally, Nero’s persecution of Christians lasted three and a half years in actual human history (time, times, and half a time).
Nero eventually committed suicide the Roman empire was severely weakened after his death. It was right around this time that the temple was destroyed, a massively important Biblical moment that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24 during his Olivet Discourse. The destruction of the temple was not only a horrific scene (as described in vividly horrifying detail by the historian Josephus), but was also a true end of an era of Judaism where God quite literally ended any possibility of continual sacrifices being made at the temple. As Christians, we know that no sacrifices are needed any longer, because Jesus, the perfect spotless lamb was sacrificed on our behalf.
Now the good stuff of verses 13-14. We see that the “Son of Man” comes to the “Ancient of Days” and was given dominion and a kingdom and peoples and nations come to him. We see that this “Son of Man” has an everlasting Kingdom that will never pass away! This is the Kingdom of God that was planted by Jesus Christ. He is the Son of Man. And just as Daniel predicted long ago, his Kingdom was planted right in the midst of those ten kings, and shortly after that “little horn” the destruction of the temple symbolized the end of the Jewish age, and the explosive growth of the Kingdom of God primarily through His Church. When verse 12 says, “their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged,” I believe that is a reference to the reality that as Christ’s kingdom grows (as it has since its inception, and will continue to until Christ returns in the flesh), other Earthly government will continue to rule, yet their authority is laughable compared to the authority of Christ and His Kingdom. Remember Jesus said in the Great Commission, “All authority in heaven and Earth has been given to me.” Whether Earthly governments know it or not, they are under the authority of Jesus.
I am going to spend much less space on verses 15-28 because with the tools I just gave you above, I believe you will see this is precisely the interpretation that is given to Daniel. Once challenge to the preterist view that I have laid out above is verse 24 which reads that the “little horn” will come “after” the ten little horns. This indeed is problematic as I have shown above, I believe the little horn was Nero, who was one of the ten horns. However, in line with what I have said before, it is entirely possible that verse 24 has the meaning, “after the three kings” mentioned at the end of the verse. Therefore, just as I demonstrated above, the little horn is one of the ten horns, and comes after the three he assassinated to assume the throne. Quite literally, that is what Nero did in history.
Alright – that’s my interpretation. And I recognize that some see a futuristic reading of this verse that ties the “little horn” to a future antichrist who will come. And again, I confess, that is entirely possible. However I for one am continually blown away by the pinpoint accuracy of a historic reading of prophecies in Scripture. A preterist view of Daniel 7 does not in any way negate the power of this chapter, in fact in my opinion it adds a level of wonder and awe at the God of this vision that controls history and has revealed history in advance to humanity. Make no doubt, there are prophecies still unfulfilled (such as Christ’s return in the flesh) which we should eagerly anticipate. If God has been so clearly accurate in the prophecies of the past as history has been revealed, we can be confident and certain that he will be just as accurate in his remaining prophetic promises.