The idea of time travel can produce some intriguing science fiction. Storytellers love to speculate on what would happen if a person from the past somehow arrived to the future. How would they react to the way the world had changed. If they were to take what they learned from experiencing the future back to the past, how would they use it? How could a glimpse into the future affect the present? The prophecies recorded in the Bible give us a glimpse into the future. We can know the trajectory that the world is on, and that enables us to live in light of that future.
In the next few posts, we will study Daniel’s final recorded vision, and some of what is recorded there is now part of our past, but, within the prophecy, there are future events still on our horizon. What will we do with the knowledge of what is to come, and how will we use it to affect our present?
This is a good time to really consider all that God has shown us in this amazing book. If you haven’t already done so, prayerfully consider how this understanding changes the way you think about the world and how you live in it.
God’s Word is trustworthy. As we will see when we explore the beginning of Daniel’s vision, the events that the angel foretold have come to pass with astonishing accuracy. In fact, these visions are so accurate that some have suggested that they must have been written after the events happened. But we worship a Big God, who holds the future in his hand and can choose to tell us as much or as little of what will come as he desires. He has chosen to give Daniel and the Jewish people a warning so they will know what’s coming. It could not have been easy to hear.
Expected events until Alexander’s empire is divided (verses 2-4)
2 “Now then, I tell you the truth: Three more kings will arise in Persia, and then a fourth, who will be far richer than all the others. When he has gained power by his wealth, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece. 3 Then a mighty king will arise, who will rule with great power and do as he pleases. 4 After he has arisen, his empire will be broken up and parceled out toward the four winds of heaven. It will not go to his descendants, nor will it have the power he exercised, because his empire will be uprooted and given to others.”
The angel begins his long revelation of what is going to happen by saying that four Persian kings would follow Cyrus, and the fourth would have vast wealth. Scholars are agreed that this fourth king is Xerxes I (486-465 B.C.), whose successful invasion of Greece stirred the desire among the Greeks for vengeance and plunder. The Hebrew text of verse 2 is better understood to mean Xerxes “will arouse everyone, that is, the kingdom of Greece” (NET Bible Notes; CEB and Collins agree).
There is also a consensus that Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) is the “mighty king” (verse 3) who leads the Greek retaliation only to have his kingdom fall into four pieces at his death (verse 4). The angel has no interest in two of those four kingdoms, but he next describes the coming development of the two kingdoms who will bracket Palestine geographically.
Expected developments in Egypt and Syria (verses 5-20)
Miller explains one purpose of this section: “Verses 5-20 comprise a history of the ongoing conflicts between two divisions of the Greek Empire, the Ptolemaic (Egyptian) and the Seleucid (Syrian), from the death of Alexander (323 B.C.) until the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175163 B.C.).” Both of these groups took turns dominating Palestine, and both mistreated the Jews.
Obviously, the angel does not provide names of these future kingdoms or their rulers; such names would have meant nothing to Daniel. But, the angel provides Daniel with so many details that historians have been able to easily reconstruct who was involved in the prophecies based on ancient historical records. Chisholm presents the following table:
|Verse||King of the South (Ptolemaic)||King of the North (Seleucid)|
|5||Ptolemy I (322-285 B.C.)||Seleucus I (312-280 B.C.)|
|6||Ptolemy II (285-246)||Antiochus II (262-246)|
|7–9||Ptolemy III (246-221)||Seleucus II (246-226)|
|10||Seleucus III (226-223)
Antiochus III (223-127)
|11-19||Antiochus III (223-127)|
|(11-12)||Ptolemy IV (221-203)||Antiochus III (223-127)|
|(14-17)||Ptolemy V (203-180)||Antiochus III (223-127)|
|20||Seleucus IV (187-175)|
We recall that Daniel received the vision and the angelic prophecies in 536/535 B.C., the third year of Cyrus king of Persia (Dan. 10:1). Thus, in this group of prophecies alone, the predictions span 360 years. Only God is capable of revealing such future events and bringing them to pass. The Bible consistently demonstrates that God is the master of human history and intervenes in it in such a way as to dictate whatever outcomes he chooses. When you think about it, every act of God is supernatural. Miracles are his ordinary actions.
But some scholars reject the whole idea of predictive prophecy, just as they are dismissive of supernatural acts (such as the resurrection of Jesus). Goldingay says: “What assumptions should we bring to [Daniel] regarding the nature of the stories and the origin of the visions? Critical scholarship has sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly approached the visions with the [initial] conviction that they cannot be actual prophecies of events to take place long after the seer’s day, because prophecy of that kind is impossible.”
Goldingay calls the prophecies of chapter 11 “quasi-prophecies,” meaning that there was no angelic revelation, just a man (falsely) calling himself Daniel and writing about events that have already happened in such a way as to present them as prophecies. We reject that view, believing the statement of the angel that his words are “the truth” (Dan. 11:2); that is our conviction!
We do not stand at the same spot in history with Daniel. We look back at the prophecies in verses 5-20 and see that they defined over three centuries of rapid change with amazing precision. That gives us confidence that we can rely on everything Daniel records about the end times. Only God can reliably tell us what is to come.
An evil enemy: The rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.)
21 “He will be succeeded by a contemptible person who has not been given the honor of royalty. He will invade the kingdom when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue. 22 Then an overwhelming army will be swept away before him; both it and a prince of the covenant will be destroyed. 23 After coming to an agreement with him, he will act deceitfully, and with only a few people he will rise to power. 24 When the richest provinces feel secure, he will invade them and will achieve what neither his fathers nor his forefathers did. He will distribute plunder, loot and wealth among his followers. He will plot the overthrow of fortresses — but only for a time.
25 “With a large army he will stir up his strength and courage against the king of the South. The king of the South will wage war with a large and very powerful army, but he will not be able to stand because of the plots devised against him. 26 Those who eat from the king’s provisions will try to destroy him; his army will be swept away, and many will fall in battle. 27 The two kings, with their hearts bent on evil, will sit at the same table and lie to each other, but to no avail, because an end will still come at the appointed time. 28 The king of the North will return to his own country with great wealth, but his heart will be set against the holy covenant. He will take action against it and then return to his own country.”
Shakespeare tells us, “What’s past is prologue.” That is certainly true in relation to Antiochus IV Epiphanes as a pattern for the far more important Antichrist to come. In this section we will constantly wonder how much may indirectly apply to the one to come who will be more evil than any other ruler.
The angel’s initial description of Antiochus IV Epiphanes declares him to be “a contemptible person who has not been given the honor of royalty” (verse 21). The phrase “contemptible person” is a participle suggesting that people would continually find him despicable in his behavior. The throne rightfully belonged to another, but Antiochus cleverly seized it.
Verses 22-23 are typical for Antiochus IV; he first defeated the “overwhelming army,” made a covenant (or treaty) with his defeated Egyptian enemy, and then played off factions in Egypt by breaking the covenant. Like the Antichrist, deceit and treachery made his covenants worthless.
The war between Antiochus IV and Ptolemy VI (“the king of the South”), first mentioned in verse 22, is further described in verses 25-27, but the details need not concern us. At verse 28 we finally arrive at the crux of the matter. After being thwarted in his attempt to take Egypt, Antiochus IV began his brutal persecution of the Jews during his return march to Syria. Miller explains that, upon finding an insurrection in progress in Jerusalem, “He put down the rebellion, massacring eighty thousand men, women, and children … and then looted the temple with the help of the evil high priest Menelaus.” Remember that these horrible actions suggest the type of action the Antichrist will take in the years just prior to the Messiah’s return, years that still lie in our future. The continued career of Antiochus IV and the evil actions by the Antichrist will be the subject of the next section.
Because we live in a time and place far removed from Daniel’s day, it can be easy to merely admire the exactness of the prophecy while forgetting that Daniel’s people were receiving word of times yet to come. Imagine how it would have felt to know that this particular future awaited you and future generations of your family. Although much of what has been discussed has already happened, we are about to catch a glimpse of a future that may affect those alive today, or will certainly affect those who come later.
Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Collins, Daniel, 363.
 Miller, Daniel, 292-3.
 Chisholm, Handbook of the Prophets, 320.
 Miller, Daniel, 292-7.
 Wood, Daniel, 283–293.
 Goldingay, Daniel, xxxix.
 Goldingay, Daniel, 282.
 The Tempest, Act II, Scene I.
 Miller, Daniel, 300.