Book Review: Tremper Longman III, How to Read Daniel

Longman III, Tremper. How to Read Daniel. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 189 pp. Pb; $20.  Link to IVP Academic

Tremper Longman has previous published five volumes in the How to Read series (on Psalms, Proverbs, Genesis, Exodus, and Job [with John Walton]). In this series, Longman intentionally targets the lay person, pastor and seminarian rather than an academic audience. Like the previous volumes in this series, Longman provides a clear introduction to this fascinating but sometimes frustrating prophetic book.

Longman, How to Read DanielIn the first part Longman deals with some introductory issues in three chapters. In the first chapter he deals with the genre, language and structure of the book of Daniel. Daniel is composed of a series of “court tales” (Dan 1-6) and apocalyptic visions (Dan 7-12). Longman uses the genre to divide the book into two units, although he does consider using the use of Aramaic in chapters 2-7 and the clear chiastic pattern as a way to structure the book.

Second, he sets the book of Daniel into the historical context of the Babylonian exile. He briefly treats a historical problem for the historicity of Daniel, the identity of Darius the Mede. Not surprisingly Longman accepts an early date for the book. Since the prophecy in Daniel 11 is so detailed many scholars consider it an example of prophecy after the fact, a common feature in apocalyptic literature. Since Longman believes God often predicts the future, he sees no reason to bracket out his faith when he interprets Daniel 11. If the prophecy is after the fact, then “these texts traffic in deception” (p. 33).

Third, Longman sketches a brief theology of the book by tracing the primary theme of God’s control of the events of history (which guarantee his ultimate victory). This is true despite present difficulties, as illustrated in the court tales. This theme of God’s sovereign control of the events of history should be comforting to those enduring oppression. A secondary theme in Daniel is that God’s people can survive and thrive in a toxic culture. While the theme is found throughout the book, Longman illustrates this theme with the testimony of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when Nebuchadnezzar demands they demonstrate their loyalty to him or die in the fiery furnace. These two themes are developed further in the final two chapters of the book.

The second part of the book devotes a chapter to each of Daniel’s chapters with the exception of last vision (Daniel 10:1-12:4) and 12:5-13 (the conclusion to the book). This is a light commentary on major sections of the English text. Longman offers insight into key details when necessary, but this is an introduction not an exposition of the text. For controversial issues, Longman usually does not take a side. For the empires represented by the four metals, he says “it does not really matter which kingdoms are represented by these metals” (69). When he summarized the vision of four beats in Daniel 7, he does not consider the possibility the arrogant little horn represents Antiochus IV Epiphanes (although the contemptible person in 11:21-35 is Antiochus).

The final part of the book concerns the application of Daniel for the twenty-first century Christian. These final two chapters are more detailed expansions of the two themes he introduced in chapter 3. First, Longman returns to Daniel 1-6 and makes several suggestions for living in a toxic culture. Daniel and his friends engage with culture and provide a model for navigating how Christians can engage contemporary culture. Second, the visions of Daniel 7-12 offer comfort in God’s ultimate victory. Longman says Daniel 7-12 gives readers “the long view to help them live with confidence in a troubled world” (166). Here Longman refers to Jesus’s own apocalyptic discourse which cites the book of Daniel. This chapter also relates the book of Daniel to Revelation. Daniel certainly looks forward to God’s intervention in history to rescue his people, but Longman is clear: Daniel’s visions do “not have an interest in giving us information that will allow us to predict when that great even will happen” (140). Although he briefly mentions Hal Lindsey and Harold Camping (along with the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary) as using Daniel and Revelation to predict the return of Christ (or interpret current events), he refrains from bashing them unfairly and he does not relate these attempts to dispensationalism. He concludes, “perhaps the saddest consequence of the obsession with Daniel as a tool to reconstruct an apocalyptic timetable is that we often miss the important message the book has for us today in the twenty-first century” (142).

Each chapter concludes with several discussion questions which could be used in the context of a small group Bible study or classroom. An annotated commentary list appears as an appendix including Goldingay (WBC), House (TOTC), Longman (NIVAC), Lucas (AOTC), Miller (NAC), Widder (SOG), and E. J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel (Banner of Truth, 1949). Occasional endnotes point interested readers to other literature.

Conclusion. Like Longman’s other How to Read books, How to Read Daniel succeeds in introducing the reader to the book by providing the background necessary to better understand Daniel. Longman’s careful explanations and judicious application of the text to contemporary issues will appeal to lay Christians who want to dig deeper into Daniel.

NB: There is a minor typographical error on page 24, Nebuchadnezzar’s reigns until 662 BC; this ought to be 562 (it is correct in the next paragraph). On page 128, Antiochus Epiphanes IV ought to read Antiochus IV Epiphanes (it is correct elsewhere in the text).

Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Daniel 11:36-12:3 – The Willful King

“The Antichrist interpretation of these verses is exegetically witless and religiously worthless.” (Hartman and Di Lella, Daniel, 303).

For many interpreters, Daniel 11:36-45 shifts away from Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the persecutions which lead to the Maccabean Revolt to a future, ultimate persecutions by an ultimate enemy of God, sometimes called the antichrist. Those who take a second century view of Daniel take the entire chapter as referring to Antiochus. Seow, for example, considers this a “recapitulation” of Antiochus’ offenses, with some general predictions which are only accurate in the most general sense, i.e. Antiochus will die (Daniel, 182).

Daniel 11:36-40 appears to say Antiochus will launch a new attack against the Ptolemaic Egypt, Judea will suffer greatly although Moab, Edom, and Ammon will be spared. Antiochus will be successful in plundering all of North Africa, including Egypt, Lydia and Ethiopia. As he is waging a successful war in the south, he will hear a rumor from the north, likely from his Syrian base, and return there. He will, however, make camp between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean Sea, where he will be killed.

Who Is the Antichrist?The problem with this reconstruction is that it never happened. Up until verse 36, reasonable connections may be drawn between historical events and the words of Daniel, but after 36 the connections become strained at best, or contradictory to the historical record at worst. Antiochus was not successful in his second invasion of Egypt, there is no record of a third invasion which was successful. He did not return home after hearing a rumor, but Rome told him to leave. He did not die in Judea at all, but in Persia after raiding a Temple in Elymas in 168 B.C.

This is why some read this as a shift from a historical survey to actual prophecy about “the last days.” Typically, the leader of this end-times rebellion is called antichrist, although Daniel never uses the word and is not a part of the vocabulary of apocalyptic until the Christian era. Daniel calls this person a willful king and describes his activities as defiant against God. This willful defiance is reminiscent of the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14.

Why should we begin to read Daniel as prophetic of the great end time conflict between humanity and God? It is difficult to harmonize Daniel 11:36-45 with events in the life of Antiochus. But as John Collins suggested, Daniel 11:36-45 may be a “deliberate polemical distortion” (Daniel, 386).

It is possible the writer of Daniel 11-12 begins making a prediction of events that have not yet occurred in his lifetime, but hopes they soon will (Towner, Daniel, 164, Montgomery, Daniel, 465). “The quasi-prophecy closes with an evaluative summary of Antiochus’s religious attitudes as king” (Goldingay, Daniel1, 304). Daniel 11 is expressing wishful thinking about how the current conflict might come to an end, but that prediction was mostly wrong. For example, the death of the “king” 11:45 takes place in Israel, but Antiochus died in Tabae, over a thousand miles from Israel. It is also possible the writer is generally right about the events he predicts, although not precisely so. Daniel got the “gist of things” right (Seow, Daniel, 185). The general idea that Antiochus would be killed I the near future is right, but the details are not correct.

But there are several indications the writer has shifted focus to future events in the passage. [NB: I am following Paul Tanner, “Daniel’s ‘King of the North’: Do We Owe Russia an Apology?” JETS 35 (1992):315-328. His commentary in the EEC series was released March 2020 but I have not had the chance to read his comments yet.] First, The subject of verse 36 is not referred to as the “king of the North” but only as “the king.” Normally in chapter 11 a qualifier such as “south” or “north” is included (except in vv. 2–3, which refer to the Persian kings, and verse 27, which refers to both the kings, clearly implied the north and south).

Second, in 11:21–35 Antiochus IV served in the role of the “king of the North,” as did the other Seleucid kings before him. In v. 40, however, “the king” is apparently in contention with both the “king of the North” and the “king of the South.” This argument assumes some exegesis on verse 40, noted below.

Third, 11:35 still anticipates the “end time,” but 11:40 indicates the “end time” has finally arrived. This is also anticipated in 10:14, in which the angelic visitor says the vision which Daniel saw concerns “the days yet future,” or the “latter days.” Those who hold to the Greek view see this as the end of Antiochus rather than “the end times” eschatologically.

Fourth, Daniel 12:1-3 begins with “Now at that time,” and refers to a “time of great distress” in 12:1 and the mention of the resurrection in 12:2 gives the whole unit an eschatological setting.

Fifth, A leap forward in time from Daniel 11:35 to 11:36 is consistent with other leaps in time throughout the chapter. For example, 11:2-3 cover 200+ years of Persian history without comment.

Sixth, the comment in Daniel 11:36 that the king “will exalt himself above every god” is not precisely true in regard to Antiochus. Antiochus exalted Zeus on the reverse side of his coinage.

Seventh, if the description of Antiochus found in Daniel 11 is an expansion of the previous prophecies in Daniel 2, 7 and 8, then the “final kingdom” is destroyed by the kingdom of God. Antiochus does not represent the last kingdom, rather, he is one of the last kings of the third kingdom. To a large extent, the activities of Antiochus III and IV are responsible for drawing Roman attention to the eastern regions, including Palestine. Antiochus’ kingdom was not replaced by the kingdom of God in any way, nor was the Maccabean revolt ultimately successful in establishing a real messianic kingdom. In fact, the rulers that follow the war are fairly corrupt high priest / kings who are nearly as evil as Jason and Menelaus were!

Is there any precedence for multiple fulfillment of prophecy?  Daniel 11 seems to predict in remarkable detail the general outline of history down to about 164 B.C. If it also looks beyond the Maccabean period, then there seems to be two (or more) “fulfillments” of the prophecy. This is analogous to several Old Testament prophecies which are literally fulfilled in the context of the prophet’s life, but also again at a later date, usually the ministry of Christ. A possible objection to these examples is that they assume the New Testament for the second fulfillment. For this reason, we might better speak in terms of “second application” of a prophecy.

In the case of the “sign of Immanuel” in Isaiah there is an immediate point of contact in the prophecy (a woman in Ahaz’ household will give birth, and before the child is a few years old, the kingdom of Damascus will fall), but also a distant fulfillment / application in the birth of Christ (Matthew 1: 22-23). The call of Isaiah included a prediction of futility. The people to whom Isaiah was sent would be “ever hearing, but never understanding.” This text is quoted in Matthew 13 by Jesus to explain why he taught in parables, a “second fulfillment / application” of the prophecy.

It seems appropriate to interpret Daniel 11:36-12:3 as referring to an ultimate, final eschatological persecution on a grand scale. Antiochus foreshadows a future persecution prior to God’s decisive action in history to restore a kingdom to God’s people.

Daniel 11:29-35 – The Fall of Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Antiochus’s second failed Egyptian campaign was followed by his persecution of the Jews (11:29-35). In 168 Antiochus made a second foray into Egypt with the intention of annexing it to his own kingdom. This time things were not to go as well as he had planned. His army was met by a delegation from the Roman senate led by Popilius Laenas. Popilius presents Antiochus with a letter from the Senate ordering him out of Egypt or face the wrath of Rome.

Antiochus IV EpiphanesAntiochus asked for time to consider the letter, so Popilius drew a circle around him on the ground and told him not to leave the circle until he made his decision. Humiliated, Antiochus was forced out of Egypt and he took his frustration out on Judea.

After his humiliation in Egypt, Antiochus learned of the uprising in Jerusalem caused by the competing high priests. Jason had picked this time to make his attempt to regain the office of High Priest based on a rumor which said Antiochus had been killed in battle. See 1 Mac. 1:16-19. He waited until the Sabbath then sends his general Appolonius and some mercenaries into Jerusalem. They slaughter men, women and children indiscriminately and burn much of the city.

Antiochus fortified the citadel heavily, imposed a heavy tax on the city for the rebellion, and confiscated land. He occupies the city with foreign troops and Hellenistic sympathizers. 1 Mac 1:35-36 calls these “people of pollution” and notes the city had become the abode of foreigners.

Perhaps the most offensive action Antiochus did was to combine the worship of Yahweh with Zeus. Within the temple itself Antiochus sacrificed to Zeus, supported by the high priest and the Hellenistic Jews! (1 Maccabees 1:29-40; 2 Maccabees 5:11-27).

2 Maccabees 5:11–27 (NRSV) When news of what had happened reached the king, he took it to mean that Judea was in revolt. So, raging inwardly, he left Egypt and took the city by storm. 12 He commanded his soldiers to cut down relentlessly everyone they met and to kill those who went into their houses. 13 Then there was massacre of young and old, destruction of boys, women, and children, and slaughter of young girls and infants. 14 Within the total of three days eighty thousand were destroyed, forty thousand in hand-to-hand fighting, and as many were sold into slavery as were killed. 15 Not content with this, Antiochus dared to enter the most holy temple in all the world, guided by Menelaus, who had become a traitor both to the laws and to his country. 16 He took the holy vessels with his polluted hands, and swept away with profane hands the votive offerings that other kings had made to enhance the glory and honor of the place. 17 Antiochus was elated in spirit, and did not perceive that the Lord was angered for a little while because of the sins of those who lived in the city, and that this was the reason he was disregarding the holy place. 18 But if it had not happened that they were involved in many sins, this man would have been flogged and turned back from his rash act as soon as he came forward, just as Heliodorus had been, whom King Seleucus sent to inspect the treasury. 19 But the Lord did not choose the nation for the sake of the holy place, but the place for the sake of the nation. 20 Therefore the place itself shared in the misfortunes that befell the nation and afterward participated in its benefits; and what was forsaken in the wrath of the Almighty was restored again in all its glory when the great Lord became reconciled. 21 So Antiochus carried off eighteen hundred talents from the temple, and hurried away to Antioch, thinking in his arrogance that he could sail on the land and walk on the sea, because his mind was elated. 22 He left governors to oppress the people: at Jerusalem, Philip, by birth a Phrygian and in character more barbarous than the man who appointed him; 23 and at Gerizim, Andronicus; and besides these Menelaus, who lorded it over his compatriots worse than the others did. In his malice toward the Jewish citizens, 24 Antiochus sent Apollonius, the captain of the Mysians, with an army of twenty-two thousand, and commanded him to kill all the grown men and to sell the women and boys as slaves. 25 When this man arrived in Jerusalem, he pretended to be peaceably disposed and waited until the holy sabbath day; then, finding the Jews not at work, he ordered his troops to parade under arms. 26 He put to the sword all those who came out to see them, then rushed into the city with his armed warriors and killed great numbers of people. 27 But Judas Maccabeus, with about nine others, got away to the wilderness, and kept himself and his companions alive in the mountains as wild animals do; they continued to live on what grew wild, so that they might not share in the defilement.

Antiochus is well known for his persecutions of the Jews; the details are recorded in 1 & 2 Mac as well as in Josephus. His “forced Hellenization” is prototypical of all tyrants who attempt to force Jews to conform to Gentile standards.

Daniel 11 says that despite the persecution, some of the wise will survive, but only after they are purified as with fire. The identity of “the wise” in this passage is a difficult problem. Some identify the wise with the Hasadim, while others do not. The Hasadim were the dissenters who opposed Hellenistic trends and eventually divided into Pharisee, Sadducee, and Essene.

There were two “paths of resistance” in the Maccabean revolt. One could take up arms, as Judas and his brothers did, or one could resist passively and be martyred for the faith. The “wise” in Daniel are likely those who accepted the martyr’s path.

1 Maccabees 1:59–62 (NRSV) On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. 60 According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, 61 and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks. 62 But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food.

After his humiliation in Egypt and the desecration of the Jewish Temple, Antiochus returned to Syria and selected his 8-year-old son Antiochus V Eupator as his successor (1 Mac 3:27-37). He named Lysias as the boy’s regent and left him in charge of about half the army. Lysias lead the army of the Seleucids against the Maccabean resistance, but this is not found in Daniel.

Antiochus was in desperate need of funds, so he led his army east to collect tribute. (He could not go to the south, since the Romans were protecting Egypt, and Palestine was already well looted).  He had some success but was turned back at Elymas. He thought gold left from Alexander’s day was at Elymas. He returned to Babylon, where he died in 163 B.C. 1 Mac 6:1-16 describes the king as dying of consumption soon after hearing the news of the cleansing of the temple by Judas Maccabees. It is also possible he was poisoned.

And this is a problem for interpreting Daniel 11. The “end of the story” is not quite right. Daniel 11:36-12:3 does predict the end of the arrogant king who persecuted God’s people. But the details are not quite right. Michael does not appear to defend God’s people and the Greeks are not replaced by a glorious kingdom of God as Daniel 2 and 7 expected. Does Daniel “get it wrong” at this point? Is the hoped for kingdom the short-lived Hasmonean kings? Or does Daniel shift to the future in 11:36?

Daniel 11:21-35 – Concerning Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Daniel 11:21-24 describes the rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. Antiochus IV had been in Rome as a hostage. Before his death Seleucus Philopater had sent his son to Rome in exchange for his brother Antiochus IV. These twelve years spent in Rome influenced the young Antiochus greatly. After leaving Rome he went to Athens where he served as Chief Magistrate until Seleucus IV Philopater was murdered by Heliodorus. Heliodorus ruled as regent for Demetrius, the second son of Seleucus IV.

Antiochus IV heard of his brother’s death and that Heliodorus had seized the throne. He hurried to Syria where he began to flatter and bribe everyone involved in arbitrating the dispute over who should be king. Antiochus was named king, despite not being the rightful heir.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes

But Antiochus took over a kingdom which was in trouble. The Seleucid kingdom was nearly out of money and continentally harassed by Rome to the west and the Parthians to the east. Antiochus dealt with the first problem by robbing temples and shrines throughout the kingdom, including Jerusalem.

In order to develop some stability in the kingdom, he encouraged Hellenism throughout the kingdom, usually by adding Zeus to the local pantheon. Goldstein argues Antiochus was less interested in imposing Greek customs than imitating the Roman way of administering a large kingdom (Goldstein, 1 Maccabees, 111).

Daniel describes Antiochus as a “contemptible person.” He did develop a reputation for maniac behavior. Polybius described him as a “completely unreliable rule” who went from practical joking to deranged cruelness almost without warning. Antiochus would sometimes join a stage performance as an actor, or an orchestra as a player. He was reputed to participate in public sex on occasion. When he added Theos Epiphanes, “God Manifest,” to his name in 169 B.C., many made a joke out of his name by calling him Epimanes, “Madman.”

Early in his reign, Antiochus was involved in a dispute over the high priesthood in Jerusalem. Jason was the very pro-Hellenism brother of the legitimate high priest, Onias III. He bribed Antiochus to be appointed as the new high priest (1 Mac 1:13-15, 2 Mac 4:7-15). In order to please Antiochus, Jason pledged to build a gymnasium near the Temple and encourage the Jews to become more Greek. The gymnasium was popular and some of the priests participated in the games dedicated to Hermes.

As offensive as these things were to the many Jews, some though this Hellenization did not go far enough. Menelaus (with the support of the Tobiad party) went to Antiochus and offered the king a larger bribe (300 more talents than Jason) for the office. Antiochus immediately declared Menelaus high priest and sent Syrian troops with him in order to oust Jason from Jerusalem. Menelaus was not even of a priestly family and was only interested in the priesthood for political power and wealth.

Jason was removed from Jerusalem but had enough support that he hopes to return and remove Menelaus from office. Menelaus had some serious problems as well. Most of the Jews did not support him as high priest so he had trouble raising the money to pay Antiochus. As a result, he was forced to sell Temple items to pay bribes to the king’s agent Andronicus.

The legitimate high priest Onias protested this offense: Menelaus was not the real high priest and had no authority to sell anything from the temple, let alone to pay bribes to a Gentile king! Antiochus was not impressed with his protest and had the true high priest killed (2 Mac 4:33-38, possibly Dan 9:26-27).

Robbing of the temple caused riots against his priesthood. Lysimachus, Menelaus brother, led troops against the rioters and killed 3000, but was killed himself in the battle. Menelaus was called into account by Antiochus but managed to bribe his way out of trouble (2 Macc 4:43-50).

Antiochus IV sought to unite Egypt and Syria, probably because Ptolemy Philometer was a very young man at the time (11:25-28). He could not attack Egypt because of Egypt’s relationship with Rome. If he attacked Egypt, Rome would come to their defense. Fortunately for Antiochus, Egypt attacked him in 169. He as able to march on Egypt and rout the Egyptian army.

About this time Jason heard a false rumor Antiochus was killed in battle in Egypt. He took 1000 men and attacked Jerusalem in an attempt to run Menelaus out. Menelaus hid in the citadel, Jason failed and eventually died as an outcast (2 Mac 5:5-10).

Returning from Egypt, he entered Jerusalem as a show of force after hearing of the growing insurrection caused by the rival high priests (1 Mac 1:16-28, 2 Mac 5:1-11). He looted the temple with the help of Menalaus the High priest, and slaughtered 80,000 Jews.

Daniel 11:2-20 – Who are the Kings of the North and South?

Daniel 11 is begins with a general history of the end of the Persian Empire (11:3), the Rise of Alexander the Great (11:3-4) and the complicated maneuvering of the Greek Ptolemaic kings in Egypt  and Greek Seleucid kings in Syria. In this chapter, the Ptolemies and the kings of the south and the Seleucids are the kings of the north.

The history begins with three Persian kings, then a fourth who is far richer than the others (11:2). Assuming Daniel has the vision during the reign of Cyrus, thus the next three Persian kings would be Cambyses, Smerdis, and Hystapes, (Ahasuerus, Artaxerxes and Darius as they are known in the Bible). Xerxes (486-465) has been identified as the fourth king since the time of Jerome’s commentary.  Xerxes was perhaps the wealthiest of the kings of Persian, building the empire with the largest army of the era, 2.6 million men.  He invaded Greece, although was turned back in 480 B.C. The Persian Empire lasted another 150 years before Alexander conquered it, likely in response to the sacking of Athens.

The problem with the “three more, then a fourth” king is Persia had nine kings from Cyrus to Alexander. Some commentators therefore point to this lack of precision as a lack of knowledge of the Persian Empire by a second century author. He does manage to cover 200 years of Persian in a single verse! Another possibility is the vision covers Persian history in the same way it covered world history, in a series of four epochs.

The vision then briefly describes a mighty king, undoubtedly Alexander the Great (11:3-4). Alexander’s kingdom was divided between four generals known as the Diadochi: Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Cassander. This four-fold division of Alexander’s kingdom is implied in Daniel 7:6 and 8:8.

Antiochus III the Great

Antiochus III the Great

The Kings of the North and South are the subject of the Daniel 11:5-20, culminating in the rise (11:9-16) and fall (11:17-19) of Antiochus III the Great. Antiochus III’s defeat will pave the way for Antiochus IV Epiphanes to take the control of the Seleucid dynasty. He will persecute the Jewish people and lead to the events of the Maccabean revolt.

As Daniel 11:5 implies, the Seleucid Dynasty did in fact get the major share of the Empire, by 281 B.C. Seleucus I Nicator (312-280) controlled territory from the Punjab (NW India) to the Hellespont (Asia Minor).  Seleucus was the Satrap of Babylon in 321 but was supplanted by Antigonus.  He lived in Egypt until Antigonus was defeated and he returned to Babylon in 312.  Seleucus lived like a great eastern king and was said to rival Alexander in his aristocratic behavior.

Ptolemy I Soter (323-285) controlled Egypt, first as a “satrap”, but took the title “king” in 305.  While this was a smaller territory, Egypt was incredibly wealthy.  Eventually this wealth, especially in the form of massive food stores, will attract the attention of Rome. The geography of these two “kings” leaves Palestine as a buffer zone, a key strategic point for both kingdoms.

Antiochus III the Great (241-187) was determined to drive the Ptolemies out of Syria.  He drove south to the city of Dura, recapturing all of the territory lost to the Ptolemies.  He also suppressed rebellions throughout Seleucid controlled territory (Daniel 11:9-10).

Ptolemy IV Philopater (221-203) was a weak and indecisive king and did not act to defend his territory until the Antiochus III was in Egypt (11:11-12).  When he did act, he was relentless. When the two armies met at Raphia in 217 Antiochus III had 62,000 men, 6000 cavalry and 102 elephants; Ptolemy had a nearly equal force of 70,000 men, 5000 cavalry, and 73 elephants (Polybius, Histories, 5.79). Antiochus lost 17,000 men in this battle and Ptolemy annexed Palestine. Ptolemy made peace with Antiochus III which turned out to be a mistake since Antiochus would recover and shift the balance of power in favor of the Seleucid dynasty.

Antiochus III recovered quickly from this defeat and began expanding his empire, campaigning in the east (11:13-16). By 202 B.C. he had built his army to the point that he was ready to attack Egypt. Ptolemy IV and his wife had died, possibly by poison, and left a 4-year-old heir, Ptolemy V Epiphanies (203-181). Antiochus III saw his chance, made an alliance with the King of Macedonia, and attacked Egypt. His army was larger and better prepared than before, and Egypt was struggling through an internal rebellion.

It is at this point in Daniel 11 the Judeans are first mentioned. The angelic guide says “many of your own” will join the king of the North. Indeed, many Jews joined the destruction of the Ptolemy V’s army. Antiochus offered to reduce taxes by a third and grant a tax exemption for three years in exchange for Judean assistance against Ptolemy (this was a false promise – Antiochus could not afford to reduce taxes).

These “violent men” respond to Antiochus in “fulfillment of a vision.” What vision is in mind here?  For many commentators, the vision is Daniel 11 itself. But the text may mean these men responded to a vision at the time that encouraged them to join with Antiochus III against Ptolemy.  The leader of the pro-Seleucid faction was Simon the Just, the high priest, and the rich and powerful Tobias family.  Was “Simon the Just” quite as lawless as Daniel makes him out to be?  This depends on which side of the political conflict you favor. In Sirach 50:1-4 he is listed among the righteous. This is may reflect a prejudice in the writer of Sirach, or as C. L. Seow suggests, a prejudice in the writer of Daniel (Daniel, 174).

Antiochus III now controlled all of Palestine, and placed the Jews under a harsh government, using the region as a staging ground to attack Egypt, stationing much of his army there. There is an increasing focus in the chapter on the land of Palestine in general and specifically Jerusalem.  In verse 16 the “Beautiful Land” refers to Judea and Jerusalem (cf. Ezekiel 20:6, Daniel 8:9)

Daniel 10 – Who is the Prince of Persia?

In Daniel 10:20 the angel says he was sent by God immediately when Daniel began to pray, twenty-one days earlier, but he was hindered by the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece.”  Who is the “prince of Persia”?

For many interpreters, the prince of Persia is some kind of a national angel or territorial angel, in charge of the nation of Persia. In 12:1 Michael is the “prince” of God’s people, Israel. In 1 Enoch 20:1-8 for Michael as an archangel (cf., Jude 9).

The idea that nations had a particular angelic being ruling over it in the spiritual world may be behind the idea of local gods, or patron gods of the city-states. In 3 Enoch 35:12 identifies Samma’el as the “prince of Rome” and Dubbie’el as the Prince of Persia; both of these princes sit daily with Satan and write out the sins of Israel in order to deliver them to the seraphim.

3 Enoch 35:12 Why is their name called seraphim? Because they burn the tablets of Satan. Every day Satan sits with Sammaʾel, Prince of Rome, and with Dubbiʾel, Prince of Persia, and they write down the sins of Israel on tablets and give them to the seraphim to bring them before the Holy One, blessed be he, so that he should destroy Israel from the world.

In the Second Temple period the idea of an angelic “prince” developed into a mini-theology of angels. In Genesis 10 there are seventy nations and there were seventy sons of Abraham in Exodus 1:5. In addition, the Masoretic text of Deuteronomy 32:8 says God has fixed the borders of peoples “according to the number of the sons of God.” The Septuagint has “according to the angels of God” (κατὰ ἀριθμὸν ἀγγέλων θεοῦ). From these texts developed the idea there is a divine council with as many as seventy angels in charge of the nations. A Jewish writer would not think the gods of the nations were real, but they would not deny spiritual beings played a role in international politics. Although the text does not specifically mention angels, Sirach 17:17 says:

Sirach 17:17 (NRSV) He appointed a ruler for every nation, but Israel is the Lord’s own portion.

Does the Bible really claim there is a divine council or “regional angels” in charge of the nations? As appealing as this tradition is, it must be emphasized it is only a tradition developed on the Second Temple Period.

If the prince of Persia is not an angelic or demonic being, then the phrase refers to human political leaders. William Shea, for example, argued the princes in Daniel 10 refers to the kings of the Persians and Greeks. The prince of Persia is either Cyrus the Great or Cambyses, not a powerful angelic being. Without identifying specific Persian or Greek kings, but may be the case the cosmic battle between the prince of Persia, the prince of Greece, and the prince of Israel foreshadows the earthly conflict between the Persians, Greeks and the Judeans described in Daniel 11.

The significant elements in Daniel 10 is that the prince of Persia was able to hinder the messenger from God and that messenger was unable to overcome the prince of Persia for three weeks. Even then, he needed help from Michael, the Prince of Israel to overcome. At the very least, the prince of Persia is an enemy of God who (for some unexplained reason) wants to prevent Daniel from receiving the message from God.

 

Bibliography: David E. Stevens, “Daniel 10 and the Notion of Territorial Spirits” BSac 157 (2000): 410-431; William H. Shea, “Wrestling with the Prince of Persia: A Study on Daniel 10,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 21 (1983); David E. Stevens, “Does Deuteronomy 32:8 Refer to ‘Sons of God’ or ‘Sons of Israel’” BibSac 154 (1997): 131-41.; Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the ‘Sons of God,’” BibSac 158 (2001).  S. R. Driver, Daniel, 157 has a brief discussion of the “doctrine of tutelary angels.”

Daniel 10 – Daniel’s Vision of a Great Angelic Being

Daniel 10 is a prologue to the apocalyptic history beginning in 11:2. Like Daniel 9, the chapter begins with Daniel concerned about the end of the captivity. From Daniel’s perspective the seventy years appear to be over. All the Jewish exiles should able to return to Jerusalem, but only few are taking advantage Cyrus’s decree. Daniel therefor turns to the Lord in prayer for his people, asking God when the final vindication of Israel will finally begin.

Angel of FireThis vision is dated to the third year of Cyrus, King of Persia, likely 537 B.C. This third year could refer to Cyrus as king over all the Persian Empire or only to when he conquered the Babylonians. If the latter is the case, then this final vision of Daniel is in his seventieth year of service. The year 537 B.C. is after the first of the Jews began to return to Jerusalem, perhaps the reason for Daniel’s fasting and prayer. Daniel may have sought the Lord on behalf of those who were working in Jerusalem.

Daniel says he was fasting and mourning (10:2-3). This could be a “bread and water” fast since the text says he ate no choice food or wine nor did he use lotions. Oils and lotions were a luxury and a sign of joy and happiness (Ps 45:7). They would have been inappropriate during a fast.

What was the purpose of his fasting? Some suggest Daniel was upset the work in Jerusalem was going slowly. Others suggest he was still perplexed over the previous vision and was seeking the Lord for a clarification of the visions in Daniel 8 and 9. This fast begins before Passover and continues ten days beyond. During this period the Jews typically reflect on the Exodus, perhaps Daniel is looking forward to a new Exodus, from Babylon back to Jerusalem.

But fasting is associated with visions in the apocalyptic literature. Reflecting of the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah and Baruch fast for seven days (2 Baruch 9:2). In 4 Ezra the prophet fasts before visions in response to the command of the angel Uriel (4 Ezra 5:20). In the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra 1:5, Michael the archangel commands Ezra to “lay aside bread for seventy weeks,” and he claims to fast “twice sixty weeks.” After 120-week fast, Ezra has a series of visionary experiences. In the New Testament Peter has a vision after a short fast (Acts 10:10). Daniel’s fast may be significant because one of the many things Antiochus does is forbid the Jewish fast day (1 Macc 1:39).

In his vision, Daniel sees a “man” dressed in linen, a common outfit for an angel in Scripture (Ezek 9:2 and 10). White linen is considered to be ritually pure, a priestly garment (Lev. 16:4). This would be a bleached white garment, or brilliantly white. This form of a man wears a sash of gold, a common symbol of wealth in the Ancient Near East. His body is like chrysolite and his face is like lightning, literally, has the appearance of lightning, and his eyes are like flaming torches, again, bright light, glowing, radiant, emphasis on the burning (Ezek 1:4). The man’s arms and legs are like polished bronze (Ezek 1:7).  His voice was like the sound of a multitude.  A huge noisy crowd, overwhelming, incomprehensible.

There are similar angelic beings in apocalyptic literature. For example, in the Apocalypse of Abraham 11:1-3:

And I stood up and saw him who had taken my right hand and set me on my feet. The appearance of his body was like sapphire, and the aspect of his face was like chrysolite, and the hair of his head like snow. And a kidaris [royal tiara worn by Persian kings] was on his head, its look that of a rainbow, and the clothing of his garments (was) purple; and a golden staff (was) in his right hand.

Similar features appear in the description of angelic beings in 3 Enoch 35:2. [For more on angels in 3 Enoch, see this post.]

Every angel is as the Great Sea in height, and the appearance of their faces is like lightning; their eyes are like torches of fire; their arms and feet look like burnished bronze, and the roar of their voices when they speak is as the sound of a multitude.

In the Apocalypse of Zephaniah the prophet encounters an angel he believes is the Lord himself. The angel identifies himself as Eremiel, an angel in charge of the abyss and Hades where “all of the souls are imprisoned from the end of the Flood.”

I saw a great angel standing before me with his face shining like the rays of the sun in its glory since his face is like that which is perfected in its glory. And he was girded as if a golden girdle were upon his breast. His feet were like bronze which is melted in a fire

Who is this angelic being in Daniel 10? Because of the glory associated with the appearance of the man it is assumed at the very least Daniel saw an angel of some kind similar to these later apocalyptic texts. A common suggestion this is the same angel Daniel met in chapter 9, Gabriel. But some have suggested this is a theophany similar to Ezekiel seeing God’s glory in his inaugural vision. There are many parallel between these two visions. There is also a remarkable similarity between this passage and the description of Christ in Revelation 1. Many Christian commentators, especially the early church, identified this being as the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ.

However, if this being is the same who speaks in in 10:10-14, then it has been hindered by the “prince of Persia” and needed the assistance of Michael. This being was sent by God with the answer to Daniel’s prayer, making it unlikely to be God himself. One solution is that the vision in 10:1-9 is different than the angelic being who speaks in 10:10.

Whatever the case, Daniel’s final vision begins with a powerful angelic being. He is overwhelmed by this vision and fell into a deep sleep before the angel reveals “what is inscribed in the book of truth.”

Daniel 11 and History

Daniel 10-12 form a grand conclusion to the book of Daniel. That God has not forgotten his people is a major theme of the whole book, but these final three chapters present God as not only aware of the suffering of his people, but actively moving in history to defend them when the coming great crisis comes. The book of Daniel presents God as sovereign overall the nations, including the Persian and Greek Empires.

Daniel 11These final three chapters are the most detailed in terms of prophetic events in the Old Testament. This make for difficult reading because most readers are not aware of the history of the period after the exile other than a few major key historical points. Joyce Baldwin recommends we read Daniel 11 with the Cambridge Ancient History volume 7 in hand (Daniel, 184).

Because Daniel 11 is so detailed, most interpreters consider the chapter a prime example of vaticinium ex eventu, history written as prophecy. There are other examples of apocalyptic literature which use this method. For example, the Animal Apocalypse in 1 Enoch 85-90 is a theological interpretation of history leading up to the Maccabean Revolt. Like Daniel 11, the Animal Apocalypse tracks the relationship of the post-exilic community and the nations, including Persia and the Greeks.

The Animal Apocalypse is more detailed in the Maccabean period (1 Enoch 90:6-12). Like Daniel, a “great horn” grows on one of the lambs and rallies the sheep against the oppressors. But this is not the arrogant little horn of Daniel 8 and 9, the apocalypse likely refers to Judas Maccabees. In 1 Enoch 90:13-19 the sheep (Israel) battle the beasts (Gentiles in general, Seleucid in particular). The Lord of the Sheep intervenes in wrath; he strikes the ground with his rod and a great sword is given to the sheep to kill the beasts of the earth. This probably refers to the conclusion of the Maccabean Revolt, but it is highly exaggerated. Unless this “Lord of the Sheep” is Judas Maccabees, this history re-told is wrong. God or a messianic figure did not directly intervene in the revolution against Antiochus IV Epiphanies. Verse 19 is the key: “a great sword was given to the sheep.” This divine passive indicates a human agent was given permission by God to successfully make way against the Gentiles (cf. a similar divine passive in Revelation 6:4).

The text of the Animal Apocalypse seems to go beyond history at this point to a prophetic vision of a future judgment of Israel’s oppressors. God intervenes to judge the nations who have oppressed his people. In 1 Enoch 90:20-27 a great throne is set up in the pleasant land (Israel) and “he sat upon it,” implying the Lord of the Sheep who struck the earth with his rod. The Lord of the Sheep then judges the sheep and their shepherds. In verse 20 the books are opened and seven shepherds are punished for killing more sheep that they were ordered to (verse 22). These bad sheep and shepherd are cast into the fiery abyss (v. 24), the seventy shepherds are found guilty as well and cast into the abyss to the right of the house (v. 26, presumably Gehenna to the east of the Temple).

So the Animal Apocalypse is “history written as prophecy,” but it shifts perspective to a future divine intervention and final judgment which does not seem to jive with well-known history as the rest of the Apocalypse does. I would suggest this the same strategy as Daniel 11. The vision accurately portrays historical events concerning the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kings up to a certain point. But in Daniel 11:40-45 the ultimate fate of Antiochus IV Epiphanes is wrong, or at least, not quite right. Antiochus does not die in the way described, nor does the great prince Michael come to defend his people (12:1), the ones who sleep in the dust do not rise (12:2-3).

Although it is possible this is all propaganda supporting the Maccabean Revolt, I think Daniel 11:40 turns to a genuine prediction. Like the Animal Apocalypse the writer begins to look forward to God’s intervention in history to deal with Israel’s enemies in a climactic judgment which sends some to some to everlasting life, and others to shame and everlasting contempt (12:2). This is how apocalyptic histories work, allegorical yet accurate history up to a certain point, then the writer expresses hope for a glorious future.

Daniel 9:20-27 – The Prophecy of the Seventy Sevens

The history of the exegesis of the 70 Weeks is the Dismal Swamp of O.T. criticism…. the trackless wilderness of assumptions and theories in the efforts to obtain an exact chronology fitting into the history of Salvation, after these 2,000 years of infinitely varied interpretations, would seem to preclude any use of the 70 Weeks for the determination of a definite prophetic chronology. J. A. Montgomery, Commentary on the Book of Daniel, 400-401.

In Daniel 9 Daniel reads from a scroll of Jeremiah and understands the 70-year exile must be coming to an end. While Daniel is praying an angel is sent to him to give an answer to his prayer. Unfortunately it was not the answer he may have been expecting. Rather than a confirmation the Judah’s exile would soon be over, Daniel is told the seventy years have become seventy “weeks of years,” or 490 years in all. At the end of the period prophecy and vision will be sealed up and the Most Holy Place will be anointed (9:24).

However, before the 490 years are complete the final seven years (the seventieth week) will be a time of war and desolation. At the end of the sixty-ninth week, the “anointed one will be cut off and have nothing,” the ruler of the people to come will destroy the Jerusalem and the sanctuary and the “end will come like a flood.” This ruler will confirm a covenant but break it in the middle of the final seven-year period. When he breaks the covenant he will put an end to sacrifice and “set up an abomination that causes desolation.” (9:27).

Is this a literal period of 490 years? If so, when does the period end? The majority of modern commentators (Hartman and Di Lella, Driver, and Montgomery, for example) think the years are literal and extend into the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The beginning of the period is the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., although the “decree” is Jeremiah’s prophecy (dated to 605 B.C.) As is well known, Antiochus desecrates the altar in the Temple by sacrificing a pig, something which can be describing as an “abomination that causes desolation.” The rededication of the temple after Antiochus was in 164 B.C., so the period is about 65 years short. For most, this is simply a miscalculation on the part of the second-century writer (Montgomery, 393).

In this view, the “cutting off of the anointed one” is the assassination of Onias III the high priest, about 170 B.C. Sacrifices stopped for a slightly more than three years, not quite a full three and a half years (time, times and half a time, 1260 days), nor is the period 2300 mornings and evenings from Daniel 8:14 accurate, either as 1150 days or a full 2300 days (neither number is three and a half years or a full seven years).  Nevertheless, the numbers work out generally to the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the period of seven years is approximately correct. Stylized apocalyptic numbers do not need to be precisely accurate; there is no need to impose modern precision on the seventy sevens.

A second approach is to interpret the years are symbolic of the time from the end of the exile to the coming of messiah. E. J. Young argued a “seven” was an indefinite period of time and ran the whole 490 years from the return from exile up to the time of Christ. Even the last seven has been completed, starting sometime in the ministry of Christ and ending before A.D. 70. (Young, Daniel, 203).

A third approach takes the years as a literal period of time, but begins the period with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem (not Cyrus’ decree). The first 483 years begin with the Artaxerxes permitting Nehemiah return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city (Neh 2), approximately 445 BC. The 483 period ends sometime in the ministry of Jesus. There are several very detailed attempts to count days and calculate the exact moment in Jesus’s ministry the 483 years end (the most common suggestion is Jesus’s baptism or the triumphal entry). But this is almost impossible since the years may be lunar or solar, there may be intercalculary months, etc. The cutting off of the anointed one is the crucifixion, but the final seven year people is still in the future.

In this view, the book of Revelation picks up the final seven year period to describe a final confrontation between the arrogant kingdom of man and God’s coming kingdom. The Christian writer to first suggest this appears to have been Julius Africanus in A.D. 200, mentioned in Jerome’s commentary on Daniel. But even here, there are scholars who interpret the tribulation described in Revelation as wholly fulfilled by the Roman destruction of Jerusalem or persecution of Christians in the late first century. Others read Revelation as looking to the distant future and events leading up to the return of Messiah Jesus to establish his kingdom.

Which approach is best? Theological presuppositions often guide the answer to this question. If an interpreter is committed to a second-century date, then the author of Daniel only knows history up to the 160’s B.C. and only the first view is viable. But the prophecy of Daniel was read in the first century as not completely exhausted by the events leading up to the rededication of the Temple. Jesus alludes to Daniel 9 and the “abomination that causes desolation” in Mark 13:14. For Jesus, this is still a future event: “when you see ii, then let those in Judea flee…” Revelation is another thread of evidence that at least some Jewish Christians expected a future seven-year period of extreme suffering prior to the coming of the Messiah.

If the seventy years of captivity is taken literally by Daniel, it seems reasonable to take the extension of the seventy years as a literal period as well. I really do think the events leading up the Rededication of the Temple are part of Daniel’s vision, but prophecy often predicts something in the near future which also refers to the eschatological age.

The third option seems to be the way the text was read in the first century, “how soon until the exile was really over?”

Daniel 8 –The Ram and the Goat

Daniel 8 is an expansion on the four-kingdom scheme of chapters 2 and 7, expanding on events during the third empire. The vision concerns the fall of Persia and the establishment of the Greek empire. As Miller observes, nearly every commentator agrees this prophecy concerns the events of the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, although they disagree on whether the events are prophetically described by Daniel or current events cast as prophecy by an unknown second century writer (Daniel, 219)

Ram, Goat

The time is identified as the third year of Belshazzar’s reign, about 550 B.C. About this same time Cyrus the Persian was consolidating his power with the Medes. About twelve years later Cyrus will capture Babylon while Belshazzar held a great banquet (Daniel 5).

Daniel is “in the citadel in Susa” (v.1). The city of Susa was built on the Ulai Canal and was the capitol of the Persian Empire. Was Daniel literally in the city of Susa? He may have been in the city on some business for the government of Babylon, or perhaps he retired to the city.  Josephus (Antiquities 10.11.7) seems to think he was physically in the city. It is more likely Daniel was transported in his vision to Susa. This is similar to Ezekiel’s visionary experience, he is caught up and taken from Babylon to Jerusalem to witness the glory of the Lord departing form the city (Ezek 8-11).

Daniel has an unusual vision of a ram fighting a goat (8:3-14) which is interrupted by an angelic guide in 8:15-26). A ram with two unequally sized horns represents the Medes and Persians (v. 20). This ram begins its conquest in the east and goes in the three other directions just as Persia was in the east and made conquests into the west (literally to the sea, the Mediterranean Sea), then south into Egypt and north into Asia Minor.

The goat with a prominent horn (8:5-8) is interpreted as the king of Greece (8:21), undoubtedly Alexander the Great. Some will point out the first king of Macedon was led to a location by a herd of goats where he founded a city, Aege, or the Goat City. The goat comes out of the west very fast and destroys the ram. This fits well with what we know about the conquest of the world by Alexander.  Alexander may have been motivated to conquest because of Persian invasions of Greece in 490 B.C. by Darius I and 480 by Xerxes.

After the prominent horn is cut off, it is replaced by four horn, likely referring to the Diadochi, the Greek generals who took parts of Alexander’s empire after his death. But they are not the main interest of this vision, Daniel saw a “little horn” (8:9-14), undoubtedly the same as the little horn in Daniel 7. Stephen Miller argues this is not possible, since the little horn in chapter 7 is associated with the blasphemy of the final kingdom prior to the establishment of the kingdom of God.  Chapter 8 concerns the Greek kingdom, the third beast in chapter 7 (Daniel, 225, note 22).

This little horn will cause some of the starry host to fall (8:10). This begins with the assassination of Onias III in 170, the sacking of the temple in 169, and the general persecution of Jews in the period which follows (see also 1 Maccabees 1:41-64; 2 Maccabees 6:1-5).

2 Maccabees 5:11-14 When news of what had happened reached the king, he took it to mean that Judea was in revolt. So, raging inwardly, he left Egypt and took the city by storm. 12 He commanded his soldiers to cut down relentlessly everyone they met and to kill those who went into their houses. 13 Then there was massacre of young and old, destruction of boys, women, and children, and slaughter of young girls and infants. 14 Within the total of three days eighty thousand were destroyed, forty thousand in hand-to-hand fighting, and as many were sold into slavery as were killed.

1 Maccabees 1:29-34 Two years later the king sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute, and he came to Jerusalem with a large force. 30 Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. 31 He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. 32 They took captive the women and children, and seized the livestock. 33 Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. 34 They stationed there a sinful people, men who were renegades. These strengthened their position.

The little horn sets itself up as the “prince” of that fallen host (11). Antiochus attempted to set himself against God when he forbade the practice of the Jewish Law (1 Maccabees 1:41-50).

The little horn will take away the daily sacrifice and brought low the sanctuary (11). The daily sacrifice (tamid) was to be offered twice each day.  Priests offered sacrifices on behalf of all the people (Exodus 29:38-41, Numbers 28:3-8). In 167 B.C. Antiochus ordered these daily sacrifices to be stopped (1 Maccabees 1:44-45).

The sacrifices are suspended for 2300 days.  There are several schemes for showing paralleling with Antiochus’ suspension of sacrifice. Is this 1150 days, since there 2300 are morning and evening sacrifices?  Keil argues a Jewish reader would never read the text half-days, since a “morning and evening” is a complete day (Daniel, 304). This is a period of three years and 55 days, the period begins on just before the altar is desecrated and ends with the temple is rededicated in 168 B.C. Alternatively, the time from the murder of Onias III (the legitimate High Priest, killed by Antiochus) in 171 and the death of Antiochus in 164.

Does the little horn only refer to Antiochus? Is there any room for “future” fulfillment of these prophecies? Is this an example of multiple fulfillment of prophecy? Did Daniel’s vision only concern events leading up to the Maccabean Revolt, or did the vision concern a time events leading up to the coming of the Messiah in the future?