A Little Help With Daniel 11:1–12:4: Three Aids for Reading This Challenging Chapter

bible 2Daniel 11 is a challenging passage of Scripture. Primarily, its difficulty rests in the fact that modern, Western readers do not know the history that stands between Daniel and Jesus. Such historical ignorance of about 550 years makes a crucial difference in knowing how to understand this long and complex passage. This is especially true with respect to Antiochus IV, who defiled the Jerusalem in 167 BC by offering unclean sacrifices on the altar, producing what Daniel calls the abomination of desolation. Both Daniel and Jesus speak of this event, and only when we understand how Daniel 11 points to this historical event, based upon God’s heavenly decrees (i.e., the book of truth in Dan. 10:21) can we rightly interpret this passage.

Indeed, Daniel’s prophecies are so precise, many scholars believe that Daniel must have been written after the fact.[1] Such a reading stands, however, on a commitment to explain away elements of predictive prophecy. By contrast, those who believe God inspired the Word of God have no little trouble letting the text speak. Scripture teaches us that God has declared the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10) and that nothing occurs by accident. Rather, God has decreed in eternity what will take place in time. In fact, Daniel 10:21 speaks to this very thing, when the angel of the Lord states, “But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth . . .”

As stated, Daniel 11 is a small portion or reflection of God’s eternal and immutable decree. In answer to Daniel’s prayers and his longing to see the temple of God rebuilt, God sends a fourth and final vision in Daniel to strengthen him and show him what will come next. Daniel 11, therefore, is a history that begins in the days of Daniel (535 BC) and runs until the days of Christ and his resurrection. In fact, as I preached two Sundays ago, I believe that Daniel 12:1–3 is fulfilled (better: has begun to be fulfilled) in the resurrection of Christ. And thus, Daniel 11 gives us a vision of history that runs for more than 500 years and that has implications even to our own day, as the resurrected Christ continues to raise people from the dead.

Still, to understand Daniel 11 in context, we might need a little help. In what follows, I offer three such ‘helps.’ First, I offer a link to the sermon I preached on Daniel 11. Second, I share below an account of a make-believe prophet of America that might provide insight into how we should read Daniell 11. Third and last, I’ve included a PDF of the notes I gave to our church when I preached on Daniel 11. They give a play-by-play of the historical turns in Daniel 11:2–35. Then, drawing on the work of Mitchell Chase, they offer an attempt to read Daniel 11:21–35 as parallel to Daniel 11:36–12:3. I believe Mitch has found a number of key connections in the text which confirms this approach to the chapter. I outline these in the PDF as well. May these resources be a help to you.

A Sermon on Daniel 11–12

The first resource is a sermon on Daniel 11:1–12:3. Here’s a link to the audio (Finding Resurrection Life Amidst the Raging Waters of This World) and a copy of the video.

Through Prophecy We Are Meant to See History

Daniel 11 gives us a predictive look at Israel’s history. But since the prophets served future saints and not just their own generation (see 1 Pet. 1:10–12), we can better understand how to read this chapter with a full view of history laid next to it. This is especially true when we recall that God told Daniel to seal up his vision (Dan. 12:4, 9), indicating that this vision, unlike other Old Testament prophecies, was to have its full import later.

With that in mind, we can see why knowing Israel’s history is so important. Yet, because this prophecy is often by read by those who don’t that history, strange readings can result. Just look at Hal Lindsay’s treatment of Daniel 11 in his chapter on WWIII in The Late Great Planet Earth. In contrast to fanciful readings of Daniel 11, the best way to see it is in respect to history. Yet, even before learning that history, we might get a sense of Daniel 11 works by drawing an analogy with our country’s history and a fictitious prophetic account set in 1700.

In what follows, I offer an account of America’s history clothed in prophetic garb. Lest anyone get confused; this prophetic word is fabricated. But what it attempts to do is provide a way that reading Daniel 11 should ‘feel’ if you know the underlying history.

An American Prophecy, circa 1700

Imagine that in the 1700, as you walk along the banks of the Potomac River, you encounter a wizened prophet who tells you and incredible tale. Here is what he says.

I have just had a vision, one that I must seal up in scroll, for it will not be for now, but it come to pass before the sun sets on this country. Yet to prove that this is the decree of God for this land, I will show you the truth. By these words, you can know that God is sovereign and good and that he has ordained the end from the beginning and everything in between.

Behold three more rulers will sit on the throne of England, and then a fourth will go mad and be overthrown by a man not yet born. This mighty man will be born in a land named after a virgin. He will first wear red and then he will rise to overthrow the ones who once clothed him with honor.

This ruler will stand head shoulders above the rest and will refuse the throne when it is offered to him. Instead, a new kingdom will be established. It will have three crowns, instead of one. And only when the power of the executive is shared with two other branches, will this champion assume the throne.

After him will come a governor from the north, from a city whose harbors are filled with tea. After this son of Adam is dispatched, another ruler, a governor from the South will rise. And he will take the seat of power, because his great opponent from the North will be cut off by the second in command.

Finally, when a fourth monarch arrives on the Potomac, the throne of the mad king will rise again, setting ablaze the halls of power, and fixing a break between the old world and the new.

After him, will come another from the southern state of the virgin. This one who dwells in the shadow of his predecessor will be replaced by another Son of Adam. And during his days, the governors of the south and the north will be reconciled and die on the same day. On the day of Jubilee that announced the liberty of the new world.

Finally, a man from an unknown land, full of volunteers will rise from the army and become the seventh to command the new world. All of this will happen before the new world divides, and the kings of the north and the rulers of the south continue to war . . . beyond the horizon.

This is the vision I leave with you. Seek wisdom and the seek the life found in the true king. The Lord of heaven is coming, but until that day, wars and rumors of war will continue. Take heart, what I have spoken is true. Now I must seal up the scroll and go. Godspeed.

Now returning to a consideration of this fabricated prophecy, if you know anything of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams again, and Jackson—the first seven presidents—it is impossible not to hear in the words of this prophet the history of America.

Even with enigmatic turns of phrase like ‘a city whose harbors are filled with tea” or “a man from an unknown land, full of volunteers,” it’s clear, from where we sit today that this describes the Boston Tea Party and Tennessee, the sixteenth state of the union, the home of Andrew Jackson.

Still, these connections depend upon knowing the history of our country. If you don’t know the basic contours of America’s story, this rambling prophecy will be utterly unrecognizable. Perhaps as unrecognizable as Daniel 11. But if you know America’s history, it is discernible. Even enjoyable, as the poetic turns of phrase evince various aspects of the history.

This is how we should approach Daniel 11–12, but such a reading requires learning some history.

Getting the History of Daniel 11

Finally, to appreciate the content of Daniel 11–12, one must know the history. And to that end, I commend the commentaries by Tremper Longman, Paul House, and Mitchell Chase. These provide historical background, or foreground (!!) , as the prophecy was written before the events.

Drawing on these commentaries, I wrote up this PDF (An Historical Key for Daniel 11). In it you can find much of the history outlined, as well as some literary connections that help to read Daniel 11–12 together.

In the end, Daniel 11–12 proves to be a challenging passage. But it is not impossible, nor esoteric, once we understand the history and how the fourth and last vision works in the book of Daniel. To that end, I offer these resources. May they help you continue to read Daniel and to read Daniel better.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds


[1] E.g., W. Sibley Towner, Daniel, 115. “We need to assume that the vision as a whole is a prophecy after the fact. Why? Because human beings are unable accurately to predict future events centuries in advance and to say that Daniel could do so, even on the basis of a symbolic revelation vouchsafed to him by God and interpreted by an angel, is to fly in the face of the certainties of human nature. So what we have here is in fact not a road map of the future laid down in the sixth century B.C. but an interpretation of the events of the author’s own time, 167–164 B.C.”

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