As we begin to consider this book, we need to lay down some basic principles of interpretation as we study. These basic rules will help you as you read Daniel and as we discuss it our time together.
Principle 1 – There are two types of prophetic formula: symbolic and simple. Symbolic interpretations can be discovered in two ways, first by the context of what is being written, or secondly from other parts of the Bible. For example, in Revelation 1:12 we are told about the seven lamp stands. The lamp stands are symbolic of something which is explained to us in the context of what we are reading. If you look at Revelation 1:20 we are told that the 7 lamp stands symbolize the seven Churches of Asia Minor. In Revelation 2:12 we learn about the double edged sword. What is that? It is a reference to the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12).
Paul also uses the metaphor of a sword to describe the Word (Ephesians 6:17). That the sword is two-edged depicts the Word’s potency and power in exposing and judging the innermost thoughts of the human heart. So we see that the symbolic is explained here or in other portions of Scripture. The Simple interpretations are simply to take literally what is being said like reading history in advance. An example of this is found in Revelation 2:5, if the church at Ephesus doesn’t repent God will remove their lamp stand, that is the church will cease to exist. This in fact has happened.
Principle 2 – Understanding the time element, that time can be eclipsed and refer to two different time periods. A classic illustration of this principle is Luke 4:16ff which is where the Lord reads from Isaiah 61:1-2 in which Jesus ends the prophecy in the middle of a sentence because there was an over two thousand year gap in time. A person reading it at the time or before the resurrection of Yeshua would never have known of such a split, but now we understand this. This is what Peter was getting at in 1 Peter 1:10-12. This has been described by some writers as Mt. Peaks of prophecy. The only way to understand is to study parallel portions of Scripture and even then, we can’t say we are correct with absolute certainty.
Principle 3 – There is unity in diversity, this is sometimes wrongly called double fulfillment. But some things can be given as a unity with diverse parts. An example is the first and second comings of Messiah, there are two comings but one work. This is true of the counterfeit Antichrist as well when we consider Daniel 9:27.
A partial fulfillment is found in the defilement of the Temple by Antiochus in 164 BC which set in motion the events that are now celebrated as Hanukkah. Yeshua then speaks of time yet in the future described in Matthew 24:15. With these principles, prophecy can be interpreted by the Historical grammatical method. This means that we can read the Bible based on the historical meaning of the words and according to the common rules of grammar.
This is so important because you can study the historical, doctrinal, and prophetic portions of Scripture all with the same type of exegesis and you don’t have to shift exegesis from one portion of Scripture to another. Exegesis is the careful explanation of the meaning of a given text. The term comes from a Greek term that means “explanation.” If we are not consistent in our interpretative methods than we leave ourselves open to any kind of interpretation of Scripture.
For example, there are many Hindu gurus who will use Scripture allegorically or spiritually to suggest that their theology and worldview is endorsed by Scripture. It also leaves open the door to liberal neo-orthodox “Christian” theologians. The heart of neo-orthodox theology is that the Bible gives us resources for religious experience, but that the Bible contains mistakes when history and science contradict it.
This concept now has come into Evangelical and Messianic circles as well. The neo-orthodox believers who will spiritualize and allegorize do so by suggesting that we can interpret the Bible differently depending on which part we are dealing with. One set of interpretive rules for the historical portions of the Bible and a different set of rules for doctrinal parts and still another for the prophetic parts. This leads to all kinds of inconsistencies and doubts.
There are four main interpretative approaches to the book.
The preterist approach holds that most of the prophecies in the book of Revelation were fulfilled not long after John wrote. In other words, their fulfillment is past from the perspective of the twenty-first century. Revelation does not contain prophecies of specific historical events. Instead, it uses symbols to express timeless principles concerning the conflict between good and evil. The preterist sees the words about Christ’s second coming as fulfilled in the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, even though He did not appear on that occasion.
The historicist approach sees Revelation as a record of church history from apostolic times until the present. Historicist interpreters often resort to allegorizing the text to find in it the various historical events they believe it fulfills. The historicist view also ignores Revelation’s own claims to speak of events of prophecy. It leaves the interpretation to allegorical and spiritualized meanings invented by each would-be interpreter.
The idealist approach sees depicted in Daniel and Revelation the timeless struggle between good and evil that is played out in every age. According to this view Daniel and Revelation are neither a historical record nor a predictive prophecy. It too denies them as being prophetic. This view suggests that the books are myth designed to convey spiritual truth.
Finally, the futurist approach sees predictions of people and events yet to come. This approach allows Daniel to be interpreted in the literal, grammatical-historical method thus avoiding allegory and spiritualizing. The futurist approach allows for the claims of the Book concerning prophecy. As we said if allegory and spiritualizing is accepted as a valid means of interpretation than anything can mean anything that the interpreter believes it to mean.
The book of Daniel is named and written in the sixth century B.C. by the prophet, statesman and servant of the God. Daniel records the events of his life and the visions he saw from the time of his exile from Israel in 605 (1:1) until the third year of King Cyrus (536; 10:1). Daniel was a young man of noble blood who was exiled from Judah during the time of King Jehoiakim (609–597 B.C.) and was groomed for leadership serving King Nebuchadnezzar.
The Biblical critics of the book of Daniel suggest it was written by a second-century B.C. Jewish author, after the events of Hanukkah and not Daniel. This view is based on a humanistic perspective that denies the possibility God’s Spirit composing this book through Daniel. Both Jews and Christians hold that Daniel wrote this book sometime shortly after the end of the Babylonian captivity. In the text Daniel claims to have written down visions given by God (8:2; 9:2,20; 12:5). Passages that contain third-person references to Daniel do not disprove his authorship. After all, authors commonly refer to themselves in the third person, as Moses did in Torah. The prophet Ezekiel referred to Daniel several times (Ezk 14:14,20; 28:3). Yeshua attributed the book of Daniel to Daniel himself (Mt 24:15; Mk 13:14).
Daniel begins by relating the events of King Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands. There were three deportations to Babylon the first in 606 BC, then 596, and the last in 586. It was the first of these three invasions and deportations that Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego) were taken from Jerusalem to Babylon. Daniel’s ministry began in 605 when he arrived in Babylon and extended beyond the fall of Babylon in 539 BC. The last we hear from Daniel was sometime after the third year of Cyrus the Great, the Medo-Persian king who overthrew the Babylonian empire (Dan 1:21 and 10:1).
Daniel was written to encourage the Jewish people who were now in captivity in Babylon by revealing God’s program to them, both during and after the time of Gentile power in the world. God’s sovereign hand over all rulers and nations is a key theme in his writing all pointing to coming King of Kings. God was providentially working his discipline and purposes on Israel and the nations as Daniel relates in his writings. God allowed Gentiles to dominate Israel through Babylon (605–539 B.C.), Medo-Persia (539–331 B.C.), Greece (331–146 B.C.), Rome (146 B.C.–A.D. 476), and all the way to the second coming of the Messiah.
The predominant theme is Messiah’s coming to rule the world in glory over all men (2:35 45 7:13–14 27). He is described as a stone in ch. 2, the son of man in ch. 7, and the Anointed One (Messiah) in 9:26. A second message of Daniel’s writing is God’s power displayed through miracles. God, who has dominion and power to work all according to his will (Dan. 4:34–35). Daniel relates this power in his being given the ability to recount and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams that God used to reveal his will (Dan. 2 4 7). Other miracles included the writing on the wall and Daniel interpreting it (ch. 5); God’s protection of the Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael in the furnace, God protecting Daniel in the lions’ den (ch. 6); and the incredible prophecies given to Daniel.
This book is so important for our study today as it displays the struggle between Nebuchadnezzar and God. The war between the world’s way of doing things and God’s way, which continues today. Nebuchadnezzar has the mindset of today’s secular humanist and believers who doubt God’s sovereign hand over all things. Humanists do not credit God for creation and believe that all that exists is of man, by man, and for man. Nebuchadnezzar believed all that he had built was for his glory, and he lived as though there was no God but him.
A second worldview we see today is the doctrine of separation of priest and kings. Nebuchadnezzar assumed authority in both the earthly and spiritual realms. This is a truth articulated in God’s Law, priests were not to rule and kings were not to usurp the role of the priests. Both were responsible to God, who ruled over both and were answerable to Him in all their affairs. They had different roles but were servants of one master. They held each other accountable to God and served as a check so that neither could get carried away with the power entrusted to them.
Today, this doctrine is often taken by believers, to mean that the church has nothing to do with the state while the state is increasingly bringing its humanist world view to bear on the Body of Messiah. Nebuchadnezzar wrongly thought that since he was able to take the treasures of the Temple of the God of Israel that His God and He was greater than the God of Israel. He thought he had no need for God. But he will hear God say “your royal authority has been taken from you…until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes”. Nebuchadnezzar became insane and was driven from the city. This is what happens when people take the glory of God to themselves. They lose the glory they have been given, made in God’s image, and become like wild animals. In fact, the animal kingdom for the most part acts in ways that correspond to their nature.