David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
Daniel 8:1-27 - ANTIOCHUS AND ANTICHRIST
In the ancient manuscripts, the Book of Daniel here resumes using the Hebrew language. The section from Daniel 2:4 to Daniel 7:28 was written in Aramaic.
A. The vision recounted.
1. (Daniel 8:1-2) Introduction to the vision.
In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me; to me, Daniel; after the one that appeared to me the first time. I saw in the vision, and it so happened while I was looking, that I was in Shushan, the citadel, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in the vision that I was by the River Ulai.
a. The third year of the reign of King Belshazzar: This vision happened while Babylon was securely in power. Though the vision will deal with the emergence and destiny of the Greek Empire, the Greek Empire was not much of anything at the time the prophecy came to Daniel.
b. I was in Shushan, the citadel: Daniel was in Shushan on the king’s business (Daniel 8:27).
2. (Daniel 8:3-4) A mighty ram pushing in different directions.
Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and there, standing beside the river, was a ram which had two horns, and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last. I saw the ram pushing westward, northward, and southward, so that no animal could withstand him; nor was there any that could deliver from his hand, but he did according to his will and became great.
a. A ram which had two horns: In this same chapter (Daniel 8:20) this ram is clearly identified as representing the Medo-Persian Empire, which succeeded the Babylonian Empire.
i. It wasn’t a stretch to use a ram to represent the Medo-Persian Empire. “Ammianus Marcellinus, a fourth century historian, states that the Persian ruler bore the head of a ram as he stood at the head of his army.” (Wood) “The ram was the national emblem of Persia, a ram being stamped on Persian coins as well as on the headdress of Persian emperors.” (Strauss)
b. The two horns were high; but one was higher than the other: The ram is noted for the proportion of its two horns - one was higher than the other. This was an accurate prediction of the partnership between the Medes and the Persians, because the Persians were larger and stronger in the partnership. They also emerged after the Medes (the higher one came up last).
c. Pushing westward, northward, and southward: The Medo-Persian Empire exerted its power to the north, south, and west. It assumed territory but made no major conquests towards the east.
i. “The principle theatre of their wars, says Calmet, was against the SCYTHIANS, northward; against the GREEKS, westward; and against the EGYPTIANS, southward.” (Clarke)
3. (Daniel 8:5-8) A male goat challenges and conquers the ram.
And as I was considering, suddenly a male goat came from the west, across the surface of the whole earth, without touching the ground; and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. Then he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing beside the river, and ran at him with furious power. And I saw him confronting the ram; he was moved with rage against him, attacked the ram, and broke his two horns. There was no power in the ram to withstand him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled him; and there was no one that could deliver the ram from his hand. Therefore the male goat grew very great; but when he became strong, the large horn was broken, and in place of it four notable ones came up toward the four winds of heaven.
a. A male goat came from the west: In this same chapter (Daniel 8:21-22) this male goat is clearly identified with Greece and its horns with the rulers of the Greek Empire.
i. From ancient history we know this isn’t a strange symbol. The goat was a common representation of the Greek Empire. “Newton very properly observes that, two hundred years before the time of Daniel, they were called, the goats’ people.” (Clarke)
b. Across the surface of the whole earth, without touching the ground: The prophetic description of the male goat was proved to be accurate regarding the Greek Empire.
· The Greek Empire rose from the west of previous empires
· The Greek Empire rose with great speed (suddenly . . . without touching the ground)
· The Greek Empire had a notable ruler, Alexander the Great (a notable horn)
· The Greek Empire had a famous war with the Medo-Persian Empire (I saw him confronting the ram)
· The Greek Empire and the Medo-Persian Empire greatly hated each other (with furious power . . . moved with rage). Some of the greatest, fiercest battles of ancient history were fought between the Greeks and the Persians
· The Greek Empire conquered the Medo-Persian Empire (no one that could deliver the ram from his hand)
· The reign of the notable leader of the Greek Empire was suddenly cut short (the large horn was broken)
· After the end of Alexander the Great’s reign, the Greek Empire was divided among four rulers (in place of it four notable ones came up)
· The four rulers of the Greek Empire after Alexander ruled their own dominions, not the entire empire together (came up toward the four winds of heaven)
i. Alexander did not divide the empire among his four generals himself. His four leading generals divided it among themselves by force after his death.
· Cassander, ruling over Greece and its region
· Lysimachus, ruling over Asia Minor
· Seleucus, ruling over Syria and Israel’s land
· Ptolemy, ruling over Egypt
c. The male goat grew very great: The greatness of Alexander’s Empire was not only in its vast dominion, but also in its cultural power. Alexander the Great was determined to spread Greek civilization, culture, and language across every land he conquered.
i. As God guided history, He used Alexander’s passion to spread Greek culture to prepare the world for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of Alexander’s influence koine (common) Greek became the common language of the civilized world - and the language of the New Testament.
4. (Daniel 8:9-12) The strong horn that arises from the four horns of the male goat.
And out of one of them came a little horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Glorious Land. And it grew up to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and some of the stars to the ground, and trampled them. He even exalted himself as high as the Prince of the host; and by him the daily sacrifices were taken away, and the place of His sanctuary was cast down. Because of transgression, an army was given over to the horn to oppose the daily sacrifices; and he cast truth down to the ground. He did all this and prospered.
a. A little horn which grew exceeding great: This was fulfilled in one of the four successors to Alexander the Great. Since the dominion of this horn was extended toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Glorious Land, we can identify the historical fulfillment of this little horn in Antiochus IV Epiphanes who ruled over Syria and Israel’s land under the Seleucid dynasty.
i. Israel’s land was fought over between the dynasties of Seleucid and Ptolemy, but the Seleucids gained power over the region in the days of Antiochus III (198 B.C.).
ii. Antiochus IV gained the throne by murdering his brother, the former king Seleucus Philopator. The son of Philopator was the rightful heir to the throne, but Antiochus IV had him held hostage in Rome. Antiochus IV legitimized his rule mainly through flattery and bribery.
iii. Antiochus IV assumed the title “Epiphanes” meaning, “illustrious” and alluding to deity. The Jews turned it into “Epimanes” meaning, “madman.”
b. The Glorious Land: In the Hebrew, the same term is used for the land of Israel in Ezekiel 20:6 (the glory of all lands), Ezekiel 25:9 (the glory of the country), and in Daniel 11:16 and Daniel 11:41. Similar wording is used in Psalms 48:2.
i. We can rightly see the Glorious Land as the center of the world:
· It is the nerve center of civilization since the days of Abraham
· It is the truth center from which flowed God’s revelation to man
· It is the storm center of warring nations since the days of Joshua
· It will be the peace center of the earth during the millennial reign of Jesus
· It will be the home center for the Jewish people forever more
c. Antiochus Epiphanes is an accurate and dramatic fulfillment of this prophecy in history - so much so that critics insist that the Book of Daniel must have been written after his time.
· Antiochus Epiphanes exerted his dominion toward the south, toward the east, and toward the land of Israel
· Antiochus Epiphanes murdered other rulers and persecuted the people of Israel (cast down some of the host and some of the stars to the ground, and trampled them)
· Antiochus Epiphanes blasphemed God and commanded idolatrous worship directed towards himself (exalted himself as high as the Prince of the host)
· Antiochus Epiphanes put a stop to temple sacrifices in Jerusalem (by him the daily sacrifices were taken away)
· Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple (the place of His sanctuary was cast down)
· Antiochus Epiphanes opposed God and seemed to prosper (he cast truth down to the ground. He did all this and prospered)
d. It cast down some of the host and some of the stars to the ground: These are symbols used in the Old Testament for angels, kings and leaders, or the people of God at large. Here it is fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes and his attacks against rulers and God’s people in general.
i. The terms stars of heaven (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 15:5) and the hosts of the LORD (Exodus 12:41) are used of God’s people in general.
ii. “Undoubtedly it is the design here to describe the pride and ambition of [the “little horn”], and to show that he did not think anything too exalted for his aspiration.” (Barnes)
e. And trampled them: Antiochus was an infamous persecutor of the Jewish people. He wanted them to submit to Greek culture and customs and was more than willing to use murder and violence to compel them.
i. Antiochus’s suppression of the Jews came to a head in December of 168 B.C. when he returned in defeat from Alexandria. He ordered his generals to seize Jerusalem on a Sabbath. There he erected an idol of Zeus and desecrated the altar by an offering of swine and sprinkling the pig’s juices in the sanctuary. Sacrifice was ceased because the temple was desecrated.
ii. 1 Maccabees 1:29-32; 1 Maccabees 1:52-61 describe how Antiochus persecuted the Jews. 1 Maccabees 1:41-50 describes his blasphemies. By some estimates he is responsible for the murder of more than 100,000 Jews.
f. Because of transgression, an army was given over to the horn to oppose the daily sacrifices: This was fulfilled in the terrors of Antiochus Epiphanes. The Jews, especially their leaders invited God’s judgment upon them through Antiochus because of their sin.
i. The first attack of Antiochus against the Jews was to settle a rivalry for the high priesthood. A pious high priest, Onias III, was removed from office and replaced with his brother Jason because Jason bribed Antiochus. Then in 172, another brother (Menelaus) gave Antiochus an even bigger bribe and replaced Jason. A year later Menelaus started selling many of the temple’s gold utensils to raise money to pay off the bribe. Onias III rebuked him, and Menelaus had him murdered. Meanwhile, Jason gathered armies and fought against Menelaus to regain the office of High Priest. Antiochus Epiphanes came in to Jerusalem in 171 to defend the man who paid him a bigger bribe to be the High Priest.
ii. “This was the reason why God set over them such a breathing devil, as was Antiochus, for a punishment of their open impiety and formal apostasy.” (Trapp)
5. (Daniel 8:13-14) The duration of the sanctuary’s desecration: 2,300 days.
Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to that certain one who was speaking, “How long will the vision be, concerning the daily sacrifices and the transgression of desolation, the giving of both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled under foot?” And he said to me, “For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.”
a. Then I heard a holy one speaking: Many think this nameless holy one is an Old Testament appearance of Jesus. This is possible, but there is not enough information to be certain.
b. How long will the vision be? Daniel didn’t ask this question; he heard the holy ones speaking together and one asked the question. They wanted to know how long the sacrifices would be suspended and how long the sanctuary would be desecrated.
c. For two thousand three hundred days: Literally, Daniel heard a holy one say “two thousand three hundred mornings and evenings.” Bible students debate if this means 2,300 days or 1,150 days. 2,300 days is almost seven years.
i. Either understanding is possible, but it is more likely that this means 2,300 days. The date when the temple was cleansed is well established as December 25, 165 B.C. If we count back 2,300 days from then, we come to the year when Antiochus Epiphanes began his persecution in earnest (171 B.C.).
ii. However, if we take it to mean 1,150 days it can refer to the time the temple was actually desecrated. Philip Newell makes this case: “For a duration of time during which 2300 daily sacrifices would ordinarily have been offered, one at evening and one in the morning, as specified in Exodus 29:38-43. Since there are two of these daily, the actual time period involved is 1150 days, or slightly over three years. This, in fact, was the time of the Maccabean tribulation, 168-165 B.C., at the end of which the sanctuary was ‘cleansed’ by Judas Maccabeus in his restoration of the evening and morning sacrifices (2 Maccabees 10:1-5).”
iii. This passage has been a favorite springboard for elaborate and fanciful prophetic interpretations. A popular and tragic interpretation of this passage took one year for every day, and William Miller used 2,300 “year-days” to calculate that Jesus would return in 1844 (2,300 years after Cyrus issued the decree to rebuild the temple). His movement ended up giving birth to the Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and several other movements.
iv. We can know that Miller and other “year-day” theories are wrong because this passage was fulfilled before the time of Jesus. Jesus recognized that the temple was properly cleansed and rededicated when He attended the Feast of Lights, commemorating the cleansing and rededication of the temple after the desecration brought by Antiochus Epiphanes (John 10:22).
v. Adam Clarke comments show what a hold the year-date approach had to many of his time: “Though literally it be two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings, yet I think the prophetic day should be understood here, as in other parts of this prophet, and must signify so many years. If we date these years from the vision of the he-goat, (Alexander’s invading Asia), this was A.M. 3670, B.C. 334; and two thousand three hundred years from that time will reach to A.D. 1966, or one hundred and forty-one years from the present A.D. 1825.” There is no foundation for Clarke’s approach, and it has led many off into serious error.
d. This amazingly specific prophecy was written some 350 years before the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. Great prophetic fulfillment like this demonstrates that God not only knows the future, He also guides the future.
B. The vision is interpreted.
1. (Daniel 8:15-19) Gabriel appears to Daniel.
Then it happened, when I, Daniel, had seen the vision and was seeking the meaning, that suddenly there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, who called, and said, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” So he came near where I stood, and when he came I was afraid and fell on my face; but he said to me, “Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the time of the end.” Now, as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep with my face to the ground; but he touched me, and stood me upright. And he said, “Look, I am making known to you what shall happen in the latter time of the indignation; for at the appointed time the end shall be.
a. Between the banks of the Ulai: Daniel is still in the midst of his vision, where he saw himself on the shores of the Persian river. He heard someone instruct Gabriel to explain the vision to Daniel.
b. The vision refers to the time of the end: Gabriel assures Daniel that this vision has to do with end times, with the latter time of the indignation.
i. This is a problem for some, because we see that the prophecy of Daniel 8:1-14 was fulfilled in the days of the Medo-Persian and Greek Empires, especially in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. The terms time of the end and latter time of the indignation commonly refer to what we think of as the end times, not events fulfilled more than a 100 years before the birth of Jesus.
ii. The answer is that though this prophecy is fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes it also has a later fulfillment in the Antichrist, referring to the time of the end. Antiochus Epiphanes is sometimes called the “antichrist of the Old Testament.” He prefigures the Antichrist of the end times.
iii. Just like Antiochus Epiphanes rose to power with force and intrigue, so will the Antichrist. As he persecuted the Jews, so will the Antichrist. As he stopped sacrifice and desecrated the temple, so will the Antichrist. As he seemed to be a complete success, so will the Antichrist. “From what Antiochus did to Jews in his day, therefore, one may know the general pattern of what the Antichrist will do to them in the future.” (Wood)
iv. “Greece with all its refinement, culture and art, produced the Old Testament Anti-Christ while the so called Christian nations produce the New Testament Anti-Christ.” (Heslop)
c. Some see this Antiochus and Antichrist connection, and some do not. Martin Luther wrote, “This chapter in Daniel refers both to Antiochus and Antichrist.” John Calvin wrote, “Hence Luther, indulging his thoughts too freely, refers this passage to the masks of Antichrist.”
2. (Daniel 8:20-22) The specific identification of the ram and the male goat of Daniel’s vision.
The ram which you saw, having the two horns; they are the kings of Media and Persia. And the male goat is the kingdom of Greece. The large horn that is between its eyes is the first king. As for the broken horn and the four that stood up in its place, four kingdoms shall arise out of that nation, but not with its power.
a. The large horn that is between its eyes is the first king: This was fulfilled in history by Alexander the Great.
b. Four kingdoms shall arise out of that nation, but not with its power: This was fulfilled in history by the four generals who divided Alexander’s Empire between them.
3. (Daniel 8:23-26) The rise and fall of the strong little horn.
And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their fullness, a king shall arise, having fierce features, who understands sinister schemes. His power shall be mighty, but not by his own power; he shall destroy fearfully, and shall prosper and thrive; he shall destroy the mighty, and also the holy people. Through his cunning he shall cause deceit to prosper under his rule; and he shall exalt himself in his heart. He shall destroy many in their prosperity. He shall even rise against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without human means. And the vision of the evenings and mornings which was told is true; therefore seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future.
a. In the latter time of their kingdom: The prophecy in this passage reads equally true of both Antiochus and Antichrist. This is an example of a prophetic passage that has both a near and far fulfillment.
b. Having fierce features: Antiochus Epiphanes was known for his cruel brutality; this will also become the legacy of the coming Antichrist.
c. Who understands sinister schemes . . . through his cunning: Antiochus was known for his flattery and smooth tongue. The coming Antichrist will strike a covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:27).
d. His power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: Antiochus Epiphanes was empowered by Satan and allowed by God. The same will be true of the coming Antichrist.
e. Shall prosper and thrive: Antiochus Epiphanes looked like a total success. The coming Antichrist will look like a complete winner until God topples his reign.
f. He shall destroy the mighty, and also the holy people: Antiochus Epiphanes not only destroyed his enemies, but also harshly persecuted the people of God. The coming Antichrist will also destroy and persecute.
g. He shall cause deceit to prosper: Both the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes in the past and the Antichrist in the future are marked by deceit. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10)
h. He shall magnify himself in his heart: The coins of Antiochus Epiphanes were inscribed with this title: theos epiphanies meaning, “God manifest.” The coming Antichrist will also exalt himself: So that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)
i. He shall even rise against the Prince of princes: Though Antiochus Epiphanes hated and fought against the people of God, it was because he really hated God. The same will be true of the coming Antichrist, who will hate the Jews because they hate God.
j. Broken without human hand: History tells us that Antiochus Epiphanes died of disease, not by the hand of man. In a similar way, no man will defeat the coming Antichrist, but the hand of Jesus will strike him down (Revelation 19:20).
k. Therefore seal up the vision: Daniel must do this because in his day the vision referred to a period far distant in its ultimate fulfillment. For us, the time is near (Revelation 1:3) and the book is unsealed (Revelation 22:10).
5. (Daniel 8:27) Daniel reacts to the vision with physical shock and astonishment.
And I, Daniel, fainted and was sick for days; afterward I arose and went about the king’s business. I was astonished by the vision, but no one understood it.
a. Fainted and was sick . . . I was astonished: Daniel probably couldn’t understand why God would allow such a mighty persecutor of His people to rise up.
i. “He may well have been puzzled about why Yahweh would permit even this brief time of brutal oppression under the little horn.” (Archer)
b. I went about the king’s business: Daniel didn’t let either spiritual mysteries or physical weakness keep him from doing his duty. This shows us that our interest in prophecy should make us more about our king’s business, not less about it.
i. “He would have counted it a great slur on his religious life if it could have been said that his visions and exercises interfered with his service to the king.” (Meyer)
ii. “Let us not neglect the work of the Lord, though less able to perform it. A sick child’s service is doubly accepted.” (Trapp)
c. No one understood it: It wasn’t because God never wanted this prophecy to be understood. There is no reason for God to reveal something to man that can never be understood. The reason why no one understood it was because the vision was sealed up in light of its ultimate fulfillment in Daniel’s distant future.
i. It is worth repeating: the time is not distant for us in light of Revelation 1:3 and the book of prophecy is not sealed in light of Revelation 22:10.
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