Read: Daniel 2
Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the great image lays the foundation for what has become known at the “historicist” interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy. And the foundation for this view in Daniel 2 is evident to all interpreters: one kingdom follows the other until the great stone cut out without hands smashes the image and fills the whole earth.
Questions for Discussion:
- Daniel without history books. If one knew only what Daniel 2 itself tells us, what practical and spiritual applications could be drawn from the chapter? To what extent are those applications dependent upon a knowledge of history? Consider this quotation:
Young Christians, and especially those who are aware of their minority in a hostile society, are particularly drawn to this book. “Please finish the notes on Daniel first and then go on with Genesis,” wrote Lisu tribes people in Thailand to one who was preparing literature in their language. (Joyce Baldwin, Daniel, TOTC [Inter Varsity, 1978], 14)
To what extent could the message of Daniel 2 be universalized without any reference to specific nations and peoples? The tribes people in Thailand knew nothing of particular nations in conflict but they could still be blessed by the book.
- Second Coming in Daniel 2. If Daniel 2 was the only passage of Scripture available, how would the “Second Coming” be understood? Does it suggest a sudden end to the world or a gradual one? How much does one know about the details of a restored world?In short, the basic message would be simple and straightforward, but short on details. And the basic message of Daniel 2 is reiterated in each of the major lines of prophecy:
If one turns to the book of Revelation, however, the sweep of history is not self-evident as it is in Daniel. The “historicist” pattern can be brought to the book and successive eras can be carved out and applied. The seven churches of
Revelation 2 and 3, for example, were originally seven real churches in what is now modern Turkey. The idea of seven eras leading down to the end of time was not developed until one could look back on history and “see” a pattern.
- Different Schools of Interpretation. The four classic “schools” of interpretation on the book of Daniel are Historicism, Preterism, Futurism, and Idealism. A brief synopsis of each of the four perspectives follows. See also Appendix A at the end of this Study Guide. A good study question would be: How does each view affect the interpretation of Daniel 2? For more information on the book of Daniel as a whole, see Alden Thompson, “Daniel,” in Doug Clark and John Brunt, eds., Introducing the Bible, Vol. 1: The Old Testament and Intertestamental Literature (Lanham, New York, Oxford: University Press of America, 1997), 525-44. It is available on-line at:
Eschatology: Four Perspectives
- “All-time Road Map”: HISTORICISM: The single road-map through history leading up to the end-time events. The traditional Adventist perspective, rooted in Daniel 2 and 7 and shaped by the teaching of the great reformers.
- “Yesterday”: PRETERISM: Predicted “end-time” events were in the author’s own day. In its pure form, held by “liberals” who deny any predictive element in prophecy or any “real” end of time.
- “Tomorrow”: FUTURISM: “End-time” events yet to come. In its pure form, denies conditional prophecy; the most popular view of eschatology among conservative Christians today. This is the view represented by the movie “Left Behind” and by the immensely popular fictional books in the “Left Behind” series. Over 60 million copies of the books have been sold. Unfulfilled events in the Bible (especially from the OT) are predicted to take place at some future point in connection with a literal and restored Israel. The temple, for example, will be rebuilt in Jerusalem on the site of the Moslem mosque, Dome of the Rock. Dispensationalism is the best-known modern form of futurism. Note the seven divisions of history as developed in the Scofield Bible notes:
- Innocence: Before the fall
- Conscience: Before the flood
- Human government: Before Abraham
- Promise: Before Sinai
- Law: Before the Cross
- Grace: Before Second Advent
- Kingdom: 7 years and millennium.
Note: The seven year period falls between the secret coming of Christ (“rapture” [parousia]) and the public coming [epiphaneia]; the saints spend the next 1000 years on earth, during which there is birth, death, and animal sacrifice.
- “Today, Today, Today!”: IDEALISM: Multiple applications for “end-time” events. From an Adventist perspective, this approach suggests that there were several points in history when Christ could have come. It builds on the concept of “conditional” prophecy. Note the summary of God’s “original” plan for Israel, based on SDABC 4:25-38:
- On-site Evangelism. The world would be attracted to God by Israel’s witness and prosperity. Many would ask to become part of Israel.
- Salvation through the Messiah. God’s anointed one (the messiah) would have come, died, and risen again, but would have been accepted by his own people.
- Jerusalem as Missionary Headquarters. The present city of Jerusalem would have become a center for outreach into the whole world.
- Final Confrontation but the Gradual Elimination of Evil. A confrontation would finally take place between good and evil; God’s rule would be established; but the marks of evil would gradually disappear.
Note: As suggested in the introduction to this quarter’s Study Guide, “Applied Historicism,” (rather than Idealism), might be a clearer description of the Adventist view of prophetic understanding. How much the “spirit of the age” affects our view of Scripture is suggested by the next cluster of quotations.
1. Methods of Bible study are conditioned by time and place.
“Some justification is perhaps required for the reprinting (for the second time since the War) of a volume originally published by the Oxford University Press in 1928. Books of biblical exposition tend to date very rapidly, and eventually to become almost unreadable; so close is the connection between such writing and the contemporary climate of thought. There are some expositors, however, Ð and to their number the late Professor Adam C. Welch belonged Ð whose depth of understanding and power of distinguishing what is essential are so remarkable that what they write possesses a more enduring quality.” Norman W. Porteous, “Foreword” to Adam Welch’s Jeremiah: His Time and Work (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1955), vi.
2. Historicism was ÒtheÓ Protestant premillennial view of eschatology in the early 1800s:
ÒIn the immediate post-Napoleonic era, events took place that appeared to confirm the pre-millennial view for a number of British Christians. As historicist premillennialists Ð and all premillennialists were such between 1815 and 1830 they saw a number of signs that indicated the nearness of the Second Coming (Ian Rennie, Nineteenth-Century Roots, in Carl Amerding and Ward Gasque, eds., A Guide to Biblical Prophecy [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson (1977) 1989], 46 [emphasis supplied]).
All Protestants expected some grand event about 1843, and no critic from the orthodox side took any serious issue on basic principles with Miller’s calculationsÓ (Whitney R Cross, The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 [New York: Harper & Row, 1965], 321. Cited by Rolf Poehler, Continuity and Change in Adventist Teaching [Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2000], 23).
3. EGW gives bothÒhistoricistÓ and ÒcontextualÓ interpretations of the same biblical passage
Historicist Interpretation: “The coming of Christ as our high priest to the most holy place, for the cleansing of the sanctuary, brought to view in Dan. 8:14; the coming of the Son of man to the Ancient of days, as presented in Dan. 7:13; and the coming of the Lord to His temple, foretold by Malachi, are descriptions of the same event; and this is also represented by the coming of the bridegroom to the marriage, described by Christ in the parable of the ten virgins, of Matthew 25” (GC 426).
“The proclamation, `Behold the Bridegroom cometh,’ in the summer of 1844, led thousands to expect the immediate advent of the Lord. At the appointed time the Bridegroom came, not to the earth, as the people expected, but to the Ancient of days in heaven, to the marriage, the reception of the kingdom. `They that were ready went in with Him to the marriage, and the door was shut.” They were not to be present in person at the marriage; for it takes place in heaven, while they are upon the earth. The followers of Christ are to `wait for their Lord, when He will return from the wedding.’ [Luke 12:36] But they are to understand His work, and to follow Him by faith as He goes in before God. It is in this sense that they are said to go in to the marriage.” (GC 427)
Contextual Interpretation:“As Christ sat looking upon the party that waited for the bridegroom, He told His disciples the story of the ten virgins, by their experience illustrating the experience of the church that shall live just before His second coming.” (COL 406)
“The coming of the bridegroom was at midnight–the darkest hour. So the coming of the Christ will take place in the darkest period of this earth’s history.” (COL 414)