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Read: Daniel 8

Again, a good procedure for understanding and applying the prophecy of Daniel 8 is to take off the names of the kingdoms and ask “What?” instead of “Who?”. The chapter is central to the birth of Adventism. Without Daniel 8:14 there would be no Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Questions for Discussion

1. From Wild Animals to Tame. While the animals in Daniel 8 still represent kingdoms, they are no longer wild animals, but tame ones, animals suitable for sacrifice. What could be the significance of the shift from wild to tame and to a narrower focus on the sanctuary? Could it be that Chapter 8, along with Chapter 9 are now drawing closer to the heart of God’s plan for his people?

2. Dates vs. Relevance. Is it possible to shift from dates to relevance in the 21st century? The kind of detailed study of prophecy which gave birth to Adventism is typically not the kind of study that is likely to attract people to God’s kingdom today. Even among Adventists very few are interested in dates. Yet in the early 19th century God used dates and calculations to awaken a people to a task that he would gradually unfold to them. While some are likely to scoff at the methods by which our Adventist forebears came to the October 22, 1844 date, there is strong evidence to suggest that their contemporaries understood and accepted many of their basic assumptions. Evaluate the implications of these two quotations:

“In 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 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 calculations” (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. Daniel 8 and Adventist History. Evaluate the impact of the following developments or steps in Adventist History. Can one speak of providential leading in these events?

  • A. Before 1844: Focus on the second coming. Our forebears were wrong in focusing on a date; but they were right in looking for a cataclysmic end to this sinful world.
  • B. After 1844: Heavenly sanctuary and the law of God. When the survivors of the Great Disappointment looked to the heavenly sanctuary, they glimpsed the ark of the covenant in heaven that contained the decalogue. In vision Ellen White saw a halo around the 4th command. In short, recognition of the sanctuary in heaven highlighted the importance of obedience to God’s commands.
  • C. In the 1860s: From commanded law to natural law. In the 1860s, the death rate among Adventists (and the population in general) was sobering. Here is a summary of the ages of those whose obituaries were included in the Review and Herald in 1862:

Obituaries in Review and Herald, 1862 (Senior SS Lesson Quarterly, 1/13/93):

Under 7 18 = 29%
7 – 20 9 = 14%
21 – 40 14 = 22%
41 – 60 14 = 22%
Over 60 8 = 13%
Total 63

God showed Ellen White that she and her fellow Adventists must pay more attention to “natural” law. Their lives depended on it. By taking care of their bodies they could live longer and happier lives. The positive? Adventists began to improve in health and to live longer. The negative? Adventists were even more inclined to believe that salvation, like health, depended on obedience to law. The result was a discouraged people. That’s why Ellen White would exclaim in the aftermath of the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference (the “righteousness by faith” General Conference): “Let the law take care of itself. We have been at work on the law until we get as dry as the hills of Gilboa, without dew or rain. Let us trust in the merits of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (MS 10, 1890, EGW1888 2:557). Adventists were now in desperate need of the next step.

  • D. 1888 and after: Saved by grace, not by our obedience. As a result of the tumultuous 1888 General Conference, Adventists began to realize more clearly that salvation was not the result of human effort; it is the gift of God through the merits of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. The law is still important as a means of providing a safe structure within which we can live our lives; but salvation is purely the gift of God.
  • E. The concluding drama: A grateful people witness to the goodness of God. In the great cosmic struggle between good and evil, God needs a people who can witness to his goodness, a testimony to the power of God’s grace at work in human lives. No longer do they stand before God in court as the accused. Now they stand in court before the universe as witnesses for God.

Narrative Addendum to Daniel 8:

Daniel 8: Let’s Not Lose Our Nerve
By Alden Thompson
[Cf. Spectrum On-line (4-15-02); Adventist Today Jan/Feb 2003; revised for Probe, 8/1/06]

In recent decades the traditional Adventist interpretation of Daniel 8 has been under steady attack. I’ll be candid: I’m not eager to defend the “traditional” Adventist interpretation, at least not in the way that it typically has been defended, but I am even less eager to capitulate to critics who often ignore great chunks of biblical material in their eagerness to jettison the Adventist position. The objections generally fall under three major headings:

1. Historicism. Since the historicist approach to apocalyptic is virtually ignored in today’s religious world, Adventists are judged to be out of date if not just plain wrong in continuing to adhere to it.

2. Context. In Daniel 8, Antiochus IV Epiphanes is said to be a much better candidate for the little horn than is papal Rome. Antiochus polluted the Jerusalem sanctuary for three years (168/67 to 165/64 BCE), among other things, offering pig to Zeus on an altar erected in the temple court.

3. Assurance. The Adventist doctrine of the “investigative judgment,” which owes its existence to the1844 experience, robs believers of security in the Lord, and therefore, declare its detractors, should be abandoned.

There are counter observations with reference to these objections. As I see it, they contain important kernels of truth, but usually are developed in ways which could jeopardize key features of the Christian faith. Here are some comments relative to each.

1. Historicism. In its thorough-going mode, historicism is indeed dated. No one today would simply pick up a Bible and interpret the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25 as a road-map of the 1844 experience, the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 as seven successive eras of history, or the bittersweet little book of Revelation 10 as reflecting the Disappointment and its aftermath. Our Adventist forebears saw the historicist pattern in places where their heirs and descendants do not.

But let us not be too quick to snicker. Indeed, we would do well to ponder Norman Porteous’s comment on the link between “the contemporary climate of thought” and methods of interpreting Scripture. In a preface justifying the exceptional reprinting of a 1928 book in 1955, he said: “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” (preface to Adam Welch, Jeremiah: His Time and Work, Oxford, 1955, p vi). In short, the “wisdom” which tempts us to laugh at yesterday could make us the laughingstocks of tomorrow. A modicum of humility is in order.

Furthermore, in a more moderate form, historicism is still the obvious interpretation for the book of Daniel. The successive kingdoms in Daniel 2 and 7 move toward climax and the establishment of divine rule; the sanctuary in Daniel 8 and 9 moves toward restoration; and history flows toward the resurrection in Daniel 10-12. These are all examples of “historicism” at work. The book of Revelation may be another matter, but historicism is alive and well in Daniel.

I will also argue that we don’t need to be ashamed of our historicist heritage. Scholars of the nineteenth century openly state that “historicism” was standard fare among premillennial Protestants at the time Adventism was born. Here are two quotes worth noting:

“In 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 – 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 calculations” (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).

2. Context. Outside the Adventist community, virtually all interpreters of the book of Daniel from all schools of thought identify the little horn of Daniel 8 as Antiochus Epiphanes. Where and why would Adventists differ? Can we find any common ground with them?

First, it must be said that whatever approach one takes to the “little horn” of Daniel 8, there are mysterious puzzles to which there are no clear answers. But to claim that Antiochus is the sole candidate to be the little horn of Daniel 8 represents a significant over-simplification. Powerful indicators within the context point far beyond the time of Antiochus. Indeed, the parallelism within the book of Daniel offers a strong argument that the little horn of Daniel 8, like the little horn of Daniel 7, is a derivative of the fourth kingdom (Rome). But the clearest contextual indication of the inadequacy of the Antiochus interpretation is the double application of the vision to “the time of the end” in 8:17 and 8:21, a point that deserves closer attention.

The content of the chapter as a whole neatly divides into two parts: those verses on which all interpreters agree, and those which send each school of thought down its own path. All interpreters agree that the ram of Daniel 8 represents the Kings of Media and Persia (Dan. 8:20) and that the male goat represents Greece (Dan. 8:21). Here is one of the best examples of the Bible interpreting itself. Similarly, all interpreters agree on the identification of the great king (Alexander) and the divisions of his kingdom into four (Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, and Lysimachus), even though these figures are not named in the text.

But with the little horn of verse 9, interpreters part company: preterists look to the past; futurists look to the future; historicists draw parallels with Daniel 7 and identify it with a power that grows out of the fourth kingdom (Rome); idealists look at the character of the little horn and apply it wherever it fits. Even Adventists have disagreed here with some intensity, some arguing that the little horn comes out of the four winds, some arguing that it comes out of the horns. The fourth volume of the SDABC provides a solid discussion of both chapters from the Adventist perspective. All Adventists end up with Rome in focus, but they arrive there by different routes.

What is intriguing here, however, is how interpreters from different schools of thought come close to common ground when it comes to the application of the vision as a whole. Even the highly-structured futurists (dispensationalists) offer helpful insights. The futurist Leon Wood, for example, sees the little horn of Daniel 7 as being in the future but the little horn of Daniel as being in the past. This is how he puts it: “In the first vision [Daniel 7] it was the Antichrist, still to appear in the future, and here [in Daniel 8] it is Antiochus Epiphanes of ancient history.” But then Wood adds this tantalizing comment:

The reason for symbolizing both as a little horn is that the one prefigures the other. Antiochus Epiphanes is sometimes called the antichrist of the Old Testament; that is the one who brought suffering to the Jews in his day…. From what Antiochus did to the Jews in his day, therefore, one may know the general pattern of what the Antichrist will do to them in the future. – Leon Wood, Daniel (Zondervan, 1973), 212.

In Wood’s interpretation, that double application comes up again in connection with Daniel 8:17 when Gabriel specifically says that the vision is for the “time of the end.” “The angel Gabriel,” says Wood, is “now giving the meaning of the vision by showing, not only the significance involving Antiochus of the ancient history, but also that of the one whom Antiochus foreshadowed, the Antichrist of future history.” – Wood, 223. In short, Woods ends up sounding very much like an idealist (multiple applications).

Interestingly enough, Joyce Baldwin’s Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, Daniel, takes a similar line. While avoiding the extreme preterist and futurist interpretations of the book, Baldwin does show intriguing points of contact with all four schools of interpretation: preterism, futurism, idealism, and historicism. She, too, distinguishes the little horns of Daniel 7 and 8, noting both similarities and differences. But then she states that “we are being introduced to a recurring historical phenomenon: the clever but ruthless world dictator, who stops at nothing in order to achieve his ambitions” (Daniel, 162). Earlier she states that the “salient features” of the little horn “present a description which could apply to more than one political leader known from the history books” (Daniel, 160). Her point of contact with historicism comes in her concluding comments on Daniel where she notes that the author of Daniel “does not name the fourth kingdom. Historically it was, of course, the Roman empire which superseded the Greek” (Daniel, 162).

So while interpreters may not agree on the specific identity of the little horn, the essential nature of the evil entity is clear. It simply remains for Adventists to put all the pieces together in a way which actually brings us to the “end of time” (cf. Daniel 8:17). And here we would agree with our futurist friends that the vision does have a specific application for the time of the end. (Baldwin avoids the end-time application here [cf. Daniel, 159].) But we part company with the futurists when they look for a literal sanctuary to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. And their futurist Antichrist is much more political than the little horn power of Daniel. In both Daniel 7 and 8 the little horn is predominantly a religious power, though using the weapons of civil government. That same emphasis on the religious nature of the conflict is evident in Revelation 13 where Rome is never mentioned by name, but clearly is in the Seer’s mind, symbolized by the beasts and by the name “Babylon,” the ancient evil empire.

Because of our own unique history, Adventists look to the heavenly sanctuary, to events in heaven, as being the crucial event at the end of time. In many ways, the evil powers symbolized by the beasts, the little horn, by “Rome,” by “Babylon,” all look very much alike. But in the final conflict, it is the goodness of God that is on display: the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 7:21) is God’s great gift on our behalf. And the judgment hour preaching of that Gospel is his call to us to accept that sacrifice and thus play a key part in the concluding scenes of the great conflict between Christ and Satan.

A more subtle factor affecting our understanding of the context of Daniel 8 involves our place in history. Believers usually see the “end of time” as an event near in their own day: for Daniel, the “time of the end” meant a “cleansing” of the Jerusalem sanctuary desecrated by Babylon; for Jews living at the time of Antiochus, the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees clearly reveal that the Jews living at the time of Antiochus’ applied the words of Daniel to the sanctuary being desecrated in their day; Jesus, too, spoke of the sanctuary of his day; and we look for a sanctuary in ours. Futurists expect a rebuilt sanctuary in the earthly Jerusalem; Adventists look to the cleansing or restoring of the heavenly sanctuary as an event in our day. In short, taking the full sweep of Scripture into account, we are looking at multiple applications: Babylon the desolator in 586, Antiochus in 168/67, Rome in 70 CE. In our day, anything that diminishes the effects of Christ’s heavenly ministry is yet another desolating sacrilege that must be put right before the universe is ready for the ultimate Day of the Lord.

3. Assurance. This may be the crux of the matter, for we live in an age that craves assurance. If our Adventist forebears over-emphasized human responsibility (and I think they did), the spirit of our age overemphasizes assurance. But my New Testament reminds me that it is possible to live with assurance and still be lost: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven,” said Jesus (Matt. 7:21). The painful truth is that some of us are too easily frightened, others too readily assured. That’s why Paul gave the believers in Corinth a choice: “Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor. 4:21). Quite frankly, I don’t think Adventists do a very good job preaching Romans and Galatians. We can do better. But dumping the doctrine of judgment is not the cure for our disease.

In sum, our Adventist heritage enables us to be consistent with the entire book of Daniel, for each major line of prophecy points to restoration: In Daniel 2 the mighty rock fills the whole earth; in Daniel 7, the saints receive the kingdom; in Daniel 8-9, the sanctuary is restored; and in Daniel 10-12, Michael stands up for his people. Let’s not lose our nerve now….

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