New Testament Eschatology and the Book of Daniel
Apart from the book of Isaiah (esp. Deutero-Isaiah, chaps. 40-66), no Old Testament writing influenced Jewish and early Christian eschatology more than the book of Daniel. The exact nature of this influence depends on how one dates the book and its composition. According to the standard critical view, the book, in the form we have it, was written around the year 165 B.C., though it may contain earlier traditions. This allows for the possibility that eschatological/apocalyptic themes in the book, which are also found in, for example, the Book of Enoch and a number of the Qumran texts (written earlier or around the same time), are not directly dependent on Daniel, but on a set of common traditions. By contrast, the traditional-conservative view holds that essentially the book is an authentic composition from Daniel’s own time (6th cent. B.C.). This would greatly increase the likelihood that similarities in the Qumran texts, etc, are inspired/influenced primarily, if not entirely, by the book of Daniel.
In this brief study, supplemental to the current series Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament, I will be examining several specific areas, as they relate to the use of Daniel in the New Testament:
1. The use of Daniel in the Qumran texts
The book of Daniel features prominently in the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), in several ways: (a) manuscripts of the book, (b) apocalyptic works influenced by Daniel, and (c) imagery and beliefs drawn from Daniel. The way the Qumran Community interpreted and applied the visions of the book is quite instructive for how the earliest Christians would have understood them as well.
a. Copies of Daniel at Qumran
There are eight manuscript copies of the book of Daniel among the Qumran texts, making it one of the most frequently copied Scriptures (after the Pentateuch, Isaiah, and Psalms). All of the manuscripts are quite fragmentary, but together they cover nearly the entire book. The relatively large number of copies is an indication of the importance and popularity of the book in the Qumran community.
b. The Pseudo-Danielic Writings
There are four texts which are sometimes referred to by the label “Pseudo-Daniel”, due to the presence of Daniel as a central character, or based on similarities to the Old Testament book. Like Dan 2:4b-7:28, these texts were all written in Aramaic.
The first text is represented, it seems, by two manuscripts (4Q243-244). Based on a reconstruction of the surviving fragments, a likely outline of the text can be established. Daniel is standing before Belshazzar (cf. Dan 5), and, like Stephen in his Acts 7 speech, delivers a history of God’s people which turns into a ‘prophecy’ of events which will occur in the Hellenistic period (as in Dan 10-11), and which, in turn, leads into a description of the end-time—after a period of great oppression, God’s people will be delivered and the holy kingdom established (cf. Dan 12:1ff). A second text, apparently with a similar structure and orientation, is preserved in a couple of small fragments (4Q245). Also surviving in a few fragments is the “Prayer of Nabonidus” (4Q242), which records an episode similar to that experienced by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, only here the central figure is king Nabû-na’id (Nabonidus, 556-539 B.C.). Many critical scholars, based on historical parallels with the Babylonian “Nabonidus Chronicle”, believe that the more authentic tradition may indeed have involved Nabonidus, who was replaced by Nebuchadnezzar in the Biblical account.
Especially significant is the fourth text, the famous 4Q246, surviving in a large fragment with two columns. It also has many parallels and similarities to the book of Daniel, in which a king’s troubling vision is interpreted by a prophet/seer (unnamed in the text as we have it). The seer announces events to come—a period of great distress, involving warfare among the kings/nations of the Near East (col. 1, lines 4-6), culminating in the rise of a great ruler who will bring an end to the wars (lines 7-9). A time of war and upheaval is mentioned again in column 2, lines 2-3, followed by the rise of the “people of God” (line 4). This has led some scholars to posit that the great ruler is actually a kind of ‘Antichrist’ figure who brings a false peace. The language used to describe him, however, makes this most unlikely. He is best viewed as a Messianic figure (of the Davidic-ruler type); and there are surprising parallels with the announcement of Jesus’ birth in Luke 1:32-33, 35. It is said of this person that:
The rise of this figure is parallel to the rise of the “people of God”, similar to the pattern and structure we see in Daniel 7. Overall in the text, we see possible allusions to Dan 3:33; 4:31; 7:14, 27, and other portions of the book as well.
All of these texts provide evidence for the extent to which the book of Daniel (and/or its underlying traditions) helped to shaped the eschatological and apocalyptic worldview of the Qumran Community.
c. Other signs of influence at Qumran
There are numerous references or allusions to the book of Daniel in the Qumran texts; I point out here the most prominent of these.
i. The expression <ym!Y`h^ tyr!j&a^ (“after the days”, “following the days”, “[in] the following days”) is a common Semitic (and Old Testament) idiom; however, its distinctive eschatological connotation (“end of the days”, end time, etc) is probably due primarily to its occurrence in Daniel 2:28 and 10:14 (cf. also 8:19, 23; 12:8). It appears a number of times in the Qumran texts, such as: the Florilegium (4Q174, cf. below), the Damascus Document (CD 4:4; 6:11), the so-called ‘Messianic Rule’ (1QSa 1:1), the ‘Halakhic Letter’ (4QMMT C [4Q398] 13-16), and the Commentaries (pesharim) on Isaiah (4QpIsaa fr. 5-6, line 10) and Habakkuk 1QpHab 2:5-6).
ii. The so-called Florilegium (4Q174), in its surviving portion, consists of a series of Scripture verses which are given an eschatological (and Messianic) interpretation, viewed as referring to end-time events which were about to occur in the time of the Qumran Community. At the end of our surviving fragment, Daniel 12:10 is cited as an eschatological prophecy. We do not have the entire explanation/commentary on this verse, but it contains an allusion to Dan 11:32, and almost certainly would have been understood as applying to the Community as embodying the faithful ones of Israel at the end-time.
iii. The Commentary (pesher) on Habakkuk (§7) treats Hab 2:3, a verse which some commentators believe was utilized in the book of Daniel (8:17; 10:14; 11:27, 35; 12:12). While Daniel is not specifically cited here in the pesher, the astute readers of Scripture in the Qumran community would certainly have seen the connection. The theme in these verses is that there may be a ‘delay’ in the fulfillment of the prophecies. This allows for an exhortation to faithfulness, but also for the possibility that the ancient predictions of the coming end are about to be fulfilled in the Community’s own time.
iv. The Qumran texts record perhaps the earliest known attempt to make a precise calculation of when the end will occur, based on the “Seventy Weeks” oracle in Daniel 9 (cf. below), along with other time indicators given in the book. Naturally, the Community, like most groups with a strong eschatological orientation, believed that theirs was the time in which these things would come to pass. In the Damascus Document, a precise application of the “Seventy Weeks” oracle is made, in relation to the Community’s own history. CD 20:14 mentions the “forty years” which are to pass—i.e. from a particular point in their own recent history—which, according to their method of calculation, would complete the period of 490 (70 x 7) years prophesied in the book of Daniel.
2. The “Seventy Weeks” oracle in Dan 9:24-27
I have already presented a detailed examination of the background of this passage, as well as an exegetical analysis and interpretation, in an earlier study (part of the series “Yeshua the Anointed One”), and I will not repeat that here. Instead, I wish to focus specifically on the use of the passage in the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus, along with a brief consideration of its influence on 2 Thessalonians 2 and the early Christians “Antichrist” tradition.
At the beginning of vv. 14-23 in the Markan version of the Eschatological Discourse, Jesus states:
“And when you should see the ‘stinking thing of desolation’ [to\ bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/ew$] having stood where it is necessary (that it) not (be) [i.e. where it ought not to be]…then the (one)s in Yehudah must flee into the mountains…” (v. 14)
Matthew’s version here (24:15-16) is virtually identical, even including the same editorial aside (marked by the ellipsis above): “the (one) reading must put/keep (this) in mind”. The only difference is that in Matthew the allusion is made specific (“the [thing] uttered through Daniyyel the Foreteller”), and the phrase “where it is necessary (that it) not (be)” is explicitly identified with the Temple sanctuary: “…in the Holy Place”. Thus, in Matthew’s version, Jesus is describing a direct fulfillment of the thing prophesied in Dan 9:27—presumably meaning that some sort of idol/image is to be set up in the Temple, or that the holy place will be desecrated in a similar way. Luke’s version of this is radically different.
If we keep, for the moment, with the version in Mark/Matthew, we must ask what Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer) has in mind here. The editorial aside suggests that there is an accepted understanding or interpretation of this allusion, which the writer, at whatever point the aside was included (in Mark or an earlier source), would have assumed was known by his audience. Possibly Luke is clarifying this very interpretation, but there is no way of being certain on this point. The tradition in 2 Thessalonians 2 (cf. below), suggests that this is not the case; rather, a more literal kind of fulfillment of Dan 9:27 is in mind. The critical view, that the original passage refers to the actions of the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) c. 171-167 B.C., whether or not recognized by Jesus and his contemporaries, most likely serves as the pattern or model for what would take place in the great time of distress. As I mentioned in the earlier study on Dan 9:24-27, there are two possibilities which fit this pattern, and the historical context of the Eschatological Discourse (and the 1st century time frame of the Gospel tradition, c. 30-80 A.D.), reasonably well:
- The emperor Gaius’ (Caligula) establishment of the imperial cult, including his statue which was to be placed in the Jerusalem Temple, transforming it into an imperial shrine (c. 40 A.D., Josephus, Antiquities 18.256-307). In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had similarly set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple.
- The transformation of Jerusalem into a (pagan) Roman city (Aelia Capitolina) in the reign of Hadrian, following the suppression of the Jewish (Bar-Kochba) revolt in 132-135 A.D.
If we wish to keep to the 1st century and the lifetime of the first disciples (Mark 13:30 par, etc) as a time frame, the first option is by far the closest fit, likely occurring less than 10 years after the end of Jesus’ ministry. Luke’s version (cf. Part 3 of the study on the Eschatological Discourse) more obviously relates to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., including the destruction and despoiling of the Temple. That interpretation also would generally fit within the lifetime of the disciples.
Many Christians today, under the realization that events described in the Discourse were not all fulfilled in the 1st century, naturally assume that much of it—including the allusion to Dan 9:27—still awaits fulfillment at a future time (and/or our own time). While this is an obvious solution to the problem, it tends to negate the significance of the passage for the first disciples and Jesus’ original audience. A solution which attempts to respect both sides of the equation—complete/accurate fulfillment without ignoring the original historical setting—usually involves a two-layer interpretation: partial fulfillment in the disciples’ own time (1st century) and complete fulfillment at a time yet to come.
The same difficulty arises when we turn to Paul’s own “eschatological discourse” in 2 Thessalonians 2 (to be discussed in an upcoming study in this series). In verses 3-4, Paul seems to be drawing upon the same Dan 9:27 tradition, as interpreted by early Christians—perhaps even referring to the exact Gospel tradition in Mark 13:14ff par. However, here it is not an image/statue of the ruler, but the ruler himself who “sits in the shrine of God”, indicating that he is God. If 2 Thessalonians is genuinely Pauline (as the text claims), then it was likely written around 50 A.D., or perhaps a bit earlier. The actions and policies of the emperor Gaius, c. 40 (cf. above) would have still been fresh in the minds of many Jewish and Christians; Paul may be envisioning and describing a similar sort of action, only on a more extreme scale of wickedness. Obviously there is a problem here in considering Paul’s discourse as authentic prophecy, since, by all accounts, nothing of the sort took place in the Jerusalem Temple while it stood. This has led commentators to adopt various solutions, none of which are entirely satisfactory. One option is to assume that the Temple setting should be understood figuratively, in terms of a wicked ruler desecrating the holy things of God (in a more general sense); this allows the prophecy still to apply to a future end-time ruler. A more literal interpretation would require that the Temple be rebuilt at a future time (a dubious proposition itself); yet, there is nothing at all in the text to indicate that Paul is speaking of any other Temple than the one standing in his day.
The Gospel tradition surrounding the reference to Dan 9:27 certainly played a role in the development of the early Christian “Antichrist” tradition, though it is not possible to trace this in detail. Roughly speaking, Paul’s account in 2 Thessalonians 2 appears to stand halfway between the saying in Mark 13:14 par and the Beast-vision(s) in the book of Revelation (esp. chapter 13). Revelation 13:11-18 describes a great world-ruler, along the lines of the Roman Empire/Emperor, who controls all of society and requires that all people worship him. This figure is typically referred to as “Antichrist”, though the word itself is never used in the book of Revelation, occurring only in the Letters of John (1 Jn 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7), where it refers both to a spirit of false belief and to false believers who act/speak according to this spirit. Many commentators assume that 1 Jn 2:18 also refers to an early form of the “Antichrist” tradition similar to the “man of sin/lawlessness” in 2 Thess 2, but I am by no means convinced of this. It does, however, reflect the common worldview that, as the end-time approaches, wicked leaders and rulers, false Christs and false prophets, etc, would arise and exercise baleful power/influence over people at large. There is every reason to think that much of this expectation goes back to Jesus’ own teaching, such as is preserved in the Eschatological Discourse.
3. The “Son of Man” vision in Dan 7:13-14ff
I have also examined this particular passage in considerable detail as part of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and will here limit the discussion to its influence on the New Testament and early Christian tradition. Three areas will be dealt with: (a) the sayings of Jesus in Mark 13:26-27; 14:62, etc; (b) the references in Revelation 1:7, 13; 14:14; and (c) its relation to the early Christian expectation of Jesus’ future return.
a. Mark 13:26-27; 14:62 par
I discussed the background of the title “Son of Man”, and its use to designate a Messianic figure-type, in Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. This eschatological use of the title comes primarily, if not exclusively, from Daniel 7:13-14. Taken together with the references to Michael (10:13ff; 12:1ff), who is identified with the “one like a son of man” in Dan 7 by many commentators, we have the portrait of a divine/heavenly figure who functions as God’s appointed representative to deliver His people, bring about the Judgment, and establish the Kingdom of God at the end-time. This, indeed, is the very sort of picture we see in Jesus’ eschatological sayings involving the “Son of Man”. Nowhere is this stated to precisely as in the Eschatological discourse, where the appearance of the Son of Man is described (in the Markan version) as follows:
“And then they will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man coming in/on (the) clouds with great power and splendor. And then he will set forth the Messengers and they will bring together upon (one place) the (chosen one)s gathered out, (from) out of the four winds, from (the farthest) point of earth unto (the farthest) point of heaven.” (13:26-27)
This clearly draws upon the image in Dan 7:13, where the “one like a son of man” is seen coming “with the clouds of heaven”. In Daniel, the heavenly/divine figure comes toward God (the ‘Ancient of Days’); but, according to the basic eschatological framework (based on Dan 12:1ff, etc), this has shifted to an appearance on earth at the end-time. The Son of Man comes to deliver the elect/chosen ones among God’s people, and to usher in the Judgment. There is some thought among (critical) commentators that Jesus here, and in other Son of Man sayings, is referring to a separate divine/heavenly figure and not to himself. While Mk 13:26 par, in its original context, could conceivably be interpreted this way, the subsequent saying in 14:62 par, during Jesus’ interrogation before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin), cannot. The Synoptic tradition, despite some variation among the Gospels, is quite clear on this point. The Council (High Priest, in Mark/Matthew) asks Jesus specifically about his identity and self-understanding: “Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?” (v. 61). This is the context for the Son of Man saying which follows:
“I am; and you will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man sitting out of the giving (hand) [i.e. at the right hand] of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (v. 62)
The phrase “with the clouds of heaven” is a more direct quote from Dan 7:13 than in Mk 13:26. It is joined with an allusion, almost certainly, to Psalm 110:1, reflecting (and introducing) the idea, which would become so prominent in the earliest Christian tradition, of Jesus’ exaltation to God’s right hand (in Heaven) following the resurrection. Since it is stated that the people in the Council will see the Son of Man coming, this is usually understood in terms of the Son of Man’s end-time appearance on earth. However, in light of the actual context of Dan 7:13-14, and traditional references such as in Acts 7:55-56, some commentators would interpret this differently. For example, W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, in their commentary on Matthew in the Anchor Bible series, argued strongly that all these references to the Son of Man’s coming in glory originally referred to the exaltation of Jesus—his coming to God the Father in Heaven (as in Dan 7:13f); only secondarily did early Christians apply this in terms of Jesus’ future return. I do not agree with this interpretation, especially as it relates to the eschatological description in Mk 13:26-27, since it would ignore the rather clear tradition of the end-time deliverer’s appearance (from Dan 12:1ff), so central to much Jewish eschatology of the period.
b. Revelation 1:7, 13; 14:14
“See, he comes with the clouds—and every eye will look on him, even the same (one)s who stabbed out (into) him, and all the offshoots [i.e. tribes/races] of the earth will beat (themselves) over him. Yes, amen.” (1:7)
Interestingly, the same two Scriptures are also brought together in Matthew’s version (24:30) of the Son of Man saying in Mk 13:26 (above). There can be no doubt that here Dan 7:13 refers to a visible appearance to the people on earth at the end-time. All of the book of Revelation emphasizes the status/position of the exalted Jesus—this traditional usage of Dan 7:13 brings out the motif, otherwise associated with the Son of Man figure in the Gospel tradition, of Jesus’ return in divine glory.
Verse 13 is part of the introductory vision (of the exalted Jesus), and it is an even more precise quotation from Dan 7:13. Strictly speaking, it is not the title “Son of Man”, as used by Jesus in the Gospel tradition; rather, the description goes back to the actual wording of the original Daniel vision:
“…and, in the middle of the lamp(stand)s, (one) like a son of man, sunk in [i.e. clothed with] (a garment down) to the feet, and having been girded about…with a golden girdle.” (v. 13)
“And I saw [i.e. looked], and see!—a white cloud, and upon the cloud was sitting (one) like a son of man, holding upon his head a golden crown/wreath and in his hand a sharp tool (for) plucking [i.e. sickle].”
This brings together three distinct eschatological elements:
- The exalted Jesus as the Son of Man figure in Daniel
- His visible appearance in/on the clouds, and
- The coming of the Son of Man figure to bring about the end-time Judgment
These last two references in the book of Revelation are, apart from Stephen’s vision in Acts 7:55-56 (which echoes Mk 14:62 par), the only occurrences of the title/expression “Son of Man” in the New Testament outside of the Gospels.
c. Jesus’ Return in early Christian Tradition
The extent to which Daniel 7:13-14 influenced early Christian eschatology, this appears to have taken place almost entirely through the Gospel tradition. I note several relevant examples:
- The imagery of the Ascension narrative in Acts (1:9), where it is stated that Jesus was visibly “taken up” into a cloud, and it is announced to the disciples (v. 11) that Jesus will return just as he was taken up—i.e. in/on the clouds.
- In Paul’s (only) description of Jesus’ future return, 1 Thess 4:17, believers will be snatched up into the clouds, where we/they will meet Jesus—i.e. his presence/appearance is in/on the clouds. This seems to reflect the basic tradition in Mk 13:26-27 par.
- The frequent theme in early Christian preaching, of Jesus’ exaltation to Heaven, implies that he comes toward the Father, where he receives a position in glory at God’s right hand (Mk 12:36 par; [16:19]; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Phil 2:9; Heb 1:3, etc). Again, it is fair to say that this basic belief reflects the combination of Dan 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 expressed in Mk 14:62 par. It is from that position in Heaven, in glory, that Jesus will come to judge the world (Acts 17:31, etc).
4. The Influence of the Visions in Daniel 10-12
From the standpoint of the structure of the book of Daniel, chapters 7-12 should be taken together, as a collection of oracles and visions of events to come—covering the Hellenistic period (to at least the time c. 165-4 B.C.), and culminating in the eschatological period (time of the end), however this is to be defined (and interpretations differ widely). Since we have already discussed chapter 7 and 9, it is worth focusing here on the visions in chapters 10-11, and, especially, the concluding scene in chapter 12. These three chapters played a significant role in shaping Jewish and early Christian eschatology. There are several factors to be noted:
- The presence of the heavenly being Michael as protector/deliverer of the faithful (10:13, 21; 12:1)
- The period of warfare and persecution, detailed particularly in chaps. 10-11; there is a heavenly component to this warfare as well which suited eschatological and apocalyptic thinking.
- The rise of wicked rulers and powers, who are described symbolically as animals/beasts (also in chapters 7-8); the descriptions in chaps. 10-11 build more readily upon the famous passage in 9:24-27.
- The expression of a distinct eschatological/apocalyptic world view—history progressing, growing in violence and wickedness, to culminate in a sudden and intense period of suffering and distress before the appearance of the end.
In addition, there are a number of specific details in chapter 12, in particular, which are of tremendous importance:
- The appearance of the heavenly savior-figure (Michael) at the end time (v. 1)
- The reference to a period of great distress which will engulf all the nations (v. 1)
- Association with the time of the resurrection, with the implied Judgment (v. 2)
- The separation of the righteous and the wicked (v. 2-3, 10ff)
- The heavenly/eternal reward of the righteous, following the Judgment (v. 3)
- The events/time of the end as a secret or mystery hidden away (sealed) (v. 4, 9)
- Daniel’s question of “when / how long?” (v. 6), with the visionary/heavenly answer (vv. 7ff)
- A period of intense persecution of God’s people (vv. 7ff)
- The time-indicators and connection back to 9:24-27 (vv. 7, 11-12)
We saw above (Section 1) the way in which Dan 12:1ff influenced the eschatology (and Messianism) of the Qumran texts. Similarly, a careful reading of the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13 par), especially in verses 14-27, shows that Jesus is drawing significantly upon Daniel 12. The statement in verse 19 is virtually a quotation from Dan 12:1:
“For (in) those days (there) will be distress of which there has not come to be such as this, from the beginning of the formation (of the world) which God formed until the (time) now, and (there certainly) would not come to be (so again)!”
The entire period of distress described in vv. 14-22, and beginning with the allusion to Dan 9:27 (cf. also 12:11), seems to have chapter 12 in mind. Moreover, the time of warfare mentioned in vv. 7-8 could easily refer to Dan 10-11. Given the similarity (and traditional association) between Michael and the heavenly “Son of Man” figure, Jesus’ description of the Son of Man’s sudden appearance (vv. 26-27) to deliver the elect fits well with the reference to Michael in Dan 12:1. Also, the time of persecution (of the disciples), with the climactic exhortation to endure until the end is reflected at several points in Dan 12.
Other (eschatological) sayings and teachings of Jesus may allude to these chapters as well. Cf. for example, Matt 10:22 (Dan 12:12-13); 13:43 (Dan 12:3); 25:46, also John 5:29 (Dan 12:2); Luke 10:21b (Dan 12:1). Their influence may be reflected variously at other points in the New Testament, such as in Paul’s description of the “man of sin/lawlessness” in 2 Thess 2:3ff (cf. Dan 11:36, etc), or in the numerous exhortation to be faithful and endure until the end (James 1:12, etc).
The book of Revelation is, of course, heavily influenced by the book of Daniel, and also these chapters in particular. These are being discussed throughout the current series of daily notes on Revelation, but we may highlight some of the more important themes and motifs here:
- The important position of Michael, who engages in heavenly warfare with the wicked powers (as in Daniel 10, cf. above)—Rev 12:7-9ff
- The sealing of the visionary book, only to be opened at the time of the end (Dan 12:4, 9; also 8:26; 9:24)—Rev 5-6; 8:1ff; also 10:4; 22:10
- The period of “great distress”, and of the faithful believers who come through this time and receive heavenly/eternal reward (Dan 12:1ff)—Rev 1:9; 7:14 (cf. chap 6 and subsequent visions in the book)
- The specific idiom “time, times, and half a time” (i.e. 3½ years) in Dan 12:7, 14 (cf. also 9:27 where the same period of time is indicated)—Rev 12:14
- The Beast-visions in Revelation 13 (also subsequent chapters) are largely inspired by the book of Daniel—the famous visions in chapters 4 and 7, but also in the kings and powers at war in chapters 10-11 (cf. 11:36, etc)