The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Daniel 12:1ff

Daniel 12:1ff

The final article in this series focuses on Daniel 12:1-4. The book of Daniel was immensely influential on early Christian eschatology; this can be seen especially in the book of Revelation, and I have documented it throughout my earlier series of critical-exegetical notes on Revelation. But the influence is already evident earlier in the Gospel Tradition, most notably in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mark 13 par).

The second half of the book of Daniel (chaps. 7-12) is fundamentally eschatological, and can be characterized, in many respects, as an example of early apocalyptic literature—a point that remains valid regardless of how one dates these chapters. Traditional-conservative commentators tend to take the historical setting of the visions at face value, treating them as authentic prophecies by Daniel (in the 6th century B.C.). Most critical commentators, on the other hand, regard chaps. 7-12 as pseudepigraphic, written during the period of 167-163 B.C. In point of fact, most Jewish apocalyptic writings are pseudepigraphic, presenting events leading up to the current moment (i.e., when the writing was composed) as a revelation by a famous figure of the past.

In any case, from the standpoint of the visions in chaps. 7-12, the years of 167-164 B.C. represent the climactic point of history. This can be seen most clearly in chapter 11, which contains a fairly detailed (and accurate) outline of history in the Hellenistic period—events involving the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties following the breakup of the Alexandrian empire. The reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes marks the onset of a great time of evil and suffering for God’s people in Judea. Verses 21-45 summarize the events of Antiochus IV’s reign (175-164 B.C.), especially his invasion of Israel and the notorious ‘reform’ policies enacted in Jerusalem (168-167, vv. 29-35).

That these are considered to be end-time events is clear from the wording in verse 40: “in (the) time of (the) end” (Jq@ tu@B=). The context is unquestionably eschatological, with the final years of Antiochus’ reign (167-164) marking the watershed moment. What follows in chapter 12 must be understood in this light.

Daniel 12:1

“And, in that time, Who-is-like-(the)-Mighty-One? {Mika’el} will stand (up), the great Prince, the (one) standing over (the) sons of your people, and there will come to be a time of distress which has not (yet) come to be, from (the) coming to be of (the) nation until that time; and, in that time, your people will be rescued, every (one) being found written in (the roll of) the account.”

The initial expression “in that time” (ayh!h^ tu@b*) relates to the earlier expression “in (the) time of (the) end” (in 11:40, cf. above). What is described in chapter 12 is expected to take place in the period of 167-164 B.C., and in the years immediately following. Indeed, the chapter represents the conclusion of the eschatological vision-sequence of chaps. 10-12 (and of chaps. 7-12 as a whole). On the same temporal expression used in an eschatological sense, cf. also Joel 3:1 [4:1]; Jer 3:17; 4:11; 31:1.

There are two main eschatological themes established in this verse: (1) the appearance/rise of the heavenly being Michael as protector and deliverer of God’s people; and (2) a time of great “distress” for God’s people, making necessary the protective action by Michael. It is worth examining each of these themes.

1. The role of Michael

The Hebrew name la@k*ym! (mî½¹°¢l) is a traditional El-name, a sentence or phrase name in the form of a question— “Who-(is)-like-(the)-Mighty-(One)?” (i.e., Who is like God?). In the book of Daniel, it is the name of a heavenly being who functions as the (heavenly) protector and “prince” (rc^) for Israel (10:13, 21). He will fight on behalf of Israel, against the nations (who have their own heavenly “princes” on their side).

With the development of angelology in the post-exilic period, Michael came to feature prominently in Jewish eschatology and apocalyptic writings. He is consistently regarded as one of the chief Angels, with central cosmological and eschatological roles; the book of Enoch (1 Enoch) provides a useful compendium of references (9:1; 10:11; 20:5; 24:6; 40:9; 54:6; 60:4-5; 67:12; 68:2-4; 69:14-15; 71:3ff). Michael’s role as the protector of God’s people, who fights (along with other Angels) on behalf of God’s people, is an important component of the eschatological (and Messianic) world view of the Qumran community, best expressed in the War Scroll [1QM] (cf. 9:15-16; 17:6-7, etc). Many commentators on the Qumran texts believe that Michael is also to be identified with the “Prince of Light” and the figure of Melchizedek (cf. 11QMelchizedek).

Michael and the holy Angels fight against the “Prince of Darkness” and the evil Angels; this heavenly aspect of the great eschatological battle is parallel to the end-time conflict between the people of God and the wicked nations. This is very much the same role played by Michael in the vision of Revelation 12:7-9ff. Otherwise, however, Michael is not very prominent in early Christian eschatology (the only other NT reference being Jude 9). This can be explained by the fact that, for early Christians, Michael’s traditional role as heavenly deliverer was taken over by the exalted Jesus.

This heavenly deliverer figure, which I regard as a distinct Messianic figure-type (cf. the discussion in Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), is referenced in the Gospel Tradition—in the eschatological sayings of Jesus—by the expression “Son of Man”. Some commentators maintain that, in the original context of these sayings, Jesus is referring to a distinct heavenly being (such as Michael) separate from himself. While this is possible, it is rather unlikely, in my view, based on the consistent use of the expression “son of man” by Jesus as a self-reference. Moreover, the authenticity of this usage by the historical Jesus can be all but proven (on objective grounds)—a point that I have discussed elsewhere.

Even so, this eschatological role of the “Son of Man” figure almost certainly derives from Daniel 7:13-14; indeed, there can be no question of an allusion to that passage in Mk 13:26; 14:62 pars. While Dan 7:13-14 may be interpreted in several different ways (cf. my earlier study and article in this series), the angelic interpretation of the “one like a son of man” would seem to be the most likely explanation of the scene (in its original context). Indeed, some commentators would identify this heavenly figure specifically as Michael. The end-time appearance of Michael in Dan 12:1 certainly would seem to match the appearance of the “Son of Man” (= the exalted Jesus) in Mk 13:26 par.

2. The Time of “Distress”

“there will come to be a time of distress which has not (yet) come to be”

The Hebrew expression is hr*x* Ju@ (“time of distress”), translated in the LXX as h(me/ra qli/yew$ (“day of distress”). The noun hr*x* fundamentally means “tightness”, i.e., something narrow and confining that constricts or binds a person’s movement, etc. Figuratively, it refers to circumstances which create such tightness and pressure, and the English word “distress” is most appropriate for this connotation. The Greek word qli/yi$ has much the same meaning, though with perhaps the harsher sense of being pressed together, squeezed to the point of being crushed. On this eschatological idiom, cf. also Jeremiah 30:7, and note the wording in Exod 9:24.

Dan 12:1 makes clear that, with the events of 167-164 B.C., a time of great distress will come upon God’s people. The implication is that the persecution brought about by Antiochus IV is only the beginning of this period. It is by no means clear how long this period will last, but the outlook of the passage (and chaps. 7-12 as a whole) suggests that it will be relatively short (albeit intense). The expression “time, times, and a half” (= 3½ years, half a week, as a symbolic number) would seem to define this period (v. 7), even as it also corresponds to the time of persecution and evil under Antiochus IV (167-164).

The book of Daniel exercised a tremendous influence on early Christian eschatology, but if we limit our study to 12:1ff, and its influence on the Gospel Tradition, then we must turn to the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus. The wording in Mark 13:19 par unquestionably alludes to Dan 12:1 (LXX), being almost a loose quotation or paraphrase:

“For (in) those days there will be distress [qli/yi$], such as has not come to be like this from (the) beginning of (the) formation (of the world), which God formed, until th(is time) now, and shall not (ever) come to be.”

The end-time described in Daniel 7-12 has been transferred, from the time of Antiochus IV (167-164 B.C.) to the time of the Roman Empire in the mid-first century A.D. This is quite understandable, since the eschatological deliverance, described in Daniel 12, apparently did not take place in the years immediately following 164 B.C.; in any case, the prophecy was not fulfilled completely, and it was envisioned that this would occur during the lifetime of early believers (in the mid-late 1st century A.D.). The belief in Jesus as the Messiah means that his appearance on earth marks the end-time. And, for early Christians, the death of Jesus effectively marks the beginning of the end-time period of distress.

A central event of this time of distress is the destruction of the Temple; Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction forms the setting for the Discourse (Mk 13:1-2ff par), and is alluded to again in vv. 14ff (cf. especially the Lukan version, predicting the siege/destruction of Jerusalem, 21:20ff). All of this was largely fulfilled with the war of 66-70 A.D. The time of distress is tied primarily to this devastation of Jerusalem, but there are actually three parts, or aspects, to this period as outlined in the Discourse (using the Markan version, Mk 13):

    • Vv. 5-8: The distress for people in all the nations
    • Vv. 9-13: The distress for Jesus’ disciples (believers)
    • Vv. 14-19ff: The distress for the people of Judea and Jerusalem
The Deliverance of God’s People

“…and, in that time, your people will be rescued, every (one) being found written in (the roll of) the account”

In the midst of the time of distress, the heavenly deliverer will appear, bringing deliverance to God’s people and ushering in the Judgment on the wicked (i.e., the nations). In the Eschatological Discourse, this is expressed in terms of the appearance of the “Son of Man” from heaven (Mk 13:24-27 par). For early Christians, this was understood as the return of the exalted Jesus from heaven. The Messianic identity of Jesus was complicated by the fact that he did not fulfill the expected eschatological role of the Messiah during his time on earth. The expectation thus had to adjust to the idea that this Messianic role would only be fulfilled upon Jesus’ return to earth (from his exalted position in heaven), after at least a short period of time (= the time of distress).

The end-time return of Jesus (the “Son of Man”) fits the pattern of the appearance of the heavenly deliverer (Michael) in Dan 12:1ff. Michael “stands over” (lu dmu) God’s people; this indicates a protective presence, but also may allude to Michael’s role in the Judgment. In any case, his presence means rescue from the time of distress. The Niphal (passive) form of the verb fl^m* literally means something like “be given a means of escape”. It is only the righteous ones among God’s people who will be rescued by Michael. This is clear from the qualifying phrase “every (one) being found written in (the roll of) the account”.

The rp#s@ is literally an “account(ing)”, which should here be understood as a list of names, such as of citizens belonging to a particular place. The people whose names are listed in this account (or ‘book’) are those who truly belong as the people of God—that is, they are the faithful and righteous ones. This also means that they are destined for the blessed afterlife in heaven with God; on this traditional motif of the ‘Book of Life’, cf. Exod 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Isa 4:3; Lk 10:20; Phil 4:3; Heb 12:23; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; on the Judgment-context of this ‘book’, cf. 7:10; 10:21; 1 Enoch 47:3; Rev 20:12-15.

In the Eschatological Discourse, while the Judgment setting is clear enough, the emphasis is on the salvation of the righteous from this Judgment (Mk 13:27 par, cf. also verse 13). It is the elect (lit. the ones “gathered out”) who are rescued by the heavenly deliverer (the exalted Jesus) at the climactic moment. This is an important distinction, limiting the concept of God’s people to the righteous ones, and it follows a definite line of prophetic tradition, the same which we see here in Dan 12:1-4.

Verses 2-4 and Conclusion

Other elements of the eschatology in Daniel 12:1ff were also influential on early Christian thought. Verse 2, for example, expresses a clear belief in the resurrection, which will occur at the end-time. This is arguably the only unambiguous Old Testament reference to resurrection. Moreover, it is striking that both the righteous and the wicked will be raised from the dead: the righteous will awake to life (yj^), while the wicked will awake to disgrace and an abhorrent fate. These contrasting fates are described as <l*ou—that is, lasting into the distant future. On the idea of the eschatological resurrection in the Gospel Tradition, cf. especially the key references in the Johannine Discourses of Jesus (Jn 5:19-29; 6:39-40ff; 11:23-27).

The blessed afterlife that awaits the righteous, following the Judgment and Resurrection, is further described in verse 3. The righteous are characterized by the verb lk^c*, by a descriptive participle in the Hiphil stem, meaning those who act in a wise and insightful manner. It is not only that they act wisely, but they lead others to behave in a similar way; specifically, they cause “many” (<yB!r^) to act rightly (vb qd^x* in the Hiphil causative stem). Because they are righteous themselves, they are able to turn others to the path of righteousness. The reward for this righteousness is a heavenly existence, compared with the celestial brightness (rh^z)) of the stars in heaven. This is an ancient and traditional idiom for the blessed afterlife, which is scarcely limited to Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Jesus may be alluding to v. 3 in Matt 13:43 (cf. also 22:30).

The final verse in this section (v. 4) emphasizes three key motifs that were influential on Jewish and early Christian eschatology:

    • The sealing of the prophetic account (in chapters 10-12, and presumably also chaps. 7-12 as a whole); this imagery obviously was developed in the book of Revelation (chaps. 5-6; 8:1; 10:4; 22:10). The motif also has the practical value of allowing for the fulfillment of the Danielic visions (with their setting c. 167-163 B.C.) at a later time (viz., in the NT setting of the mid-late 1st century A.D.)
    • The (end-time) chaos implied by the image of “many” people rushing/pushing about (vb. fWv); there is a certain futility indicated by this, especially if this is an allusion to Amos 8:12—i.e., people are going about seeking the word of YHWH, and do not find it.
    • The idea that wickedness will increase, that evil will become more abundant (vb hb*r*). The MT reads tu^D^ (“knowledge”)—that is, “knowledge will increase”; however, there is some reason to think that the text originally read hu*r* (“evil”), which appears to be the reading underlying the LXX (a)diki/a, “injustice,” i.e. wickedness), though admittedly Theodotion agrees with the MT (gnw=si$, “knowledge”). Confusion between the consonants d and r was relatively common, and led to a number of copying mistakes. The Dead Sea Scrolls might have decided the textual question, but, unfortunately, chapter 12 was not preserved among the surviving Qumran manuscripts. In my view, the increase in wickedness during the time when the prophecy is sealed (that is, during the time of distress) better fits the context of the passage; it also occurs as a persistent theme in Jewish and early Christian eschatology (see esp. the wording in Matt 24:12).


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