|The Book of Daniel in Preterist Eschatology|
The book of Daniel is a key source for material on eschatology, and there is apparently no end to the interpretations offered. For our purposes, the primary question is what relevance Daniel has to the Olivet Discourse and the "Son of Man" sayings.
And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it. And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh. After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.
Few commentators, even Daniel "late daters," disagree as to the identification of Beast #1: This is clearly Babylon. Beast #2 is identified by liberals as Media, and Beast #3 as Persia. We argue in this piece that such an interpretation is off the mark, and that #2 is Medo-Persian, while #3 is Greece.
It is with Beast #4 that things become relevant for our topic here:
After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.
Liberal commentators try to make this sound like the Seleucid Empire of Antiochus, but that won't work at all -- Rome is clearly in view here. The Seleucids were neither strong nor crushing; Rome was. But in terms of eschatology, this is where a division of opinion occurs. Dispensationalists (those who adhere to the standard "Left Behind" view) see in this beast a dual fulfillment part ancient Rome, but part fulfillment by an Antichrist figure in our future. But can this really be justified? If the whole of Daniel's words finds fulfillment in 70 AD, secondary fulfillments become possible, of course, but essentially superfluous in context.
My own findings on this subject may not be new. Indeed, my identification of the "little horn" in Daniel 7 has been proposed before; for example, though he identified the little horn differently, the Jewish commentator Rashi (1040-1105) thought of the ten horns in the same way I have. The reader will have to decide whether the connections made are plausible. Our questions for this passage are:
A sub-question here is whether we should expect ten literal entities, whether kings or nations. Miller [Daniel commentary, 203] notes that ten may merely symbolize completeness. The actual number of entities may be different; one might justly argue that the ten horns are programmatic, after the ten toes of Daniel's statue.
That may indeed be the case. But it is worth notice that the first century era provides us with an intriguing basis for total fulfillment of this passage.
The Roman historian Suetonius authored a biographical account entitled The Twelve Caesars [Penguin Books, 1989], which provided historical data about twelve Roman Caesars from Julius Caesar to Domitian at the end of the first century:
In the year 49 BC, Julius Caesar assumed the title of dictator of Rome. In 44 BC, he assumed the title of dictator perpetuus, or dictator for life. He was assassinated before he could enjoy it for long, but he laid the foundation for what would become a dynasty.
The Triumverate is not included in Suetonius' work. However, it consisted of two men who were relatives of Julius Caesar: Marc Anthony, who was a grandson of one of Julius' uncles, and Octavian, who later became Augustus and the first of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Lepidus was part of the triumverate but was not part of Julius' family.
Of particular interest to us, however, is the place of Vespasian in the list. He is 11th, just as the little horn is 11th in Daniel's order. Vespasian, and his son Titus, were of course responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem in 70. Vespasian was Emperor, and originally the military leader, and Titus was the military commander who actually downed Jerusalem. Now the question: Does Vespasian fit the remaining descriptors of Daniel 7's little horn?
The little horn is given these primary characteristics in Daniel 7:
"Eyes like a man" -- Miller comments  that eyes in Scripture are "instruments of observation and learning and are therefore appropriately symbolic of intelligence, insight, and wisdom...This individual will be extremely intelligent and clever." Goldingay [Daniel commentary, 164] states that the eyes signify arrogance (see below). Tatford [Daniel commentary, 111] sees a reference to "intellectual shrewdness and perspicacity," or keen observation and insight.
Is Vespasian the Horn?
Does any of this fit Vespasian? Suetonius' description of Vespasian is of a man who was a survivor, a shrewd politician (he "behaved most generously to all classes", giving out plenty of money), and a patron of the arts. He lived an orderly and structured life, "was nearly always just as good-natured, cracking frequent jokes," had "a knack of apt quotation from the Greek classics..." Daniel's description is quite general; it would fit Vespasian's son Titus just as well (Titus had, according to Suetonius, a phenomenal memory, great artistic talent, and excellent skills as a forger!). But of course, for our thesis, it would have to at least fit Vespasian, and it arguably does.
"A mouth speaking great things" ("very great things", 7:20) -- the word for "great" (rabrab) is used only in Daniel in the OT and is used to refer to "great gifts" given by Nebuchadnezzar, and "great signs" given by God. Commentators take this as a description of arrogance [Miller, 202].
Was Vespasian arrogant? Suetonius has little bad to say about Vespasian, and does not indict him for this sin. As it happens, though, Dan. 7:25 tells us a bit more about the horn's sort of arrogance: "And he shall speak great words against the most High..." This would also not be surprising from any Roman, of course, since the Romans regarded Judaism as a foolish superstition. Yahweh was likely blasphemed by Romans on a daily basis across the Empire. Suetonius offers us some interesting tidbits that may be of relevance:
In Judaea, Vespasian consulted the oracle of the God of Carmel and was given a promise that he would never be disappointed in what he planned or desired, however lofty his ambitions. Also, a distinguished Jewish prisoner of Vespasian's, Josephus by name, insisted that he would soon be released by the very man who had now put him in fetters, and who would then be Emperor.
Josephus himself has some interesting tidbits. Since Vespasian was his sponsor and actually reviewed his work, we would not expect him to recount cases where Vespasian spoke against God, if he did, but he does tell us (War 4.10.7):
...Vespasian's good fortune succeeded to his wishes everywhere, and the public affairs were, for the greatest part, already in his hands; upon which he considered that he had not arrived at the government without divine providence, but that a righteous kind of fate had brought the empire under his power...
A righteous kind of fate? Not God? Credit where it is due -- who does Daniel know who has a problem doing that?
Daniel 4:25 That they shall drive thee [Nebuchadnezzar] from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.
They took different tacks, but both Nebuchadnezzar and Vespasian clearly had problems knowing who ruled in the kingdom of men and gave out the power cards. Arrogant? Yes -- since it is a "righteous" fate that he thought brought him to power. It wasn't as bad as Nebuchadnezzar crediting himself, but in either case it is an arrogant insult to the Most High.
"Looked more imposing that the others" (7:20) -- the word for imposing is rab, a form of the word noted above. The word "look" (chezev) is also unique to Daniel and refers to appearances; it is the word used to refer to Daniel's "visions". The descriptor is actually of the horn of the vision itself, not the person it represents [Miller, 212], so there is no need to go into whether Vespasian himself looked more imposing than, say, Nero; from a Jewish perspective his role in destroying Judaea may have been enough to earn such a reckoning.
Vespasian certainly seems a plausible candidate for the little horn. (I referred to Rashi earlier; he also identified the horns with Rome's emperors, but made Titus the little horn.) This granted, we are left with two questions. First, what of the three horns that are uprooted? I believe the answer remains in our list of Emperors -- the three horns are to be identified with Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, military men who died in one year, 69 AD. The first and third were murdered by their troops; Otho was compelled to suicide.
Does this fit Daniel's words? Let's consider what actions are effected on these three horns throughout Daniel:
Does this work out with Vespasian and the three deposed emperors? Technically items 1 and 2 don't have to -- these are descriptions of the horn in the dream rather than of the king in question. Only the third entry actually describes an action of this king in relation to the other three. But as it happens this does fit well what happened anyway.
Did Vespasian in any sense "put down" or "debase" the three kings? He was not involved directly in any way with their overthrow or deaths that our sources record. Yet the year 68-9, the time of our three rapid Emperors, is known as the time of the Roman civil wars precisely because of this infighting that produced four different emperors in one year. Each of these fellows was a military man with troops that were (at least at some point) loyal to him.
By the rules of war, Vespasian was the winner -- and therefore can be said to have indeed humbled, or put down, the other three. He was the winner, in essence, of the Roman civil wars among four candidates for the highest post, and also the winner of the contest of honor that was ingrained with the conflict.
I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time.
Daniel, by our view, is predicting the abrupt end of the Roman Empire. The other three kingdoms -- which we see as Babylon, Media-Persia, and Greece -- are said to be given extra time to live, though stripped of their authority. This is seen as fulfilled, under any paradigm, in that these kingdoms continued to exist, albeit absorbed, by the power that conquered them. Rome, however, when it fell, didn't have that option.
(I do not see that it is necessary to suppose that the fall of Rome, to match this vision, would have had to occur at the time that Vespasian died; verse 11 gives no indication that the fate of the little horn was delivered at the same time that Beast #4 was slain. If dispensationalists wish to argue this, I may point out that it is certainly no less reasonable than their idea that there is a spread of at least 2000 years now in the life of the fourth beast!)
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
With this passage we return to the main subject of our eschatology project. We know that the Son of Man envisioned here is Christ. What should be especially noted for our purposes is the Son of Man's mode of transportation, and the direction he is going in. The Son of Man is riding with "the clouds of heaven" (the LXX has the Son of Man actually "on" the clouds) and heading towards the Ancient of Days to be enthroned.
Miller  believes that the Son of Man rides from heaven to earth in this picture, but this is quite unlikely in view of the setting of God's heavenly court (7:10). Goldingay  acknowledges that the scene of God on a throne of fire, surrounded by attendants, "locate the scene in heaven"; but counters that where "it is specifically a matter of God judging...the scene is normally on earth." The verses he uses in support of this, however, could be said to fall to circular reasoning; for example, Jer. 49:38: "And I will set my throne in Elam, and will destroy from thence the king and the princes, saith the LORD." Did God literally set his throne in Elam? (Other passages, like Ps. 96:10-13, say God will come to judge the earth, but how does this equate with God being physically present on earth?)
The scene fits the placement in heaven better than it fits a placement on earth. Nor does it do to object that the scene must be on earth because of the earth and the sea seen by Daniel (7:3-4). Again, if we are thinking literal geography and envisioning here, then the Mormons must be right about God having a human body!
Casey [Case.SOM, 22, 24-9], for his own purposes, insists that the scene of the AoD is on the earth. He admits that "If the judgment is on earth, God will have to come to earth in order to carry it out" -- then adds that this is not stated explicitly, "because it is not an important aspect of what the author wanted to say!" This does not answer the problem, it merely tries to explain it away with silence!
We will return to this issue in our dealing with the Olivet discourse. For now, we need to round out our treatment of Daniel. Verses 7:15-20 only record Daniel's inquiry and repeat previous information. We may move to this:
I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.
Did Vespasian "make war" with the saints and prevail against them? If by "saints" Daniel means Jews then the obvious answer is yes; but it is clear here that "Jews" cannot be intended, if we are to take this prophecy as correct, since the Jews did not in any sense come to possess a kingdom. On the other hand, as we shall argue, this does make sense if the saints are interpreted as the Christians.
But then the question is, "Was war made on the Christians? This was a war against the Jews!" It was indeed in the main -- but there is evidence that Christians were targeted here also. A fragment of Tacitus' Histories, now preserved for us only by Severus tells of deliberations by Titus as to whether to destroy the Jewish temple. In the end he decides to do so, because although the two religions were in conflict, "they nevertheless developed from the same origins. The Christiani arose from the Jews: With the root removed, the branch is easily killed."
If this is right, then Christians were a real, albeit by far secondary, target of the Romans in the successful attack on Jerusalem. (Josephus reports this conversation as well, but does not mention the Christians -- War 6.4.3.)
We will talk more about the "kingdom" language in another essay. For now, more on Daniel. Verses 23 and 24 repeat earlier material; on to:
And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.
The first part of verse 25 repeats what is said earlier, and adds this:
And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
We believe that this refers to the established rule of Christ in 70 AD and will address this matter, again, in our Olivet study.
With this Daniel 7 comes to a close, but there are a few more verses we need to consider. Our study continues in Daniel 9, with part of the "70 weeks" prophecy.
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
Many have written on the subject of how the coming of Jesus precisely fulfilled the timing of this passage in terms of the first 69 weeks, and we have no reason to dispute or discuss that here. What is at issue is the last or 70th week. The dispensational paradigm holds that this 70th week is on hold until a future time called the Tribulation.
I disagree. The 70th week, or last 7-year period, transpired around the crucifixion of Jesus (ending around the time of Paul's conversion), giving the Jews time to accept him as Messiah (during which the punishment for this rejection was determined). The war on the Jews from 66-73 AD (which some preterists argue is the 70th week, and may have allowed a 40 year gap, programmatic of the Exodus, for Jesus to still be accepted, between 30-70) need not be part of Daniel's 70 and indeed likely is not.
Gerhard Hasel in a study for Andrews University Seminary Studies titled "The Hebrew Masculine Plural For 'Weeks'..." notes that the grammar of the verse is done in a way that is "purposeful and by design so as to stress the unitary whole, the totality, and the completeness" of the 70 week block. The weeks "cannot be split apart in such a way as to separate the final 'one week' " as dispensationalists require.
Recently in response to this view, futurist Thomas Ice in The End Times Controversy defended the dispensational view against specific preterist arguments; we will comment only where Ice addresses claims that we hold to, which turns out to not be much. The first point needful to address is how the list of six requirements relates to the first century:
It's also possible to see Jesus as the "prince" using Rome's armies to judge Israel (as God used Assyria and Babylon previously) and noting Jewish responsibility for the war, thus making the Jews the "people".
Oddly, Ice disdains this identification because Christ was earlier "cut off" -- as if Jesus had no power to do anything in heaven!
But this interpretation works its way by applying the pronoun "he" back to the "prince" of the people who will come. "Prince" is of course the most obvious antecedent, if placement is all that is to be considered, but the object of the phrase is the people, not the prince.
The week here may or may not be identical with the 70th week. Whatever the case, we have two possible interpretations: 1) it was in the midst of the 7-year war -- in 70 -- that "he", meaning not the prince of the people, but rather, the Messiah in verse 26 confirmed (which is to say, verified -- the word here means to strengthen or prevail, not merely make or create) the covenant with "many" (if the Jews are in mind, why not say the "your people"? -- on the other hand, cf. Matthew 26:28, "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.") by delivering the promised judgment against Jerusalem, predicted in more detail in the Olivet Discourse. In the middle of this week -- in 70 -- this God-ordained judgment "cause[d] the sacrifice and the oblation to cease".
Ice  calls upon Hebrew lexicologists who note that by the rules of Hebrew, the closest antecedent is the one that is referred to, and here, that cannot be the "Messiah" but the prince, in his view, the Antichrist. For what it is worth, liberal commentators who make the "Messiah" out to be Onias III or another Maccabbean-era priest see the "Messiah" as the one who confirmed the covenant; see Hartman and DiLella, 251, and Lacocque, 993, who presumably are not ill-informed when it comes to Hebrew.
However, Ice admits that a sound "contextual reason" overrules that rule. Knowing that this traps him, he alleges that only "theological bias" will make the move, and in a sense he is right -- just as "bias" compels him to reject it, and also compels him to on the one hand admit that the "people" of the prince to come were indeed the Romans under Titus, but the "prince" himself is not Titus, but a future Antichrist. In this light, let it be asked who is doing less gymnastics to satisfy their "bias".
There is one final point that shows Jesus to be the one who "confirms the covenant": The NT thought so. Compare:
Ice misses this because he again vets preterist thought through a dispensational lens, thinking that preterists believe that Christ here makes a covenant with the Jews. He also clearly does not recognize Matthew's adaptation of Daniel's "many" to Christians .
It is also amazing that Ice can quote Wood as saying that Christ cannot be the one referenced because Christ did not "make" a covenant; God did. Daniel says that the person will confirm (not make) the covenant, which is exactly what Christ did in his role as broker of the covenant, and would also be what he did in calling down judgment on Jerusalem in 70.
What About Antiochus?
On the side now, what of claims that Daniel 9:24-27 was fulfilled in the time of Antiochus? Attempts to prove this are rather labored and overstated. A typical example tells us:
In short, to meld Daniel 9:24-27 into the Maccabbean era requires making a rose garden out of a weed and vastly overstating the events of 167-164 BC.
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
The last resurrection? No, for what is referred to is many being raised -- and this matches Matthew's resurrected saints. Indeed Matthew's use of "many" implies a hearkening back to Daniel (though he does not mention those resurrected to shame and contempt, who would probably not be eligible to walk around anyway).
In sum: Daniel's words suit a preterist interpretation quite well -- and lay ground for a related interpretation of the Olivet Discourse and the "coming" of the Son of Man. As a final note, we are aware of an answer to preterist interpretations of Daniel offered by Dr. Thomas Howe, and hope to procure that for analysis at a later date.