During the reign of the Babylonian Empire about 553 BC, the prophet Daniel had two different visions. They were concerned with the same subject as the dream that King Nebuchadnezzar had in Daniel 2, the four great kingdoms that would rule successively, but eventually be replaced by the eternal kingdom of God. People ask me why so many dreams and visions? Israel was in captivity in Babylon under servitude to pagan idol worshippers, and Jerusalem was desolate having been destroyed in 586. The Israelites were asking—Why has God forsaken us, and what about all God’s promises? Is there a future for us? Therefore God graciously revealed that there is hope, and there is a bright future for God’s people, and God will fulfill His promises. The author of Hebrews explained in Heb.1:1 that “God spoke to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways”. He meant that in the Old Testament God revealed Himself through His appointed prophets in different ways, and one of those was dreams and visions given to the O.T. prophets.
In Dan.7, he had a dream about four beasts that were devouring ferocious destroyers, and the angel interpreted it as representing four successive kingdoms that would rule over that part of the world. Eventually the saints of God would persevere, God would end all the temporary evil human kingdoms, and bring in the Son of Man in all glory and power to set up the eternal kingdom of God. Whether you are Daniel in 553 BC or us now, the message is the same—be comforted, have peace because even though things may be bad now, God will right all wrongs, clean up all that is dirty, and put an end to evil. Daniel’s dream is different from the Gentile King Nebuchadnezzar because of the different perspectives. To Nebuch., his kingdom was a great accomplishment of a great man so he saw the great impressive statue made out of the different metals that men cherish so dearly, but Daniel saw the kingdoms as mean ferocious beasts that devour his people Israel.
In Daniel 8, he has another dream, which looks explicitly at the second and third kingdoms of Persia and Greece. If you wonder how we can know that, look at the angel’s interpretation in 8:20-21 where he names them. God was giving Israel more details about their subjugation to Persia from 539 until 331 BC, and then Greece from 331 until about 164 BC. In verse 3-4, he sees a ram with two horns that are unequal. The ram pushes west, north, and south, and no one could stop him. Daniel 8:20 interprets that the ram stands for Persia, which actually did conquer in those three directions but never east. The two unequal horns represent the union of the Medes and Persians with the Persians becoming the dominant force. Historically we know that the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon in 539 BC and then Asia Minor and Egypt.
In Daniel 8:5-7, he saw another beast which was a male goat coming from the west. It had a conspicuous horn, and attacked the ram with great wrath. The he goat struck the ram and shattered its horns, and trampled him. The he goat magnified himself greatly, but the large horn soon was broken off and replaced by four horns. Again, the interpretation in v.20-22 reveals that the he goat represents Greece and the large horn was no doubt Alexander the Great who conquered the Persians from 334-331 BC. Alexander came from the west attacking the larger armies of Persia in three successive battles. He moved swiftly and won the battles quickly. After Alexander conquered Asia Minor, the Middle East, Egypt, and all of what is now Iraq and Iran, he conquered all the way through Afganistan and India. The story goes that his generals found him weeping, and when they asked him why he replied, “Because there are no more worlds to conquer”. In Dan.8:8 the horn representing Alexander is broken off and replaced by 4 horns. This was fulfilled when at the age of 32, Alexander died of alcohol poisoning—the worst hangover ever. His four generals divided up his kingdom. Cassander ruled Greece, Lysimachus ruled Asia Minor, Seleucus took Syria and the Middle East, and Ptolemy ruled Egypt. Therefore, with great accuracy Daniel predicted all this history.
What Daniel saw in v.9-25 is not so easy to understand, and theologians differ on the meaning and what historical figure would fulfill it. Another “little horn” comes out of one of the four kingdoms of Alexander’s generals. This little horn represents a Greek ruler who was a descendant of Seleucus who ruled over Syria and Israel. The 8th king in the dynasty of Seleucus was Antiochus Epiphanes who fits the description of Daniel as a king who would magnify himself, blaspheme against God, suspend the sacrifices at the rebuilt Jewish Temple, persecute the Jews and desecrate the Temple. Antiochus ruled over Israel from 175 to 164 BC. He claimed divinity, and changed his name to reflect that. Archaelogists have found coins he minted with his likeness on one side and the inscription Theos Epiphanes meaning God made manifest. He began a campaign to Hellenize the Jews about 171 BC. He outlawed all the Jewish religious practices like circumcision and sacrifices and offerings in the Temple, and instead he erected idols of Zeus in the Temple. He killed 40,000 Jews, sent many into slavery, and then he even sacrificed pigs on the altar in the Temple. In Daniel 8:14 he indicates that this persecution would go on for 2300 days. If it began about 171 and ended with the Maccabees revolt that took the Temple back on Dec.25, 165, the 2300 days fit.
The Parthians from the east attacked in 167 BC, and while Antiochus took his main army off to fight them, an old priest named Mattathias killed a Greek soldier, which incited a revolt. Mattathias’ son Judas who was called Maccabees (the hammer), led the revolt successfully, and took the Temple back and cleansed it on Dec.25, 165. Not long after that, Antiochus Epiphanes died of disease in the east. Judas Maccabees family ruled over Jerusalem for about 100 years. In the Jewish Bible, 1 &2 Maccabees give the history of that time period between the Old and New Testaments and gives details about Antiochus in 1 Mac. 1:44-49. The Jewish celebration of Hanakuh celebrates taking back the Temple.
In the interpretation section, the angel repeatedly makes mention of the “time of the end” which may mean that the individual who magnifies himself, blasphemes God, persecutes the Jews, and desecrates the Temple may have a dual fulfillment in both Antiochus and the Antichrist in the end times as depicted by Jesus in Matt.24:15, Paul in 2 Thes.2:3-4, and John in Rev.13. I personally believe that Antiochus was a prefigure or type of the Antichrist to come, so when people read the passages about the end times and say, “How could this happen?”- we can say “It already has, and history will repeat itself.”