Goats 1, Rams 0
February 6, 2000
Before we jump into this chapter, several observations are in order. First, Daniel 8 on the surface appears to be dry as dust history in that it tells a story about a vision that was fulfilled in history over 2000 years ago. Second, the specific focus of the chapter centers around a time period that most of us know very little about (171-165 BC), a six-year period in which the Jews suffered severe persecution at the hands of a man that most of us know nothing about (Antiochus IV Epiphanes).
However, things aren’t always as they seem on the surface. As we dig deeper into Daniel 8, we’re going to discover that the details regarding this man with the strange name apparently point toward the person we call the Antichrist. That is, while Daniel 8 contains ancient history, it also tells us something important about events yet future to us. Those events may be fulfilled in our lifetime. Therefore, we are well advised to blow the dust off this chapter and see what it says.
A Politician’s Prayer
We all understand that we live in a day of enormous spiritual confusion. The latest example comes from a story in the Washington Post this week. It seems that the Maryland State House needed someone to deliver the opening prayer last Thursday. The Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Thomas L. Bromwell, managed to cover all the bases in his very brief prayer:
“Lord. God. Yahweh. Jesus. Buddha. Allah. Whatever your name is. Whatever color you are. Whatever gender you are. You know these people. You know that they are good. Pray for ’em. Thank you.”
That was the whole prayer. Evidently several people chuckled and others applauded. “That is really unique and unusual and inclusive,” said Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount. (The story comes from the online version of the Washington Post, Thursday, February 3, 2000.)
The current issue of the Wednesday Journal (February 2, 2000) carries a cartoon called “Shrubtown” which pictures the Oak Park village board considering a fictional “unity resolution.” One man (perhaps the secretary) is shown addressing the trustees. The heading reads: “Believing that at the root of all civil strife lay the incompatibility of differing points of view, the city council created ‘The Unity Resolution.’” Then the man at the podium says, “Be it resolved from this time forth, that all citizens will at all times agree with all other citizens on all issues.” The punch line comes at the bottom of the cartoon: “The measure passed by a narrow margin.”
Those of us who live in Oak Park laugh because we know how many different opinions there are on almost every topic in the village. We don’t agree on much of anything. But we are living in days where politicians can lump all religions together and where “unity resolutions” may not be that far off.
Dave Hunt put the matter this way: “The battle between Christ and Antichrist is fought to the finish in every human heart. We must know whose side we are on now. It will be too late to change sides at the second coming.” That’s helpful because it reminds us that in the end all spiritual decisions are personal issues. There is a battle between truth and falsehood, and the battle is being won or lost one heart at a time. In the end it won’t do to say “I believe in Jesus and Buddha and Allah.” You’ve got to take a stand one way or the other.
Daniel in the Critics’ Den
With that as background we turn now to Daniel 8. Immediately we are confronted with the fact that this chapter contains a vision Daniel received (verses 1-14) along with the interpretation of the vision given by the angel Gabriel (verses 15-27). That’s the whole chapter—a vision and its interpretation. The vision contains specific prophecies about events that were several hundred years in the future. Daniel would live and die without ever seeing the complete fulfillment of his vision.
The Bible contains several kinds of prophecy. In some cases the prophecy was future to the prophet and is still future to us today. The Book of Revelation is a good example. Then there are times when the prophecy was future to the prophet but it is history to us because it has already been fulfilled. On one level Daniel 8 provides an excellent example because it describes events that were precisely fulfilled within 300 years. This type of fulfilled prophecy provides clear evidence that the Bible is truly inspired by God. I should also add that this kind of fulfilled prophecy drives the liberals and the skeptics nuts. In order to uphold their anti-supernatural worldview they have to deny that Daniel’s words were written in advance. So they say that Daniel was actually written after the events it describes and pretends to be prophecy. But their arguments have been conclusively refuted by Bible scholars. (For more information, see the New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. He published an earlier treatment of this issue called Daniel in the Critics’ Den.)
So what’s in this chapter? Here is a “Reader’s Digest” version of Daniel 8. Daniel saw a ram with two horns. The ram was attacked and defeated by a shaggy goat with one large horn. The horn was broken off and replaced by four other horns. A small horn grew up out of one of the four horns. That “small horn” became great and conquered Israel, in the process persecuting the Jews, polluting the Temple, and blaspheming God. An angel told Daniel that the ram represented the Medo-Persian empire and the goat represented the Greek empire. The “big horn” was the first ruler of the Greek empire, which we know from history to be Alexander the Great. He died at the age of 33 and his vast kingdom was divided among four generals. From secular history we know who those generals were:
Cassander: Macedonia and Greece
Lysimachus: Thrace and western Asia Minor
Ptolemy: Egypt, northern Africa, Palestine
Seleucus: Middle East to India
The angel also told Daniel that the vision concerned “the time of the end” (verse 17) and “the time of wrath” (verse 19). The angel then gave a detailed account of the career of the blaspheming “small horn:”
In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue, will arise. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy the mighty men and the holy people. He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power (Daniel 8:23-25).
He then told Daniel to seal the vision because it concerns the distant future. The final verse of Daniel 8 tells us how the prophet responded to this remarkably detailed revelation of future persecution of his own people, the Jews: “I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding” (Daniel 8:27).
He Called Himself “God Manifest”
It’s obvious that the main focus of the prophecy has to do with the evil activity of the “small horn” who comes out of one of the four horns that replace the “big horn” of the shaggy goat. Mysterious as that may sound, we know from history exactly who this “small horn” is. The small horn of Daniel 8 is a man called Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He came from the line of Seleucus, which means that his kingdom was centered in the area of modern-day Syria. He reigned over the Seleucid dynasty 175-164 BC. He is remembered mostly for his tyrannical persecution of the Jews 171-165 BC. The detailed story of his atrocities is found in the book of 1 Maccabees. There we learn that he had a fierce and implacable hatred of all things Jewish. He began by attempting to seduce the Jews to adopt Greek culture. At one point he built a gymnasium outside Jerusalem where Jewish young men took part in Greek athletic events. Those games were played in the nude, which promoted the moral breakdown of traditional Hebrew values. Many Jews were willing to make various compromises because they were attracted to Greek culture. They wanted to be Greek on the outside and Jewish on the inside. However, the majority of Jews would not give up their ancient faith.
In one attack on Jerusalem 40,000 people were killed and 10,000 were carried into captivity. At one point Antiochus put an end to the daily sacrifices at the Temple. He systematically looted the Temple of its treasures, even carrying off the golden altar of incense and the golden lampstand. Later he put a statue of Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar. This terrible event came to be known as the “abomination of desolation.” In Matthew 24:15 Jesus used the same term to describe the end-time blasphemies of the Antichrist. Antiochus tried to stop the practice of circumcision, which lies at the heart of Jewish religion. He even had circumcised male babies put to death and hung around the necks of their mothers who were paraded through the streets of Jerusalem and then pushed off a precipice and dashed to pieces on the rocks below. He ordered all copies of the Torah (the Old Testament) burned. Anyone found with a copy was put to death. Thus was “truth cast to the ground” (Daniel 8:12).
He called himself “Antiochus Epiphanes,” which means Antiochus the Magnificent” or “Antiochus the Glorious.” Coins from that era have been found bearing his likeness and the Greek phrase Theos Epiphanes—God Manifest. The Jews called him Antiochus Epimanes, a play on words meaning Antiochus the Madman.
Verses 23-25 emphasize his evil character. Verse 23 calls him a “master of intrigue,” which refers to an ability (possibly supernatural) to understand secret things. It literally means he can interpret riddles. Perhaps this describes an acquaintance with things like sorcery and the occult. We are also told that he becomes strong “but not by his own power,” which seems to clearly indicate a supernatural force behind his rise to the throne. He evidently was popular in the beginning and used deceit and propaganda to gain favor with his followers. Later he began to destroy them and even set out to attack the “Prince of princes,” a clear reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. At the height of his power he was suddenly destroyed but not by human hands.
We can sum up Daniel 8 in the following statements.
The Ram and the Goat
A. Daniel had a vision of a ram with two horns. The ram represents the Medo-Persian empire.
B. The goat with a prominent horn represents Greece in the days of Alexander the Great.
C. The goat defeated the ram, symbolizing the victory of Greece over the Medo-Persian empire.
D. The large horn was cut off, representing Alexander’s sudden death.
E. The four new horns represent the four divisions of the Greek empire after Alexander’s death.
The Small Horn
A. The small horn represents a man named Antiochus IV Epiphanes who ruled over the Seleucid dynasty 175-164 BC.
B. He was a real person in history who is also a symbol of the coming Antichrist.
C. He persecuted the Jews, polluted the sanctuary in Jerusalem, and set himself up to be like God.
D. He was brilliant, cunning, and charismatic.
E. His power was astounding and supernatural.
F. He was a master of deceitful propaganda.
G. He attempted to overthrow the Prince of princes.
H. He was destroyed by God.
From the Womb to the Tomb
The details of his death are chilling. After committing his atrocities in Israel, he traveled east hoping to conquer more territory. While in Babylon he received word that the Jews, led by the heroic Judas Maccabaeus (called “Judas the Hammer” by his admirers), had retaken Jerusalem, driven out the invaders, and started the process of cleansing the Temple. When Antiochus heard this he began to journey back to Israel, intending to defeat the troublesome Jews once and for all. A chariot crash left him sorely wounded. While recovering, he contracted a loathsome bowel disease that caused a terrible odor to surround him. One source says that worms came out of his body as it rotted away. His life ended in a wretched fashion. He died not at the hand of man but by the hand of God. His little journey from the womb to the tomb was over. In the words of Martin Luther,
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure, For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
Each year during December the Jews commemorate the retaking of Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple by Judas Maccabaeus in the festival of Hanukkah. According to tradition when the Jews got ready to light the menorah in the Temple, they had only enough oil in the cruse for one day, yet the light kept shining for eight days. The Temple was re-consecrated on December 25, 165 BC. Antiochus died a few months later. Thus there is a direct connection between Hanukkah and the vision of Daniel 8.
Antiochus Epiphanes was the antichrist of the Old Testament and the Hitler of his day. His short career foreshadows the brief period when the future Antichrist will gain power over the world. Antiochus is the junior version of the real thing to come later. He is “antichrist even before Christ comes the first time.”
It’s worth noting that many Christian expositors have seen the Antichrist foreshadowed in the careers of Antiochus Epiphanes. Jerome made the identification as did Martin Luther. It’s fair to say that many Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Bible interpreters believe that the words of verses 23-25 go beyond the career of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This seems to be a clear case of “double fulfillment” where Antiochus is a type or a symbol of the Antichrist who is to arise just before the return of Christ. I picture Daniel 8 like a light that shines from the foot of a statue of Antiochus Epiphanes. Because the light shines from below, it leaves a huge shadow on the wall behind the statue. That shadowy outline marks the career of the Antichrist.
Kennedy, Lincoln, and Reagan
Many people wonder how the Antichrist could come to worldwide power in the endtimes. How would anyone vote for such a person? We have this mental image of him as some kind of crazed, wild-eyed, unkempt lunatic from a horror movie with long stringy hair, an ax in one hand and a machine gun in the other. But the reality will be far different. The Antichrist is not an escapee from a mental institution. To the contrary, he will appear to be the very leader the world has been looking for. I’m sure he will be well-educated, urbane, witty, warm, and very charismatic. He will claim to have your best interests at heart. That’s why the world will welcome him. He will be an appealing person and his abilities will be extraordinary in every sense of the word.
Here’s my personal theory of what he will be like. He will have the …
Good looks of John Kennedy
Folksiness of Ronald Reagan
Inspirational power of Winston Churchill
Leadership of Franklin Roosevelt
Vision of Abraham Lincoln
Military prowess of Douglas MacArthur
Respectability of Gandhi
Charm of Will Rogers
Genius of Albert Einstein.
All those attributes will be wrapped up in one irresistible human personality. And to top it all off, he will be wholly and totally energized by Satan. He is the ultimate “angel of light” masquerading for a time as a benevolent leader. Soon enough the truth will come out.
Lessons for Today
As we step back from Daniel 8 a number of important lessons become obvious.
1. The sure fulfillment of prophecy.
This chapter records a remarkably detailed outline of ancient history that was meticulously fulfilled. It demonstrates once again that the Word of God is true. Reading this chapter ought to increase our confidence in a God who knows the future because he ordained the future.
2. The ultimate possibilities of the depraved heart.
The world likes to believe that “every day in every way things are getting better and better.” While it is true that the last century has seen enormous technological progress, it is also true that more people died in more wars in the 20th century than in any other century known to mankind. Yes, we live daily with machines and gadgets that Daniel couldn’t even dream about. But we haven’t really made any moral progress at all. The human heart is still desperately wicked and in need of God’s grace. We have perfected the art of killing and made it easier than ever before. The future reign of the Antichrist will show us how evil man can become when he is completely cut off from the grace of God.
3. The sovereignty of God even over evil rulers.
The book of Daniel makes this point in many ways. When Nebuchadnezzar got too big for his britches, God made him eat grass like a cow for seven years. When Belshazzar arrogantly drank from the sacred vessels, he was struck down by God that same night. And across history we see the hand of God again and again as God says to evil men, “Thus far and no farther.” He said it to Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the day is coming when he will say it once again. When the Antichrist has reached the zenith of his power, the heavens will open and Jesus Christ will descend in power and great glory. With “one little word” the Lord will defeat the Antichrist once and for all.
Let the saints of God be encouraged. Though evil men rise to power, they still must serve God’s purposes. When their time is up, they will be brought low by God.
4. The Antichrist will be logical conclusion of contemporary humanism.
We should not think of the Antichrist as some kind of aberration. 1 John 2:18 reminds us that there are many antichrists in the world already. They have been around since the beginning of time, wreaking havoc and preparing the way for the ultimate Antichrist who is to come. When he finally rises to power, it will be the culmination of secular humanism as society attempts once and for all to live without God.
5. Those who know the Lord have nothing to fear.
This is the final bit of good news. The Antichrist is coming but we should not be afraid. Will this evil ruler arise in the present generation? I do not know, and it is useless to speculate. But such a man is coming, and the way is being paved by the prayers of foolish politicians who jumble together the religions of the world. And it is being paved by those who want unity at all costs, even at the expense of truth. The spirit of Antichrist may also be seen in the increasing banishment of Christianity from the public square in the name of pluralism and tolerance.
Here is the good news. If we know the Lord, we are joined with the One who is the ultimate victor in the battle between good and evil.
Let me end by repeating those solemn words of Dave Hunt: “The battle between Christ and Antichrist is fought to the finish in every human heart. We must know whose side we are on now. It will be too late to change sides at the second coming.”
In the end the question becomes very personal. Where do you stand? Are you on the side of Jesus Christ? If you don’t know how to answer that question, you are already on the wrong side. No one slides into heaven by accident. Each one of us must decide which side we are on. In the end there is no room for neutrality. It is light or darkness, God or Satan, Christ or the Antichrist. Where do you stand?
Take your stand with Jesus today. Pledge your allegiance to the Lamb who died for you. Run to the cross. Lay hold of the bleeding form of the Son of God. Cast your sins upon him and you will find complete forgiveness. Only those who stand with Christ will be safe in the days ahead. May each of us be found true to Christ no matter what the cost. Amen.