In addition to a panorama of political events related to the events in connection to Daniel’s world, all prophecies seemed to be geared toward the needs and concerns of God’s people, whether in connection to their judgment or their liberation. It is as true for God’s people in the Old Testament who were represented by an ethnic entity, as it is for people in His church, who claim to be His children.
In spite of the fact that God’s chosen people, the Judeans, were sent into exile because of their atrocities and transgressions, God did not intend for them to perish, but to learn a valuable lesson: the final victory will be granted to those who remain faithful to God. Demonstrating His loving care for groups and individuals who remained true to Him, God never excludes those who are of Gentile descent from His care. He even revealed Himself to heathen kings who needed to know that God is in control of the entire history of this world.
Purpose of the Book
The exiles’ third concern related to their place of worship. In addition to Jerusalem, which represented their political and national identity, the people of Judah depended on their temple, which symbolized their spiritual identity and was most certainly the pride of the entire nation. It was the house of their God, and as long as the temple stood, they were certain that God’s presence was with them. Without their capital and temple they would be lost and forgotten as a nation. The answer to this concern comes in the third vision, recorded in chapter 8. The sanctuary would be restored to its rightful place (8:14). The fact that the text here does not address the earthly sanctuary did not make any difference to them. They were satisfied to hear that the most holy structure would be restored again.
Their fourth major concern related to their fate as God’s people. Thus far they were His ambassadors to the neighboring nations. Their task and mission was to reveal God’s character—His goodness, love, and passion for those who love Him. Who will now fulfill this noble mission? What will happen to the promises God made to Abraham about his descendants—that they will never perish from this earth?
This final concern was answered by the last vision recorded in Daniel, chapters 10–12. No matter how merciless the enemy, God’s universal people will be triumphant at the end of time. Even if death comes first, there will be a glorious morning of resurrection when those who are asleep will rise again (12:2) and be part of His eternal kingdom.
Further Evidence of God’s Care
Additionally, God’s care for His people was evident through several details given in the third vision recorded in chapter 8. For some reason, at this time Babylon was excluded from any symbolism, while the previous chapter included Babylon with other kingdoms. The popular assumption that, at the time this vision was given (in chapter 8), Babylon was almost gone, is not entirely accurate. Only three years had elapsed between these two visions. The vision in chapter 7 came to Daniel during Belshazzar’s first year of reign (553 B.C.), while the vision in chapter 8 came during the third year of the same ruler (550 B.C.). Both visions, therefore, were given in close proximity, and both occurred more than a decade before Babylon’s destruction in 539 B.C. Something must have happened during those three years that caused God’s decision to exclude Babylon from the symbolism and its representation. Whatever happened indicates how much God was involved in the affairs and well-being of His people in Babylon.
A few years earlier, Medo-Persia had changed rulers. Cambyses I, who ruled very briefly (560-559 B.C.) was replaced by Cyrus II, also known as Cyrus the Great (559-530 B.C.). The exiles were familiar with this name because they knew about him from a prophecy of Isaiah two centuries earlier (Isa. 44:28): Cyrus was the promised one who would restore the temple in Jerusalem and return God’s people from captivity. When the news reached the exiles in Babylon that Cyrus had become king in Medo-Persia, excitement, joy, and hope filled their hearts, especially those who longed to return to Judea and continue to fulfill their role as God’s remnant people.
God’s interest in the affairs of the history of this world extends above and beyond the time and place in which Daniel and his contemporaries lived. Daniel was given a unique opportunity to understand that his people did not receive an indefinite time to fulfill their mission. In chapter 9, verse 24, Daniel received a revelation that his people would have only 70 weeks/years (490 years) to complete their mission as God’s people. At the completion of 490 years, God would abandon the idea of giving one ethnic group the task of introducing and revealing His true nature and character to other nations (Deut. 4:5-8). When the period of 490 years ended (A.D. 34), God selected a group beyond geographical and ethnic boundaries, His church. From then on, the Christian Church, its well-being, suffering, prosperity, growth, and downfall became God’s primary focus and attention. This concern about the prospects of His church is not as evident in the first vision as in the second and third visions.
The second vision is recorded in Daniel 7, in which the political history of the ancient world is outlined. It starts with the appearance of four winds that stirred up the surface of the Great Sea (vs. 2). Soon after, four beasts (lion, bear, leopard, and an unnamed one) moved from the sea one after the other. It was explained to Daniel that these four beasts represent four kingdoms (vs. 17). He seemed to be satisfied with this explanation except that he requested additional information regarding the fourth beast (vs. 19), which he could not recognize at all. He was assured that even though this beast was different from the previous two, it represented the fourth kingdom. If the first three beasts represented Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece, then the fourth one symbolized the ancient Roman Empire. Furthermore, the beast’s 10 horns represented the partition of the Roman Empire into 10 kingdoms at the time when it crumbled.
In spite of the fact that this fourth beast with its 10 horns was the most terrifying, it seems that the appearance of the 11th horn, also known as the Little Horn (vs. 8), was the major concern of this vision. Its description, activities, and fate occupy a greater part of this chapter, and therefore it was the main focus of the vision.
Description, Activities and Fate of the Little Horn
The Little Horn is not depicted as a positive power. It played a very negative role and certainly did not enjoy favor in God’s eyes. It was described as one that would blaspheme against the Most High God, try to change God’s Law, and persecute the saints of God (vs. 24). Because of its acts, this power existed for a limited time (vs. 25). Its atrocities provoked God’s judgment (vss. 9, 10, 26) and ultimately, it would be destroyed (vs. 26).
The presence of winds is already established in chapter 7. Four winds stir up the Great Sea, from which four beasts emerge. The appearance of four winds can be seen as a parallelism to four beasts/kingdoms. In this case for every wind there was one beast/kingdom. The fact that the Little Horn in chapter 8 came out of one of the winds indicates that it came from an already existing kingdom. Babylon is not even included in this chapter, while the ram (Medo-Persia) and he-goat (Greece) are already gone, so the only kingdom not mentioned yet that might have been represented by this one wind is the Roman Empire.
Little Horn’s Transgressions
Furthermore, the Little Horn in both chapters behaves in the same way. There are three major levels of its transgression: first, it will “speak . . . against the Most High” (7:25, NKJV); second, it will “persecute the saints of the Most High,” (vs. 25, NKJV); third, it will “intend to change times and law” (vs. 25, NKJV). All three transgressions are present in chapter 8 as well. First, this power will “even rise against the Prince of princes” (8:25, NKJV), second, it will seek to “destroy the mighty, and also the holy people” (vs. 24, NKJV), and third, it will “cast down truth to the ground” (vs. 12, NKJV).
The first transgression in both chapters is directed against the Most High (chapter 7) and the Prince of princes (chapter 8). Both cases reflect the Little Horn’s attitude toward the Supreme Being. In most instances the phrase “Most High” refers to God, who is described in chapter 7 as one that was “Ancient of Days” (vs. 23, NKJV), while “Prince of princes” from chapter 8 refers to the Son of God. The word that is translated as “against” in chapter 7 is a compound word in the Aramaic language made of the preposition for “to,” “toward,” and the masculine noun for “side.” This combination is found only here, and it does not necessarily indicate actions in opposition to God, but rather it refers to taking the side or place that belongs to the Most High. In the same way, chapter 8 indicates a similar kind of attitude. This power will rise up against the Prince of princes or the Son of God Himself. Here the Hebrew language uses the preposition for “over,” “on,” “upon,” “against,” “in front of,” or “down from,” which indicates the position of the subject toward its object. In most cases, the subject is raised to the same position or above its object. Obviously, this power would seek to position itself on the same level or above the Prince of princes.
This transgression is also evident in chapter 8. The same power will throw the truth to the ground (vs. 12). In this context the word for “truth” is synonymous with God’s law (Ps. 43:3; 119:43). Casting the truth, or God’s law, to the ground indicates the ability, willingness, and arrogance of the Little Horn in its desire to show its ultimate power on earth and even in heaven.
Time and Its Identity
This power would not have an indefinite time to operate. Though chapter 8 is silent with respect to the time limit of the Little Horn, chapter 7 specifies that the horn will have “a time, two times, and half a time” (vs. 25, NASB). Earlier, Daniel used the word for “time” in the context of the Little Horn’s activities, but here he used a different Aramaic word that refers to a cycle of definite time covering four seasons. The same word was used in connection with the prophecy given to king Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4 when he was given seven warnings to understand that the Sovereign God of Daniel is in command of all the universe. In both cases, “time” referred to a length of one calendar year. It seems that the Little Horn would have dominion and power to act for three and a half years, which translates into 1,260 days. Consequently, as one prophetic day is equal to one year (Dan. 9:24; Eze. 4:6), the Little Horn was given a time of 1,260 years to accomplish its activities, and after this time it would lose its power and dominion.
During the first few centuries of its existence, the Christian Church followed its mission given as by Jesus Christ. It did not, however, have a clear structure under one unified authority. After the conversion of Constantine during the first part of the fourth century, the Christian Church became a state church. At that time the entire Roman Empire was subdivided into more than 100 provinces governed by provincial governors. On the same basis, the bishop of the capital in each province became a metropolitan bishop whose major responsibility was “to resolve disputes between bishops, or between a bishop and his clergy, or his congregation.”3
During the following few centuries, several metropolitan bishops, based on their location, became dominant. Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria, took charge of the entirety of Egypt and tried to maintain his control through the distribution of over a thousand pounds of gold to members of the court at Constantinople at the time of the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431. The bishop of Antioch extended his authority over all of Syria-Palestine, and the bishop of Constantinople became dominant in Greece and Asia Minor. At the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth century, however, the bishop of Constantinople reduced the authority of the bishops of Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch.
Uprooting of the Three Horns
Transgressions of a Religious Nature
The second part of the Little Horn’s activity was more or less related to its religious actions (assuming titles that belong only to God, persecuting the saints of God, and changing God’s law). These acts are also recognizable in the conduct of the leadership in the Church of Rome from the sixth century onward.
Second, the church leadership in Rome accepted and promoted the Alexandrian school of thought. According to this school the Scripture is purely allegorical in character, and individuals and events described in the Bible are not real but used in symbolic ways to provide deeper spiritual lessons and meaning. Thus, the interpretation of Scripture is hidden to ordinary persons and could be provided only by clergy. By accepting this theology, the church in Rome placed itself on the same level with God by taking away the Bible from the people and replacing it with tradition. In this way, the Holy Spirit—who inspired Scripture to be written in such a way that it changes the lives of people upon reading it—was excluded and replaced by the church.
In addition to the assumption of titles, the second activity of the Little Horn is related to the persecution of the saints of the Most High. Religious intolerance against fellow human beings and especially those who followed their conscience in serving God was fully exercised when the leadership of the church in Rome accepted and/or was able to influence political powers to act on their behalf. Not only did the church leadership use their influence to remove several Arian tribes (as seen earlier), but it continued to use the same power in centuries to come to get rid of all who disagreed with its doctrines.
“After the signal of open martyrdom had been given in the Canons of Orleans, there followed the extirpation of the Albigenses under the form of a crusade, the establishment of the Inquisition, the cruel attempts to extinguish the Waldenses, the martyrdoms of the Lollards, the cruel wars to exterminate the Bohemians, the burning of Huss and Jerome, and multitudes of other confessors, before the Reformation; and afterwards, the ferocious cruelties practiced in the Netherlands, the martyrdoms of Queen Mary’s reign, the extinction by the fire and sword of the Reformation in Spain and Italy, by fraud and opened persecution in Poland, the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, the persecution of the Huguenots by the League, the extirpation of the Vaudois, and all the cruelties and prejudices connected with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. These are the more open and conspicuous facts which explain the prophecy, besides the slow and secret murders of the holy tribunal of the Inquisition.”5
The third act of the church leadership in Rome that identified them with the Little Horn was an attempt to change God’s law and the day of worship. The seventh-day Sabbath as the day of worship was celebrated by Jews and Christians alike during the early years of the church. Due to the fact that Jews were persecuted and despised for their circumcision and Sabbath-keeping, anti-Semitic feeling was evident among Roman writers as early as Seneca in the first century A.D. The same attitude was evident among the Christian writers as early as the middle of the second century, when Justin Martyr presented “a most devastating and systematic condemnation of the Sabbath, as well as giving the earliest explicit account of Christian Sunday worship services.”6
That the change from Sabbath to Sunday was not based on any scriptural evidence is attested and summarized by John O’Brian, a prominent Catholic professor at Notre Dame University: “You believe that the Bible alone is a safe guide in religious matters. You also believe that one of the fundamental duties enjoyed upon you by your Christian faith is that of Sunday observance. But where does the Bible speak of such obligation? I have read the Bible from the first verse in Genesis to the last verse of Revelation, and have found no reference to the duty of sanctifying the Sunday. The day mentioned in the Bible is not the Sunday, the first day of the week but the Saturday, the last day of the week. It was the. . . Church which. . . changed the observance to the Sunday. . . . The word ‘Sabbath’ means rest and is Saturday the seventh day of the week.”7
Because of the atrocities against God and His people, the Little Horn represents fallen Christianity with its leadership, which was given a definite time to function. A specific time of 1,260 years was designated for the fallen Christian church to operate. This period began in 538, when it eliminated the competition of the Arian tribes and became the only power to conduct its activities in the Western Hemisphere. And it ended in 1798, when it lost its political influence.
The Book of Daniel represents the struggles of God’s people as an ethnic group (Jews) who were rejected because they failed their mission, and their replacement by God’s church of the New Testament without ethnic boundaries. The church started well during the first few centuries of its existence when it followed Christ’s mandate. But through the centuries, its leadership used political influence and power to accomplish its goals, which were not in accordance with the mandate by Jesus Christ. Thus it became the Little Horn. By placing themselves on the same level or above God, disrespecting God’s unchangeable moral law, and disregarding human lives for which Jesus gave His life, they became fallen Christianity. The church leadership forgot the grim warning of Paul when he wrote his letter to the church in Rome: “If God did not spare the natural branches [Jews], neither will He spare you” (Rom. 11:21, NASB).
Thus, the Book of Daniel tells a story of God’s people—their tragedies and triumphs, struggles, pitfalls, and vindications. It speaks about those who stood tall when persecution, either from pagan powers or from their fellow Christians, was inflicted upon them. Many were crucified, cast before wild beasts, burnt at the stake, died from torture in medieval dungeons, only because they wanted to remain faithful to God. The book of Daniel further testifies that even if they felt abandoned they shall be reunited with God again and “‘will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever’” (Dan. 12:3, NASB). It was promised to Daniel that they will stand one day in their allotted places before the living God throughout eternity.
Paul Z. Gregor, Ph.D., is a Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Archaeology at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.
1. Jacques Doukhan, Secrets of Daniel (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 2000), pp. 123-125.
2. William Shea, Daniel 7-12 (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1996), pp. 109-116.
5. T. R. Birks, The First Two Visions of Daniel (London: William Edward Painter, 1843), pp. 248, 249.
6. Samuele Bacchiocchi, “The Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity,” in The Sabbath in Scripture and History (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 1982), pp. 132-150.
7. J. O’Brian, The Faith of Millions: The Credentials of Catholic Religion (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 1963), pp. 138, 139, 406.