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Notes on Daniel: Calvin's Commentary on Daniel

By Jay Rogers
Published April 27, 2008

In reading Calvin’s Commentary on Daniel, a few ideas come to my mind.

First, I am always amazed at how readable and lucid Calvin is.

Second, I see a few minor discrepancies in Calvin’s approach to Daniel 7 and Revelation 13 that would differ with some modern day preterists. Regarding the 10 kings of Daniel 7 (and the seven kings of Revelation 13) Calvin does not see 10 as a finite number, but as a symbolic number. He also sees the little horn as the period of persecution under all the Caesars — Nero through Titus. I would say the little horn refers specifically to Nero. Calvin also does not make “time, times and half a time” to mean exactly three-and-a-half years, but rather several years or even several decades.

I might be willing to concede this point to Calvin. However, even though I dislike cryptic interpretations, I conclude that the kings of Daniel 7 must be the Roman Caesars of the first century. The thrust of the whole prophecy of Daniel is to point to the time of the birth of the Messiah — “in the days of these kings …”

Third, with regard to Daniel 7, Calvin is solidly a preterist.

Fourth, Calvin sees parallels between Daniel 7, Matthew 24, and Revelation 13. Even though Calvin never wrote a commentary on Revelation, one can easily see from the commentary below that Calvin is a preterist.

But a greater consolation is added in the last clause, even for a time and times, and the division of a time, or half, as some translate it; it is properly a division. Interpreters differ widely about these words, and I will not bring forward all their opinions, otherwise it would be necessary to refute them. I should have no little trouble in refuting all their views, but I will follow my own custom of shortly expressing the genuine sense of the Prophet, and thus all difficulty will be removed. Those who consider a “time” to mean a “year,” are in my opinion wrong. They cite the forty-two months of the Apocalypse, (Revelation 13:5,) which make three years and a half; but that argument is not conclusive, since in that case a year will not consist of 365 days, but the year itself must be taken figuratively for any indeterminate time. It is better then to keep close to the Prophet’s words. A “time,” then, is not put for a certain number of months or days, nor yet for a single year, but for any period whose termination is in the secret counsel of God. They shall be given, then, for a time, says he, and afterwards adds times; that is, for a continuance of times; and again, even to a section or division of a time; meaning, these calamities should come to an end whenever God, in mercy to his Church, should restrain those tyrants by his wrath against them. As long, therefore, as the cruelty of the Caesars oppressed God’s Church, it was committed into their hands. We have already seen how many Caesars were enemies of the true Church. First, of all, Nero raged most cruelly, for he burnt some thousands of Christians at Rome, to extinguish the infamy which raged against himself. The people could not endure his barbarity; for, while the fourth part of the city was destroyed by Nero, he was enjoying his pleasure and rejoicing so mournful a spectacle! As he feared the popular tumult against himself, he laid hold of many Christians, and offered them to the people as a kind of expiation. Those who followed him, did not cease to pour forth innocent blood, and those who seemed to be endued with some degree of clemency and humanity were all at length seized with a diabolic fury. Trajan was esteemed a very excellent prince, and yet we know how he commanded the Christians everywhere to be slain, since he thought them obstinate in their error. And others were more savage still. No wonder, therefore, the angel predicts, even for a time, and times, and the division of a time, that license would be given to the tyrants and enemies of the Church to pervert all things, to despise God, and set aside all justice, and to execute a cruel and barbarous slaughter. This ought to be predicted for two reasons: first, lest through length of time the faithful should fall away, because when “the time” a space of about ten years had passed, they would come to the times, consisting of about fifty or a hundred years.

This, then, was one reason why God admonished the faithful concerning the time and times. But he wished also to mitigate their sorrow by adding half a time, thus promising some moderation and ending to such great calamities. The language of our Lord to his Apostles concerning the various commotion of the earth, corresponds very well with this view. “There shall arise wars and rumors of wars, and no end as yet,” says he. He announces them as the preludes to greater evils, when the whole of Judea should be devastated with wars and other slaughters. He afterwards adds, “Unless those days had been shortened.” (Matthew 24:6; Mark 13:7; Luke 21:9.) This shortening of the days is here noticed as if the Lord cut short; a continued succession of them. For when the possession of the tyranny appeared fierce, then suddenly and beyond the expectation of all, God at length snatched away his Church, and then the evangelical doctrine emerged, and was celebrated everywhere. God, therefore, then shortened the days on account of his own elect, and this is understood by the last clause, a division of a time. I will defer the rest till to-morrow.”


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