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Notes on Daniel: Hermeneutics

By Jay Rogers
Published April 27, 2008

A great difficulty with hermeneutical approaches persists to our day. Is the correct approach to Daniel and Revelation preterist, historicist, futurist or idealist? While most prophecy is forth-telling rather than foretelling, both the Prophets and John’s Revelation speak of things “yet to be.”

What was “yet to be” often had a temporal immediacy. King Nebuchadnezzar saw his Chaldean Empire conquered by the Medio-Persian Empire just as Daniel had prophesied. But other prophecies were fulfilled centuries later. And some biblical prophecies — such as the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, and a new heavens and a new earth — have yet to be fulfilled.

The problem with prophecies is that they can sometimes seem to have several fulfillments. Certainly, some references to Antiochus Epiphanes can be found in Daniel’s prophecy. However, the abomination that causes desolation (Daniel 9) referred to by Jesus in the Mount Olivet Discourse, cannot refer to Antiochus, even though when Daniel is read in isolation from Matthew 24, he fits the description.

These difficulties are only surface problems. Predictive prophecies refer to the blessings, curses and judgments of God. There is a direct cause-effect between God’s promised judgment and the outcome of a prophecy. When Daniel saw the successive overthrow of four kingdoms, this was the direct effect of the persecution of God’s people. The Babylonians, Medio-Persians, Greeks and Romans came under judgment because they usurped the rule of God’s chosen people over the promised land.

When John saw the destruction of the beast, the false prophet and the whore of Babylon, this was the direct result of their persecution of the church. This came to pass when Jerusalem was destroyed and when the Roman Empire came under progressive judgment by God through internal strife in the first century.

We may rightly assume that the Roman Catholic Church was judged for its persecution of dissenters who held to a more correct orthodoxy. We may also assume that the Soviet Union was judged because of its persecution of believers of all stripes. There are historical applications we can make, such as the invasion of Rome by barbarian hordes later on, and futuristic applications, such as the judgment of Gog and Magog at the end of the millennium (Revelation 20).

However, the immediate application of most of the book of Revelation was that the judgment was to happen “soon.” To say that the papacy or the Roman Catholic Church is going to be judged for its persecutions of Christians in the first centuries is anachronistic. It ignores the repeated temporal urgency as well as the historical and literary context of the book of Revelation.

For instance, John was writing when the Temple at Jerusalem was still standing and sacrifices were still being made — according to numerous references in Revelation. If John saw events in a vision that have an immediate first century application, then how can the papacy be interpreted as the Beast or the Whore?

While I agree that God has judged those who persecuted believers throughout history, I do not see a cause-effect relationship between the persecutions of first century Roman Emperors and the Protestant Reformation (at least not in this prophecy).

Since the papacy did not exist in the first century, then how can the Roman Church of the Middle Ages be held responsible for persecutions of Christians in the first century? A futurist or historicist hermeneutic is anachronistic because these events did not coincide in history.


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