Does Daniel 12:2,3,12 refer to the General Resurrection and the Final Judgment?
While the allusion to Daniel 12:1 in Matthew 24:21,22 strongly points to a fulfillment by AD 70, the next two verses in Daniel 12:2,3 seem to refer to the General Resurrection, the Last Judgment and the Everlasting Kingdom. In fact, Daniel 12:2,3 is one of the most frequently used proof texts for these eschatological events. This is certainly one of the most difficult passages in Daniel to interpret from a preterist perspective.
Does Daniel 12:1 speak of events in the first century only to jump thousands of years in the future to speak of events at the end of human history in Daniel 12:2,3?
If we look at how Daniel uses parallelism throughout the chapter, it becomes apparent that the purpose is not to point to a General Resurrection, but to say that the prophecy would be fulfilled long after Daniel had died in the “end of days.”
In short, the passage shows that Daniel and the Jews of that era certainly believed in General Resurrection and a Final Judgment, and the language does refer to these two great events that are yet in our future. But the allusion to a final Resurrection and Judgment is used to delineate the “wise” from the “wicked” – between those who would “understand” the prophecy and receive their inheritance of everlasting life – and those who would not understand and suffer “everlasting contempt” at the Final Judgment. The confusing portion from a preterist viewpoint is the elaboration on what will happen “at that time,” which then speaks of the dead awakening.
And at that time your people shall be delivered,
Every one who is found written in the book.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,
Some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Those who are wise shall shine
Like the brightness of the firmament,
And those who turn many to righteousness
Like the stars forever and ever (Daniel 12:1b-3).
In John chapter 5, there appears a passage in which Jesus speaks of the resurrection of the dead. When we compare this to Daniel 12:2, we find almost the same language used to describe the resurrection.
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28,29).
The problem here is first sentence of Daniel 12:1 also begins with the words, “At that time …” I showed how this is referred to by Jesus in Matthew 24:21,22 and that this was most likely fulfilled by the Jewish-Roman War and the Judean Christians’ Flight to Pella.
Now here is the conundrum from a preterist perspective. It might seem easy to say that the righteous rising to eternal life is a metaphor here for the “New Birth” that would be manifest in the time of the ministry of Jesus Christ and the Apostles in the first century. However, there is also the inclusion of those who awaken to “shame and contempt.” In John 5:28,29, Jesus also clearly refers to Daniel 12:2,3 to speak of the General Resurrection. But note here that the phrase in 12:1b repeats the same time indicator. This would also occur, “at that time.” Jesus also uses the 12:1 reference in Matthew 24:21,22 to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Should we assume that the General Resurrection and Final Judgment of all the righteous and the wicked in all history occurred “at that time” in the first century?
Although many hyper-preterists hold to this solution, this view is outside the pale of orthodox Christianity. My solution to this “problem verse” is that Daniel mentions the judgment of the wicked as a parallelism – as a contrast to the temporal and eternal rewards received by the wise. The temporal reward for the righteous is wisdom, understanding and knowledge of God, while their eternal reward is glorification. This is similar to the previous passage in Daniel 11:32-35 which repeatedly contrasts the wise with the wicked.
A. 11:32 – Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery;
B. but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.
11:33 – And those of the people who understand shall instruct many;
A. yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering.
11:34 – Now when they fall, they shall be aided with a little help; but many shall join with them by intrigue.
B. 11:35 And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white, until the time of the end; because it is still for the appointed time.
Note that in Daniel 11:32-35, there is an A,B,A,B parallel structure that contrasts the destinies of both the wise and the wicked. In “A,” the wicked are described as those Jews who became “corrupted” in the Maccabean era and “fell by the sword,” yet persisted in “intrigue,” meaning power struggles. In “B,” the wise are characterized as “strong” and suffering persecution to “purify them.” God will use trials and tribulations to “purify” the wise, while the wicked will be led astray and will “fall by the sword.”
Throughout chapter 12, there is also a similar parallel structure, which explains that the fiery trials faced by the people of God serve the two-fold purpose in purging those who do wickedly and purifying those who are wise. Daniel 12:1-4 gives us the three main ideas of the chapter that are emphasized a total of four times in the chapter.
- God’s people will be delivered at the time of the end.
- There will be a final time of testing that will reveal both the righteous and the wicked.
- The time of the end is not for many days, so the book of prophecy is sealed until that time.
A. 12:1 – “At that time,” the time of the end, the Messiah will come.
B. God’s people will be tested.
C. Those who are faithful will be delivered.
CC. 12:2 – Those who are unfaithful will receive everlasting judgment.
BB. 12:3 – The time of testing will reveal the glory of the Lord in God’s people.
AA. 12:4 – The prophecy must be sealed by Daniel because it is not yet “the time of the end.”
What follows in Daniel 12 are more repetitions of these same three ideas. These recapitulations, parallelisms or chiasms give the Book of Daniel a sense of completeness. The Fifth Vision draws to an end and the prophetic promise of salvation for God’s people is sealed up.
In my book, In the Days of These Kings, there is a lengthy section outlining the parallelisms and chiastic structure of Daniel 12. Although I cannot repeat my entire interpretation here, I’ll give a few principles to help interpret Daniel 12.
First, “the time of the end” referred to in Daniel 12:4,8,9,13 is not the “end times,” but the time when the prophecy will be fulfilled. The fulfillment came in the first century “in the days of these kings” (Daniel 2:44) – in the time of the Roman emperors.
Second, the purpose of contrasting those who will awake, “Some to everlasting life / Some to shame and everlasting contempt,” is to show that a righteous remnant would be delivered out of the “time of trouble.” The Great Tribulation, as Jesus called it, occurs not at the end of time, but speaks of the three-and a-half year persecution of the Christians under Nero (fall of AD 64 to June, 68) and during the three-and a-half year Jewish-Roman War from (spring of AD 67 to mid-September of 70). Although the promise of the Resurrection is referred to here, what is occurring during the “time of trouble” (Daniel 12:1) is the First Resurrection, the spiritual rebirth that comes with regeneration, not the Second General Resurrection that will occur at the Second Coming. In my previous book, I explained how the First and Second Resurrection – and the First and Second Death – are the same here as also in Revelation 20. In order not to digress. I refer you to Dennis Johnson’s excellent article on this topic (Ligonier.org – The First and Second Resurrection).
Third, the purpose of contrasting the righteous living and dead with the unrighteous living and dead – the wise and the wicked – in Daniel 12:2,3 is reiterated in parallel structure in the promise that “none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand” (12:9,10).
Finally, Daniel is told a third time not to inquire any further, but that he would “arise to [his] inheritance at the end of the days” (12:13). So if this is consistent with the rest of the passage, what is spoken of here is not the end of human history, but the inauguration of a New Covenant and the deliverance of God’s people prior to the destruction of the Temple. The inheritance spoken of is eternal life, the message of the Gospel – that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of eternal life – will be made manifest when the prophecy comes to pass in the “end of days”
The unrighteous Jews who would “arise” to “shame and everlasting contempt” were not raised from the dead and judged in AD 70. Rather, the General Resurrection of the unrighteous dead and their Final Judgment “to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2) is contrasted as a parallelism with the “wise” who would “shine like the brightness of the firmament … forever and ever” (12:3).
A key to understanding this is not yet the Final Judgment is that Daniel refers to the righteous as “those who turn many to righteousness (12:3). If many people are being turned to righteousness “at that time” by “those of understanding,” then this speaks of the Gospel witness going forward in history. In other words, “at the time of the end” when the prophecy is fulfilled, those who are the elect would be delivered. These are those who “understand” the words of Daniel 12:1-3,11-12 and the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:21,22. They would be enabled through their wisdom to turn many to righteousness even during an ongoing fiery persecution. Their deliverance out of the conflagration that consumed the Temple and the city of Jerusalem is a foreshadowing of their deliverance through the Final Judgment into the everlasting Kingdom. This is contrasted with the demise of the wicked in the Final Judgment of eternal hell.
We are told by Hegesippus (quoted in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History) that Christians living in Judea at the time of the Roman invasion in the AD 60s (those who turned many to righteousness) understood the prophecy that the city was about to be destroyed. They fled the city of Jerusalem eventually settling in Pella. Most of the Jews left in the cities of Jerusalem and throughout Judea and Galilee perished – as many as 1.1 million according to Josephus. The few left alive were sold into slavery by the Romans. So those who were alive and free after the time of this temporal judgment were God’s wise elect who escaped judgment. The wicked Jews during the Siege of Jerusalem in AD 70 were those who perished. They are those who will rise to eternal shame in the Final Judgment.
This interpretation does not teach a hyper-preterist view that the General Resurrection and the Final Judgment occurred in the first century. On the contrary, it refutes it by showing that Daniel was certainly aware of a General Resurrection, a Final Judgment and an Eternal Kingdom. However, the purpose of Daniel 12 is not to predict when that will occur, but to contrast the moral nature of the Jews who would live in the “end of days” – in the days when the prophecy would be fulfilled – “in the days of these kings” – in the days of the first century Roman emperors.