The debate over how to interpret the Book of Daniel from the perspective of Reformed theology usually is between historicism and preterism. The futurist view is also frequent among the Reformed, but it is less common than in other evangelical circles.
What we call the historicist view today was popular among the Reformers of Martin Luther’s day and the following centuries, but their fixation on the pope (or the papacy in general) as the “Beast” of Revelation 13 and the “Little Horn” of Daniel 7 was actually a form of futurism at that time. They retrofitted events occurring in their own day into those described in Daniel and Revelation, practicing an early form of “newspaper exegesis.” We can only call that view “historicism” today from our vantage point looking backwards in time. The Reformers looked for the “Beast of Revelation” to come out of Rome in the 1500s just as some Christians today look for the Beast to arise out of one of the political leaders in the Middle East.
Postmillennialism as a theology distinct from amillennialism came about approximately 100 years after the Reformation when the Puritans realized that the papacy and Roman Catholic missions were actually gaining ground in the world. They formed the idea of “progressive millennialism,” proclaiming that the papacy would be defeated eventually over a long period of time.
The most popular form of this idea was historicist postmillennialism. Their view included the defeat of the “Romish papacy” as the Beast and that events of Revelation would be fulfilled over the course of history. This view was common among many of the Puritans including the “Neo-Puritan” leader of the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards.
I am a preterist, rather than a historicist or a futurist, because I believe the Book of Revelation has to be interpreted in light of passages in Daniel and the Mount Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). The Book of Daniel points to the Roman Empire at the time of Christ, not the medieval Roman Church. Jesus himself points to the fulfillment of the Roman “Fourth Kingdom” prophecy as occurring in the first century (“the abomination that causes desolation” – Daniel 9:27, 12:11; Matthew 24:15).
Some historicists like to stretch Daniel’s “Fourth Kingdom” prophecies to include all of history. So do all dispensationalists and futurists. But if we let Daniel interpret Daniel, the only immediate application is the first century.
“And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:44).
And in the days of these kings — Simply put, in the days of the Roman Empire. Daniel prophesied that the kingdom of God brought to earth by Jesus Christ “in the days of these kings” would never be destroyed. The saints of the kingdom would war against the kingdoms of this world and they would become part of “the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15).
While I agree that this is a progressive millennial kingdom, I do not see how any of the “kings” of Daniel 2:44 and Revelation 11:15 can be thought of as being specifically the papacy or a future world dictator.
Daniel is not a prophecy given to Protestants to describe the time of the Reformation. It is not a prophecy given to Christians today that describes events in our future. It is a prophecy given to the Jews to prove the time of the coming Messiah. The context and purpose of the passage point to a first century fulfillment. Key timing elements of the prophecy, as well as the application of specific descriptions of the “Little Horn” of Daniel 7, point to Nero Caesar and other events of the first century AD.
The Mount Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and the Book of Revelation were both given to explain that Daniel’s prophecy would be fulfilled in the generation of Jesus Christ.