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Notes on Daniel: Historicism or Preterism?

By Jay Rogers
Published April 27, 2008

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 not unknown among the Reformed, but it is far more rare than in evangelical circles.

What we call the historicist view today was popular among the Reformers, 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 were looking at events described in Daniel and Revelation to occur in their own day or in the near future. We can only call that view “historicism” today looking backwards in time. From their perspective, looking for the “Beast of Revelation” to come out of Rome in the 1500s is no different than Christians today looking for the Beast to arise out of one of the politicals leaders in the Middle East.

As a matter of fact, postmillennialism as a distinct theology from amillennialism came about 100 years after the Reformation, when the Puritans realized that the papacy was actually gaining ground. They formed the idea of “progressive millennialism.” This was the idea that eventually the papacy would be defeated. This later became known as postmillennialism. The most popular form of this idea was historical postmillennialism, which still included the “Romish papacy” as the Beast and the events of Revelation as being fulfilled over the course of history.

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). 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 “Fourth Kingdom” prophecy (“the abomination that causes desolation” — Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15) as occurring in the first century.

I know that some historicists like to stretch Daniel’s “Fourth Kingdom” prophecies to include all of history. So do the futurists and dispensationalists.

But if we let Daniel interpret Daniel, I think 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 would be brought to earth by Jesus Christ “in the days of these kings” never to be destroyed. The saints of the kingdom will war against the kingdoms of this world and they will become part of “the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Rev. 11:15).

While I agree that this is a progressive millennial kingdom, I do not see how any of the “kings” of Daniel and Revelation can be thought of as being 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” describe Nero Caesar.

The Mount Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation were both given to explain that Daniel’s prophecy is fulfilled in the time of Jesus Christ.


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