The Book of Daniel is partly historical, relating the experiences of Daniel and the Jews in captivity in Babylon (Daniel 1, 3-6). But it is mainly prophetic, detailing visions and prophecies that foretell important events relative to four great empires of the ancient world, the restoration of the Jews, further Judean conflicts, the coming and death of the Messiah, the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, and the conversion of the nations under Messiah’s kingdom (Daniel 2, 7-12).
Many Bible interpreters, especially modern dispensationalists, have sought to apply a futurist interpretation placing at least some of the events described in Daniel 2, 7-12 as yet to take place. We see this approach most often in the “pop eschatology” that has come into the mainstream consciousness through writings, TV shows and movies by Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe and Tim LaHaye. Others have taken a historicist interpretive approach consigning some of these events to the Middle Ages. The historicist view was popular with many of the Reformers and Puritans, such as Matthew Henry and Jonathan Edwards.
Yet the historicist and futurist approaches create inconsistencies in interpretation. I deal with some of these in the notes section. The best explanation of Daniel is the preterist interpretation. All the events described in Daniel were fulfilled before or during the generation who lived at the time of Jesus Christ. In fact, much of Daniel is interpreted by the New Testament. This position creates the least amount of problems from an interpretive standpoint. Only a fair knowledge of ancient history is needed to understand this view. But this view becomes more convincing the more the researcher will dig into history.
From our perspective today, an understanding of Daniel is paramount to understanding the Mount Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. In Matthew 24:15, Jesus refers to the “abomination of desolation referred to in the prophecy of Daniel, standing in the holy place,” then there is the inserted the aside: (“let the reader understand”).
We should therefore ask ourselves, “Understand what exactly?”
Obviously, from the context, we must understand this passage of Daniel. And unless we have the correct interpretation of Daniel, we will not be able to understand the Mount Olivet Discourse. Therefore, a preterist approach examining the history of the four ancient world kingdoms is necessary for understanding the purpose of the Book of Daniel. This was a prophecy given so that the Jews of the Restoration period, from the time of the Persian kings onward, would know the times and events surrounding the coming of the Messiah. That is the main purpose of Daniel chapters 2, 7-12.