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Deciphering Daniel 11 (Part 3: Daniel 11:36-45)

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In our journey through Daniel 11 in the last two blog posts, we’ve seen how the details of this chapter can make it hard to understand but that there is a general consensus in terms of the bulk of the referents in 11:1-20 and 11:21-35. Things change a bit, however, in 11:36-45, as there is a lot of discussion of whether the figure described here is one from the past, Antiochus IV, or one in the future, the Antichrist who is also known as the “Man of Lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2) or the “Beast” (Revelation 13). After examining the text to show why there is this debate among good and faithful scholars, I’ll offer my thoughts on it and its significance.

Daniel 11:36-45 – Antiochus or Antichrist?
These verses describe a king whose wickedness and godlessness seem to surpass all who preceded him. This king is said to do whatever he wants and exalt himself above gods and over the God of gods (11:36), showing no regard for the “gods of his ancestors, the god desired by women, or for any other god” and instead honoring “a god of fortress” (11:37-38), which would seem to refer to military might. He has success (11:36), honoring those who look to him (11:39), until the “time of wrath is completed” (11:36). “The time of the end” is then described in 11:40, noting that the king of the South will engage him in battle, which leads to the king of the North fighting back and conquering lands (11:41-44). The passage here names particular nations such as Edom, Moab, Ammon, and Egypt, which is unusual in this section as that discusses kings of the North and South rather stating their nations. The naming of these particular nations is also interesting in that many would already be conquered by the time of Antiochus, with only Egypt still a nation known to this day. This king meets his end in a pretty ignorable and unremarkable fashion (11:45). While that concludes chapter 11, we should note that chapter 11 is part of a continuous vision from Daniel 10-12, with Daniel 12 then remarking about the work of Michael the archangel (12:1) and the resurrection of the faithful (12:2-3). The description of this king certainly sounds a lot like Antiochus IV, as he labeled himself “god manifest” and did many similar things. Thus, this could be a restatement of his reign. The Bible will at times speak about something one way and then another (I like to compare it to an “instant replay” from another angle). In this view, 11:21-35 and 11:36-12:3 stand as parallels rather than successive eras. Supporting this view is the fact that both end with a reference to those who die for their faith, with 12:2-3 going into more detail about their exaltation and hope.

Others have pointed out that Daniel 11:45 seems to speak of this king’s death in between the sea and Jerusalem after a battle in Egypt, but Antiochus does not die there but when fighting against Persia in 164 BC. Scholars skeptical of predictive prophecy think that this imprecise correspondence with Antiochus IV’s death comes about because it was actually written before his death and thus something of a “failed prophetic prediction.”

Others who believe in the possibility and reality of predictive prophecy may wonder if scholars may be looking for too much precise in the description of the death of this king in 11:45, as it alludes to but does not necessarily say that he dies in the holy land and describes his death quickly to show that it is inglorious end and ultimate weakness. Since some key details don’t align and this is a very detailed section, others think that this is a figure who is a lot like Antiochus IV, but at the end of time who will meet his end in this way. While not explicitly saying that the text is now many forward thousands of years, there could be a break in the text in 11:36 or 11:40 noting a future time. Even if there is not a clear textual signal of a new section (scholars debate if there is), we need to remember that the Bible can jump ahead many years without a clear signal as we have already seen in Daniel 11 and as we see over and over again in messianic prophecies. A further indication of a future reference here is that Daniel 12:1-3 speaks of the intervention of Michael and a resurrection…things that would be expected at the end of the age.

There are also in-between views in that 11:36-39 could be a reference to Antiochus IV while 11:40 might be a jump to the end of time. This seems to make sense on first glance, as 11:40 notes “the time of the end,” but this same phrase appears in 8:17 and 19 to refer to Antiochus’s time; thus it might actually point to the whole passage looking at Antiochus.

So What Do I Think?
Now that you have seen the primary arguments for each view, you are probably wondering if I think Daniel 11:36-45 is a reference to Antiochus IV or the Antichrist. Those that know me well probably won’t be surprised to see that my view is essentially, “Yes,” affirming and connecting elements of both positions! 

I find the details to be too similar to Antiochus IV and his reign to not refer to him; those reading the passage in his time would definitely find him in these words. Yet, there are those details that don’t seem to fit, which I think is not a mistake nor an indication that predictive prophecy is not possible. Rather, I think they encourage the readers to recognize that these words do not simply refer to the time of Antiochus IV, but that he also serves as a “type” that will appear in history, showing that this kind of ruler was not going to be confined to Antiochus IV’s time.

This idea of establishing what scholars call a “typological pattern” is something that one sees throughout the Bible; what happens in the past stands as a model and example for what will happen later in time. For example, the Exodus is a model for what God will do when he restores the people of Israel. Moses and David point forward to Jesus, as Jesus is a “new and greater” David and Moses. History does not fully repeat itself in the sense of a complete circle (which has no end), but rather has a spiral-like sort of way as it moves forward to the end, mirroring what has happened before while advancing to the end. Jesus himself seems to affirm such a view in his use of the term “abomination of desolation” from Daniel, using language to describe what happens in Antiochus’ time to also describe what will happen before the temple falls in AD 70 (see Matthew 24), with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 then also having connections and similarities to what will happen when he returns.

In addition to utilizing the strengths of both major views without minimizing or ignoring their weaknesses, I think this view also is pastorally helpful for us today.

So What Difference Does This Make?
A danger in the view that this description only refers to a figure in the past or the future is that it just leads one to have knowledge about the past or future. The Bible is meant to help us live for God now, with the Book of Daniel written to encourage us to live faithfully in times of challenge. Seeing Antiochus as a type of ruler is a reminder that this kind of ruler emerges time and again – one who seeks to elevate himself above God and opposes worship of the true God while exalting military might. This is not just something that he did or that the Man of Lawlessness would do at the end of time, it is something that many other rulers will do in different times and places. The “spirit” of this type of ruler is pervasive and we need to be on guard against it. This ruler, however, will not last, and will never defeat the forces of heaven. Even when Christians are killed and the church may seem defeated, there are heavenly helpers like Michael watching over God’s people and the promise of resurrection and justice. 

In some ways, the immense focus on identity of the person and time of this figure elevates him to a higher place than he should have, as this figure is a foe that God defeats and that we should not fear. Rather than focus on who this is, focus on the one who appoints this ruler’s end and rescues those who stay faithful to Him in these times of trial.

Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. You can also request to receive weekly emails with our blog posts by filling out the information on the right side.

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