Revelation Through Old Testament Eyes: Daniel
Perhaps no book of the Old Testament has a bigger impact on the book of Revelation than Daniel, particularly Daniel 7–12. We should not be surprised at this similarity, given that Daniel 7–12 and Revelation are the only true apocalypses in the canon.
The book of Daniel was written toward the end of the Old Testament period10 and addressed God’s people when they were living under the domination of a foreign power. During Daniel’s life, Jewish people were vassals under Babylon and then Persia. The book anticipates that later nations will succeed these two, anticipating at least Greek domination (Da 8 and 11) but also beyond. By the time of the book of Revelation, the Romans had replaced the Greeks as the empire that controlled Jerusalem and Judah.
Both books looked forward from their present circumstances where it appeared that evil forces were in control. And into that situation, God gave both Daniel and John the same message. Despite present troubles, God was in control, and he would win the final victory. This message was one of hope amid potential despair. In addition, God spoke through Daniel and John to encourage their contemporary readers to persist amid trouble. Both Jews at the time of Daniel and Christians at the time of John lived in a culture toxic to their faith. Receiving this message of hope intended to give them the strength to resist caving into the culture. It did not mean that they would avoid suffering, but it did inform faithful readers that their suffering would have meaning in that it would lead to a better future. But not only a better future—God was also working in the present. He was in control despite present appearances.
Daniel looks to the end of history when God will come and bring evil to an end decisively, once and for all. In Daniel 2 Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that reveals a succession of kingdoms and culminates in the rock which represents “a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (2:44). That kingdom is none other than the kingdom of God.
Grant Osborne clearly expresses the reason why the book of Revelation echoes the book of Daniel so often when he states that “the prophecies of Daniel are seen throughout the book as coming to final fulfillment.”11 It’s not that Daniel did not foresee more events soon, but the book looked forward to the very end of history, which Revelation also anticipates. Both books announce God’s final victory over evil to encourage God’s suffering people during a difficult present.
While God revealed to Daniel and through Daniel to his faithful people that God was going to win at the end, there is also the sense that this anticipated victory would not happen soon. At the end of the book an angel, probably Gabriel, first instructs Daniel to “roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end” (12:4) and then to, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end” (12:9). That they are sealed to the end does not mean that they are not able to be read; after all, we hear these instructions after reading the book of Daniel, including its four visions and their interpretation. But what it means is that it is not yet time for the events of the end to take place.
The book of Revelation, in contrast, was written after the first coming of Christ. He had died and been raised and then ascended into heaven. In his great redemptive acts he had defeated the powers and the authorities (Col 2:13–15), but it was an already-and-not-yet victory. Christ’s act on the cross assured the final victory, but the complete realization of that victory will take place, according to the witness of the New Testament and in particular Revelation, at the time of his second coming.
The book of Revelation testifies that with the first coming of Christ we have moved into the end times that will be fully realized when Christ comes again. Therefore, whereas for Daniel the end was far off, now for John in Revelation “the time is near” (Rev 1:3) and the end is not something far off, but something that “must soon take place” (Rev 1:1). The mystery that Daniel foresaw is something that will be accomplished according to the visions of the book of Revelation (Rev 10:7).
The scroll that had been rolled and sealed (Da 12:4, 9)—in other words, that proclaimed the final judgment on evil and the rescue of the faithful— would now be unsealed by the Lamb who was worthy (Rev 5–8).
This post is adapted from Revelation Through Old Testament Eyes by Tremper Longman, III. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
The book of Revelation simply cannot be understood apart from the Old Testament
Through Old Testament Eyes is a new kind of commentary series that illuminates the Old Testament backgrounds, allusions, patterns, and references saturating the New Testament. The structure and content of the Old Testament were second nature to the New Testament authors and their audiences, but today’s readers have no reference point for understanding their intricate role in the New Testament. Bible teachers, preachers, and students committed to understanding Scripture will gain insight through these rich Old Testament connections, which clarify puzzling passages and explain others in fresh ways.
The images of Revelation–like a seven-sealed scroll, four horsemen bringing destruction and death, locusts from the Abyss, and more–often seem hopelessly complex to today’s readers and have led to egregious misunderstanding and misinterpretations. But as Tremper Longman demonstrates in Revelation Through Old Testament Eyes, this confusion arises from unfamiliarity with symbolism that Revelation’s first readers readily comprehended. In large part, the imagery arises from first-century AD Greco-Roman culture and from the Old Testament, with its own background in ancient Near Eastern literature. Through its unmistakable Old Testament connections, Revelation exhorts readers to persevere in the present and place their hope in God for the future.
Avoiding overly technical discussions and interpretive debates to concentrate on Old Testament influences, Revelation Through Old Testament Eyes combines rigorous, focused New Testament scholarship with deep respect for the entire biblical text.