Introduction: When I was a boy there was a man named Albert Donaldson who wrote a book entitled, You Can Hope Again, in which he told about a group of people who visited the great observatory owned and operated by the University of California on top of mountain east of San Jose. These visitors looked through the great telescope as an astronomer said, “You will see a cluster of stars called Hercules, which is the finest in the northern sky. You can count six thousand or more stars. Each star is a sun, and each one you see if probably larger than our sun. Probably each sun has planets, and there are possibly moons…”
One of the visitors, having peered into the expanse of heaven, said, “Did you say all the stars are suns?”
“Did you say they are all larger than our sun?”
“Can you tell how large our sun is?”
“Well,” said the astronomer, “if the sun were a hollow shell, you could pour over a million earths into it, and there would still be much space left.” The visitor was lost in contemplation for a moment, and then said, “Well, then I guess it doesn’t matter what happens to us in the coming election.”
That’s perspective. When we think of the greatness of God—the God who created the cosmos and watches over time and history from an eternal perspective—it doesn’t much matter who wins the next election. He is still in control.
God wants us to be hopeful people, hopeful about the future, hopeful about history, hopeful about tomorrow. And that’s one of the reasons He gave us so much biblical prophecy. The book of Daniel is the Old Testament foundation to apocalyptic prophecy, and Jesus said in Matthew 24:15 that we should understand the book of Daniel.
Background: Chapter 1 of Daniel is the introduction of the book. Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 give us stories demonstrating the sovereignty of God over human affairs. Last week we studied Daniel 7, in which Daniel has a vivid and disturbing vision about this during the first year of king Belshazzar of Babylon. The point of the vision is this: Four great empires that will dominate history—Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The story of the Roman Empire would be interrupted by the age of the church, the age of grace, the age of missions and Gospel, which would last from Pentecost to the Rapture. But in the Last Days following the rapture, there would be a reconstitution of the Roman Empire. It will be the final great evil empire on earth, headed by someone who we typically call the antichrist. But just when it appears this antichrist has won the battle, Jesus will return, deliver His people, and establish His rule on earth. Now tonight we’re coming to chapter 8, and to a dream that occurs two or three years later in the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign. Let’s begin the chapter with verse 1:
Exposition – Verse 1: In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, had a vision after the one that had already appeared to me.
…referring to the vision in the previous chapter.
In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam; in the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal.
This was a citadel in the city of Susa, about 200 miles from the city of Babylon.
Verse 3: I looked up, and there before me was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal, and the horns were long. One of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later. I watched the ram as it charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against it, and none could rescue from its power. It did as it pleased and became great.
This symbolizes the Persian Empire. In the prior chapter, this empire was pictured like a bear raised up on one side. Here it’s symbolizes as a ram with two horns, but one is larger. The Persian Empire is sometimes called the Medo-Persian Empire, because it was made up of the Medes and the Persians, but the Persians dominated.
As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between its eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground.
This symbolizes the Greek Empire under Alexander the Great.
It came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at it in great rage. I saw it attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shatter its two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against it; the goat knocked it to the ground and trampled on it, and none could rescue the ram from tis power.
Alexander defeated the Persians in 331 BC. Alexander was only 22 years old.
Verse 8: The goat became very great, but at the height of its power the long horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.
This was exactly what happened. Alexander defeated Persia when he was 22 years old; he had conquered the whole world by age 26, and when he was 32 or 33. He died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon after drinking himself sick and developing a fever. The exact cause of his death is one of history’s unsolved mysteries. Many people believe he was poisoned, but it’s hard to prove. At any rate, after his death his empire was divided between his four primary generals, just like this text indicates.
Verse 9: Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the dearth and trampled on them. It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down. Because of rebellion, the Lord’s people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.
In other words, after the death of Alexander the Great, one of his generals produced a dynasty that tried to destroy the Jewish people, tried to wipe out the Jews, that forced them to suspend their sacrificial system, that tried to destroy their Scriptures (truth was thrown to the ground). This was the Seleucid dynasty based in Syria. This dynasty was started by Alexander’s general Seleucus, and of all the Seleucid kings the most vile and vicious was a man named Antiochus Ephiphanes. Antiochus came to power in 175 BC – hundreds of years after Daniel’s dream – and he was boastful and blasphemous, calling himself Antiochus Epiphanes, which means the Illustrious God. Because the Jews in Palestine opposed him, he unleashed a reign of terror in Judea in which tens of thousands were slain. During one three-period, over 40,000 Jews were killed. Antiochus, in a rage of fury and insanity, entered the temple, entered the holy of holies, and offered a pig on the altar. He took away the daily sacrifices, erected a statue of Zeus in the temple, and offered human sacrifices on the altars. He banned the practice of Judaism. Notice that Daniel predicted all this with great detail four hundred years in advance. And as he watches all this unfold in his dream, he overhears two angels talking about it.
Verse 13: Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary, and the trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people?”
He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”
This reign of terror would last just over six years. That’s the essence of Daniel’s dream in chapter 8. He sees a ram and a goat. The ram represents Persia, and it is defeated by the goat, which represents Greece. Then the prominent ruler—Alexander the Great—dies and is replaced by four regional dynasties. One of them—the Seleucid dynasty of Syria—produces a king who is nothing less that a predecessor of the antichrist. If you want to know what the antichrist is going to be like, just learn all you can about Antiochus Ephiphanes.
Verse 15: While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man. And I hard a man’s voice from the Ulai calling, “Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.”
So here we meet Gabriel, the Christmas angel. He is one of only two good angels whose names we know from Scripture—Gabriel and Michael. In the Gospels, Gabriel announced the coming of the Christ, but here in Daniel he is announcing the coming of the antichrist.
Verse 17: As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. “Son of man,” he said to me, “understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.”
This gives a clue there’s more to this vision that simply the Syrian Dynasty. Like so many biblical prophecies there is a double fulfillment. Antiochus Ephiphanes is a forerunner of the coming antichrist who will appear at the time of the end.
While he was speaking to me, I was in a deep sleep, with my face to the ground. Then he touched me and raised me to my feet.
Verse 19: He said, “I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end. The two-horned ram that you saw represents the kings of Media and Persia. The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between its eyes is the first king. The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power.
Just as we said… Babylon, Persia, Greece, Alexander, the four generals.
In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue, will arise.
He will become very strong, but not by his own power.
He will be satanic.
He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy those who are mighty, the holy people. He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes.
Who is the Prince of princes? The Messiah, the true Christ. Antiochus Ephiphanes is pointing toward an ultimate antichrist who will take his stand against the Prince of Princes.
Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power.
Antiochus Ephiphanes, like Alexander, died of a sudden mysterious illness. He died in a fit of insanity.
The vision of the evenings and morning that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.” I, Daniel, was worn out. I lay exhausted for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.
Conclusion: Antiochus Ephiphanes, in his effort to eradicate Judaism from the face of the earth and destroy the Jewish people, went too far. His actions precipitated a rebellion by the Jews, led by a Jewish family known as the Maccabees. The temple was retaken and rededicated. It was reconsecrated, and the great Menorah or candle stand in the Holy Place was lite up again. That was over 2100 year ago, but the Jewish people and the nation of Israel still celebrate it every year at this time in the festival of lights—called Hanukkah. From a Christian perspective as I interpret Daniel 8, there is a sense in which Hanukkah represents the defeat of the one who was a forerunner of the antichrist and the lighting of hope that comes with the Second Coming. So every year during Hanukkah and Christmas, we can celebrate the hope of our Lord’s first and second comings. So may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him that you might overflow in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.