I said last week that Daniel 7 is what is known as apocalyptic literature. In apocalyptic literature, the Lord reveals heavenly secrets and secrets about his plan for the world through dreams and visions. And these dreams and visions contain symbols and patterns and pictures and numbers by which God makes known these secret things. But the symbols and patterns and pictures and numbers need to be interpreted, don’t they? They need to be de-coded. So, last week, in Daniel 7, Daniel had a dream in which he saw a lion with wings; and a leopard with wings and four heads; and another beast with large iron teeth and ten horns. And then he saw a little horn with eyes and a mouth. Well, the Lord was revealing to Daniel what would happen in the days to come. But we’ll never see on the earth a lion with wings; or a leopard with wings and four heads; or a beast with iron teeth and ten horns; or a little horn with eyes and a mouth. We’re not to take these things literally, because these are symbols which need to be interpreted. And the angel in chapter 7 helped Daniel and us to understand what these symbols mean.
And Daniel 8 is also apocalyptic literature, because once again we read how Daniel received a vision from the Lord; and in this vision he saw certain things. He saw, firstly, a ram with two horns; and that ram symbolises something. He then saw a goat with one horn; and that goat symbolises something. He also saw that four other horns grew out of the goat; and that too symbolises something. And he saw how another horn — a little horn — grew up; and it too symbolises something. And so, this is apocalyptic literature and we need to interpret or de-code what these symbols mean. And fortunately — as in Daniel 7 — there’s an angel on hand to enable Daniel and us to understand the vision; and the angel explained to Daniel that the ram and the goat and the horns symbolise kings and kingdoms. So, just as the dream in Daniel 7 was about kings and kingdoms, so the vision in Daniel 8 is about kings and kingdoms.
However, there are differences between Daniel 7 and Daniel 8, aren’t there? In Daniel 7, Daniel’s dream was about four beasts which symbolised four earthly kingdoms. However, in Daniel 8, the vision concerns only two beasts — the ram and the goat — which symbolise only two kingdoms: one represented by the ram and the other represented by the goat. And whereas Daniel 7 was about the last days, Daniel 8 — as we’ll see — is not about the last days. In other words, while Daniel 7 was about our time — because we’re living in the last days which is the time between the first coming and the second coming of the Lord Jesus — while Daniel 7 was about our time, Daniel 8 is not about our time, but it’s about a time which occurred in the past and which is now over.
Now, that doesn’t mean that what we read here is irrelevant for us. It doesn’t mean that there’s nothing for us to learn from this chapter. On the contrary, what we read here in Daniel 8 foreshadows in some ways the experience of Christians in these, the last days. And so, let’s turn to this chapter to see what the Lord revealed to Daniel for our benefit.
The Ram and the Goat
And so, we read in verse 1 that Daniel received this vision in the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign. Two years have passed since the dream we read about in chapter 7 which took place in the first year of Belshazzar’s reign. Belshazzar, you’ll remember, was one of the kings who reigned after Nebuchadnezzar, but he was eventually killed when the Medes and Persians invaded the city of Babylon and overthrew the Babylonian Empire. Well, in this particular vision, Daniel saw himself in the citadel of Susa, beside a canal. And in this vision he saw a ram with two long horns, but one of the long horns was longer than the other, but grew up later. And as Daniel watched, he saw how this two horned ram charged to the west and to the north and to the south. And no other animal was able to stand against the ram and none could rescue from his power. The ram did has he pleased and became great.
However, suddenly a goat came from the west. This goat had a prominent horn between his eyes; and it seemed to Daniel that when it came from the west to cross the whole earth, that it did so without touching the earth. That conveys the idea of its speed; it almost flew across the earth. And look at verse 6: this goat came to the ram and charged at it in a great rage. Now, remember that before no one could stand against the ram. However, on this occasion, the goat attacked the ram furiously and it struck the ram and smashed the ram’s two horns. And the ram was powerless against the goat; and so the goat knocked the ram to the ground and trampled him. And no one could rescue the ram from the goat. The goat then became very great. But at the height of his power, his horn was broken off and replaced by four other horns.
Well, we’ll pause there and ask ourselves what do these two beasts symbolise; and what do the four horns which replaced the one prominent horn on the goat symbolise? What does this vision mean?
Well, in verse 15 we read that Daniel was trying to figure it out. He was trying to understand it. But there before him stood ‘one who looked like a man’. Who was this person who looked like a man? Well, a voice spoke and identified this person as the angel Gabriel. Daniel doesn’t say whose voice it was who spoke, but perhaps it was the voice of the Lord, because the person who spoke to Gabriel had the authority to tell this great angel what he had to do. And what he had to do was explain the vision to Daniel. Daniel was terrified and fell down before Gabriel. And Gabriel spoke and referred to Daniel as ‘son of man’. Now, we came across that phrase last week, didn’t we? Do you remember how ‘one like a son of man’ approached the Ancient of Days and received a kingdom? Well, the one like a son of man in chapter 7 is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. ‘The Son of Man’ was the title he used to refer to himself in the gospels. However, the phrase could also be used to refer to ordinary human beings. And that’s the way Gabriel is using the expression here: Gabriel is an angel and he’s addressing Daniel, a son of man, a human being. And Daniel — this son of man, this ordinary human being — is overwhelmed by all of this, isn’t he? Look at verse 18 where he tells us that he fell into a deep sleep. Probably he means that he fainted because he was so overwhelmed by what was happening. But it was important that he should pay attention to what the Lord was about to reveal to him through the angel Gabriel; and so the angel woke him up so that he could listen.
And what does Gabriel tell him? Well, firstly he told him that this vision concerns the time of the end. Do you see that in verse 17? And in verse 19 he refers to the ‘appointed time of the end’. Now, we’ll come back to that in a moment. For now we’ll move on to see what Gabriel said about the ram and the goat and the four horns. And he explained in verse 20 that the two-horned ram represents the kings of Media and Persia. In other words, it symbolises the Empire of the Medes and Persia, which featured in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2 and in Daniel dream in chapter 7. And just as one of the two long horns became longer than the other, so the Persian half of the Medo-Persian Empire became mightier than the Medo half. And then Gabriel explained that the goat represents the king of Greece. In other words, it symbolised the Greek Empire. The prominent horn on its forehead symbolises Alexander the Great, its first and greatest king. And do you remember how it seemed to Daniel that this goat almost flew across the earth? Well, the historians tell us how Alexander the Great conquered the whole of the known world before he reached the age of 33. He and his armies were able to sweep quickly across the world; and no one could stop him. In fact, the historians tell us that he wept when he realised that there were no more kingdoms for him to conquer. But then, suddenly, and under mysterious circumstances, he died. No one knows exactly how he died and his mighty empire was divided into four separate parts, ruled over by four of his generals, represented in Daniel’s dream by the four horns which grew up and replaced the one prominent horn on the goat’s head.
And so, the ram symbolises the Empire of the Medes and Persians; and the goat symbolises the Greek Empire; the prominent horn represents Alexander the Great; and the four horns represent how the Greek Empire was divided into four parts after Alexander’s death. And so, this vision is about only two of the four kingdoms which featured in Daniel’s dream in chapter 7 and in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2. It doesn’t say anything about the Babylonian Empire which preceded them; and it doesn’t say anything about the Roman Empire which succeeded them. Nor does it say anything directly about Christ’s kingdom. Do you remember how Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 foretold how the earthly kingdoms were coming to nothing, and Christ’s kingdom will endure forever? Well, Daniel 8 doesn’t refer directly to Christ’s kingdom. And so, that should tell us that when Gabriel said in verse 17 that this vision concerns ‘the time of the end’, he’s not referring to the end of the world. He’s not referring to the end of time, when Christ comes again to destroy all his enemies and to rule over the new heavens and earth. He’s not referring to the end of the world, but he’s referring to what happened at the end of the two kingdoms which featured in this dream.
The Little Horn
So what happened at the end of these two kingdoms? Well, let’s go back to Daniel’s vision in verse 9 where we read that out of one of the four horns on the forehead of the goat came another horn. And this horn started out small, but it grew in power towards the south and to the east and towards the Beautiful Land.
Now, there was a little horn in Daniel 7, but the little horn in Daniel 7 and the little horn in Daniel 8 are not the same. The little horn in Daniel 7 rose out of the fourth beast, which symbolises the Roman Empire. And I explained last week that that little horn represents all the anti-Christian forces which trouble the church in these, the last days and which are stirred up by Satan. But the little horn in Daniel 8 rises out of the goat which symbolises the Greek Empire. So, these two little horns are not the same.
So, who is the little horn in Daniel 8 which grew in power in those days? Well, if you look now at verse 23 you’ll see that Gabriel explained that in the latter part of their reign — that is, in the latter part of the reign of the four kings who came after Alexander — there will arise a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue, who will become very strong. So, the little horn is another king. And the Bible scholars tell us that there’s no doubt about it, but that this little horn in Daniel 8 symbolises a king called Antiochus IV. And they say there’s no doubt about it, because the description Daniel gives of this little horn matches precisely what Antiochus IV was like.
For instance, in verse 9 we read how this little horn grew in power to the south and to the east and towards the Beautiful Land. Well, Antiochus’s armies attacked Egypt in the south; and Persia, Parthia and Armenia in the east; and the Promised Land of Canaan, which Daniel refers to here as the Beautiful Land.
And according to verse 10, Daniel saw the little horn reach up to the host of the heavens and he threw down to the earth the starry hosts. The host of the heavens and the starry hosts symbolise the people of God. They’re pictured here as stars, because God promised Abraham that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky. And this little horn threw them down and trampled on them. Well, Antiochus is known for the devastation he caused to the Jews and to how he persecuted the people of God in various ways whenever he invaded the land of Canaan.
According to verse 11, the little horn set itself up to be as great as the Prince of the host, which is another name for God. And according to verse 25 he’ll take his stand against the Prince of princes, which is yet another name for God. And sure enough, Antiochus gave himself the name ‘Epiphanes’ which means ‘God Revealed’. He saw himself as a revelation or manifestation of God. And during his reign, coins were stamps with the inscription:
King Antiochus, God Revealed.
So, in his arrogance, he set himself up in the place of God.
And according to verses 11 and 12, he took away the daily sacrifice; and the sanctuary was brought low; and the host of the saints — in other words, the people of God — as well as the daily sacrifice were given over to this little horn. Furthermore, it prospered in everything it did; and truth was thrown to the ground. Well, Antiochus defiled the temple in Jerusalem by setting up a statue of Zeus in the Most Holy Place and by offering up pigs — which the Jews regarded as an unclean animal — as sacrifices. And he forbade the Jews from offering the daily sacrifices in the temple. He also burned the Scriptures, so that the truth of God’s word was thrown to the ground.
Antiochus was a wicked king who persecuted the people of God. And so, although he is different from the little horn we read about in chapter 7, nevertheless he foreshadows every anti-Christian force which troubles the church of Christ in these, the last days and which are themselves stirred up by Satan. He foreshadows Satan and all who join with Satan in opposing Christ and his church.
So, Antiochus threw truth to the ground; and Satan will always try to undermine the truth of God’s word. And he often succeeds, because he always has those people out in the world who will attack the authority of the Bible and who claim that it is nonsense. And even in the church, he has those who tamper with God’s word and who teach things which God has not said so that the people of God are led astray.
Antiochus prevented the people from offering the daily sacrifices — sacrifices which pointed forward to the death of Christ on the cross as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin — and Satan will always try to distract people from the cross of Christ.
And Antiochus set himself up to be as great as God Almighty; and Satan always wants to take God’s place and he tempts people in every generation to listen to him and not to God; and to do what he wants, and not what God wants. And he often succeeds, and he takes people — even the people of God — captive to do his will.
Antiochus was a wicked king who foreshadows Satan and every anti-Christian force that troubles the church of Christ in these, the last days.
Our God Reigns
But lest we should be overcome by fears, we should take note of what else we read in Daniel 8. In verse 13 Daniel overheard one angel speaking to another angel. The first angel asked:
How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled? How long will these things go on?
And the second angel answered:
It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.
Well, some interpreters say the 2,300 evenings and mornings refer to 2,300 days which amounts to just over six years. Others say that the words ‘evenings and mornings’ refer to the daily offerings. And so, 2,300 evening and morning sacrifices amounts to 1,150 days or around three and a half years. And the scholars then try to work out how those numbers fit in with the length of Antiochus’s persecution of the Jews. However, nothing really fits very well. But instead of getting hung up on the numbers, we should note the main point which is this: the Lord announced to Daniel that the coming persecution of his people will not last forever. It will not last forever. It will one day come to an end; and the temple — which Antiochus defiled — will be reconsecrated to the Lord. And that happened: Judas Maccabaeus — a Jewish Priest who led a revolt against Antiochus — eventually recaptured Jerusalem; he cleansed the temple; he erected a new altar; and the worship of the Lord in that place resumed. The coming persecution will not last forever.
And look now at verse 24 where Gabriel said to Daniel that this stern-faced king will become very strong, ‘but not by his own power.’ And look now at the end of verse 25 where Gabriel announced to Daniel that this king will be destroyed, ‘but not by human power.’ So, he will rise up, but not by his own power. And he will be destroyed, but not by human power. By whose power will he rise? And by whose power will he fall?
Well, he will rise and he will fall by the power of God. Isn’t that the point? Although Antiochus was a mighty king, his times were in God’s hands; and God is the one who is seated on a throne in heaven from where he rules and reigns over all that he has made. He governs his creatures and all of their actions and he raises up this person and brings down this person; he exalts and he humbles. So, at one time in history, he exalted Antiochus and allowed him to succeed against his enemies for a time. But then at another time in history, he humbled Antiochus and brought him down. If you asked Antiochus how he managed to win so many victories, he would have said that he had done it by his own might and power. But the truth is that he became successful and powerful only because of the Lord God Almighty, who exalts and who humbles, who raises up and who brings down low. And sure enough, a little over three years after he defiled the temple in Jerusalem, he died because of a mysterious illness which came upon him suddenly. Although in the eyes of the world he was a great and fearful king, in the eyes of the Lord he was only a little horn who could be toppled and removed at any time.
And so, the good news is that evil will not always succeed; and those who set themselves up against the Lord will eventually be brought low. And all those anti-Christian forces which stand against the church in these, the last days, and which are stirred up by Satan, will not succeed forever, but they will eventually be brought down low, just as every earthly kingdom will one day be brought low; and the only kingdom that will endure and will last for ever and for ever is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Daniel was allowed to see into the future and he was allowed to see that a great and wicked king was coming, but that great and wicked king would not last. And as we think about the world, and all the different powers and forces which trouble the church, we need to remember and believe that our God rules and reigns over all and that all those powers and forces and people who stand against him will not succeed. They will not succeed and in the end they will be perish, and Christ alone will reign.
And if we need proof of that — if we need proof that evil cannot succeed against the Lord — then all we need to think about is how Satan stirred up all kinds of opposition again Christ the Lord when he was on the earth, so that the Lord Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested by the soldiers and accused by the Sanhedrin and tried and condemned by Pilate and crucified on the cross and his body was laid in the ground. And so, for a time it must have seemed that evil had triumphed, that Satan had won a great victory, and the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, had been destroyed. And yet, Satan’s plans were overturned, and the wicked schemes of Christ’s enemies came to nothing, because three days later the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead, triumphant over the grave. And though Satan tried to destroy Christ, the Lord ascended into heaven to rule over all; and now he’s extending his kingdom throughout the world, delivering men and women and boys and girls — all who repent and believe the good news — he’s delivering them from Satan’s tyranny and bringing them into his own kingdom of grace, where there is life and peace and joy. And though Satan will continue to stir up trouble against the Lord’s people here on the earth, he knows he’s already been defeated and his days are numbered, because the day is coming when the Lord will return in glory and with power to cast the Devil into the lake of fire to be punished forever and forever. And all who have sided with him will likewise be condemned and punished. But all who in this life have trusted in Christ the Lord — and who continue to trust in him throughout their life on earth — will go in to enjoy everlasting peace and happiness in the presence of the Lord.
Antiochus became very strong, but not by his own power. And he was destroyed, but not by human power. And though the Lord allows Satan — and all kinds of anti-Christian forces — to succeed for a time, and though he allows them to oppose the church of Christ, nevertheless in the end, the Lord will destroy them, just as he destroyed Antiochus; and the only kingdom that will endure is Christ’s kingdom.
But notice this one last thing before we finish. Right at the end of today’s chapter, we read how Daniel was told to seal up the vision — to keep it safe — because it concerns the distant future. It would be years before Antiochus was born, let alone rise to power. And Daniel was exhausted because of the vision. But when he’d recovered, what did he do? Well, although he was appalled by the vision and didn’t understand all of it, nevertheless he got up and he went about King Belshazzar’s business. In other words, he got on with his work. And you see, when we believe that our times are in God’s hands, when we believe that he’s in control and that he’s able to work out his purposes for the world, then we don’t need to be frightened by the events in the world; we don’t need to be anxious about what tomorrow will bring. We can rest in the knowledge that our God — our loving Heavenly Father — is in control; and we can rely on him to work out his purposes for the world; and nothing will hinder him, not even a wicked king like Antiochus.
And since we know that, then we don’t need to be afraid, and we can go about our daily lives and do our work and do our duty, unconcerned about what tomorrow may bring, because we trust that our times are in his hands and he will bring to pass all that he has planned.
Think of the small child who is restless and anxious and who cries when mum isn’t around. But when mum is in the room, the child is quiet and content and unafraid. Well, once we know that our God is with us and that he is in control, then we too can be quiet and content and unafraid; and we can get on with our lives, without being anxious about what tomorrow may bring.